By: Konner Scott
At one point in my life, I thought I could boil down music to its quantifiable components: tempo, chord structure, melody, volume, etc. I thought if I just found the proper balance of all these and micromanaged every note, I’d be the best musician I could possibly be.
What I’ve learned since then is that this is a GREAT approach for learning new material in the practice room. In particular, if you are new to playing with a focus on dynamics & expression, trying to control the volume and tone of every single note will help you develop a sense for these parameters. Having an awareness of these things can help train your ear to better recognize musical nuances.
My issue came when I hit the stage. I would try to do the same thing in front of a crowd during a performance, and when I listened back to a recording of my work, I would be frustrated by how stale and robotic my playing sounded. I wondered why other musicians could play so naturally while my playing sounded forced- and the harder I tried to play well, the more forced it sounded.
It took me years to realize that the principles I apply in the practice room won’t serve me as well on stage. In fact, the whole point of concentrated focus and deliberate playing in the practice room is so I don’t HAVE to think about it on stage. This realization was an epiphany for me. I found that (as long as I practiced hard) the LESS I thought about my playing during shows, the better I would sound. Trusting my preparation and losing myself in the music would, without fail, lead to the best possible outcome.
Ultimately music is an emotional – even spiritual – experience. I realized that for other people to extract emotional & spiritual value out of my music, I had to live in that headspace as I was producing it.
The only way this would work for me, though, was if I had prepared adequately! Over my life, I’ve played many shows where, for whatever reason, I hadn’t put in the requisite practice time. Whether this was a result of my own personal failings or the consequence of agreeing to play a show on short notice, the end result was that I had to bring a “practice room” level of focus to the stage. If I were to just get lost in the music the way I normally would, I would lose track of what I was playing. In those situations, it took deliberate concentration just to remember the proper notes and play them in time.
The best possible formula for me is: practice like an animal, focus on every fine detail when I practice, and then forget everything and just PLAY when I get on stage. If I don’t do any one of these things, my performance will undoubtedly fall short and I will fail to connect with the audience. If I do them all, there’s a high chance I will deliver.
By: Konner Scott
While everybody’s musical experience is different, I thought it might be fun (and hopefully helpful) to compile a list of things that I wish I, specifically, had been told as a child while I was beginning to explore my love for music. With any luck, this list may offer up some insight that may benefit you and your musical child!
1. PRACTICE CAN BE FUN!
I was a very competitive child. Starting at the age of eight, I joined a swim team, and found immense pleasure in competing not only with those around me, but also with myself. Few things brought me more joy than watching my “best times” whittle down as I found ways to get from one wall to the other even faster.
What I wish I had been told is that I could apply the same principle to practicing music! As I grew older and fell more in love with swimming, I began to resent my piano practice time more and more. By my early teenage years, it had become a torturous chore to sit myself down in front of the piano and play songs I didn’t particularly enjoy. I went through the motions and played without any passion whatsoever. The only part of the process I enjoyed was creating: finding new chord progressions and melodies, and constructing songs from them.
It wasn’t until many years after I stopped taking lessons that I discovered I could apply my competitive spirit to my practice time, and that it would make me a much better musician because I actually enjoyed what I was doing! These days, I cherish my practice time- where I can learn new riffs and runs, constantly trying to beat my former “bests” from the day before. Whether trying to play a section of a song faster than ever before, or improvise with new complex chords I had never used, I’ve learned to apply the joys of challenging myself to my piano practice time in a way that I was never able to figure out as a child.
2. THERE ARE NO LIMITS TO CREATIVITY.
I STILL struggle with this one. My best songwriting ideas have come when I remove all self-judgment and create for the sake of creating, and yet my natural tendency is still to try to control and micromanage my creative process to the nth degree. Is this a “proper” chord progression? Do I need to copy this rhyme scheme in the next verse? Can I change keys in the bridge without overcomplicating my harmonic structure?
Over time, I’ve refined a mantra that helps me clear the judgmental voices from my mind and enjoy the complete and utter lack of limits that exist in the creative process:
“If it sounds right, it is right.”
3. YOU DON’T KNOW EVERYTHING, SILLY.
As a child, I was fortunate to be very musically inclined. I started playing piano very young, and music just made sense to me.
Because of my natural talent, I developed an internal arrogance that severely hindered my music education. While on the outside I may have appeared humble, I was quietly convinced that everything I ever needed to know about music resided in the corners of my own mind.
This perspective caused me to shut out all fellow musicians that might be able to help me. You have a theory concept you want to share with me? Nope; sorry; I’m better than you. I can figure it out on my own- and even if I don’t, I’ll find something superior to it. I don’t need your silly theory anyways. I would push away anybody and anything that could help enrich my musicality, and boy did I pay the price.
The best thing that ever happened to me was to have the great fortune of becoming a professional musician… and then finally realizing how poor of a musician I actually was. After spending years in grammy-winning recording studios, late-night jazz clubs, southern megachurch bands, open mic rooms, and so many more hubs of brilliant musicianships, my arrogance has been chipped away piece by piece. You can only spend so much time around TRUE talent before you realize that your paradigm of yourself as a “musical genius” is a complete farce!
Don’t get me wrong; I still have a lot of self-confidence. I need it to succeed in this industry. But instead of assuming I know everything, I understand that maybe I have the potential for greatness- but I have a heck of a lot of learning and practicing to do to get there!
4. IF YOU WANT TO BE A MUSICIAN FOR A LIVING, TAKE IT SERIOUSLY.
I loved music from a very early age, and always knew in the back of my mind that I wanted to make it my life someday. However, as I got older, my dreams and my actions began to deviate. In junior high and high school, I began to devote myself single-mindedly to competitive swimming, which helped me get into my dream university. In college, I pursued a mechanical engineering degree, which was either for financial security or to appease my practically-minded parents- I’m still not sure which.
Four years later, I was working a dead-end hydraulic engineer job, watching the days and years drain away and wondering if I had thrown away every opportunity to pursue music that had been granted to me.
Fortunately, I had the courage to quit that job and pursue my dream. Sure, it took me until my mid-twenties, but now I’m living my dream life, knowing I get to wake up and do what I love every single day.
The thing is, it has taken a LOT of hard work to get here! This idea I had that I would just wake up one day and suddenly be a musician couldn’t have been further from the truth. It took a quarter life crisis and a lot of blood, sweat, and tears (more tears than I’m proud of admitting) to get to this point. I regret nothing about the path I’ve taken, but I sometimes wonder how my journey would have looked had I fully understood and committed to my purpose at a younger age.
5. LEARN TO PLAY SONGS YOU LOVE
The creative in me is forever petrified of writing something unoriginal. I live in constant fear that I’ll have an idea that I think is the best thing since sliced bread, only to find that X musician did the exact same thing earlier… and better.
For this reason, I’ve often avoided learning to play the music I love to listen to. I’ve spent much of my life trying to “create in a vacuum”- relying not at all on my influences, only on my sheer ingenuity. This, of course, is ridiculous. All great artists stand on the shoulders of the great artists that came before them.
Truthfully, the best way to become a master of your craft and develop true creative freedom is to learn and internalize the songs that truly inspire you. There’s a difference between blatantly ripping off music that inspires you, and allowing it to be stitched into the fabric of your soul so that you can synthesize and express it in brilliant new ways. I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to understand that!
By: Konner Scott
Music education can be incredibly beneficial for children. The literature is undisputed- having a child learn an instrument can improve their memory, coordination, math skills, and so much more. Parents often choose to enroll their children in lessons in order to capitalize on these benefits and to help instill a love of music in their child. For the uninitiated parent, this may seem like braving new territory, and many of the same questions often come up.
Perhaps the most common question asked by parents new to the experience is: how do I best support my child as they navigate their musical journey? Let’s take a look at a number of things that are worth consideration:
UNDERSTAND THEIR LEVEL OF PASSION
Yes, the arts are incredibly important, and music lessons can enhance your child’s life in many ways. However- not every child is a musician! It may sound blunt and abrasive, but very few people have true musical talent, and very few people enjoy playing music enough to devote themselves wholeheartedly to it. Of course, even if your child is not the next Mozart, there is still a lot to be gained by enrolling them in music lessons, particularly if they enjoy taking lessons and playing music.
The problem is, though, that not every child will have an aptitude for it or find any enjoyment in it. Part of a parent’s responsibility is to recognize where their child falls on that spectrum. For the children who seem to severely struggle to learn musical concepts, and for those who seem miserable taking lessons and practicing, perhaps it’s best to expose them to different artistic outlets in order to find one that clicks.
Don’t get me wrong; challenges are important, and learning something outside their comfort zone and skill set can help a child mature into a strong and well-rounded adult. However, it’s also important that children find confidence in their abilities, and if they continue to struggle in music to the point where it’s affecting their self-image, perhaps other avenues should be explored.
On the flip side, it’s important to recognize if a child is truly a future superstar! A small percentage of musical children will have the talent, passion, and drive to be able to do something special with their musical skills. It’s easy to pick out the children who fit this mold: they will eat, sleep, and breathe music, and will have a hard time putting their instrument down. When they play, their instruments will appear to be an extension of their own bodies, and other people will respond positively to their performances.
While parents will want to encourage their gifted children to have a healthy balance in their lifestyle, it’s incredibly important to nurture and encourage these gifts! You never know how far a child’s talent can take them if given the chance, and how much their passion may enrich their life.
STRUCTURE PRACTICE TIME AND ADJUST BASED ON RESULTS
Children crave structure and order, and if imposed properly, they often respond very well to it. Don’t just leave it up to your child to decide when and how often to practice- especially if the child is very young! Especially in the early stages of their musical journey, it’s very useful for a child’s parents to choose specific days and times for the child to practice, and even to sit down with them at first and guide them through a few practice sessions.
How often to practice depends completely on the age, talent level, and temperament of the child. For example, a four-year-old who seems to enjoy lessons but does not have much musical aptitude will not gain anything from multiple hour-long practice sessions a week. At the same time, a thirteen-year-old who has been playing for eight years and pours their heart and soul into their instrument may feel stunted if they are only able to squeeze in a couple ten-minute practice sessions between every lesson.
Start by selecting some days and time slots you think may work for your child, and then pay close attention to see if their practice regimen is helping or hindering their progress. There is such a thing as too little AND too much practice, and it’s important to work to find a happy balance.
BE THERE FOR YOUR CHILD
It sounds simple, but it goes so far. Drive your children to their lessons. Show up to their recitals. Hi-five them when they play through a song they’ve never been able to play before. Act engaged when they are excited to show you something new they’ve learned. Children – especially young children – respond very strongly to cues they receive from the adults in their lives. If they sense that their parents don’t truly value their music education, they will subconsciously learn not to value it either!
EXPOSE YOUR CHILD TO LOTS OF MUSIC
Music education is about more than learning to play music- it’s about learning to listen! Listening to a wide variety of music with your child, and encouraging your child to listen on their own, will help them develop musical taste and discover what they enjoy. Maybe your child has been complacent about their classical piano lessons for years, but suddenly lights up when Eddie Van Halen erupts into a scorching guitar solo through the speakers in your car. This is valuable information!
LET THEM LOVE IT!
Last but not least, it’s important to give children space to explore on their own! As a committed parent, it’s tempting to over-involve yourself in your child’s musical routine. For all children, but creative children in particular, having a “musical sandbox” where they can explore and develop their own ideas without a watchful eye can be incredibly beneficial and enriching. Even if they don’t show much interest in creativity, if your child enjoys learning and practicing new songs, giving them space to “learn how to learn” will allow them to take ownership over their musicianship- and they will enjoy the journey so much more!
By: Ben Fraser
The guitar is most commonly a six-stringed instrument made primarily of wood. Its hollow body produces sound when its strings are strummed or plucked using either finger or a pick. While one hand plays the E, A, D, G, B, or high E string (or any combination of them), the other hand presses the strings against the fretboard to change the pitch of the strings. The guitar can be used to play single notes to create melodies, or it can be used to play chords to create harmonies.
There are three main types of guitars: Classical, Acoustic, and Electric.
Classical guitars are usually played while sitting down with the instrument positioned between the legs. They typically have nylon strings, wide necks, and thick bodies. Classical music is often performed on them.
Acoustic guitars are played sitting down with the guitar resting on one leg, but they are also played standing up. They typically have steel strings, narrow necks, and thick bodies. Folk music is often performed on them.
Electric guitars usually played standing up with a guitar strap around the neck and shoulder. They typically have steel strings, narrow necks, and solid, thin bodies. They produce sound by cabling into an amplifier. Rock music is often performed on them.
The top of the guitar is known as the headstock. This is where you will find the tuners and the nut. Below this is the neck and fretboard. The frets sit on top of the fretboard. Then, we have the body. The body contains the sound hole/pickups, the pickguard, volume/tone knobs, the saddle, the input, and the bridge. The strings are strung from the bridge to the tuners.
The guitar is an absolutely magnificent instrument and is incredibly entertaining to play.
By: Ben Fraser
October is here! It’s a time of chillier weather, leaves changing and falling, and of course, Halloween is at the end of the month. Halloween is a holiday filled with costumes, decorations, and music.
Some of the greatest Halloween hits include: Monster Mash, Purple People Eater, I’ll Put a Spell on You, Five Little Pumpkins, Zombie, Ghost Busters, and Bad Moon Rising.
There are certain musical elements and dynamics that make these songs Halloween-esque.
First, there are the spooky or scary lyrics that fit the theme. Phrases like, “I am the one hiding under your bed, teeth ground sharp and eyes glowing red,” are definitely scary! This example is from the song, “This is Halloween” from the Nightmare Before Christmas.
Another important element could be writing the song in a minor key. This can make the music sound ominous or spooky. Within the minor key, embellishing the music with more frequent diminished chords can make for an even spookier song! A diminished chord has a lowered third and fifth, while a minor chord only has a lowered third.
One last music dynamic that could make a song fit the theme would be a sudden crescendo from soft to loud or even using a sforzando (forceful accent). This can be done really well on a piano!
So, listen to, practice, and perform some Halloween music. It’s the time of the season for some spooktacular tunes!
By: Ben Fraser
The violin is a four-stringed instrument made primarily of wood. Its hollow body produces sound when the bow is drawn across any of the four strings, G, D, A or E. The left-hand fingers can press the strings against the fingerboard to change the pitch of the string. This is how other notes are produced such as F, B, C or any sharps or flats in between! The instrument can also be played by plucking the strings. This is called pizzicato and is usually done with the pointer finger.
Although many similar string instruments preceded the violin, the violin was invented in the beginning of the 16th century. Prestigious violin makers of the time resided in three distinct areas of northern Italy: The schools of Brescia, Cremona, and Venice. Within these schools, the finest violins in history were created. The late 1600s to the early 1700s are considered the Golden Age of violin making. Luthiers such as Stradivari and Montagnana constructed some incredible instruments during this time.
Learning to play the violin is a complicated but rewarding process. First, you must pick the correct size instrument. This is achieved by holding the violin under the chin and reaching the left hand to the scroll on the end. If your hand can grasp the scroll, it is the correct size. Next, it must be tuned so the pitches of the four strings are G, D, A and E. Then, the bow is pulled across the strings, while the left-hand fingers produce different pitches. Important concepts to consider while playing are posture, dynamics, vibrato, and musicality.
By: Ben Fraser
Unlike the piano, on fretted instruments you can play the same note in the same octave in several different places on the instrument. This can be very confusing and hard to grasp for new students, but it’s an important concept to understand. There is only one Middle C on a piano, but Middle C can be played in five different places on most guitars. In standard tuning, it is on 1st fret of the B string, 5th fret of the G string, 10th fret of the D string, 15th fret of the A string, and 20th fret of the E string.
This reveals that one can play the same melodies and chords in several areas of the guitar neck which begs the question: Where should one choose to play any given melody or chord? There are many answers to that question. Certain melodies are easier played in certain areas of the neck. Also, certain chords have different tones and timbres when played on different frets. Some players become partial to certain parts of the neck. There are countless ways to look at it but again, it is an important concept to understand.
This brings us logically to a common debate around fretted instruments. Should one be reading notation or tablature? Notation uses the A-G note methodology by placing different types of notes on the staff. Tablature uses a numeric methodology by placing fret numbers on a diagram of the strings. Notation is important because it provides more information. One can analyze elements like rhythm, dynamics, intervals, and musicality with greater effectiveness through notation. Tablature is important because it tells us exactly where to play a piece of music. It is also much easier to interpret for beginning students.
The bottom line is that both are important and both should be used in the music education of fretted instruments.
By: Ben Fraser
When it comes to teaching online music lessons, there are lots of different platforms to choose from. And I have tried many of the various options. Whether its Facetime, Skype, WebEx, or Zoom, every program has its different features and user experience. Recently, I’ve started using a new virtual lesson program called RockOutLoud. The features included in this program are excellent and have been a great help in my lessons.
First of all, access to the program is extremely simple, as you do not need to download an application or client. You simply open up your web browser, and navigate to your lesson via a provided URL. Once both the student and teacher are in the lesson, the magic begins!
As an instructor, the first thing you will notice the variety of buttons and options. There is a search bar that can pull from an extensive library of sheet music, tablature, and exercises. You can also update the library with any documents you might need. These resources can be shared directly to the student in real time.
Also, instructors have the ability to share chords for piano, guitar and ukulele using a very simple point and click chord library. Drummers also have access to a library of rudiments that can be shared instantly.
Some other great features include screen sharing, chatting, and camera flip. I have found the camera flip to be extremely useful! When teaching violin virtually, some of my younger students can get confused without it because my violin appears to be on the wrong side.
Overall, this platform has proven to be a great resource for teaching virtually and in my opinion, is the best option available. It has been the closest thing to in-person lessons I’ve encountered and is great tool for any music teacher to utilize.
By: Ben Fraser
In many school music programs, there are three basic routes you can take. Generally, you have the choice between Chorus, Orchestra, and Band. They are all equally challenging, fulfilling, and rewarding. And taking music lessons when you’re younger will put you at a great advantage to perform at the highest level in any of the three. Learning the fundamentals of music before entering these programs can set you up for success.
Orchestra is comprised of string instruments. They include the violin, the viola, the cello, and the upright bass. A bow is pulled across their strings to produce a sound. Constructed almost entirely of wood, these instruments are crafted to perfection and all play a part in producing symphonic music.
Chorus is an ensemble of voices. The different vocal parts are often separated into Soprano, Alto, Tenor, and Bass (often shortened to SATB). These are ordered from highest to lowest pitch (Soprano being the highest and Bass being the lowest). The voice is an instrument that everyone has with them at all times. It’s also interesting that Chorus is the only group that uses language in their music.
Band is divided into woodwinds, brass, and percussion. Woodwinds include instruments like clarinets and oboes. Brass has instruments like trombones and horns. And percussion includes drums and cymbals. Brass and woodwinds are played using air from the mouth. Although, the way in which a player puts their mouth to the instrument varies. This is known as embouchure.
All three ensembles are excellent endeavors and require an extreme amount of talent and dedication. Once you’ve figured out what path you want to take, it is recommended to find a private instructor to guide you on your chosen instrument. Go forth and follow your musical passion, there are no wrong decisions when choosing a musical program!
We are reopening August 10th and will have both in-person and online music lessons. Here is a video tutorial about our new studio operations with covid-19.