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Listening as a Form of Practice

By: Konner Scott

In the music world, we have this paradigm of practice as a very active endeavor. Practice to us often constitutes repeating passages, playing with a metronome, running scales, and doing the physical & mental legwork necessary to level up on your instrument.

Of course, these things are crucially important. They’re the cornerstone of an effective practice routine. But I’d like to suggest that we expand our cultural understanding of “practice” to include active and passive listening.

Imagine, if you will, a world in which accomplished concert pianist Evgeny Kissin knows how to play piano, but has never actually listened to music. All he knows is how to read the symbols on the sheet music in front of him and replicate them on the keyboard. He can play the proper notes for the correct lengths of time, and perhaps even add the appropriate dynamics and articulation.

Do you think that he’d be able to take that information and apply it in such a way that he could deliver a world-class performance? Would he be able to rouse people to their feet and bring a tear to their eyes? It’s entirely possible, sure. With his particular musical genius, maybe he finds his way to that level of skill without ever actually listening to music. But I think it’s far more likely that something is lost in translation between the sheet music and the keys on the piano.

A music performance, in some sense, is a synthesis of inspiration. Every single high-level performer on Earth has a list of influences who have both consciously and subconsciously influenced their style. Things like feel, tone, emotion, tempo, and phrasing don’t exist in a vacuum. We take on an understanding of these through listening to the works of those who came before us.

This is why I believe that listening is a critical component of being able to play your instrument at the highest level. The more we indulge in our influences, the more the best characteristics of those influences work their way into our playing. And by expanding our musical tastes and interests, we can enhance and synthesize elements of our playing in novel ways.

The difference between active and passive listening is an important one, too. Passive listening is what we do when we’re singing car karaoke with our friends, or listening to heavy metal to get pumped up before our football game. It’s how we listen when we just want to enjoy our favorite music and allow it to elevate us above the material world. This type of listening gives our subconscious minds a chance to process the emotional weight of our favorite music and integrate it into our understanding of the world around us. It’s the reason why you may tear up in the grocery store aisle when an old favorite you haven’t heard for years starts playing over the radio (or maybe this is just me).

Passive listening is useful for being able to deliver a smooth performance. It helps grant us a deeply intimate understanding of what makes music powerful so that we may replicate it in our own playing. Active listening, on the other hand, is important for understanding the fine details of what makes a performance great.

Active listening is a far less common type of listening, and requires much more mental effort and attention. Some questions active listeners may ask themselves while listening to a performance are: What are the differences in dynamics throughout the performance? How does the artist play with subtle tempo changes and what effect does that have on the listener? What is the particular rhythm that holds the performance together? What motifs and themes are incorporated into the melody to make it memorable? Active listening involves listening to the details of a performance with full attention and observing how those details contribute to the performance as a whole.

Both types of listening are incredibly important and should not just supplement a practice regimen, but should be incorporated as a vital component of that regimen. These oft forgotten techniques are simple to employ and can enhance our musicianship in drastic and unforeseen ways. At the very least, you’ll be able to rest easy knowing that your time spent stuck in traffic with the radio on is actually improving your musicianship!

A Tale of Two Attitudes

By: Konner Scott

Do you want to succeed and push yourself to the next level, or do you just want to get it over with?

These are the two prevailing attitudes I see in most of my students (and also within myself). The difference between how these mindsets affect growth is, in my experience, absolutely astounding.

Sure, just going through the motions is better than doing nothing. If you’re mindlessly practicing scales you already know well, and your only goal is to log the hours, you will continue to reinforce them and see marginal improvement. But how does that compare to someone who’s hungry to improve? Someone who masters a scale and then musters up the effort to learn another one, then figures out how to use those scales to improvise and create new melodies?

Sure, forcing yourself to learn one new measure of a song every week will get you across the finish line. If you sit down and slowly work through it 20 minutes every night, eventually you’ll be able to play the song, and perhaps you’ll even be able to play it well. Months down the line, you’ll have something new in your repertoire. But how does that compare to someone who aggressively devours new material, measure after measure, and spends small chunks of their free time reinforcing what they’ve learned?

Hunger; drive; desire- these are the qualities that create success. Balance these with appropriate goal setting and there’s no limit to how far you can go.

However (and this is very important), you can’t expect to carry around that level of intensity all the time! Having stretches of time where the bare minimum is all you have to offer; that’s called being human. Even the greats often struggle with motivation and confidence.

The trick here is to practice resilience. Listen to your body and mind and recognize when it’s necessary to take a break. Nobody is a machine and everybody needs rest. When you recognize yourself starting to slide from a go-getter attitude to a bare-minimum attitude, step away for a few hours, or days, or weeks. Once your battery is charged back up? Time to hit the gas pedal again- full speed ahead.

The Art of Rolling with the Punches

By: Konner Scott

Last week, I was hired to play a gig. They pulled me in last-minute because one of their instrumentalists had backed out. Originally they had asked me to play acoustic guitar, but the night before the show, I was switched over to electric. As if this wasn’t enough to create stress, I also didn’t receive the songs to learn until the morning of the show.

In a past life, I would have panicked. But I’ve been in this situation quite a few times by now. Being a gigging musician is more than just learning and practicing songs: it’s learning to adapt on the fly and to embrace discomfort and challenge.

The first question I had to ask myself was: what’s the most effective use of the time I have before the show? I didn’t have enough time to chart out and memorize the songs the way I usually do, so I had to streamline my process to the best of my ability. I decided that memorizing the keys of the songs would be a great place to start.

Once I had the keys down, I practiced a few simple parts over each chord progression. I tried to come up with some ideas that were easy to remember and play, and would work over additional chords in case I completely forgot the chord progression. (The advantage to playing electric guitar, as it turns out, is that I was able to play more of a “lead” part without relying on the chords).

I did the best I could with the hour I had available, and that evening, I arrived at the venue an hour early to squeeze in a quick rehearsal with the band. However, the band didn’t arrive until about a half hour before the show started, and that time was all spent tuning, sound checking, and polishing up other fine details necessary for the show’s success.

One detail that was skimped, however: I still didn’t really know the songs.

We began playing, and thankfully, the first song was a song I’d actually played at a gig a couple years back. I was a bit rusty, but my familiarity with the song helped me to relax and lean into the performance. I made a decision not to add any more than necessary- any note I played would be deliberate, and I wouldn’t risk doing anything that would ruin the atmosphere of the show. I allowed myself to get lost in the song and not think about the impending stress of the remaining four songs that I’d never played before.

It was at this point that the music director- who was playing keyboard- leaned into his microphone and started calling out the chord progressions to the band. It turns out these were new songs for the rest of the band, too, and even though they had rehearsed, the MD thought it would be wise to be in our ears helping guide us through. What a relief! Suddenly, I could just relax, follow his lead, and trust everything to work out. This, combined with the little bit of preparation I was able to do beforehand, allowed me to do my job effectively and contribute to the show instead of taking away from it.

By the end of the show I was exhausted. We only had five songs to play, but many of the songs were extended well beyond their original run time, with long interludes and breaks in between. We played for three and a half hours, all of which I spent learning the songs on the fly and trying to blend with the band.

After the show, the man who organized the performance and who had hired me came up to chat. He told me that he was grateful that I was able to jump in and assimilate with such short notice. He promised that he wanted me back for the next performance, and that they would give me more heads up next time.

This is not an effort to flaunt my abilities. Three years ago, had I been in this situation, I would have undoubtedly freaked out and ruined the show. The entire point is that these past few years of taking whatever gigs I could find had prepared me well for this circumstance. This was far from the first time I was pushed to adapt quickly to an uncomfortable situation, and I’ve found that- as long as I’m willing to put my best effort forward, try to relax, and trust the process- good things tend to happen, and those good things get better with practice and experience.

This is a life skill that extends beyond music. Playing gigs has helped me learn to roll with the punches, but it’s been a skill that I’ve been able to apply broadly. As a music teacher, I will occasionally have to step in and sub for another teacher last minute. This means teaching someone I’ve never worked with before with absolutely no lesson plan, and having to find ways to adapt and make our lesson productive.

It sounds cliché, but it’s honest: we never know what life will throw at us. The best way to learn to handle that uncertainty is to become comfortable being uncomfortable. I’ve found that if I’m willing to embrace scary situations, especially when I feel unprepared, I can actually learn how to better handle any new situation thrown at me. And funnily enough, embracing that anxiety can actually make life a lot more exciting and fun.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

By: Konner Scott

Recently, I bought a book that details the personal histories of some of the world’s greatest classical composers. I highly recommend it: it’s called “The Indispensable Composers” by Anthony Tommasini. Now usually, when I read books, I opt for something other than music-related literature. Considering music is both my full-time job and biggest hobby, I like to give my mind a break every so often. In this case, though, a couple different factors pushed me to buy this particular book.

First, I had the realization that even though I learned piano in the classical tradition, I know very little about the composers that form the backbone of my musical journey. I suppose I could be forgiven for not knowing much about their personal histories, but I also know embarrassingly little about their bodies of work and stylistic trademarks, especially considering how many of their songs I’ve learned over the years. This book promised to detail out all of the above, and I figured maybe it was high time I learned.

I also thought about my own musical goals. I want to be the best songwriter and composer I can possibly be, and I proudly work tirelessly at that goal. But how great can I really be if I’ve never educated myself on the experiences, histories, and mindsets of the greatest people in my field who have ever lived? Sure, I can pursue a path that’s authentically me, but my experience in other fields has taught me that learning from the best mentors you can find is akin to taking drastic shortcuts to wherever you’re trying to go. Why wouldn’t it be the same with music?

As I’ve been reading this book, I’ve been learning some amazing things about the classical musicians who basically raised me. I learned that Mozart was touring Europe and performing for royalty before he even turned six years old. I learned that Robert Schumann suffered greatly from what we now think is Bipolar Disorder, to the extent that it drove him to a suicide attempt. I learned that Chopin was raised in Poland but lived his entire adult life in Paris. I learned that he never felt truly at home in either place.

I’ve learned about the anatomy of symphonies and sonatas. I’ve learned that Beethoven had a flair for the unconventional and the dramatic, while Bach’s legendary set of Preludes and Fugues were more or less intended to be technical exercises to help his contemporaries improve their clavier skills. The book has pointed me towards specific pieces that demonstrate beautiful examples of melody, harmony, rhythm, theme & motif, and pretty much any other important musical skill I can think of. Listening to these pieces now, I hear them in a different way. I can better understand what made them great, and I can better apply those principles to my own music.

Perhaps the most important thing I’ve learned, though, is how much there is to learn. All my musical heroes are human, just like me. They had good and bad days. They had their genius moments and they had their flaws. But the thing that ties them all together is their willingness to learn and their desire to grow. They researched the tradition that came before them and they sought out mentorship from the elite musicians of their time. And I can’t help but smile, because as I learn more about these towering giants of the past, I realize that I’m attempting to do the exact same thing.

How I Learned to Play (and Listen to) Music for Myself

By: Konner Scott

I’ll admit it up front: I’m remarkably insecure about my level of musicianship. It’s quite difficult for me to hear a recording or see a live show and just enjoy the music, instead of comparing myself to the instrumentalists involved and wondering if I could fill their shoes. Whenever I play with musicians I haven’t performed or rehearsed with before, it’s an exercise in staying in my lane and not trying to constantly prove myself.

I’ve been this way for as long as I can remember. I have a hyper-competitive personality, and my natural instinct in such situations is to try to one-up everybody and prove why I’m the best musician in the room. Of course, when I’ve given in to these destructive instincts, the results have been just that: destructive.

Good music is finicky. It’s easy to ruin a good groove. A few wrong notes (or for that matter, a few too many notes) can be the difference between a stunningly emotional masterpiece and a jumbled mess. Walking that fine line is an art form in and of itself.

When I first decided I wanted to play music professionally, I was frequently in this position. It was soul crushing. I couldn’t understand what I was doing wrong or why everybody always seemed to be on a more “pure” musical wavelength than me, and I kept feeling like my job was to show up and ruin whatever was going on.

Eventually, I got fed up enough with trying so hard (or “over-trying”, which I didn’t recognize at the time) that I began to allow myself space to just play and listen. As soon as I adopted this mentality, things began to improve. I slowly began to realize that the more I focused on myself and my own playing, the less I was focused on blending in with the musicians around me. We were all paints on a canvas, and often I found myself trying to be neon yellow splattered across a subdued landscape. No surprise at all that it didn’t work!

Over time, I came to understand that when I was playing with other musicians, I had a role, and everybody suffered if I tried to overextend myself. If I was the rhythm guitarist, I shouldn’t be trying to take solos. If I was playing piano on a soft ballad, whipping out some wild Chopin-style riffs would only confuse and frustrate the audience (and, equally importantly, the other musicians).

This became even more obvious once I started to listen to other musicians with a critical ear. I found that even the musicians I admired most (or, perhaps, especially those musicians) would primarily play with the other musicians, not in spite of them. Neil Peart’s drum solos, for example, are like nothing I’ve ever heard… but he’s not constantly playing insane solos in the background of Rush songs! Most of the time, he finds a groove that’s technically proficient enough to be interesting, but not so over the top that it destroys the whole musical landscape.

Once I had this realization, I began to focus more and more on how to use my skill set to best serve the role I was trying to fill. I now think in terms of “how not to ruin the performance” instead of “how to show off as much as possible”. Strangely enough, most of the time the solution has been to play less!

Teaching Philosophy and the Issue of Rest

By: Konner Scott

I learned to play piano under the tutelage of a brilliant Serbian piano teacher. At the young age of four, she already understood my potential and she consistently demanded excellence. Whatever I have accomplished with my skill set, I owe it to her. She pushed me incredibly hard, but that hard work turned me into a decent player. She helped cultivate my love for music and helped grant me the tools and education I needed to grow as a musician.

Twenty three years after I first learned to play, I’m now in a position to grant that same experience to the next generation.

I spend a lot of time comparing my own teaching style to the teaching styles that molded me. In many ways, the way I teach is a reflection of the way I learned to play. I understand that commitment, passion, consistency, and genuine effort are the keys to improvement, and I do my best to impart these lessons to my students.

However, I also consider it my duty to figure out where my teaching philosophy deviates from the philosophies of my mentors, and to try to improve on the systems that molded me. I look back on my piano journey and understand that I may have developed a skill set, but I also burnt myself out and quit lessons by the time I was 16. I found guitar in my early teenage years, and it became a good distraction from what I considered to be the grueling task of practicing piano. Now, as a teacher, I want my students to be great – but perhaps more importantly – I want them to love playing music, not to drive them away from it.

One of the biggest differences in opinion between me and my former piano teacher is the issue of taking rest. She had a workhorse mentality, and at first, I responded well to it. My ability to focus and my competitive spirit made me a good candidate for that teaching style. After the better part of a decade, though, it began to wear on me. She didn’t really believe in time off- she looked at a student’s musical growth as a direct result of the time and effort they put in.

Now, I’m not saying that time and hard work are not important. To the contrary; they’re perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle if you’re trying to get better at what you do. But the same way we need yin to complement yang, we need rest and recovery to relieve the toll these efforts take on our psyche.

I realized something odd when I started learning guitar. I would play every single day, and I slowly began to get better. But after months of playing nonstop, I’d have to leave town for a weekend to compete at a championship swim meet. This happened once or twice a year.

I wouldn’t be able to bring my guitar with me (and I probably wouldn’t have played much anyways, since my focus was on my racing), so these trips became forced time off from music.

When I returned to town and picked up my guitar again, I would spend a day or so brushing off the cobwebs, but I was always stunned by what happened next. Without fail, once I got my groove back, I would find that I had made a measurable leap in my skills. I couldn’t comprehend this; somehow, by NOT playing, I had become a better player. Eventually, the message began to click, and as I learned more about psychology, I began to better understand this phenomenon:

If you spend all your time consciously trying to learn something, you don’t give your brain a chance to subconsciously process and integrate it. In my case, having a three day stretch where I wasn’t even thinking about playing allowed my subconscious mind to synthesize all of the information I had been drilling into myself for months on end.

As a teacher, I do my best to pass this on to my students. I make it clear to them that it’s not just okay, but it’s a necessity to take a day or two off every once in a while. Everyone has their own rest and recovery requirements, and the onus is on the student to figure out what works best for them. In particular, I encourage taking breaks during the holidays and after recitals.

However, I make sure to let them know that this ONLY works if they put the effort in beforehand. Taking a break from your break will not make you a better player; only long stretches of hard work can do that.
Ultimately, though, I want to give my students the opportunity to enjoy music for decades to come. I’ve come to understand that each student’s musical journey is a marathon rather than a sprint, and incorporating recovery time into their routine can help reduce the likelihood that they will burn out the same way I did.

Playing Notes vs. Making Music

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.

Five Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me As A Young Musician

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!

How To Support Your Musical Child

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!

Guitar

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.