One lesson that I drill into all of my music students is the importance of being prepared. I stress how important it is to be professional in any business. Here are some situations to be prepared for:
Your Music Instructor
There is no doubt that part of furthering yourself in you music career is mastering your instrument. If you aren’t studying or taking private music lessons, do it! When your teacher gives you an assignment, make sure you come back to the next lesson with it nailed down and then some. If a student shows up unprepared they might as well say, “I don’t care about getting better,” or “music actually ISN’T a priority to me.” Not only does it slow down the student’s personal growth, but it also leaves a bad impression on the music instructor. If someone calls me for a gig that I can’t do or if they are looking for a player in a band, I am going to refer my students who have practiced and have been prepared.
Show up on time to your rehearsals, have all of your parts perfected, and bring a great attitude. Everyone WILL notice. You will sound better and you have instantly created a great reputation for yourself. The word will definitely get around that you are a true professional. Other people will call you for gigs and other people will refer you to other gigs. The same is true if you aren’t prepared; no one will want to refer you…no matter how “awesome” you are.
Your Studio Session
Get yourself a recording of the tune you are going to record…even if it’s a scratch recording from a phone or computer. Listen to the tune and get it in your head. I generally try to come up with a few options for parts to present to the artist or producer/engineer. Then, experiment with tone, gear, effects, etc. Once you head into the studio, everyone again will be blown away by how prepared you are and it will immediately affect your reputation. You will probably land more session gigs in the future.
These are just a few situations for which you need to be prepared. There are so many chances for you to prove your professionalism through being prepared. Take the time and work hard to be ready. Teachers, fellow musicians, artists, producers, engineers, and others in the industry will be your best way to solidify your reputation and propel your career.
I often tell people my guitar teacher changed my life forever. I loved taking guitar lessons so much! I love teaching music lessons even more! There are more benefits to taking music lessons than I have space for. So, I am going to try and narrow it down…wish me luck!
I remember overhearing Luke in his voice lesson at Freeway one week. He sounded so amazing that I had to poke my head in and compliment him. He never sang in front of a crowd before, and was frightened to do so. It came time for him to perform at his first showcase, and he was so nervous that he was shaking. Luke couldn’t go through with it. So he bowed out. Then, this past Sunday we had a Christmas recital for our music students. It came time for Luke to perform again. He was so nervous. At first, he said he couldn’t do it. His voice teacher, parents, other teachers at Freeway and myself encouraged him to do it. Luke stood on stage and sang his heart out. There were tears all throughout the audience. He crushed it! I watched a student’s confidence grow right in front of my eyes. I have witnessed this time and time again. There is no doubt that music helps kids grow in confidence.
Music is such a great tool to spark creativity. Students can create melodies, lyrics, riffs, songs, and much more. There are so many elements of music that you can manipulate such as: time, meter, dynamics, tone, pitch, and even the instruments themselves. Music doesn’t stop at performance. There is writing, arrangement, production, promotion, etc. The creative possibilities in music are endless and available to all music students. I constantly challenge my students to take what they learn from their lessons, apply it, and create with it. This makes the lesson material stick better, and urges students to create their own signature within music. Michael Cammarata comes to mind. He is a guitar student of mine. He started playing guitar in his 50’s. He began writing, recorded an album, and released it recently to his church and friends. This is a great example of how any student can begin the creative process at anytime.
Music lessons are a weekly commitment. Students must come at the same time each week, and be prepared for the previous week’s lesson. I give my guitar students practice schedules detailing what they are to practice each week. Then, I have them check off the days they practiced. I even go a step further and make them sign the schedule as an extra level of accountability. Recitals and showcases force students to be accountable for a certain part they must have prepared. I don’t know any student who wants to stink it up in front of a crowd, or let their fellow students down by not being prepared for a group performance. That is a great Segway into the next benefit.
Recently, our music students marched and performed in the Blythewood Christmas parade. The students that were performing on the float called each other and rehearsed together. Once at the parade, other students came early to help set up and carry equipment. While we were marching, students were carrying the banner, making sure the equipment was safe, clapping and singing, and handing out candy. The energy was so positive as students supported and encouraged one another. The various outreach opportunities, showcases, rock band classes, and all star bands give students the chance to learn how to work together. This is a skill that will translate into school, athletics, jobs, and more.
There is a lot of research showing that musical training has various cognitive benefits. These quotes are from the Journal of Neuroscience
“If you took piano lessons as a child but never continued with them in adulthood, they could still provide brain benefits later in life”
“…And the positive effects seemed to be stronger the longer a person took music lessons as a child”
“…people could stand to benefit from starting music lessons at a very young age”
“…musical training before age 7 is linked with more white matter in the corpus callosum part of the brain, as well as better performance on visual sensorimotor synchronization tasks compared with people who started music training after age 7”
A study of 7,500 university students revealed that music majors scored the highest reading
scores among all majors including English, biology, chemistry and math
~ The Case for Music in the Schools, Phi Delta Kappa, 1994
I could list facts all day long. It is very apparent that music has incredible benefits to the brain. I believe the research speaks for itself.
If you are an adult trying to stretch your brain, or a parent considering signing up a child for lessons, I urge you to do it as soon as possible. Music lessons are a great way to make people more well-rounded. The benefits are endless. Start your music journey today!
A lot of music students come in with the question of “How do I write a song?”. So, I analyzed my own songwriting, and came up with three basic approaches to sparking the songwriting process. All three are important, and tend to lead into each other.
Carry a notepad or take notes on your smart phone. Begin writing down interesting words, or things that you see. Be more tuned into the world around you, and keep lyric writing in the front of your brain. Once you have some words, you can either write a melody around them, or play chords and force the words to fit within a chord progression into a melody. The benefit of writing lyrics first is that you can say exactly what you want to say, and make the lyrics as rich as you want up front. Also, sometimes creating the words up front causes a songwriter to use phrasing that they normally wouldn’t use. These phrases can be very original and creative.
The garble approach is one of my favorites. I tend to do it alone because it can be awkward for other people to hear you “garbling”. The basic idea is to come up with a chord progression first, or a riff. Then, you begin singing nonsense over the chord changes or “garbling”. Soon, you’ll begin to form actual words and phrases. I love this approach because it is a very organic approach. There is very little thought in this approach and a lot of natural reaction. The benefit of this approach is that you will sing melodies, consonants, and phrases that naturally flow within the progression or riff that you are playing. Also, the words that come out will be a stream of conscious. You will say things that are in your mind already. This is great if you are at a lost for what to write about.
We all are guilty of humming in our cars. Typically, it’s other tunes we have heard, but sometimes a melody will just pop in your head. I tell my guitar students to carry some kind of recording device. Today, it’s easy to record yourself on a smart phone or an IPod. For this approach, you simply hum a melody and then lock it into chords and words. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, told me one time, “Melody rules!”. He was speaking of the importance of melody. It is very true. Just go listen to the top hits. Typically, the words are pretty shallow, and the melody is very strong. So a strong melody can create a big hit! Also, if you have a melody first, you aren’t locked into a specific chord progression. One of my favorite things to do is to change chords under the same melody. It makes it sound like you are playing a different melody each time.
So are you a poet, garbler, or a hummer. I consider myself to be all three at different times. Here are three things you can do to spark your creativity and songwriting:
1. Carry a notepad, or use your smart phone, and write down lyrics.
2. Create a new riff or progression on you instrument and try to sing along.
3. Start humming and record your melody ideas on a voice recorder.
If you are a songwriter in Columbia, SC, here are some things to check out:
Wednesday- Lucky’s Burger Shack Irmo, 8 pm
Conundrum is a local music hall that features a lot of local & regional songwriters as well.
Good luck writing!
We talked about the basic fundamentals of soloing with groove, soul, creativity, and vocabulary in How to Solo Part 1. We also touched on three basic approaches to soloing: scales, chords, and melodies in How to Solo Part 2 . Now, we are moving into the art of telling a story. I personally loved the wisdom I garnered from taking private music lessons, and perhaps one of the lessons that most stuck with me was learning how to tell a story. My guitar teacher’s name is Robert Newton. He is such an amazing music instructor! We were having a guitar lesson and he taught me how to tell a story with my solo. He said, “just like you would write a paper or a story, you need to include these three basic parts:”
A related series of incidents in a literary plot that build toward the point of greatest interest…
Don’t come out running! The worst thing you can do as a player is to come out full-throttle and running. Where do you go from there? Exactly…there is no room to grow. Make sure that you ease into the solo. Be patient, just like you would if you were sparking a conversation with someone. Let the solo naturally unfold. A solo can almost write itself if you let it. Then, begin to make your solo more interesting and exciting. If you are unsure how to do this, then you are in luck! My next blog entry “How to Solo (part4)” will be dedicated to this process alone. Rising action can ebb and flow, but should culminate with the climax.
A decisive moment that is of maximum intensity or is a major turning point in a plot…
This is the point that your solo should be building up to. You should be rocking full-throttle and moving the crowd. For some reason, when I think about a climatic solo, I think about Jimmy Page’s solo in Stairway to Heaven by Zeppelin. I know…it’s one of the most overplayed tunes…but for a reason. That solo is great! Right around 6:20, Page starts rocking his first climatic part of the solo. Then, shortly after, he rips out another lick that takes it up a notch further into the vocal section. The climatic part of a solo can be as long or short as you want it. You can also have more than one, as long as the 2nd one eclipses the first one. Just make sure that you bring it down at the right time. There is an inner sense of when it’s time to pack it up, and you better obey that inner sense for fear of losing the crowd. Sometimes it will be 10 seconds and sometimes 2 minutes, but you’ll know. Then, you will begin the “falling action.”
All of the action in a play that follows the turning point. The falling action leads to the resolution or conclusion of the play…
Once you have the crowd at the climatic part of the solo, you need to gently bring them down to resolve or end the solo. Think of it as the cool down period after a workout. Like a cool down period, it should be slightly shorter than the warm-up or rising action. You basically should play a short section to wrap up the solo for the listener. Again, there are no hard and fast rules here, and the falling action can vary in duration. You’ll just have to trust your senses again. ALWAYS listen to that inner voice. It seldom is wrong. As you become more experienced, it will become easier and easier.
The next time you take a solo, keep the principle in mind of telling a story. Simply being aware of the process is the first step. Grab your listeners, give them a payoff, and gently let them down. Go listen to some of your favorite solos and soloists and see how they do it. Until next time, happy soloing!
How to Solo Part 4
How to Solo (Part 1)
Perhaps one of the hardest things to teach in music lessons is how to solo. Students are down right frightened of soloing and improvising at times. One of the reasons it is so hard to teach is that there are so many factors. So I have decided to split this blog into a series. Let’s begin with the basics.
I constantly quote this statement from The Music Lesson by Victor Wooten to my guitar students, “People FEEL music before they hear it.” Before trying to move around and play a bunch of notes, find and establish the groove of the song. I’d rather hear someone play “wrong notes” in a groove than “good notes” out of the groove. Start with even one note and lock in a groove. Then, add a note, and another…etc. People will immediately feel your solo.
Notes are just a bag of Legos. I think it’s important for music students to maintain this child-like mentality. I remember the first time I approached my mom’s piano. I wasn’t concerned with being a musician, or how good or bad I was. I just loved the sounds that came out of the instrument. I didn’t understand theory, but I gathered that if I kept experimenting with the notes, I could eventually create familiar melodies or even original melodies that sounded good to me. The piano was a giant bag of Legos to me. I could construct them anyway I wanted to. Somewhere along the way, I became aware of the fact that I was a “musician” and a “guitar player.” I then began to add undue pressure on myself as a player. Also, as I learned more, I began overthinking. Truthfully though, all I was doing was buying new Lego sets to add more pieces to build from. Once I realized that and went back to my child-like mentality, I began enjoying the process much more.
Music is a language. The sooner one grasps that concept the better. Just like language, one can take notes and make words, sentences, phrases, tell stories, and even express concepts. Practice making small phrases and repeat them. Then, create longer ones and try to repeat them. You can also express yourself with tone, loudness, and emotion like language. You should listen to the language, speak it as often as possible, and live in it. Just like if you were trying to learn Spanish, you would do so much faster in a Spanish speaking country forcing you to hear it, speak it, etc. Listen to other solos, learn them, transcribe them, and play them. It will help you learn the vocabulary necessary to be successful at soloing.
There is nothing worse than a bad actor, and there is also nothing worse than watching someone play without any soul. I can play a series of notes with zero soul and then play those same notes with soul and they would sound completely different. Just like you can peg a bad actor, the crowd will peg someone playing without soul. At times, soloing is like standing on a table in the middle of a restaurant and saying, “Look at me!” You’ll have to learn to open up, be exposed, and put your heart out there a bit to really inject soul into your playing. Sometimes it may help to close your eyes and just let go. However you need to get there, I just encourage you to get there! It will change your playing forever.
So, there’s part one. Capture the groove, maintain that child-like wonder, learn the language, and play with your soul. Next time we will talk about three basic ways to approach soloing. Until then, happy soloing!
How to Solo Part 2
This is the question I hear from a lot of parents considering guitar lessons: “Should we start with an acoustic or electric guitar?” In my opinion, it depends on the student. Let’s take a look at each.
Let’s start with the pros. If you enjoy singing and playing, acoustic guitar might be the way to go. One can easily bust the guitar out and sing. Also, acoustic guitars are portable. You don’t have to lug an amp around. There is the old adage that if a student starts guitar lessons on acoustic guitar, then they will have stronger hands, making it better for the student. On the other hand, it’s harder to play…which is a good segue to the cons. Acoustic guitars can be very arduous for beginners to play as it is harder to fret notes. This can be very discouraging to beginner guitar students. Bends are harder, holding chords can be harder, etc. I recommend using nylon strings for young guitar students taking lessons on an acoustic. Nylon strings are much easier to play. Let’s take a look at electric guitar.
I personally started on electric guitar because I loved rock music. That itself is a pro. It’s much harder to rock out on an acoustic. Electric guitars are generally easier to play than acoustic guitars. Also, you can use various amps and effects to create endless possibilities of sound and tone; however, this leads to having more stuff to tote around. Haha! It is true that it is a little harder to transition to acoustic once you are accustom to technique on electric guitar, but that doesn’t mean that one HAS to start on acoustic. I think either is fine, which brings me to my bottom line.
Style of Music
One of the first things I ask my guitar students is “what kind of music do you like?” No one wants to take lessons and study if they aren’t striving towards what they like. That doesn’t mean a music teacher can’t or shouldn’t stretch their students, challenge them, or introduce them to new styles. It just means students are more likely to get into music when they like the music they are learning. Also, students should consider the music they listen to when deciding whether to buy an acoustic or electric guitar. If you listen to rock music, buy an electric guitar. If you like acoustic-driven music or singer songwriter music, then the acoustic guitar is the way to go. There are different shoes for various athletic sports for a reason. You wouldn’t suit up a football player with basketball sneakers. In the same way, you shouldn’t equip a kid that wants to play Avenged Sevenfold with an acoustic guitar!
So, considering what music the student is moved by or passionate about is the first step. If there is no particular style that is important, then use the other determining factors like tone, portability, technique, price, etc. Now you are better equipped to buy. Happy Hunting!
There have always been alternatives to music lessons such as: books, cd’s, videos, and now, internet and YouTube offer great resources for music students to learn to play their instruments. Still, there is nothing that can replace having a lesson with a teacher in person. Here are a few benefits from “In Person” music lessons:
Nothing can replicate the relationship one establishes from having music lessons in person. The music teacher can instantly respond to a student. It’s kind of hard to high five a student through a computer screen, or establish a relationship with a YouTube video. Also, if your music teacher lives in the same town with you, they can attend your music events, or other events like even soccer games, etc. I personally strive to have a strong relationship with my students and their families. I pride myself in being a mentor to my students, encouraging them to grow, not only in music, but in academics, sports, and life in general.
I have several Skype guitar lessons that I teach, but the one thing that I miss the most is playing at the same time with my students. When I was young, I remember a specific night jamming with my friend. He played rhythm guitar and I played lead guitar for a Metallica song. We stayed up all night playing and had a blast. There is a special moment that happens when two or more people are in a room together playing parts that compliment each other. I always jam with students who are learning to improvise. I try to use my own energy in the room to inspire them to play, and illustrate dynamics. Playing along with a student also creates a guide for the song they are working on, gently pushing the student to completion and correction. I’ve even noticed guitar students moving, dancing, and mimicking my movements when we are standing and preparing for a showcase. This is a great opportunity to talk about stage presence. This element of music lessons is vital.
Having a local music teacher creates many more opportunities for students to plug in and develop. One of my favorite elements of Freeway Music is the showcases. We pair guitar, drum, bass, voice, and piano students into bands and they perform together. The last several showcases even included violin, saxophone, flute, and banjo students. The showcases always give me chills. It’s so amazing, as a teacher, to watch a student’s confidence grow. The showcases give students purpose, propelling them to practice more. Students forge friendships and band together, sometimes for life. My teacher, Robert Newton, had a local jam session. His guitar students would go sit in and meet some of the best local talent. This helped propel my career so much. I have also had my students come sit in and play with me at my gigs. Just like Robert took me under his wing, I do the same for my students. Our students at Freeway have played on local radio stations, in parades, and at music festivals. We’ve had clinics for tone, songwriting, specific instruments, and much more. Most of the guitar teachers at Freeway are former or current guitar students of mine. Networking and connections go a long way in any business, and your music teacher could be your best resource.
There are many avenues to explore learning outside of your regular lesson to supplement what your are learning. Unfortunately, one can’t replicate the relationship you form, playing together in person, and the opportunities that come from private lessons. My best students do both, and I encourage you to do the same. Good Luck!
Studying with a teacher is the best thing that any student can do for his/her development. While this fact is undeniable, it’s also dependent on the student’s being open to instruction from someone that is his/her superior and can demonstrate instructions with ease and confidence. Much like martial arts masters were challenged to fight by potential students, so too must a musical “master” be worthy of pupils.
*Check out IP Man
The Ego Problem
Ego is not inherently a bad word or a bad thing, but it is the one aspect of our personalities that can sabotage our ability to improve and/or how we view our improvement. This “ego problem” can especially affect a person’s decision about whether to take private music lessons or not. Genuine objectivity is needed to decide that the “outside influence” of a qualified music teacher is the ideal influence on our musical development.
Admitting that you could benefit from some qualified help is a big step in the right direction. Too often, the need to feel like we are “talented” or “gifted” enough to teach ourselves prevents us from seeking help from a teacher. Separating this need from objectively admitting your shortcomings is a key part of the process. Then, finding a qualified music teacher with whom you have a great relationship will accelerate your rate of development.
There are plenty of frightened, but talented, musicians in this world that deny practicing or tutelage has shaped them. It’s unfortunate when this type of negative association with learning occurs and is propagated. I can only assume that somewhere along the line, these jaded or fiercely independent musicians had a bad experience with a potential teacher or mentor. While these incidents certainly can happen, it is no reason to discourage others from pursuing the path of studying (as the drummer for the Black Keys – never mind his name – has done).
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
That brings me to my next point: just as not all students require the same type of instruction, not all teachers come in a “one size fits all” option. It is very important to connect with your teacher on some level. This connection doesn’t need to be overt or deliberate, but without some reciprocated trust and respect, the relationship is pointless. That description sounds a lot like other interpersonal relationships, doesn’t it?
The relationship that you have with a teacher is just as crucial a factor in determining how you feel about your progress on your instrument as any of your technical skills. A teacher can be a mentor, role model, and friend, but above all, he/she is an inspiration to his/her students. There is no substitute for the genuine connection that occurs between an enthusiastic student and a confident, qualified teacher.
The second thing that the Talmud instructs a person to do is to find a friend. How great is it when your instructor turns out to be a friend as well?!
We are now in the age of touch screens and internet. Rather than fighting technology, I embrace them, and use them with my students in guitar lessons. So, I have decided to share with you some great apps that can help you in your music lessons. These are useful for both teacher and student.
Name That Note
Name That Note is great! It allows music students to pick a level of Beginner, Intermediate, or Advanced. Users can choose bass clef, treble Clef, or both! It starts with basic natural notes, and then works up to difficult key signatures and ledger lines. It keeps score for the student, and has a timer which creates the real life pressure students need to experience. This is a great app for piano, guitar, drums, voice, bass, or any instrument! This is an Apple app, but fear not Android users…there are comparable apps for Android!
Rhythm Cat Pro
Another important element of music that is applicable to all instruments is Rhythm. Rhythm Cat is a really fun game format for rhythm. Users simply tap in the rhythm along with the music. Students will work through various stages, and use the 3 star system popularized by Angry Birds. The exercises progressively get harder as you go. It’s simply a fun way to learn rhythm…And I mean come on, that can be a drag sometimes. haha!
Music starts with the ears. Let’s face it, if it doesn’t sound good, what does it matter?! Better Ears does just what the title says, it gives you better ears! Users can choose the preset levels, or work with their customized level as they study intervals, scales, chords, progressions, pitch, and much more! This app is so helpful for both student and teacher in their music lessons.
This app is not specific to music lessons, but is a great app for music students! We’ve covered some basic elements that are important to all instruments with rhythm, sight-reading, and ear-training; however, none of these matter if students don’t practice. Seconds Pro allows you to set up a customized exercise schedule. Students can name the exercises, order them, customize the time, and even customize the colors. Once you have your schedule set, you simply press start. Your device then speaks the exercise out loud, the timer rolls, and as your exercise is nearly done it counts down the last few seconds. There are also optional rest times in between; these are customizable as well. Seconds Pro gives students a well organized system to get their practice done, and be ready for their next music lesson.
Whether you play violin, sing, play drums, it doesn’t matter. These apps will help you exercise the basic elements of music, and make you more prepared for your lessons. There are many other useful apps we didn’t cover like a tuner or metronome. Also, for my fellow guitar players and students, check out FretWiz ! It’s Great! Go check out the app stores. You are bound to find apps that will be very helpful along your musical journey. Good Luck!
Coming To Your Lesson Prepared.
You wouldn’t show up to football practice without a helmet, right? And I assume you wouldn’t head to the mall without your wallet…
Not a chance.
In the same way, it is extremely important to come to your music lessons prepared. “But whyyy,” you ask, dreading the scolding that typically comes from teachers or bosses. Fear not! Below are some reasons/helpful suggestions that will make your lesson experience even MORE fun.
The importance of being prepared:
The biggest reason one should come to their music lessons prepared is to not waste time! Let’s face it, your piano, voice, guitar, drum, saxaphone, etc, etc, lessons aren’t free. The last thing you want to do is spend half of the time you pay for, repeating what you did last week, simply b/c you didn’t come prepared.
The lesson itself will go much more smoothly if everything is in place. Consider it a cool puzzle, and your preparedness is the missing piece that you can’t find in the box, under the couch, etc. You also know how frustrating it is when you can’t find that piece, and we all love the feeling of completing a good puzzle. (Don’t lie, you know you do too).
Your attitude will be so much better when you are prepared/seeing your progress, and even better you won’t have the sinking feeling that comes when you’re about to tell your teacher you didn’t practice 😮
What does it mean to be prepared:
Have any materials that you use for your lesson with you…like notebooks, sheet music, blank paper, mp3 players, & let’s not forget your instrument. Yes, multiple students of mine have forgotten their guitar for their guitar lesson. I mean, that is basically the same as swinging at a baseball without a bat (ouch), or catering a party and forgetting THE FOOD (we all know the hangry feeling —> hungry + angry).
You don’t want to spend your lesson printing off sheets, digging up songs that should be ready to go, etc.
I realize this word carries a lot of meaning & that everyone dreads their ‘homework’. Let’s be real, though…practicing awesome songs by awesome artists (including yourself) has to be the best homework assignment ever. You’re welcome 🙂
Basically, this means, have your lesson from the previous week mastered before you walk in the door. Your lesson is either 30 minutes or an hour long, I imagine; having roughly 84 waking hours each week, you can squeeze in enough time to have that material down by your next lesson. (see our previous blogs on practicing & scheduling practice time by Matt & Tony)
It’s frustrating & a waste of time to spend your lesson relearning what you did the previous week. If you come to your instructor saying “Check THIS out,” you can build on what you’re learning and progress faster than you can imagine, which is much more fun. Again, we all like fun, right?
I’ve had a lot of students carry in things that detract from their learning experience. Granted, sometimes these things are unavoidable; however, most of the time it’s as simple as making the choice to let music be an escape from whatever annoyances or issues life can bring. Again, this will make your lesson more productive & more exciting for you & your instructor.
So, to put a nice bow on things, remember, to save time, money, and have FUN:
Bring your materials.
Have your (awesome) homework done.
Smile! …because your hobby is the coolest, & it also happens to be a great stress reliever, improves brain function, increases test scores, etc, etc.
Check, check, check, and check.