Freeway Music — Columbia, SC’s Premier Music School

You just had a great lesson, and are packing up to leave your teacher’s studio when he/ she says those all-important, gut-wrenching words: “Practice a lot this week!” Good practicing habits are difficult to form, especially if you’ve heard the saying, “Practice makes perfect,” which is not true! Practice doesn’t make perfect- it makes permanent.

So, how do you make the most of your practice time and make progress on your music? Here are a few tips for making practice time productive, efficient, and more enjoyable that apply to beginners or experienced musicians!

1 – Prepare your practice space
– Have a regularly scheduled time set aside for practice
– Free the practice area of any distractions not needed for practice: snacks, TV,phone, electronics, etc.
– Always warm-up first (flash cards, scales, app/review, etc.) if even for a short time!

2 – Have a plan- “what needs work today?”

3 – Don’t simply play through each piece from beginning to end- be diligent and work out the trouble spots. (Just ‘playing’ through songs isn’t true practicing.)

4 – When something is hard, think: “What is the melody?” “Am I in the correct hand position/on the right notes?” Practice hands separate and figure it out.

5 – SLOW-motion practice- practice under tempo- not fast! Especially with a new piece, play it slowly to get the correct fingering, rhythm, and notes correct before playing it up to performance tempo.* (*this is not super fun at first, but saves a lot of headache from wrong notes/rhythms later!)

6 – Reward yourself- if you accomplished your goals and practiced well, have fun and play through some old music or mess around with a new idea! You deserve it.

7 – Set goals, stay focused, and leave your practice session hearing a difference in your music! (Your teacher will be super excited, and your parents will be so grateful you don’t have to keep playing the same songs over and over…plus, you will enjoy the benefits, too!)

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but it does make permanent. Take the time to do practicing the right way and you will notice the difference in your lessons and in your music!

You may like these blogs:

How to Develop a Positive Practice Cycle

Stop Asking Your Child to Practice

Coming to Your Lesson Prepared

Completing the Circuit

Every so often, a parent of a student will make a comment or ask a question that just sticks with you. For me, that happened as I was getting ready to write this post. I casually mentioned my topic of choice which, up until I spoke with this parent, was going to be insight into what happens in beginning piano lessons and why X was critical in developing Y…how academic. The parent commented, “I would love something on what our jobs is as parents,” and I referred her to my more recent post on practicing tips for parents, but her comment stuck with me. It’s stuck in my head so much that I think the real question is, “what is it that you do as a private teacher and how do I help my child progress?”

For a parent, I have to imagine our jobs seem somewhat vague and the gauge of progress is marked by recitals and practice time at home. Ask us how your child is doing and we will usually say something positive, in some instances offer some more critical feedback, and usually try to sum up the lesson that week in thirty seconds as we end one lesson and begin another. Sometimes we email or make calls, but we rely heavily on the ever present notebook, markings in the music, and, most importantly, sending the student home knowing what they have to do. So, what is it that we private teachers do and where do you fit into all of this?

The first thing to address is that we couldn’t be more different from public school teachers. Attire and atmosphere aside, there is no cut and dry curriculum, no single set of standards to which we teach, no marker of passing or failing, and no singular way that any one student is taught. It is perhaps the greatest blessing and greatest curse of the private teacher and our relationship with parents. We are often minimally concerned with parents reinforcing our roles since we work directly and individually with each student one at a time within their own capacity. We gauge success on interest peaking and technical achievements that there simply isn’t a way to easily define. We rely on ourselves and our individual approaches to help each student move forward and build a positive relationship with playing their chosen instrument. As a parent, you may be left wondering, “where does that leave me and what do I do?”

It leaves you confused, but there’s a very good reason and that’s because we all came through the American educational system of quantifiable results, standardized testing, and a constant progression of learn this, then this, and then you will know that. Leaving out any mention of what is happening in education today, the history of this model is fairly recent. Believe it or not, our structure and system of education is modeled after the assembly line pioneered by the Ford Motor Company. Now, if you reflect on your own education, no matter the shifts that occur nearly by the decade, you will see that this model fits perfectly around how we were taught to learn and how progress is measured. Think of the diploma upon graduating high school as a representation of the car you just completed and college the road you will travel finding your way in academia. Concurrent to trends in public education, we private teachers were there all along, teaching our instruments and, while we evolved over time – becoming more modern using technology, offering less traditionally classical educations – not much has changed in the sense that the goal is to get you to love to play and to play well.

You may have noticed that I still haven’t answered where you, the parent, belong in all of this and how you might help your child succeed. The fact is, you can Google that and there will be tons of private teachers and academics out there who will offer a wide array of suggestions, make up fanciful games, suggest using this bit of technology or that, but I’ll offer you what I believe the truth is: you know your child better than we do. We can offer suggestions on what to do at home; we can offer advice on how you should never, ever force someone to practice; we can remind you that the love of practicing is built over years, not months, but that a positive relationship to music should be maintained at all times. There is no singular magic fix to make someone love an instrument faster or to get them to practice or play more. You know your child and their interests, their attention span, and you have to find a way to get those to work together with music making until playing is a brand new and personalized interest. That’s exactly what we do in private teaching. The parent that I spoke to earlier said her son loved performing, but practicing was having its ups and downs. I made a suggestion for a fun practice idea, but will it work? I have no idea. All I can hope is that if it doesn’t, maybe that will inspire a new idea at home.

We try our hardest to engage each student and we rely on you to be our cheerleader. We tell you things that seem to feel so contradictory to what you feel like should happen – how practicing can’t be treated like homework and it doesn’t just ‘get done’ or how it is completely fine that they only played their piece three times that week and we’re so thrilled that we can shoot for four times next week. We tell you it takes time and it does. If you want to know what the best day in private teaching is, it’s the day that a student asks their first real musical question based on inference. Those are the days I live for even if they didn’t practice that week.

Other articles by David J. Pacific:

Stop Asking Your Child to Practice

“Beware of the Bark Side!” or Digital Pianos

“This One Looks Nice!”Setting the Stage for Piano Purchasing Prowess

Any musician at any level can consider a digital piano if they just treat it like what it is: a piano and more.

As a follow up to my recent post discussing how to purchase a piano, I concluded by mentioning that, when asked what instrument I recommend to pianists, I recommend a digital piano. Before discussing what is and what is not a digital piano and how a digital piano is not ever going to be the same thing as a keyboard, I must confess that I am a complete convert on this matter. It has only been four years that I have held the stance that a digital piano is the best introductory, additional, or replacement piano depending on your needs. So, how is it that my mind was changed? Simple: I got educated.

Ask the majority of piano teachers and self-identified classical pianists about a digital piano and, more often than not, the response you will get is, “I just don’t like them.” Pressed further, you might get such responses as, “they’re not a real piano,” “they don’t have all the sounds a real piano makes,” or, “they don’t feel like a real piano.” If you push even slightly further and ask, “when was the last time you played a digital piano,” you’ll get one of the best responses of all: “oh, I won’t touch those things.” Yet, these are the people highly regarded to give their opinion? The ones who won’t touch them? Many pianists and piano teachers have the unfortunate burden of perpetuating myths and feeling the need to elevate our instrument’s status in the face of innovation while deeply believing the non-truths we so readily promote. Too often, persons considering adding a piano to their life will consult a pianist or their piano teacher before the purchase because the teacher is the supposed expert. Well, the teacher is an expert in the field of teaching, but in selecting a piano or considering a digital piano? Myths, opinions, and feelings are usually what are expressed and taken as sound advice.

What a digital piano is NOT:

The first thing to understand is that a digital piano is not a keyboard. Simply put, a keyboard is a toy. You will hear terms that have become rather common place such as touch sensitive or weighted keyboard when referring to both keyboards and digital pianos, but touch sensitive technology is so old, it isn’t even close to what exists in digital pianos now. The most basic of features to have in any instrument is 88 keys. Pianos have had 88 keys since before the twentieth century; this is not new. The second thing to understand about keyboards (vs. digital pianos) is how the sound is generated on a keyboard. A manufacturer will record the pitch of a single note from a piano, then bend the pitch for a group of notes, add four different ‘dynamic’ levels and, voilá! A keyboard! It’s effectively the hocus pocus of the piano industry. Why do we buy into it? It’s a ‘safe’ starter instrument. I have often thought of this as being similar to trying to teach world history with a map from 1980. Sure, you could get around and try to explain Eastern Europe, save a couple hundred bucks by not buying a new map, but would that be a real education?

When considering a digital piano, the first step you should take is dropping the first word in the title and call it what it is: a piano. It is just a piano that happens to be digital, just as some happen to have walnut cabinets. The companies that produce true digital pianos – of which there are only, maybe, three reputable ones – dedicate countless years and facilities to improving their instruments and making them the best possible instruments for performers, educators, and students. Many people believe that a digital piano cannot do all of the things an acoustic piano can do when the very opposite is true. That would be along the lines of saying that a hybrid guitar cannot do the same things as a guitar. The difference, however, is in creating a digital piano, the manufacturers consistently seek to produce the finest product available with all of the benefits of an acoustic piano and more. That “and” is a powerful thing for teachers, students, and musicians.

What a digital piano IS:

Touch and tone are what define any piano’s individuality. In a good digital piano, the manufacturer has sampled from concert grand pianos and incorporated their own technology to produce their instrument’s tone. One manufacturer spent fourteen years developing the first digital piano to use no sampling technology, but, instead, literally built their own piano sound digitally from the bottom up. If you’re wondering how it sounds, to its credit, it was showcased in Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles, CA – one of the leading classical music venues in the country. Unlike keyboards, a digital piano has no pitch bending, no ‘looping’ of sound (keyboards record one pitch and repeat it at lesser volume to resemble decay), an action that is balanced and weighed with escapement the same as you would find on a concert grand piano, and all of the harmonic overtones and qualities found in a grand piano (right on down to sympathetic vibrations and the sound of the damper releasing from the strings at the depression of the pedal). All of this is under a much smaller footprint. A digital piano sounds like a nine-foot concert grand, but takes up the floor space of a small acoustic piano. Don’t like the preset piano? Build your own. Digital pianos have onboard technical specifications that let you build your own piano that you like and save it, changing such things as string resonance, tuning frequency for an individual note, and even the noise of the hammers!

Earlier, I said that a digital piano has “all of the benefits of an acoustic piano and more.” There are remarkable educational benefits to learning on a digital piano. The obvious one is this: playing on a digital piano means that a person is learning and practicing on a perfectly prepared instrument every time they practice. The less obvious ones come from what is really staring at you in the face, but you have no idea why you should use it, and that’s the arsenal of technology. For children, I advocate wholeheartedly using all of the sounds that will annoy everyone in your house (with headphones, of course).

The impact of owning a digital piano:

I was once in a showroom while there was a family looking to purchase a digital piano. The child was practicing the “Imperial March” from Star Wars when he suddenly discovered that there is a “dog bark” voice on the piano. He turned to his mother after playing the “Imperial March” on the bark voice and said, “beware of the bark side!” That was the moment the mother purchased the digital piano: the moment she saw her son engaged in music making. It doesn’t matter what sound the child plays on, so long as they play and are engaged in music making. There are also countless educational apps that sync with digital pianos wirelessly and enhance both learning and teaching. Moreover, something as simple as the onboard recording features or USB storage can provide immediate feedback for a student to hear their own progress. Any digital piano will sync with a computer and software and allow anyone playing to compose their own music in real time. The fact is, the digital piano connects with the omnipresence of technology in all of our lives. People often worry about a digital piano becoming outdated, but the industry is really at a remarkable place. Until someone invents a new concept in speaker technology, there isn’t one thing a digital piano can’t do that an acoustic piano can, save avant-garde works requiring you to put screws inside your piano!

A study produced by a leading publishing house found that six out of ten students who began on a digital piano progressed to the next level of the lesson series. That number dropped to one out of ten when surveying students who began on a used, acoustic piano, similar to what you might find in most homes where pianos are inherited. The difference is in engaging the student in the learning process on their terms and based on their interests. To be clear, however, digital pianos are not just for children and teachers. One of my closest friends and colleagues practiced on a digital piano all through her masters degree and I prepared an entire set of auditions for some of the top conservatories on one. As a last point, there is also the financial component and there simply isn’t a better bang for your buck. An acoustic piano needs maintenance and a digital piano generally doesn’t. If you consider that the average acoustic piano is going to need $200-400 worth of maintenance a year and you’re just saving that money by buying a digital, a digital piano actual pays itself off while you own it just by not having to maintain it. A great man in the piano industry once told me when talking about digital pianos, “one day, people will write for these,” and I think every day we are closer to that. Any musician at any level can consider a digital piano if they just treat it like what it is: a piano and more.

In the First Part of New Resolutions from a Pianist, we discussed serving the music, serving the setting, and serving the moment.

This is New Year’s Resolutions From a Pianist Part 2, the second part of a three part series. I’m sharing some of what I learned in 2014 as a pianist and some of the resolutions and steps to growth that I’m going to take in 2015 in the hope that we can learn and grow together this year.

This year I resolve to play with authenticity—whatever my skill level.

I’ll be honest, this resolution scares me. It takes me out of my comfort zone because there are settings in which I am immensely comfortable and settings that scare the pants off of me. This resolution also gives tremendous hope for every level of pianist/keyboardist, because it means that even beginners can tackle any tune at some level. Here’s how I plan to do this:

Play what I (you) know.

If that means that two notes of a suspended chord work over the whole tune, then play those two notes. If that means playing the melody instead of some fabulous, juicily-creative lick, then play the melody. If that means playing only the bass notes, play the bass notes. If that means taking full advantage of a moment to shine and showcasing technique and flavorful vocabulary won through focused practice, then take full advantage! Show up, and authentically play what you know—at whatever place in your musical journey you happen to be.

This year I resolve to take musical risks.

One of my favorite authors talks about her daughter being scared of coming in last at a swim meet; she quelled those fears by telling her daughter, “All you have to do is show up, and get wet.” You don’t have to be the most creative, the best, or the first when you play, but you are accountable to yourself to take risks that push you. Here are some ideas for musical risks to be taken in 2015:

Play with musicians who are better than you.
Take on a project/gig/performance opportunity that makes you nervous.
Begin creating your own music—write a tune and share it with someone.
Play for people who know more than you and be open to feedback.

You may even come up with your own musical risk. Whatever the case may be, take musical risks with me this year!

This year I resolve to create space.

Here are some places and ways I would like to create space this year:

Create space in my music. Use rests to create juicy rhythms. Don’t play every note—or everything you know all the time. Allow for punctuation in musical sentences.
Create space for learning. Set aside time to learn. When a concept or technique simply isn’t coming along as I’d like in my practice, set it aside and let it breathe. Then come back again with the mental space to absorb what I’m trying to learn.
Create space for others to be heard. Enjoy hearing what others are doing musically—whether playing with them or listening to them. One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself and others is the willingness to listen to their artistic ideas. You are enriched and they get to communicate. No one learns while talking.
Create space to listen. Keep a running list of artists and albums to be digested. Musical listening requires focus. I want to set aside time this year to listen every day with a mindset of focused savoring of the sounds and not passive consumption.

Join me for part three of my New Year’s resolutions as a pianist!

Check out:

New Year’s Resolutions From a Pianist Part 3

Recently, one of our Freeway Music rock band classes was opening up for a band from Nashville called Dedsa. They were great guys that watched and supported every student. They complimented what we were doing with our students. One thing really stood out though. The manager said, “I really love that you are teaching you students stage etiquette!” It never really occurred to me to focus on that. I just shared it with our music students as practical advice. So, here are a few things that could improve your performance etiquette.

1. Give Props
Always give props to the bands that have played before you and the ones that will play after you, even if the bands don’t return the favor. It’s important to have the reputation of being supportive. Sometimes people didn’t catch the name of the last band. It also encourages your friends who came to see your band to stick around and check out the next band. Almost always, the other band will return the favor and give you props to their fans. Also, give props to the venue and its workers.

2. Listen
Whether headlining or opening, get out there and listen to the other bands, even if just for one song. Don’t be the “diva” band that is too good to get out and listen to the opener. At the same time, don’t be the band who plays and rolls. A music community needs to support each other. The bar for the level of support should start at the top with the musicians who are actually playing. Don’t set it low; lead by example!

3. Never Assume
Don’t assume anything, but be clear and communicate in advance. This applies to sharing gear, set time, sound check, the money breakdown, etc. Always iron out all details before the gig happens.

4. Sound Check
I could probably write a whole blog on soundcheck alone. Follow these three P’s: be punctual, prepared, and polite. Come to the venue on time or early. Have all the gear you need there and ready to move on stage. Cooperate with the sound guy and let him run the show. Whatever you do, don’t noodle incessantly or try to showcase your skills to the bar. Testing your gear for tone and volume is one thing, but everyone hates a “noodler.”

5. Moving Gear
If you aren’t a rockstar touring with roadies, don’t act like it. When you are finished, get your gear off stage as quickly as possible, as to help the other band get on. I like to offer to help bands move their gear on and off, whether I am opening or headlining; however, never assume that someone wants help. Some people are weird about other people touching or moving their stuff. It also can come off as though you are pressuring or rushing a band to get on or off stage. So, always ask!

6. Don’t Abuse Perks
If a place gives you one guest member per band, don’t try to stretch it or sneak people in. It’s their policy and they have a business to run. Again, don’t act like a rockstar when you aren’t. This applies to anything such as beverages or food. Don’t try to use your tab for friends or abuse how many beverages your or your band are drinking, as to leave none for the other band or band members.

7. Market Your Show
Blast the event on social media. Email your contacts and let them know about the event. Text everyone that you think might want to come. Put out posters. In general, just get the word out. It WILL make a HUGE difference. The club/venue owners will notice.

8. Be Cool
This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to screw this one up. Simply, be cool to other bands, the venue employees, fans, etc. Develop relationships with them. You will be surprised how this helps the future of your career.

9. Be Positive on Stage
It’s a blessing to be able to play and a blessing to share that with others. If that’s not your attitude, you are in the wrong business…move on! Whether or not you enjoy a gig is entirely up to you! Your energy will bleed over into your bandmates and the crowd. I’m always more impressed with guys that play for two people who give it their all, than a guy who plays for thousands and is half-hearted.

10. Do NOT Overreact to Mistakes
Mistakes WILL happen…so how will you react? The best players are “professional mistake cover-uppers.” Learn to take your mistake and make it seem intentional. Use the moments as opportunities for genius. It’s like drawing a three when you wanted to draw a 9. Turn it into a 9! When it happens, let it roll and think forward. NEVER reflect on it and think backwards. Typically, people will react more to your reaction of a mistake, than the actual mistake itself.

I hope these principles sink into you and that you will apply them to your next performance. You have a large responsibility to set the standard and make performances a better experience for everyone.

Check out my blog on Sound Check Etiquette

There are so many dynamics that shape a musician such as: practice, playing, writing, etc. Perhaps the thing that was most critical to my personal development was my failures. I learned from and was motivated by failures more than anything I’ve ever done with music. So, I would like to share a few failures with you that made me a better musician. Hopefully, you too can learn a little something from my failures. Maybe you can embrace the failures that are certain to come in your musical journey and learn how to churn them into positive energy.

Getting Stomped by “Donna Lee”

If you have ever followed jazz, you are aware of Charlie Parker. You are also probably aware that his heads are very challenging melodies to play. I just started working on a tune called “Donna Lee.” It was the toughest head I learned up to that point in my playing. One night, I headed over to an open jazz jam here in Columbia, SC. I sat in to play and the band counted off the tune at a murderous tempo. I hung in there for the melody, as then it came time for the solo…and I got crazy lost. The bass player was annoyingly yelling out chord changes to me.

Finally, I stopped playing at what I thought was the end of the form, but quickly realized I wasn’t sure of anything. So, the bass player and drummer crushed their solos. Then, they looked at me to start the head again. Thank God the bass player clued me in on where to come in again. We finished the song, and I haven’t played with those players since…hopefully, they will let that one slide from their memories…HAHA. I threw myself into a fire and “Donna Lee” roasted me.

I learned a lot about my playing, however. I realized I didn’t know the form as well as I once thought. I needed to practice the tune at various tempos and I needed to understand the overall format of jazz improv. So, naturally I went home and shedded that tune like crazy. Had I not had my butt kicked, I never would have pushed myself so hard. So, throw yourself into the fire. It can inspire you to get better if you have the right attitude.

Check out Part 2: Comping…What’s That?

I was in the Vista to grab a bite to eat at Liberty just before heading over to see Bruno Mars play at the Colonial Center, when out of the corner of my eye I caught a piano on the sidewalk! I was kind of taken back. It was just on the corner of Gervais across from The Blue Marlin. There was a young man playing piano, and another guy playing guitar. They were just singing and playing. I thought myself, “buskers…cool. I’m so impressed they actually brought an upright piano out here”. Then, I carried on with my evening.

Just before going home later that night, I swung by the satisfy my late night craving of Pita Pit, and there it was again. I saw another upright piano positioned right next to Starbucks in Five Points. I thought to myself, “Surely this isn’t the same people. I mean why would they lug a piano from The Visa to Five Points”. There was yet another small pocket of musicians huddled around the piano jamming. I continued to my grilled chicken pita feeling somewhat befuddled, yet digging the vibe that it brought to my city.

Yesterday I stumbled on this:
Five Things You Need to Know in the South Right Now

Then, it all made sense! There apparently will be 10 pianos scattered throughout the city for the month of June. The organization putting this on is One Columbia. They also plan to have a piano concert. Check out their website, and what they are all about! Bravo to One Columbia, and to Columbia as a whole. I love seeing culture sparked in my home town. Everyone keep up the good work!

A student signs up for guitar lessons. They initially are fired up, they fizz out, and quit. How many times have you heard this story? I have witnessed it over the years, and we all have done this, or know someone who has. So the question remains: How do you maintain your enthusiasm for Music Lessons?

Let’s face it…showing up to your lesson unprepared is a drag. You feel let down, it’s frustrating for the teacher, and you have to go over the same material again, making no progress. Simply getting into the routine of practice goes a long way towards maintaining your interest. You and others will see the improvement in your playing. This growth will inspire you to practice more. The more you put in, the more you will get out.

Plug In
Find an outlet for your music. One of the things I love about Freeway Music is the performance opportunities that we offer. We have showcases, recitals, camps, rock band classes, and community outreach opportunities. These public performances give students specific goals to prepare for. Play for a school talent show, your church, with a group of friends, etc. Get plugged into your local music scene. Watch people play, join a songwriter’s guild, sit in at open mics, etc. If you aren’t plugged in and playing somewhere, it will be very hard to maintain interest.

A lot of who you become is directly related to those you associate with. One of the people that spurred me on as a kid was my friend Eric. He would come over and we would play guitar all night together. It was so great for my growth as a young musician. I have constantly challenged myself by putting myself in situations where I played with musicians that were better than me. These situations pushed me and inspired me to be a better guitar player. I have surrounded myself with people that have the same passion that I have for music…including my guitar teacher.

Find the Right Teacher
Finding the right instructor is key. An instructor should be passionate about teaching, inspiring students, presenting opportunities for students, the local music scene, and the community. Music instructors should be qualified, professional, and enthusiastic. It’s very important that you take the time to find a great instructor that fits you. A teacher can make or break a student’s learning experience. If your music teacher is not actively studying, or plugging in, you may want to consider a different teacher.

Learn Tunes
Metallica was the reason I started playing guitar…not a m7(b5). It’s different for everyone, but we all have music that inspires us. I once asked my good friend Jerry Sims for the best advice to grow as a player and he answered, “Learn a tune that you like each day.” It makes sense. If you wanted to lose weight, you should exercise. So, it makes sense that learning tunes is a great way to maintain your interest in an instrument. I have also learned over the years that each song presents a new challenge, forcing you to stretch in ways that you wouldn’t stretch ordinarily.

Be Realistic
My friend Sue is an amazing singer/songwriter. I was feeling uninspired once, and I asked her what I should do. She gave me a harsh reality check. Sometimes you are trucking along and you hit a wall. Then, you pick yourself up and go again. She said that the passion never leaves and you will always go again. Even if you are doing everything possible to stay inspired, you will go through ups and downs. You will continue upward, though. Just make sure that you have realistic expectations, and don’t let a downswing keep you heading down!

If you aren’t maintaining that fire for studying music and continuing your pursuit of musical growth, look within. Are you practicing? Are you plugged into something that will make you grow? Have you surrounded yourself with people that will support, challenge, and inspire you? Have you gotten away from the spark that got you inspired in the first place? Be real with yourself, answer these questions, and weather the natural ups and downs. Then, you will have a much smoother musical journey. Good Luck!

We briefly touched on this benefit of music in a previous post 5 Benefits of Music Lessons and we will delve into that a little more here.

In doing some research on this subject, I found out something really cool.

Drum roll please….

Music is INSANELY good for your brain. (No pun intended.)

But seriously, the fact that something so fun/creative is as good for you as school is? WHAT? Not that it negates the need for a good education, but I was really happy to know that I’ve been doing my brain a huge favor by choosing to have music be such a vital part of my life.

Let’s start with some basic science…for those of you who like evidence to back things up. If you don’t care to hear the science, feel free to skip to the next paragraph for some incredible stats on the effects of music on the brain (we all love some good stats). 10 different parts of our brain process music, and I will spare the names as they are complicated. The point is, music stimulates our brain in multiple areas, the majority even, not just one small part.
A simple explanation would be this, about half of those areas of the brain have to do with the effects of LISTENING to music. Music can help shape our emotions, identify feelings, help predict our personalities, and even help us be better drivers (when not too loud, of course). The other half has to do with what PLAYING music does to our brain, which is the main focus of this post.

Playing, teaching, learning/listening to music does the following:
Improves motor and reasoning skills, i.e. better performance on tests, school work, analysis of visual information, etc.

Increases visual attention.

Makes exercise more efficient/even more frequent.

Fights Dyslexia

Increases lifelong memory skills

…I could go on, but it seems that scientists who have dedicated their lives to these studies say it a tad bit better than I do. P.S. Read them all if you can, b/c we obviously picked the coolest ones. 😀

“Adults who receive formal music instruction as children have more robust brainstem
responses to sound than peers who never participate in music lessons and that the
magnitude of the response correlates with how recently training ceased. These results
suggest that neural changes accompanying musical training during childhood are
retained in adulthood.”
— Skoe, E. & Kraus, N. (2012). A Little Goes a Long Way: How the Adult Brain Is
Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood, Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (34)
11510. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1949-12.2012

“Young Children who take music lessons show different brain development and
improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive
musical training. Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is
correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial
processing, mathematics, and IQ.”
— Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at
McMaster University, 2006
Stanford University research has found

“Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves
how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to
improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading
problems… ‘Especially for children … who aren’t good at rapid auditory processing and
are high-risk for becoming poor readers, they may especially benefit from musical
— From “Playing music can be good for your brain,” SF Chronicle, November 17,
2005 (article on recent Stanford research study linking music and language)

“Learning and performing music actually exercise the brain – not merely by developing
specific music skills, but also by strengthening the synapses between brain cells…What
is important is not how well a student plays but rather the simultaneous engagement of
senses, muscles, and intellect. Brain scans taken during musical performances show
that virtually the entire cerebral cortex is active while musicians are playing. Can you
think of better exercise for the mind/brain? In short, making music actively engages the
brain synapses, and there is good reason to believe that it increases the brain’s capacity
by increasing the strengths of connections among neurons.”
— From “The Music in Our Minds,” Educational Leadership, Vol. 56, #3; Norman
M. Weinberger

Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in
Math, Science, and Technology (for high School students) play one or more musical
instruments. This led the Siemens Foundation to host a recital at Carnegie Hall in 2004,
featuring some of these young people. After which a panel of experts debated the
nature of the apparent science/music link.
— The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005

Dr. James Catterall of UCLA has analyzed the school records of 25,000 students as
they moved from grade 8 to grade 10. He found that students who studied music and
the arts had higher grades, scored better on standardized tests, had better attendance
records and were more active in community affairs than other students. He also found
that students from poorer families who studied the arts improved overall school
performance more rapidly than all other students.
— From Catterall, UCLA, Fall 1997

Though it’s crucial to invest in math, science and engineering, as the president outlined
in his recent State of the Union address, there are other fields that hold more
promise…Prefer a more artistic career? Our economy is poised to create new forms of
entertainment, from rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop to film and video games. Indeed, over the
next 10 years, jobs in art, music, culture and entertainment will grow twice as many as
jobs in engineering will.
— From “A search for jobs in some of the wrong places,” USA Today, February
12, 2006; Richard Florida

The moral of the story is this, if you enjoy music, play it, listen to it, whatever. No matter how well you do, no matter how advanced you are, the sheer activity that it produces in the brain will make you smarter, improve your self confidence, and increase your memory among other great things. And that you won’t be the one that forgets anyone’s birthday, anniversary, etc.

Go get em’ you musical genius, you.

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.

The Poet

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 Garbler

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.

The Hummer

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:

Musician’s and Songwriter’s Guild of SC

Monday- Kelly’s pub 10 pm, Evening Muse (In Charlotte-worth the drive) 8 pm

Tuesday- Lucky’s 10 pm, Delaney’ Songwriter Night (Every other Tuesday)

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!

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