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Archive for September, 2011

All musicians,For Teachers

September 29, 2011

How To Choose The Best Possible Music Teacher

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It’s not a pleasant feeling to think you have to give up your dream or desire because you think music is not suited to you.


The good news is music is suitable for everyone to learn and everyone is suited to learning music.


It is a mistake to give up music before you have really started simply because you believe you or your child may not be any good at it.


What you may or may not realise is that you might not be getting what you need from your teacher and if you are struggling, finding a teacher who is suitable for you will make learning music or singing a totally different experience.


Just remember there is more than one method of teaching music and more than one way to learn music.



Are You And Your Teacher A Good Match


We all have different needs, different ways of learning and different personalities.


This means that every one of us has to find the right match in each of these areas if our learning experience is going to be successful.


Before you look for a teacher you may like to ask yourself:


1.            What do I want from my lessons?


  • Do you want them to be fun or serious (or a balance of both)?
  • What are your goals?  Do you want to take exams, perform, be able to join a band or write your own music?
  • How often do you want to take lessons, how long do you want them to be?
  • How much are you prepared to pay?  (And remember, it is usually a case of you get what you pay for).
  • Do you want to do lessons online, for example, on skype or do you want to do them in person?
  • What do you want to learn?  What instrument, How to read music, how to improvise, how to write, how to interpret chords?


Try to visualise what your lessons would look like and how you want to feel after them.


Ask yourself the above questions and more if you like.


The clearer you are on what you want, the more likely you are to attract the right teacher into your life.


2.            How do I learn best?


This is a big question and you may not know how to answer it.


Consider these options:


  • Do you learn best in a relaxed environment or under pressure?
  • Which of your senses do you favour in learning?  Do you remember something better when you hear it, do it or read it?
  • Do you like to experience something first, then break it down later or do you like to spend time reflecting on something before you try it?


If you take a moment to think about your best learning experiences and how they occurred you will be able to work out what type of learner you are.


Here is a fantastic website where you can take a quiz, find out how you learn and what kind of teaching methods suit you.  I highly recommend it!


And for teachers, getting your students to do this quiz can inform you which methods of teaching you can employ to get the best results.



3.             What do I want my teacher to be like?


Be honest with yourself.


You may be the type of person that responds to a strict environment where the teacher pushes you and gives you grief if you don’t live up to their expectations.


Or you may be a person who needs space and time and gentle encouragement and not to be harshly dealt with if you haven’t managed to practice.


You may need your teacher to be more of a mentor and give you emotional support in your learning or you may need a teacher who strongly directs your learning and tells you what to do.


Try to picture what your ideal teacher would be like and try to get to know exactly how you would like them to teach you.

Once you have considered the above points, you should have a clearer idea of what you are looking for.


Just by knowing what you want and what you are looking for, a little magic happens.  Life tends to bring you what you imagine.  So just trust in that but also ask people if they can recommend any teachers or put an add in the local paper or explore the internet.


When you go for your first lesson, you can give the teacher a clear indication of what you are looking for and they will be able to tell you if they can deliver or not.


Also, it’s very, very important just to trust your gut instinct.


  • Do you like the teacher?
  • Did they make you feel comfortable?
  • Are confident in their ability to teach? (don’t confuse this with their ability to play, some teachers aren’t the best players but they are great teachers and vice versa).
  • Were they professional in their approach?
  • Did the lesson seem worth the money you paid?
  • Did you learn anything?


If the answer to all the above questions is “yes”, I think you have found the right teacher for you.  If your answer is “no” to even one of these questions, it may be a good idea to try someone else.


Remember, you may not always get on with your teacher, you may sometimes clash and that’s all part of the learning process.  If this happens you should be able to be honest and talk about these feelings with your teacher and you should be able to resolve them.


Building an relationship with your music teacher can really add to your quality of life and will support your learning for a number of years.


It’s well-worth taking time over choosing who will teach you and trusting your feelings if you are not happy with your teacher and finding someone else.


After all, giving up on music can be a great loss, especially when it makes you a better person!


For Teachers,Performing and Recording,Practice

September 27, 2011

Helpful Online Resources For Singers

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1. On-line Forums are a great space to connect with other musicians, get critic about your work or your songs, find out about competitions and gigs.


If you don’t have regular contact with other musicians, singers and songwriters, online forums can really help you get those connections and these are important to give you inspiration and share your work and thoughts with like-minded people.


Here’s one I regularly visit just to check out what’s going on and sometimes I leave some comments.


You can get great advice and even singing lessons here!



2. Collaboration is something all singers need to do to get out of the practice room.  Mostly, you will need other musicians or singers to work with and sometimes you will be looking for management or booking agents.


Again, if you don’t know where to start, you could try this website.  It is full of management companies and artists looking for each other – and it’s international.



3. Vocal Technique.  I first heard about Seth Riggs when I did an interview with Amalia (which is definitely worth a listen).


He has trained many big names including Michael Jackson and, as I’ve said in this article, is of the opinion that if you can talk, you can sing.


For a good introduction to some of his techniques, click here.


If you’d like to delve deeper into some of his vocal techniques, you can purchase a book and CD’s on the link below.



4. Singing Teacher Directories.  I personally feel it is important to find a good singing teacher to begin with because there are so many other factors involved in learning to sing, other than the technical aspect.  (Please stay tuned for this week’s article on What To Look For In A Good Teacher).


Going by word-of-mouth is a good way to start, but if you’re stuck, you can always try these directories.


Here’s one for the UK.


One for the USA


And one for Australia



5. Backing Tracks.  When you don’t play an instrument and really want to sing along without other vocal tracks cramping your style, a good backing track is what you need.


I use this site for some of my students when they want more than a piano accompanying them.


You can change the key of the tracks up and down, up to two semitones, there is a wide variety of music and styles and, each track only costs about $2 to download.



6. Microphones and other gear.  When you start gigging or rehearsing, you are definitely going to need some equipment.


Really, you just can’t go past this site to provide you with everything you could possibly need.  They provide worldwide delivery and support as well as some very competitive prices.


I recommend the Sure SM58 mic for gigs and a good condenser mic for home recording (you have some to choose from on this site too.



6. Recording programs.  It’s always such a good idea to record yourself, no matter what level you are at.


You can use your iphone, or your computer.  (If you have a mac, use your version of garageband) and if you’re serious and want a good sound, use a condenser microphone.


If you don’t have garageband, you can download this program for free and get good quality recording.


For lots of other very useful music programs and internet sites, click on the “Musician’s Toolbox” icon at the bottom of the homepage.


You may also like to look at August’s sites for more suggestions.




All musicians,For Teachers,Motivation,Practice

September 25, 2011

10 Reasons Why Practicing Music Makes You A Better Person – Part II

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Today’s Article continues on from Part I.



5.            Expressing complex thoughts and emotions.


One of the reasons art and especially music is so popular is it’s ability to express emotions.


Language has it’s limits when it comes to expressing the complexity of feeling, but music with its use of rhythm, tonal colour and range of frequency has the ability to communicate, on a deep level, mood and feeling, something which language cannot always achieve.


Music affects our limbic system, or emotional part of the brain, which is an extremely powerful force in our lives.


Something which demonstrates the power music has to heighten our emotional states, is importance of music in films.


Many film makers agree that the music used in the film “Jaw’s” by Steven Spielberg, was a huge factor in its dramatic impact.  If you watched the film without the music, it would not be half as intense.

Just listening to this piece without knowing what the film is about will set’s ones senses on edge.


But music can also use language in a much more expressive way allowing for the incorporation of poetry.


When music and language, in the form of poetry is used together, it is a very powerful combination for expressing a range of ideas and emotions from nature and love to politics.


“One of the songs that started the process of reaffirming Black love and independence of thought was the song “Could You Be Loved”.


The song speaks to the need for black people to think and love themselves freely. The song is an honest examination of the black reality and reflects the realization of Bob Marley that as a people love must come from within.


It’s made clear in this Bob Marley love song:


Don’t let them fool ya,

Or even try to school ya! oh, no!

We’ve got a mind of our own,

So go to hell if what you’re thinking is not right!

Love would never leave us alone,

A-yin the darkness there must come out to light.”


If we learn to play music, we can also write music and when we are able to do that we have an outlet for the myriad of feelings we feel, we then have a tool of communication which is so valuable to connection with others.


6.            Finding inspiration in the work of others.


There have been so many brilliant artists, wordsmiths and musicians in the history of human-kind, it is impossible not to find inspiration in their work.


Inspiration will be different for everybody, but for myself, it only took me to see one performance of a Jazz artist when I was very young, to influence my path and have me sitting here typing this article for you now.


Ask any musician and I am sure they will have a story of how the work of others has inspired their present-day lives.


But the inspiration of music doesn’t always have to be so profound.  Sometimes, just listening to a song can give you the extra get-up-and-go you need or be able to help you to open your heart and laugh or cry.


Again, this comes back to music’s ability to connect you to other people and we are such social animals that connection is vital for our well-being and survival.



7.            Having Fun


I think this is the number one reasons musicians do what they do.


The life of a musician is never straightforward.  More often than not, musicians cannot count on their music to bring in a reliable income and without this life can feel quite unstable at times. Many people would choose not to live under this circumstance.


So there must be a reason professional musicians put up with so much instability, and that reason is that music, when done in the right spirit, is extremely enjoyable.  So enjoyable, in fact, that it’s just impossible to give up.


If practicing music does not include an element of fun or enjoyment, you can be sure you are doing something wrong and you may want to read this article.


Being able to have fun with your music also means you are fulfilling one of your basic human needs that will make you a happier person and when you are happy, you are able to enrich your own life and the lives of others.


“… because of the many wellness benefits of leisure time, having fun should be a priority in the life of anyone who wants better health, greater happiness and less stress.”



8.             Developing a sense of pride.


No matter how “talented” you are, learning and practicing music will always bring you to challenge yourself on every level – emotional, physical and psychological.


I feel there is a sense of camaraderie among musicians at a professional level because they all know, and have experienced, a journey that has presented them with struggles.  Professional musicians are able to do what they do because they have been able to push through these struggles and each musician knows this.


Learning and developing your musical ability is not an easy journey, nor should it be.  It is a character-building adventure.


If you are able to partake in it, you will be proud of what you have achieved.



9.            Creating a “world” where we can escape the everyday and relax.


When I sit down to practice music, I know I am going to be entering a state of inner peace and quiet.


The first thing I do is breath-related exercises, which are much like meditation and throughout the session, I try to keep my awareness on the breath and body.


This allows me to fully relax, to focus and be present.


In this mind and body state, I am using different parts of my brain and actually changing brain waves.


Brain waves during meditation actually do change! When you meditate the balance of brain wave activity in your brain shifts – there is less Beta, the thinking and stress related brain wave and more Alpha, Theta and Gamma – the relaxation and meditation brain waves.

As this shift occurs, the new brain waves create the happiness and contentment so treasured by meditators.”


As mentioned, this is a great benefit to your well-being.



10.            Becoming more aware of our body, mind and spirit.


Just about all of us have a desire to be happy in this life.


I also feel that many people think that happiness is something which one just stumbles across or  is supposed  to just turn up.  However, in my short 40 years of life, I have come to realise that happiness is really something which we have to strive for.


And for me that means taking care of three aspects.  Yes, you guessed it, Mind, Body and Spirit.


Music is one thing that promotes all these areas.


It exercises the mind, it trains the body to play, to respond and to feel a rhythm and it lifts the spirit by providing an outlet of self expression and play.


I honestly cannot think of any other activity that combines such benefits to all these aspects of life.


Whether or not you end up becoming a professional musician is totally beside the point.


If you are practicing music in a healthy way, you will reap the rewards and discover a valuable treasure in your life that is completely yours to do with what you want.


I hope you have enjoyed this article and will think about your practice now as something you are doing to keep healthy and become a better person.






All musicians,For Teachers,Practice,Reflective Learning,The Practice Diary

September 23, 2011

10 Reasons Why Practicing Music Makes You A Better Person – Part I

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Just sit for a moment and imagine a world without music.


No music on films, television, advertisements or radio.


No music in the school play or your games.  No nursery rhymes.  No music anywhere.


It is a pretty difficult thing to imagine but now you are probably aware of how much we listen to music in our everyday lives.


Music is an incredibly important part of human society and culture, used for expression, entertainment, socialising and sharing.


Not only does music enrich our lives by simply listening to it, by learning to play it we can also:


  1. Connect to other people both living and dead (e.g. composers);
  2. Broaden interests and learn more about history and the world;
  3. Challenge ourselves and achieve;
  4. Problem solve;
  5. Express complex thoughts and emotions;
  6. Find inspiration in the work of others;
  7. Have fun;
  8. Develop a sense of pride;
  9. Create a “world” where we can escape the everyday and relax;
  10. Become more aware of our body, mind and spirit.


All of the above outcomes of learning to play music help to give meaning to life through connection, challenge, self-expression, enjoyment and awareness.


“Meaning in life is not just a theoretical or philosophical construct, but it has a bearing on human health and well being … to live without meaning, goals, or values provokes considerable distress …


Meaning serves a number of important functions in human lives (Frankl, 1992). Firstly, meaning provides a purpose for our lives. Secondly, it furnishes values or standards by which to judge our actions. Thirdly, it gives us a sense of control over the events in our life. Lastly, it provides us with self-worth. When people are unable to find meaning for any of these functions or when they lose or outgrow the meanings that they once had, they become distressed. Many emotional problems result from a failure to find meaning in life and can be resolved only through finding something to make life worth living (Frankl, 1992).”


You could therefore say that learning to play an instrument, no matter what the outcome, is one of the healthiest activities you could pursue in life.


But, of course, as outlined in a number of articles on this Blog, in order to feel you are experiencing the above outcomes, you need to be learning music in a healthy fashion.


Making sure you are:


1.            Forging connections through your music.


This can take many forms.


The first relationship you forge is with your teacher.


It is ok, to teach yourself but it is also definitely worth finding someone to help you learn music.


When you have a good teacher and a good relationship with them, you will often find that they become a mentor in your life and a person who can give you guidance in many other things besides music.


So, just be aware that it is really important to choose a teacher not based on how well they play but on:


  • How well they communicate,
  • How welcome and comfortable they make you feel,
  • How organised and professional they are,
  • Their awareness of your needs and your boundaries, and
  • Their ability to help you achieve your goals and broaden your horizons.


Later on your musical path, you will hopefully get to play with others.


It is such a wonderful feeling to be able to connect with people through playing music and you can achieve this by:


  • joining a choir,
  • organising a jam with your friends,
  • going to open mic nights, or
  • forming a band.


If you are a musician who learns composed pieces, find out about the composer and their life.  That way you will understand the meaning behind the music and how the times they were living in impacted upon them.  It’s so interesting to know a little about life in the past and history.


If you want to read a little more about this you may enjoy this Article series.



2.            Broadening Your Interests


Forging connections with others and investigating the lives of people we admire will inevitably broaden interest in the world and in history, making you a much more interesting and knowledgeable person.


When we talk to other people, or play music with them, we discover new ideas, concepts and thoughts that can lead anywhere we wish to take them.


I think you would agree this makes life much more exciting and enjoyable.



3.            Challenging yourself and achieving goals.


Life would be incredibly boring if everything was easy.


Challenge is one of the best paths to self-discovery and learning music is one of the greatest, never-ending challenges you can meet.


You never get to the finish line when you learn music, so it is something that can hold your interest for the rest of your life.


The thing I love about learning music is that at every stage there is challenge and there is achievement.


These two aspects need to be well-balanced in order for you to continue enjoying your learning.


So, again, having good guidance from your teacher and using useful resources, such as the practice diary, which encourages self-reflection, is highly important for healthy learning outcomes.



4.            Problem-solving


Problem solving is such an important skill for any person to develop if they are to become self-sufficient and confident in life.


It has been proven in many studies that the music helps children to develop this skill.


“A small study was done two years back involving ten three-year-olds who were tested on their ability to put together a puzzle and the speed at which they could do it (“Learning Keys” 24).


After the initial test was taken, five of the children were given singing lessons for 30 minutes a day and the other five were given piano lessons for 15 minutes a week (24). The lessons were conducted over a six- month period of time, and after the six months, all of the kids showed substantial improvement in the speed at which they could put together the puzzle (24).


The researchers understand this skill in putting pieces of a puzzle together as the same reasoning that engineers, chess players and high-level mathematicians use. In this study of inner-city kids, their initial scores were below the national average, but afterwards their scores nearly doubled (24).


The term they give to the type of reasoning and thought that goes into putting pieces of a puzzle together is called abstract reasoning. By teaching music, people exercise the same abstract reasoning skills that they use for doing math or some other exercise in which the people have to visualize in their head.


An eight month study was conducted by Frances H. Rauscher of the University of California at Irvine, in which 19 preschoolers, ranging in age from three to five, received weekly keyboard and daily singing lessons while another 15 preschoolers received no musical training at all (Bower 143).


At the start, middle and end of the study, the subjects were tested on five spatial reasoning tasks (143). After only 4 months, scores on the test to assemble a puzzle to form a picture improved dramatically for the group with the musical training, while the control group didn’t, even though both groups started out with the same scores (143).


It can be understood that this kind of improvement may not be substantial enough to alter the way people are fundamentally taught, but its results cannot be ignored. Rauscher explains, “Music instruction can improve a child’s spatial intelligence for a long time, perhaps permanently” (qtd. in Bower 143).”


For adults, learning music would have the same affect but would perhaps take longer to recognise because our brains have already been “hard-wired” in certain ways.


However, it has been proven that our brains are “plastic” and therefore always able to change and improve to meet the challenges of our circumstance.





All musicians,Creativity,For Teachers,Performing and Recording,Practice,Reflective Learning,The Inner Musician vs The Inner Critic

September 21, 2011

Having Fun With Music

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Have you become too serious about your music?


Are you questioning why you are doing it or where the element of fun has gone?


Well, please read on, make sure you get to then end of this Article and by that time, I promise you, you’ll remember what it was all about.


I’ve written quite a lot about the benefits of free improvisation.


A lot of the time, however, many musicians find this exercise one of the most confronting ways of playing their instrument.


The reason is that improvisation, especially free improvisation, highlights our inner critic, which can be an uncomfortable presence in our creative activities.


The more uncomfortable you are with improvisation, the more critical you may be of your music and the harder you find it to become satisfied with your creative experience.


Some people consider free improvisation utter nonsense.


To those people I would say that nothing would ever change in the Arts, or indeed any area of life, without taking risks and trying out “unconventional” ideas.


However, free improvisation is now far from an unconventional idea and in this Article I wish to illustrate what free improvisation would look like for different instruments.


One of the most famous improvisational concerts was the 1975 Köln Concert on solo piano by Keith Jarrett.


Listen to this beautiful music as you read on.



Before Keith sat down at the piano, he had no idea of what he was going to play.


“Jarrett arrived at the opera house late in the afternoon and tired after an exhausting long drive from Zurich, Switzerland, where he had performed a few days earlier.


He had not slept well in several nights and was in pain from back problems and had to wear a brace.


After trying out the substandard piano and learning a replacement instrument was not available, Jarrett nearly refused to play and Brandes (the promotor) had to convince him to perform as the concert was scheduled to begin in just a few hours.[4]


The concert took place at the unusually late hour of 11:30 PM following an earlier opera performance. This late-night time slot was the only one the administration would make available to Brandes for a jazz concert – the first one ever at the Köln Opera House.


The show was completely sold out and the venue was filled to capacity with over 1400 people at a ticket price of 4 Deutsche Marks (about $5.00).


Despite the obstacles, Jarrett’s performance was enthusiastically received by the audience and the subsequent recording was acclaimed by critics and became an enormous commercial success.


It remains his most popular recording and continues to sell well more than 35 years after its initial release.”öln_Concert


Although this improvisation is based mainly on two chords, I would still say it is freely improvised because Jarrett is composing purely in the present moment without a formulaic agenda.  In other words, he is freely “channelling” music.


“Jarrett opened up his heart and played whatever notes felt right at the moment. Missing from the show was overly flashy displays of instrumental prowess; instead of being found playing the perfect lick, Jarrett chose instead to get lost in the melody. He used virtuosity to advance, get this, art instead of science.”


For me, this is one of the most inspiring performances I have ever heard.


It illustrates a truly creative moment that can only come from an exercise of spontaneous creativity that only free improvisation can provide.   Every time I listen to this recording it is as though I am at the concert for the first time, hanging onto every note and every silence.


Piano is one instrument on which really lends itself to improvisation but other instruments can be harder.


I think the hardest of all is voice.


This is because of all the instruments, our voice is the most personal and completely individual.  Therefore any criticism can be (and often is) interpreted as a direct criticism of the person producing that vocal.


I also think people can be a lot harsher critic of vocals and vocalists.  (Perhaps this is because anyone who can talk is also a potential singer!)


Here is a video of free improvisation on vocals by UK jazz vocalists Filomena Campus and Cleveland Watkiss live at Riverside Studios, London, recorded June 2009.


This is a really interesting one because it involves two people, spontaneously composing together.


Not only are they confident of vocalizing what they hear and feel at the time, it seems that as the performance continues they are completely in the same space, hearing the same music.


This illustrates one of the most important musical skills to nurture – that of listening.


The result of these creative and listening skills is a wonderful true free improvisation performed without any fear.


One of the most wonderful aspects of free improvisation is that of exploration.


How often do we get to hear all the potential sounds of our instrument?


I think the above vocal improvisation explored many different ways to express the human voice but here is another very interesting improvisation on guitar.


Angelo is really in the right headspace of just accepting anything that comes out from the guitar but he is also very lovingly exploring his instrument, experimenting with different sounds and really enjoying all his discoveries.


I love this improvisation because it is so free and truly expressive and I just can’t help but smile when I listen to it.


Really, it’s like watching a child playing in a new environment, discovering a hose, for example, for the first time.


Of course, this is may not be the music you choose to listen to when you go out on a Saturday evening or as an accompaniment for cooking your evening meal.


But what free improvisation does is remind us of the playful aspect of music, and remember that’s what we do – we PLAY music, we don’t work it.


I think all too often we can take music far too seriously and forget about the fun aspect of it.


Free improvisation is a great way to get in touch with that feeling in yourself and in your music.


If you can do that, it will leak into other styles of music you play, other improvisations too so you can be a childlike again, having fun and attracting other children (listeners) to your game because they will want to have fun with you!


Here is one last free improvisation on trumpet.


I like this one because it uses technology too – an effects pedal.  The human and the machine are therefore spontaneously creating together.


Again it contains humour, fun, complete acceptance, exploration and play and illustrates that experimentation too is an important for the development of all music from the personal to the collective.


I hope you have enjoyed this Article, but more than that, I hope that now you too will be inspired to go to your instrument and rediscover it through play and total acceptance of whatever sound you produce.


Please leave a comment and tell me how it went!




All musicians,Creativity,Performing and Recording,Reflective Learning

September 19, 2011

Joanna’s Diary – Weeks 16 -18

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What an amazing few weeks!


Without any specific intention to do so, the past few weeks have been an incredible journey through music.


My beloved and I headed to Burning Man as we do each year and then to the hot springs in Harbin to soak in the warm hot pools to re-hydrate.


One of my favorite experiences while at the Burn was a spontaneous singing session that occurred in the steam room hut.


There is so much to learn about feeling ones way into a group, harmony parts, acoustic resonance and the joy of creating and sharing as a group.


This was extended the next week during a Kirtan circle I attended, where unbelievable sound started to emanate from my body.


At one stage my whole chest cavity was pulsing with vibration as if my heart chakra was alight!


I realized that I was in fact able to hear and add beautiful harmonies to the group. In particular, that night I fell in love with the flute – what an amazing instrument.


While also at the burn we were lucky to meet some great friends, GungaGuri and Jonique, who play together (the digeridoo with somewhat reggae vocals).


I had so much stuff in my head about what a professional singer is and that they are better or somehow different to me.


Over time I began to see that they are just human like the rest of us, and was blessed to see what a wonderful space of love that they create from.


Also, so much fun to dance to music – I want to create that experience.


Interestingly they had computerised recordings for their backing, with just the two of them, and an additional drummer on an another night.


I was also blessed to meet a young woman beat boxing at the Burn, who was practicing sounds just from her head and what a gift to see her embody the music and rhythm of the creation.


This was my big realisation – music is all in the body.


One can’t beatbox while standing nice and politely.  It’s an all or nothing kind of thing.


So, while I’m loving the choir, I saw just how far I am from what is possible with this genre and sound.


Oh, and to chant, how I love it.


Not that I know many Hindu words, or verses, but I love the intentional sound of devotional singing, I feel that finally I might be finding my way! Yeah!



Lisa’s Reply


Hi Joanna


Great to have you back, and what a difference this holiday and learning time has been for you!


All the realisations you have made a big ones and very, very important ones.


Music has everything to do with your body.  It must be felt, heard and played from the body and this is its absolute joy.  When music is just from the head, it is just notes without feeling or intention and most of all, it doesn’t groove!


When you first came to me, and before I started this blog with your feature, you said that you wanted to create dance music with praise-like singing.


It’s been a bit of a journey but I believe we are finally on the track that you set your intention to and I think that this last trip was a great rounding-up lesson for all the work you have done so far.


So, to all of you reading this, when Joanna came to her lesson full of enthusiasm for all she has mentioned above, I thought there was only one thing to do and that was to record.


We started recording her chanting on six different tracks, which involved improvisation and listening.


Because we knew we wanted to add drums and percussion, we made sure we recorded with a click track (metronome).


Together, we then chose drums and percussion, I played some piano and Joanna played keyboard (midi flute).


Here is the track we ended up with.  It’s short but we could have kept going and most probably will continue it, we just ran out of time.


Cincopa WordPress plugin


I have played this track to a few people and they love it.


I think we will be making many more…  What fun!






All musicians,Practice

September 17, 2011

Breaking It Down – A Simple Guide On How To Work On Co-ordination

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Whether you are playing piano and have to co-ordinate two hands together, or on drums, where you have to co-ordinate four limbs, or if you are trying to sing and play an instrument at the same time, this article tells you how you can achieve this.


The simple rule, of all practice really, is to:




This means you have to:


1. Isolate


The biggest mistake many people make in practice is that they don’t isolate the parts that are giving them trouble.


For example, you are playing piano and there is a difficult section in bar 4 that is always causing you to stumble, but whenever you get to bar 4 and make that error, you start the piece again from bar 1.


If this is what is happening, then the difficulty in bar 4 is never getting resolved (however, bars 1 – 3 sound great!).


What you need to do in this situation is isolate the difficult part in bar 4 and make that your area of focus.


Isolating problem areas can also mean devising an exercise.


For example, there may be a rhythmic or co-ordination pattern that is giving you problems.


I recently had a student who was learning to play a latin-style piece on piano.  This involves syncopation or accents on the off-beat.  (i.e. one-AND-two-AND-three-AND-four etc).


Before she was able to play the piece, she first had to become familiar with what playing on the off-beat felt like in her body.


The way we did this was to (of course work with metronome) and play a scale with the notes all on the off-beat.  That way, she became familiar with what it felt like to hear the pulse and play exactly between it.


From there we could start working on her piece, again, just concentrating on a small section at a time until it felt easy, then working on the next area etc.


If you are working on drums or guitar, you may have a complex rhythm.


Instead of trying to work on the entire co-ordination at once, break down the elements of that rhythm, maybe by just doing half of it, then the next half, then putting them together.


When isolating difficult areas, you then need to break down this difficulty into manageable chunks and play them in time to a slow metronome beat.



2. Consolidate


Everything you play in music, whether you are a singer or an instrumentalist, you play with your body, not your mind. 


This means you need to commit it to the memory of your body and that memory is located in the muscles, in other words, muscle memory.


The way to commit something to muscle memory is by slow, exact repetition.


The part of this phrase most people forget or find difficult is SLOW (if this is you, please read this article).


Once you can play that part of the music slowly and exactly, it is easy to then speed it up.


If, for example, you are trying to learn to co-ordinate singing with an accompaniment, slow down and work out where the melody connects with the beat you are playing.


It may take a while to get one bar like this but I assure you that once you have worked out the first couple of bars, the rest will be easy.


When you have completed this stage of breaking it down, you should be able to play through your problem area slowly and concisely and with ease (this means not having to worry about getting it right).


Your body should be able to feel (muscle memory) how to play that section now.



3. Connect


Now you can play the part of music that was giving you trouble.


Connecting that section to the previous bars of music is the next phase.


If you are on drums or another rhythm instrument, being able to play that rhythm continuously and add in fills as well will be your next step.


This may require some more repetition to get a smooth connection to the different sections of music but do it still at a slow speed.


Once you have achieved this, you can start to speed up the metronome and at this point, your problem area is no longer a problem area but a piece of the music you enjoy playing.




I hope you have found this article useful.  If so, please leave a comment.  I would love to hear from you.



All musicians,Motivation,Practice

September 15, 2011

3 Steps To Finding Time To Practice Music

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As an adult learner, and actually as a busy child these days, finding time to practice music can be difficult.


But here’s the good news… it’s only as difficult as you think it is – even for the busiest houseparent.


There are only three things to consider when trying to find the time for your music practice.



1. Priorities


We all know that priorities make a difference to how we spend our time.  Often work and family take the first priority on the list, and they have to.


But have you considered the way you spend your leisure time – even if you have a small amount?


Most of that can be taken up with pursuits that don’t offer you any return benefits such as watching television, playing computer games, surfing the internet or playing with  your i-device.


And it’s these activities that can take up much more time than we intended to give them.


They are time stealers.


The protest around taking time away from these activities is that many people think of them as things they do to relax or switch off, which brings me to the next point…



2. The Way You Frame Your Music Practice


Practicing your music is not work.


It is not another thing that has to be done.


It is not an effort.


Practicing music is:


  • what you do to relax,
  • it is your play time,
  • it is what you want to do,
  • it is what you do to turn off from the every day and enter into the creative world of play.


If you know how to practice music – and this is what this site is dedicated to helping you with  – your practice will be all of the above and more.  It will be something you look forward to doing as often as  you possibly can.


If you are able to frame your practice as this, you will then find that…


3. Music Practice Becomes A Need In Your Life


Once you know how to enjoy your music practice and feel how it improves your well-being (it may be worth checking out this article to make sure you are on the right track), your practice will not be something you need to make time for, but something which you simply have to do in order to sustain a good quality of life.


Having something like music in your life is as important for the mind, body and spirit as exercise and healthy eating, as long as you know how to do it.


Time Management


If you are not good at managing your time, even with the best intentions of practice it will be hard for you to get around to it.


Here are two short videos with some simple points for you to consider about how you spend your time each day.





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All musicians,For Teachers

September 13, 2011

This Month’s 10 Most Useful Music Programs – September

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This notation program looks great, I haven’t used it yet but I definitely will.


It’s a fantastic alternative to Sibelius and Finale and, of course, the best thing about it is that it’s free!


Here is a short video outlining some of it’s features:


There are a whole lot of tutorial videos available and a forum at the website.




This is a fun game to help students recognise notes on the stave and children love it!


Eek Shark




This iphone app is one of the most popular because of it’s effectiveness in recognising songs.


If you know just a part of the melody of a song but don’t know it’s name, you can hum it into your phone and SoundHound will find the song for you and its free.  Click here to download.

Scale Fingering Chart for Piano


This has notation and fingering for all minor and major keys.  Easy to use and understand.


Sheet Music


This is a great site for all kinds of sheet music.  If you need to access it instantly and you need good quality, this is the site to go to.  One song costs about $5.00.


Teaching Resources


Musition is an educational theory package from Sibelius.


It makes the learning of theory fun and engaging and you can download a free trial version here.



This site is full of well-designed music theory worksheets and online flash cards that you can print out.


It’s an especially good site for explaining the fundamentals.




This is a great site to use either as a teaching resource or if you are trying to go it alone in learning theory.


It’s clear, concise and easy to use, covering a wide range of topics from beginner to advanced.


This is a great website where you can download any audio music file or text file, such as a chord chard, and have it transposed for you into any key.  The best thing about this site is that it’s absolutely free and instant.  I looked at purchasing a program to do this for my singers, but you really don’t need to.




This site does cost money, but you receive a great tool for transcription enabling you to slow down a track without changing the pitch of the note.


You can transcribe from CDs or tracks stored on your computer.  Here is an screen shot of what you will end up with.



There are a couple of websites it is available on.  Here is a free download


and here is the site I bought mine on.


Or, you can get it as an iphone/ipad application:


Click here for the lite, free version or here for the full version which costs $15.99


All musicians,Creativity,Performing and Recording,The Inner Musician vs The Inner Critic

September 11, 2011

How To Learn A Song And Make It Your Own

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Welcome to my first podcast.


For those of you who would prefer to read, there is a transcription of the podcast below.



Cincopa WordPress plugin


Hi Everyone


It’s Lisa here, and welcome to this podcast.


This one’s for the singers.


I thought it would be a good idea to give you something that I have to teach my singers all the time and it’s about how to learn a song and how to interpret a song in order to make it your own.


The first thing you may not realise is that a lot of the time you may really think you know a song but what you are missing is the little notes in between and this can really put you off.


So, when you learn a song, and this is what I say to everybody, you need to first learn the melody exactly and you need to learn it slowly and then you need to learn to sing it without any inflections, without any emotion, almost in a robotic manner.


I thought the example I would give you would be one that I use for all my singers when they begin and that is “Let It Be” by The Beetles.


The first thing that we really need to look at is, what is the melody exactly.


And even if, from the recording, you find it difficult to work out exactly what the melody is, choose the notes that it’s going to be, choose the closest notes or what you like as a sound and it’s a really good idea to try to play that melody on piano (or other instrument).


The melody that you would learn for “Let it Be” is this:


(audio example – piano plays melody and I sing it)


That’s the first line of the song and that would be all you do until you perfect that.


Then you go to the next phrase.


So this is another really important part to remember.  It’s about breaking it down.


Once you’ve got that first phrase, and you’ll notice that I’m singing it extremely mechanically, then go to the next phrase:


(audio example)


Then you put those two phrases together.


(audio example)


Then go on to learning the next phrase.


(audio example)


…And then the chorus.


Once you’ve got that, try to sing it with the chords.  So, we’ll put the chords with it now.


(audio example)


Then you would go on to learn the chorus in the same manner.


The next part of learning a song is (and the more that you can do automatically, the better), learn the lyrics.


This is something that singers don’t do enough, it seems to me and so I’m really pushing it with my singers now.  No reading of lyrics, learn the lyrics that way you’ll really be able to internalise the song and make it your own.


After all, when you’re performing, you’re not going to read off a lyric sheet… hopefully, because you’ll just lose all the magic.


The next thing that I teach my singers is, once you’ve got that melody, it’s about phrasing.


One of the things I do teach is sing-speaking or speak-singing, whichever way you’d like to look at it and that just means you speak the words as you would in your normal language speech pattern.


Obviously, you wouldn’t say (in a monotone) when-I-find-myself-in-times-of-trouble.


You would say “When I find myself in times of trouble”.  And so that’s the way that you’re going to sing it.


For a little exercise what you can do is play the chords and do the speaking part of it.  For example:


(audio example)


When you do the sing-speaking, as soon as you do that it makes the song connect to the audience a lot more because, obviously, we follow speech patterns, we know what it is to listen to that rather than a mechanical way of saying it.


The next step is then putting the melody to the sing-speak phrasing.


It just means, and this is a really important thing, don’t hold on to notes.  This is a really common mistake that singers make.


You still need to be really exact with your pitch.


(audio example)


Ok, so that’s the sing-speaking part of it.


Now the chorus of this song I would say sing it out because it really lends itself to that and you do want contrast in a song as well.


So in the chorus you would do:


(audio example)


That’s the part that you really do get to sing it out and that’s the part that the audience would probably know too.


That way you get variation and contrast with a song and because it is such a repetitive song, songs like this and “Hallelujah” which have a lot of verses and a repetitive melody, it’s even more important to get your phrasing in a sing-speak style so that people will listen and it’s not so boring.


Let’s just talk about the next part of interpreting a song.


Once you’ve got the melody down and you know the words and you’ve got your phrasing and you know the way you’re going to sing it, it’s time then to interpret the song.


What I would suggest with that is that you’ve really got to look at the lyrics and I’m going to ask you …


“What is a singers’ main job?”


The answer is “to tell a story.”


So, who’s story are you going to tell?


The most effective way to get a story across or tell a story is to tell your own story.


That’s the story you’re most passionate about.


That’s the story you know.


That’s the story that you’re most connected with.


Just about every song that you sing, you take those lyrics and you take them apart and you assign an emotional memory, your memory to those words.


It doesn’t have to have anything to do with the words (the story in yourself) but those words will evoke something of you.


For example, when I think of “when I find myself in times of trouble”, I can think back to a time in my life where I felt that.


“Mother Mary comes to me.”  I can feel a time in my life where I still felt supported, perhaps spiritually or emotionally, in some way.


“Speaking words of wisdom, Let it Be.”  I did have a wiser person in my life that actually helped me and I do think of that person.


Now you may have one story for the whole song or every line may be a different part of your life.


But what you’re looking for is something that is still inside you, something that you can still feel and it’s not important whether it is the whole song, one story, or lots of different parts.


Once you’ve got that, your performance will be authentic.


Every time that you sing it you will be able to move, not only yourself, but move other people emotionally which is what your job is to do.  That’s what I feel anyway.


So, let me just take a minute and I’m just going to sing the first verse and this will be with my story in it.


(audio example).


Just remember that there are three stages to learning a song:


  1. Learn the melody note for note, especially the little notes, absolutely exactly.
  2. Learn the lyrics.
  3. Decide upon the phrasing and the way you want to interpret the song and put your story into the song, into the words every single time you sing it.


One time you may be singing the song you may have a different story to sing but just to make sure those emotions are alive.


Anyway, thank you for joining me for this first podcast and I hope you enjoyed it.





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