Welcome to Ron Kaye’s Music Instruction’s Blog – the online resource for music lessons and learning to practice and play music.
Learning to Play an Instrument
Learning to play an instrument does not have to be difficult.
The idea that learning to play an instrument is difficult or hard is a topic that I would like to cover in my series,”Musical Myth Busters” as myth #5. (Myth Busters 1-4 can be found at musicalesspensacola.com under the archives and recent posts.) So with that in mind, let’s dig into the common sense facts and realities of learning to play an instrument.
Of course, the first obstacle is understanding why some people seem to take to playing an instrument with great ease while others of us seem to have to work harder.
The problem is not one of failure or inferiority but of understanding. All people have a certain level of natural ability when it comes to learning an instrument – some more than others. Now, this does not mean that we can’t reach any level of proficiency we desire. It only means that we have to employ more in the way of structured, disciplined practice in order to reach our goals. I have taught private lessons for decades, and I can tell you, there are two primary types of students – the naturally gifted student and the student who has less natural ability. Over the years, I have taught people who were blind, autistic, and had physical deformities. Our students have been from all levels of intellect from federal judges and lawyers, to doctors, to children as young as 4yrs. old. What they all had in common was the fact that they all had a need to understand the process of learning to play an instrument.
So what is the process for learning to play an instrument?
Well, it starts with the reality that if you are not one of those blessed with an abundance of natural ability, your best road to success is to enjoy the journey, understand that it takes self-discipline, devote the time to learning, and understand that the lesson room floor is to be littered with your mistakes. That is where they belong. The Marines have a great saying, ‘Pain is weakness Leaving the Body.” That is the right attitude, and the secret to success. If you understand the fact that you are going to make mistakes at home and in your lessons, you’ll understand that you are making them in order to identify them and eventually make less of them. You cannot avoid mistakes without first being able to identify them and then get rid of them. Many adult students will make a mistake in their lessons and feel embarrassed, like it was the most awful thing that could happen. Some will even go as far as cutting their lessons short saying that they need to go home and practice. Now, I understand the idea of subconsciously wanting to please the teacher, but the lack of understanding the process actually stunts their growth. Accordingly, some younger students will not like the perceived failure and the feeling of frustration and resist working through the process. The lack of understanding the process is perhaps the greatest obstacle to anyone succeeding at learning to play an instrument. Think about it. If you put the correct practice methods in place and you understand that you need to make mistakes, your practice will automatically become more productive and a lot less stressful.
Once you desire to identify your mistakes so you can eliminate them and patiently deal with them, you are ready to deal with another obstacle – making time to practice.
Let’s face it, learning to play an instrument is not a life threatening situation. No one is going to die if you do not practice like you should. However, practice has to become a priority of sorts. That is to say, you cannot bring this into your life and your daily routine if you are not willing to have the self-discipline to practice on a regular basis. I always asks kids,”How often should you practice?” The answer, invariably comes back,”a Lot?” From here I look at their daily routine. OK, you can’t take time away from your sleeping, eating, homework or school, so what does that leave out of a 24hr. day? Let’s see, do you spend time on your phone? Watch any movies? Play games? Talk with your friends? Any free time? It is these unessential times during the day where practice must come from. You would be surprised at how many times a kid has told me that they had no time to practice during the week. Really?! Even when summer break comes and they have an additional 40hrs. per week to practice, they still don’t have time to practice.
Now let’s look at the practice priorities for adult students.
Of course life has priorities: a job, providing for your family, and many other responsibilities have to be first. However, if you are serious about giving yourself a fighting chance at learning to play an instrument, you have to make a commitment to practice daily. You simply cannot succeed if you wait until you feel like practicing. After working a full day and eating supper, chances are you do not always feel motivated to practice. It requires the ability to make yourself practice. Usually, once you make that commitment, by the time you start, or shortly thereafter, you will lose the stress of the day and be glad you decided to practice. In the end, there is no way around the fact that it takes self-discipline to succeed. The laws of practice are very much like the physical laws that govern our world. Just as gravity works and “what goes up must come down,” repeated, focused motions will generate skills. Learning to play an instrument is composed of fine muscle movements and muscle memory. These two factors can be seen in many other disciplines such as martial arts or sports. If you want to perform a precision sidekick or an accurate free throw, practice or repetitions are the only way to improve and gain skills. Learning to play a musical instrument is no different.
Another obstacle for a music student to learn to play an instrument is patience.
Yes, if I had a magic wand I could just tap you on the the head and you would play awesome, but that is not reality. The fact is you have to repeatedly perform the tasks you are taught makes it very easy to get discouraged and frustrated. Many times a student’s focus on learning an exercise in a book results in a “Been There Done That,” mentality. So let’s say a student comes to a lesson and has past several pages of exercises, and in the lesson they forget many of the notes that they passed in prior lessons, we have to review. Often, the student has the attitude that they have already conquered those skills so they do not want to repeat them at their current lesson. The feeling is focused on having “passed” that lesson, therefore they do not need to go backwards. In this instance, the student completely misses the point and purpose of performing the exercise, they become impatient with the process. They forget that it is not a race through the book so you can say you are ready to move on. After all, if you complete the book and have not gained the skills, what did you gain?
The aspect of patience is closely related to being mentally involved with your practice.
By being mentally involve I refer the the intellectual exercise of focusing on the fundamentals of the skill you are working on. This may involve counting with the metronome, reading the notes as you count, following the notes with your eyes, and playing what you are counting. It may , on occasion, be necessary depending on the exercise, to study your technique as well.as perform the exercise at a very slow temp and gradually increase the tempo until you reach the desired point. One of the greatest secrets to success in learning to play an instrument is to play a piece at a very slow tempo like 56bpm. I call 56bpm painfully slow because it takes a greater degree of control to play something at 56bpm, because there is more time in between the beats to put the notes in the wrong time. Also at 56bpm your window of opportunity to spot your mistakes is pretty big. Once you can play steady and even at 56bpm, then you can take a mental inventory of what your hands, fingers, and feet are doing, depending on the instrument you are learning to play. You can take the time to think about what your limbs are doing and concentrate on playing relaxed. After you have reached this phase the next thing to do is to increase the tempo ever so slightly and repeat the whole process. So from 56bpm we can transition to maybe 76bpm and later 96bpm or more. The most important factors here is that you count with the metronome, read the notes and count them in time with the metronome, and follow the notes with your eyes. Many experts agree, it is better to play something slow and even and gradually speed up the tempo than hitting it at let’s say 130bpm with no prep. All of this takes patience. Enjoy the journey, do not rush through to the end and cheat yourself out of the benefit of honing those skills.
Practice : 3 Keys to Success
Success Key #1 – Practice.
Let’s face the obvious. If you don’t, your chances of learning to reach some level of competency are drastically reduced. Even if you just want to gain better technical ability, practice is essential. Oddly enough, many people don’t think much about this particular element of music lessons, when they begin. Kids, of course, don’t usually understand what is involved until their teacher explains the relationship between reaching their goals and practice time. Adult students, on the other hand, should realize anything worth having is worth putting in some effort to make gains. So let’s take a brief look at the idea for adult students and for kids.
Success Key #2 – Make the Time to Practice.
The time it takes for kids and adults is restricted by several factors. Practice has to fit somewhere in the 24hrs. of a student’s day. It takes a back seat to sleep, for obvious reasons. The same holds true for meal time or eating. For kids, schooling is the next limiting factor. As far as adults are concerned, a work week around 40hrs. is also a limiting factor. Adults may have unexpected time factors such as relationships, or even duties around the house. Kids may have chores to do which also will be a priority over practicing.
So where does the time come from? Free time or recreational time is the only logical time to fit in working at your craft. When it comes to kids playing video games or talking on the phone, playing with friends etc., they have time. Consider the adult student and having any recreational or free time, you have time. If you look at practice time realistically, very few people don’t have the time to spare. We have taught boys and girls of all ages. Moms and Dads have taken lessons with us. In fact some of our students have been doctors, lawyers, business owners, and many other people who have busy schedules.
Success Key #3 – Make it a Priority to Practice.
Priority is one of the most misunderstood keys to success, because many people fail to balance their priorities in proper order of importance. So is it a top priority? Well, not exactly. Nobody is going to die, if you fail to practice. The reality is that you probably will make some progress, even if you never practiced at all. The weekly lessons alone will yield some results: however, the amount of time you diligently participate in is directly related to the amount of progress you’re going to make. Lessons do not necessarily have to be a top priority, but they must be a priority of sorts. If you do not practice, the resulting lack of progress will lead to playing the same thing more times than is fun and interesting.
The “rule of thumb” is that you should practice the same amount of time as your lessons, at least six days per week. This means if you take 1/2hr. lessons, then you should practice at least 1/2hr. per day, six days a week. If you take hour lessons, then you should practice an hour a day, six days a week. If you follow this rule your lessons will remain fun, and you will make great progress.
13 Ways to Better Drumming
Better Drumming doesn’t necessarily come easy, and it should include proper techniques and habits. After all, the more you incorporate these things into your practice, the better you will get at playing the drums. So, if you understand some foundational concepts of practice, you can improve your playing ability exponentially.
#1 Better Drumming is based on math. Music is mathematics and gaining musical ability or skill is a numbers game.
You see, music is based on mathematical order and structure. In it’s essence, it belongs to the family of “Symbolic Logic” which is a higher order math. In symbolic logic, you have certain symbols that represent various defined properties, and you also have a set of rules or laws. The symbols must follow the laws or rules in order to accomplish the expected outcome, which in this case is musical melody, harmonies, rhythms, etc.. However, in music the laws are more theory than concrete, they can be bent or slightly altered. Unlike laws that are meant to be followed to the letter. The result is that “Music Theory” guides the use and expression of the notes firmly, but it is possible, as I said, to stray a bit.
So then, music is unquestionably math and as such it contains order and structure.
The relationship between music and math is a plausible explanation for the fact that the study of music aids greatly in how kids perform in standardized tests. Studies have shown that those who study music have improved critical and analytical skills along with better spacial reasoning.
The connection of mathematics to music is even more evident when you realize that gaining drumming skills involves fine motor skills and muscle memory.
So, those two element are at the heart of practicing the drums. It is obvious that fine motor skills and muscle memory are only sharpened by one thing – repetitions. Look at just about any example in life from a person who performs clean karate kicks, to how a batter hits a baseball. It is all based on repetitions. You might say that hitting a baseball is hand eye coordination, but without the repetitions of fine motor skills and muscle memory, the batter could not develop the ability to repeatedly hit the ball. Indeed, all sports include fine motor skills and muscle memory. So, it is the repetition of practice that is the means by which drumming skills are gained – no repetitions, no gaining skills.
Let’s say it takes 1000 reps for the average person to develop a clean double paradiddle. If you practice once or twice a week performing one or two repetitions, you can realistically expect it to take quite a while to gain that skill – about 250 weeks at best, or about a year and a half! See the problem? Not enough repetitions to gain the skill. In addition, if the repetitions are not steadily consistent, you can expect to not see any results.
#2. Better Drumming Professionals make playing the drums look easy, because they practice (a lot).
When you think of some of the greatest drumming performances you’ve ever seen, do you recall the drummer struggling, being tense, or looking scared to death that they are going to make a mistake, no. The reason is simple. Chances are they performed enough repetitions to be able to perform the task without any of those problems. Am I saying they are not nervous? Not at all, even the most seasoned player gets nervous before they perform. In fact, it’s that bit of adrenaline rush that can keep you on your toes, ensuring you don’t make mistakes. Not to mention those great drummers didn’t just pick up a pair of sticks yesterday. Many of them have spent a lifetime perfecting their craft.
Now, should you expect to reach the playing level of Steve Gadd or Neil Peart in a year or two of dedicated drumming?
It would be unlikely. However, Neil Peart is an awesome example, in my opinion, of a guy who really understands the process of drumming and practice. You may not know that Neil, arguably one of the greatest drumming icons in the world today, took drum lessons. After 30yrs. or so of an extremely successful career as the drummer for Rush and setting all kinds of drumming benchmarks, Neil decided to see if maybe their was something more he could learn. I love his example of humbly knowing there is always something more you can learn, if you are a lifetime drummer. As it turned out, he took lessons from Freddie Gruber and learned a whole different way to approach playing the drums.
#3 Better Drumming comes with the Realization that performance involves showmanship, and showmanship is an art form all it’s own.
What is sometimes lost in viewing a great drum performance is the fact that the performing drummer has probably spent thousands of hours perfecting what you are viewing in a relatively short performance. It’s an illusion to think that they got to be that good without a lot of hard work and practice. Everyone is born with a certain level of ability, some more than others. In the world of drumming, I think of legends like Dennis Chambers, who seem to have a much higher level of pure natural ability than most drummers. Yet, I am willing to bet he has worked very hard to hone and perfect his skills.
As for the rest of us, we can take the natural ability we posses, add it to some good teaching and hard work, and we can reach our dreams as drummers. When it comes down to it, you just can’t escape the repetitions, but you can understand this small portion of the drumming universe and enjoy the journey. Keep on drumming and reaching for your best.
#4 Better Drumming involves practice everyday, not for hours on just one day per week.
If you practice three hours in one day per week, you will gain skills faster than if you practice fifteen minutes everyday, right? Not so, experience has shown that the knowledge and skills you gain in a marathon practice session the day before your lesson, only yields short term memory. Whereas, practicing everyday for a much more brief period of time each day tends to yield long term memory. For example, if you study for a test in school each day you will do better than if you cram for the test. If all your efforts are not spread out evenly over time, you may pass the test, but a week later forget most of what you studied. Our minds require regular, periodic, re-enforcement to gain long term memory. The same is true for drumming skills.
#5 Better Drumming involves making workable guideline for your practice.
If you have a ton of natural ability and you are close to reaching your goals, then you might not require much more than a general re-enforcement of your drumming skills. However, you may gain skills easier than most drummers, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can go unchallenged in your practice time. Challenge is the ingredient that makes us better drummers. If you’re not bursting with natural ability, then you may need to adjust the amount of daily time that you practice accordingly.
What are your short term and long term goals as drummer?
It’s important to keep these things in mind when you are designing a practice regimen. Are you striving to be the absolute best drummer you can be or are you just wanting to get by playing the drums? Do you want to be a professional drummer or even audition for a certain group? Then you need to adjust your practice accordingly. Can you realistically determine your strengths and weaknesses?
There is a good rule of thumb concerning your practice if you are an average student taking lessons. If you are taking a half hour lesson, then it follows that you should spend a minimum of a half hour per day, six days per week dedicated to practice. If you are taking an hour lesson, then the practice time should be one hour per day six days a week. Now, if you happen to miss a day’s practice, you can always make it up in the seventh day or divide the time throughout the rest of the week.
#6. Better Drumming utilizes supplemental practice routines and methods.
Supplemental practice is quite a bit different than your regular practice, but if you utilize this type of practice it can dramatically speed up your progress. It is important to remember that supplemental practice IS NOT a substitute for your regular daily practice. So what are we talking about? Supplemental practice is an extremely effective approach to practicing that brings about measurable results. The idea is to take time when you are relaxing, let’s say watching TV for example, and break out a practice pad and start working on your rudiments, or work on your foot rudiments. While you’re mindlessly watching TV, you can be working on those repetitions which do not require the dedicated focus you would bring to the drum kit. You see, while you are relaxing, you’re actually performing repetitions.
Remember repetitions result in gaining skills!
Many times I will work on my laptop and will be doing rudiments with my feet. Try it, it works! Even if I am just doing single strokes it improves your skills. I highly recommend taking a practice pad with you when your going to be seated somewhere in your home and start re-enforcing those drumming skills. If you don’t have a practice pad, get one. I also recommend a pair of practice pedals such as the ones made by “Hansenfutz.” The main point is that you can gain extremely valuable practice time and repetitions while you are just “Chillin’.” If you work at a desk all day or are on a break, work your feet.
#7 Better Drumming demands that you “Commit & Don’t Quit.”
In order for your hard work and repetitions to pay off, you have to be committed to your goals, and then see them through. Learning any instrument involves a series of emotional hills and valleys. The cycle usually begins when you first discover your strong desire to start drumming, you may even start lessons. Let’s call this hill #1 or “the honeymoon” experience. You are psyched to be drumming and you promise yourself that you will do whatever it takes to become great. After a short period of time, you enter the first valley. It’s at this point that you realize there is work to be done here and it’s not gonna get done by itself. Usually, you get kinda bored and lack the motivation to get any serious practice done.
It’s at this point where some people give up and quit.
That’s right, at the very first test of their commitment to themselves, they loose their motivation and give up. What an awful shame it is for those individuals, because if they would have just pushed through a little bit longer, they would have reached the next mountaintop. AHHHH, from there you can see you’re beginning to get the hang of things. You actually conquered some doubts and fears and gained some skills. The mountaintop is a good place. However, the cycle begins again and you find things aren’t quite as easy as you thought they were going to be. The new challenges are more challenging, it seems. Again, some people drop off at this point also for whatever reason, the reason is never logical and always comes down to the fact that they gave up on their commitment.
There are some people who have their eyes opened a bit and they start to see that the biggest obstacle is their own thoughts.
These individuals realize that this is a cycle of hills and valleys and they can learn how to not only accept that fact, but they can learn to deal with it. You see the people who become musicians learn that the cycle is part of the journey to reaching their drumming goals. Once you accept that fact the sooner you can change your outlook at it and begin overcoming that former obstacle.
Commitment is often a dirty word now a days, and even some parents neglect to teach their children what it is to commit to something. However, if you are ever going to learn to over come obstacles in life, learning commitment and tenacity are invaluable skills. The cycle of hills and valleys in learning to play an instrument is a great learning environment. As you commit to staying the coarse for six months to a year, you can definitely be sure that playing the drums is right for you. After all, not everyone can be a member of that elite club of skilled drummers.
#8. Better Drumming regulates your daily practice time.
One of the best ways to succeed at making some routine a part of your daily life is to perform it at the same time each day. If you can accomplish this task for at least 21 to 30 days, you will be well on your way to accomplishing your goal. Let’s face it, when you add drum lessons into your life and the practice that goes with it, the time has to come from somewhere in your schedule. For kids, it can’t come from the time they eat, sleep or do schoolwork. As for adults, it has to come from a more restricted schedule, usually due to the demands of life. In either case, it must come from free or recreational time.
If you’re an adult and you don’t have recreational time, make it.
Kid’s always have free time, time on the phone, the computer, video games, etc. Once you commit to your drum practice, the next thing to do is tie that activity to another one already established in your day, such as supper time or some other regulated part of your day. So, let’s say you eat dinner at 6pm everyday. You can tie your practice time to dinner and practice after dinner each night. So then, your daily practice will be at 6:30pm everyday, right after dinner. By tying your practice in such a manner daily, it will be easier to remember and easier to become a regular part of your life.
#9. Better Drumming means staying mentally involved in your practice.
Now, this does not pertain to supplemental practice, only regular practice. If you perform your regular drum practice each day and don’t stay mentally involved and keep challenging yourself, you will not reap the huge benefits you could if you stayed with it. To make your practice time the most productive that it can be, you must focus and keep yourself challenged. The key here is to keep taking on new challenges and enjoy the journey. Stay focused.
#10. Better Drumming means using a metronome.
The main job of any drummer is to keep steady time. If you can’t do that, others will have a hard time playing music with you, and you won’t be much of a drummer. There is no other tool on this planet that, if used properly, can make your time steady. The metronome clicks at a flawless rate of accuracy, and unlike humans it never strays from that steady beat. I have already covered this topic extensively in a previous post on drumming with a metronome.
#11 Better Drumming means you set goals.
It is very important to set goals in your journey to better drumming so that you can “benchmark” your progress, because there will be times when progress is there, but you just don’t notice it. These benchmarks will help you at those critical times to be encouraged and keep moving forward. The process involves setting short and long term goals. If you’re working on a certain technique, break it down into steps – analyze the task, and gradually gain the skills you need. If you are learning written music and you can’t seem to play it all the way through, break it down. Begin with the measure or measures that you’re stumbling over. Repeat those measures over slowly until you can feel the groove and play it relaxed.
Once you’re able to play a section of music at a slower, steady tempo, then pick it up about ten beats per measure and groove it there. Next, if you can play the trouble spot or series of measures close to tempo, place the measures back in the order of the music and try it from the top. The idea is to divide the music and conquer it. Then, when you’ve got it solid, conquer the whole piece of music.
#12. Better Drumming means you perform in front of others.
The reward comes from successfully performing your craft in front of other people. If you’ve met your short term goals, it’s time for some gratification. Some appreciation from family and friends will go a long way in motivating you to keep working and perfecting your chops. If you can “show what you know,” then you’ve reached another benchmark on the way to drumming competence.
#13. Better drumming involves the concept of “See one, Do One, Teach one.”
One of the coolest principals of education I ever learned, I learned in the US Military. The best way to become somewhat proficient at something is a simple process of having someone teach you a task (see one). You then practice and digest the skill (do one), and then share what you’ve gained with someone else (teach one). This progression works flawlessly as you go through the steps diligently. I highly recommend this approach.
So there you have it; practice can be diverse, challenging, and rewarding. If you add these extra little elements into your life and practice routine, you will experience some great results. Remember, there is no better feeling as a musician than to be free from the doubts about your practice, and play from your heart and soul. So commit to yourself and your practice, work hard and enjoy the journey. Enjoy your practice, remember… the drums are the most powerful instrument in music! Check out our drum lessons and more!
Reading Music – 7 Musical Myth Busters Part #4
When learning to play a musical instrument, some believe reading music is non-essential.
Some will say that music lessons should be focused on what the student feels is the best approach. Things such as music theory are difficult and unnecessary.In fact, music lessons should consist of learning exclusively what the student desires.After all, you are paying for the lessons, so why not have total control over what and how you are taught, right?If you do not want to learn an aspect of music, what’s the harm in ignoring it in favor of what you want to learn?The myth that follows this faulty logic hangs on several factors, and in the end actually hurts the student’s progress.
Reading music:What will you do?
Perhaps the most important aspect concerning the importance of reading music is based upon what you, the student, want to learn.Many folks approach the subject from the prospective that as the consumer, they are in the “driver’s seat” and they know what they want to learn.The market proposes two approaches to learning music, both with music theory and without.
After all, you can find plenty of teachers who will teach you whatever you want.In fact many “music teachers” will begin each lesson with the question,“Well, what do you want to learn today?”The approach seems harmless and good until you look back after a period of time and realize that following finger and hand movements without understanding the theory behind it leads to gaps in the students’ understanding.After all, how can you do something as fundamental as a key change if you don’t understand what a “key” is or what notes and chords go with what keys?
You may easily find music teachers who will leave out reading music and theory, but is it best.
Suppose your doctor went to a medical school which didn’t teach biology?How about a flight school who taught you how to fly a plane without studying meteorology?What about an electrician who was taught without using math?Maybe you might prefer a construction or engineering company which was run by folks who learned their craft without using standard measurements?Could they build a building or structure?Probably, but wouldn’t everyone benefit from having a proper understanding of the theory used in the core subject?
Just because you can be taught music skills without knowing the theory behind it, are you better off. Consequently, you must admit that just because there are people who will teach you without reading music and music theory, you would be better served if you learned the essentials of music.
What about the great musicians who didn’t learn music theory or reading music?
Without formally learning music theory some, some great musicians have excelled.I, personally, have met music legends who didn’t learn theory, and their playing is certainly awesome.It is possible to learn to play a musical instrument without learning to read music, or understand music theory.My answer to this phenomenon is quite realistic, actually.I would answer it with the question, “Is that the case with you?”If it is, then you obviously can do what you do without the necessary theory the rest of us need to excel in music.I think that even music legends would tell you that if you cannot learn as they did, you should avail yourself of anything that would help you understand music, right?.
Certainly, natural ability plays a huge role in the lives of people who learned to play well without learning to read music and understand music theory.If you are blessed with a great deal of natural ability, the obvious outcome is that you can learn to play well, by merely learning hand and finger movements.These folks make up the lion’s share of exceptions to the learning theory rule.The problem is that the number of these individuals with pure natural ability is severely limited.In fact, most of us do not posses an overload of natural musical ability needed to learn music without the aid or benefit of music theory.
The truth is that not all of us are Paul McCartny or Jimmy Hendrix.The validity of what I am claiming here is clearly seen in the fact that a great deal of folks have tried to learn on their own and failed.Thus, people seek out someone to teach them how to play.
Reading music is based on learning to speak the language of music.
Actually, music as a language consists of symbolic logic.Symbolic logic utilizes symbols and rules to perform work or to create something meaningful.Language and symbolic logic are closely related. When you were taught “English” in school, you were taught to recognize symbols known as “letters.”These letters were interpreted through rules, such as vowels having short and long sounds, or that the letters “T” and “H” when placed together had a certain sound. When you applied the rules to the use of the symbols, you created the English language.With music the situation is the same. The rules are applied to the notes and the result is music.With music theory, we are able to assign rules to musical notes and develop an organized system to create something meaningful.
If you are able to read music and apply music theory, you are able to speak a language which most of the world acknowledges.
When a musician talks to a musician these days in terms of “Music,” they arespeaking a universal language.For example, a quarter note in 4/4 time means the same thing.Some may argue that in the study of musical history there were differences in systems of music theory; however, today, the predominant standard is the same.Unless you are going back in a time machine, there is going to be a standard of agreement.
So if the drummer and the guitar player are learning their prospective parts to a song they can have a way to communicate with each other. Music works much the same as a person moving to a foreign country. If you moved to China, for example, would it hurt or help you to be able to share the same language? What if you had to take the time to learn the basics of the language, would it be worth it?
Learning music theory and reading music enhances any musician’s contribution to playing with others.
Once that essential communication takes place between musicians, they are more free to teach each other advanced concepts such as improvisation and playing odd meters. This type of collaboration would be all but impossible without understanding music theory and reading music. How can you read charts, do a studio gig, or keep track of new ideas which come to mind while you’re playing?
The conclusion –
If you’re Paul McCartney or a naturally gifted individual, you may not need to learn music theory or reading music. If you’re not a gifted individual, you might want to realize that learning music from people who will teach you the essentials and beyond, is a far wiser choice than learning to follow someone’s hand and finger movements.Don’t fear the Notes … have fun.
SEVEN MUSICAL MYTH BUSTERS PART #3 – Music Lessons & the Metronome
Myth #3 – Using a metronome is a waste of time and unnecessary to music lessons.
When discussing music and using a metronome, this particular myth is one of my favorites. As you will find, seemingly good arguments exist on both sides of the issue. However, the truth lies in understanding the purpose of the metronome. To begin, we need a little groundwork.
What is a metronome?
A metronome is a device which clicks or makes some sort of tone at regular measurable increments. For example you may set a metronome at 60BPM (Beats Per Minute) and it will click once every second. Earlier versions of the metronome utilized a pendulum device to adjust and keep time (click regularly) whereas, modern metronomes will utilize a digital type of sound and setting. You just set the BPM and hit start. The early design of the metronome was believed to be patented around the 1800’s. Musicians often utilize a metronome to help keep steady time or play music at a regular even interval, this often proves effective when working on odd meter. In theory, if music is written and assigned a tempo (speed) it is assumed that the reference is to metronomic timing.
All human beings have some sort of reference point for measuring “Time” or your inner clock. For most people, their frame of reference is their heart beat. Think about it. Even in the womb, we are exposed to a sense of timing – a pulse which is steady and even. To illustrate this point look at the facts. A person’s heart rate gradually slows as they age. Teenagers, for example, have a faster heart rate than someone in their fifties. Therefore, when it comes to music lessons, teenagers have a bit more difficulty playing steadily at a BPM like 50 or 60. Whereas, someone in their fifties would find it a little easier to play steadily at those slower tempos.
Other factors, as well, play a role in a persons ability to keep steady time. For example, if a young person is exposed to rapid stimuli such as a movie trailers flashing 1000 images a minute, their sense of time is going to be skewed faster. Another excelerator of a persons’s sense of time is music itself. Think about a diet of speed metal verses classical music. Which persons is going to have a harder time playing music at a slow tempo? Even stress can affect the way a person recognizes time in music. The more stress, the more your sense of time is stimulated, or sped up. What if you are one of those persons who absolutely has to have coffee to make it through the day? Does caffeine affect your inner timing ability? Absolutely. So you see, without learning to hear correct time in your mind as you play, or monitor your inner clock, the timing in your music can suffer. Hence, there is a legitimate place in music lessons for the use of a metronome.
So what is the controversy about using a metronome to learn music?
Some believe learning with a metronome restricts your creativity. Folks seem to either love the metronome or hate it. Practicing with a metronome has been criticized by some musicians as making your playing “Stiff” or “Mechanical.” If your playing becomes stiff as a result of using a metronome, it would be an unfortunate side effect of having not utilized the metronome properly.The idea of holding a sense of time to music performance is only one small aspect of what using a metronome accomplishes. However, the practice does not, necessarily, result in radical restriction in “Feel” or “Expression.” To illustrate the point, if you were to take a piece of written music and play it more “freely” and less rigid as the metronomic standard, the resulting music could be, and would be, written with entirely different notes, rests, etc. than the original. So the end result would be a different piece of music. Indeed, if a person taking piano lessons, for example, plays a piece “freely” each time they play, the standard of “Time” may vary each performance depending on the mood, energy level or caffeine intake of the musician. Since there is no enforceable or measurable standard every time they play, it could be different. Think of Mozart’s “Fur Elize” for example. How many ways have you heard that song “Stylized?” I would argue that removing a standard of time would be much like reverting back to Gregorian Chant or a arhythmic drum solos. While some folks may see beauty in this type of performance, the vast majority of people’s toes tap and their bodies respond to organized, measurable music. Think for a second about Rapp artists with no rhyme or use of syncopation yielding to a more “Free” approach. One of the main objectives in using a metronome is “Control.” Metronome critics seem to despise learning music with a metronome because of one of its’ chief attributes – control. Let’s face it, if you can’t control your playing, your musical performance will suffer. If a person learning to play the drums can’t maintain, let’s say, a swing feel while performing, the music will suffer, and it won’t swing. The swing genre relies heavily on maintaining a syncopated feel to its performance. If you cannot remain syncopated, or control the swing throughout the piece, it falls apart. Let’s face it, “if you can’t find The One your done!”
Therefore, control and a standard of timing is essential and does not, necessarily make your playing rigid, stiff, or mechanical. If this fallacy where true, why would almost every recording studio, from home studio to professional, utilize a click track or metronome as a recording quality aid? Why would electronic drum kits, electric keyboards, etc. come equipped with a metronome? There are metronomes of all types on the market today from the old pendulum type to apps on your smart phone. Now, if learning to play music with a metronome destroys creativity and feel, and metronomes have survived the test of time for hundreds of years (around the world), wouldn’t mankind have abandoned this loathsome practice long ago? Wouldn’t music have evolved away from this detriment to creative artists? The fact is there is no more of an effective tool for learning musical skills than the metronome. Learning to play music with a metronome does not make your playing stiff or mechanical unless you fail to understand how to use one.
Another misconception about the metronome and music lessons is that the practice makes students “Metronome Dependent.”
The prevailing thought is that when a person is taking music lessons, for example, they won’t be able to play music beautifully or in time without having a metronome or click track to assist their performance. This idea can become reality for some, if they are not taught to utilize the metronome properly. Using a metronome, as I said earlier, is an ear training exercise. The purpose for using a metronome is to be able to hear and recognize steady or even time. The practice is much like being able to learn to recognize the pitch of musical notes by hearing them played over and over. As much as a musician needs to recognize pitch in music, they have an equal need to recognize steady time. Most music has recognizable meter or time. In fact that is why 4/4 time is often referred to as “Common” time. The most common time signature of music is four over four, or four beats to a measure with the quarter note equalling one beat. Let me ask you, isn’t that a measurable standard of time? Anyway, once a student has the ability to recognize steady time by using a device such as a metronome, it is time to learn to play without the metronome. At this point the student has their senses tuned to recognize steady time, and they can play without the use of a metronome. Furthermore, once they can recognize where time is, they can begin to expand or free up their playing to add feel. A drum student, for example, who has a good grasp on steady time can begin to adjust one of the drum kit voices to be either slightly ahead or slightly behind the meter to aid the feel. A good example would be to slightly hold back the kick and snare to give the music a more “Bluesy” feel. Another appropriate use would be to play some voicing on the drum kit slightly ahead of the time to aid in creating a more “Energetic” feel. So the question becomes how can you slightly alter the time from steady and even if you can’t recognize where that is? The metronome is an “Ear Training” device. For great teaching and knowledgable instruction come see us at https://www.musiclessonspensacola.com .
SEVEN MUSICAL MYTH BUSTERS PART 2 – MUSIC LESSONS
Finding a Great Music Teacher
To ensure your Music Lesson experience is a positive one, take lessons from someone who is a true music teacher. Several elements come into play here. The first element is the teacher.I firmly believe that when it comes to music lessons, genuine music teachers are born not necessarily created through an educational system or grand performance experience. In the educational system, music students are offered two career tracts – performance or education. I’m sure you heard it said, “those who can’t … teach.” Well, in reality those who perform well are not necessarily good teachers. Just because a person finds their way through a path to musical proficiency does not mean that they are capable, or even willing to show others how to get there. One of the biggest components of a musician, especially a talented or trained musician, is their ego. Studies have been done adnauseum pertaining to the musicians’ need to receive positive feedback from others to carry on. Applause, hand shakes, high fives, etc. all support and fuel the often fragile ego of a musician. Why do most musicians perform? Think about it. Some might say it is to express themselves or just to create music, however, in a audience free void many musicians would cease from making music. Whether it is performing in a stadium filled to capacity or Youtube, there is a gratification or a high from performing. The teaching musician on the other hand appears to have a more altruistic approach to music. The feedback that strokes the true music teacher’s ego comes in the form of training someone else to become proficient in music. Sharing the gift of music with a student and then enabling that student to perform or play music well is the ultimate high for the true music teacher. When your students perform or goes on to become teachers themselves, the teacher’s “rocking the stadium.” This is not to say that there aren’t plenty of teachers who shouldn’t be teaching or performers who don’t do a great job teaching. The fact is neither of these two career tracts guarantee the production of a true music teacher.
Myth #2 – Music lessons are a painful, stressful process.
A person who is a true music teacher is someone who has the ability to explain the subject matter in a vast amount of differing styles and ways, “Differentiated Instruction.” For example, it is a known fact that people learn in different ways. Not all people learn from the same train of thought or stimulus. Some people learn from auditory stimulus or simply put… by hearing. Others learn best from seeing or watching and still others by kinesthetics or by doing. A genuine teacher has to be able to discern the student’s learning style and provide the correct action for teaching the student. In addition, a teacher must be able to explain the subject matter in ways which the student can relate to within each one of these three learning styles. When it comes to music lessons, the personality traits of a born teacher are a genuine desire to teach for the betterment of the student, the advancement of the craft, the ability to effectively communicate the subject matter, vast problem solving skills, creativity, adaptability, and proficient knowledge.
The second element in the lesson experience is the student. Many times I wished I could have the power to magically transform a student into a proficient musician without them having to put in the effort and drive to succeed. Unfortunately, rarely does a student succeed without performing the repetitions necessary to be able to play an instrument. Inherent in learning to play music is the need to fine tune muscle memory and fine motor skills which means practice. A student may be able to rely on sheer natural ability to get by, but if you are not one of those gifted with an abundance of natural ability, it won’t be long before practice is the only path to gaining skills. Students should expect practice to be a huge portion of their learning experience. This concept eludes a lot of folks when it comes to music, especially singing. Many people get the wrong impression when they see accomplished musicians perform. They make it look so easy! Rarely do they realize the thousands of hours of practice that went into a particular performance. The blame is partially on the concept of “Show Business.” The idea is to present the slight illusion that a masterful performance doesn’t include struggle and hard work. The artist wants the audience to feel comfortable and relaxed.
The reality is that if you are just starting, practice is not a part of your life. You have to make room for practicing in your daily life. For kids, this means you have 24hrs. in a day and you cannot take time away from your eating, sleeping, or education. However, their is one area in which practice can fit – free or recreational time. This is the space practice resides in. Do you talk on the phone, play video games, chat with friends, watch TV, surf the internet? This is the time and space in which practice needs to reside. For adults starting music lessons, the responsibilities of life fill in a good deal of time, but as most people know if practice is a priority of sorts, you will find the time.
Now, what happens when you don’t practice, in preparation for your music lessons? Is there stress? Perhaps a bit. If you do not perform the necessary repetitions to gain skills, then how can you progress in your lessons? Some folks believe that they should not insist that their child practice if they don’t feel like it. Let’s look at that concept for a moment. Does your child do their “chores” on a regular basis without being asked? Do they make their bed every day without being asked? Take out the trash? Do they do their homework without being told? Then why would you expect them to instantaneously have the self discipline to practice on their own? But music should be fun, right? Yeh, music is great fun, once you understand the dynamics involved. Built into the process of music education is the entities of practice, challenge, a very small bit of discomfort, as well as gratification, pride, self-esteem, and great joy. If music lessons do not challenge you, they are failing you.
Therefore, if you only perform those skills which you are comfortable with, you will not progress any further. Every new lesson should bring a new challenge, and that might bring you out of your comfort zone. In sports they say, “No Pain – No Gain.” However, when it comes to learning music, it is often, “No fun – I’m Done.” Both sports and music lessons require muscle memory and fine motor skills or practice, the playing field is the same! Yet, some parents will “force” their child to participate in physical or mental activities on a daily basis which bring about a degree of momentary discomfort. Let’s face it, studying for a test in algebra can easily bring about a level of discomfort and most parents will, “force” their child to do it. In the end, the study of music, above most other pursuits ( physical or mental ) is scientifically justified to bring about more beneficial aspects than most others. If you understand history, you will recall the importance of music to most successful societies. Music instruction, after all, was the cornerstone of Plato’s training for his elite republican guard. Should we not understand the dynamic principles involved in music lessons and embrace them?
See you next time with the continuing 7 Myth Series.
SEVEN MUSICAL MYTH BUSTERS – PART 1 By Ron Kaye
The Seven Musical Myths Examined
Myth is always all around us in the world of Music Lessons, so are opinions as to what is the best way to go about learning to play an instrument. Much has been written on the subject of how to learn to play an instrument, and passionate opinions abound. It is in this whirlpool of very strong opinions that I offer to take on Seven Musical Myths pertaining to learning to music lessons. Let me begin by saying that these thoughts are my opinion, however, you can judge for yourself my conclusions. My hope is that and at least a discussion can begin to bring out a consensus.
MUSICAL MYTH #1
The first misconception is perhaps the most obvious; You either have the ability/aptitude to play music or you don’t. Many people believe they could never play an instrument, because some other relative or stranger was given that gift – not them. “I’m no Paul McCartney,” they say. The sentiment is that the music gene skipped them and went to someone else. This musical myth is pervasive amongst many people who were not raised with musical involvement in their family. The fact remains that everybody has some level of musical aptitude. As human beings we are born with the need to express ourselves musically. From tapping a set of pencils on a desk to singing in the shower, “the music is in you.”
To prove this point, I offer the following scenario. You cannot go very long, perhaps half of an hour without music finding its way into your mind. Really? Oh yeah, think about it. Try a musical fast if you will. Try to go one day without any form of music in your life. Let’s see, we could go into a sensory deprivation chamber turn out the lights and close the door. The next thing you know, your humming, “Puff the Magic Dragon,” or the theme song from your favorite TV show. In fact, you could go to Walmart or a doctors office and what do you hear? … music. Even in the elevator! Music is everywhere and it is even in the deepest depths of your soul. The issue is not that you can’t create music, the problem is that you may need a little help building on your already present natural ability. Just as every human being has music in them, everyone has a certain amount of natural ability to make music. What we perceive as the ability in others to make music, is the level they possess of sheer natural ability, or their natural ability coupled with training and practice to make great music. Either way, all human beings are musical.
Since learning to play an instrument or music lessons are primarily composed of muscle memory and fine motor skills, applying your level of natural ability (no matter the quantity) results in the ability to make music. Muscle memory and fine motor skills are gained through repetitions – practice. The more repetitions that you do, the easier fine motor skills and muscle memory is gained. Therefore, since everyone has natural musical ability on some level, anyone can achieve the ability to sing or play a musical instrument. If you perform the required repetitions you will gain the level of skill which you are seeking. So, logically the music is already in you. Everyone has some level of natural musical ability, and practice provides the fine motor skills and muscle memory needed to play or sing.
In Part 2 of MUSICAL MYTH BUSTERS we will take on the concept of practice and examine if music lessons are a “help” or a “hinderance.”
Your Voice and Singing
Singing, you just do it, right? You either can or can’t, right? Well, I’ll tell you that once you begin to study the concept of using your voice, you soon realize many people are mistaken. Although we are born with a voice, it doesn’t always lend itself to beauty in all people. However, if you understand the dynamics of learning to sing properly, and put in a bit of practice, your voice can become a thing of beauty.Many folks don’t think of their voice as a “real” instrument.
Training your voice is a combination of physical and mental components that work together to form a pleasing sound.
There are many aspect of singing which require muscle memory and physical control of different parts of your body. There are also other aspects which require mental focus. For example, if I were to choose to sing in a more nasal tone ( something along the lines of Dolly Parton, Kelly Pickler, etc. ), it would require focusing mentally on sending the air forward through my nasal passages. So, physically I’m not lifting my soft palate, but mentally I would be focusing on vocalizing forward ( directing the air flow through the front of my face ). This combination of physical and mental elements produces a nasal tone. A good example of this type of technique used in a performance is the song “Stuck Like Glue” by Sugarland.
The mental and physical aspects are involved with good singing and matching pitch.
The most important part of singing well is matching pitch, or vocalizing the correct notes. In order to properly match pitch, you have to utilize the mental and physical aspects when you sing. You see, each song has a musical key that it is written in, and the notes which fit that particular key are limited. Therefore, you have to be able to stay in the range of the key in order to make the outcome pleasurable. To sing good, you must 1.) Focus and 2.) Support. Focusing your tone involves the physical control of your mouth, tongue, jaw, face, cheeks, soft palate, and your head. Support aids in getting the air through a breath and what you do with it once you get it. Basically, support involve things like breathing, posture, and core support.
There are some limitations you need to be aware of to make you the best you can be.
People often wonder, ( hopefully they know accurately ), to what category of singer does their voice best lends itself. Are you a Soprano, Alto, Tenor, or Bass? The proper assessment of your vocal part is a combination of Range, Tone, and Register Breaks. The benefit of knowing your voice part and range will help you choose songs which best suit your voice. The object here is to sing songs which are in keys which compliment your voice.
This information is just the beginning to your journey.
Hopefully, you can get an appreciation for these specific aspects of using your voice to make beautiful music. Once you realize what is involved when you sing, hopefully you can understand that, yes, everyone can “make a joyful noise unto the Lord,” but relating your voice as pleasurable to your fellow man may require a bit more effort. If you are interested in knowing more, or taking voice lessons with us please call (850) 453-9966. Keep on making beautiful music!
Written by Mrs. Kyle A. Kaye, B.M.E. & Ron Kaye