The Music Teachers National Association conference is held every year at different locations throughout the US and Canada. This year it was held at Disneyland (nuts!) and it was magical. The reason I say magical is that it seems the tides are changing. Here’s how my colleague and business partner, Bradley Sowash called it:
Bradley unlocking the secrets of chord symbols. His tips are incredible!
I’ve just returned from the Music Teacher’s National Association conference in CA where I was fortunate to serve as chair of the jazz/pop track along with project manager Leila Viss [that's me]. I’ve been swimming upstream on the subject of teaching creativity as a necessary ingredient to comprehensive musicianship at music teacher meetings all over the country for several years. So it was with particular delight to find that we could attract a packed room of teachers for nine hours of sessions with experts on the subject of teaching popular music styles, improvisation and creativity.
It seems the old model of only teaching the “masters” using only the written page is finally giving way to a more balanced approach or as someone at the conference quipped, “the Queen Mary (of music education) is slowly turning.” I can get even more dramatic by declaring, “The eye/ear revolution has begun!” Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
It strikes me that there are basically three groups of music users:
Group 1 is made up of the vast majority of humans who enjoy listening to music. But that’s as far as they will ever take it!
Group 2 are the ones who aren’t content with just listening to music. In addition, they want to make music as a singer or a musician.
Group 3 are musicians who, whilst they enjoy listening to and performing music, want even more! For them, creating music from nothing is the ultimate musical expression giving them an additional voice. Traditionally this activity was supported by at least a measure of technical ability at a musical instrument but increasingly people with no previous experience are using computers or even apps on their phone to create music!
Sadly though, many students and even teachers are convinced, even if they would like to compose, that they Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
Usually new resolutions are made to break a habit–over eating, avoiding exercise, partaking in a favorite yet unhealthy past time.
Why not add a habit that my enrich your skills as a musician and enhance your students’ experience at the keys? Join the Eye Ear Revolution….Here’s the scoop:
Eye players read music; Ear players improvise. To broaden their musical creativity and stylistic range, contemporary musicians need instruction in both. Reading music and playing by ear used to be common among European classical musicians until about 100 years ago. Then, as the minimum technical abilities required to interpret and play the repertoire grew with increasing complexity, creative music making gradually ceased to be a part of formal music education.
Creative Keys, a joint effort of Bradley Sowash and me, Leila Viss, is carving a path for 21st century strategies that balance and combine the eye and ear. At 88CreativeKeys.com (a blog founded by Creative Keys) you will find the following: Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Professional Development, Teaching Tips
Where’s a lead sheet when you need one? More often than not, I need to comb through binders of miscellaneous charts (which I attempt to keep alphabetized) or google a tune and hopefully find the one I’m looking for.
The Paperplane Co, makers of a brand new app called Treble, have stepped in to provide a place to find, read and store lead sheets on your iPad. They invited me to check out their Limited Christmas Preview Version 1.0.
Here’s what I found:
Tune Directory: A lovely, I might even say “decked out” opening page featuring an alphabetized directory of 25 holiday tunes. For a complete list, check out their facebook page.
Notation of Tune: Once a tune is selected, the tune’s melody appears on the treble staff with lyrics below and the composer and transcriber is included if available. As I prefer to read the tune off the treble staff, I adore this feature.
Chord Symbols: Chord symbols are provided above the staff in typical lead-sheet fashion.
Time signature: Always good to note.
Key Signature Buffet: THE most attractive feature of this app: the key signature can be determined by YOU! At the top of the screen, there is a slide ruler. Slide the pointer to your desired key and the tune and chord symbols are immediately transposed. Talk about convenient!
As I continue to engage students in reading from lead sheets, this will be an invaluable tool to encourage “faking” LH chords but also changing keys with confidence. For those singers who request a key to fit their range, this app is a true gift for accompanist and bands…
Here’s some things on my wish list for Treble:
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Product Reviews
If your students are anything like mine, they will have been playing Christmas carols for a number of weeks now. As it gets closer to Christmas and the carols are well known, my students use them as a basis for composing a theme and variations. This activity can either be improvised at their instrument or notated. Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Teaching Tips
“Judaism in Music” by Richard Wagner, 1869
It was the dead of night. A large marble statue of the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn was quietly dismantled to avoid attention. It was hurriedly moved into a nearby cellar and completely smashed to pieces!
Who was responsible for such an act? And why such extreme hatred?
It all started just three years after Mendelssohn’s death. In 1850 an article entitled “Judaism in Music” appeared in a music paper. The author’s identity was concealed but he later republished his article in 1869, this time boldly revealing his identity. It was Richard Wagner! In the article, Wagner fiercely attacked Mendelssohn’s music and the music of other Jewish German composers whom he had previously praised. “The life and works of Mendelssohn clearly demonstrates that no Jew, however gifted and cultural and honourable, was capable of creating art that moved the heart and soul.”
In 1881, Wagner truly revealed the extent of his anti-Semitic feelings in article in the Bayreuther Blätter entitled “Know Thyself!” In it he praises the massacres of Jews in Russia as “an example worthy of imitation.” He concludes with these impassioned words about the Jews: “Drive them out, German people-but not like the Egyptians, those Hamitic fools, who even gave them golden vessels for the journey. For they must go away empty-handed. Whither I know not, but I wish them all the same fate. May they find no shelter, no homeland; unhappier than Cain, may they seek and not find; may they descend into the
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts
Image by aaron.michels
Have you ever noticed that you experience music differently depending on its context? I don’t mean just whether you are in a concert hall or a supermarket (although that can be significant too), but also depending on what you have just been listening to. Juxtaposition can be illuminating. One day I had my iPod on shuffle on a long car journey, and although I have a very eclectic collection of music of all kinds- classical, indy, world, etc.-the iPod kept selecting African-American singers. After the third song in a row, my hair began to stand on end. I think it must have played at least eight songs before the spell was broken. It felt as though my iPod had its own, very meaningful agenda. Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts, Performing, Professional Development
One of the unique features of MusicTeachersHelper.com is how it continues to build a growing community of musicians and teachers around the globe. Recently, Elena Cobb--from the UK–contacted me–from the US–via MusicTeachersHelper.com to check out her books. Besides finding a new Facebook friend and fellow teacher across the pond, I’ve enjoyed playing some new music.
Elena is clearly a fan of jazz and the 12-bar blues (yes, this American form made its way overseas) and sees the importance of introducing this standard pattern to early level pianists. Higgledy Piggledy Jazz is packed full of pieces targeted for “inexperienced” pianists while the second book she shared, entitled Blue River, features more intermediate to late intermediate selections. This collection ranges in style from ballad to blues to Latin. Both books include clever, original compositions that fall into the standard blues form. They could serve as supplementary repertoire or provide great material for a studio jazz–themed unit.
The Higgledy Piggledy Jazz book features…
1) Ten pieces with a CD of live jazz band recordings.
2) Four tracks of varying tempos of witty arrangements for play-along enjoyment. The CD is great training for building solid rhythmic skills and confidence for future gigs with a “real” band.
3) Color coding (in some pieces) of chord changes to enhance reading security.
4) Colorful, full-page illustrations.
5) A considerable amount of extra staff instructions including fingering, counting numbers, phrase markings and chord symbols. Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music News, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips, Using Music Teacher's Helper
LAD (Listen, Analyse & Develop)
Arguably, the most important skill a musician can acquire is the ability to “play by ear!” Am I dismissing the art of reading notation? Absolutely not. In many aspects of my life as a musician, reading music is essential to me. What I really mean is that, whether a musician is reading music or not, his or her ability to carefully listen to the sound they are producing whilst playing is essential to creating a musical result. I like to call it the “LAD” technique (no offense LADies)! Listen, Analyse and Develop. You have to Listen carefully to the sound you are producing, Analyse the musical elements and then adjust to Develop it yet further. A person might be the best “sight reader” in the world but unless they focus on progressing their “playing by ear”/listening skills, the impact and message of the music will be lost on their audience. “Playing by ear” surely is at the very core of what we do!
So how do we as musicians and teachers develop these essential skills both in ourselves and in our students?
Ear Training Methods
One effective way is to record ourselves and hear our music back. Suddenly we are listening as a third party to the sound and can hear what’s good, bad and ugly! Carefully listening whilst simplifying the music by practicing it slower (and hands separate if possible) can help us focus on detail not previously heard. Other musicians use the
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Performing, Practicing
Looking for one more reason why you and your music studio “need” an iPad. Or perhaps, I’m just providing one more reason to justify the two I own–had to get the iPad 3 since my first generation does not have a camera.
Whatever the reason, you may want to check out iReal B and add it to your growing music app collection for your studio. Of course, the app works with smart phones and other tablets but I prefer using this one with my iPad.
The app is basically a template for lead sheets and provides a style accompaniment to go along with it. For $7.99 you get a book and a band, all in one.
With this app you can:
1) Collect chord charts for all your favorite songs and access them from anywhere. You can find 1000s of charts and download them for free from online forums.
2) Play along with a realistic sounding band to help steady that forever-wandering beat.
3) Choose from more than 30 different accompaniment styles that use a variety of instruments (purchase may be necessary).
4) Edit any chart or create charts from scratch. The app will generate an accompaniment– with a style of your choice–for your own, unique chord chart. Read more…
Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music Theory, Practicing, Product Reviews, Teaching Tips