Friday, January 31, 2014

CTO … Ear Training - There's an app for that!

I really am doing the ear training thing, and I'm here to tell you that technological devices make good study partners. You can't beat the convenience ... always available at a moment's notice, any time of the day or night!

Check This Out … There are numerous apps out there designed to improve listening skills in systematic and effective ways. I would advise that you do your research, read the product details, consider the reviews, then choose an app that will work for you on your preferred device.

So far, I'm happy with my choice. I'm using the Ear Training Course by Musicopoulos, compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. It trains in three categories:  intervals, scales, and chords; at three different playback tempos: slow, medium, fast; beginning to advanced skills. In case you're wondering ... I have started at the very beginning, a very good place to start!

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Snow Day

A winter storm came through the state of North Carolina last night. We have ~ 2" of snow on the ground in Pittsboro, with temperatures in the 20's. This morning there was a layer of ice under the snow in some places, making travel a bit tricky. You know what that means … SNOW DAY! All lessons cancelled. So Betsy, my brave music buddy, came over late this afternoon. We had an awesome practice! What do YOU do on snow days?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday's Muse

“Where your attention goes, energy flows.”  ~ Deepak Chopra

Friday, January 24, 2014

CTO … Instructors Named for 2014 Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival

The 20th Annual Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival will be held May 2 - 3, 2014. The website is still being updated for this year's event, but the list of instructors has been posted. What a line-up!

Check This Out … The organizers of this festival bring in top-notch local and nationally-known teachers. Check out the impressive group of instructors expected at this year's Winston Salem Dulcimer Festival. Mark your calendar. Make your plans. I can't wait to see you there!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Playing by Ear is not Optional

"I want to play exactly what I have in my mind."
"I wish I could play my instrument with complete freedom."
"I'm stuck. I want to be able to improvise."
"I wish I could hear chord changes and figure out chord progressions."

What's the often overlooked skill that will help you become a better overall musician?

ALL musicians need ear training to improve aural skills. Nobody is exempt from this practice. Beginners and professionals alike must work to keep their ears in shape.

No doubt about it, ear training will improve your musicianship. I have read that it is one of the most undeveloped skills in musicians. Many of us believe we're either born with an innate ability to "hear" music, or not. Who amongst us has not declared, "I have a terrible ear!" without ever attempting to do something about it? Aural skills do tend to develop as other musical skills develop, but may be improved with intentional practice.

What is ear training? It is the process of learning to identify - solely by hearing - pitches, intervals, melody, scales, modes, chords, chord progressions, rhythms, and other basic elements of music. In the past, ear training has required pairing up with a study partner … one person to doing the testing, the other to take the test, so to speak. Feedback on accuracy of identifying intervals, chord character, etc, etc would be key to the student's progression. Today we are able to use technology as our music buddy. That's right … there's an app for that!

The more we train our ears to recognize musical elements and how they're related the better we get at playing music. It's called improving one's relative pitch … a long term project for sure, but essential for mastery of an instrument. We learn to understand what we are playing, what others are playing, how it all fits together in the moment, and what might be coming next. Training relative pitch takes time and patience, but pays off in the end.

Areas that will benefit from ear training:

  • Tuning your instrument
  • Singing on pitch
  • Playing with improved musicality
  • Playing with better rhythmic skills
  • Transcribing melodies and chords by ear
  • Arranging / Composing music
  • Interacting with other musicians
  • Playing backup
  • Improvising

I admit, I've put it off long enough! I'm adding ear training to my regular practice, and I challenge you to do the same. If you do, please share your experiences and outcomes. How's it going? What works? What apps do you like / not like? What results do you notice? I'll let you know how it's coming in my corner of the world. Good luck!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Monday's Muse

“People ask me how I make music. I tell them I just step into it. It's like stepping into a river and joining the flow. Every moment in the river has its song.”  ~ Michael Jackson

Friday, January 17, 2014

CTO … Weird Hammered Dulcimer Connection to the "Cups" Song

I admit that I'm fascinated by the "Cups" Song. My nieces and nephews taught me how to do it over the holidays. Click here to see our slow-motion version.

But what, you ask, is the Cups Song? Where have you been?!

Check This Out: for everything you need to know about the Cup Song. It's been around longer than you might think. Take note of this cool fact … the cup routine itself has been attributed to the late contemporary Christian singer / songwriter, and hammered dulcimer player, Rich Mullins. It began as a rhythmic accompaniment for his 1987 song "Screen Door". A video of the a cappella version can be found at the midnight music link above, along with some of the best renditions of "Cups" currently found on the web.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

New Students in the New Year

You know what's really great about the new year? New students!

The beginning of a new year provides a point in time to "begin again". Out with the old and in with the new! It's a time to reflect on the past and look forward to the future. Many folks hold with the tradition of making resolutions for self-improvement in the coming year, e.g. quit smoking, exercise more, lose weight, take a trip, start a new hobby. The surge of new students in the new year must be related to this phenomenon.

I admire folks for setting up the structure that will allow them to realize their dream of playing the hammered dulcimer. It takes effort:

  • Set aside time and money
  • Rent or purchase an instrument
  • Schedule lessons
  • Attend lessons
  • Put yourself on the spot in front of your teacher
  • Practice
  • Return for feedback and more direction
  • Practice some more
  • Take note of new skills and satisfaction in life

The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to learn something totally new or to delve more deeply into what you're already passionately pursuing. What are you doing in your dreams? Do what it takes to make it real!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Monday's Muse

"How often do you practice, and for how long?
Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes. Practicing is not only playing your instrument, either by yourself or rehearsing with others — it also includes imagining yourself practicing. Your brain forms the same neural connections and muscle memory whether you are imagining the task or actually doing it."  ~ Yo-Yo Ma

Friday, January 10, 2014

CTO … Woman Learns to Dance in One Year

"This isn't a story about dancing, though. It's about having a dream and not knowing how to get there — but starting anyway. Maybe you're a musician dreaming of writing an original song. You're an entrepreneur dying to start your first venture. You're an athlete but you just haven't left the chair yet.

When you watch someone perform, you're seeing them at the top of their game. When they score the winning point or sell their company for millions — you're seeing them in their moment of glory. What you don't see is the thousands of hours of preparation. You don't see the self doubt, the lost sleep, the lonely nights spent working. You don't see the moment they started. The moment they were just like you, wondering how they could ever be good."

Check This Out … Watch this video montage that shows Karen X. Cheng's beginning moves, progress, and amazing performance at the end of one year. What could YOU do in one year?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

True Confession

My personal practice has been "on hold" since December 11.

Don't get me wrong. I've "played" my instrument. I've seen students. I've prepared for their lessons. But I've not "practiced" in weeks!

You might ask, "What's the difference between playing and practicing?" Here's an excerpt from a post I recently read on the Practicing Musician blog, (editor/owner - Bradford). It gives you an idea of how playing and practicing are two distinctly different activities.

Playing: This is when you enjoy the hard work you’ve put into practicing, that is, you just play. When you play you are really concerned with only one thing: the experience. You might pay small attention to technique and musicality but for the most part you are just ‘going for it’ and letting your musical training and inspiration run free. This is not really practicing. When you are playing you are not able to improve anything, you simply test out or try to execute the material.
Practicing: Practicing is when you are actually solving problems, that is, you are finding weaknesses and defects in your musicality that are either caused by technique, interpretation, reading, or how you envision the piece of music. You then set about fixing the problems and improving yourself as a musician. So the rule is that when you practice you identify a problem and set about fixing it. Clarity is key to good practice. Think about when a music teacher critiques a student, they have to clearly state what the problem is and then offer up a solution. You must be your own teacher when you practice.
Click here to read the entire article. I hope it will inspire lots of practice time in the new year!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday's Muse

“There’s nothing like music to teach you that eventually if you work hard enough, it does get better. You see the results.” ~ Chuck Todd

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year!

"And now let us welcome the New Year ... full of things that have never been."
~ Rainer Maria Rilke