A recital can set a fire in the hearts of students and audience. There aren’t many opportunities to showcase students of every level. So… make it more than a recital.

My sister makes magical music recitals. She’s given me permission to share some of her ideas.

Here are a few features of each.

  • Costumes
  • Props
  • Sets–here are some photo ideas
  • Ensembles
  • Extra instruments and vocals
  • Audience involvement
  • Variety
  • Humor whenever possible

If it seems intimidating, start small. Even simply naming a theme can create anticipation. It’s a great way to promote your studio.

In each of my next few MTH posts, I’ll detail a different recital of my sister’s, including a few songs. This first idea she calls “Holidays and Seasons.”

Each month is its own segment, with appropriate songs featured. There may not be a holiday that month, but people are born all the time. So every month includes “Happy Birthday,” done in twelve different genres. Anyone in the audience whose birthday falls in that month is invited to stand. Genres might include classical, march, swing, bluegrass, blues, waltz, video game, mariachi, 50s, Celtic, tango, calypso, polka, guitar ballad…

Here are a few songs for each month to get you started.

January. Jingle Bells/It’s a Marshmallow World/Let it Snow/Auld Lang Syne

February. I Heart You/When I Fall in Love/Won’t You Be My Valentine

March. St. Patrick’s Jiggle/Somewhere Over the Rainbow/Dance of the Irish

April. Billy Bunny/Easter Bonnet/April Showers/April Love

May. A Child’s Song of Love/M-O-T-H-E-R/flower songs/vet-honoring songs…

June. You’re a Grand Old Flag/wedding songs…

July. Patriotic songs/In the Good Old Summertime

August. By the Sea, By the Sea/Summertime/School Days

September. The Falling Leaves/autumn songs/Whistle While You Work

October. Funeral March of a Marionette/Halloween songs/Spunky Spooks

November. Thanksgiving songs/Over the River and Through the Woods/autumn and harvest songs…

December. Carol of the Bells/Believe (from Polar Express)/Where Are You, Christmas? (from The Grinch Who Stole Christmas)/Christmas songs/ Hanukkah songs…

Students can dress for the month they represent. You might create props or cardboard sets. For example, August could have a beach umbrella, beach towel, pail and plastic shovel, with a painted backdrop of ocean and sand. Students are responsible to set up for each other. To keep it running tight time-wise, one student could introduce the next, operating as emcee, while a couple remove props from the previous student, and others follow with the next props.

Hold a tech rehearsal to get the details/timing worked out.

My sister has colorful posters carried out for each month and placed on an easel.

She uses this recital format every other year, alternating with a strictly Christmas theme. There is so much music to choose from!

Do you have other ideas for a “Holiday and Seasons” recital? MTH readers would love to hear them!

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Posted in Performing, Promoting Your Studio

Hello, friends! As a teacher of over 10 years and a musician for 20 years, I feel like I’ve seen nearly all aspects of the business. Teaching, performing, record sales, composing, recording, music videos, YouTube blogs, you name it. As musicians, we can have many different goals for the present and the future. Some of us just want to strum a guitar on the front porch, some of us want to do this for a living and have it be financially successful. It’s the latter group that I want to address. To those of you that have the dedication, patience, talent, and drive to look at music as a possible career and not just a hobby or pastime.

Over the years I’ve discovered a very disturbing truth about being a musician, and it’s something that each of us must face and know how to deal with to be successful. That truth is that musicians are one of the most poorly treated occupations in the country. Don’t believe me? Let me ask you this:

As a musician, be it a teacher or performer, how many times have you been asked to play a show “for exposure” (a.k.a. for nothing)?

How many times have you been asked to play a show for a bar tab or a payment so small it barely covers the cost of gas to the venue?

How many times have you been in a “pay to play” situation, the worst of all? As a teacher how many times have you been asked for a free “trial lesson”?

My guess is you can answer yes to at least one of these questions and much more just like it, and it may have happened to you many times. I know I can answer yes to all the above. Now let me ask you this: Have you ever asked a plumber if they will fix your clogged sink for free and then if they do a good job you’ll pay them next time? Have you ever walked into a restaurant and asked for a free meal and then said if it’s good you’ll tell your friends and help them get exposure? Have you ever gone into a business that was struggling and offered to pay half price since you know they are desperate?

I feel confident you have never done any of these things, as a matter of fact, if you did the response would be anywhere from a smack in the face to a visit from the police! So why is it that musicians get this honor? Why are musicians looked down on in such low regard that the above treatment is common practice where the same treatment to any other profession would be considered incredibly rude? Well, I have a theory…

The stereotypical musician to a lot of people out there is someone barely getting by, desperate for work, etc. Or sometimes people view musicians as hobbyists only that want to have fun and have no real aspirations. These views are so common that I think people who are otherwise very friendly and caring will do business with musicians in a very denigrating way, and they may not even realize they are doing it! The other reason this happens is that musicians themselves can also fall into this mode of thinking and convince themselves that they aren’t worth very much, or that they should play free shows or charge next to nothing for lessons. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to break!

Allow me to share with you a couple short stories that illustrate both points (these are true stories):

A band is contacted to play a fund-raising show/charity auction for a few hundred people at a nice hotel ballroom. After a discussion about the show and the expectations the band gives a quote to the organizer at a discounted rate since it is a charity show. After a pause of silence, the organizer says that they were hoping the band would volunteer their time. The band’s representative then asked:

Are you paying for use of the ballroom? The answer: “yes”

Are you paying the wait staff that are serving the food? “yes”

Are you paying for the food and the cooks to prepare it? “yes”

Are you paying the auctioneer to run the auction? “yes”

The band then responded: “Ok now that we have established that you are paying for literally everyone and everything involved with this show, now let’s talk about what you are paying the band”.

The organizer was shocked, not because of the attitude of the band, but because they clearly hadn’t thought of it this way, they agreed to pay the band their original quote by the end of the call.

Another story about how this mentality can affect musicians as well:

A good friend of mine teaches piano, she is talented and a good teacher, and has played piano since she was a child. She told me one time that she was having a lot of trouble getting people to pay on time, people doing “no call no shows”, not taking their lessons seriously, showing up late or at the wrong time entirely, etc. I was very confused because I rarely run into these problems, and we live within a few miles of each other so I knew it wasn’t because of location. I thought: could it be that guitar students take things more seriously than piano students? That doesn’t make any sense, what could be the difference? Well, I figured it out: She was charging almost nothing for her lessons, about 1/3rd of what I charge. She was doing this because she felt like she couldn’t charge more, that somehow she isn’t worth it. She fell into this thinking that musicians are somehow not worth as much as other professions. By charging so little she attracted people that weren’t serious about their lessons, the casual students that are looking for a deal, not a great teacher. Since I charge what I know I’m worth, I get serious students that treat me with respect and I do the same in return. I love my students! They are my friends and customers, and I do everything I can to make them happy and satisfied with their lessons. However, I also know what my time is worth after 20 years of experience and education, and I feel it’s very important for a variety of reasons to charge that amount.

So what should you do? What is it that I’m suggesting? I’m suggesting that you, as a professional musician, start demanding what you are worth and stand by that decision. Now you may be thinking: if I charge a reasonable rate for teaching I’ll never get students because there are so many teachers out there charging so much less. Or you may be thinking: If my band starts asking to be paid for shows or a higher rate we’ll lose shows to other bands that are willing to play for free!

Sure, those things are possible, but let me ask you this: Do you think the people at Apple are afraid of losing business because they charge more for phones than other companies? Believe me, they aren’t afraid of that at all. They know they have a good product on their hands and they charge what they believe it’s worth, and they can barely keep their phones in stock. Millions of us are willing to pay more for it when we could have gotten a cheaper phone instead. The same goes for teachers, bands, and everyone else! So maybe you will lose a few students with increased prices, odds are high that you will be replacing them with students that are much more serious and dedicated. So maybe your band won’t be able to play the local dive bar anymore because they won’t pay your rate? The nicer resorts, restaurants, private parties, etc. will! So I say demand what you are worth and stop getting taken advantage of!

Now this doesn’t mean you just raise your rates and sit back and expect huge success! Make yourself the best! I don’t mean the most talented musician in town because honestly, that isn’t really necessary. What is necessary however is being the most professional! Have a nice, quiet, spacious, clean, welcoming lesson room. Offer your students an in-depth learning experience that they can’t get anywhere else. Be knowledgeable and able to answer any question, know your stuff! Be that band that is always on time, always dependable, always practiced up, and always a great show. Make yourself different than everyone else, go above and beyond and offer things that other bands or teachers don’t offer. Treat your customers with the utmost respect, treat them like family. Make your band or your business the best it can possibly be and people will come!

This also doesn’t mean you should NEVER take on a free show or a student at a discounted rate. I’ll play a free performance for a cause I truly believe in, but it would be of my own choosing not because I was made to feel like I must. I would be happy to give a discounted lesson rate to a young student without much money if I felt like they had a real passion for music, but again, this is my own choosing, not pressure from someone that doesn’t think I’m worth what I charge. Being a musician is an incredible gift that very few people have. If you are a good teacher on top of that, or a hard-working reliable band, then you are even rarer and valuable.

I hope this inspires you to rethink the structure of your business, band, teaching studio, etc. I can’t guarantee success of course, but it’s hard to imagine a negative outcome from all of us as musicians believing in ourselves and knowing that our profession deserves just as much respect as any other!

 

Marc Miller is the owner of Sound Theory Studio in Tucson, AZ with 20 years of experience composing and performing, and over 10 years experience teaching guitar. Educated at Berklee College of Music (Master Guitar Certification) with have several albums to his credit in many different genres.

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Posted in Performing, Professional Development

Ed Pearlman

Provocative Expression

December 5th, 2016 by

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In talking about musical expression at a higher level, as we’re going to do here, I just have one caution to suggest first:  one of the biggest mistakes teachers and students make about musical expression is to imagine that it’s icing on the cake, that it takes place after all the technical hurdles are passed.  On the contrary, expression is not the reward for having technique — it’s the reason for developing technique!  It needs to be part and parcel of the learning process, from day one, or at least from very early on.

There is a good reason why stage actors hyper-exaggerate every movement or sound they make.  They have to not only express an emotional gesture, but they have to make you notice it.

Two stories about making you notice an emotional idea:  one story about a touring musician I heard and wished I could give a lesson to, and one about a series of drawings that I once made.
Read more…

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

music-1707842_640

“But Miss Robin, I love all my songs. I can’t pick!” Yep, I have students who simply cannot choose only one favorite for their recital. When this happens, I might show them ways to make a medley.

I tell them to choose two or three songs. If they are older, more experienced students, they may choose more.

How to choose?

  • By theme: Christmas or other holiday; seasons; animal songs; love songs, etc.
  • By genre: Pop; rock; blues; country; folk; classical, etc.
  • By similarities in tempo, key signature, style or patterns, even in random selections. For example, “Popcorn” by Hot Butter from the ‘70s could be paired with Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mtn King” because they are both staccato and in a minor mode. For Billboard Top 20 medley hits, go here.

Next decide the order of songs in the medley. The student should play them through. Switch the order and try again. Does one seem to flow better into another?

Think about creating interest/avoiding boredom. Do the songs all sound the same? Try these ideas:

  • add another piece with a contrasting tempo. Include one in the relative minor key, or go from D to D minor.
  • Make a surprise in the medley by turning a ballad into an upbeat song or a fast piece into a slow song. Change from 3/4 to 4/4.
  • Remember that modulating up in pitch raises the energy and intensity. Modulating down in pitch tends to calm. But beware—it could also be anticlimactic!

Will songs flow easily into one another, or do they need a transition? Here are ways to tie songs together.

  • The chorus of one song might serve as transition between each.
  • The intro might work as a transition.
  • Can the student create his/her own brief transition?
  • Your student might need to try different combinations of verse, chorus and bridge of each song until the medley is cohesive.

Finally, make sure the medley isn’t too long. Students with many favorites might try to fit too many in. Keep the audience in mind. Make the ending special. Can the intro be repeated as an ending? Can your student place the most exciting piece last?

A medley can allow students to include more of their favorite songs. It can showcase their versatility and make performances even more exciting. They will have learned a skill they can use in the future (for graduations, weddings…)—to make a medley!

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music Theory, Performing, Teaching Tips

Lang Lang

Musicians are divided it seems – There are those who would be lost without their sheet music and there are those that play beautifully “by ear.”

Which is the correct method for playing music? What a question! I’m sure both camps will have good arguments to justify their preferred method. Personally, I sit in the middle seeing the pros and cons of both methods!

When teaching beginners, I like to start by teaching them basic music reading skills. At a point when they are successfully reading to a sufficient standard and maintaining those skills on a regular basis, I like to introduce the world of memory to them. Why? Here are some of my reasons:

• Learning to play by memory is practical – you can play for others at the drop of a hat when you don’t have your music.

• Playing from memory encourages the student to focus more on a musical performance.

• Encouraging memory skills allows for a more holistic approach to learning and music making.

• Older adult students love to work on memory techniques as they are often keen to try to keep their brains working!

Right from the beginning we can lay the foundation as we teach our students a simple scale by memory. We might build on that with more complex figures like arpeggios or broken chords. The main thing for the student to start recognizing are the patterns in music. Simple tunes are often littered with sequences (melodic figures that are repeated slightly higher or lower). As we help our students to decipher the building blocks of the song in question, it gives us, the teacher, the opportunity to incorporate theory and composition techniques.

For some, learning to play by memory may feel very daunting. They will need constant encouragement but the rewards can be phenomenal! I’ve seen many a metamorphosis – a timid performer turn into an expressive and confident musician because they have discovered the empowering magic of playing by memory.

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

luggage-1436515_640

By Robin Steinweg

Have you held traditional senior recitals? Often they are formal events. But what if your seniors don’t roll that way? Here are three unique senior send-offs, customized for out-of-the-ordinary students:

  • A late-starting piano student of mine hadn’t reached a level of wanting to share difficult repertoire. She had a couple of beautiful pieces prepared for the spring recital—including an original—but the traditional event wouldn’t be for her. She had traveled to Phoenix, Arizona and visited the MIM: Musical Instrument Museum (“The world’s only global musical instrument museum”) and had taken wonderful photos. I invited her to speak to my group class. She put together a power point presentation of highlights. Not only her own favorites, but what she thought the younger students would love to see. She held them captivated, and at the end, fielded a lively Q&A session.
  • A ten-year piano student had a large repertoire including many genres. She decided to host her own private senior concert before Christmas. She designed and created invitations and sent them to over a hundred friends, relatives, and teachers or other adults in her life. She chose not only her favorite pieces, but added some of her family’s favorites, and other songs for their entertainment value. She decided the order of the songs with attention to good pacing. The programs were her design. She invited another local musician to lead a Christmas carol sing-along so she could take a short intermission. She baked and brought all the refreshments for the reception. I’m sure it was a great addition to her portfolio!
  • Another long-time guitar (and voice) student entertained for a couple of hours at a coffee house. He sang and accompanied himself on guitar; invited family and friends; planned his sets carefully for pacing; set up and ran his own sound system; interacted with his audience; took requests; included a few original pieces; and invited his teacher to join him for a couple of duets. It was a successful evening for him and lucrative for the coffee house!

Music teachers tend to love their students and grow sentimental over them leaving the nest. We want to honor their gifts and hard work. When you have students who don’t fit the typical recital mold, how do you give them a unique senior send-off?

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Posted in Performing, Teaching Tips

Magic

So much in music can be analysed with rational conclusions drawn as to why a certain result is produced. For example, why does a certain piece of music make you feel melancholy? On closer analysis the composer has no doubt made a series of strategic decisions to create that result; minor tonality, quiet dynamic, low register of a well-chosen instrument, slow tempo, simple rhythm, descending melody etc. The great Hollywood composers have been masters of knowing exactly how to evoke the necessary emotion from a scene, building on a huge legacy of skillful composition for many hundreds of years. Conscious and calculated.

However, I love that music still holds onto some of its mystery. Magical moments that defy analysis. Happy accidents that touch the hearts of millions. Somehow it can manage to penetrate through human boundaries such as race, language, class, education, religion, social status and generation. It can be deeply therapeutic; a massage for the emotions. It can reach the seemingly unreachable; humans with severe learning difficulties, people with severe dementia and even animals! How extraordinary and how little we really know about the secrets of our art even though some of us have made the study of music our lifetime pursuit! Here are a number of mysteries in music to contemplate:

What is it about the groove in a song that gets your body moving to the beat without any conscious thought?

How come certain songs on an album become hits? Why not the other equally well-produced songs?

Why does a certain melody become, as the expression goes these days, an “ear-worm” that plays in your head like tinnitus for hours and hours?

How does that sudden Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music History & Facts, Music Theory, Performing

Ed Pearlman

Music for Healing

June 12th, 2016 by

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Music heals.  It is widely used in therapy, it soothes the moods of people round the world, and the act of playing music generates endorphins that make a player feel better.

Music therapy has been used for many years for its multi-sensory expression.  Studies about neurological development support its use to draw out feelings and concerns of patients.  It was found to be particularly effective with traumatized children after World War II.  Therapists use many methods to work with people, including moving to music, listening, playing on instruments, body percussion, singing, and songwriting.

In the 1930s, my mother studied piano from a man named Moissaye Boguslawski, who had grand notions of what music could do to heal people.  He believed, ahead of his times, that music could cure antisocial behavior and treat memory loss.  A prominent concert pianist with various symphonies, he insisted on playing regular piano concerts at the Cook County Hospital for the Insane, a place in Chicago commonly called Dunning, which doubled as an insane asylum and a poorhouse.  Boguslawski was convinced that music had healing effects on people suffering in that institution.  He is respected for his work, including articles in leading publications on the psychological and therapeutic effects of music, but Time magazine wrote a 1936 profile of him which took a decidedly cynical and bemused view of his opinions and projects.

Times have certainly changed since then.  The healing effects of music are well accepted, and music therapy is a common health care career.

But music also heals the musician.  A study done by Oxford researchers found that active performers had an increased pain threshold after performing than before.  This included three groups of participants: churchgoers who actively sang and clapped versus those who sang politely in their pews; dancers who performed as compared to musicians who were frequently interrupted during rehearsal; and musicians in a drumming circle, versus those who sat and listened to music.

The increase of the pain threshold was used as an indication that endorphins were being generated by the performance activities.

The key researcher pointed out that “It is probably the uninhibited flow or continuity of action that is important: if the music is frequently interrupted (as in rehearsals), any effect is markedly reduced (if not obliterated).”

Practice and rehearsal might be very careful and nonflowing — but hopefully only to prepare for a performance that flows effortlessly.

There might be a lesson here for teachers, however — too much interruption, criticism, fear of mistakes, lack of continuity, can prevent a sense of flow and a sense of joy in playing music.  While some of that careful thought and practice can be necessary for developing skills, it is also essential to practice allowing continuity, rehearsing the feeling of flow, permitting enjoyment, and striving for effortlessness, even if in small segments.  You are what you practice, and if your practice is grim, halting, and fearful, the performance is unlikely to rise above the practice.

Making sure there is a goodly percentage of flow in practice sets the stage for a flowing performance, and unless the listeners are dancing along, the musicians in such a performance are likely to feel healthier and happier than their audience by the time the show is over!

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Posted in Performing, Practicing, Teaching Tips

image

Let me tell you about a little secret I’ve been keeping!

All my pupils love it! It’s been handy for helping them learn new songs, especially tricky bits! It’s helped them improve their music reading skills! It’s encouraged a deeper understanding of theory! And best of all it’s free!

So what’s the big secret? Drum roll please…. Noteflight!?!

What does Noteflight do?

Noteflight is easy to use software with which you can create, listen and print out high-quality sheet music notation. And it’s brilliant!!!

Is there a catch?

Not really. Most of my students use the basic version which is free. You can pay a monthly or yearly subscription for extra features but the free version is Read more…

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Posted in Composing & Arranging, Music & Technology, Music News, Music Theory, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Teaching Tips

Microphone

So you are heading off to your first recording session. What tips can help you achieve a great recording? Even if you are just having fun recording yourself in your bedroom, hopefully, the following tips will help.

Before the recording session
•  If this is your first time being recorded, if you can, visit the studio so as to get familiar with the vocal booth setup to help you relax. Even just looking at the photos on the studio website will help.

•  If you are recording a vocal, get familiar with the words, ideally, memorise them and bring a copy to help the producer follow for accuracy as you record.

•  When you rehearse, check that you only take breaths at the end of sentences to avoid spoiling the flow of the phrases.

•  Focus on your performance. What does the song mean to you? Can you “feel” the emotion as you perform?

•  Head to the session wearing Read more…

photo by:

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Posted in Music & Technology, Performing, Practicing, Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips