music teaching tips

Welcome to our member spotlight series. Today we have Angie & Marcus. The questions are answered by Angie, but the husband and wife duo teach music lessons together in Boise, Idaho.

How long you’ve been teaching?

15 years

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Posted in Professional Development, Promoting Your Studio, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

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The Virtual Music Education Conference produced by Janice and Kevin Tuck packs four days with online presentations by experts in the field of music education. Even though it’s been around for years, my very first time to attend the online conference was this year. To be honest, I attended because I was invited as a presenter for the conference. I discovered that it was not only an honor to be included in the schedule as a speaker but also an honor to have access to the highly esteemed conference and learn from so many leaders in our field. There’s still time to access the conference. Learn more here.

I was glued to my seat listening to the first day’s presenters. In fact, I already purchased a couple of books while listening to the first two sessions! One of the books that I’ll be rereading soon is Todd Whitaker’s entitled, What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most. As I listened to Whitaker speak and then while reading his book, I kept thinking that I should have absorbed his advice years ago. It would have helped me to deal more professionally and effectively with troublesome student behavior and needy parents!

As I know you’ll want to purchase his book yourself I won’t “ruin” it by providing those 17 things here in this post. Instead, I’ve made some tweaks that show how I applied Whitaker’s advice for me as an independent piano studio teacher. For those you don’t teach piano, please make minor adjustments!

Begin each of the following sentences with: Great piano teachers…

1) Know that it may be the teacher that needs to improve before the student can improve at the keys.

Ex: Before you believe the student is the problem, check to see if you might be the problem and make steps to find a solution.

2) Understand that the method book and exams are not the keys to measuring success on the bench.

Ex: If a student wants to play “Fur Elise” great teachers will adapt their curriculum and realize that even though this may be the 100th student in their studio playing “Fur Elise”, it’s the student’s very first time to experience and enjoy “Fur Elise.” Read more…

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Posted in Professional Development, Studio Management, Teaching Tips

Robin Steinweg

The Art of Silence

July 27th, 2016 by

music teaching resources

The art of silence often has sad beginnings. I point to a spot in the music and say, “What about that?”

My student, blank-faced, says, “That lightning-shaped thing (or “squiggly-shaped” or “the seven with a bump” or “that hat-looking thing”)?”

“Yes. Did you do that?”

“Um, what am I supposed to do with it?”

And there we have our problem. Our students are in Go! mode in a world that’s in Go Faster! mode. Telling them to pause is akin to telling toddlers to walk at the pool. They don’t have that gear yet! It’s time to…

Teach them the Art of Silence

Make it Memorable
Read more…

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Posted in Music Theory, Teaching Tips

Finding music students

As a music teacher, your job is not only to educate but also to inspire.  To truly connect your student to music, you need to know a bit about them.  What kind of music do they like?  Do they have favorite artists or genres?  But what about the earliest experiences of music?

Be The Guide For Your Students

Preschoolers and young children are usually blank slates with little music exposure and are looking to you to introduce them to the world of music.  It’s your job to play, perform and recommend playlists for them at home.  The huge success of the Suzuki method is driven by the use of the pre-recorded music that you “program” the child from an early age, just like listening to a language tape.

Playlists for Music Students

I created some suggested listening and singing songs for young children a long time ago.  These were all songs I sang to my son when he was a toddler and what they share are simple melodic structures and very simple harmonies, often just two chords, the tonic and the dominant.  They are also just great for introducing early students to listening to music and eventually learning these tunes on their instruments.

Order of Listening

After folk songs, an introduction to early Classical and Baroque music is a great choice.  Actually,following the full history of music makes a lot of sense as it is builds upon itself developing greater harmony, color tones, length, etc.   And, you are doing a wonderful history of music in a nutshell, whether the student knows it or not.

Songs To Sing To Your Toddler – Some Suggestions

  • Hush Little Baby
  • Swing Low Sweet Chariot
  • Kum Ba Ya
  • Dinah
  • Kookaburra (usually thought to be an Australian folk song, it was written by a camp counselor in 1932)
  • Michael Row The Boat Ashore
  • Greensleeves
  • Lightly Row
  • HoneyBee
  • Cuckoo
  • French Children’s Song (Petit Papa)
  • Oh How Lovely Is The Evening
  • Summertime (Gershwin)
  • Silent Night
  • You Send Me (Sam Cooke)
  • Zippity Doo Dah (By The Sherman Brothers for Disney)
  • The 59th Street Bridge Song (Simon & Garfunkel)
  • Under The Boardwalk (The Drifters)
  • This Little Light of Mine

When MTV Used To Play Music!

I used to be a VJ for MTV. (That’s Video Jockey for Music Television for those of you who weren’t around when the television channel actually played music videos all day, everyday.)   What most people didn’t realize, I had no influence on what was played and when.  It was all done by the “programming department” who decided which videos to play and what order to play them in and how often.

Programming Your Child/Student

“Programming” is what you are actually doing by introducing great music to your students.

A real DJ (or VJ) would be making song selections based on mood, audience and the emotional arc desired.  I’ve done this a few times in my life, and it’s a thrill to see how you can shape the crowd based on song selections and timing.  You can really bring a crowd to a frenzy!

Student Preferences Lead To Enthusiasm

Well, the same thing happens when you are planning your lessons.  After a while, say a few months, you are going to have a good feel for who your students are.  You should be noticing what types of pieces they really respond to and start offering more in that direction.

Older students are usually beginning to show real preferences and some may have a favorite artist, rock band or Broadway Show with songs they want to learn.

Music Teacher As DJ

This past week, as I’ve been prepping for lessons, after many students took the summer off, I’ve gone through my past lesson notes to see what could be that perfect next song for the student?  What song would offer a new challenge that is not too overwhelming?   And I realized, it’s just like being a DJ, only on a longer macro scale.

Song Selection Examples

My 11 year old piano student K was learning “Titanium” by David Guetta which led me to “Flashlight” performed by Jesse J as heard in the movie Pitch Perfect 2.  A perfect segue!

My 8 year old piano student L was so into “Maps” by Maroon 5 and “Happy” by Pharell Williams…what should come next?  Hmm.  Still programming that one for later today.

What songs have you used to inspire and what did that lead to?  Please share in the comments below.

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Posted in Teaching Tips

getting students to practice piano

I often get calls from students that want to start piano lessons, but they don’t have a piano yet. Maybe the best thing for my wallet would be to tell them, “No problem. Let’s get you started!” But that really wouldn’t be the most ethical approach. As we all know practice is the most important part of lessons. Regardless of how good of a teacher you are, your students will absolutely never learn music well without practice. So they obviously need an instrument to practice on throughout the week.

Even though as teachers we know that practice is the most important part of lessons, for some reason most teachers tend to just say “Practice this.” Then they proceed to assign a bunch of measures that the student is supposed to “practice” throughout the week. Don’t be that teacher.

HOW You Practice is More Important than How LONG You Practice

Playing and practicing are two different things. If you just tell a student to practice some section, without instruction, they will no doubt play the section, not practice it. Playing is reading through a piece of music with no goal in mind other than reading through it. Practicing is focused with a goal. You practice what you cannot play well. If you can play a section well already, it doesn’t need practice.

Spend Your Lessons Teaching Practicing

For at least the first few months that I teach a student, I focus in on HOW to practice. These explanations often take up the majority of the lesson, but it is time well spent. Once my student practices correctly they progress unbelievable fast. The students that don’t apply these principals rarely get much better.

Memory

When a student is practicing memorizing a piece of music they should understand how their brains store information. They should have an understanding about how short-term/working memory and long-term memory work.

They should understand how long they last. They should understand how to move information from their short term memory to their long-term memory. If you need a refresher, or you were never taught how this works, this article on memorizing will put you in the right direction.

I’ve explained how the brain memorizes information to students as young as 5. Sometimes it takes a few lessons of repeating for them to understand fully. But don’t give up, or not try, just because you don’t think a student can handle the information.

Small Sections

As a teacher, we need to make sure that students aren’t “practicing” a piece of music from playing from the beginning over and over and over. Students will typically want to practice what sounds good. That means they are playing the parts they know over and over as well.

A better way to practice is to take a small section, sometimes a measure, sometimes just a couple of beats. The student would then play that small section through multiple times until it starts to feel comfortable. Then the student would move on.

One small section should end where the next section begins. Then once two sections are finished they should be played together, which helps avoid any breaks in playing. Once connected, a new section should be started. The key here is to take super small sections. Small enough that the student can focus in on every small detail and not repeat them correctly multiple times in a row. Dynamics, articulation, phrasing, everything should be added at the beginning of this stage.

Don’t Over Practice

I have no problem with students practicing hours and hours every day. Many teachers might disagree, but I think with a few exceptions the more practice the better. But it has to be effective practice. The key to not over practicing is not to limit your overall practice time, but to limit your practice time on any one section. Our brain needs sleep to learn. Very often students reach the limit of what they can learn in one sitting on one particular section and they continue to pound away.

We need to teach our students to practice a small section for a small amount of time. When it starts to get frustrating, they’ve practiced it too much. At that point, they would need to move on to something else and come back to it the next day. The secret to having extremely long effective practice sessions is working on a lot of different music, or at least a lot of different sections.

Sleep is the best practice aid out there.

Get the Parents Involved

When it comes to teaching young children, we just cannot expect them to practice as focused as we need them to on their own. Maybe some older students, and some particularly prodigious younger students can practice the way we tell them to, but most children just won’t be able to.

They may understand the process, but understanding and doing are two very different things. As a teacher, you’ve likely spent thousands of hours in a practice room, so you should know better than anyone how difficult it is for even a seasoned professional to stay focused, how can we expect this from a 7-year-old?

I personally believe that having parents sit in on the lessons is a good way to go. When the parent listens they get a clear understanding about what you are asking their child to do during practice. Then the parent would ideally sit with them and make sure practice went the way it was supposed to.

Some teachers are understandably hesitant about this. If you’re one of those teachers, then think about recording exactly how you want the student to practice and sending the recording to the students parents. This way you can have the best of both worlds, no parent in the lesson, but they still understand what is expected of them and their child.

Conclusion

Of all the things you can teach your students, how to practice really is the most important. We can’t be there all the time, but what we teach them can. The more you focus in on having them practice correctly, the better your students will get, and the more enjoyable lessons will be for everyone.

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Posted in 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

music teacher technology

Written by Nick Cesare

What do you do when you’re looking for a service of some kind? I know that I almost always do one thing: Google it. I was looking for a Greek restaurant in my area last week and the first thing that I did was go to Google and type in “Greek food near me.” The second thing I did was check out what people were saying about the options on social media. Finally, I chose the place that was the best mix of local and highly rated and went there for lunch.

We do it so readily for food (and pretty much anything else), so it makes sense that when parents or adult students are looking for a music teacher in their area the first place they go to is the internet. Putting up flyers isn’t good enough to attract students anymore. The music teacher of the 21st century needs to have a strong online presence. Whether you’ve been teaching for 30 years or you’re on your way to becoming a music teacher, here’s how you need to be getting online.

Get on Social Media

There’s a lot of social media out there and it’s tough to know what’s important to have and what’s just fluff. In my opinion you’ve definitely got to have these things.

  • Facebook. Create a page for your studio, not necessarily for yourself. Here’s where you can keep students updated on musical happenings in your area and post about your own upcoming performances.
  • Next you’ll need a Twitter page. Follow and tweet at other music organizations in your area. This will help you gain visibility and followers. Whenever you tweet anything make sure that you append the now famous # to it. For example, #viola will get my tweets to show up whenever somebody searches for it. Great hashtags are relevant and roll off the tongue easily, like #MusicalMonday.
  • Another great tip is to retweet tweets that you like from bigger organizations (e.g. the NY Philharmonic) with lots of followers. People who read their page will be able to see that you’ve retweeted the content and that will lead them to you.
  • Finally, you’ll absolutely want to get yourself on Linkedin. It’s the goto resource for professionals these days and helps you to come off as a skilled musician.

This may all seem daunting, but it’s not as bad as it seems. If, like me, you’re not a natural social media butterfly, brush up on these social media tips and make sure that you link all of your social media accounts together, so that people who visit your Twitter are led to your Linkedin and Facebook pages and vice versa. This will give potential students and their parents an impression of you as an active professional who they feel familiar with.

Get Your Own Website

Thankfully the days when the web was dominated by opaque acronyms like HTML, CSS, and XML are long gone. It is definitely both possible and affordable to create your own website with either free or, at worst, inexpensive tools. Here’s a great guide to creating your own website to get you started.

Some awesome things that you can do with a website:

  • Make a newsletter to keep parents updated on student progress, recitals, and happenings in the world of your instrument. This helps parents feel engaged with their child’s progress, making them more likely to stick around. This is a great time to get your studio recital trailer out there.
  • Blog about music and your instrument. To current and prospective students alike this paints you as a well-rounded professional who knows their stuff. If you write good original content make sure that you share it on your social media accounts and encourage readers to do the same. With a little luck you can become internet famous, which is huge for getting your name out there.
  • Talk about students – anonymously. This is definitely not the place to vent about how Timmy forgot his music again or how Sally didn’t practice. Stay positive and anonymous with things like “everybody played great at the solo competition this weekend!” Or “it was great to see everyone at the Symphony concert tonight!”

Final Thoughts

One thing that I haven’t covered is online teaching. This is really a beast of its own that deserves more attention than I can give it here. I will say this, however: the tips that I’ve given are equally important in building both a local and digital community around your studio. The only difference might be in what/who you tweet about; whether you tweet about local or national music organizations and events.

Go ahead and make this article your first tweet! And good luck out there! Tweet at me with any questions or comments @cesare_nick.

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Posted in Promoting Your Studio

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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

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Summer is here and that means vacations! For everyone else. Summer is often the most dreaded time of year for music teachers. Why? Well our students leave! That’s a lot of lost income, and unfortunately most teachers just let it happen. There are ways to handle this problem, or at least minimize the damages. So let’s go through some options every teacher should consider.

1. Bill By Semester

Do you charge for lessons by the month, or even worse, by the week? Try experimenting with charging for an entire semester up front. In this way they would owe for the summer semester or they would lose their spot come the fall. Often students that have been with you for a long time don’t want to lose you. Let them know you don’t want to lose them as students either, but that you can only guarantee that they can continue with you in the fall if they continue with lessons through the summer.

Although there are people that go on vacation literally all summer, it’s rare. Most of the time there are vacations here and there and they could easily have quite a few lessons. But they just don’t want to deal with it, so they quit for the entire summer, often never to come back. Billing by semester can alleviate this problem, by encouraging them to continue through their vacations.

2. Bill for the Year

Similarly to billing for the semester is billing for the year. Calculate how many lessons you plan on teaching in the year excluding holidays and maybe a couple of weeks for the summer and make a regular monthly bill. So as an example if you think 40 lessons a year is reasonable and you charge $50/lesson, you would multiply $50 by 40 lessons and get your students yearly income of $2000. Then divide it by 12, which would be about $166/month. Then require that when they sign up they either pay the $2000 outright, or they pay $166/month, every month. That way in the summer they may be taking fewer lessons, but you receive the same income.

It’s very important to make sure you are very clear about this type of billing, because it can be confusing. Show them that you are billing for a year’s worth of lessons, and they are just paying for those lessons in installments. Show them a calendar with all of the days you plan on teaching. Make sure this is clear up front, so when you or they miss a couple lessons in a month and they owe the same amount as always there is no confusion.

3. Summer Music Camp

Kids don’t just play all summer. Often their parents want to get them in extra programs because they have so much free time. This is where summer music camp can come into play. Plan a week where you have group classes, music appreciation, theory, and recitals. It can be extremely fun for students and can actually be an extra income stream for you! Plan on a few hours a day for about a week. Invite all of your students and try to join with other teacher’s students to minimize your load.

Camp can be so fun and rewarding, and you can charge quite a bit to make it worth it to you. Beyond the income you receive from the camp itself though, you’ll realize that it gets students to want to continue their lessons even after the camp is finished. Your retention rate will go through the roof. It can be a challenge to plan and organize, but the results will definitely make up for your work. If you own a commercial studio, or work at one, that is likely your best bet for venue. Be creative. There are plenty of places you can hold camps like these including local churches. Roll in your costs of venue into the price for the camp.

4. Get New Students

One way to make sure your income doesn’t drop during the summer months is to recruit more students. Although you may see a dip in your current students from June through August, maybe you didn’t realize that those months are also the months that most NEW students sign up. That’s right. A lot of parents want to sign their kids up for lessons over the summer. Even if your studio is full when late May or June hit, start advertising. You know some students will likely drop off for the summer, so if late May you can sign up two or three new ones you can keep the income you would have lost.

5. Free Group Classes

I know as teachers that get paid for our time the notion of “free” is not that appealing. But if you can offer a free group class, you’ll be surprised at how high your signups will be. These group classes are extremely attractive for the summer because parents want to get their kids into more activities. Once the group class is over, you can sell them on private lessons.

Recently we signed my three-year-old daughter up for ice skating classes through our city. It was free. She had four group classes and she loved it! After the last class the teacher handed out a $10/off coupon for signing up with private lessons, and she approached us directly saying she would like our daughter to continue with private lessons. This was absolutely never our plan. But now all the sudden our daughter is in weekly ice skating lessons. If they would have advertised to us before, we never would have signed up. But because they got us in the door and taking a few free classes, here we are for who knows how long paying for ice skating. As music teachers we should try applying this same marketing principal as often as possible!.

6. Start a New “Program”

Make the summer lessons sound different than lessons during the school year. Perhaps you could work more on sight reading and ear training than you normally do. Give this program a name like “Summer Sight Reading” and tell the parents what the outcome will be at the end of your 8 week course. Make up an awesome flyer and the cost of the lessons. It could just be the same cost of a normal 8 lessons, or you could discount it. These may be very similar to your normal lessons with just a little more focus on one particular topic. Framing the lessons in this way though can make the child and parent feel like it’s special and they need to stick around to get your special course.

Make a certificate for when they “graduate”. Make different levels for students that did it last year.

7. Encourage More Practice Throughout the Year

This could easily be an entire blog post, or even book by itself. But your most serious students will stay with you through the summer. Why? Because they are actually looking to learn and play well. The question then becomes how do you get your students to be serious? Well they need to practice more. How do you get students to practice more? For one thing try to encourage them to take lessons more often. Students that take lessons more than once a week are likely your most serious students. Try to encourage this. Even if they are not practicing, that extra lesson where you can practice with them can be invaluable.

8. Budget

Ok this one is not actually a way to keep your students. But if all else fails and you still lose students and income, you should have a budget. Well, you should always have a budget, but this is a good incentive to actually make one. I know what you’re thinking “I can’t budget, my income is all over the place.” or “I’ve tried budgeting before and it doesn’t work.” Honestly, you probably weren’t doing it right.

Let’s avoid the excel spreadsheet this time. Use some specific budgeting software. My favorite is YNAB. It’s not my place here to explain exactly how you should be budgeting, but YNAB makes it easy. I would suggest reading everything on their site about how to budget just in general, and you’ll get a better idea as to what you’re doing.

When you budget, even if you don’t bill by the year, you can budget that way. You get paid more during the school year, so you allocate some of that money for months where you get paid less. It works. I promise. Try it out!

Conclusion

Summer doesn’t have to ruin you. You just have to be proactive about it. Commit now to being different this summer and making some changes that will not only help your pocket book, but also your students. Because we all know the benefits of music lessons, and it would be a shame for your students to miss out on those benefits over the summer.

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Posted in Financial Business, Studio Management

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