Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The ZOEN's Top 10 Blog Posts of 2013

The ZOEN covered a broad array of musical topics in 2013 and the following are our reader favorites:

35 Inspirational Quotes for Musicians
Whether you're learning to play a musical instrument for the first time or picking back up with music after a long hiatus, you may need a little extra encouragement from time to time. If you're looking for inspiration, this post is for you! 

 photo ID-10091664_zps5e5ded01.jpg 15 Tips to Make Music Practice Time Count
There’s no point to practicing music simply for the sake of practicing music. For best results you’ve got to practice with purpose. The ZOEN polled a group of music teachers for their tips to do just that.

[How To] Practice Guitar When You're Short on Time

Practicing guitar doesn’t have to take all day. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. This post will help you make that guitar practice time work for you.

The Music Student's Guide to a Successful Summer
With the dramatic change in routine that summer affords, music students must make a conscious decision about how they use their time. Summer (or really, any break from school) can be the perfect time to gain proficiency or learn a new instrument altogether. This post will help you make that happen. 

Learn Music as an Adult: Tips for the Returning Student
Music is one of the few activities you can pursue all your life. Whether you are a beginner or a side-tracked pro, this post outlines some things to consider when getting back on the bandwagon.

5 Unexpected Benefits of Leading a Musical Life
Without consulting a single study about the benefits of playing a musical instrument, it’s easy to point to several reasons to pick up a musical habit. Self discipline and self confidence are clear benefits. Happiness and a sense of accomplishment also top the list. To explore less obvious benefits of music, read this post!

Resonance Fingerings: A Clarinetist's Best Friend
One of the most problematic aspects of clarinet playing is achieving an even, fluid timbre across the instrument’s range, through all dynamics and articulations. If you're struggling, alternate fingerings just might be a huge help!

Meet Your Match: This Musician Could Be Your Next Teacher
Our goal at The ZOEN is to match music students with the teacher who is a perfect fit for their needs and interests. With the wide variety of teachers we’ve attracted, we’re making great strides toward making that perfect fit possible. This post is an introduction to just a handful of those music teachers.

Music and the Brain: A Powerful Combination
We all know to “power up” the brain with exercise, good nutrition and sleep. But would you believe music can not only ‘feed’ the brain but can actually shape the brain? If you want a healthier brain, this post is for you.

How I Became A 'Real' Musician (After a Decade of Feeling Like a Fraud)
Our friend Christopher Sutton,  founder of Easy Ear Training, wrote this powerful guest post about his experience becoming a musician. If you've been playing for a long time and haven't really caught your stride, give this post a read.

Thanks for reading The ZOEN Blog and for an outstanding 2013! If there's any topics you'd like to see us address in 2014, leave us a comment in the section below. Interested in writing a guest post? Let us know - we'd love to hear from you.


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year from The ZOEN

Wishing you all the best this holiday season with good times and good cheer to last through the New Year!

 photo ID-10066779_zps8f2e0e29.jpgCAROL OF THE BELLS

Hark! how the bells
Sweet silver bells
All seem to say,
"Throw cares away."
Christmas is here
Bringing good cheer
To young and old
Meek and the bold

Ding, dong, ding, dong
That is their song
With joyful ring
All caroling
One seems to hear
Words of good cheer
From ev'rywhere
Filling the air

Oh how they pound,
Raising the sound,
O'er hill and dale,
Telling their tale,
Gaily they ring
While people sing
Songs of good cheer
Christmas is here
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas
Merry, merry, merry, merry Christmas

On, on they send
On without end
Their joyful tone
To ev'ry home

[Repeat from the beginning]

Ding, dong, ding, dong

Monday, December 16, 2013

The Beginner’s Guide to Learning Piano Online

Learning to play piano online takes time, effort, self-discipline, and some experimentation, but the rewards can be great. It is an increasingly popular and accessible method of self-study.

How much time you dedicate to the piano really depends on you. Your initial efforts will be spent finding the method of online instruction that is suitable for you. This is time well spent, however, as your research will familiarize you with the various formats of lessons, their cost and you will probably be learning about the piano along the way.

Online piano lesson fees will range dramatically. Allow introductory lessons to help you decide the perfect teacher and platform for you. Most introductory piano lessons are free and will give you a frame of reference for evaluating other online piano courses and instructors. Consider that the fees for a quality online music teacher are still substantially less than you would pay for private lessons.

 photo ID-100212997_zps55380c6c.jpgEnjoy the learning process rather than focusing on end goals. Your practice sessions will make up most of the time you spend with the piano. This is true for all musicians for all of their playing lives. A musician has to love the practice room.

Learning to play the piano online also takes effort. Your progress and enjoyment of the instrument is reflected in the effort you put into your studies, in keeping focused on your lessons, and in searching out more information about your instrument. Consider building a regular weekly practice schedule. You will experience the most progress for your efforts if you can set aside four or five short practice sessions per week. One of those practice sessions can simply be listening to music, or trying something new.

Self-discipline is a major component of learning to play the piano regardless of your instructional method. You will need the discipline to study your lessons thoroughly, and staying with your weekly practice routine. You can monitor your progress by recording yourself working through your lesson material. Listen to your recording at least once a week to assess your progress and set a study plan for the upcoming week.

Learning to play piano online takes a little bit of experimentation as well. Every once in a while, try an online program, perhaps a free one. This practice can provide you with the opportunity to review some earlier technique, or perhaps gleam some insight into some musical idea you have not yet quite grasped.

Keep your practice time fresh by mixing up your routine. For example, you do not always have to start your practice with scales, but you could occasionally review a simple piece as a warm up. Try sight-reading music from different styles or genres. Just for the sheer experience of it, take five minutes to try to play a really challenging piece, then put it away and forget about it.

Make sure that you are enjoying your practice as well. This will keep you coming back to the instrument, and give you the encouragement for putting in a regular effort. You can take time away from the instrument and continue to develop musically by simply listening to recordings and going to concerts. As a player you will approach these two activities with fresh ears and from a completely different perspective.

Building a new skill like playing an instrument does takes a while. Allowing yourself that time, putting in regular effort, developing your self-discipline and having a little fun along the way while learning to play piano online will pay off in the long run. The rewards are really endless and can apply to many aspects of your leisure time. The process of studying music and an instrument will help you develop your appreciation for other musicians, the music itself, and art in general.

Andrea D. Vacchiano is a professional pianist and piano teacher of over 25 years. For more help with all aspects of learning the piano, head over to Andrea's website www.ThePianoExpert.com.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

6 GREAT Reasons to Support Your Kid's Band

"Fitting in" can be awkward for kids. It's not always easy to find peers who share common interests - these are tricky waters to navigate for any young person. Some children find a sense of belonging through team sports. That same intense competition that pushes some children is a major turn off for others. So why not encourage your child or pre-teen to form a band? It’s a team building activity that is simultaneously fun, fosters creativity and creates a challenging learning environment. 

Here are some vital benefits for children participating in a group music environment:

1) A band will get your child out of his or her shell. While some rock stars crave the spotlight others are soft-spoken until they take the stage. Just think of the artist Prince! Kids that might otherwise struggle with talking with others can build confidence through this alternative form of communication. Sharing music with others will allow them to feel a deep bond with their band mates that will diminish feelings of isolation. The shared love of music will also cultivate hours of conversation, providing the children with established common ground. Plus, the confidence that comes along with learning a new skill is priceless. 

2) Bands teaches compromise. The ability to give-and-take is a skill that many children (and adults) are lacking and, as any musician can vouch for, learning to be flexible in your artistic vision can be extremely difficult. However, in a band this is a must, as it is multiple people who are coming together to create a single final product. This is a lesson and skill that will serve your kid for a lifetime.

 photo ID-100203685_zps44fbf895.jpg3) Bands are a healthy way to process feelings. Being a kid is tough, regardless of who you are. It is imperative that kids have outlets for frustration and stress. 

4) Joining a band reinforces problem solving capabilities. A band blends artistic preferences and personalities. No doubt, this can cause clashes. However, learning to compromise is not the only challenge that faces a band. There’s the challenge of coordinating schedules, learning sheet music, deciding responsibilities and more. Learning to patiently sail through these problems will undoubtedly carry over into the later years when your child is learning to balance their schedule or struggling to tackle a math problem. 

5) Music strengthens communication skills. You’re probably aware that playing an instrument betters mathematical skills and memory. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that music strengthens language aptitudes and motor functions as well. Yes, this will help them out in the classroom, but it will also undeniably help them navigate social situations.

6) Bands provide further incentive to practice. There are times that your child will love tinkering on the keyboard or playing the drums. There will also be times they would rather stretch out in front of the TV. Nagging from a parent or instructor to practice will only go so far. The positive pressure to not let fellow band mates down will motivate your children to practice more than they would otherwise. 

Encourage your child to participate in music from an early age and, as they age, they’ll be practiced in healthy self-expression and the pursuit of meaningful friendships.  Let your child guide the decision of which instrument to pursue. You can view plenty of musical instruments for kids and adults at West Music and check The ZOEN to find an instructor to get your child started on a whole wide range of options, from the flue to the banjo. 

Playing an instrument and creating music with a band is something that can be enjoyed for a lifetime; there’s really no limit to what your child can learn.

Thanks to John Nicholson for submitting this guest post! If you've got a great idea for a post, we'd love to hear from you. Just email your idea to admin@zenph.com.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

A Musical Method: The ZOEN Talks with Mark O'Connor (Part II)

In Part II of The ZOEN's interview with Grammy-winning violinist Mark O'Connor, we discuss Mark's own pedagogical method of music instruction and why O'Connor Method Certified teachers have joined The ZOEN:

ZOEN: In recent years you've been dedicated to creating "The O'Connor Method: A New American School of String Playing."  What are your founding ideas and principles for the Method? 
 photo oconnormethodlogosmall_zpse9c417c6.png
MOC:  "The O'Connor Method" for violin and string instruments as well as string orchestra is the first official offering in music pedagogy for "A New American School of String Playing." As surprising as that sounds, there has never been an official "American School" of string pedagogy, even though there is plenty of history of great string playing in the United States, Canada and in the Latin American countries.

The foundation for the Method embraces the great centuries-old classical violin training and opens it up into the 20th and 21st century. The young student will still learn the proper techniques in order to the play the instrument well i.e. bowing, fingering, intonation and tone. But the means to do so is greatly heightened by way of becoming a musician and an artist in the process and early on. Not just a technician. To accomplish this more holistic process, there is no better system to employ than what I am calling the "American Music System" of learning. It involves more self-reliance and less mimicking, more inspiration and less drill and repeat, more creativity and less memorization ear-training, and more relevance and less gray wigs from Europe, always having to the practice the museum pieces for year after year as beginners and intermediates.

My centerpieces include American music, creativity, improvisation, music from across four centuries including a lot of music from the 20th and 21st century, stylistic diversity, music with ethnic diversity. There is a large component of African American music in the Method as well as Hispanic, European and Native music, all central influences on all music heard today.

For the purposes of academically structuring the materials, I have established four foundational genres that provide the language of all American music played today and those styles appear in the early books along with other various American genres that can be considered offshoots in addition to some of my own pieces that could be described as "American Classical." They include the "Hoedown," "Spiritual," "Blues," and "Ragtime." This music gives us our language, the means to play most any kind of music in the world today. It is the real "mother tongue" that we are interested in for students because it makes us creatively adept, sophisticated, articulate and responsive to our surroundings. It is a launching pad for any musical endeavor or idea in the student's future.

Technique must be acquired, which is also the case in American music training. But so much more is gained in the process that has been consistently shut out for the last 50 years of early childhood violin lessons including creativity, improvisation, real ear-training, meaning the kinds that helps a musician such identifying chords, intervals, style, rhythmic patterns etc. Not the kind of academic theory about musical form and counterpoint, just to pass an academic test at school. Something that even most Julliard violin students can't apply to their music making. The reason why those conservatory students can't apply that kind of theory lesson they eventually do learn in school is because they can't compose musical scores! They didn't learn to be creative with their music. To borrow a title from one of the pieces in the Method "World Turned Upside Down," that is what we have had for much too long in strings and I want to make the correction. The American School can turn things around and fix it for our new and modern environment. 

ZOEN: Both the ZOEN and the O'Connor Method are passionate about changing the paradigm for music learning.  O'Connor Method Certified teachers will now be accessible to the world through The ZOEN, offering live lessons online via webcam.  What are your thoughts on this shared vision of a musical world where people learn to play the music they love? 

MOC: I am excited to say that we have some of the most talented, inspired and innovative teachers in early music education for violin today. The fact that they wanted to join me in this endeavor proves that they have been looking and searching for a better way to bring music to children. That gives you sense of their own process and discovery. We want the best, and we are attracting the best to the O'Connor Method. I think online lessons are amazing and I am glad that some of our teachers wish to take this new horizon on! To think that you could be inspired from a teacher and look forward to seeing them the following week through your screen at home is a tool that I want us to use.

ZOEN: Any further thoughts you'd like to share?

MOC: After all of our training sessions, I believe that the O'Connor teachers will know how to teach violin in the American System. 
Remember this; there is no middle school orchestra director nor high school orchestra director that will keep your child out of orchestra at school if you know how to read music and play have way decent. And the O'Connor Method teaches you to read music. 

But on the other hand, if you only know how to play in school orchestra and read music, but can't jam, improvise, play rhythms, fiddle some tunes, and have fun with your music, there is a whole world of possibilities with the violin the student will not get to partake in, maybe ever. We feel we have exactly the right combination for the pedagogy. Go to it! Have fun! Hold your bow naturally and comfortably! The violin should be natural for you to hold... And perhaps we will see you at one of my camps!

CHECK OUT Part I of The ZOEN's interview with Mark O'Connor and be sure to check out Mark's outstanding, information packed blog: Parting Shots from a Musician's Perspective.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

[How To] Ease Neck Pain With The Right Saxophone Strap

“I’m getting headaches when I play for a while.”

“The back of my neck hurts all the time.”

“My upper back and shoulder blades hurt.” 

This is a sampling of the complaints that some saxophonists have expressed during their playing careers. These pains are not exclusive to beginners; some professionals I gig with have said the same things to me. In fact, I didn’t realize my own headaches were coming from my neck strap until my colleagues spoke about their own situation.

Many beginning students slump in their chairs because they can’t adjust their neck strap to bring the instrument higher. They end up ducking their chin to try to reach the mouthpiece, instead of bringing the mouthpiece to them. They also slump because it is less painful on the neck, especially if their strap has no padding. 

I have always known about the importance of having a padded neck strap; one that helps to take a lot of the weight of the instrument off the neck and right thumb. I have always used them and recommend them for my students. 

So why doesn’t the padded neck strap alleviate this problem?  The first thing to look at is posture. Are you seated or standing up straight with your shoulders back and relaxed, or are you hunched over? When your shoulders move forward, more stress is felt in the upper back and shoulder blades. More weight is felt on the back of the neck as a result. Your shoulders may be back, but are they down and relaxed?  Shoulders that are up towards your ears also put undue stress on the neck and upper back, as well as affecting breathing. 

 photo Saxophone_guy_zpse2139d9c.jpg
Proper Posture (www.saxophone-guy.com)
The next area to examine is the quality of your neck strap. Many times, when a student rents a saxophone, a stock neck strap is placed in the case. This strap is basically just a strap; there’s no padding at all. This I feel is not sufficient for beginning saxophonists.

I always recommend the Neotech brand for beginners because of the added the padding. This strap is a very good choice for beginning alto sax players. This neck strap will work great for you if you are also mindful of your posture and shoulder position. 

There are other manufacturers who are starting to make quality padded straps. (BG, Oleg, Pro Tech) You can check your local music store, search the internet, or check out the Woodwind and Brasswind site.

Alternatives to the Neck Strap
For those of us playing the larger saxophones (tenor, baritone), the quality of the strap is crucial. But here is where alternatives may need to be explored. 

Some players, especially those on the baritone sax, use a harness instead of a neck strap. The idea behind the harness is that the weight of the instrument is distributed evenly across the shoulders and back. Some popular harnesses are made by Neotech and BG. These are great products, but one consideration is that these harnesses are not made to accommodate smaller people, often beginners with narrow shoulders.

A new harness system was produced by Van Doren, the famous reed manufacturer. The Vandoren V System Harness uses aerodynamic technology and ergo-dynamic design to distribute the weight in such a way that you barely feel the saxophone on you at all. This is a big deal for Bari sax players, where the instrument can feel heavier as you play for long periods of time. It’s also great for tenor and bari sax players in marching bands. For a smaller person like me, I think this system works great. I use it on tenor sax and  even alto if I am doubling on a gig. It fits perfectly and is very comfortable. You can find this on the Woodwind and Brasswind site by clicking on the link above.

Another new type of harness, the saXholder is made by Jazzlab. It is designed to distribute the weight across the shoulders, and it fits smaller players.  I have also used this, and it is very comfortable.  My only concern about this harness is that it if you lean forward too far (i.e. when picking up something you dropped), it will fall off your shoulders. This may be a good choice for more agile students and adults only for that reason

Other Concerns
I currently have a student who was recently diagnosed as having epilepsy. Any kind of pressure on the back of the neck could be an issue for her. A good quality harness that fits well is very important in this situation. The saXholder fits smaller people really well, and can be disassembled in one move, which for this medical condition may be crucial if the student has a seizure.  

As a teacher, it is important to be in tune with your students (no pun intended!) and check to make sure that they have the proper neck strap. If you observe their posture, and notice forward protruding shoulders, the chin being ducked to reach the mouthpiece (instead of bringing the mouthpiece to the student)  or slumping in the chair, check to see if the neck strap is padded and can adjust up or down. Listen to what the student is saying; they may outright state that it hurts to play the instrument. 

As a performer, be more aware of how you physically feel before and after you play.  Feel the back of your neck and see if there are knots (very tight muscle lumps). Notice if you experiencing headaches after you perform for extended amounts of time. Notice if your shoulder blades hurt more after you perform. 

Through careful observation, we can prevent that “pain in the neck” when we play our great instrument, the saxophone!

Donna Schwartz has been teaching Band and Jazz Band in public elementary and middle schools in New York for over 13 years, and has been teaching brass and saxophone students privately for over 26 years. She has a website at http://donnaschwartzmusic.com, where she offers weekly blogs on teaching music and videos for solutions to common performance problems.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

A Musical Life: The ZOEN Talks with Mark O'Connor

His discography spans forty years of recordings beginning in childhood. Two Grammy awards, eight Grammy Nominations. Seven CMA awards.  Hundreds of fiddle, guitar and mandolin awards. Recordings for Sony, Arista, Warner Bros., Rounder and many more.  He's recorded and performed with James Taylor, Chet Atkins, Alison Krauss, Wynton Marsalis, the Dixie Dregs, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt, Renee Fleming, Johnny Cash, Pinchas Zukerman, hundreds of orchestras...the list goes on. 

His numerous commissions for new compositions come from orchestras, festivals, organizations and even the Library of Congress.  In recent years, his passion for American music and the violin has engendered a new method of string pedagogy, The O'Connor Method, which is opening up minds and ears across the globe.  

 photo cm_moc_0393_zpsa33a5801.jpg
Mark O'Connor
It's the kind of career most musicians only dream of, built on years of hard work, determination and big dreams...and Mark O'Connor is living it every day.  Recent articles in Huff Post, The Wall Street Journal, and New York Times highlight his diverse career.  Mark sat down with us to discuss his career, music, The O'Connor Method, and The ZOEN.  

ZOEN: Mark, you have a stellar career as a performer and composer across genres and have collaborated with innumerable great artists. Hard question I know, but would you share some highlights so far--some of your most memorable musical moments? 

MOC:  It is of course hard to narrow the highlights of my music career down to a few paragraphs! Along those lines, I am in fact authoring my autobiography over the next couple of years. It will cover many of these things in depth. As I grow a bit older, the career highlights begin to blur with how I view the important events and changes those events made along the 
way for me. How one experience led to another and each set of processes begins to take on much more of a meaningful role in how I see transition and development in my music and artistic accomplishments. There is no question that my curiosity inspired great amounts of growth for me as an artist.

After explaining to you that I can't really do justice to this question in a short space, here is a list of events that resonate to me at this point. 

  • Getting to learn how to play from Benny Thomasson and Stephane Grappelli are immeasurable to me.
  • Becoming the top session player in the country, traveling the world playing music from the 1970s on, my albums New Nashville Cats, Heroes, Appalachia Waltz, Appalachian Journey
  • Composing my orchestral works (nine concertos and now a couple of symphonies)
  • My unaccompanied solo violin tours featuring my caprices
  • My forty summer string camps I have directed, becoming a musical mentor to so many young talents
  • And most recently taking ten years to author the O'Connor Method for violin/strings/orchestra.

ZOEN: You recently premiered "The Improvised Violin Concerto" in Boston to great acclaim.  What role has improvisation played in your musicianship and career and how did this concerto come to be? 

MOC:  "The Improvised Violin Concerto" was commissioned a couple of years ago by the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras and their director Federico Cortese. The idea and concept of the piece was entirely mine. They allowed me choose what to compose for the commission, but it was absolutely inspiring knowing that 115 of the most talented young people in Boston were set to perform it with me in Boston Symphony Hall for the film! 

I had been contemplating to what extent improvisational playing could appear in an orchestral setting such as a violin concerto. I had been improvising my cadenzas in my previous concertos right from the very beginning, but to actually make improvisation a part of the ensemble sections of a composition featuring symphony orchestra was a whole different question. I had been thinking about it for quite a bit of time before actually starting to compose it. You could say that I composed the entire "idea" of the composition previous to writing any notes down, more thoroughly than any other piece I have ever worked on. I knew what it was going to be like long before there were any notes written for the orchestra for instance.

The process included forming an arc and the movements of that arc needed to be robust enough to tell a story but no overly confined to a specific style of music as to limit improvisational ideas. But I still needed a structure to make it a real composition and to provide some kind of storyboard for which extended improvisation up to 40 minutes could attach itself to. After searching out structural possibilities for the music, I decided on the "essential elements" with the addition of a mysterious 5th element "Faith" to be the finale. The orchestration needed to be more substantial in this concerto than others concertos of mine, because it had to compensate for any moment that the improvised solo violin could drop out. 

After all, to have a truly improvised violin lead, the violin should be able to disappear all together for periods of time and at any random time. So the orchestration had to withstand any section of the piece without the solo part, on its own. Or to lesser degrees, the orchestration needed to withstand most any direction that the solo violinist could produce in that moment, such as slow/fast playing, soft/loud playing, or in the case of this concerto, acoustic/electric playing with just a mere flip of a switch.

Because of my pedal board and violin bridge pickup, I have the ability to keep all the electronics off, playing completely acoustic and natural in the hall. But at my whim, I can turn on the electric pedal while I am playing and my acoustic violin becomes an electric instrument with potentially huge volume through the speaker system if desired. I can spar with the brass section at fortissimo that way. In that process, it is truly an improvised violin concerto - I can play when and how I want to at any time of the piece! There has never been another improvised violin concerto before, for 300 years of concerto composition, so this really emerges as a wholly new idea. And the best thing of all is that the musicians of the orchestra love it as well as the audience. The conductors like it to because they can conduct it as a symphony rather than following the solo around for 40 minutes! I follow the conductor in this concerto!

COMING SOON! Part II of The ZOEN's interview with Mark O'Connor. Until then, be sure to check out Mark's outstanding, information packed blog: Parting Shots from a Musician's Perspective.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

The World Is Shrinking (And We're Thrilled About It)

Google just made the world a bit smaller.  Yesterday they launched Helpouts -"Real Help from Real People in Real Time."  Helpouts integrates Google products (Hangout, Calendar, Wallet, G+, eventually Glass etc.) in a marketplace for live coaching, learning, support and other expertise-sharing over webcam. It's a broad bold move that may position Google to be to the service industry what Amazon is to e-commerce.

We're excited about the Helpouts launch and how it will expose live webcam interaction for learning, self-improvement and advice to hundreds of millions of people who are still unaware of this growing trend.

A year and a half ago, The ZOEN launched our browser-based platform for live one-to-one music lessons via webcam.  We're proud of our pioneering efforts and especially of the wonderful community of teachers and students who make The ZOEN a part of their musical life.

We’d like to take this opportunity to share some interesting tidbits about The ZOEN and how we've helped introduce a growing future phenomenon.

International Interest  

While the majority of ZOEN students currently come from North America, an exciting discovery for us has been the number of international students seeking out our teachers.  We've delivered lessons to active U.S. military deployed in Afghanistan, to students from Shanghai to London, from Paris to Chennai.  The map below shows a few of the places outside the U.S. where ZOEN students have come from, some of these cities with as many as 30 students signed up: 

The Diverse ZOEN Musical Community

Students in The ZOEN range in age from 6 to 81.  They come from a variety of musical backgrounds and have one thing in common: they love The ZOEN because they’ve found a teacher who’s a great fit by having access to teachers across the nation, not just the choices in their community. The average distance between ZOEN teacher and student is about 700 miles.

We love the diversity of the ZOEN teaching community. Our wonderful teachers offer lessons on instruments ranging from popular standards like piano, guitar, voice, violin, flute to niche instruments like ocarina, taiko drum, erhu, flamenco guitar, shakuhachi, and many more.

We have Emmy and Grammy award winning composers and artists, an NBC “Most Talented Kid”, keyboardists from Madonna’s and Jim James’ bands, the trombonist from Blood Sweat and Tears and a superstar revolutionary cellist. Want a violin or viola teacher who specializes in the O'Connor Method or the Suzuki method?  We've got them.
The ZOEN also has teachers for
special-needs children .  Our voice instructors have coached John Legend, had top 10 Billboard charting hits, toured in the bands of Sheryl Crow and Eddie Money and have students regularly succeeding on American Idol, X-Factor, America’s Got Talent and The Voice.  The ZOEN teaching community hosts some of the most experienced online teaching veterans and coaches in the world!  

We’re honored by the dedication and hard work of our great teachers and students and excited about the future.  Google Helpouts is further validation that what we’ve pioneered in the last year and a half is a trend that will continue to grow. It’s all about live human interaction, sharing ideas, and learning unlimited by geographical boundaries. The world is indeed growing smaller by the minute.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

20 Quotes About Learning for Music Teachers & Students

"We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities." ― Josh Waitzkin

“We learn to do by doing.” ― Spencer W. Kimball

“I never learn anything talking. I only learn things when I ask questions.” ― Lou Holtz

 photo ID-10084579_zpsad5cedd3.jpg“He who laughs most, learns best.” ― John Cleese

“Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.” ― Abigail Adams

“Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself.” ― Paulo Coelho

“I am not a teacher, but an awakener.” ― Robert Frost

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” ― Albert Einstein

“True teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross; then, having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create their own.” ― Nikos Kazantzakis

“Never discourage anyone…who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.” ― Plato

“When one teaches, two learn.” - Robert Heinlein

“Learning is not child's play; we cannot learn without pain.” ― Aristotle

“Learning to cover a mistake is as important as getting everything right.” ― Suzanne Harper

“A stumble may prevent a fall.” ― Thomas Fuller

"Make mistakes, make mistakes, make mistakes. Just make sure they're your mistakes.” ― Fiona Apple

“Practice is the hardest part of learning, and training is the essence of transformation.” ― Ann Voskamp

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” ― Confucius

“Curiosity is the wick in the candle of learning.” ― William A. Ward

“Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” ― Anthony J. D’Angelo

"We all have dreams. But in order to make dreams come into reality, it takes an awful lot of determination, dedication, self-discipline, and effort." ― Jesse Owens

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Getting Started with Jazz Improvisation on Piano

Upon their first lesson in jazz improvisation, most students are mystified. Then the creative juices kick in. Making the music their own gives the student  an ego boost and inspiration to learn more. This is true of any style of piano music for sure. 

 photo jazz_zps106d2537.jpgBefore I begin teaching improvisation, I assess the new student’s skill level and understanding of chord theory. It is critical that chord theory be integrated into making jazz music right from the beginning. Lessons depend on chord theory. The vast majority of Jazz music is presented with chords in just the treble clef. Listen to the following lesson I teach on improvisation. There is no student present, so I am demonstrating the structure:

Unlike most studies, doing Jazz homework should be an enjoyable exercise. Students simply need to spend time listening to the icons of Jazz piano improvisation. It is so important to have reference points for these players. I provide my students with the names of some of the top Jazz piano players by name, photo and album cover on my website.  Students generally like playing four handed improvisations. I can fill out the low end and give them a tempo. Remember: keeping tempo is important. If a student is out of tempo consistently, I will encourage them to get a metronome. I demonstrate the use of the metronome in the lesson. I provide a bed which is a launch pad for them to experiment with melodies. 

To keep this process fresh, I present the student with two more sets of chords in the key of F and C major scales. Proper fingering and sight reading charts come next. All three elements are then combined so the fun of playing jazz is never lost in exercises.

Rob Wallace is a Grammy-nominated recording artist, entertainer and jazz piano teacher. Learn more about Rob on his website Play Jazz Piano and book a free-trial lesson with Rob on The ZOEN.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Smoke On The Fretboard: Building That Lightning Speed On Your Guitar

Thor is the Norse god of thunder and lightning, and a lot of guitarists (especially metalheads) like to imagine themselves to be something like him. They hit that low chunky chord and it rumbles like thunder before they start a fast shredding solo and lightning sparks from their hands! Of course, this is never what happens, but it still doesn't stop the aspect of "lightning fast" to be applied to some players. But how do they achieve this blazing speed? Well both the short and long answers are tons of specific practice. So that's what I want to cover in this article. We're going to look at the physical aspects of and ways to build your playing speed on the guitar.

 photo ID-10070942_zps05c95297.jpgFirst Things First: The Physicals Of Playing
A major part of playing fast is how efficient you play. There are plenty of people who say you must practice efficient playing to build your speed, but what I've always seen with students is your efficiency develops naturally as you practice to build speed. For example, as you get to playing faster, you will naturally control how far from the strings your fingers will move between notes. Obviously the closer your fingers stay to the strings, the less effort it takes to place your fingers back on the strings. Despite the tendency for natural development, it still doesn't hurt to keep this physical aspect in mind when building your speed.

I've heard some jazz guitarists call the idea "the feather touch," which just means to use only the necessary amount of pressure to produce a quality tone. Here the core concept is to minimize tension in your hands when playing making it easier to move quickly. A similar approach is applied to picking where the focus is on minimizing the distance away from the string the pick travels. Some guitarists also choose to learn economy picking which is intended to maintain directional flow when picking. For those of you not familiar with economy picking, it is a hybrid of alternate and sweep picking where the core concept is that you use alternate picking except when changing strings and a sweeping motion can be applied.

The Tools
One of the most useful and heavily required tools for building your playing speed is the metronome. This is the quintessential piece of equipment for your rehearsals. Being able to play to a metronome click is a very useful ability and pretty much necessary when trying to increase your speed. In addition to a metronome, there are numerous hand and finger exercisers you can try but none of those will take the place of practicing with a guitar in your hands.

Start Slow
Before you learned to walk, you first learned to crawl and scoot around. Before you could say complete sentences, you first learned to say single words like yes and no. The same aspect applies to speed building. You must crawl before you run. Many guitarists make the mistake of just trying to play as fast as they can right from the start either because they don't understand the ineffectiveness of this or they are impatient. To truly develop your playing speed and be able to maintain your playing quality, you must start slow. Starting at a slower tempo allows you to have more control over the physical movement of your hands and fingers to aid in developing better playing technique. You can also focus on keeping your muscles more relaxed at slower tempos.

Start by picking a tempo on the metronome where you can play a specific phrase comfortably. Once you find this starting point, you then start to slowly increase your tempo until you hit a point where you can't play it well anymore. Then you simply focus on incrementally building your speed by starting where you can comfortably play the part well and building to where you cannot play the part well. Depending on the difficulty of what you are working on, you may wish to increase your tempo by 2 bpm each time or as much as 10 bpm each time.

Reaching The Plateau
Athletes involved in things like running fast or for long distances, or weightlifters often encounter what is called a "plateau." The concept comes from the fact that a plateau has steep cliff sides but a flat top. A weightlifter may reach a point where they stop improving. They may be stuck at this point for weeks, unable to increase their weight amount. Then suddenly one day they can lift the weight they've been stuck on. Not only that but they can lift slightly beyond it as well.

Musicians experience the same thing. You may be steadily improving but suddenly get stuck. For weeks you may be unable to move beyond your current playing level on a particular song. The one day, for no apparent reason, you can suddenly play the song or phrase with ease. The problem is many guitarists never break though their plateaus because they don't have the patience to keep at it. They get frustrated and give up saying things like "I just can't do it." To break through your plateaus and increase your playing speed substantially will require a lot of patience and effort.

Hacking Your Brain
There is a psychological trick that you can use to help break past your plateau. Unfortunately, what I'm referring to is not a Matrix-style hack to help you instantly unlock superhuman speed. The concept is simple though, and you will have already experienced this just driving down the road. It's about altering your perception. When you drive at a high speed for a while then have to slow down significantly, you tend to feel like you're crawling along. What happens is you adjust to the higher speed causing the slower speed to seem even slower than you would typically perceive it to be. We can take the same concept and use it with the guitar.

Let's say the song is at a tempo of 140 BPM. You are rehearsing it starting at 60 BPM and make steady improvements up till 120 BPM. That's where you hit your plateau. For two weeks you continue practicing and cannot successfully get past 120 BPM. To "trick" your perception, you just go ahead and set the metronome to 140 BPM and do your absolute best to nail it at that tempo. But you don't. So now, instead of slowing back down, you speed up even more to 160 BPM. Again you do your very best to play at that tempo and of course fail. Okay, so obviously trying to play faster when you can't play it at a lower tempo doesn't help. Or does it? What happens now is after you keep pushing to play ever faster despite failing each time, when you return back to 120 BPM you "feel" it isn't as fast as it was. You're not actually any faster, but you "perceive" that the tempo is slower.

With my students that I teach in person, I typically make use of the app Transcribe! from SeventhString for this. The core function is an audio "slow-downer" similar to other software that does the same thing. Transcribe! simply has a few more useful features which is why I prefer it. It allows you to load in an mp3 and either slow down or speed up the song without changing pitch. So whenever I see a student hitting a plateau on a particular song, I will test them by making them attempt to play at different speeds. Once I have them struggling to play the part they are stuck on at faster than normal tempo, the switch back to their "plateau" tempo has them able to play it nearly perfect every time.

In Conclusion
Building speed is not an overnight effort. It takes a lot of focused practice to build up real speed. While there are numerous exercises, exercise tools, and such to aid you, maintaining your dedication to achieving that speed is probably the most crucial part of it. If you can't keep yourself dedicated, then all other tips, tricks, exercises, and so on won't help. 

James Higgins is a performing guitarist and teacher with 14 years of experience. Check out his blog Unveil Music to get the inside scoop on being an independent musician or book an online lesson with James.

Monday, August 26, 2013

[Teacher Feature] Lessons From My Students with Autism

Cameron Weckerley has been teaching music and giving private lessons for over 20 years. He works with students of all skill levels and abilities. Over the course of his career, Cameron was presented with the opportunity to teach music to students with autism. Cameron was kind enough to answer a few questions and share his thoughts on this transformative experience:

How did you first come to work with autistic music students?

When I moved back to town from New Mexico a couple of years ago we were living 11 miles out of town which made setting up a studio at home impossible.  For a while my colleague Deedra Patrick was kind enough to carve out a niche of space for me to work in in her studio which was in town.  

 photo ID-10045398_zps4187ce82.jpg
It was in this environment I first came into working contact with autistic young people and their parents.  It was the parents who approached me about working with an autistic student. It was an an intriguing idea, however I did not think I was qualified. Even with teaching credentials and over a decade of experience teaching public school I had always worked only with mainstream students. Much to my surprise the parents were completely OK with my lack of disorder specific education.  All they wanted was someone who was willing to try.

What surprises you the most about teaching autistic students?

The  one thing that I have learned deeply is that, at least with the students I have, autism is an Input/Output disorder.  It is not specifically linked to intelligence.  I am guessing most of you reading this are using a computer phone or tablet and each has a keyboard.  When you want to send someone a message you use the keyboard and you expect specific inputs to produce specific outputs.   For example, press the f key and the character f appears on the screen. In the mind of an autistic person when the f key gets pushed perhaps the response is d. Not an intelligence issue at all; it is just as if someone randomly rewired the keyboard.

What has worked for me is to spend the time up front to decode the language - find the key to unscramble the keyboard if you will. Once a common language has been established there is a basis for information flow and you can make contact with the CPU at the core of that person.  

Any highlights you'd like to share? Success stories?

Figuring out how to decode was one of my early musical success stories.  When my first autistic student came to me he had been studying voice for some time, but had no instrumental training.     When he first played for me I was surprised by the sophistication the student had self-taught.  Mostly what he was playing were themes from television shows he liked.  On a hunch I jotted down the themes he was playing and the keys he was playing them in.  At the end of the day I looked up  some of the themes on YouTube. As I had suspected he was playing them in the correct key.    I also soon learned that the student had developed his own color language for the piano keyboard. I was very curious to know if his system was consistent, both with itself and over time. After fully decoding his color language and testing him over the period of three or four weeks it was clear that is was consistent.  

It was therefore easy to test him for perfect pitch, which he has in addition to a fantastic memory.  More importantly, in the long run, we were able to use his language to bridge over into the common language of music and music notation.

What do you find most challenging about this work?

It would be impossible for me to do what I am doing right now without the close involvement of the parents. However, working with them in the formal lesson setting sometimes makes for a strange dance. With an autistic student it is important that the parent speak up and give the teacher insight when things are at an impasse or the students frustration level is getting too high.   

The catch-22 is that sometimes this kind of intervention is disruptive to the discovery process.  The parents are doing the same dance and we’re all making it up as we all go along...only to have the rules change the next week.  It is enormously rewarding work, yet it requires tremendous patience, as I am sure any parent reading this can attest.

How have you grown as a teacher from this experience?

These experiences I am having have helped me more than anything else to develop the collaborative learning process. That is a voyage of mutual discovery - all corniness aside.

Cameron Weckerley teaches piano, keyboard and music theory to students of all ages and skill levels. Above all, he believes that learning the nuts and bolts of effective practice is the key to musical growth. Take a FREE Trial lesson with Cameron in The ZOEN.