Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Finding your own voice. [Hint: it's not lost.]

I’ve come to the realization that there are only so many things a voice teacher can teach. I can teach optimal singing posture. I can demonstrate how to form proper vowels. I’ve even been known to tell students that they’ve been breathing wrong their whole lives.

One thing I can’t teach, though, is how to find your own voice. There is no road map to finding a unique voice. There’s no correct way to becoming comfortable and confident with the voice you have. But I wouldn’t leave you hanging like that. I’d be lying if I said “this is what you should do.” Instead, I’ll share with you what I did in hopes it’ll work for you.

Know Your Range
 photo ID-10076828_zps741c79e2.jpgWithout getting too technical, range just means how the space between the highest and lowest pitches you can sing. A lot of you probably already knew that, but I didn’t want to exclude any rookies out there. As a singer, it’s essential that you have a clear idea of the pitches you can comfortably sing in chest voice and head voice (falsetto). You must know which are out of reach, and which ones are in your “sweet spot” (usually near the high point of your range where you can belt them).

Once you have an idea of which part on the vocal spectrum you lie, you can work on gradually expanding your range. This is best done under the supervision of an instructor who can help you avoid damaging your voice. Its also worth noting that everyone is limited by their own biology to some extent.

Choose Your Role Models Wisely
Most of us don’t know what we want our voices to sound like, but we do know who we want to sound like. One of the pitfalls we encounter is that we don’t have a clear idea of what our vocal heroes really sound like. Nowadays, just about every music producer on the planet digitally perfects a singer’s voice. When we hold our own voices against the ones we hear on our iPods, we will inevitably fall short.

One solution is to use live recordings as your standard for what a singer really sounds like. You may be surprised just how awful someone can sound on stage compared to their CD. Listen carefully when comparing the two: does the singer embellish when singing live? Does he/she sing with the same amount (or even more) energy and passion when on stage? Could you close your eyes and immediately recognize his/her unique vocal style?

Sing From the Heart
It’s all well and good to admire a singer’s voice. It’s even fine to imitate and learn from their performances. Be aware that the flip side of the coin is to understand that you will never sound just like them. Nor should that be your goal. You will only ever sound like you...and that’s a good thing. Embrace your own voice, along with all its flaws and imperfections, because this is what makes it unique.

Relax, Go Do It
Finally, the best thing to do when searching for your voice is simply to sing more. Don’t limit yourself to just the shower or car; sing in public and with other people. You can join a choir or a church group, or just grab a tambourine and head on down to bonfire night with the local hippies. Look for vocalist meetings and workshops on websites like meetup.com. Or, just wing it and try to start a musical group of your own design. Endless opportunities await those with the courage to seek them out.

Jason Campbell is a voice coach and piano teacher who blogs about all things music at IvoryMan. Book a lesson with him on The ZOEN or follow him on Facebook.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

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. Barring extreme altissimo, the most unforgiving notes on the instrument are the throat tones – F, F#, G, Ab, A, and Bb. They tend to be weak, stuffy, out of tune, hard to project, and unpredictable from player to player.

Why do these specific notes give clarinetists everywhere headaches?

 photo clarinet2_zpsd768959e.jpgFirst of all, the body of the clarinet isn’t utilized as much as long-tube notes, therefore the the wood itself isn’t resonating fully, resulting in a smaller sound. Secondly, the register key is responsible for two functions–allow the clarinet to jump the 12th to achieve the higher octave, and provide an agile fingering for the throat Bb. The problem with this, however, is that these two functions clash against each other.

Ideally, the throat tone Bb key should be a bit higher, as it is on the alternate side key (which is a much better-sounding fingering), and the register vent should exist in 12 separate positions (one for every note)–but that is a completely different issue.

How does one combat the dreaded throat tones? 

By selectively adding fingers while playing the pitch, the nodes of the instrument can be emphasized, producing a fuller sound through a greater portion of the body. In addition, adding fingers usually addressed pitch issues. Commonly on Buffet clarinets where the throat tones are usually sharp, this is true, but in the case of my old Leblanc-Backun clarinets, the throat tones were flat to begin with! As with anything, results may vary.

Let's look at some fingerings (note, I didn't include F and F# because I don't personally resonate them):

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Try these and see if they work out. Chances are, since each instrument is unique, you will have to experiment a little to find the fingerings that work right for you.

Over time, your chosen resonance fingerings will become automatic and fluid, even at higher speeds. The result is a more unified sound across multiple registers.

Have a success story to share? Let us know in the comments box below!

Eddie Sundra is pursuing a degree in Clarinet Performance at Penn State. He teaches both clarinet and saxophone for The ZOEN. Sign up for a trial lesson today!

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Clarinetist's Guide to Conquering First Chair

Playing in a band (or orchestra) is just like being on any other team. Every team has a leader. In band, it is the person sitting in first chair. If you're sitting "second string" there's a good chance you've got your eyes on that top spot. Here's what an aspiring clarinetist need to do to conquer first chair:

Recognize It Takes Time
 photo Clarinet_zps28375d27.jpgMost importantly, the player needs to realize it will take quality time to earn first chair. In The Talent Code, Daniel Coyle relates the story of Clarissa, an ordinary young clarinetist, as she is developing the neural pathways involved in playing a piece well. Clarissa has a blueprint in her mind as to how the piece should go. She breaks up the whole piece into smaller pieces and works out the tough passages. Once she gets the notes into her fingers, she can play the whole piece with real feeling and musicality.

When we repeat an action, the neural pathways become coated with a sheath of substance called myelin. The more often we use that action, the easier it becomes. It takes time to build up the myelin on the neural pathways. Each time you play through it, you’ll strengthen the mechanism involved to make the desired sound.

Learn Your Scales and Arpeggios
Practicing patterns are great for learning a piece quickly. There is no substitute for learning your scales and arpeggios. When the difficult music gets passed out, you’ll be able to breeze through it. That’s the payoff! 

 While scales will improve technique, don’t overlook the importance of a big, gorgeous tone. Practice long tones every day, while using your ears to adjust pitch and color. Once your ears are trained to hear a proper tone, it will be easier to produce when you’re busy working on other aspects of a piece.

Achieve Good Tone
Clarinetists hate being compared to Squidward on SpongeBob SquarePants. What can we do to avoid that kind of squeaky tone? In The Educator’s Guide to the Clarinet, Tom Ridenour says “Put simply, students need the experience of hearing good clarinet tone and then being taught why it is good”. Clarinetists Larry Combs, David Shifrin and Ricardo Morales all have great recordings available and each offer examples of excellent tone. 

Learning how to achieve great tone requires lungs filled with air from the bottom up. Focus that air in a strong stream to the tip of the reed. That will deliver pressure to the correct spot to keep the reed stable while going over the break (Bb to the middle line B) or playing in the altissimo register (above high C).

A Good Mouthpiece is a Good Thing
The ingredient that is the most difficult to control is equipment. If you’re using an old or cheap instrument, you’re more likely to sound like Squidward. The best thing you can do is get a decent mouthpiece. The mouthpiece will also dictate the kind of reed to use. Work with your clarinet teacher to help you find the best fit. 

Keep in mind that a close, long facing on the mouthpiece and a hard reed will bring the dark tone found in orchestral music. An open, shorter facing with a soft reed will bring the bright tone found in jazz. Here's a great mouthpiece guide from Woodwind & Brasswind.

Embouchure is Key
Last, but definitely not least, is embouchure. The lip touching that reed must be properly supported since this is where the sound starts. If it’s too loose, the reed won’t vibrate enough. If it’s too tight, the reed will become unstable and squeak. 

The mouthpiece should fit snugly into a fixed jaw. The chin should be flat, and the corners of the mouth pulled back. The lips need to be just firm enough to control the reed. Use just enough lower lip to cushion the teeth and not stop the reed from vibrating. The pressure from the top lip should be directed toward the corners of the mouth, not toward the center where the tendency is to bite. The whole mechanism should be firm but relaxed.

Use these steps to achieve that coveted first chair. There’s no easy shortcut and hard work is really key. Don’t get discouraged by setbacks. Set obtainable goals. Seek out a qualified instructor or coach. Before long, you will find yourself rising in the section and becoming a confident leader!

Fran Beaudry has over 30 years of experience as a clarinet player and music educator. Follow Fran on Twitter or book an online clarinet lesson with her on The ZOEN

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

How I Became a 'Real' Musician (after a decade of feeling like a fraud)

I learned five instruments at school. Six if you count singing lessons.

I never felt like a musician.

I took the grade exams prescribed to me, reaching Grade 2 in cello, right up through Grade 8 in singing. I practised, I improved, I passed my exams. As far as my classmates, family and friends were concerned I was a musical guy.

Still, I never felt like a musician. Not a real musician.

I didn't really understand what I was playing. I didn't know how to improvise or play songs by ear.

All those "serious" musicians, it seemed to come so naturally to them. So I figured if I couldn't do it, it was because I wasn't really "musical".

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EasyEarTraining Founder, Christopher Sutton

Now, over a decade later, I finally do feel like a musician. I know I am as musical as anybody, and I have a confidence in playing music that I never felt back then - even if my fingers are slower now than they were at the height of my instrument learning.

What changed?

Technology. And through technology, my ears.

If you're reading this blog, you probably already know how fundamental a change music education is currently going through as a result of modern technology. I probably don't need to tell you about the incredible impact which inventions like the Internet, live video chat using services like The ZOEN, and app-packed iPads have had on what it means to be a young music student now.

But maybe I can tell you a bit about something that's often overlooked, even as we take advantage of all this technological wizardry to empower music teachers and students: Listening skills.

The Power of Your Ears

To put it plainly: Listening skills were the big discovery which transformed me from feeling like I was just pretending to be a musician, into someone who loves music, feels musical, and loves studying music more than ever before.

"Ear training", the process of improving your ears for music, is a vital part of musicianship. But somehow (like the oft-maligned music theory) it tends to get left to one side, or taught badly - if at all!

My school had a stellar music department, but even there, "aural skills" were given a half hour, the week before your grade exam. And that was it.

I rediscovered listening skills in my early twenties, and since the exercises were a little dull and I'm a geek at heart, I started using technology to help me learn. I wrote some programs to quiz me on interval recognition, and the EQ frequency band skills I was trying to improve for my day job.

I got excited about the iPhone when it was released, and naturally my ear training programs became ear training apps. The more time I spent developing my ear and using technology to make it easier, the more I enjoyed music and felt empowered as a musician.

Fortunately these days you don't need to be a geek like me to accelerate your ear training with technology. Whether you're at your computer, on your smartphone, or in a live video lesson, there are any number of ways to improve your musicianship with modern ear training.

Ear Training on the web

You can play ear training games with Theta Music Trainer and develop a variety of essential musical skills like interval recognition, figuring out tunes and chord progressions by ear, transcribing rhythms.

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Of course it helps to understand a bit of the theory behind what you're trying to learn to hear. If you find your grasp of music theory isn't quite what it should be - you're not alone! But the down-to-earth tutorial videos from daveconservatoire.org will get you up to speed in no time.

And if you want to improve your music theory and your ears at the same time? The innovative tools and lessons from HookTheory offer some fun ways to learn to play melodies and chords by ear, using songs you know and love.

Ear Training On the Go

You don't want to be strapped to your computer though. If you have a smartphone like an iPhone there's are countless ear training apps you can use on the go.

The one I mentioned earlier, RelativePitch, which I first developed for my own use teaches the fundamental skill of interval recognition. There are plenty of others to choose from as well, like Karajan (perhaps the "granddaddy" of iOS ear training), or the more recent arrival, GoodEar.

And don't forget the power of a simple audio recording! Whether you load up useful practice clips onto your phone as MP3s or use the audio recording functionality of your phone to practice more actively, the smartphone is a formiddable tool - even before you cram it full of music ed apps!

Demand the Trifecta

The best music education combines three elements: Instrument Skills, Music Theory, and Listening Skills. Any musical learning which neglects one of these will ultimately produce a lopsided, limited and frustrated musician.

You already know that The ZOEN are pioneering convenient expert video teaching of Instrument Skills. And hopefully the suggestions above give you some ideas about how you can benefit from technology for the Music Theory and Listening Skills aspects too.

Making sure you cover all three aspects will powerfully accelerate your musical learning.

I want to push it one step further: don't be satisfied with studying these three elements in isolation.

• Find an instrument teacher who can incorporate the theory and aural skills into your lessons, and relate them to your instrument.

• When you study the theory bring it to life with audio clips and examples to play on your instrument.

• Make sure when you train your ears to hear something you truly understand what it is you're trying to hear, and why - and that you can directly relate it back to your instrumental practice.

So I'll leave you with my recommended steps to reach your full musical potential:

- Step 1: Incorporate all three essential elements (Instrument Skills, Music Theory, Listening Skills) into your music education.

- Step 2: Use technology to accelerate your progress and make the learning convenient and fun.

- Step 3: Find a teacher who can inspire and motivate you, providing that essential one-on-one human interaction so essential to music.

Follow these three simple steps... and you will never again have a day when you don't feel like a true musician.

This article was written by guest contributor Christopher Sutton,  founder of Easy Ear Training, a company developing innovative products to make it easy and fun to learn the essential listening skills of music. The Easy Ear Training website has over 200 free articles and tutorials to help you get started.

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Need a hand getting started? Visit Easy Ear Training to get a special ear training gift for The ZOEN readers!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

9 Great Music Blogs You Should Be Reading

You can learn just about anything and everything on the web. But with so much information out there, it can be tough to know where to start. Complementing your live video-based music lessons with useful online resources can dramatically improve your ability to practice better and master your craft. Here’s a list of online favorites to help you get started:
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Music News & Discovery
Where’s the best place to find new music? Well, that all depends what you’re into. These are three failsafe blogs that cater to just about any taste:

NPR doesn’t just have one music blog, its got several. If you’re into classical, check out Deceptive Cadence.  If jazz is more your scene, check out A Blog Supreme. With The Record, they’ve got you covered on both the news and new music front. And definitely give All Songs Considered’s Tiny Desk Concert series some attention.

All Music Guide is, no surprise, where you’ll find all kinds of music. The blog’s editorial staff regularly puts together playlists of new music as well as classic rock. This is a really excellent resource for fans of music from just about any era!

HypeBot is one of the best sources of music news on the web. They cover many facets of the music industry from daily news to technology and social media. Here’s a piece they wrote about The ZOEN.

Resource for Saxophone, Guitar & Piano
There’s no shortage of instrument specific blogs on the web. These are just a few highlights:

Best Saxophone Website Ever. The site’s founder set out to create the best saxophone blog ever and by george, I think he’s done it. There are tips, tricks, reviews and a whole lot more for beginners, intermediate and advanced players.

Guitar Noize sets the bar for guitar blogs. It’s that good.

Piano Addict is where pianists of all walks converge. This blog is a wonderful resource for piano teachers as well as piano students. No matter what style of music you’re into, there’s something for you on Piano Addict!

Resources for Parents & Teachers
There’s plenty of information from music parents and teachers online. These are our most trusted resources:

AMP (Association of Music Parents) maintains an outstanding blog. If you’ve got a question about raising musical children, this is a good place to start looking for answers!

MusicMatters. Comprehensive is a great word to describe Music Matters Blog. This blog is a  wealth of information for music teachers as well as music parents. Here’s a post we wrote for them.

About Guides’ Music Education Blog is the gift that keeps on giving. This music blog is dedicated to the study of music and music theory online. There’s a lot of information there so its definitely checking out.

So, there you have it. Bookmark the blogs that are most relevant to you and enjoy!
Is there a music blog or website out there you would like to recommend? Drop us a note in the comments section below.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Why It's Time to for Seniors to Start Playing the Piano

Learning an instrument has benefits for students of all ages. While there many studies that demonstrate the importance of music for children, the benefits for seniors are often overlooked. A recent study from Emory University confirms that musical activity preserves cognition as we age. According to the researchers, “The cognitive enhancements in older musicians included a range of verbal and nonverbal functions, as well as memory, which is the hallmark of Alzhemier's pathology.”
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Inspired by the Emory study, we decided to reach out to ZOEN piano teacher Anna Fagan who has been teaching piano and keyboard for 35 years to adults who are just beginning, as well as those beginning again. Here’s why it’s time for seniors to start playing the piano: 

How do you see piano lessons benefiting retired adults and seniors?
---I'm working with students in their 70s, 80s, and 90s -- some who have never played any instrument before. Utilizing digital keyboards like Yamaha Clavinovas with their "follow-the-light" technology is allowing these seniors to enjoy the experience of playing with a fully-orchestrated sound, while learning basics of music reading.  Aside from the pure enjoyment and relaxation this provides, it also helps to reinforce those important "right brain/left brain" connections.

What is the biggest concern adults have about learning piano?
---Most adult students are concerned that they will not be able to find enough time to practice between lessons. This is one reason that Recreational Music Making (RMM) is gaining such popularity -- the focus is on relaxation techniques, enjoying music, and being satisfied with the slower pace.

What are some key advantages adults have over children in learning music?
---Adults have such a wealth of personal experiences to draw on! I love using analogies when I teach, and find it much easier with older students.

Any additional advice for adult music students?
---Carefully consider your goals before you begin piano/keyboard lessons, so you can share them with teachers you are thinking of working with.  Are there particular pieces you are hoping to eventually be able to play?  Is there a specific type or style of music you are interested in?  Do you have a goal to play for your church, or with other musicians?  Perhaps you just want to learn what all of the buttons are for on the keyboard you just purchased...!

There’s no better time to start than now. Take a trial lesson or give the gift of music to a loved one.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Tech Tip: Learn Songs By Ear With This Useful App

At The ZOEN, we like to share our best resources, tips and tools and we’re always interested to know what our fellow musicians are using. Recently, guitar teacher Barry Chabala clued us into his favorite app:

An app that has become one of the most used in my iPad is mimiCopy from ART Teknika, Inc. Designed primarily as a tool to help musicians learn songs by ear, mimiCopy lets you play back music at different rates without affecting the pitch. Up to 50% slower!  

I’ve found mimiCopy to be extremely useful on sections of a song that I’m having a hard time getting at regular speed. I just load a section into mimiCopy and slow it down enough so I can hear the notes going by easier. The app shows you the song graphically so it’s fairly easy to find the section you need. Then, by moving markers around, you can isolate the section and have it loop over and over as many times as you need. This feature in itself is wonderful! Hearing the notes repeated over and over really helps you to hear the phrase. Slowing it down really helps you nail it.

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mimiCopy Screenshot
I’ve also found mimiCopy very useful for practice. I recommend it to all my students.  You can import a rhythm or background track from iTunes into mimiCopy and then use that to practice many aspects of your playing. Whether it be rhythm/chord work, melodic playing or even improvised soloing, its slowed down to a pace you can handle.

Try this – record yourself playing a chord progression/rhythm track or that exercise you might be having trouble with in something like GarageBand and then import that track into mimiCopy. You can then play along with yourself, varying the tempo at will, or practice that new exercise at a much slower tempo. And once you have it down slowly, start upping the tempo a little at a time! You’ll have it mastered in no time!

Those are just some of the many uses I’ve found for this great little app for your tablet or smartphone. Check it out, you might find it useful in your practice routine.

Have you found an app that’s making a big difference in your music practice? Please, share it in the comments!

Barry Chabala teaches electric and acoustic guitar and plays in the NJ based classic rock and soul band Parkway Jams. Book a lesson with him in The ZOEN.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

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 to take the next step as a musician, here are 35 quotes just for you: 

On music

 photo inspirational-quotes-3_zps809af04c.jpgMusic should make you feel good.– Mark James Klepaski

“Music can change the world because it can change people.” ― Bono

“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.” ― Bob Marley

"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before." ― Leonard Bernstein

“Music is your own experience, your own thoughts, your wisdom. If you don't live it, it won't come out of your horn. They teach you there's a boundary line to music. But, man, there's no boundary line to art.” ― Charlie Parker

“Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent” ― Victor Hugo

“The only truth is music.” ― Jack Kerouac

On learning

“The beautiful thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” ― B.B. King

"For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them." ― Aristotle

"It's taken me all my life to learn what not to play." ― Dizzy Gillespie

“Learning never exhausts the mind.” ― Leonardo da Vinci

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.” ― Robert Schumann 

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” ― Albert Einstein

“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.” ― Phil Collins

On practice

“The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.” ― Duke Ellington

“Try a little harder to be a little better.” ― Gordon B. Hinckley

“It is not a daily increase, but a daily decrease. Hack away at the inessentials.” ― Bruce Lee

"Don't only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the divine."  Ludwig van Beethoven

"Your habits in the practice room make you the musician that you are." ― The Musician's Way

“You've got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” ― Charlie Parker

“Motivation gets you going and habit gets you there.” ― Zig Ziglar

On being a musician

Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.– Kurt Cobain

“If I were not a physicist, I would probably be a musician. I often think in music. I live my daydreams in music. I see my life in terms of music." ― Albert Einstein

“I mean, give me a guitar, give me a piano, give me a broom and string, I wouldn't get bored anywhere.” ― Keith Richards

Creativity is not linear, just like the earth is not flat….If you keep going long enough you will always get back to where you started from. That is when you have lived a full life. That is the artist’s path.― Nikki Sixx

“I believe musicians have a duty, a responsibility to reach out, to share your love or pain with others.” - James Taylor

“I believe in singing. I believe in singing together.” ― Brian Eno

“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” ― Bob Dylan

On motivation

“Your talent determines what you can do. Your motivation determines how much you are willing to do. Your attitude determines how well you do it.” ― Lou Holtz

"The big win is when you refuse to settle for average or mediocre." ― Seth Godin

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” ― George Eliot

“The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.” ― Walt Disney Company

“All great achievements require time.” ― Maya Angelou

“A year from now you may wish you had started today.” ― Karen Lamb

“Life's short. Live passionately.” ― Marc A. Pitman

There you have it - 35 famous quotes to keep you motivated. The ZOEN community boasts an impressive collection of experience and wisdom so be sure to get inspiration first hand from your teacher!