Wednesday, March 21, 2012

So you wanna be in a band?

Forming a band is like getting into a new relationship except with 3 or more people at once. Its very complicated and balancing a group of sensitive musicians is never an easy task. Many well known bands have fought court battles over songs rights just like a divorce couple fighting over custody of a child. It can be very messy but the good news is that when done right a good band will be the most amazing experience you will ever encounter. 

Forming the band

Many bands start out with a few friends who share a love for the same music and a vision of perhaps becoming rock stars.  An average band has a drummer, bass player, one or two guitarists, a lead singer and perhaps a keyboard player. For the band to work they need to all practice their parts and rehearse at least once a week for a few hours. To be a great band you need to rehearse 4 or more days a week and everyone has to be practicing between rehearsals. Sounds like an episode of Big Brother right? But its worse I am afraid. These guys/gals have to agree on what is right and wrong. Arguments can quickly erupt when one member accuses another of missing a beat or being out of tune. The honeymoon starts to wear off pretty quickly. So what's the solution?

Who's in charge?

You need a leader. Sorry but someone has to be in charge and make the decisions and live or die by them. As in any good team the captain must make the final call right or wrong and the team needs to trust that decision. All members should vote on the leader before you even start and then accept their final decisions from there on in. Of course all decisions should be open for discussion but the leader needs to make the final call. If choosing a leader is not an easy decision you can even run an election. But don't just include yourselves in the voting. Include friends and family. The more people who vote on the leader often the more democratic. In many cases the leader will be obvious but if you have two leaders in one band chances are there will be a constant battle. Leading is not better than following. Its just different. 

The alternative 

The other option is a manager. Someone who is not a member of the band but who is trusted by everyone in the band to settle disputes. The bottom line is there needs to be someone who adjudicates when band members are not able to agree. It is easy to believe that when a band starts off well and everyone is agreeable it will stay that way. If you believe everyone will just continue to agree let me say that the statistics say otherwise. I don't have any exact figures but my guess is around 90% of bands would not last more than 5 years and most fail because of a disagreement or lack of leadership.

Band rules

It is best to lay down the rules before you even start. Ask the hard questions. E.g. If you feel one member is not pulling their weight or is just moving in a different direction how do you ask them to leave? Do you vote and if so who gets to vote? If you don't want to write a complete set of rules start with one. The one rule should simply be how to settle disputes. Create a format for settling any dispute that everyone agrees on. E.g. You have a song that you like but another member says they hate it. How will you decide whether to include the song in the band's repertoire?

Last words

The best way to ensure your band's success is to make sure you are clear about how to settle disputes. Whether you have a leader or a rule book your band must be clear about this point. The most talented musicians with the most amazing songs may even succeed in terms of record sales and sold out concerts but behind the scenes they hate each other and touring is just one long miserable nightmare. Success is only truly success if you are happy doing what you do.  

Please join us on 

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The future of teaching

The cry for abundant cheap energy has been the focus of most countries for over a hundred years but almost out of nowhere and without anyone really noticing information took its place. Our world has transformed. Information is now abundant and cheap and in many cases free to a large percentage of the world's population. With so much free information those who have pursued a career as teachers may be wondering what the future holds. If the teacher of today thinks they can continue doing what teachers have been doing for as long as anyone can remember they may be in for a rude shock. In the same way that the telephone changed the way we communicate the Internet is doing the same for the way we educate. We just don't realise it yet because we are in the transition phase.

Times are a changin'

When we think of a school teacher or a university lecturer we imagine someone standing up in front of a classroom and lecturing while writing on a blackboard. We are required to write down and learn the information and then every so often we are given a test to see if we have understood or at the very least memorised the information. The teacher marks our test, we pass or fail and our exam results ultimately determine our next step. It is now obvious all this can be done via the Internet without the need for a teacher or a classroom for that matter. Checkout Khan Academy for one such example. Students can watch prerecorded lessons and then do a test at the end. Sure some people can cheat but most people won't cheat because at some point they will get caught out. Usually when they go for a job interview.

Home schooling and private tutors

Home schooling is on the rise and the demand for private tutors is increasing. Parents are taking control of their child's education and are tailoring the experience to suit their child's needs. The 30 child classroom is not exactly ideal for learning. Children need to compete for limited time with their teacher and the individual needs of children are rarely met. Most parents have no idea what happens between the hours of 9am to 3pm. Choosing a private tutor allows their child to get valuable one on one time with a teacher who can assess the student's individual needs. If done in their home in many cases they can listen in and observe how their child responds. Private tutors are also usually specialists. School teachers have to cover many subjects. For example most primary school teachers teach a music component but very few of these teachers would call themselves musicians.

Exactly what will future teachers do?

How often do we hear that there are not enough teachers. Every politician promises more funding for education and more teachers to help reduce class sizes where ratios of 30 children to one teacher are normal. If the Internet can dramatically reduce the role of the teacher this means the teacher can be doing more important work. Imagine if students stayed at home and did their academic learning online. A system of measurement could be employed that allow the education department to track their progress. Teachers could instead use their time to monitor individual students dropping in on them via video conferencing as well doing video lessons that could be catalogued for use by students and other teachers. School teachers could also become specialists focusing on just one subject like private tutors. Even better teachers could become like Google employees spending 20% of their time on creative projects to help students learn. Imagine if teachers worked with video game engineers in creating video games that were both engaging and educational.

What about the social aspect?

Schools could be turned into social play centres where children could come together to have fun and get physical. Each school would have different activities such as gym class, games rooms, music room, a swimming pool etc. Children would be required to do a certain amount of hours at school (play) each week but could come and go when it suited them depending on their interests and schedule. This would help parents who are trying to manage several children and/or a career. Children could organise their time at school around their friends as well. Schools in an area could also specialise. For a example one school could be a music centre full of instruments with private music tutors, band rooms and even a recording studio. The possibilities are endless.

Is this achievable?

I think its not only achievable but inevitable. Parents are quickly realising that their children only really need school for the social aspect.  As they discover alternatives for social interaction they will slowly move out of the school system. Children who get a range of specialised education advantages will simply do better. The Montessori schools (currently 20,000 schools worldwide) understand this shift. The Google owners (Brin and Page) are examples of former students. Their approach is to allow students to have more freedom in the way they learn. This nurtures a passion for learning and creativity.  Parents are looking at alternatives and the Internet is making the shift easier than ever before.

Please join us on 

Saturday, March 10, 2012

"Am I too old to learn guitar?"

I recently received an inquiry from a guy in his 40's asking if he was too old to learn guitar and if he was kidding himself. I am sure we all know the answer is you are never too old but I think it is a valid question. Ageing is a process we all go through. Determining whether spending 30 minutes or more a day is worth it if you are say 45yo is probably something you would want to know before you spend thousands of dollars on a guitar and lessons. So here goes.

Reality check.

I am not going to give the typical response you would expect from a teacher who will obviously benefit financially from you enrolling for lessons so lets start with a reality check. As you age the body changes and we cannot deny that motor skills are slower to respond. Muscles memory is also slower to learn and studies show our brains begin to slow down their ability to learn around our late 30's. I would say almost all great athletes reached their peak before age 35 and many of the great scientists, philosophers etc did their best work in the first half of their life. There are exceptions of course but the reality is our body and brains are simply in a stronger healthier state in the first 30 to 40 years.

What's the good news?

Well we are talking about guitar here. It is not an Olympic event (as far I know). I have helped many older adults learn guitar even into their 80's and in many cases the process is easier. Ironically as we age we tend to be in less of a rush. My older students often have more time for themselves and because of their life experience understand that learning a new skill takes time. Older students seem to enjoy the process of learning more as well. On average younger students want results now. They don't want to learn they just want to be able to do it.  Older students often have more time to practice. Their children are old enough to take care of themselves and they don't have to work so much as they are more likely to be financially secure.

The benefits of learning music as we age

I have come across various studies being conducted on the brain. These effects are evident at all stages of life. Evidence shows that learning music improves memory and can slow down diseases like dementia and alzheimer's. Dr Patel Ph.D a neurobiologist who focuses specifically on the effects of learning music points out that we are affected in many ways. He lists emotion, memory, learning & plasticity, attention, motor control, pattern perception, imagery and more. Learning music to the brain is like physical exercise to the body. As you age learning a musical instrument may be the best thing you can do for your brain. One experiment I saw a few years back showed elderly people learning piano for 30 minutes a day. Six weeks later they had very obvious improvements in memory and certain cognitive abilities. When we learn music our brain literally carves out new neural pathways. Anyone who learns music knows that with practice things begin to change. For example your awareness of music changes and your hands (fingers) begin to take on a life of their own. There is this point where you realise your body can do things it once found impossible.

An example of learning later in life

My father inspired me to listen to the guitar greats as a child. Many of my fondest memories were with my father listening to the latest releases from the guitar legends. Clapton, Santana, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and so on. So naturally when I was old enough I really wanted play guitar. My father on the other hand did not play guitar. His parents wanted him to play piano but he was not interested. As happens as an adult life gets busy and my father found himself later in life wanting to play guitar. By then I was a teacher and so I fully encouraged him to learn. Today whenever we get together instead of just listening to guitar legends we jam on our favourites. And I should add that he is getting very good. In fact in some areas he is probably more advanced than I. After all he has been listing to music for many more years. So you can see its not only never too late it is highly recommended.

If you want to see Dr Patel's presentation follow this link.

 Free Online Guitar Course 
Please follow the link to subscribe to our free online course. 

Friday, March 2, 2012

Memorise the keys easily Part 1 - Sharp keys

As a teen I decided to devise an easy way to memorise the key signatures. It seemed to me that knowing every note in every key was going to be helpful because it was so central to music. When I began teaching I found the system I had devised worked quickly and easily for most students. It took a little practice but in only a few short lessons they could recite the notes of any key without hesitation. Remember this is the first step in understanding scales, arpeggios, chords etc. So here goes.

Introducing the 15 keys. (There are theoretically more keys but that's for a more advanced lesson).

All keys are made up of 7 notes with each note being represented by the first 7 letters of the alphabet. A, B, C, D, E, F and G. Every key will have these 7 alphabetic letters but they will differ based on the combination of either sharps # or flats b. If you are confused at this point please don't be too concerned. Just follow the steps below and it should make sense once you are able to see the full picture.

The key of C.

The key of C is the only key that does not possess a sharp # or a flat note. The remaining 14 keys will include at least one sharp or one flat. The notes in the key of C are simple and are as follows;

C, D, E, F, G, A, B

The 7 sharp keys

A sharp key will have at least one sharp note. We are going to learn the 7 sharp keys in a two step process. In Step 1 we will work out how many sharps are in a given key. In Step 2 we will work out which notes are sharp.

Step 1 - How many sharps? Memorise G, D, A, E, B, F#, C#.  To make it easy try using the following mnemonic. Go Down And Eat Bananas Freddy (and) Charlie. (I know it sounds silly but it works). The first sharp key is G. This means it has one sharp. We know this simply because G is the first letter of the sequence. That means that D will have 2 sharps, A will have 3 sharps, E will have 4 sharps, B 5 sharps, F# 6 sharps and C# 7 sharps.

Step 2 - Which notes are sharp? Put Freddy and Charlie at the beginning so it reads Freddy (and) Charlie Go Down And Eat Bananas. 

In the case of the key of G we know from Step 1 it has one sharp and Step 2 tells us the note will be F#. The 7 notes in the key of G are as follows; G, A, B, C, D, E, F#.


To get familiar with the process lets apply the two steps to a few more sharp keys.

Key of D. - Step 1. Go Down. D has 2 sharps. Step 2. Freddy Charlie. The 2 sharps are F# and C#. The 7 notes in the key of D therefore are D, E, F#, G, A, B, C#.

Key of B. - Step 1. Go Down And Eat Bananas. B has 5 sharps. Step 2. Freddy Charlie Go Down And. The 5 sharp notes are F#, C#, G#, D# and A#. The 7 notes in the key of B are B, C#, D#, E, F#, G# and A#.


Work out the notes in the following keys. A, E, F# and C#.

Please join us on