Practice Every Day

I’ve been reading the book “Quiet” by Susan Cain. The book is about introverts living in an extroverted world, and how to use your introversion as a tool for good. One of the most striking ideas in the book is that of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is an act of mindfulness, in which you break apart a particular skill into small chunks, and then focus on improving the chunks, rather than focusing on improving the whole all at once. You may already be enrolled in Winnipeg violin lessons, and you may practice the violin every day, but what do you focus on? Are you simply trying to play through the songs, or are you focusing on the quality of your vibrato, the strength of your bowing technique? What would happen if you focused only of your left hand, or only on your right hand? What would happen if you spent an hour simply focusing on holding your violin properly?

This type of mindful practice is exhilarating, because it takes all of your mental efforts; you’re chopping the thing you’re trying to learn down into the smallest possible fragments and working on each one, so that the whole is greater than the sum of its part. What’s so wonderful about music is that it’s so universal, so all-encompassing; you can see the very world around you as music. That means that you should practice every day, even if you don’t have your instrument with you. How do you practice without an instrument? It might be easier than you think.

The next time you run your washing machine, or take a shower, listen to the rhythms it creates. Can you figure out how many beats per minute your shower is pouring at? Can you detect polyrhythms as your machine spins and whirs? Rhythm, beat and time are all around us, so whether you’re in a car or sitting at your office at work, there’s something you’ll be able to tap your foot to, something you’ll be able to measure. Rhythm is definitely a chunk of your overall playing ability, so focusing on it every day is a great way to expand musically.

Every time you hear a rhythm, there must be a sound, and that sound is within a listenable frequency, so it must be a note. Does your fridge hum in C#? How about your air conditioner? Can you find harmony in the appliances in your house? Can you sing in the same pitch as your school’s vending machine? This type of practice, hearing notes all around, music all around; it will make you a better musician. The best part is, you can deliberately practice anywhere; when you’re done reading this, stop what you’re doing, close your eyes, open your ears, and try to identify the music that’s swirling all around you. When you’re practiced at that, hearing the music your instrument can make will be second nature to you.  

Cross-Cultural Feeling

Looking for some incredible insights about music theory and composition? I cannot recommend Adam Neely’s YouTube Channel enough. For the deliberate practice we discussed in the last blog post, he recommends imagining your forearm is your instrument in order to practice fingerings. Another fascinating video of his that I watched recently breaks down the 9/8 time signature. There’s a lot to unpack; one of the things he goes into is how you can entrain people to the beat with a variety of techniques. Entrainment is when your body synchronizes itself to the beat; in short, it’s what makes us want to dance. Humans seem to be the only animals who experience entrainment as a whole species, barring some exceptions, and the cognitive processes involved in entrainment seem to be present from infancy.

This is remarkable. I’m not a neuroscientist, but to me this seems to suggest that there is something essential about music to human development and experience. We’ve seen this on a cultural level; most cultures I’m aware of have some form of music, and most of it is complex, nuanced and diverse. All of it, though, can be understood as music by humans of any other culture; perhaps that’s because music is so baked into our very brains. Music is the universal language because we all want to dance to it.

Dancing isn’t always easy, though. I’ve never met anyone who can’t at least nod their head to 4/4, but this 9/8 business is a little odd. North American dance music is almost never in this time signature, but according to Neely’s video, many other cultures, including Balkan culture, dance quite easily to 9/8. That’s because they feel the time in quicks and slows; usually in a pattern of quick, quick, quick, slow. Were the pattern four quicks in a row, we would be in 4/4 time, but because the slow is held just a bit longer, we end up in 9/8. Dances often involve 3 steps forward and a slower step back; apparently, this is to symbolize the 4 seasons, with winter being represented by the slow at the end of the cycle.

What’s remarkable about this is that while your body might not immediately entrain to the 9/8 beat, when you learn to do it with another culture’s music, you’ve learned a whole new way of feeling music. More importantly, you’ve learned that culture’s way of feeling music, a way that informs everything from their music’s composition to how they dance. Dancing alongside people is a group is almost always a gesture of love, friendship, and understanding – maybe that’s why we know how to dance from infancy. It connects us.

You might not be ready to go onto the dancefloor and play something yet, but with practice you will be, and that practice will help you connect with people across cultures. Quality and affordable in home music lessons are available, so you can practice feeling the rhythm before playing live.

Renewal

There’s an excellent pop-rock album by the French band Phoenix, titled “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix”. In the song Countdown, lead vocalist Thomas Mars sings “Do you remember when 21 years was old?”. At the time I heard it, I did not, in fact, remember when 21 years was old. That’s because I was not 21 years old at the time, so while 21 years wasn’t necessarily super old to me, it was still older than I was. 10 years later, listening to the album again, I do remember when 21 years was old. Specifically, I remember listening to the album, thinking 21 years was old, and feeling like the lyric didn’t apply to me. I appreciate the lyric now on a meta-level, because it brings me back to a specific time and place, and I’m flooded with memories of preparing for finals and working on papers.

I love Thomas’ vocal delivery on this entire album. He has a strange way of ending his phrases, where on the last syllable of each line, his voice lilts upwards, and the last note is just a little higher than the rest. It builds a sense of anticipation, a longing for the next line. It’s perfect for an album trying to build a bridge between pop-accessibility and tuneful musicianship; you’re always waiting with baited breath for the next phrase. Over the years, I’ve come back to the album again and again, in large part because of how stunning but weird the vocals are.

Vocals are one of the main reasons we go back to music again and again. In folk culture, music is often focused on the vocals, because it’s easy to teach a call-and-response or a simple chorus. Simple songs like “This Little Light of Mine” can become anthems because of their universal themes and adaptability. Singing is by its very nature participatory; you can join in the chorus, you can find harmonies, you can blast a song and sing it with friends while driving down the highway on a hot summer night. As we sing, the song is recontextualized and adapted; we might change the lyrics, we might play around with the melody, we might elongate or shorten syllables to change how the song feels. Over time, this leads to whole new renditions of songs; see how different artists interpret “Can the Circle Be Unbroken”, from mournful to hopeful.

Learning to improve your voice with Winnipeg voice lessons can help you become a part of the tradition of musical renewal. Like me listening to Phoenix again after 10 years, you’ll hear new songs and, with your training, be able to appreciate more of the nuances in the vocals, the difficulty of what these artists are doing. You can become a part of the tradition of reinterpreting music, inspiring whole new generations of artists to contextualize old songs to modern times. You can use your voice to send a message to anyone who listens, and even create new songs to be reinterpreted, years down the road. Your voice is a powerful tool; we can help you hone it.

Fiddle and Violin

Words have a strange way of losing their meaning over time, or of having their meanings blur together. “Thou” is now evocative of olden times, and pretty much only used to convey period; the only time you’d ask someone “How art thou doing” is if you’re making a joke or hanging out at a Renaissance Fair. Thou has a very practical use, though; it can be used to denote the second person singular, which differentiated it from “you”, which was used for the second person plural. I bring this up because some people will call a violin a fiddle, and while that’s not technically inaccurate, it might do a great service to distinguish between the two.

The violin-fiddle scenario is akin to the square-rectangle one; a violin is a fiddle, but a fiddle is not always a violin. Fiddling in some form has been around since at least the 10th century CE, while the first violin was created in the 16th century. That’s because any stringed instrument played with a bow might be referred to as a fiddle, whereas only instruments of a specific construction are called violins. With that distinction made, it’s worth noting that in practice, a non-violin instrument would rarely be called a fiddle; most folks aren’t going to call cellists fiddlers.

Let’s say you see someone playing violin; should you call their instrument a violin or a fiddle, and should you call them a violinist or a fiddler? The distinction these days is mostly found in the type of music that they’re playing; if they’re playing classical music or jazz, it’s likely best to refer to them as a violinist, whereas if they’re playing folk or blues music it’s probably best to call them a fiddler. Most fiddling is used to make people want to get up and dance, a mainstay of folk tunes; that means fiddlers will concentrate on learning rapid note changes and high tempo music. Violinists, conversely, will have more of a focus on sustained notes, using vibrato and other textural flourishes to change the quality of a note held for a long period of time.

Canada has a deep history of fiddling, and Manitoba is no exception. French Canadian and Métis fiddling are an important part of our heritage; if you want to experience the high-energy, toe-tapping, makes-you-want-to-dance style, head to the Festival du Voyageur in February on any given day and you’re likely to find a fiddler playing it hot.

At Academy of Music, we love the violin, whether it’s used for classical music or fiddling, and we’ll be more than happy to teach you all kinds of techniques, so you can get people dancing one day, while having them hold their breaths in awe another. You’ll be a violinist on some days and a fiddler on others, if that’s what you want! Our in home Winnipeg violin lessons will have you feeling comfortable, practiced and prepared.

New Year, New Music

I recently stumbled upon a YouTube channel called “My Analog Journal”. The channel is run by a person living in the UK who has a wide variety of world music. The focus is on Turkish funk and rock music from the 70s, with a special love for the Anatolian region. He also spins records from Japan, Africa, and Brazil. I’m mentioning his channel in part because I absolutely love his mixes, and in part because of the focus of this blog: discovery.

Discovering new music isn’t just about hearing new sounds, beats, and instruments. It’s not just about discovering an incredible new style to learn or groove to. It’s about discovering a culture; you can learn a lot about people and an era by learning about their food, their architecture and their music. Music exists in two seemingly contradictory states at once; it is both universal and hyperspecific. You can listen to a song from anywhere and dance to it, or cry to it, even without being able to understand the language it’s sung in, or without knowing the instruments used to play it.

Finding new music is always inspiring to a musician; it gives us a larger palette to work with, new ways of thinking about composition, new songs to practice and perfect. The digital age has made discovering new music seem easy, but in some ways, it’s trickier than it ever has been. Back in the day, you would walk into a record shop and pick something with a cool cover, or maybe you would ask the clerk what they’ve enjoyed recently. Now, there’s so much choice it can be difficult to even know how to begin your search! There are the ever-prominent playlists curated by streaming services, so you can always start there. These services are data-driven, comparing your tastes to others with similar tastes and making recommendations. That can be a great thing, but it can also keep you cemented in your comfort zone. To combat this, speak to people with different musical tastes than you, read up on the popular music of a different country, or try going back into that record shop; you’ll still be able to find great recommendations.

Discovering new music means discovering new ways to play, so enjoy the experience. Listen to how the new songs you hear play with rhythm and melody. Try to figure out the scales and keys the musicians are playing in. Try replicating the songs you’ve heard by ear on your own instrument. There’s hundreds of ways you can immerse yourself into what you’ve listened to; read up on the history of the songs, find other artists who play music in the same genre or who hung out in the same scene. See if you can find other music from a different part of the world, and compare the tracks. What’s similar, what’s different, and why? Having done some or all of this will give you a lot to talk about during your in home music lessons; your instructor will probably be thrilled to hear some new music themselves!

Lullaby and Goodnight: Music and Sleep

One of my favorite albums of 2018 is DJ Koze’s Knock Knock. On one of the most memorable cuts, Music on My Teeth, you hear a man talking about music with a passion so obvious he could be speaking for legions of musicians everywhere. He speaks music, breaths music, lives music; music is so ingrained in him, there’s music on his teeth. This should be the goal for any aspiring musician; music becomes a way of life, a way of being, a part of your physical body. It shapes you. Listen to music while you’re awake, find it all around you, and listen to it while you sleep.

There’s research that shows listening to music can help you fall asleep. A wide variety of genres can be used for this, and the most suitable for many seems to be classical, according to a study on music and sleep; that may be because classical music doesn’t have any lyrics, but it strikes me as an odd choice. There are so many exciting moments in classical music, so much build up, that the anticipation might bring me out of a sleepy state, a sudden flurry of loud notes punctuating the stillness of the night. Pop and metal music are often used too; I’m sure pop music would have me dancing in my sheets, and metal would evoke images of demons in my dreams if I somehow managed to fall asleep. For me, ambient music is the music to drift off to, so I was glad to see Brian Eno up there in the list, but to each their own.

The creators of the study found four common threads in why people used music to fall asleep. When music surrounds you day in and day out, you may simply make a habit of falling asleep to music; queueing up a particular track might signal to your mind that it’s time for rest. Others find that music distracts them from other noises that might keep them awake; this seems particularly useful for anyone in a noisy apartment. Others find that the music itself has sleep-inducing qualities, or that listening to music changes their physical state to allow them to fall asleep more easily.

Dreaming and music are linked too, and in a way that’s none too surprising; when you eat, breathe and sleep music, you dream about it too. Dreams that have music in them are generally regarded more positively than those that don’t, but don’t worry if you haven’t had one; keep playing and you’ll get there eventually!

With our Winnipeg guitar lessons, soon you’ll have music in your dreams and on your teeth, too. Playing the guitar is so fun, so gratifying that you’ll have a hard time putting the instrument down, even in your sleep. Your musical dreams are within your reach with our at home learning system; get in touch with us, and together, we’ll make it happen.

A Brief History of the Piano

There’s a lot that goes into understanding a piece of music. First, you listen to it; you let the melody take you away, you move your feet to the beat. Deeper yet, your second and third listens; you begin to notice subtle nuances, flourishes that had passed you by on the first listen. This continues each listen; some pieces you can listen to hundreds of times and continue to unlock secrets, it’s meaning changing as you age. You can learn even more about a piece by learning the instruments that make the music; you can then appreciate how much effort and practice went into perfecting the technique the musician has used. Another layer of depth is found when you learn about the history of music; where the piece finds itself in the Grand Canon of Music, and the story behind the instruments that made it. So it is with the piano.

Now ubiquitous, the piano was revolutionary even when it was made. There was a problem with other stringed instruments that could be hammered; it was difficult to create a system where the hammer would pull off of the strings, and when it remained on the strings, they were muted. Bartolomeo Cristofori, the inventor of the piano, solved this problem. The instrument he created was originally called the pianoforte, because it could play soft (piano) and loud (forte). The dynamic sonics such an instrument allows are what keep it in use today; musical pieces that could never have been composed otherwise can be played on the piano, with its incredible range of notes and volumes.

What makes a piano a piano isn’t exactly clear, as the instrument itself has changed several times over the years. At one time, the pedals were at knee height, instead of being manipulated by the player’s feet; why they thought this was a good idea may be lost to time. The way pianos are built has changed as well; different materials for the body and keys, different string thicknesses and more have been adapted. At one time, pianos were incredibly breakable, and a player playing forcefully would destroy their instrument; they have seen begun to be reinforced.

Now, there are a plethora of different instruments that might be called a piano. Take a keyboard, for example; you can have one with weighted keys and pedals that feels almost exactly like a piano, except the instrument is electronic; no strings and hammers. Is that a piano? Look at a device like the Seaboard, a “piano” sensitive to all kinds of different touches; is that a piano? It’s somewhat difficult to say, because instruments evolve over time; the piano today looks quite different than the one from the early 1700s.

While instruments may evolve, the benefits of learning one for students young and old have remained. Playing music is good for your body and mind. Winnipeg piano lessons are available, and what’s better, you can have them in the comfort of your own home; that’s a benefit that will stand the test of time.

Why Music Evokes Emotion

We know that music can evoke powerful emotions; emotions so strong they produce physical effects, like frisson. That’s one of the reasons learning to play music is so wonderful; you can evoke these emotions in yourself, and in those around you, a feeling of being transported to a different plane of existence, for a few brief moments. Great music can be a life-altering, perspective changing experience. Why? How does music evoke such powerful feelings?

One way is through memory; a song can evoke a particular period of time or even a particular moment. For myself, most songs off of the Beatles Rubber Soul are evocative of a summer some years ago I spent riding in my friend’s car, going nowhere in particular, the warm air and psychedelic folk blending together into a kind of numbing bliss. Other times, music can be evocative of a very particular moment; I can’t hear Jungle Boogie without remembering my friend singing it at karaoke, to raucous applause from the not-all-there crowd. Music can help us remember good times and bad times, and it’s often self-referential, so you never know when you’ll hear a piece that brings you back to something that happened long ago.

Music is also the language of emotion; words convey an experience through simile and metaphor, while music is the experience. When we hear a slow, mournful song, it reminds us of sadness because the tempo and dissonance feel the way our minds feel when we’re grappling with insecurities or loss. A slow song doesn’t have to be sad, though; a song going at a languid pace with a killer bassline and a smooth flow might remind us of driving down a highway on a hot, humid day, relaxing and enjoying ourselves. A fast, frantically paced song might make you feel anxious or claustrophobic, especially if all of the instruments are close together in the mix. Music mirrors mental state.

Before we talk about the next facet of music that evokes an emotional response, I want you to think about it. What could it be? You might be craving the answer, but you’re not getting it yet. Soon. Probably within the next couple of sentences. Here it comes. After all this time, I must have built up a feeling of anticipation.  That feeling, of a build and release, is something we crave as humans; music is emotionally evocative for the same reasons that opening a present or exploring a new city is exciting. You know you’re going to find something, that they’ll be some kind of release, but how it will happen and what it will look like? Not knowing excites and tantalizes.

Feeling emotion when listening to music is one thing, but being able to create the music yourself, transferring your emotion through your voice or instrument to another person? That’s powerful. Winnipeg voice lessons are available so you can train your singing voice to convey every emotion imaginable with heart-piercing clarity. If you feel it, you’ll be able to express it. What’s more human than that?

Tone Deafness

We all have someone in our family we might accuse of tone deafness; it might be a little cousin whose vocals chords haven’t fully developed, or an embarrassing dad trying to hit the high notes in a Queen song. No matter who it is, we might wish they would just stop singing; after all, they can’t carry a tune through a paper bag! Here’s a question for you, though: when you call them on the phone, do they know who it is based on your voice? When a song comes on, do they recognize it? Are they really tone deaf?

Tone deafness, clinically known as amusia, comes in two forms: congenital and acquired. Acquired amusia is as a result of brain damage, and is often coupled with other problems. Congenital amusia, conversely, affects only about 4% of the population. It’s a bizarre occurrence, because it does not affect the ability to distinguish between voices and emotions in human speech; it only affects the ability to recognize facets of music. A person with congenital amusia would not be able to recognize an out-of-place note in an unfamiliar melody; they can’t differentiate between dissonance and consonance.

At first glance, this appears totally out of the ordinary; after all, if they can distinguish pitches when people are speaking to them, shouldn’t they simply be able to learn music? Here’s where things get interesting: infants are incredibly sensitive to music at a very young age. They can appreciate musical scales, and they understand concepts of consonance and dissonance. That means most people come pre-equipped with an ability to process and appreciate music, unless you’re in the unlucky 4% who truly can’t pick out one melody from another. (If you’d like to learn how to play Dissonant Chords on guitar, check out this great article.)

That means if you can hear music, understand consonance and dissonance and appreciate a good melody, you’re probably not tone-deaf at all! You just need to train your ear and your voice to better pick out and sing notes, and this is something that can be done with a healthy dose of practice. You can test this out yourself; when someone else sings a note, try to sing the same note as them, or try to sing the same note being played from a piano! If you can, you’re not tone-deaf, just out of practice. After you get some experience, you’ll be astounded by the things you can do from your voice; you’ll be able to find harmonies everywhere, and create beautiful melodies on a whim.

Folks who feel like they’re tone deaf are often shy about performing in public. That might cause them to avoid music lessons. We wanted to solve that problem; after all, if you love music, there should be no barrier between you and getting better. To do this, we’ve created a plethora of quality and affordable in-home music lessons, so that you can practice in the comfort of your own space and develop your skills before you take it to the big times.

The Music in Mood Regulation Scale

Music is powerful; it can make you think, make you feel, make you dance, even make you fall in love. Whether you’re playing or listening, there’s a lot music can do to shift your perception and change your experience; sufficient experience with music can even change your worldview, your way of hearing and understanding the world. The wide array of experiences that come from listening to music can seem hard to categorize, so a researcher in Finland decided to make it easier. They constructed a scale to evaluate how people use music to regulate their mood, the aptly titled Music in Mood Regulation Scale (MMR).

The scale was targeted towards adolescents, who will quite often listen to music as a technique for regulating their emotions; as such, the survey for developing the scale was taken by people from 10-20 years old, with a mean range of 15.01. The scale was made to target listeners of music, specifically because not everyone plays an instrument or sings; that said, when you’re playing a piece, you usually feel it. There’s no scale for playing music to regulate mood that I’m aware of, but it feels like this scale should apply to a piece you’re playing for catharsis, as well.

The scale posits 7 different categories for the use of music in regulating emotion. The first is Entertainment, which is pretty self-explanatory; the use of music to create, prolong or enhance positive feelings. The second, Revival, is familiar to anyone who uses a jam to get pumped up before work; it’s the use of music to get energy when you’re stressed or tired. The third, Strong Sensation, is familiar to listeners and musicians alike; it’s the use of music to create an intense emotion, anything from transcendent euphoria to deep sadness.  The fourth, Mental Work, is the use of music to provoke thinking, or to create a space suitable for contemplation.

The four categories discussed above all relate to using music to create new emotional states or awareness; the last three are for coping with negative emotion. The first is Diversion, which is quite simply the use of music to distract yourself from unpleasant thoughts with pleasant music. The second is Solace, the ability to find something akin to empathy for negative feelings within music, and by doing so, finding comfort and acceptance. The last is Discharge, the release of negative emotions by listening or singing along to music that expresses those same negative emotions.

This scale on iitsown doesn’t necessarily tell us anything we didn’t know about how people use music to regulate emotion, but by its development, gives us a framework through which to evaluate which listening techniques are most useful, which could allow researchers to develop studies for music therapy while all using the same basic scale. At Academy of Music, we offer in home music lessons; given the power of learning music to train both the emotional and rational mind, and the comfort learners find in their home, it’s a method we wholeheartedly endorse.

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