Dec 03

My 300-day streak – Gretchen King

by in Interviews

Gretchen King has been singing and writing songs since she was a child. Along her musical journey, she’s spent time in church choirs and musical theatre groups, sang with Jerome Dillon (of Nine Inch Nails) as Nearly, and fronted Ohio rock band Phantods. These days, she divides her music time between several projects: writing electropop songs with her close collaborator Chris as Kabiria, jingles and voiceover work, and writing, recording, producing and mixing her debut solo album.

Gretchen keeps herself match fit by practicing with Melodics, and recently achieved a landmark 300-day streak. She was introduced to our software by Chris, who suggested it might help her sharpen her skills. Once she started using it daily, Gretchen realised she’d found an easy and enjoyable way to practice and improve her skills. As she puts it, “Five minutes a day is completely manageable.” Below, Gretchen discusses the journey to hitting the 300-day mark and going beyond.

 

Congratulations on your 300-day streak! Tell us about it?

Thanks! I was able to lock into a daily routine right away because Chris was using Melodics as well [and] we had a slight competitive edge going. We would remind each other… and check in to see how our progress was going. Initially, I had a great streak going. One night at midnight, I realised that I had forgotten to practice that day. I was so bummed that I didn’t practice for a month! Then I realized that while a streak is amazing, it’s more about putting in the work and enjoying the process. I quickly got back on track again.

 

Do you have any advice for users looking to lock in like this?

My advice to someone looking to practice regularly is to set reminders in your phone and try to practice at a time that can be consistent. If the hour you get home in the evenings always varies, then practice first thing in the morning. Record your practices and take some notes on how you feel about it. Ask yourself questions about the process of learning and mastering the lessons. There is always a pattern there. Recognizing your learning style and the patterns with it helps to relieve the pressure that comes with learning something new. Occasionally revisit those videos and even go back to try previous lessons. You’ll find that the lessons you struggled with early on will eventually be a piece of cake.

 

At what point did you realize that this streak was going to keep going for a while, and how did you feel?

By the time I reached 100, I had started cheering myself on every couple of days… It became a habit, like brushing your teeth. It’s something I do in my daily routine. Since it’s only five minutes a day, there really is no excuse. I’ve done Melodics in hotels, airports, even recently while riding in a moving truck! To be on a streak that is nearing an entire year feels really good. I’ve prioritized something that is important to me: improving my music skills so that I can express myself better creatively.


Once you were in a daily pattern, what sort of benefits did you start seeing?

The biggest benefit I’ve seen is the realization that small steps taken every day will get you to where you want to go. I’ve never actually seen something like this in a way that I was able to recognize it as it’s happening. I used to try to take giant leaps, and I’d get frustrated and worn out, eventually giving up. Recognizing that there is a different approach to learning that is actually easier and more enjoyable has changed my overall mood. I feel more relaxed and put less pressure on myself while feeling more certain that I will reach my end goal.


How has your use of Melodics changed over the course of this run?

Melodics has really helped me understand the process of learning. Now I have a clearer understanding of how I learn. It’s always the same no matter what level I am on. When I start to get it, I will do great, and then after a few minutes, it’s like my hands don’t remember how to work! It’s as though I’ve fatigued myself. That’s when I know to move on to another lesson or call it quits for the day. I used to get frustrated, but then I’d notice that the very next day it was as though something happened overnight. The next day, I understood the lesson and could do it with ease. You’ve got to get past those moments of frustration to move into the moments where it clicks.

I always go a little over the 5 min mark. When I’m really enjoying myself, I allow myself to keep going for as long as I want. On days I’m not into it, I get only the daily goal completed, and I don’t beat myself up over how badly the practice went. I know I will feel different again soon enough. There’s no need to build any sort of negative association with it.

 

Nov 23

Step1 On Turntablism And The Power Of Practice

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Step1 (Stefanie Anderson) is a music producer, turntablist, live electronic music performer, music educator, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco’s Bay Area.

Stefanie’s musical practice is built around the trifecta of beat-making, finger drumming, and turntablism, skills which are all on full display in the impressive new ‘Scratch, Sample and Push’ live performance video routine she recently created for Ableton. Find out more about Stefanie’s live performance and finger drumming here, this time we talked to her about her background in turntablism, songwriting and production, and the power of practice.

How were you introduced to turntablism, and how did you develop your skills there?

My introduction to turntablism came in 1995. A friend came over to my house, and he had a copy of the DMC World Finals on VHS tape! That was the year that Roc Raida was representing the USA in the battle. My mind was totally blown by scratching and beat juggling. I thought to myself, “One day I’m going to learn how to do that.”

Flash forward to 2004. I moved to LA, and my roommate was a DJ. He had a setup in the house, and he knew that I’d been a dancer all my life—tap, jazz, break dancing, etc. He was like, “You have good rhythm, I bet you’d pick up DJing really quickly.” He taught me the basics, and I was hooked. Scratching was my favorite element of DJing. I bought Q-Bert’s DIY Skratching Vol. 1 DVD, and I spent countless hours learning how to cut.

I think what I loved about scratching is that it’s so percussive. As a dancer, my favorite style was tap. And obviously, tap is also very percussive. You create intricate rhythms with the taps on your shoes. Basically, it’s foot drumming. So that’s one reason I was really drawn to scratching. I really enjoyed tapping out percussive rhythms with my right hand on the crossfader and using my left hand to manipulate the record.

After honing your craft as a turntablist, you developed your skills as a songwriter and a producer, which led you to finger drumming. Could you talk about this journey?

I’m a nerd at heart, and I love learning. When I get interested in something, I naturally gravitate toward classes. So when I decided to learn music production, I started taking private lessons with a producer in San Francisco. But I also wanted to improve my songwriting skills, so I worked with a piano teacher for a little while to learn music theory. As a bass player, I never had to play chords, so harmony was new to me. I also took a few music production courses online. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for experimentation. It’s an important part of any creative endeavor, but I also think the right teacher or the right course can really accelerate the learning process.

In our last interview, we talked about your new performance video for Ableton. How much practice do you put into your live performance routines?

It’s a pretty ridiculous amount of practice. After I come up with a routine, I have to memorize all the parts and get them up to tempo. If the drum pattern is fast or complicated, it could take a few days before I’m finger drumming at the target BPM. After I’ve got the whole thing memorized, I have to practice it over and over until I can perform the routine without making any mistakes.

Obviously, the more complicated the performance, the longer the process takes. With the “Keep It Real” routine for Ableton, it took three weeks of practice – maybe a couple of hours a day – to get to the point where I could execute it perfectly every time. But that was on top of the hours it took to create the song, figure out how to adapt it to a live context and memorize the parts. All in all, I probably worked on that routine for five weeks. And it was only a 2-minute performance!

Do you have any advice for people who’d like to create their own performance routines?

For people who are looking to explore hybrid performances of any kind, I guess my advice would be to start small. My first routine was “Cutthroat,” where I used Push to finger drum a beat on-the-fly, and then I scratched vocals on top of the beat. The Ableton project only had two tracks: a MIDI track for the drum rack and an audio track for the scratching.

That was the first phase of my exploration, and gradually I learned how to incorporate other elements. My Ableton project for the “Keep It Real” routine has eight tracks, and I use all of them in 2 minutes. I also added a MIDI foot controller for that performance, so it was way more complicated than “Cutthroat.” But starting with a simple setup helped me wrap my head around all the possibilities offered by a hybrid performance.

Sep 28

How finger drumming made Step1 a better music producer

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

Step1 (Stefanie Anderson) is a music producer, turntablist, live electronic music performer, music educator, and entrepreneur based in San Francisco’s Bay Area. Since 2016, she’s run the Sequence One music production school with her business partner Lenny Kiser. As a music maker and performer, Stefanie’s personal practice is built around the trifecta of beat-making, finger drumming, and turntablism, skills which are all on full display in the impressive new ‘Scratch, Sample and Push’ live performance video routine she recently created for Ableton. Below, Stefanie talks about putting together the routine, and how Melodics helped her developed her finger drumming skills. She also explains her thoughts on turntables in the digital production era.

 

Let’s talk about your new performance video. In it, you combine Ableton Push and a turntable to create a blend of real-time sampling, beat-making, finger drumming, and scratching. What was it like putting them together?


It was a learning experience. Everyone’s workflow is different, but for me, the song idea comes first. Then I figure out how I’ll adapt it for a live performance. Which parts will I play on the controller? Which parts will I play on the turntable? How will I transition between them? You’re going to run into limitations in terms of what’s possible to play live, so the original song idea inevitably evolves as it gets adapted for the stage. It’s a fun problem-solving exercise. I always learn new tricks in Ableton every time I work on a routine.

Your video included some excellent finger drumming. How did you develop your skill set from DJing to include beat production and live electronic music performance?

For me, production and finger drumming evolved simultaneously. As soon as I started making beats, I ran across YouTube videos from artists like Jeremy Ellis and AraabMusik. I knew that I wanted to learn finger drumming right away. It reminded me of turntablism: it’s tactile, fun, rhythmic, and it requires skill and technical mastery.

At that time, though, there really weren’t any good resources for learning finger drumming. I found a couple of YouTube tutorials and learned how to play very rudimentary hip-hop beats, but it was hard to progress any further. Then in late 2015, the Ableton newsletter landed in my inbox, and it had an announcement about Melodics. I signed up immediately!

How did using Melodics change things for you?

Melodics was a game changer for me. After a couple of weeks of daily practice, I was able to play the ‘Amen Brother’ breakbeat. I was so excited. As a crate digger who loves all the classic breaks, it was satisfying and motivating to learn that drum pattern. I just kept going from there, unlocking as many levels as I could. Last year, I made it to Level 18, but I’m stuck there because I’ve been working on other things. I wouldn’t have advanced to my current skill level without Melodics, so it’s still so crazy to me that my ‘Keep It Real’ lessons are available in the Melodics app.

I also think that finger drumming made me a better producer, which is why I said the skills evolved simultaneously. With practice, my drum vocabulary expanded, and eventually, my patterns became more complex and interesting.

 

Before this interview, you told me that you view the turntable as a controller and as a tool in your production arsenal. Could you expand on your thinking here?

The traditional view of a turntable is that it’s a record player. You don’t create anything with it; you use it to play someone else’s music. But for the turntablist, the turntable has always been an instrument.  Here’s what I mean: With scratching, essentially you’re isolating and manipulating certain sounds. Most people associate scratching with vocals, but turntablists can scratch any musical material – drums, horns, strings, pads, chords, you name it. You can even use the turntable’s pitch control to transpose a sound while you’re scratching it.

What other piece of hardware lets you isolate, manipulate, and transpose audio content? A sampler. That’s why I think of the turntable as a controller or instrument. It’s just another way to work with audio in a music production environment. For me, the real benefit of using a turntable is that it adds a unique element to my live performances, and it lets me combine my love of beat-making with my love of scratching.

 

Sep 19

Q&A With The 2018 Finger Drumming Champion

by in Interviews

When he was growing up in Tours, France, French-English hip-hop/electronic beatmaker, producer and finger drummer extraordinaire Beat Matazz dreamed of, much like his heroes AIR, being surrounded by analog synthesisers, sequencers, and drum machines. With time, as he fell in love with the music of Flying Lotus, Samiyam, Prefuse 73, James Blake, Hiatus Kaiyote, and Amon Tobin, caught their vibes, and began to build his own collection of customised studio gear and software. Electronic music production led him towards his current area of expertise: finger drumming.


Beat Matazz has been presenting his furiously funky finger drumming routines to live audiences since 2015, but earlier this year, he took things to a new level when he ousted all challengers to win the Sample Music Festival 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin with a ridiculous routine. Since then, he’s been building relationships with Herrmutt Lobby’s Playground App, Akai, and us here at Melodics. With an upcoming Melodics lesson based on his winning performance in the works, we spoke with him about finger drumming and his time at the competition. Check out his winning performance here (scroll to 2:33)

 

Could you talk a bit about your musical experiences before you started finger drumming?

I started out at age six as a classical percussionist, xylophone, marimba, and timbales. When I was a teenager, my teacher agreed to teach me drums as I wasn’t to keen on classical music. These experiences gave me the rhythmic skills to drum in many bands for many genres. I played pop, hip-hop, electro-funk, experimental, world music and even in a marching band.

 

How did you end up adding finger drumming to your skill set?

In parallel with drumming, I started using music software like Reason and Ableton to make music for fun. After years of composing, I became frustrated and bought my first Akai MPC500 [sampling workstation] off Leboncoin (the French version of Craiglist). Hardware-based beatmaking made sense to me, and a gigantic world opened up. It allowed me to link the unlimited creative paths afforded by software to a tactile instrument. I remember sampling George Gershwin’s ‘Summertime’ and thinking, “Oh my god this sounds like a perfect hip-hop instrumental!” At the time, I was attending an art school in Nantes. I was very focused on sound art and music. They kicked me out, which gave me the perfect opportunity to fully devote myself to music.


You discovered finger drumming by using the Akai MPC500. What was it about the process that inspired you to devote so much time to developing your skill-level?

I love the portability of pad controllers and the musical genres that rely on them. The research process you go through to create these very personal textures and sounds are very important to me. You can tune samples far more than you can tune a real snare drum. I can also put more of myself into the rhythms of the music by playing them. I love the trance state I enter when I’m in my home studio. Thanks to my previous drumming experience, and having created tracks with software, I already had the core skill sets. I just needed to combine them. I tweaked my finger positioning and started to work and play hard.

 

What sort of approach did you take when you started practicing your finger drumming?

I didn’t know what I was doing when I started. I’m very spontaneous when I create and have no habits. My approach is always the pursuit of pleasure, and feeling the desire to create. Since I started playing and making music, that hasn’t changed. My first sample mine was old vinyl I found in flea markets. Even the most shitty records sometimes have two chords that make my day. Fat basses are what I need to feel, so I got an old analog synth: the Korg MS-10 (plugged into the Korg SQ-10 sequencer). The people who designed that marvelous device where thirty years ahead of their time. It’s become a spine to my beats.

 

How did you transition into taking part in events like the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition?

After spending years developing my techniques, I knew I had to make the world know what I’ve worked for. Last year, I won a battle in Paris at the Bataclan, a legendary 90s hip-hop venue. Being acknowledged by the hip-hop network changed how I looked at myself and my music. It also made me be more specific in my thinking around who would be hearing my music. Battle audiences know exactly why they’re at the end. Battling is so raw; you find out what the crowd thinks of you instantaneously.

 

What were your thoughts on the SMF 2018 Finger Drumming Competition in Berlin?

The skill level was very high in Berlin. The team was so nice and devoted, and so were the participants. When I was there, I understood that I had found my place. Geeks were able to scratch and jam for hours, with or without spectators. It was a space where musicians were speaking a common language, all with the feel of a real community, and the codes and sounds that quote the subculture. It was real and vibrant, and it felt so good to be part of that experience. The experience was great. We need to gather together and feel those vibes more often.

 

Stay tuned for a new Melodics lesson from Beats Matazz. Find out more about him here on YouTube or Facebook.

 

Sep 04

Sherry St. Germain on the importance of daily practice, improvisation and simplicity

by in Interviews, Pro Tips

 

Whether you’re talking about theatrical live performance, EDM studio sessions, film and television soundtrack/sound design work, musical education programs, or her Akylla duo project with Saratonin, Sherry St. Germain is an accomplished and assured achiever. Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, she’s a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer/songwriter who has – among other accomplishments – collaborated with Steve Aoki, Excision, Stafford Bros, Revolvr, and Genesis, performed on a flying piano for Cirque Du Soleil, and written music for male stripper comedy Magic Mike.

In conversation with Melodics, Sherry expands on her thoughts around the power of daily practice,  improvisation, musical simplicity, and taking the time to share what you’ve learned with others.

You can also play the Sherry St. Germain and Akylla Melodics lessons by following the links below.

Keys lessons
Pads Lesson


How much time do you spend playing music?


If I’m not playing, I’m producing, or teaching, or performing, so I’m kind of always in a music mode. I’m the type of person who leaves the studio and then goes home to the studio. I was raised in music. There are a lot of people that I teach on the side; I don’t even charge them, I teach them cause it helps me. I had a lot of teachers, who helped me on the side. When you teach something, you become a master at it. That’s the last stage, like in martial arts.

I think that whole statement “those who can, do; those who can’t, teach” is bullshit. When you do teach you explain things, you break them down in layman’s terms, which is a different type of thinking. When I teach something, I learn as well, which is really really nice.


What would you suggest to someone who wants to make music part of their daily life?

Start out playing for five minutes a day. If you can do five minutes a day then eventually five will turn into ten mins, and ten mins will turn into fifteen minutes. You can use it as a way to learn and share. Often, I’ll decode a song and its chord changes, because I want to learn it. Afterward, I’ll show it to my friends, and I’ll try to perform alchemy with it. The majority of the people I work with on production in the DJ world, don’t know a lot of theory, so they will ask me if things are in key, and I’ll advise them on works and doesn’t. Sometimes just making sense of a song musically is a good way to practice and stay inspired.

When I’m doing production work for Film and TV, they send me songs to learn, but they don’t want you to rip them off, they want you to make something with the same energy. You have to think about what makes a song appealing by dissecting it. This has been really good practice for me as well, learning which chord changes resonate with people. That’s been a good way to practice as well.


Any other tips?

Sometimes I practice by playing along to mixes online. I’ll pick a different mix, chill hip-hop, house music, whatever, and play along. That way, every day you are gonna be stimulated with something new. When you learn something new every day, you get happier. Happiness releases endorphins which you associate with learning, and you want to do it more. Why I like playing along to mixes is it’s a way to find cool things you can learn. If you love house music, practice to house music, if you love trap music, practice to trap music. Do the things you love, and you will only get better.


How important is improvisation to what you do?


I’m doing it all the time. I think every day is kind of an improvisation. You always end up having to wing it. I prepare as much as I can, but a lot of it is improvised, which stems from being excited when you hear stuff. Something inspires me, I want to do something like it, and you end up off in a completely different direction. Music makes you use both sides of your brain.


Speaking of using both sides of your brain, what’s your take on finger drumming?

I think it’s dope. I love finger drumming. It’s so good for technique cause it helps with piano. It helps with everything. It’s so great for hand-eye coordination, and it makes you better at rhythm in general. I think finger drumming and piano go hand in hand. Melodics has finger drums, keys, and v-drums, and all of those are going to help you in whatever you do. They all rely on elements of rhythm, and keys even though they aren’t rhythm, they have a rhythmic sense to them.

When you’re in a band, even if you’re the best drummer in the world and you do all the fanciest shit, nine times out of ten no one will want to play with you. They want someone who can groove and keep time. People don’t even care about the fancy stuff half the time; they just want the meat and potatoes. John Bonham [from Led Zeppelin] wasn’t a crazy drummer as far as soloing goes, but when you listen to his groove, it’s everything. You can’t help but move to it.

Aug 03

Q&A with Sherry Saint Germain

by in Interviews

Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, Sherry St Germain is a classically trained multi-instrumentalist, producer, and singer/songwriter. Over the last fifteen years, Sherry has applied her diverse skill sets and energy to high profile film and television soundtrack work, theatrical live performances, studio sessions, and her Akylla duo project with Saratonin.

Most recently, Sherry has been involved in production work and collaborations with a who’s who of EDM and dance music talents including Steve Aoki, Excision, Stafford Bros, Revolvr, and Genesis. From playing a flying piano with Cirque Du Soleil to writing music for male stripper comedy Magic Mike, and beyond, she’s never short of a story or ten.

In this Q&A, Sherry discusses how she got started playing music, entering the EDM scene, and how the mechanics of music keep her inspired and interested.

Play lessons by Sherry St Germain and Akylla by following the links below to open the Melodics app:

Keys lessons
Pads Lesson

How long have you been working in the EDM scene for?

Since around 2015. Before that, I did Film and TV soundtrack work for twelve years; twenty-four-hour turnaround jobs. I worked on Magic Mike, Something Borrowed, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Knight Rider, Nashville, all those shows. I would do whatever they asked me to do because I wanted to learn. After twelve years of that, I started ghost producing for some popular EDM artists. I was writing for people who were making a lot of money in the EDM world, and I thought “Hey, I could do that too!” I switched over, and my first break was with Steve Aoki.

I’m new to the scene, but I have been making electronic music for fifteen, maybe seventeen years. I love the unity vibes in electronic music. We share sound packs and plugins between producers, and it’s very nurturing. People want you to grow and will show you what they’ve learned. If you do that with your friends, you all get a lot further. There is more power in numbers.

Could you tell us a bit about how you got your start playing music?

Basically, my mother was a classical piano teacher, and my dad was a singer. Growing up from two years old, I had to practice classical piano every day, for four hours a day, until I was 14. We grew up on the road with my dad on a tour bus. We were surrounded by jazz musicians. We were just surrounded by music my entire life. I didn’t really have a choice but to get into music. When I was 14, I stopped playing for a while. I’d been forced to practice every day, so I really started to hate playing. I would run away from home, and they’d call the cops to look for me, all because I didn’t want to practice [laughs].

Imagine if Melodics had been around.

This is why Melodics is so dope. When I was a kid, I had to practice playing baroque piano pieces, which I didn’t want to play. If I’d been able to practice songs I liked, it might have been a different story. In hindsight, classical music is really really good. It’s encoded with sacred geometry, and the mathematical makeup of the universe, so it’s good to learn that stuff. What I would have liked, would have been if it had beats or something I could move to. I needed a groove. I do a lot of music teaching work with teenage girls. I’ll take their iPods, see what they are listening to, decode it, and help them learn what they want to learn. Unless you’re learning something you love, you’re not going to want to learn it.

How did you go from stopping to playing again?

I started to party in the rave scene and was really inspired. From there it flipped very quickly to wanting to practice piano over dance music. I would take napkins and write down the music theory of songs I liked; then go home and try to recreate them. I was infatuated with the sounds I was hearing, but I didn’t want to practice traditional music, so I started practicing to house, dance, and electronic music.

Could you expand on your ideas about learning something you love into some advice for people starting out with their playing?

Find songs you love and learn them. They’re the ones that will inspire you. I learn the chord structure of songs, and I start to reverse engineer them. Then, I’ll make a completely different track that was inspired by one of them. When you study songs, you start to reverse engineer by default. You start to learn chord changes, patterns, and rhythms that you can incorporate into your own music. Eventually, you’ll just have this toolbox of turnarounds, changes, and rhythms you can mix and match into anything. Anything you are learning becomes part of your vocabulary. Music is a vocabulary, and you’re learning all these little phrases. You’ll have this toolkit of all the phrases you’ve learned you can pull out at any moment.

Jul 30

Q & A with Color Theory

by in Interviews

 

Brian Hazard, better known as Color Theory, is an American singer, songwriter, keyboardist and electronic music producer from Huntington Beach in California. His personal career highlights include winning a grand prize and Lennon Award in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, recording three songs for the Ubisoft Just Dance series, and having songs featured on MTV’s The Real World.

Over the last twenty-five years, Brian has crafted his own singular visions of what synth-pop and synthwave music could be. Across nine albums, as many EPs, and countless singles, Brian has imagined and evolved a soundworld where the gloriously colourful synth flourishes, uptempo drum machine funk, and expressive sentimentalism of the early eighties never went out of fashion. Far from retro or throwback, his is the work of a longstanding believer and lover who continued to groove under the light reflected off a pixelated 8-bit disco ball. As he puts it, “Somehow I never outgrew the 80s.”

In stolen moments between studio sessions and family time, we caught up with Brian to find about how he approaches playing and producing music.

You can also play the Color Theory Melodics lessons for Pads, Keys and Drums by following the links below:

  • Color Theory – In Motion (Pads)
  • Color Theory – In Motion (Keys)
  • Color Theory – In Motion (Drums)

    Who are your musical inspirations, and why?

    Historically, Depeche Mode is my biggest influence. I love how they create a unique sonic universe in every song. I grew up on Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths. Later on, I fell hard for David Sylvian and Japan, which brought more of a literary aspect to my music.

    Over the past few years, I’m less influenced by particular artists or bands, and more by arrangement or production ideas I spot in the wild. Maybe it’s the opening theme from an anime or something in a commercial. I think that’s because I, like most people, don’t listen to music the same way. Spotify changed all that, probably for the worse, but it is what it is.

    Finger drumming and keys are great starting points for people learning about music. How do you see them as fitting into a music maker or producers skill set?

    It doesn’t get more fundamental than rhythm and melody! Breaking down a song into its core elements is a great way to learn how music is constructed, and drums/bass/melody is generally enough to stand in for the entire arrangement. The piano provides the best visual model to understand high versus low notes, and eventually to learn scales and chords.

    What’s your background with piano/keys and drums/pads?

    I started out on the piano in middle school, played in the drumline in high school, and ended up with a degree in piano performance. While I have formal training in both keys and drums, and even have a little experience playing drum set (well, a lot if you count Rock Band), I confess my drum parts are a weak link in my production!

    Back in college, I was really taken in by virtuosity. I aspired to learn all the Chopin Etudes, and I regularly listened to Chick Corea, Joe Satriani, and other technical masters. But at some point, I decided that showmanship was nonsense. Perhaps I’ve been overcompensating with overly simplistic arrangements ever since.

    If you could start out again with keys and production, what areas would you initially focus on to develop your chops from?

    I was exposed to a lot of hocus-pocus pseudoscientific, technical concepts that took years to dispel. Setting aside the pedals, the only aspect of sound production we have under our control at the piano is the speed of key descent. The hammer is thrown at the strings, and from that point on, we have zero influence on the resulting sound. Knowing that you don’t have to waste your time worrying about unnecessary wrist movement, “finger vibrato,” and other nonsense. So at the piano, I’d focus on making sure every finger is touching the key before it’s pressed. I used to call that “playing from the key” but that sounds rather obvious. There’s probably a better term.

    With production, again there’s so much nonsense out there. Learn how to EQ and compress. That’s 90% of the battle. Multiband compression, spacial imaging, harmonic synthesis, M/S encoding, and other “advanced” techniques are generally not essential, and can easily become a distraction.

    Is there anything else central about playing and production you wish you could go back in time and tell your younger self?

    My biggest mistake was thinking I had to figure out everything myself. I should’ve interned at a local studio or hired others to mix my music until I learned the ropes. Instead, it was all trial and error. I could’ve really used a mentor. Keep in mind this was before you could find a dozen tutorials on every aspect of music production on YouTube. But the concept still applies. It’s better to spend a little money and learn from the best than to waste time going down dead ends.

Keep up the practice 🙏

Jul 03

Why playing music daily is more powerful than you think.

by in Interviews

Words: Martyn Pepperell

Prior to working at Melodics, New Zealand’s Rodi Kirk built a rock solid reputation as a dependable party rocker, Red Bull Thre3style Championship winner, touring DJ, and record producer under the alias Scratch 22. Alongside his production efforts for himself and others as Scratch 22, Rodi was one-third of crucial low-profile jazz rap trio The Unseen, and legendary Auckland party collective The ARC. In 2017, Rodi took up the role of Head of Education and Content Strategy at Melodics.

Before his daughter’s birth, Rodi Kirk had spent the majority of his decade-plus career in music working as a producer and focusing on the end goal of creating recordings. “After she was born, I didn’t hit record for a year,” Rodi explains. He’d just come out of a particularly demanding jazz project and wanted to take a break to get into the groove of fatherhood, but without losing his connection to music.

Instead of writing, recording, and producing, Rodi started spending a small period every day playing music, with no goals but to create a regular sense of musical engagement for himself. As he continues, “It was a really powerful experience because, at the same time, I had the realisation that by existing in a moment, my music became a lot lighter with more variation, and it felt really cathartic. It was my way to relax.”

“I had the realisation that by existing in a moment, my music became a lot lighter with more variation….It was my way to relax.”

By engaging with music as a process and not an object, Rodi was tapping directly into the idea of Musicking, and the historical context of music before the 20th-century recording revolution. A concept formalised by New Zealand-born musician, educator, lecturer and author Christopher Small (1927-2011) in Musicking, his 1998 book of the same title, throughout his academic career, Christopher advocated for the return to music as an activity. He riffed on thoughts around musical relationships: the relationship between composers and players and the relationship between players and listeners and dancers. In the process, Christopher presented a 360-degree vision of music through musicking, one where the shared engagement of all involved determines the quality of a musical performance.  

By stepping away from recording, and simply reveling in playing daily, Rodi was the performer and the listener, and musicking was giving him what he needed. “If your end product is to create a musical product, that is fine, but it carries a lot of baggage with it as a result of that process,” he explains. If your end goal is to create a musical experience for yourself, that’s a lot lighter and often more enjoyable.”

Like Christopher, Rodi sees music as a process or activity, which if you consider the history of music, is what it was for tens of thousands of years. Over the last six or seven decades, music’s role as an active activity within daily life subsided, as recorded music created a passive relationship between producers and consumers.

For Rodi, the rise of DJing and the technology Melodics trades in like pad controllers, is a reminder that people once had, and still want, an active engagement with music. So why not deliver an easy, intuitive, and encouraging entry point into shifting people’s relationship with music back into the engaged, everyday mode our ancestors knew it though? As such, in line with Christopher’s thoughts, Melodics lessons, and the deep practice learning process they draw from, serve to create an easy workflow for integrating the act of musicking into our daily routines, and reaping the multitude of associated rewards that follow.

“A simple but really powerful idea …that greatness isn’t born; it’s grown.”

“Music learning can produce a sense of accomplishment, build self-confidence, enhance emotional development and strengthen discipline and intellectual curiosity,” Rodi enthuses. “It’s widely proven that music and arts, as part of a curriculum, has huge flow-on benefits to other aspects of education. Confidence is key, and positive reinforcement and building good habits around practice creates a really powerful feedback loop.” Practice doesn’t always make perfect, but it can lead to something close enough. “A simple but really powerful idea we have here is that greatness isn’t born; it’s grown.”