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:
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.
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 (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.
Without a doubt, music gives back what you put into it. There is no substitute for time spent ‘shedding’ on your instrument. There is no shortcut to either technical proficiency or (more importantly), conviction and ‘a voice’ in your playing. It is a humbling and never-ending journey.
Practice is cumulative, and muscle memory is built through repetition over time. For this reason, I often tell beginner musicians that 5 minutes a day will be much more beneficial than two hours once a week. As your playing and understanding grow, your practice sessions may demand more time, or become more conceptual than mechanical. You might also find that the breakthroughs happen after an hour or so of banging your head against the wall. But this is down the track. For now, regular time on the instrument (or program as our modern landscape may have it), and building the habit of practice are what will get you the best results.
Everyone learns differently. One aspect of effectively practicing and internalising pieces of music, musical techniques, and musical vocabulary is developing an understanding of how you learn.
These concepts quickly become quite cerebral, so in the spirit of this piece (as I’ll soon explain), let’s focus on something immediately tangible.
How do you learn a passage of music you find technically difficult?
If I had a one-word answer, it might be ‘microscopically’.
The process explained below for guitar is used in all Melodics lessons. The pieces are deconstructed into steps, so you can gradually rebuild from the foundational elements up to the full parts. Remember, if anything feels too hard at any stage, repeat it, slow it down (use the tools in Practice Mode), and zoom in.
Let’s use Link Wray’s seminal tune ‘Rumble’ as an example (which a fledgling guitar player may find some aspects of challenging):
The first 8 bars of this 12 bar blues are pretty easy. To me (and for simplicity’s sake), the tune is a slow blues shuffle in 4/4. I think the sheet music has it as 12/8. You strum a Dsus2 on beats 3 and 4 before the downbeat, then strum an E ‘on the one’ and let it ring for a bar and a half. Then repeat. Then do the same thing but go to an A. Then the same returning to the E. Provided you know these chords, this will take about ten seconds to learn. If this is confusing at all, have a listen to the link and it will become clear.
In bars 9-12, there’s a B7 chord which is likely less familiar than the first 3, followed by a 2/4 bar (which feels natural enough it won’t catch you off guard), followed by a descending E minor pentatonic scale using the open strings. Again, use the recording for reference.
Most people starting out on guitar don’t find playing chords especially difficult, but changing between them in time is another story. My fairly amateur keys playing can attest to this being a cross-instrumental issue. Even if it seems counterintuitive now, most people will play a song from the start and trainwreck it at the same place over and over. And wonder why that part always goes wrong.
Let’s assume the first 8 bars of this song have become pretty solid after a bit of practice. But when you practice, you are you still playing the song from the beginning every time and falling off the rails in the same place every time. In this case, Bar 9. Surely it would make sense to isolate the challenging aspect, and focus your energy there if that is what is causing you problems? Here’s where we can start zooming in.
First things first, you need to get the B7 chord sounding good on its own. Zooming in further, I would make sure the left-hand fingers are in the correct position, then play the notes of this chord (arpeggiate it) one at a time with my right hand. If any of them are choked or aren’t speaking properly, something in the left-hand needs to adjust. Until they all sound cleanly, things can’t progress. Maybe working on just the B7 is the practice on this tune for today.
Once that chord is under control, the change to it from Dsus is next. I would zoom out slightly and focus on just looping the D to the B7 back and forth. First without time just to get the muscle memory happening, and then in the correct rhythm for the song. You can make these exercises musical. I would set a metronome to a similar tempo as the tune (or initially slower if necessary), and make a 2 bar loop. Part of the reason I chose this song as an example is that it is slow and simple. On something more uptempo or complex, I would always start practicing with a metronome well below the true tempo.
Once this feels good, zoom out again. Now might be a good time to play the tune from the start to bar 10, and put your new part in context.
Finally, we have our minor pentatonic run. Like many parts, this sounds cool so difficulty is assumed. It’s actually very simple. However, it will almost certainly trip you up if it isn’t looked at in isolation first. Zoom back in. Use the same process. Play just the descending E- pentatonic scale a few times. Do it in halves if you need to. Then introduce time. You can either keep the metronome in 4/4 and play them as a triplet feel, or move the metronome over to divisions of 3. Either way, start slow! I can’t emphasize enough that the slower and smaller you make parts, the easier they get, and the more solid your understanding and foundation of that music will be. With that in mind, maybe just getting that run under your fingers so it sounds badass and confident is today’s practice. Maybe you work on it just for 5 minutes.
Assuming this lick is sounding good, zoom out a bit. Using the same process, put the last 4 bars together. Once that feels good, include the Dsus2 chords which lead into bar 9. Once this is all grooving and locked in, I think you’re ready to play the whole tune and rock it.
From personal experience of learning to play things way beyond my skill level, I believe anyone can learn to play anything if they have the patience to break the pieces down into tangible amounts. Even the most intricate music can be attainable by zooming in and working on a few notes or a chord change at a time. It’s the patience to do so, and the focus involved which is the true skill.
Abraham Kunin is a producer, songwriter, session guitarist, and recording engineer. He has toured internationally with a wide spectrum of bands, theatrical productions, and festival stages. abrahamkunin.com
One reason music theory is so valuable is that it offers us a shared language. It gives us names for the notes we play and their relationships with one another.
Although music is a language in its own right, having names which represent these arrangements of notes and rhythms makes the communication and notation of ideas faster and clearer.
In this clip well worth watching, the great musician and educator Victor Wooten beautifully conveys his perspective on ‘music as a language’ (and other deep insights):
I learned theory comparatively late compared to a lot of my peers. I came to University with only a rudimentary understanding of some of the more familiar scales, underdeveloped ears, and was unable to read a note on any clef. How I got in I don’t know, but one of the most daunting barriers to making this stuff ‘click’ was understanding the world of music jargon and terminology. It’s easy to be overwhelmed by ‘root’, ‘tonic’, ‘mode’, ‘scale’, ‘minor 3rd’, ‘major 3rd’, ‘5th’, ‘V’, ‘Bb’, ‘A#’ etc etc. Often there are multiple names for the same thing. Like any language, you probably already have some understanding of what the thing is (in this case an aural familiarity), you just may not have heard it called by that name or given that label.
As a guitar player, I sidestepped theory for longer than I could have on other instruments such as keys. Typically, pianists learn to read as part of their early education, and identifying the notes is a little more straightforward visually. With these cornerstones, much of the subsequent theory falls in after this. However, in the modern world of the producer, it is very likely many using keys are finding themselves in a similar place to myself as a younger guitarist.
To some degree, building your own understanding of theory has a lot to do with decoding its jargon. My own process is not so far in the past that I can’t recall how frustrating it can be, and how easy it is to think ‘what’s the point?’. It takes time, but it is now without a doubt one of the skills in my proverbial toolbox which makes a career as a musician possible, and from that toolbox, one of the most commonly drawn upon.
Over the next few weeks, we will introduce theory in digestible portions to coincide with the practical elements of Melodics lessons. Like any kind of practice, it takes repetition, and as such I will end up covering the same ground multiple times.
The first things we’ll look at are:
What notes are we playing?
What chords are we playing?
What key do they belong to, and what is their position in this context?
Abraham Kunin is a producer, songwriter, session guitarist, and recording engineer. He has toured internationally with a wide spectrum of bands, theatrical productions, and festival stages. abrahamkunin.com
My best piece of advice for performing, is that the first time you play a piece in front of people, it shouldn’t matter.
The first time you perform a song in its entirety that you’ve been learning shouldn’t be for a high stakes performance such as for an exam or competition. That is too much pressure. The first time you play in your live electronic duo shouldn’t be to a packed room of 150 people who have all paid $20. Playing to 20 people who you know and will smile encouragingly when you blast them with a slightly too loud hi-hat is a better idea. The packed room can wait.
The actual setup
I had a Piano exam around the age of 11 that was going to be on a Grand Piano. Up until that stage I had only ever played on upright pianos, and my wise piano teacher knew that the position of where the music sits on a Grand piano is higher. This could have caused extra stress and nerves for the real exam. A few weeks before the exam, I spent a few hours playing on the actual Grand Piano I was going to be examined on and was able to adjust to the much higher music location. When I arrived for the real exam, it was one variation I didn’t need to worry about. I passed the exam.
Now this is looking at the context of a performance where it is relatively straightforward, where it is just a Piano player checking that they can see the music and touch the pedals. Or perhaps it is a trumpet player ensuring they’re warmed up, in tune and have put in valve oil. Basic operational checks, like a Guitarist ensuring their strings are not rusty and the loose input jack is fixed. When you add any technical aspects, such as guitar pedals or amp variables, your preparation for performance should look like your real deal performance. I’ve have had students who haven’t used a fuzz or wah pedal enough to be totally confident, and then it adds another layer of nerves when they use it in their performance. Practice your instrument with the same setup as you will perform. This includes those who plug controllers into laptops.
There was a national competition I attended and one of the band members used a laptop, USB audio card and a hardware sampler/controller. The band walked on stage but couldn’t get the sound to work on the laptop and they spent 10 minutes trying. The musician hadn’t used the USB audio card much, and so didn’t realise that when you close a laptop, it defaults to the internal soundcard (I jumped on stage and rectified the problem). This problem not only delayed the competition, but more importantly the musician was visibly upset when they went to play. Technical setups such as modular synths, laptops or anything with more than 2 or 3 electronic sound sources require a higher level of confidence in their use to reduce nerves. Being consistent in how and where things are plugged in is less important than 15 years ago as USB and Laptops are becoming less temperamental. However, focusing on reducing the variables and thus things that could go wrong onstage will lower stress and anxiety. Then you can just focus on your performance, not the gear. (Note: updating software the day before performance is not a good idea. What happens if a little tweak of a menu location happens and you can’t find that parameter?)
Knowing your part.
Do I get nervous? Not if I know what I’m doing.
After playing music for over 30 years, I still get nervous, but I now know why. It’s down to two reasons:
I haven’t practiced my part enough and so I am only 80% confident I’ll get it right.
It’s that 20% of doubt that creeps in and affects my playing. If I can play my part totally correct at least 20 times in a row, then I know I’ll be fine. This applies for me playing in a Symphony Orchestra, busking on the street with friends, or DJing that great mix.
I don’t know what’s happening around me. This is because I am not totally confident of what is happening on stage with the other members of my band. For example, knowing the exact cues that the drummer will give when she is finishing her solo for me to start mine. In one of my bands, I do quite a bit of the signalling to move to the different sections, solos and improvised sections. It took a solid year of practicing what those signals were, including what to do when the others can’t see my raised eyebrows in low-light gigs, or when I’m wearing a cap and sunglasses! Once we felt secure in communicating with each other, then we all felt less-nervous and anxiety levels dropped.
There is a fine line between a performance having that spontaneousness from feeding off the crowd and each other, and the song collapsing due to key transitions being missed because the band members just didn’t know what was happening.
Playing in front of people
So if you’ve taken care of the above points, then all you’ve got to do is play in front of people.
When I’m working with individuals or bands in preparation for a competition that is judged on a single live performance, I ensure that they’ve performed their full set, as close to how it will be in the end, at least three times. I advise the first time be to 3 or 4 trusted friends and their teacher. The second time is in a more public space, but still controlled and with an encouraging crowd (students younger than them are usually good audience fodder). The third performance should be a high-stakes performance, such as a lunchtime concert, or assembly slot, but without the judging aside from the crowd clapping after each song. The important thing with this last performance, is to try and recreate all aspects of the performance. This includes walking on stage, talking to the crowd, changing guitars, changing synth patches and using stage monitors or in-ear monitors. At my school, we bring in a similar P.A sound system that the final competition will have, to give the students that experience of subs kicking in, the overall volume, and also to hear what it sounds like to have foldbacks, and FOH bouncing back off a wall. They have lights in their eyes, smoke machines, and are at one end of a big hall.
I know that performing three times is not ideal, but it is a good place to start in reducing nerves, anxiety and a fear of performance.
And remember, don’t make the first proper performance actually matter.
Martin Emo DJs and plays in 2 ½ bands on the Trumpet, Surdo, and in a Live Electronic Duo. He is currently studying a Masters in E-Learning at Victoria University, Wellington, NZ and is the National Facilitator for Te Kete Ipurangi Te Hāpori o Ngā Toi (Musicnet), an Examination Contractor for the New Zealand Qualifications Authority and a Music Technology mentor for EDnet and Midnight Music.
Mark de Clive-Lowe is an internationally renowned keyboardist, producer and DJ, based in Los Angeles.
Half Japanese, half New Zealander, he began piano lessons at age four. We had a chat with this master of the keys to find out what makes him tick. You can play Mark’s course here.
Tell us a little about your music.
I’m a studio producer and live musician. My most formative years were spent living in the UK for a decade from 1998 – deeply entrenched in the broken beat scene, collaborating with the best of London’s underground talent. In combination with my deep love for jazz music, that time spent in London informs a lot of what I do – whether I’m producing for a soul singer, lacing keys on a dancefloor joint or exploring something more experimental. Sometimes I’m writing for acoustic instruments, sometimes in an electronic setting, and often it’s a combination of both.
What’s your background with keys?
I grew up playing piano from a really young age in New Zealand and in my teens it was a mix of jazz on the piano and hip-hop on the speakers – I’d practice the piano inspired by people like Herbie Hancock, and try to make beats inspired by Native Tongues hip-hop. I’ve collaborated with so many of my favorite musicians and artists – Pino Palladino, Bugz in the Attic, DJ Spinna, Kenny Dope, Leon Ware, Kamasi Washington and dozens more.
How do you think the keys skills fitting into a producer’s music making ability?
I see instruments and being able to play them as a fundamental skill in music making. You can make music using a 16-pads interface or just a laptop, but there’s something so real and very human about making music using a traditional music interface – a keyboard, a drum kit, a guitar or any other conventional instrument. Even just having a bit of knowledge on a keyboard opens up new understanding and infinitely more possibilities in expressing creativity.
You have a unique style of improvisation. How do you incorporate keys into your music and your live performance?
Keys are my main interface to creating music – I have a USB controller keyboard hooked up to Maschine and Ableton as well as some hardware keyboards and sometimes a grand piano or Rhodes. I create and loop everything from scratch each show and really enjoy challenging myself to find new ways to approach the same themes from show to show.
What’s your all-time favourite song to play?
Any song that has lush harmony is a favorite for me. Harmony is the heart of the music and can bring so much emotion to a song. Whether the song is 100% electronic, acoustic, or somewhere in between, it’s one of the most powerful tools you have to create with.
Who is your biggest inspiration?
Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and J Dilla are three very special inspirations for sure.
What’s in your opinion the most useful aspect of keys to master for music production?
Anything that helps you move around the keyboard with a sense of confidence is more than useful. Every little skill or technique you can learn is a key to unlock the instrument to another level.
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.”
‘Ain’t it funky?’ James Brown reckons, over the top of Clyde Stubblefield’s improvised pattern on the 1970 track ‘Funky Drummer’. And he’s right, it’s funky. So funky that this uncredited solo by Stubblefield went on to become a ubiquitous drum pattern in recorded music and what’s arguably hip-hop’s most definitive drum sample. A quick search of ‘Funky Drummer’ on whosampled.com returns a humble 1,441 results.
Stubblefield is untrained and self-taught. His early influences were the rhythms of industry in his hometown of Chattanooga, Tennessee, where his dad worked in a steel mill. He put patterns to the sounds of his environment; train tracks, factories, washing machines. In his 1999 instructional DVD ‘Soul of the Funky Drummers’ Clyde acknowledges he can’t read music. If he felt it, he played it, and this ethos cemented his work with James Brown as the gold standard of funk drumming.
In this course ‘Ain’t It Funky’ we have taken aspects of Clyde’s style, those beats that feel ad-libbed and environmental – ghost notes, off-beat open hats, sly swung 16th notes – and created seven lessons that will leave you with a foundation for funk drumming. Each lesson we’ll encourage you to adapt to your own environment by introducing a small variation that significantly shifts the feel of the groove. To complete the course, you’ll bring those variations together and play them out in a complete song. If you can already hold down a basic rock beat then this course is for you. Once you’re confident with funk drums, you can pretty much add the hip-hop beat to your résumé, too.
Here’s how you’ll progress through the course:
The first lesson in the course, The Main Groove, lays out the bare bones of the song. You’re introduced to the snare, hat & kick patterns that will help anchor you during your practice.
In Hats Off you’ll get accustomed to shifting the open-hat.
Move Your Feet introduces a kick variation that tightens up the beat.
Do You Believe In Ghost Notes? You will after this 4th lesson. Add an off-beat snare to the pattern that will complement the kick.
Song Structurecombines the above variations into a structured order that will make up the bars of the final song you’ve been learning throughout the course.
OK, Give The Drummer Some. Play the entire song for the final lesson.
Congrats, you’re on your way to becoming a funky drummer 🥁
Ain’t It Funky
Expand on a basic Funk beat with a series of variations in the style of Clyde Stubblefield. The variations will focus on kick, snare, open hi-hat placements and tom fills. Structure what you’ve learned into a song format to complete the course. Open course in Melodics
Don’t practice until you get it right. Practice until you can’t get it wrong.
Research shows repeating mistakes by just playing through without addressing problems can be just as bad as learning it wrong in the first place.
It’s counterproductive. Instead, try slowing your practice down, getting the notes right and nailing the tricky sections. It may seem fun to bash through pieces until you finally get it right, but if you’re not careful this can reinforce the incorrect neural pathways in your brain.
It’s important to take the time to master the details and then ramp up the speed. Practice Mode in Melodics is great for this, and you can use the Auto BPM feature to automatically increase the tempo as you get better. Repeating parts slowly to get the tough sections right will pay off over time.
Here are useful practice tips to get the most out of your Melodics time:
Create a quiet practice space, away from distractions.
This is the same thinking as not having a TV in your bedroom if you want to sleep better. Keeping your musical space set up specifically for practice can help reinforce the ritual and prepare you mentally for your session.
Begin with the end in mind.
Have a goal for your practice. What do you need to focus on today?
Practice smarter, not longer.
Map out your practice sessions just like a workout. Warm up with some easier lessons, or maybe go back and try perfect something you passed last week? You might then want to go and work on something specific like hand / finger independence or syncopation, before finally ending your session playing one of your favourite lessons.
Don’t always start at the beginning.
There’s nothing more frustrating than having to play through a piece you’ve nailed only to keep making a mistake halfway through. Rather than start at the beginning each time, work on that tricky part until you’ve nailed it – then try again.
Practice away from your instrument.
Visualisation can be really helpful to re-inforce what you’ve learned during practice. Just like in golf… Be the ball!
Let us know some of your favourite practice tips below!