Jul 17

Demystifying Music Theory

by in Fundamentals

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

Jul 17

Tips for playing live

by in Fundamentals, Pro Tips

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.

Or

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.

Jul 06

7 questions with Mark de Clive-Lowe.

by in Interviews

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.

Want more…hear what Mark has to say about his Melodics Keys course Bassline Bootcamp or open the app and play some of Mark’s keys lessons.

 

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.”

 

 

Jun 20

Ain’t it funky! Learn the fundamentals of funk drumming.

by in New Lesson Tuesdays

Written by Sigrid Yiakmis

‘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:

  1. 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.
  2. In Hats Off you’ll get accustomed to shifting the open-hat.
  3. Move Your Feet introduces a kick variation that tightens up the beat.
  4. 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.
  5. Song Structure combines the above variations into a structured order that will make up the bars of the final song you’ve been learning throughout the course.
  6. OK, Give The Drummer Some. Play the entire song for the final lesson.

Congrats, you’re on your way to becoming a funky drummer 🥁


Course details:

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

May 03

Stop practicing your mistakes

by in Fundamentals

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!

May 01

Talent is practice in disguise

by in Fundamentals

 

How often have you heard someone say, “I don’t have a musical bone in my body”? The way you think about your own talent has a powerful impact on motivation and learning. Here’s why learning to adapt a growth mindset to practice can boost your progress hugely – and how Melodics can help.

As Jonathan Harnum states in his book, The Practice of Practice, “Talent is practice in disguise”. We often think of ourselves as having a well defined set of talents, based on our upbringing, our DNA, or some otherworldly gift – bestowed on us from the musical gods. The reality is that the way we think about this actually affects how we can learn new skills and our motivation to do so.

Research by Carol Dweck in 1986, discovered that there are two kinds of intelligence, a fixed belief in your own talents, and the belief that these can change and grow. When you think of your own skills and talents as limited, you’re instantly building a barrier to learning and you’ll tend to take on tasks in practice that you’re more easily able to achieve rather than try something harder, gaining new knowledge through practice. The effect on motivation from having a fixed mindset to learning is huge. It’s one of the reasons why so many people want to learn instruments but never end up trying, or start but don’t follow through.

Have a think about these statements, and how you can reframe them within a growth, rather than a fixed mindset.

I’m afraid to look stupid. I hate failing.

Try to think of failure as something to help you progress. It’s just a reminder to work harder, and to approach the same problem from a different angle. A little bit of practice each day is the way to get better. Remember the Melodics 5 minute daily practice goal.

Remember, you’re not demonstrating your skills to yourself, you’re learning. Praise your effort, not your results.

I only like to play what I can play.

Seek out challenges. Try a lesson at a higher grade, but slow it down using Practice Mode. Focus on getting it right, rather than playing at full tempo. This is deep practice and the best way to progress. Read more on that here.

Persistence in the face of failure is what separates musicians from everyone else. When you make a mistake, you should understand it and work out the best approach to fixing it.

Finally… Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s just music. Have fun!

For further reading on this topic, check out “The Practice of Practice” by Jonathan Harnum.

Feb 20

Level up! Win a Novation Launchkey 61 keyboard

by in Melodics

What better way to celebrate your progress on keys than winning a brand new keyboard from our friends at Novation.

How does it work? It’s simple:

  1. Play our keys lesson of the month, Reach Out (Grade 3)
  2. Take a photo or video of your setup while you’re giving it a go. 
  3. Post your photo or video on Instagram and tag @MelodicsHQ @WeAreNovation and add #MelodicsLevelUp
  4. You’re in the draw.

What are you waiting for? 

Competition ends in two weeks so get playing! 😎

Prize Draw Terms & Conditions

  • The prize consists of one (1) Novation Launchkey 61 Keyboard.
  • Entries Open at 12:00pm, 19th February 2018 (NZST) and close at 5:00pm, 7th March 2018 (NZST).
  • Prizes are not transferable and are not redeemable for cash.
  • Only one entry per person will be accepted.
  • The winner will be notified via Instagram.
  • Winner must make contact with Melodics within 7 days of being notified of their win, or another winner will be selected for the corresponding prize.
  • Melodics reserves the right to feature the name and location of the winners in future promotions.
Jan 18

Smashing through the plateau

by in Pro Tips

It’s getting close to February! You’ve changed your diet (no foods starting with B), decided to learn Esperanto, vowed to run 5 miles a day, and make it to grade 20 in Melodics.

Great! But you’re still stuck on grade 6.

When you begin it’s normal to see rapid improvements. When that stops it’s natural to feel you’ve hit your limit of ability when in reality you’ve just hit a plateau. How do you move beyond your plateau? The answer is to challenge yourself in a new way.

Some examples of this could be taking lessons from an easier grade and…

  • emphasising your weak hand / fingers
  • playing blindfolded
  • speeding up lesson patterns as fast as you can

You can also think about the specific skills you’re finding hard. It could that you’re struggling with finger independence, endurance or syncopation. To work out what you might be finding difficult in each lesson, check out the tags for each lesson when in lesson list view.

smashing-thru-shot-2

A good way to work on these skills is to use the “Browse by” button to sort by tag to show the full list of lessons relating to that skill – then you can go back and practice this on some easier grade lessons and slowly work your way back.

It might seem like going backwards, but in the long run it’ll help your progress.

smashing-thru-shot-1

Moving past the plateau isn’t just about practicing more, it’s about practicing the right thing.

Set yourself a challenge this week and let us know how you go!

Dec 15

Deep practice: how it can help you get results faster.

by in Pro Tips

Melodics uses the principles of a method of learning called ‘Deep Practice.’ It’s the process of slowing things down, zooming-in with focus, and deliberately building a great result step-by-step. These ideas draw heavily from the research of Anders Ericsson and Daniel Coyle and although they’re often applied to sport and athletic training, they work just as well for building muscle memory and developing musical skills.

Here’s how Deep Practice works within a Melodics lesson:

1: Pick a lesson and listen to it as a whole. It’s important to get familiar with the music you’ll be performing using preview mode and then orientate yourself to the finger placements.

2: Divide the song into small steps or components and practice and memorize these separately. Then, link them together in progressively larger groupings. You’ll notice that in the early grades we do a lot of the dividing into steps for you. As the grades increase and the steps become more difficult, you might find it useful to divide them up even further using practice mode and setting loops.

3: Play with time, first slowing the action down and then speeding it up. Slowing down helps you to focus more closely on errors, creating a higher degree of precision. Use features in practice mode such as auto-bpm or wait-mode to build up your muscle memory and reflexes. Be patient with yourself, this can take a while!

4: Pick a part of the song you want to master, reach for it then evaluate the gap between your target and the goal and start again. You can track your progress each session and see how you’re progressing. Detecting mistakes is essential for making progress. This error-focused element of deep practice makes it a struggle, a process of ‘brain stretching’ which is likely to be slightly frustrating but which leads to growth.

5: Keep practicing like this every day. This is the crucial part that so many people forget but even a small amount (5 minutes) of this deliberate and focused practice every day will lead to better results than large infrequent practice sessions that don’t have a structure and focus.

Give it a go and let us know how you get on.

To learn more about the ideas and research on this subject, check out the following books: Anders Ericsson ‘Peak’ and Daniel Coyle ‘The Talent Code’.