Anniversaries, Seasons, & Callings

Written by Music Motive Director, Steve Hilstein

Today, August 1, 2018,  we celebrate the 7 year anniversary of Music Motive!

SLO.1On this day, 7 years ago, we opened our San Luis Obispo location at 3440 S. Higuera Street, Suite 130, and renamed our studios in Paso/Templeton and Nipomo. It marks the day we changed our identity from, primarily, a drumming program into who we are now – private music lessons form modern contemporary instruments, and presented our first music lessons as Music Motive! Since then, in 2014, we added a 4th location in Arroyo Grande.


The “drum lesson shack” where Steve first gave lessons.

However, for those of you who may not know our history, this business actually began in a garage on Broad Street in San Luis Obispo, where I gave a young man his first drum lesson in 1981. Little did he know, It was my 1st drum lesson to give!

I had just moved to SLO, the year before, to join a band. The audition took place in Southern California, where I am from. I got the gig on the spot, and two weeks later, moved to SLO-Town. For eight years, I played in bands, taught drums, and furthered my musical education, including a year at P.I.T in 1985 at Musicians Institute in Hollywood. On February 2, 1988,


The first Drum Circuit location at 285 Buchon, SLO.

I opened the Drum Circuit drum shop. After 20 years of music retail and building a drum lesson program, I sold the the retail part of that business, but kept the drum school and the teachers, including Dale Moon and Wyatt Lund, who are still with us. It was then, in 2007 we became “Drum School 101” and eventually, by 2011, we grew to what we are today as “Music Motive”.

I’ve often been asked why I sold The Drum Circuit. There comes a time when you feel drawn to make a change and move on. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy having a drum shop.


Interior of The Drum Circuit – 2002

It had many joyful rewards and I have no regrets, but I eventually became frustrated
with not having enough time to create more opportunities for music education. After that transition I was able to create and develop the Bucket Busters bucket drumming group, a Music Scholarship program for kids, and Music Enrichment drumming, guitar, piano, vocals, ukulele, and drama

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“Beat The Odds” program.

classes in about 40 SLO County schools. More recently, I have been able to present a drum circle/self esteem program to local schools (created at UCLArts) called “Beat The Odds”.


With the help of our brilliant Music Motive staff, we have created a music supply and accessories retail store to serve local musicians as well as our private lesson students. We’ve also developed programs like Student Spotlight, Play With The Pros, Band Jam, Student Showcase, Kids Drum Circles, Rock Lab, Rock Band Camp, promo pic-2Music Romp, Tiny Tunes, and others. Some of these have come and gone, but I look forward to see what new and creative ideas are still ahead!

As I previously mentioned, “there comes a time when you feel drawn to make a change”. Once again, I feel a calling to move on to some other things, musically related, of course. I’m very excited to announce that I am developing a Christian music ministry called, “Cali-Christian Music Events”. With the help of many, I intend to produce and promote bands, singer-song writers, local Christian music concert events and other performance opportunities.

I’m not actually leaving Music Motive entirely, however, my workload will go from five-six days a week to about one. My wife, Stefanie, of almost 20 years will be managing our business, as I will take on the roll of consultant and a few other tasks. My new title is “Director-at-large”. You may see me around still, and for the most part things at Music Motive will continue as normal.

Steve Hilstein

Listening & Awareness for Musicians

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich


How often do we listen to a friend’s story, and realize halfway through that we weren’t really listening at all? How many times have we practiced playing a song, only to realize we’ve been mindlessly going through the motions?  Listening and awareness go hand in hand, and are both vital to our musical lives.

A large part of a musician’s work is to listen selectively and holistically. To be a selective listener means focusing awareness on a specific element of sound. Whether that’s the steady rhythm, an evolving harmony, or a quick change in dynamics, a musician has to pay close attention in order to keep track of it. To listen holistically means hearing the “big picture” of a song – how all the elements interweave and create the totality.

66713_522071644514456_1555723029_nAs teachers, we’re required to be intuitive listeners. We need to observe all the little details of a student’s performance – the subtle movements and positions, where the eyes are moving, or any moments of hesitation. We have to listen for changes in tone, and especially any emotions that come through the music. For a teacher to know which areas of the student’s musicianship need attention, listening must come first.

Musicians are always students – always learning and improving. Being aware of the self requires listening and staying completely in the present moment. There are never-ending opportunities for growth in our musical understanding and our performances. Ear training is a huge part of musicianship development, especially in collegiate music programs. But there is more to this kind of listening than recognizing the interval between two notes.

static1.squarespaceSelf-awareness asks that we look openly at each aspect of how we sing or play an instrument. It requires that we’re prepared to notice inconsistencies in technique, and accepting the idea that we can be wrong. Remaining open to criticism and change can be really difficult, and it’s often a hindrance to improvement. The other side of this is being skilled enough to notice when our technique is correct, which shouldn’t be underestimated!

Playing music is a doorway to learning about the self and building essential listening skills. These are especially important lessons for musicians, but can also be utilized in other areas of life. Being a good listener takes practice and consistent mindfulness, but the benefits definitely make it worthwhile!

Beat The Odds: Drum Circles For Kids

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich and Steve Hilstein

It’s no secret that music has extraordinary benefits for a person’s well-being. Whether someone listens to music for motivation, plays an instrument to release stress, or sings to communicate with another person, the music becomes a channel for healing and positive growth! When kids are exposed these benefits at an early age, they learn to use music as an effective tool in their daily lives.


Recent session at Music Motive

REMO‘s Beat The Odds program is a facilitated drum circle where children come together as part of a community. The intention is to teach life skills and provide an opportunity for expression, rather than teaching perfect technique. This program allows elementary students to develop social skills and concentration, discover connections, and manage feelings. It helps to build an open and integrated community of children by encouraging cooperation and reflection

BeatTheOdds-Type-1Beat The Odds is a new opportunity for kids to experience group drumming with peers and a trained facilitator at Music Motive. This is an evidence-based program that is supported by experts in fields such as Music Therapy and Psychology. UCLArts and Healing has researched the effects of this specific program and found that it has tremendous benefits for schools and youth communities. The drums are especially therapeutic for kids because they are inclusive – they allow for participation regardless of previous musical experience, as well as options for participation that are comfortable to each child.


This Summer, Music Motive has included Beat the Odds in their Summer Music Camp program, and in the Fall it will be offered to various elementary schools throughout San Luis Obispo County. Some of Music Motive’s teachers have trained in North Hollywood to learn about this program and become facilitators. The training brought together a group of people from all different backgrounds and with a common goal to help children through music. Music Motive is excited to bring Beat the Odds to our community and share it with local youth!

For more information, look at UCLArts and Healing’s website, or the Beat the Odds section on our website here.

Rock Lab Report: San Luis Obispo

Written by Lauren Vukicevich and Noah Robertson

DSC00555 Music Motive recently started a new program called Rock Lab, where students come together every weekend and practice as a band. Drum teacher Noah Robertson facilitates the group, giving them an opportunity to discuss ideas, plans, and musical choices. Noah updated the Music Motive staff on the happenings of the most recent Rock Lab at the San Luis Obispo studio:

“Last week we had a band meeting and decided we were going to get serious about getting ‘show ready’. I gave the group some advice on some things we could do to improve the band and start REALLY preparing for an upcoming performance. They are really motivated! These changes have been well received and we are slowly executing our decided goals, and the progress is showing!

DSC00566For instance, last week I gave the singer an objective… her job was to come back this week and be able to sing an entire song with NO LYRICS OR MUSIC STAND. She came back this week and nailed it! She was able to perform Boulevard of Broken Dreams by Green Day, in its entirety, without using a lyric sheets or a music stand. Now we can begin focusing on things like stage presence and start to move away from ‘hiding’ behind the mic stand. She was proud to come back and show us she could do it. Good stuff! We got our guitar player standing up and switching channels now. Our drummer is no longer tapping the drums and cymbals, she is really PLAYING!

I noticed the band was playing primarily Pop and Country tunes before. Which is great! But I wanted to give them a challenge… I added ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana to our set list last week. My reasoning was that we really needed a rockin’ tune to contrast with the rest of the songs we are working on… I explained that it would be good to have a high energy song to open and/or close the show with, something to really WOW the audience, which really peaked their interest. This is ROCK LAB after all! None of them were really too familiar with Nirvana, and at first they seemed somewhat skeptical of the tune. Especially our singer… not a huge fan of rock, she says. That was exactly my plan though. Once I explained the method to my madness, they were more than willing to give it a try.

DSC00592I used myself as an example: I primarily play Hard Rock and Heavy Metal – however, playing Jazz, Funk, and other styles – it has allowed me to take bits from other genres and apply it to what I know best. I talked about broadening your musical horizons and how it can help you grow as a musician. Now I had their interest. I also talked about what it takes to be in a band with other people and how it often takes compromise. A lot of bands are made up of members who have vastly different tastes in music, etc.

Today, was our first time rehearsing our new song, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’.
It couldn’t have gone better! We managed to get through about 75 percent of the tune today! And it sounded GOOD! They were having a blast with the song and are totally into it now. BIG morale boost! They said it was the fastest they have ever learned a song… Awesome!”


Music Motive presents: Catch Phrase LIVE at SLO Donut Company (793 Foothill Blvd) on Feb. 28th, 2016 at 6PM!

The Music Motive SLO Rock Lab Program is taking a huge leap forward with our first live performance EVER! The show will feature Music Motive students: Olivia Fernflores on drums, John Fairweather on guitar, and Athena Wilson will be singing.

The group has been hard at work preparing for their first live performance as a band, and they are finally ready to show “the fans” what they have been working on! Catch Phrase will be playing an amazing set of Rock and Pop songs from the past to the present.

For more information, or to sign up for Rock Lab, check out our website here.

Voice Connection: The Importance of Singing

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

There’s one instrument that we carry with us all of the time: the voice. In the history of the human species, our relationship with music has evolved tremendously. Music has become less of a community activity, and has developed into a performance-oriented business. With this comes the idea that people are either trained musicians, or they are part of the audience population. Humans are born with voices that are meant to express emotions, communicate, and sing!

The biggest barrier to finding our voices is this mental block – an ingrained cultural belief that somewhere along the way, we lost our right to use our voices. Some common phrases in our society today are “I can’t sing” or “I’m tone-deaf” (which is actually extremely rare). Singing isn’t about sounding perfect – in fact, most singers sound bad before they sound good – it’s about listening and adapting. The first step to getting your external voice to match the sound in your mind is to listen carefully to the initial sound, and persist long enough to make adjustments.


Music Motive students singing at a Student Spotlight event.

Connecting to your voice is a liberating experience that allows you to understand sound and yourself in a new way. Singing freely is a true sonic representation of each being, and provides an opportunity for self-discovery and growth. Singing together is also an authentic way to communicate emotions or ideas, which greatly benefits connections and relationships.

Throughout indigenous cultures all over the world, singing is a universal phenomenon. There is no performer and no audience – everyone participates and everyone listens. Singing is ingrained in daily life and accompanies various activities, making them more enjoyable and memorable. There is no hesitation for using the voice because it is just a part of life, and there is no judgment surrounding the tone of anyone’s voice because there is no “correct” way to do it. People who sing in this natural way have a deeper connection to their voices and to the sounds that make up music.

7577_01, 3/31/10, 5:22 PM, 8C, 7920x10443 (165+336), 138%, Repro 2.2 v2, 1/30 s, R59.9, G36.3, B58.1

“Singing Alive” by William Leverette

Learning to listen to your own voice is an incredibly valuable skill, especially for people who want to improve their overall musicality. Regardless of your preferred instrument or level of singing experience, getting in tune with your voice is the most effective way to internalize different pitches and timbres. Listening to music and practicing any instrument can increase awareness of sounds based on auditory reception. However, singing leads to a different kind of awareness because the sound travels to your receptors through your body rather than through the air. Consciously externalizing your voice will lead to a stronger and more precise inner voice, which helps with learning any instrument!

Music Motive Locations

Written by: Darren Johnson

As an instructor at Music Motive, I frequently get asked about our studios and their locations. For anyone who has been wanting more information on this topic, look no further! This article will serve as your all-inclusive guide.


Music Motive has studios in four locations; San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Templeton/Paso, and Nipomo.

SLO.5San Luis Obispo: This is the heart of the Music Motive studios, located at 3440 S. Higuera Street #130. Not only are there a multitude of studio rooms for private lessons here, but it’s a store with music accessories too! As if that didn’t make it cool enough already, the showroom there is the placeholder of many Music Motive events, such as the Band Jam, Student Spotlight, and the studio where the Bucket Busters rehearse.

unnamed (2)Arroyo Grande: The newest location of the Music Motive studios can be found on 1115 E. Grand Ave (next to Donna’s Interiors). It’s been converted from an old house into a private lesson studio with three studio rooms. The whole place has a really nice feel. It also has a sweet avocado tree in the back yard! What more could you ask for?

PASO.2Templeton/Paso: This studio is located at 130 Easy Street #5. This studio has a huge main room, big enough that you could do cartwheels all over the place (I won’t judge). There are also two studio rooms for private lessons; I particularly like the sound of the drum kits at this studio.

Nipomo: The quaint Nipomo studio is at 338A W. Tefft Street. This is the smallest of the four studios and has nice vibes. It has two studio rooms for private lessons. I’ve also recently heard from our director Steve Hilstein that Nipomo has the most consistent weather in the United States. Go Nipomo!

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So there you have it, all of the key information needed to know which studio caters to your specific where-a-bouts. Feel free to sign up for lessons at any location on our website, call us at 805-543-0377, or drop by our San Luis Obispo studio to register, pick up a set of strings, or play with our puppy!



The Creative Process and Songwriting

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Photo taken of my songwriting notebook in a recording session.

Photo taken of my songwriting notebook in a recording session.

There are several factors involved in the songwriting process, including the development of melodic themes, rhythmic patterns, instrumentation, and (sometimes) lyrics. When choosing an instrument, musicians tend to go for one that reflects their identity and personality. An instrument can make a huge difference in the way someone is able to express their creativity, and it also influences the style of a song.

Expertise and musicianship allows for creativity because the playing becomes automatic, and the attention is free to explore other areas of the mind. The more fundamental skills that a musician has, the more possibilities they have to draw from. Songwriters may choose to collaborate at any of the stages, which allows for a combination of ideas and increases the possibilities for any song.

One theme that seems to be important in the creative process is intention. The biggest difference between improvisation and songwriting is whether or not the musician intends to remember and repeat the song. Improvisation has a unique quality of being unattached to the music, which can often lead to a beautiful flow. If the goal is to keep a song, the flow may be interrupted by having to write things down or go back to a section to change something. Improvisation and songwriting are both incredible experiences, and there are qualities from each which can be utilized with the other.

Finding inspiration on a public piano in British Columbia.

Finding inspiration on a public piano in British Columbia.

I recently finished writing and recording an album Pathways for my senior project at Cal Poly, which was part of my research on the Psychology of Creativity and Musical Composition. During this process, many of these themes were apparent in each stage. There seemed to be two kinds of songwriting for me – one in which I felt completely free and able to improvise, and one in which I had a logical desire to write. The resulting songs in these two categories sound distinct, and my connection to each is vastly different.

I also noticed that my experience with music allowed for creative freedom and flexibility. For example, I originally wrote one of the songs on guitar, but decided in a recording session that it felt more like a piano song. Having the skills to play both instruments allowed me to quickly adapt the song to piano, which dramatically changed the overall tone, including the collaborative instrumentation. I left the recording studio feeling confident in my strengths, as well as understanding the areas in which I wanted to improve. This project was an incredible experience which gave me a new perspective on the creative process and the psychology behind songwriting.

These songs can be heard at:

The album cover for my project.

The album cover for my project.

Back to School? Form a band!

It’s that time of year again, when summer break comes to an end. As a result a mass exodus to return to our scholastic programs begins. Whether it be College, Highschool or even Grade school; many artist fail to see a hidden opportunity that education programs bring. The opportunity to mingle, meet and gather other ‘like musicians’ desiring to perfect their craft in a group setting also known as a ‘band’. There are too many famous bands to list that have been formed in this manner.


I started my first band at age 13, and surprisingly I was the only one in the band that was enrolled in a music class. I found my guitarist playing an acoustic guitar on the school yard lawn. We located our bass player while playing loudly in the garage where we practiced. He was cleaning a pool nearby and heard our racket. A knock on the garage door and few minutes later he was performing with us. The keyboardist was located through friends at an adjacent school. This process was no accident, as I used every opportunity I could to tell others I was forming a band, and it worked. Word of mouth spread and the other like-minded musicians found me. I was the youngest in my first band, but I was the one that got it started…so can you!

Other tools that can be used to find your future band members:
  1. Music Shops and Music Schools (Some still have bulletin boards with musicians seeking one-another or events where musicians can meet and perform).
  2. Craig’s List (Post or review ads online from others),
  3. Linked In (for more advanced band member searches),
  4. ReverbNation (Popular Band and individuals can be found here by location),
  5. Band Mix (Online site that can be searched by location, instrument needed etc),
  6. Word of Mouth (Still a very powerful approach, simply tell people what you are doing).
  7. Open Mic (For our more mature players many clubs offer open jam nights for musicians)

    The above is just a sample of what has worked for me.

1617611_788238024564482_6265535853277723506_oWhat about home schoolers?
Many private music instruction studios now have programs that introduce students to other players and aid them in forming bands together. One such program is the“Rock Lab” at Music Motive located in San Luis Obispo on Higuera street.
More information for this program can be found here:

7 Tips to Creating a Successful Practice Routine

7 Tips to creating a successful practice routine

PracticeHow often should an individual rehearse their instrument? As an instructor, it is a common question asked by my students and their parents. Is there a magic number of days or hours that equates to proficiency? What I do know is that I can tell when my students do not practice at all. I can also tell when I have slacked off from my own private time to rehearse and/or learn new progressions.
As a result I have provided a list below of seven tips to get your rehearsal schedule on track…

1) Discipline. Create a checklist chart and stick to it: A daily checklist practice chart is a great tool, as it is not only a constant reminder, but a fantastic measuring device. Place your chart in a location that is always in view such as your bathroom mirror, refrigerator door, etc. Create a table splitting the week into days, next breakdown each day into hours or minutes. Each time you pick up your instrument, check off the allotted time rehearsed. This will provide you with historical data, by recording your patterns or lack of. Such information can be very useful to review, by providing patterns that can be studied and used to improve your scheduling times, increasing session count etc. I have included a link to a chart I created, that you may download and print for your own use if desired.
Downloadable chart link-> Get Busy Practice Chart
2) Choosing the proper time of day or night: We all have what I call power hours. A time of day or night that we excel in more than any other part of the day. Identify your power hour, and if possible schedule your practice time accordingly to take advantage of your accelerated greatness during that period of time. Sometimes a good time slot is more relevant to not being disturbed. If that is the case, identify the most private time you can rehearse your instrument and get into the zone.
3) Don’t play to a failure point: Physical fitness organizations have discovered this rule. They tell you to not exercise to failure, i.e. which means don’t keep doing push ups until you cannot do anymore repetitions. The same concept carries over to music, such as a new guitar player with tender finger tips. If your hands begin to hurt, stop. Wait until they do not, and start again. It is better to have several segments through-out the day, than one long segment that could equate to injury or thwarting your desire to play due to pain.
4) Quality not Quantity: I had a drummer friend who would boast about how long he would play each day. His time on his instrument was indeed impressive. However, when I stopped by multiple times to watch him, I found that when he did rehearse he simply repeated the same exercises over-and-over again never introducing anything new. This is a common issue among musicians, to get comfortable with a fixed routine and stuck in a loop. Sure some areas such as your warm-up and basic routines are great to repeat, but make sure you constantly insert new techniques, charts, and your own experimentation on a regular basis.
5) I’m a natural. A prodigy, do I still need to practice?: Yes. As a matter of fact, if you are indeed a natural/prodigy, you should find it more enjoyable than the average student to play your instrument. As a result a natural or prodigy rarely has to be coaxed to rehearse, as they are naturally in the zone with their instrument.
6) I don’t want to be a pro, I just want to be good enough: Remember that you chose this instrument because you enjoy playing it. Good enough equates to as good as you want to be. I find playing my instrument to be a stress reliever, relaxing and in some cases even a spiritual experience. If you are going to shoot for the stars and be a pro in the music business, then I do recommend nothing less than one hour a day minimum. 
7) Never stop learning: So you’ve been playing for 30 years, do you still need to rehearse? Yes, you do. There is always more to master. There are always new techniques and styles of music being created and yet to be discovered. Being at the golden stage of your instrument is often thought of as “I don’t need to practice, I’ve got it down.” But that statement couldn’t be further from the truth. Don’t take your gift for granted. Polish it, sharpen it, practice it.

And most of all…enjoy it.

Speak Studios: An Interview with Vince and Daniel Cimo

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Vince and Daniel Cimo are not only talented musicians, but are also incredible people. Their passion for music, combined with their openness, makes them a pleasure to both work and play with. Check out what they have to say about their local recording studio!

Design by Katrin Dohse.

What is Speak Studios? How does it work?

Speak studios is a recording studio co-op located in San Luis Obispo where members pay a monthly fee for access to professional recording equipment and a treated studio space.  It is a collaborative community where musicians can work together and create. Members meet every two weeks to discuss musical projects and book sessions.

What was the inspiration behind Speak?

Our inspiration stemmed from a dissatisfaction with the traditional recording studio, which is often expensive and impersonal. The average artist does not have the production budget for the amount of experimentation needed to craft a unique sounding recording, and customers of the traditional studio often leave sounding generic. On the flip side, we have all of that equipment that really does make a difference. Speak offers an alternative, where artists can affordably craft their sonic masterpieces while learning how to engineer in a professional studio.

Daniel recording vocals at Speak.

What are each of your musical/production backgrounds?

Daniel: I began studying piano when I was a young child.  When I was 10 years old I began playing the violin.  In high school I played in symphony and taught myself how to play the guitar.  I went on to study music at Augustana College, focusing on violin until I moved to SLO to help Vince build Speak and learn recording engineering.

Vince: I also studied piano as a child, and eventually began playing guitar and drums, among other various instruments. When I was 17, I had an opportunity to convert a state storage facility into a low-budget studio. I’ve been hooked on sonics ever since. After working in various studios, I came up with the concept for Speak and really think it has the potential to change the way musicians approach recording.

What has been the most rewarding part of having a recording studio?

Hands down, the most rewarding part is the community. Since our inception, we have been host to all sorts of artists, who have all begun to collaborate and become friends. San Luis Obispo has an amazing amount of musical talent, but lacks a centralized location where musicians can create without fear of noise ordinances. I firmly believe that in our short time open, we have strengthened and connected the SLO musical community, which feels amazing.

What vision do you have for the future of Speak?

There is a certain energy that we have cultivated at Speak that feels like it has the potential to go big places. We’ve only been open about 3 months, and already have 7 full length albums nearly completed. People are creating, people are learning and it’s just getting better and better. We anticipate reaching capacity within the next 6 months and hope to expand to another location, where we can be even more public facing. In the short term, we are also going to be getting involved with local radio and venue’s to bring the music to the people.

Check out their facebook here.