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.

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“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.

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.

Stage Fright, Part 2: Tips

Written by: Lou Mars
Last week’s blog (read here) covered stage fright and my own personal experience with it. Here are some tips I have learned over time to aid a musician with stage fright –
1) Mind over matter: Program and convince your mind to realize that stage fright is not fear, but actually excitement to do what you do best in front of others! You are not scared, you’re highly anticipating your performance. Yes, you are excited! You are lucky to be where you are. Enjoy it.
2) Speed: Use caution to not jump out too fast on the opening song due to nerves. Sit back on the beat for the first three songs until you get your bearings locked in and are a bit more calmed down. Otherwise you can rush the set. Most musicians can calm down by the second or third song. It is especially important for a drummer to hold the beat as fellow musicians in your band may also be struggling by rushing the tempo.
3) Nervous Symptom Antidotes:
[Drummers] – If you suffer sweaty palms, use drum sticks that are “not” lacquered and instead have a dryer unfinished surface. Gloves will also do the trick, but cut off the fingertips to cool your fingers. If you toss or snap sticks, make sure to keep one handy and close by in an easy access holder for a quick grab. A drop is never as long as you think it is. Take your time, grab the stick and get back to the beat. It’s not how you miss, it’s how well you recover!
[Vocalist] – Water is key. Nerves will cause a dry mouth and make it difficult to speak. Keep your mouth and lips moist with water placed nearby for an easy quick grab. You can actually purchase cup holders for microphone stands that will provide this service. Breathing is also key to calm your diaphragm. Breath deep and exhale slowly.
[Strings] – Ensure the neck of your instrument is well oiled and clean. This will keep sweaty hands from leaving a residue on the strings and slowing your finger work. For guitarist, a pick holder installed onto the microphone stand to replace drop picks is key.
4) Paralyzation: Sometimes when playing in front of very large crowds I could feel myself tensing up to the point where my arms felt like they were not going to move. This type of paralyzation (deer in headlight) reaction is also common. If this occurs, clear your mind of thinking of the number of people watching you. Don’t look into the crowd at this point and instead take a deep breath, exhale slowly. Repeat. Think to yourself that it is no different then rehearsing at home. Once relaxed again, make sure to re-establish eye contact with the audience, smile and put on the performance you were meant to deliver. Once you get started this feeling will usually fade within 1 to three songs. Therefore, don’t stop. You are just minutes away from a great performance!
5) Anticipation: many of my fellow musicians (including myself) are more nervous “before” getting on stage, than actually during the performance itself. If this is the case, find a backroom to get yourself calm. Do not use alcohol or drugs to relax your body, as your adrenaline level will entice you to consume more quantity without a positive desired effect; such as actually calming your nerves. But such substance abuse will in fact affect your performance in a negative manner instead.
**Remember, you’re on stage because you worked hard and you deserve to be. The people watching are there because they want to enjoy your performance. Don’t forget to enjoy the experience as well, and as a result your positive energy on stage will be contagious not only to your fellow band members, but also to the audience.
Keep the music alive!

Essentials For a Home Recording Studio

Written by: Darren Johnson 

It has never been easier to create quality music; the modern musician has access to equipment that certainly would have generated jealousy and awe from artists of the past. With the advanced technology that’s available today, anybody with a passion for music can start building their own studio at home.


Something to keep in mind when starting a studio is that the scope of this topic is quite large. In order to avoid feeling overwhelmed, it’s best to begin with just the basics. Here, I’ve included five essential pieces of equipment for building your studio.

  1. Computer

Whether you go with PC or Mac depends on personal preference and which DAW you choose. However, considering how intensive the mixing process can get on your CPU, it would be a good idea to get some extra RAM.

  1. DAW

A look inside of ProTools

DAW stands for Digital Audio Workstation. This software will be where all of your audio and MIDI messages are sent and edited. The industry standard is Avid’s Pro Tools, while some other powerful options are Apple’s Logic and Ableton Live. Looking for something on the cheaper side? Garageband and Audacity are both great!

  1. Audio Interface

An Audio Interface, put simply, is where your audio signal is sent before going in or out of your computer. The interface you choose will make a big difference in audio quality, but it is important to also choose one that matches the needs of your gear. Want to play acoustic guitar and lay down some vocal tracks? Something small would probably be best. Want to record some big band jazz songs? You’ll want something with a multitude of XLR microphone inputs.

  1. Studio Monitors

These speakers are what you will be listening to and mixing your songs with. Ideally, you want monitors with a flat frequency response so that your mixes sit evenly within the sound spectrum.

  1. Microphones

Blog2Ah, good ol’ microphones, every audiophiles favorite subject! The two most common types of microphones are Dynamic and Condenser. Although condenser microphones have a better frequency and transient response, and are ideal for recording, they are also more expensive and require an interface that can run 48v phantom power. For dynamic mics, a popular choice for recording vocals is the Shure SM58. It’ll be best to do some research in order to see which microphones are best for the needs of your recordings.

Preparation for a Collegiate Music Career

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

Are you considering a university education in music? Studying music is an incredible experience, which has many psychological, social, and physical benefits!

What do music programs offer?: A collegiate music program can be an opportunity to develop a wide range of skills, to learn from professional musicians, and to collaborate with like-minded peers. Many universities offer concentrations or majors in particular subjects. Some examples are music theory, performance, composition, music education, and music therapy. Universities with music programs often have several options of ensembles to play in, and performance halls where you can showcase your progress.


The view from the stage of Cal Poly’s Performing Arts Center in San Luis Obispo

Is a career in music right for me?: To be a professional musician, you must be dedicated and passionate about your practice. Music programs require a lot of time and focus on a primary instrument, as well as confidence in your abilities and progress. If you love to play music, and you’re excited about learning and improving, then you may be ready to look into a collegiate music career!

auditions2What do I need to know?: Music programs require an audition that goes along with your application to the school. Most colleges look for a few main proficiencies, as well as the student’s potential. Generally, you will prepare 2 contrasting – meaning different in style, era, tempo, etc. – pieces of music on your primary instrument. These are usually played from memory. The audition will also include playing scales, sight-reading sheet music, and possibly demonstrating musicianship through ear training.

Music_Composition-600x401How do I get ready?: Preparing early can build confidence, open up possibilities, and enhance motivation. Discovering which area of music interests you the most, comes from exploring your strengths and your passions. A private instructor can help you experiment with these different aspects of music, in order to determine which is the best fit for you. Before you begin a college-level music program, it is important to develop a repertoire of songs and techniques. Proficiency and experience will allow you to have more choices of schools and programs, and will help you transition into being a college-level music student!

You can find a private lesson instructor at!