Listening & Awareness for Musicians

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

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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!

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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!”

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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.

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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!

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: Laurenvukicevich.bandcamp.com.

The album cover for my project.

The album cover for my project.

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.

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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 http://www.musicmotive.com/!

What is the Best Age to Learn an Instrument?

It’s a question instructors at Music Motive receive all of the time. When should I start? !cid_20EF3C1B-2EAA-41A0-9703-B937751D3796Is he or she too young? Am I too old? Is there a magic age to learn an instrument or artistic talent? First the easy answer, “The best time to start is now.” With that said, please allow me to present some variables to complicate matters a bit further.

Some instruments appear easier for the younger set to pick-up at earlier ages than others. Case in point: the drums. Drumming is a great starter for children, perhaps as young as 4 years of age. A good second choice would be another instrument from the percussion family, the piano. *Where-as guitar and/or other like stringed instruments can be a bit more challenging; due to very small hands and awkward fingering positions necessary to present a plausible note.

!cid_7DB363F5-3291-4310-BEED-3D330ED5AF3AWhat about the other side of the spectrum such as mature adults in their golden years? Is it too late? No, it’s never too late. And, it is in my opinion (supported with much observation); that more mature students take their lesson plans much more seriously. Yes, it may be more difficult, and test your patience to learning something new during your later years of life, but isn’t that what life is all about? If we stop learning what are we? How exciting it is to learn something new, and to release the beautiful sounds trapped for so long inside our minds, body and spirit!

*Prodigies: A prodigy as defined by Dictionary.com, is a person, especially a young one, endowed with exceptional qualities or abilities. However, in my experience prodigies come in all ages, shapes and sizes. I have witnessed a blind youth walking up to a piano without any prior documented experience and suddenly playing a song. I also watched a 3 year old walk up to a snare drum, and perform a proper star tuning pattern on the head’s lug nuts. I asked the father, “Are you a drummer,” he replied, “No.” I continued, ”Then how does he know how to tune a drum? He’s implementing the proper pattern, as if he has a tuning key in his hand.” “It’s the first time he’s ever seen a drum,” the father replied.

Some things we simply can’t explain. If at age 50, you find yourself sitting down behind a guitar for the first time, and a song just comes out. That’s called heart. The more of it you have, the more you will enjoy your time at Music Motive.

Perhaps today is the day to start.

Written by Music Motivator Lou Mars

As Told By Steve Hilstein

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich 

After writing for Music Motive for over a year, it was about time that I interviewed the man behind it all: Steve Hilstein. I have learned so much from him, not only about the importance of music education, but also about serving a community. Through knowing Steve, I have seen the kind of passion that drives a vision, but I have also seen a genuine, patient, and fun-loving guy. I am constantly inspired by his service and dedication to music education all over the county, and I think you will be too!

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Jamin’ with Chris Marshall – the Oasis Band.

Did you decide to teach music?

I started playing drums when I was ten years old, taking lessons, but it wasn’t until I was in my mid-twenties, when a friend suggested that I try teaching. I didn’t really know what I was doing, but I  got my first drum student, and realized how much I enjoyed it. That seems like it was a long time ago. Ha!

What made you want to go into business?

After a few years of teaching and educating myself even further, I began building my drum teaching business. I had quite a few students and I wanted to start carrying drum books to make it convenient for them, so I got my resell license and started supplying things like sticks and drum heads. Before I knew it I was ordering drum sets for them, and I thought maybe it was time to open a drum shop. So, I did and called it “The Drum Circuit”. I had that business for twenty years, but I realized that the retail part of it didn’t allow me the time to fulfill my passion for music education. So, I kept the drum school, but I sold the retail part of it, and branched out to teach other instruments such as guitar, piano, violin, and other instruments. That’s when we eventually transitioned what is now Music Motive!

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Grand Opening of Music Motive in SLO – September 2011

Why do you believe that music education is so important?

I believe that music education is vitally important. I believe it’s the fabric of our lives. Music is all around us and touches us at a very deep level. It’s been my passion, not only to perform, but also to empower other musicians to teach and pass that on.

How did you come to start the Music Enrichment classes in SLO County elementary schools?

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The Bucket Busters performing at Farmer’s Market

It all really started with the Bucket Busters – people would come out to watch us perform and they would ask how their kids could get involved, without realizing that the kids in Bucket Busters are accomplished drummers. So I thought, why not start a drumming class and do it on buckets? We came up with the name Bucketeers, and we were soon invited to teach at schools. We started a program that is capable of bringing about 90 – 8 week classes a year to about 30 elementary schools in San Luis Obispo County. After we initiated the Bucketeers program, we also added Guitar, Sing, Piano, and new this year, Drama/Musical Theater classes as after school programs.

How did the scholarship program begin?

Many years ago a young man came in with his mom to ask how much music lessons were, and I could tell by the look on their faces that they couldn’t afford it. And it broke my heart and I just thought, I want to do something so that every kid who wants to study music, in private lessons, or in the classes in schools, has opportunity. We started comping kids some of the lessons, then we began a scholarship program, which people would fund. Then, the Bucket Busters came along, and all the money that is donated to the Bucket Busters at our performances and through the sell of their CD, “Trash Talk”, goes into the scholarship program. 100% of these donations go toward private lessons for kids, as well as the music enrichment classes in elementary schools. That is huge to me, because now we have money for anyone who qualifies, any family that can’t afford lessons for their child. We can make that happen.

Guitar! – Music Enrichment Program in schools.

How has your vision of Music Motive changed since you first opened?

I believe we’re on track. We’ve tried some things that didn’t work and others that surpassed my expectations, but there’s still a lot to do and it will always be a work in progress. We’re currently developing a recording program, and a ‘band workshop’ to bring our younger students together to form bands. I would like to have more classes and workshops, and mini-concerts. The ideas just keep on coming, which is really my job – program development and promotion, amongst other things.

What is special about the new Arroyo Grande studio?

We’re really excited about it! It’s a great location, right on Grand Ave. (1115 East Grand) between Elm and Halcyon. When I first walked in the building, which is an old house converted to offices, I could just see that it was meant to be for us. It’s got plenty of parking, large rooms that have been made into 3 studios, a waiting area, an office, and room to grow. We’ve been wanting to be in Arroyo Grande for a long time, now we’re finally there and really excited about it.

Are you still playing music yourself?

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“Stereo Steve”, with Music Motive guitar instructor, Steve Ambarian.

Yeah, I still play – I still do two or three gigs a week with about five different bands: the Oasis Band from SLO, a duo called Stereo Steve, with Steve Ambarian, who is a guitar teacher here at Music Motive, and a group from Southern California called The Scarlet Furies, and recently, I’ve been playing with Monie Mills and the Lucky Horseshoe Band. I’ve also been playing quite a bit in the last couple of years, with the Nataly Lola Band, Randy Rigby, and I host the drums about once a month for the Blues Masters Jam at Shell Cafe in Pismo Beach. I also do some freelancing with people who need a drummer, whoever will have me! One of the things that I really enjoy doing is playing music I don’t know, with people I just met, in a place I’ve never been before. I find that to be a challenge, and really enjoy it – and I seem to be able to pull it off most of the time!

To find out about music lessons, enrichment classes, and the new Arroyo Grande location, check out our website!