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!

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!



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!

Synesthesia and the Musical Experience

Written by: Darren Johnson

What does the number seven smell like? Can you taste purple? Despite what you might think, I’m not talking about the result of some out of class *cough* “research” that you may have done in college; I’m referring to a phenomenon known as synesthesia. This is a rare neurological condition in which a person experiences a cross-wiring of two or more senses during their daily lives. For example, the most common form is people associating numbers and months with colors. Is the number five red to you? Is August green? If so, you may experience synesthesia.

Image1Some defining characteristics of this condition are that your crossings are consistent, and they can’t be turned off. If you see August as green, it’s always green and trying to imagine it as yellow feels terribly wrong. Unlike people without synesthesia who may be able to imagine August as green, people with this condition automatically see August as green; to them the two are intrinsically linked. People with synesthesia (called synesthetes) might have different experiences among one another. A synesthete who sees a green August could get in a heated debate with somebody who sees a yellow one. The people reported to have synesthesia are few (around 1 in 10,000) and if you have one form of it, you’re likely to have others as well.

I first learned about synesthesia around a month ago, when I was talking to a friend of mine about how a 6/8 time signature has a different “shape” than a 4/4 time signature. His response was along the lines of: “Dude, I have no idea what you’re talking about.” After a while of asking questions and tapping out beats on a table (boom boom tap, ba doom ba doom tap… “You don’t see that?”) I realized that I was identifying with sounds differently. I did a quick Google search of “Sounds have shapes,” and boom… the vast and interesting topic of synesthesia came to my attention. After 21 years of being alive, I discovered that it’s not ordinary to see shapes when you hear music.

Pharrell is musician with color-sound synesthesia.

Pharrell is musician with color-sound synesthesia.

How does this connect to musicians? Well, synesthetes are known to make metaphorical connections to abstractions, the basis for creativity. In fact, synesthesia is expected to be eight times more common in the artist population. An example of a musician who had synesthesia is Jimi Hendrix, who related harmonies and melodies to colors. He would refer to his classic E7#9 chord as “the purple chord.” Another is Pharrell Williams, who sees music as a moving set of various colors. He describes his hit song “Happy” as “Yellow, red, a little pink, a little rainbowy…”

Something I’ve learned from this topic is that we all have very different perceptions of reality. A song that I love may be a song that you hate and vice versa, and that’s because two people can experience the same piece of art in completely different ways. What’s wonderful about this is that it shows us how every artist has a big contribution to make. No matter what you create, there is somebody out there who will love it and feel that it relates to them in a strong way. So have fun, keep creating and playing!

If you think you may be a synesthete, you can do an initial test at this site:

How To Gift A Musician

Musicians can be both the easiest and most difficult individuals to gift during the holidays. However, what seems like a sure thing at first, can quickly become complex if you don’t know what you are doing. Sure, the easy way out is a gift card, but where’s the sentimental value in that? Whether it be a guitarist, drummer, brass player, keyboardist, vocalist etc., that you are shopping for; one thing is usually fairly safe: accessories!

gear-page-drumsEach instrument has an item associated with it, that is constantly in a state of replacement. For drummers it is sticks and drum heads, guitarist: pics and strings, brass: reeds and mouth pieces.

Wait, not so fast. Each artist will have a brand preference, therefore, buying just any product type will not suffice. Like knowing someones shoe size, take a moment to find out the brand and type that your favorite musician is using ‘before’ you buy. To you it’s another name, but to many brand-loyal artists, it can be part of their signature sound and style.

Other popular accessories that are always in need can be: music stands, blank sheet music, mic stands, headsets, etc.


Still confused as to what and how to buy?

Did you search online only to be met with a larger array of product options?

IMG_7291Stop in or call the Music Motive’s San Luis Obispo location. First, it’s fully equipped with your musicians’ favorite gear and accessories. Second, there will be a knowledgeable representative at the front desk to answer your questions. Third: The building is fully stocked with professional musicians, of all types. Any and all of which welcome such questions and can provide valuable tips plus advice that you just cannot find elsewhere.

Happy Holidays and See You Soon at Music Motive!

Written by Motivator Lou Mars

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, 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

“Trash Talk” CD is Officially Released

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

The Bucket Busters have been hard at work in the studio since the beginning of this year, and the time has finally come! They just released their new CD, “Trash Talk,” which features some special songs from their first album, as well as new ones. Bucket Busters leader Micah Grogg and Music Motive director Steve Hilstein are very proud of the  Busters’ accomplishments!

Album Cover

Thanks to all who donated to the Kickstarter fundraiser! The goal of $1,200 was not only met, but exceeded by hundreds of dollars. This means that all the extra money will go into the Music Motive scholarship fund, which supports kids who can’t afford music lessons. These scholarships can also be used for the music enrichment classes at SLO County elementary schools, which are presented by Music Motive.

BB -Fan-T-art

Fan t-shirt art.

The money raised from the campaign helped the Busters to make copies of the CD, which are now available to buy. The CDs, along with fan t-shirts and Bucket Busters private label sticks, will be sold at their shows, on their website, Music Motive in SLO. The entire purchase price of these items go directly into the scholarship fund. CDs are also available at Boo Boo Records in San Luis Obispo.

Performing at Farmers' Market, Downtown SLO

Performing at Farmers’ Market, Downtown San Luis Obispo (July 10, 2014)

To any future Bucket Busters: you can be a part of this! With enough practice, any drummer under 18 years old can audition to become a Bucket Buster.
Call 805-543-0377 ext 9 for information.

To find out more about the Busters, check out their Facebook page and website.

Bucket Busters Kickstarter

Written by: Lauren Vukicevich

10356333_824365010926462_2144812741388661259_nThe Bucket Busters are a group of Music Motive drum students that make their music on buckets, water bottles, and trash cans. By now, you’ve probably heard them drumming at the Farmer’s Market in downtown San Luis Obispo on a Thursday night. Still, you may not know that their work earns money for music scholarships. This opens up an incredible amount of opportunities for aspiring music students who can’t afford lessons. These scholarships go toward either private lessons, or enrichment classes at elementary schools around SLO county.

The Bucket Busters have been recording their second album, but they need support in order to complete it. They’re doing a fundraiser on Kickstarter to raise money for duplication of CDs, which they will sell in order to help kids who need scholarships. They need a minimum of $1,200 to complete the project, and every little bit helps! What will happen if they raise more than their goal? Any extra money that people donate will go directly into the scholarship fund.


When pledges (donations) are made, they send out special gifts! Depending on how much is pledged, donors will receive awesome prizes like a pre-sale CD of the new album, a Bucket Busters t-shirt, or a performance by the Bucket Busters themselves!

Any new info on the project (the new album title was just decided, for example) will be posted to the “Updates” section of the Kickstarter page. If you’d like to hear a sample of the music on the new album, just check out the promo video! The official CD will be formally released in June, after the fundraiser is complete.

To visit the Kickstarter page, click here.

You can find out more about the Bucket Busters on the Music Motive website or the Bucket Busters Facebook.

The Bucket Busters will be performing at Paso Robles ARTSFEST, Saturday, May 24th @ 3:00.