Posts Tagged ‘music lessons’

The Responsibility Never To Be Bored

March 20, 2017

by Rex Weston

Instructor of cello at The Lesson Studio

I think of the cello as the best toy ever. Part of that is the flexibility of the instrument – it can be used to play any genre of music: classical, folk, bluegrass, celtic, rock and roll, jazz, hiphop. It can make a wide and lively variety of sounds, and it can take up many roles: bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, folk guitar, fills, harmony, and melody.

And there are a lot of fun things that happen when playing. The act itself should be physically pleasurable – as far as the brain is concerned, playing a difficult passage is as stimulating as skiing a difficult mogul run. Playing an instrument lights up an EKG like a Christmas tree.

Making great and weird sounds is fun. Playing a tune is fun. Improvising is extremely satisfying. Playing music with other people is great fun. Being swept away by playing great music is one of the high points of anyone’s life. Writing and improvising music are totally engaging.

But the most important part of the cello for me was the end of boredom in my life. I learned that if I was doing anything, and I was bored, that I needed to STOP, and figure out how to make it interesting. That it was absolutely my responsibility not to be bored. When practicing a piece, the moment I checked out with boredom meant I was no longer learning anything. That I might still be making sound on my instrument, but it wasn’t doing me any good at all, because my brain wasn’t focussing on what I was doing, and that made practicing pointless.

Now the typical response to boredom, and the one I was trained as a kid by television to do, is just to switch channels. The problem with this is that it is the opposite of productive, and just leads to a life of channel surfing. The productive way to deal with boredom, is to analyze the problem and find a way to make it interesting. This requires creativity.

Let’s take a simple problem in practicing a difficult passage in a piece of music. Playing the passage over and over usually doesn’t help. That is because the brain has checked out in the process – if it isn’t interested it won’t help you out. Doing the same thing again and again – sorry, but your brain has left the building. So the way to get the brain back in gear is to look at and play the passage many different ways. Playing the passage in different rhythms is a good start. After one has played the passage in a jazz swing rhythm, a salsa rhythm, a reggae rhythm, a waltz, hiphop, a march, playing the passage straight becomes suddenly simple. Basically you have to have fun to learn something. And the chances are that if you are not having fun, you are not learning anything.

This obviously applies to the rest of your life, too. Instead of checking out when being bored in a classroom, the new response is to look for something in the subject that is interesting, and explore that aspect in depth. It is called self-directed learning, and is the only way we really learn anything that makes a difference. It works in your job, and it works in your life.

Live Music is Worth It!

February 1, 2017

by Ani Gyulamiryan

Instructor of piano at The Lesson Studio

ani_blog_1 Taiyuan, China

In the piano lessons I teach at the Lesson Studio, I often get a first-hand view of how music takes a hold of us. Western classical music, specifically, has gained a universal appeal since its inception in Europe. Countries like America and China have adopted and even continued in their own right to advance Western Classical music, and music lessons are both a staple of education and cultural inheritance. The concert hall is where our cultures diverge; in the West, the majority of classical concert goers are from the older generations, but the audiences in China are predominantly comprised of young professionals, kids and entire families.

In the summer of 2016, I completed a month long tour across China with the Denver Philharmonic Orchestra. I performed in a multitude of majestic concert halls, which have cost China billions of yuan to build in the past couple decades. In every concert of the fourteen cities we performed at, there was row after row filled with bright, enthusiastic, curious children. And they were part of an audience of young men and women, students, professionals and entire families that attended our concerts in order to be exposed to Western music (performed by an American orchestra). It was very moving to see how receptive and appreciative the near capacity audiences were in every city we toured throughout China.


Shenyang, China


Chongqing, China

Colorado has also continued to expand and grow its musical education. There are more music studios in every county than there were just a few years ago. They are doing better each day because of the growing interest in music education and awareness. However, students often seek lessons to become musically aware, instead of becoming proficient in an instrument. Although music lessons can be any student’s introduction to great music, artists and venues, eventually they must grow to become ‘plugged-in’ with the current music scene themselves. As a piano teacher of ten years, I have noticed some trends in the music lessons at private studios and various education centers. One growing trend in private lessons is a focus on music appreciation within the framework of individual lessons that dismisses its importance outside of the lesson and the private teacher’s influence.

As a piano instructor, I often tell my students about the composers they study, their adventurous and rebellious lives, and the intended meanings behind their masterworks. However, it is rare for these students to have experienced live performances of the works they study. The music scene today is vast, and performances at local concert halls offer a great exposure to the masterworks of classical music, but many music students remain largely unaware of these events.

To gain a broader exposure and appreciation of classical music, I encourage students of classical piano, orchestral music, jazz, or any instrument to explore their community and find the best performances in their area. Check the local library for amazing performances coming up, search on university and music schools’ websites for their upcoming concerts, find the season schedule of local orchestras. Attend some of these live concerts in order to develop your own musical taste! Western classical music is more varied in style than the number of different genres of music, so there is much variety to enjoy.

Music appreciation occurs not only in the classroom or during a music lesson, but also outside of it in the ever changing and rich world of the concert and recital hall. Attending a live concert will develop a student’s ear, make them more aware of the musical culture, enable them to become more musically educated, and aid in their personal musical growth. Hopefully every student can remember a concert they attended that made a powerful impression upon them, inspired them to continue, or was possibly the best musical experience in their life so far.


Yichun, China



Tangshan, China

Photo Credits: Roger L. Powell


Would you like Pepperoni with that?

September 11, 2011

by Beth Barnadyn, Violin/Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn, Violin and Viola Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Beth Barnadyn

You just got assigned a new piece, and there are some fast passages.  What do you do? How do you practice it?  One of the most common tendencies of musicians is to jump head first into a passage, and repeat the same few measures over and over until, hopefully, it starts to sound better. Unfortunately, this is not the best approach to mastering and ultimately learning a particular section or piece.   The key to learning any passage, whether rhythmically or technically demanding, is to practice in small chunks.

One of my favorite visual examples of how to approach the practicing of a piece is to think of it like a big pizza. If we wanted to eat the whole pizza, we wouldn’t stick the entire thing in our mouth at once, would we? No. We eat it one slice at a time. (Unless of course you are really hungry)   This is a great approach to learning a passage or piece in a timely and solid way.

First, you want to isolate those spots in the piece that need the most attention. Once you have these areas, focus on playing small sections at a time, typically no more than a measure long each. When playing, you will want to go extremely slow, listening for good intonation and good tone/sound quality.  After you have achieved a good foundation at that level, you can start to play the section faster, and to start playing with rhythmic variations. Some typical patterns for digestion would be long-short-long-short, and/or short-long-short-long.  This works for groupings of four, but you can easily play long-short-short, for example, for a group of three.   Continually work towards a faster and more complex rhythm, and you will master even the most difficult passages.

After a few days of eating the pizza slice by slice, you will find that you will master even the most difficult passages. The key to success is to not get frustrated.   Just take it one bite at a time!

It’s all about routine!

September 6, 2011
Tung Pham, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio
Tung Pham

by Tung Pham, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Having a steady routine will help any musician develop consistency in their playing and build a solid foundation for further development. For brass players in particular, having a routine is essential to building strength in the embouchure which is a necessary for players of all levels.  Routine exercises can happen in a number of different ways:

1)      The Warm Up – you have heard it before from band directors, choir teachers and private lesson instructors… “You need to warm up before you play!” Not warming up is the number one cause for not sounding good. 9 out of 10 teachers agree that negligence in warming up is the number one cause for bad intonation, lack of focus and bad breath. (ok, so maybe not bad breath). Having a well organized warm up routine based on fundamental techniques such as breathing and  building /maintaining tone are cornerstones.

Suggested warm ups include: long tones  (for breathing, air control, tone building) , scales (control, theory and finger technique)

2)      Flexibilities – regularly playing flexibilities is the quickest and most efficient way to make your “chops” (lips) hurt! 😉 It’s also the most efficient way to build strength in your embouchure. Playing brass instruments is an extremely physical undertaking that requires the coordination of many muscle groups that have to do with breathing, blowing, lower back, arms, hands and fingers. Regularly slurring passages and playing through flexibility etudes helps the player transcend physical restraints and refocus on creating music.

Suggested flexibility books: Max Schlossberg Technical studies, Advanced Lip Flexibilities for trumpet, Arban Complete Conservatory Method for Trumpet

The most important idea of routine is consistency! Consistently going through warm ups and other exercises will show immediate results in how you play by reinforcing carefully placed good habits. Talk to your teacher about how to set up a good warm-up routine. Every time you pick up your instrument, it should be with purpose. For you naysayers at home, routine doesn’t mean to exclude learning new materials. Learning new concepts or music can also be put into routine. Parents can help facilitate the process of routine at home. Let’s get organized. Happy practicing!

Warming-Up With Your Brass Instrument

April 27, 2011

By E.J. Swider

E.J. Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

E.J. Swider

Many young brass players often overlook the importance of warming up every time they play their horn. When we play brass instruments, we are extensively engaging the muscles of our embouchure (the muscles around the lips), as well as the tongue. You wouldn’t lift weights or do any extensive physical exercise without first doing a little stretching first, right? Well, warming up is the exact same thing. The process is pretty similar between the different brass instruments.

When you begin warming up, you should start in the mid to low register of your instrument. Start at a slow tempo with no large leaps. A simple scale or chromatic pattern would work great. If you play the trombone some easy glissandos would also be appropriate. Another side to warming up is recognize how your air is moving. You want to make sure that your air is consistent and even throughout.

After a minute or two of that portion of the warm up it is a good idea to continue with the same types of patterns in the upper register. How high you should go depends on where you are in your playing. After this, it is a good idea to play some lip slurs. This consists of changing notes while only using one fingering or slide position. This is practiced to increase your efficiency and cleanliness of slurring between those notes.

At this point you should just about be completely warmed up and ready to continue on with your normal practice session. If you want to warm up even more I would suggest playing some simple patterns in the extreme high and low ranges. This will increase your familiarity with those notes. You can also practice some fast articulated passages to focus on warming up your tongue.

Remember, you should warm up every day or you can risk hurting yourself. Enjoy!

My Hero, Jeff Buckley: How to “Organically” Build Your Music Style

April 17, 2011

By, Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith, Piano and Voice Instructor at The Lesson Studio

Garrett Smith

Ok, Jeff Buckley is amazing, but he’s not my only- or even biggest- influence/ hero. I chose to write about him because of his process in becoming his own musician. If you aren’t aware of Jeff Buckley or his music, check out his only fully recorded studio album, Grace, or its contents on YouTube. You may have heard his version of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” It is, IMHO [in my humble opinion], by far the most moving iterations of that widely covered song out there. Jeff Buckley’s voice as heard in his album and in live recordings transcends range and race, reaching expansive stratospheres of emotion with nuclear musicality, woven by his elegant balance of refinement and rawness through the medium of that Voice. Unfortunately, he died prematurely by accident in the middle of recording his second album, which is why he has only one complete studio album out. The music world mourns the loss of his potential, yet rejoices in his short-but-sweet contribution.

Enough smoke blown, however, and back to the point. Jeff Buckley was the son of Tim Buckley, a folk-add-jazz musician who gained a cult following and who also died at an early age of 28. Jeff wanted very little to do with his father, especially the music thereof. Because of that huge presence hanging over, threatening to stain his own ‘essence,’ Jeff sought out music scenes in LA and especially New York to educate himself. One year of music school, a reported waste of time, at least opened his eyes to music theory and the rich music of classical romanticists, thus showing him how to play with interesting harmonies. He covered everything: the blues, punk and rock scenes taught him the relevant extremes of guitar-based music; covering folk and jazz music taught him how to songwrite with decent structure and content, while finessing the art of rule-bending; voice lessons came with intense study and emulation of Nina Simone, Edith Piaf and Judy Garland, while worship of Pakhistani super-star Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan seems to have influenced his supernatural-like vocal acrobatics; and yet, Jeff is just so himself. Google the title song of Jeff’s album, “Grace” [grace jeff buckley] and click on the first video. What do you hear?

How might I apply this? My formal music education lies in a classically based Bachelor in Music during which I studied old to new art song (from Dowland to Faure, Wolf to Lee Hoiby,) and performed primarily opera retaining several lead roles on the opera and musical theatre stage. If you were to hear MY music style (which I’m only starting to realize I’m a baby in my own right) you might hear a glimpse of that, yet more of a folk/ soul / rock amalgamation. Some of my informal music education stems from a younger interest in Frank Sinatra, Jewel, Sarah McLachlan, U2, and Indigo Girls followed by a more mature obsession with Bjork, Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley and Radiohead all the while enamored by the obscurely fabulous instrumental group, the Rachel’s (I implore you to look them up), and finally an intense devotion to traditional and popular West African music, rhythm and dance for the past 3 and a half years under the masters (Maputo and Mawue Mensah, , Nii Arma Sowah, and Dr. Kwasi Ampene under whom I’ve had the privilege to perform and converse with some great band/ solo musicians including Victor Wooten, check him out. Serious.)

I believe the truest education of any kind- be it musical, culinary, artistic, literary, medical/ body- occurs when the student widens his/her variety of influence and truly listens to that which moves him or her. Open exploration with a sensitivity to that which resonates most in one’s heart-mind-body will teach one more about his/herself than any school, one style, or single teacher ever could. I know so many “classical” singers (some professional) who don’t know their own voice, their own style at all, because they only know how to RESEMBLE one or two styles. This is not to say that good technique won’t get you anywhere. Technique is an often necessary tool, which is why you should take lessons and search with discrimination for good teachers. The world, and its increasing connectivity, is your school of style. The more you listen, the vaster variety of great musicians and performers you emulate= the more you will know yourself, what you’re about, and how you might want to express that musically or otherwise. Your heart is a magnet and will take what it likes from what you show it. Now go educate yourself and let the open stages be your practice room, if to be your own musician is what you truly want.

Taking Care of Your Horn

July 14, 2010
EJ Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

EJ Swider

By EJ Swider, Brass Instructor at The Lesson Studio

As brass players our instruments are very resilient to temperature and humidity. But it is far too often that we forget entirely to pay attention to their cleanliness. How many times have you ignored that sticky valve or seen something funky come out of your water key?

Oiling and cleaning our horns should be a regular part of our routine and in the long run will not only save you money but will make you sounds better!

First things first, valves and slides should be oiled as needed.

Basically, whenever they feel sluggish. This depends on what kind of oil you use and how often you play. I usually oil my slide every other day, but some people need to only once a week. You should ask your private teacher which oil is best for you.

It is a good idea to give your horn monthly baths and a major cleaning. For the bath remove all valves (don’t put the valves in the water! but slides are ok) and all of the tuning slides and clean them separately  (see next paragraph). Fill a bathtub with lukewarm water, make sure it isn’t hot. Add a few tablespoons of dish soap. Make sure there is enough water to completely cover your horn and let it soak for about 10 minutes. Take a snake (a long metal wire with brushes at each end that can be bought for a few dollars at any music store) and run it through each part of your horn to get any gunk out. Then rinse in the soapy water. After cleaning out each part of your horn empty the water out of the tub and refill it with cool, not soapy water. Now rinse each part of your horn to make sure all of the gunk is out and the soap is rinsed off. At this point lay out a towel and lay out the horn which is still disassembled and let it air dry for about an hour.

Now you can reassemble your super clean horn!

Applying grease to tuning slides is often overlooked and forgotten about. I clean and grease my tuning slides during my monthly major cleaning. I first take them all out. Rub them with a cheese cloth to remove any grease and then very lightly apply tuning slide grease. I say grease instead of oil because what you apply to tuning slides is very thick, the consistency of vaseline. It is thicker because you don’t want your tuning slides moving around when you don’t want them to!

Cleaning mouthpieces is also often overlooked. A mouthpiece brush can be purchased for only a few dollars and can make a big difference.

After a few weeks of playing a thin film of gunk (that’s the technical term) can form in the shank of your mouthpiece. At first this won’t make much of a difference in your playing, but over time it can grow.

Even a small bit of gunk can make a big difference in the flow of your air which directly effects how you sound. So every week I run my mouthpiece under warm water and clean it out with the mouthpiece brush. It only takes a minute and makes a big difference.

So remember to be diligent with cleaning your horn. Oiling the valves or slide whenever it needs it, greasing the tuning slides, cleaning the mouthpiece, and giving it a monthly bath! A clean horn is a good horn.

The Benefits to Children Engaging in Music-Making

March 9, 2010

By Faith Halverson, Music Therapist at The Lesson Studio

Faith Halverson, Music Therapist at The Lesson Studio

Faith Halverson

Music has long played a special and varied role in childhood development. Universally, lullabies are sung as a way to soothe infants and young children to sleep. Music can also be used to convey information, and songs such as “The Alphabet Song” (or the “Schoolhouse Rock” series for those of us kids of the 70‘s) have been used to teach children academic concepts. As their children grow older, many parents also see the value of their children studying music by having them take private music lessons. However, while older children can benefit from becoming musically active, young children as well can benefit from engaging in musical activities. The fields of music therapy and neurology have shown that music has a physical, emotional, and psychological effect on a person. Recent neurological studies have shown that music activates multiple areas of the brain, including those involved in motor function, speech, language, cognition and executive functioning, memory, and emotions.  Through neurological research specific to music, it is now becoming understood that the brain is physically changed through engaging in music-making and that music can
actually help build the brain.

How might your child benefit from engaging in music-making? By providing opportunities for your child to participate in music-making, you are:

• allowing them to engage in rhythm and movement activities that can help them to synchronize their brains and bodies, thereby helping them to further develop motor coordination.

• providing opportunities for your child to use and develop their voices in ways different than in speaking, allowing the ability for greater self-expression.

• helping them to increase their ability to maintain focus and sustain attention to tasks at hand, while simultaneously developing problem-solving strategies and the
ability to think creatively and critically.

What is music therapy and how does it differ from music instruction? While engaging in music-making can have beneficial, therapeutic effect, a difference
exists between music instruction and music therapy. Music therapy is a recognized healthcare profession in which music is used as the primary means of addressing the
physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs of an individual or group. A Board-Certified Music Therapist is trained to assess individuals in multiple areas of
functioning and to then use that information in devising therapeutic goals and objectives.

To find out more about music therapy, go to the website for SoundWell Music Therapy:, or you can contact me, Faith Halverson-Ramos, MA, MT-BC, NMT, directly at