Play by Ear Blog

The joy of learning music

7 Aug 2017
Music as an artistic endeavour comprises of various intrinstic values that contributes to the betterment of humankind. To make music, an individual must first discover thyself. Any artist who has worked at their craft for a while will soon make the connection between the external (the environment) and the internal (the soul). This is why different pianists will sound different, even if they are playing from the same exact score. We believe that many phenomenons lie beyond the tangible and cannot be verbalized.
To reach that level of understanding is an enlightenment from within; a discovery of what defines a person. A person full of hatred for the world will write songs that stirs and rouses feelings of animosity (death metal). A person filled with hope and zen will write songs that uplifts and inspires positivism (New age). There’s no doubt that music is the perfect vessel inot which we illustrate our emotions and feelings. As such, the impact of music on another person cannot be overstated. Perhaps through self discovery followed by positive redirection, the salvation of mankind will truly rest with Music and the truthful innermost expression of the Arts.

The joy of learning music

31 Oct 2015
One of the strangest phenomenons about music is the way it is able to move people. It goes back to the days when Bach and Beethoven were constructing some of the first pieces of music that unbeknownst to them would go on to be celebrated all these years later. They proved long ago that music does not need lyrics to hit someone in the face and make them feel something. Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor” makes the idea of solitude come to the surface more so than a Country tune about being sad and lonely at the bar. That’s not to say music with lyrics are not as emotional as that without. One can’t deny the song from Titanic doesn’t cause an immediate reaction of sorts. In those cases, it’s not just the words that can move, but also the delivery. Christina Aguilera has one of those voices that could do such a thing because of the power she packs in her vocals, her peer in Vegas doing a residency – that’s a different story. Some have it, and some don’t. It’s just amazing to realize the songs without words can and do have the same effect on people.
Learning how to manipulate that when performing a song is a great way to connect with an audience on a deeper level. Taking the audience on an emotional rollercoaster will leave them breathless by the end of a performance and showcase a true talent.

Why Live Performance is More Important than Recording

20 Oct 2016
Organized music teaching has always stressed live performance, for beginners as well as all levels. We showcase our achievement through concerts and recitals, not recordings. The reasons for this extend beyond the added difficulty of recording: live performance of trained pieces more closely connect the pieces with our minds, and the “multi-track” nature of recording can hinder the musicality and spontaneity behind the piece itself.
This divide is a fairly recent phenomenon—in classical music and most early jazz and folk, live performance was the sole way to release your music out to a wider audience. Recordings in the early days of wax cylinders and 78 rpm shellac records were more of a curiosity or luxury rather than the prime way of consuming music. The introduction of multitrack recording and wider distribution of recordings was one of the biggest changes to modern music ever seen, and shifted the method of output for music. While the focus was once a single great performance with reviewers present to attract future crowds, it had shifted to the creation of a great recorded piece (or song, or album) that would become a direct source of income.
While this did result in a rapid improvement of recording equipment, many criticized the lack of perceived “artistry” in multitrack recording—multiple takes, overdubbing, and advanced sound editing were now possible. However, some artists discovered a new way to fuse the two worlds of performance and recording. By using live shows as a time to experiment and sketch out new ideas, and the studio as a place to refine these ideas, they shifted the concept of a live show for many bands from showing the crowd your songs to showing the crowds the process behind what they hear on recordings at home.
As such, the spontaneous, one-take nature of live performance and the experimentation it promotes among advanced performers will always trump practice of studio techniques with an audio engineer that can’t be replicated for a crowd. The best art produced from recording studios has always been meditated on and rewritten outside of the recording room. Don’t limit your best performances to tape, and always remember the value of a live performance.

Don’t Rely On Your Voice

1 Sept 2015  
There are countless people out there who can carry a tune. The evidence is in the millions of videos on YouTube of guys and gals in their bedrooms singing along to a track they may’ve just gotten somewhere online. That’s fine and dandy, but what would make them stand a little taller? If they had an instrument in hand. That’s not to say that you have to be able to play and sing, but unless you’re working with a voice that is comparable to that of Mariah Carey of the late, great Whitney Houston – a good voice is not enough anymore. For six seasons American Idol was void of instruments. Then came season seven and they decided to lift this ban. In walked David Cook, Jason Castro and Brooke White. All three of them could play guitar and they all made it to the top five – Cook went on to when. The majority of the winners that followed were strapped with guitars. When fans are watching, it’s easy to lose those who are just simply singing in a crowd, but they’ll likely remember the few who took their performance a step further by playing their own instruments. Not only will learning to play an instrument allot singers more attention, but it also helps with the songwriting process. They no longer have to rely on someone else for that particular note because they can now produce it on their own. Singing is a natural gift but it’s not one to be relied on unless it can and is comparable to that of one of the greats.

Music Can Help Learn a Language

12 Aug 2015  
There is a reason kid’s shows have music in them. Music is a key tool when it comes to learning a language, whether it’s the parent’s native tongue or something foreign. The easiest way to defend this statement is the basis of all reading education – the alphabet. The first time one is introduced to it, it’s taught to a tune. People think music is just a way to entertain, but it’s always a great learning mechanism – especially when it comes to learning language.
Sesame Street has been implementing the idea of music and education for nearly half a century. Every letter has a tune, every word has a song and even tasks like brushing ones teeth has a jingle. Putting things to songs not only makes it fun, but also allows for it to be easily remembered. It’s likely you don’t remember a thing from a test you took in yesterday, but you can sing something Big Bird taught you years before. That’s why this has continued on for generations with Dora the Explorer teaching Spanish and Ni Hao, Kai-Lan giving kids today an introduction to Chinese. While studies have shown that tend to learn language a lot easier, adults are not lost in this sense. Take on that Rosetta Stone with a song. If you know how to play an instrument, make music out of your language lessons to make learning not only easier but more entertaining for you. No one likes to learn when it’s more like a dreaded task rather than fun.

Protecting Your Hearing

10 July 2015  
For amateur or beginning musicians, hearing protection never seems very important. However, your ears are undoubtedly the most valuable tool in your arsenal of instruments, skills, books, recording equipment, and more. If you damage your ears (and it can be outside of music-related activities too), you’re damaging your musical future.
It’s easy to ignore the initial stages of hearing loss, because we rarely realize that what we’re experiencing indicates our ears being damaged. When listening to music or other audio through headphones, remember to take ear breaks every hour or so for about five minutes. In addition, try to limit the amount of audio you listen to via earbuds or other sources inside your ear to 60 minutes a day—and keep the volume below 60%. An MP3 player on full blast for 60 minutes can cause as much hearing damage as a chainsaw or leaf blower used with faulty hearing protection, and the effect is worsened when using earbuds around loud noises. While it may seem like the audio from the earbuds is replacing the loud ambient noise, in reality it’s At very loud concerts or when around loud machines, hearing protection is very valuable. While normal foam earplugs can reduce sound somewhat, they also muffle the clarity. If you know you’re going to be frequently exposed to dangerously loud noises (louder than 100 dB), it’s very wise to invest in more advanced models that lower the sound level while maintaining sound quality. You should look for an earplug/other model with at least 15 dB of noise reduction, and ideally around 25 or 30 dB with interchangeable inserts for different levels. By protecting your hearing, you ensure a long future in music as well as preventing hearing loss, tinnitus (hearing “ghost sounds” that aren’t there) and other hearing problems.

Innovation and Originality in Music

7 April 2015
What does innovation in the sphere of music exactly mean and how does it differ from originality? The two terms are not mutually exclusive, but they can mean two different things dependent on how much of a stretch you personally want that definition to be. To innovate means to do something new, but not to completely create something unique out of nothing. The term is generally used to improve something already existing; in music that may not only objectively, but even mostly subjectively apply to the different genres. What that means is that you take a piece of music and you use that piece as a reference point for your own originality; as you take inspiration from your favourite music, you essentially subjectively improve it to reflect your own persona.
On top of having a long history of music behind ourselves already, we live in times in which anyone can create music at ease, which brings another burden on the topic of originality – most of the things in music were already done. Chord progressions, song structures, lyrical themes, tempo or modal changes; someone already did it before. What is the answer to this quite pessimistic view on music innovation? One of them is to ignore it. Simply get over the notion that someone already came up with this idea before, because not that many things in this world are completely unique. To be truly innovative, you need to use the boundaries that were already set and overcome it in your own way. You have to take inspiration in what you have heard, seen or imagined and use it to create something new; to innovate.
One of the specific examples in favour of this idea is jazz covering. Improvisational artists often play cover versions of songs using their own techniques. They usually play around the main theme of a song, but sometimes these covers go as far as being virtually unrecognizable as cover versions. These artists use the basis of other songs as the solid ground to which they add their own ideas until they make that song their own.
We seek to innovate on our daily basis; we constantly want to improve our own lives, our work, personalities, knowledge, or habits. We are driven to create and innovate from our own cores, it’s in our nature to keep working towards something better, and music is no different. When you learn to play by ear, your doors to innovation will open. To be able to innovate in improvisation, you need to have some of the theoretical knowledge to build on, to follow or disregard the set rules, to know where the boundaries stand or to combine the various elements together to craft something of your own that will be truly innovative. When you enter that door of possibilities, it will be only up to you to make the best of it.

Abstract Music and Art

21 Feb 2015  
Art takes many shapes, forms and appearances. One of them is no particular at all, and that is called abstract art. There have been many views that tried to contain the abstract form into specific wording, but that often contradicts and undermines the very basis of what they want to describe. On the other hand, music is no stranger to art, so much that one of the sub-genres of music actually is named ‘Art’. The subgenre of Art tries to push the otherwise set boundaries for the given primary genre, and it often elevates the stereotypical properties of it into something completely out of the conventionality.
Abstract art is something that lacks a form; something that is out of the ordinary in terms of structure or representation. Something that does not have grounds in what we are familiar with. The question is: is that even truly possible today? We are getting a taste of something comparable in the mentioned subgenres of art music – art pop, experimental or avant-garde. The structures of these genres are more interesting, as they don’t follow the typical arrangements. They may introduce a theme only to never reincorporate it, or disregard it and introduce another one instead. They are often written in off-timings that may change several times and some parts of it just come out of nowhere, resembling a beautifully orchestrated chaos. The same could be said about perhaps even a more instrumental abstract genre – free jazz. It is a thrilling and demanding genre both to the players and listeners, as it rejects fixed tempos, chord progression or keys. Off-putting and inaccessible to most, the genre is as abstract as music today can get. Imagine playing something out of all boundaries that make contemporary music what it is today. It is not an easy task to not incorporate what you have been learning all your life, passively or actively. Disregarding music theory and just playing by intuition may be the most challenging thing you could do. And that’s what it supposed to be like, freeing yourself from the oppressive shackles of the rules of standard music. And when you are able to do that just for a few minutes, you will know that there is no other feeling quite like this one because in abstract music, you let your true unchained self out.

Therapeutic Effects of Music

14 Feb 2015  
Listening to music activates a universal response across all humans, but it triggers different emotions in different people. When you listen to a song, you remember not only the melody or lyrics, you also store the information outside the song with it – how you were feeling at the time, where you were or what you were doing. And all of this can be brought back in one moment while listening to the very same song in a whirl of sweet nostalgia.
Music resonates with humans, because we have created instruments that emit frequencies pleasant to our ears. We have created scales, structures or time measures, so to enjoy the otherwise chaotic mixtures of sounds blending together. We have created these sounds to bring enjoyment, emotions and whole experiences to us. Music can relax us, energize us, or make us feel sensations that could otherwise be difficult to understand; it simply possesses a great power over the human mind.
Today, music is recognized as a great tool in therapy and is used to invoke various emotional states that help people through their struggles. It can be used by an ordinary person to help them reach a certain state of mind, as to relax during stressful times, concentrate on a single subject or work, or get soothed to cure insomnia. However, it does not end only there – music is also used to battle and cope with serious illnesses and diseases such as autism, dementia, or depression with great results.
Playing music triggers a similar response, however, it goes way beyond a simple listen in terms of therapy. Playing an instrument is used as a mechanic that rebuilds neurological connections, and it serves as a powerful brain exercise that strengthens all its neurons, gaining dexterity and improving cognitive functions such as memory, attention or problem solving, as well as improving muscle control or reflexes. It does not even matter that much which instrument you choose – it can be the piano, guitar, drums or even singing. Any participation in the process of playing music yields certain results.
Many artists have also described their music as ‘self-therapeutic’, as they put their heart and soul into their work, and tell the world all the things that were on their minds, but could not share it with anyone in a simple conversation. Or somebody that just wanted to learn to play that one favourite piece of music, and finally managed to learn it. What comes with this self-expression is the amazing achievement of self-fulfilment that brings a boundless pleasure you cannot attain anywhere else. Music is such a great tool in all of these cases partially because of its availability, as you can find musical instruments and schools in every city or a town. If you are having struggles, or want to improve yourself, music is just the right choice for you. You will feel the results of reaching a brighter mind in a few weeks already, you will feel more focused and your mind will be finally clear of all the static. We offer you the perfect environment for reaching your full potential and enriching your mind, so take on the chance to better yourself.

How has music changed over the last few decades?

19 Jan 2015  
Humanity has seen countless changes during the last few decades. Culture, technology, medicine, you name it; it is not the same as it was all those years ago. What reflects it is a part of our culture – music. Music is not a static thing, but it is highly dynamic and it echoes the changes of our society. Much of these changes also have to do with technology, in which we have seen immense amount of development. From the pre-80’s, the gramophone records used to rule the world of music for more than sixty years. Then we have seen a change to a more accessible and portable medium – the compact cassette tape, only to be followed by the most game-changing developments – the digital file. Compact discs have become the standard, offering the most truthful recordings, then it did not take long for the creation of the almighty mp3 file to take place. In just a few years, we have gained the ability to listen not only to a single tape of music on your daily commute, but to having millions of songs at the end of our fingertips. From the golden era of Jazz to the digital age of electronic music, we are observers of a crucial advancement in the way music is thought about, written, recorded, heard and transmitted. Before the boom of the internet people used to be limited in the way they thought about music. They were influenced by what they heard, which was usually local, so certain genres and styles belonged to certain places, but today you can hear genre influences from completely different world regions being played anywhere in the whole world. The entire world’s cultures of music blend together, where they combine into a single entity. But that does not limit us, what it gives us is a richer variety of music. As all of this progress creates further extensions of music that reaches beyond its capacities, music becomes influenced by other styles, mixes together and we are under fire of constant innovation. And while there are hundreds of new genres coming out every year, the classics are still unharmed. There is no worry of losing such genres as classical, jazz or pop, because they are an inseparable part of music. Piano, for example, is the ultimate musical instrument with the broadest range. It can serve as an entry point for learning music, but it can be a virtuoso instrument, or it can be used in basically any existing genre. That is also one of the vital reasons of its uncontested popularity among the general population of musicians.
All of these changes in such a short time period have shown us that there is still much to come and expect. Music is and always will be influenced by outer powers, thus it will never become a stationary, unchanged phenomenon, but it will always flow to wherever it needs to be at the time to represent our thoughts and ideas.

Improvising with words...

21 Dec 2014  
Music improvisation in itself is an act of artistic creativity. To improvise is to extemporize, or in casual terms, to “play by ear”. Not deliberate, intended, planned nor premeditated. It is spontaneous reaction. Like alleged cases of human spontaneous combustion, except it isn’t scientific in exact empirical terms. The act of creation, of spontaneity, involves the rudiments of the art. And like all other artistic improvisation – dancing, sculpturing, painting or photography, music improvisation is in line with the rest. Music as an art and the improvisation of it are inseparable from one another. Among the variety of musical instruments, from woodwinds, brass, percussion, strings or modern electronic simulators, the piano or a keyboard is arguably the most popular musical instrument in the world today due to its versatility. Since the early invention by Bartolomeo Cristofori in the early 17th century, it is almost a ‘luxury necessity’ for every household that can afford it, to send their child for piano lessons.
But here is the sixty-four-thousand-dollar question. Doubtlessly if the piano is indeed the world’s popular musical instrument, in the new millennium of booming arts, it is questionable that ‘more than half’ of the world’s population today who are able to play the piano in general are unable to improvise. It is an oddity. Though no authority has gathered any such statistics or figures, to claim a statement that just ‘more than half’ are unable to improvise is probably quite safe. This fact itself is worth pondering upon. Perhaps it is the nature of the instrument itself, or its association with the Baroque and Classical era. Per contra and unquestionably, the absence of improvisation here is impassable. Improvisation is with no exception and inevitably, part of the principles of musicianship.

Piano lessons for beginners? Can a Beginner Really Learn?

16 Nov 2014  
Is there a way for a complete beginner in music to truly learn the ways of playing the piano or any other instruments? Not only to learn the basics, but to arrange, to compose, to improvise? Many people would argue that you need certain predispositions, or talent, to play music, or to even truly master a skill like that. To which we respond: not true. Humans are versatile beings that can adapt and constantly learn something new, but there are a few things that such a feat requires. First and foremost, as a beginner, you must want to learn. There is no other way around it; you must find certain enjoyment in what you want to learn. The reason for this is simple – if you do not like what you are doing, it would be extremely hard for you to motivate yourself to do it. But if music is the right thing for you, you can feel it and be happy to learn something new about it, because everything is done easier when you like doing it. This applies to learning new skills even more than anything else.
That brings us to another point: your instrument. Choosing the right instrument is very crucial in the enjoyment of playing music. Is there one specific instrument that was all those years somewhere in the back of your head? When you listen to music, or imagine it in your head, what instrument do you focus on, which one catches your attention the most? Is it the piano, guitar or perhaps the vocals? An instrument that emits a note which sends shivers down your spine. Do you imagine playing that instrument? Maybe that is the right one for you then. If you meet these two requirements, the third step is the most crucial of them all: finding a good music school that provides good teachers. Once you know what you want to do, you should pursue that need of creative fulfilment. However, getting the wrong teacher may completely dampen and even quell your enthusiasm. Some less devoted or inexperienced teachers may try to teach you the wrong things, label you as a stereotype, bore you and ultimately discourage you from learning. That’s why you should never settle for less, even if that means sacrificing something more – like taking more time travelling to the school, or committing to the weekly schedule and paying the fees. It really pays off in the long run. At Play by Ear Music School, our dedicated and qualified teachers use the P.B.E.Syllabus™ teaching methodology which has proved to yield the best results for adult learners and which ensures that even a complete beginner can learn and master the skill of music.

Musical Notation Vs Playing by Ear?

27 Oct 2014  
Human talent, creativity and art are fountains of amusement, and music is no exception. You might have listened to Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, or Eric Clapton and wondered how they marked the 60’s Rock n’ Roll era, though ironically, they couldn’t read music. Yet these legendary icons managed to make such an impact in the world. The answer is not as difficult as you may think. They were talented and had passion for their work, and sometimes that’s all it takes to create beautiful music. On the other hand, great jazz artists like Louis Armstrong, Charles Mingus, and Duke Ellington, who could read music, also made tremendous contributions. So we ask ourselves if it’s better to learn the theory, or keep practicing your talent.
Reading music is important in many aspects, but is not a requirement to be a composer. They say that practice makes the master, and in the music world, this is almost like a commandment. Playing by ear is done by repeatedly listening to other musicians and recreating what they hear, and improvisation is the art of composing music ‘on the run’. The practice of learning through these methods stimulates the creativity, which is so often scarce when musicians try to create a new piece. Still, there are constraints with this method that are not found in the musical notation.
On the other hand, we refer to musical notation as the system that represents music through written symbols. It’s a method that simplifies the musician’s work, and yet offers a wide and more complex range of knowledge. The ability to read music is considered an advantage, an evidence of the musician’s education, but not a guarantee of success. This will depend on the ability of the artist to take advantage of their knowledge, practice and imagination to compose. So which side is the best one on which to make progress? You may say that learning the theory is all it takes to become a great musician, but others will say that practice and improvisation is the best way. Some people would prefer learning through passion and creativity, and some would prefer studying and having systematic methods to compose. Although this article may seem focused towards learning to play by ear and towards improvising, reading notation and learning theory is still important as a means to learn and understand. However, it shouldn’t be totally relied on, because talent and passion need to be trusted as well. It doesn’t matter which side you’re on or if you subscribe to both arguments. What really matters is your ability to learn, your willingness to practice, and the expression of yourself through music. In the end, that’s what matters the most, and any path you choose will lead you to this goal. This is the magnificence of art.

Music lessons for adults?

20 Oct 2014  
Is there a perfect age to start learning music? The correct question is not when to start learning, but why. Among the choice of games, languages or sport, music might arguably be the most fulfilling and mind-sharpening of them all. How old is too old to be able to learn music? With the ever-growing adult student population in music schools, the spotlight has slowly shifted from focusing only on music lessons for children onto lessons for adults. Music schools focused solely on teaching adults have even started to appear in the past decade. Perhaps due to the rise of the internet, social media and the availability of music, more and more adults have shown an interest in taking up music classes. People who have never before played a music instrument now want to experience playing it, either to fulfil a childhood dream or to be engaged in a new-found curiosity. Many adults that have shown interest in playing music have had doubts; they thought they don’t have talent, the necessary time or that they’re simply too old to learn to play an instrument. But if we have learnt anything from recent trends and research on this topic, it’s that those statements are simply not true and that the saying ‘You can’t teach old dog new tricks’ is finally shattered. It is possible to learn; many adults and elderly have taken up music classes, even at our school, and succeeded in learning an instrument. While practicing only a few times a month won’t really get you anywhere far, regular practice and additional playing just for a while each day will do the trick. And as for talent, we think that talent is just the amount of work you put into yourself. Learning to play a music instrument, even in your adult life, is not only a fulfilling way to let your creativity flow, but it is also beneficial for your health. Proven by neuropsychological research, both adults and elderly people that have started studying music in their late age have had much better results in nonverbal memory, naming, and executive processes than their non-musician peers. Then there’s also the self-actualization and the beauty of creative fulfilment you can only achieve in learning to play your favourite song, or even in composing an original one.