music education

Reflecting on Zumix's Experimental Music Ensemble

Running a music ensemble with different groups of teenagers is an incredible experience.  I had the great opportunity to test out the Vindor ES1 at Zumix with two different “Experimental Music Ensembles” with students who had a varied range of musical experience. It both gave me unique insight into how different people view the creation of music, and it gave the students a great chance to explore new forms and styles of music that they hadn't seen before. But with both the ensembles, the students mostly appreciated being part of a group and creating and playing music together.

One of my favorite experiences took place in the second semester of the Experimental Music Ensemble. There were only a few students in the band. We had already written a few songs together, but when looking for inspiration, one person thought it could be fun to write a hip hop groove and invite two other students to rap over it. The students all found their own role in this song only using the Vindor ES1 and one person on drums. One, who was also taking bass lessons at the time, decided to play in the lower range of the ES1 and the other, who was taking saxophone lessons at the time, wrote some very interesting rhythmic figures to play over the drum beat.  

The first rehearsal with the rappers was very inspiring. The rappers had only ever worked with pre-recorded backing tracks before and had never had the experience of playing with a live band. When they started rapping more aggressively, the band followed suit and started playing a bit louder. When the band switched grooves to something more mellow, the rappers would switch who was on the microphone to change dynamics. These moments don't always happen with professional bands, and I was certainly not expecting this with students who had only been playing the Vindor ES1 for two months. After that first rehearsal, the rappers were really excited and expressed to me how fun it was to play with a band.

Putting something new in front of these kids gave us back some life experiences that the students will never forget. Trying out a new instrument put them in a situation where everyone was willing to get out of their comfort zone and create something as a group. They worked on finding weird sounds they could make from the instrument and took new directions of influence in their songwriting. A big part of running an ensemble at Zumix is to let the kids take their own direction with the band, and it was incredibly rewarding to see where they took it and how they grew as a group.

5 Ways to Stay Motivated When Learning Music

Playing music is fun. But learning music can sometime seem like a lot of work. While practicing your scales and other exercises can sometimes feel tedious, here are five things you or your child can do to stay motivated and enjoy playing music. 

5. See Live Music and Talk with the Bands
There are so many opportunities to see live music, and it can be truly inspiring to see how other musicians are mastering the same instrument that you play. You don't have to go to a show at a crowded arena or music festival; there will be many smaller shows in your area. You'll get to see some incredible local musicians or smaller touring acts who will probably have time to chat with you afterwards about music. I've learned about some of my favorite musicians from talking to saxophonists outside the music venue after the show. Plus, musicians are typically happy to share their experiences with their fans, so even if it feels intimidating, they will usually be happy to talk with you for a bit after the show. And if your child is learning music, they will really appreciate the time these professional musicians will give to them after you see them play. I know that for me, after seeing great musicians, I've always gone home afterwards and practiced. It's very inspiring to see where the practice can lead.

4) Learn songs that you like to listen to.
Yes, you have to have to eat your vegetables, but sometimes you need to treat yourself and get some ice cream. When I see that my students are starting lose motivation, I give them some more popular songs to learn and I've noticed the change in how much they practice when it's something they want to learn. It also doesn't matter what instrument you play. If you play flute and love Metallica, then learn the most rocking version of “Enter Sandman” on flute. If you play guitar and love Tchaikovsky, then learn the melody to the nutcracker suite on the guitar. Your teacher should be able to help you find versions of the songs that will be in your skill level, so don't hesitate to ask your teacher about songs you want to learn.

3) Find the really weird sounds your instrument can make.
Sometimes you don't want the squeaks and squaks, but sometimes you do. Just as guitarists will experiment with pedals to achieve different tones, you can explore other weird sounds on any instrument. And while you may need to apologize ahead of time to your neighbors, you'll have a blast finding all the weird things your instrument can do. When teaching recorder, my students loved learning how to “growl” with the instrument by singing into it while playing. They found making these weird sounds super fun, and it kept them motivated. It's also a fun break from playing exercises and can lead to having a unique voice on your instrument.

2) Play with friends.
Music is simply more fun to play with other people. Find people who are in the same skill level as you so you can learn together and from each other. It can help if you both play the same instrument, as you can more easily understand what your friend is doing. But most bands have multiple instruments, so it can be extra motivating to play with someone who plays a different instrument. There are a bunch of arrangements of almost any song, so you'll be able to find something fun to play together. If your child needs someone to play with, you can ask their teacher for any other students they could meet up with, or learn an instrument yourself to play with them. As an adult, there are a lot of people of all skill levels who want to play music, so don't be afraid to search them out on various message boards and local online forums.

1) Set up a performance.
For some people, having a goal of a performance can help keep you motivated to practice. Showing off your skills can be a great experience. Plus, having a performance in mind can prompt you to practice your music to the point that you feel comfortable with playing it in public. This doesn't have to be Carnegie Hall; it can be something as simple as learning your dad’s favorite song for his birthday. You can also ask your teacher about organizing a recital. There are plenty of opportunities to play in your area. If you feel confident enough to play in front of strangers, you'll find that local jam sessions and open mic nights can be a community-friendly experience and a great way to make friends who you can play with. Ask your local music store where you can play, or look up your local coffee shops and venues to see what's happening around town. Many of these events are all-ages, so even as a teenager or pre-teen, you can have a great chance to jam with more seasoned musicians.