Besides being fun, learning and playing a musical instrument can have many positive effects on your health and mental wellness. Research shows that these benefits can occur at any age and come from playing any instrument. Keep reading to see why people are playing instruments to improve their general health.
Stress Relief – Playing an instrument can help refocus bad energy into something positive and enjoyable, which in turn can help alleviate stress. Reduced stress levels lead to slowing down your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. Research shows that playing and composing music can reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels.
Improves respiratory system – Whether you’re singing show tunes or blowing into a saxophone or oboe, one of the most important things you can learn is how to breathe properly. Producing a good sound on any wind instrument is dependent on your breath, making breathing with the proper technique a must. So while you are in the pursuit of becoming a great singer or woodwind player you are actually also improving your respiratory system.
Exercise – Playing an instrument can be a great form of physical activity. Playing the piano, guitar or drums takes a lot of upper body strength and playing for extended periods of time can help build muscle while also improving your posture and increasing your stamina.
Improves Cognitive Performance – It has been shown that playing and listening to music can help improve memory in people suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Playing music has even been shown to help people recover from strokes as well as slow down the onset of dementia and Alzheimers.
Improved Immune System -Research between Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music has found that singing for an hour can increase levels of immune proteins, reduce stress and improve people’s mood. Studies have also shown that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses.
The 3 Most Important Electric Bassists That Every Bass Player Should Know and Study
So you want to play bass, huh? Well, let me be the first to welcome you to the club, and if you’ve already spent some time with the bass or are a seasoned player, that’s beautiful too! As a beginning, intermediate or advanced player of the bass, I think we can all agree that there’s always more to learn, and that we’re never done in our pursuit of mastering this wonderful instrument. Oftentimes I find myself looking for the next source of study, and usually I end up coming back to a handful of the same players who revolutionized the instrument decades ago. I believe that these are the players that merit a lifetime of study. I’d like to also add that this list is MY OPINION ONLY, and if these bassists stylistically don’t do it for you, that is totally fine. The key is finding players who inspire you, and learning from them, no matter what style! So without further ado, lets begin!
A lot has been made of the Fender Precision Bass over the years, but it can be argued that no one has taken it to greater heights than James Jamerson, the long unheralded bass genius of the Motown Sound. Jamerson was part of the Motown studio band called, “The Funk Brothers”, and together they played on more no. 1 hit records than The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Beach Boys, and Elvis combined. Jamerson was the groove master behind this unit.
The facets of Jamerson’s playing that make him stand out are his perfect time, tone, and his melodic bass line construction. Jamerson was one of the first to adopt the electric bass, a new invention in the late 50’s/early 60’s. He started on upright bass, and he played the Fender bass similarly, with just his index finger plucking the strings. This gave him a warm and punchy tone that anchored records by artists such as The Temptations, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, and Marvin Gaye, and earned him the nickname, “The Hook”. He was also one of the first bassists to deviate from the popular music bass zeitgeist of the time, which consisted of mostly playing roots and 5ths. By delving into more adventurous harmonic territory, creating counterpoint lines with the vocalist, Jamerson rewrote the rules on how pop bass is played.
Iconic Jamerson bass lines:
Ain’t No Mountain High Enough – Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell
What’s Goin’ On – Marvin Gaye
Darling Dear (Isolated Bassline) – The Jackson 5
The way that James Jamerson transformed the Fender Precision Bass is what Jaco Pastorius did for the Fender Jazz Bass. He did the unthinkable in the 70’s and 80’s by turning the electric bass into a soloistic instrument, finding ways to play melody, harmony, and rhythm, ALL AT THE SAME TIME. He is best known for his playing with the jazz-fusion band, Weather Report, and folk songwriter and singer Joni Mitchell.
Jaco’s unique traits were his melodiousness, tight grooves, and outrageous technique, the likes of which had never been heard and are rarely seen or heard even today. Jaco was a gifted composer as well, and wrote several beautiful tunes that have gone on to become standard repertoire in the fusion genre. Because of his ear for composition, Jaco could play hauntingly beautiful melodies in the upper register of his instrument, which at the time was uncharted territory for bassists. Unfortunately, his melodic sense was often overlooked due to his monstrous technique that not only spanned playing fast in the conventional sense, but playing chords and harmonics as well. He did what had never been done, which was give the bass a human voice.
Iconic Jaco Pastorius examples:
Portrait of Tracy – Jaco Pastorius
Teen Town – Weather Report (a Pastorius composition)
Coyote – Joni Mitchell
There are many reasons why Stanley Clarke is important to the electric bass, but one of the most significant is that he was an absolutely monster on the electric bass AND the upright acoustic bass, one of the first masters of both. He began his career playing upright bass with straight-ahead jazz artists such as Joe Henderson, Art Blakey, and Horace Silver. With Chick Corea, he formed Return to Forever, one of the first jazz- fusion bands and would go on to release a number of hit records as a solo artist.
Clarke’s standout features are his ability to play both electric and upright bass at a high level, his compositional ability and being one of the first bassists to bring slapping to prominence. Clarke has lead his own band for decades, where he plays both basses, and has even found a percussive way of playing on the upright bass. In his band, they play mostly Clarke original tunes, but he is also an accomplished film composer, having scored such projects as “Pee Wee’s Playhouse”, and “Boyz n the Hood”. And while the slap bass concept is credited to Larry Graham of Sly and the Family Stone, Clarke played a large role in bringing it to prominence and expanding it technically.
Iconic Stanley Clarke examples:
School Days – Stanley Clarke
The Romantic Warrior – Return to Forever
Silly Putty – Stanley Clarke
I hope this gives you some new stuff to check out, and if this is all familiar territory to you, I encourage you to keep exploring and see if maybe there’s something undiscovered that you can find. Happy listening!
Author Maximillian G. is an up and coming bassist and bass superfan who can be found gigging all over NYC and is also available for private bass lessons in your home. Contact us today to schedule your NYC bass lesson with him!
Image courtesy of Phaitoon at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
There exists in my adult students a special phenomenon that I have affectionately labeled The “Should” Syndrome. Symptoms of this syndrome include excessive self-doubt, narrow judgment regarding what is going well with their playing, and when their frustration is at its peak, passive aggression toward their teacher when she tries to give them a compliment. It is always interesting to note the difference in attitude between the kids I teach and the adults I teach. Some of the adults enjoy music as much as the kids do, but there is always an air of self-consciousness about their age and what they don’t already know (read: what they “should” already know by their age). Mistakes in lessons are immediately followed by apologies. Comments are made about how they may be “too old” to still be trying to learn this. They lament, “I would be good at this now if I had just started playing when I was young.” Etc., etc., etc.
Kids, on the other hand (especially the younger ones), rarely apologize or even acknowledge their mistakes. An eight year-old who gets a new guitar rips it out of the delivery box and immediately starts banging on it and sliding his fingers around the fretboard, experimenting with the different sounds even though he doesn’t know anything about the instrument yet. This is because he is too busy being interested in this new, alien thing in front of him than he is with what the world’s expectations of him regarding that thing are. A thirty-eight year-old often comes to their first lesson waiting for instructions and not doing anything until the teacher instructs them to, for fear of looking silly. Ultimately, this is not such a bad thing, but they don’t feel free to experiment and connect with their guitar on their own level because this way might not be the “correct” way. I see this in my more experienced adult students too, as well as my musician colleagues. Once you’re older, your personal responsibilities and psychological demons start to cloud your connection with your art. As adults – both beginners and professionals – we are all familiar with the following scenario:
It’s a weekday afternoon and I need to squeeze in some practice time in the only free hour I have today. As I pick up my instrument, I remember for the third time that the rent is due tomorrow and I’m still waiting for that one check to clear. There’s nothing I can do about it now, but it’s still bothering me. I begin to warm up by playing some scales. As I play and some notes don’t come out as well as I would like them to, I begin to tense up my hands and body. Then the tension makes it even harder. I watched a YouTube video of a ten year-old prodigy playing faster-than-lightning this morning. I’m at least a decade older and I can’t play these scales nearly that fast. My mistakes don’t just feel physically uncomfortable now. I feel silly for making them, as if someone is in the room with me and judging me for being a bad person.
Speaking of being a bad person, I got into a fight with my significant other yesterday and said some mean things, and along with the rent, that’s on my mind too. I look at the clock and I have half an hour left. I still feel silly about those mistakes with my scales, but now it’s time to move on to the pieces I’ve been working on. I still don’t like my sound right now, but I know I have to get this work done.
The phone rings as I’m ten minutes into working on this piece. There’s an issue with a project I’ve been assigned to at work and I need to put down my instrument and go to the computer to solve it. I could fix it later, but my boss will probably want it done right now, and I don’t want to look bad. I’ll need to practice everything another day, even though my sound is still not great and I only have a few days before my next lesson. When will I ever sound like that kid in the video? What am I even doing with my life?
Young children don’t go through this thought process when they play. Children do not have all of the subconscious biases about how the world “should” be, like adults do. They do not separate the everything in their environment into strict categories, like adults do. They do not have a defined idea of who they are yet, so they do not exclude possibilities and pursue their interests without hesitation. (A friend of mine who teaches elementary school told me a story about how on the day before winter break, she had her students cut out and color pictures of holiday objects. The choices included Christmas trees, menorahs, etc. When a boy from a Jewish family chose a Christmas tree, she inquired as to what made him choose Christmas symbols rather than Hannukah ones. The boy stared at her, puzzled by the question, and said “I just think that the tree is pretty”. What many adults would assume he “should” choose did not even occur to him!)
Because of this openness, children have an extreme advantage when it comes to learning anything, and they absorb information like a sponge. The advantage to starting to play music when you are younger, then, is not because people eventually become “too old” to learn – the advantage lies in the fact that the more time you spend studying music when you are a child, the more time you’ve spent building a connection to music without ever questioning your worth at it or having to deal with adulthood’s endless distractions. This connection causes a snowball effect of positive experiences, which slowly creates a positive self-image regarding music for an individual once they have reached adolescence and eventually, adulthood. By this time, they are not trying to learn music – they are a musician.
What is the solution, then? Obviously, we cannot do a System Restore on our minds to make ourselves stop thinking like an overly self-aware adult.
Recognize that even if the voice inside your head has some unhelpful things to say, you can learn to silence it and just enjoy the music. Think about all of the things that you enjoyed as a little kid with unbridled passion and how you approached those things. Have fun and stop the adult voice in your head that says your picture is “wrong” because you didn’t color in the lines. Play like a child…
Rianne M. is currently giving guitar lessons in NYC to adults and children, and occasionally blurs the line between them with her teaching styles. Contact us today to schedule a lesson with her!
The oldest instrument in the world is the flute; to be specific, a couple of 42,000 year-old bird-bone flutes found in a cave in Germany. The last few centuries have transformed the Western concert flute from a hollow stick or bone with holes in it into a shiny, intricately wrought metal tube with a complex mechanism of keys, springs and rods. However, the musical character of the flute is still closely tied to its history as a ceremonial instrument and with the natural world of wood and bird-bones from which the earliest flutes were fashioned. With its shimmering tone and ability to play very high and very fast, the flute can evoke the calls of birds, rolling hills and soaring skies, while it’s dark and smooth low register conjures up an air of mystery and ritual.
It’s an amazing feeling to play an instrument with such deep history, but that’s only part of the flute’s story…
Over the last century there has been increasing interest into the sound-world of the flute beyond its beautiful and rich tone. When I first began delving into this world in my early years of college at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music and more recently at the Manhattan School of Music, I was astonished by the variety of possible sounds: the low beat of a distant drum, the sound of a passing jet, gentle rapid fluttering (the sound of amplified hummingbird wings?), very high whistling, the crisp POP of popping corn, a train horn, a siren… the list goes on (and beyond easy comparison with environmental sound). These sounds are known as extended techniques, and the flute has one of the most diverse ranges of extended techniques of any instrument. Extended techniques have been increasingly explored by performers and used by composers over the last century because as well as being fun sounds in themselves, they broaden the expressive possibilities of instruments. If you think about it as an artists’ paint palette, extended techniques have broadened the color range of instruments from the primary colors of traditional tone to a vast range of mixtures and shades.
As well as expanding the expressive potential of instrumental music to fit with our ever-changing world, extended techniques can be extremely useful practice tools. An important reason for learning music is that it sharpens our ears and it teaches us to listen. However, the attention to detail necessary for productive practice can be frustrating for students, and this is where extended techniques can be very helpful. Incorporating extended techniques into learning an instrument can re-introduce the freedom of play into a context that can quickly become obsessive and un-creative. Sometimes when that high note just won’t come out the way we want it, rather than repeating it over and over and becoming annoyed and disheartened, playing a few multiphonics (for example) can help press the re-start button: refreshing the ear, re-connecting with a spirit of experimentation and in this case approaching the issue of air-speed (the problem behind the troublesome high note) from a totally different angle.
Learning an instrument is many things, and it is something different to everyone, but without a doubt it should be fun and creative! The best music comes from a place of imagination as well as great technique!
Andrea W. is now available for flute lessons in your home or online. Contact Music To Your Home to schedule yours with her today!
If you really want to get yourself into a routine and stay motivated while practicing your instrument, then it’s best to have a solid plan. The following are five tips to keep you going:
1. Create the right atmosphere
Nothing will motivate you in your musical practice like the right environment. You might be one of those people who prefer a quiet room. Others need a little bit of stimulation. Whatever setting you like, try to be consistent so as to enter the right mindset when you start practicing. If you will need water, snacks, picks, pencils, manuscript paper, and sharpeners etc. have them with you. If you use apps, download them in advance.
2. Warm up
Musical instrument practice is much like a physical workout. To get yourself in the mood, ensure you do a warm up every time before you start. That way, you will be able to prepare your mind and body before the actual practice. It doesn’t have to be 15 minutes of fiddling with scales but can be something like sight reading or playing a familiar song if you like. Also, get into the right mindset by considering the keys of the pieces you are rehearsing.
3. Set Goals
Practicing is not synonymous with just playing through your music. You need to have the end in mind at the start of each practice session. With a prior goal for each practice session, you will find yourself progressing more quickly and effectively. Only that each goal needs to be broken down into smaller and focused objectives. Every time you complete a goal should help you feel more accomplished.
4. Be realistic
Many people – including your teachers – have told you to “get a lot done now”. Of course, it’s not realistic for you to do all your practice in one go. It gets even worse when you have a tough part to practice. The best way to go about this is to practice a little but more often. That way, you can go through a long-drawn process bit-by-bit. Think more about quality and not the quantity of your practice. Practice smarter and not necessarily longer if you want to have the willpower to keep going. Small and realistic goals should help you overcome areas that looked tricky and accept any missteps you might have made.
5. Identify and overcome problems
There is no need to ignore any areas you might find problematic. Learn to identify where you are using the wrong fingering or stumbling out of time. Decide why it’s going wrong and make up your mind how you will fix it. Obviously, different problems require different techniques. Problems with rhythm call for steps at mastering it. You may want to practice rhythm by simply clapping it out or use one note alongside a metronome. That way, you will know when to increase the tempo and when to slow it down. With time, you will master your musical instrument. Having the right music teacher is also a huge factor in overcoming plateaus and ultimately making the most progress. That’s where we come in, contact Music to Your Home to set up your NYC music lesson today!
MTYH Viola teacher Carrie D. has been playing viola since age 6, and she’s pretty passionate when it comes to all things having to do with this cool instrument. Here are her thoughts on why viola is a great choice for your musical journey:
Want to play the violin but can’t sing that high? Want to play the cello but don’t feel like lugging it around? Here’s a solution for you: viola!
A violin and viola look pretty much the same, so what exactly is the difference? Kindly referred to as a “larger violin” or “smaller cello,” the viola is the perfect choice for many reasons.
- It’s unique. Not many people start out playing the viola, and so you and your instrument would be one of a kind!
- Because the viola is “in between” a violin and cello, it comes in many sizes and lengths for all types of people, tall or short.
- Violists get to play violin music, cello music, and our own music. Because of this, you will learn how to read many different clefs, giving you the upper hand in future music theory classes.
- Being able to perform a wide variety of instruments’ music also means violists are adept at playing many different genres of music. Baroque, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century, rock and roll, Broadway, and much more!
- Composers today love to write for the viola, and the “new music” scene is an ever-growing part of the current musical community. Some of these pieces may even include electric viola.
- Beautiful things are associated with the word “viola:” Viola (the flower), Viola Davis (the actress), Viola Thompson (the baseball player), and even a character named Viola from Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night.
- While lots of musicians are focusing on playing the melody out front, violists get to play the harmony. They are good at supporting and helping other instruments, proving us to be true team players! This also makes the viola a great instrument for people who are shy and like to blend in.
- Music to your Home (MTYH) has viola teachers available and excited to start teaching YOU today!
Image courtesy of adamr at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
2016 has been quite a tough year for music lovers worldwide since it has witnessed the loss of many top musicians. The year started with the exit of David Bowie, a music maestro in January and much the subsequent deaths of other legends including Sharon Jones, Leonard Cohen, Prince, and others.
Here is a look at the top musicians the music industry lost in 2016 and left us with just beautiful memories.
1. David Bowie
On January 10th, music maestro David Bowie died at age 69 following a long struggle with cancer. Bowie earned fame for such hit songs as Modern Love, China Girl, Under Pressure, Changes, Heroes, Space Oddity, and much more. Bowie was not only a successful musician but also an accomplished actor with roles in movies such as Labyrinth, The Last Temptation of Christ, and The Man Who Fell to Earth.
On April 21st, the Purple Rain hit-maker known as Prince died at his Minneapolis recording studios aged 57. Throughout his distinguished career, Prince won various accolades and awards including 7 Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award for Happy Feetís The Song of the Heart as well as an Academy Award for Purple Rain.
3. Frank Sinatra Jr.
On March 16th, Frank Sinatra passed away at age 72. Frank Sinatra Jr. was the son of Frank Sinatra who was yet another legend. Sinatra Jr. also had an accomplished music career of his own and had a decent career run appearing in close to 20 shows including Family Guy.
4. Leonard Cohen
On November 10th, Canadian musician Leonard Cohen departed aged 82. Leonard was a Grammy Award winner and an accomplished poet and songwriter too. He was best known for his song Hallelujah.
5. Sharon Jones
On November 18th, Sharon Jones died in New York aged 60 after struggling with pancreatic cancer. Sharon was an accomplished American soul and funk singer. She was also the lead singer of Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings.
6. Bobby Vee
On October 24th, Bobby Vee also known as Robert Tomas Velline died aged 73. Bobby gained fame in the early 60ís with hits such as Take Good Care of My Baby.
7. Greg Lake
On December 8th, Greg Lake, an accomplished British songwriter, musician, and singer passed away aged 69. Lake died after struggling with cancer. 21st Century Schizoid Man and In the Court of the Crimson King are some of the songs he will be best remembered for.
8. Leon Russell
On November 13th, Leon Russell, an American pop star died aged 74. Leon had earned quite a reputation as a studio pianist back in the 1980ís. As a studio musician, producer, and songwriter, Leon has collaborated with Ike & Tina Turner, The Ronettes, Sir Elton Jon, The Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and many more.
9. Glenn Frey
On January 17th, Glenn Frey who was a co-founder of Eagles died aged 67 years due to health complications since he was suffering from pneumonia and rheumatoid arthritis at the same time. Glenn was a guitarist and a co-writer of some of the greatest hits of all time including Hotel California and Desperado.
10. Mose Allison
On November 15th, Mose Allison, an accomplished American jazz pianist passed away aged 89. Allison became famous for playing an interesting mix of modern jazz and blues, playing the piano and singing too.
11. Maurice White
Maurice White, the founder of Earth, Wind, & Fire passed away on February 4th aged 74. Maurice has battled with Parkinsonís disease for a long time before his death.
12. Pete Burns
Pete Burns, the Dead or Alive singer died on October 23rd due to a heart attack aged 57. Pete was a controversial pop star that participated in the reality show titled Celebrity Big Brother.
13. Phife Dawg
On March 23rd, rapper Phife Dawg also known as Malik Taylor died at a very young age. Phife was just 45 at the time of his untimely death. He was a co-founder of the legendary hip-hop group known as A Tribe Called Quest.
14. Paul Kantner
On January 28th, Paul Kantner, a rhythm guitarist and vocalist died aged 74 due to multiple organ failures. His hits such as Somebody to Love and White Rabbit deserve a special mention.
15. Merle Haggard
On April 6th, Merle Haggard died aged 79. Haggard was best known for songs such as Workiní Man Blues and The Okie From Muskogee. Haggard has over 35 number 1 country hits in his illustrious music career.
It is quite clear based on the long list of musical artists who have passed away in 2016 that this year has been the most tragic yet, musically speaking. The 15 artists featured on this list were truly astounding and contributed greatly to the world of music, each in their special way. Each of each of these musicians have also inspired us to teach music lessons to an entire new generation of future artists. What is left is for us to cherish their music because if we do that, we can be sure that their spirits live on among us.
With many of our piano students living in NYC, I thought it would be useful to talk about finding the right instrument for your city apartment or home. For many of our clients finding enough space for a full size piano can be a real challenge. Here are our recommendations for pianos that will fit in tight spaces.
- The Williams Allegro Hammer Action Digital Piano: This is a great piano for extremely small spaces. It’s a digital piano so it’s lightweight and easy to move. It can also be put away whenever extra space is needed. I have played this piano and can say that for an entry level keyboard its sounds are very rich and the hammer action of the keys is excellent for an entry level digital piano. Make sure you buy a keyboard stand and have a stool of appropriate height for practice time. The other advantage is that you can plug headphones into it for late night practice sessions.
- Essex EUP-108C: Let’s talk about acoustic pianos… Whether you are a professional pianist or a child taking piano lessons for the first time, there is nothing like playing on a real acoustic piano. This Essex model piano is one of the most compact and well-made instruments I have seen. The piano is affordable, well designed, plays well and sounds excellent. I had the pleasure of playing one recently and for such a small piano the sound is very big. This piano can fit into very small spaces and as far as pianos go, its super lightweight so it’s easy to move around if you have to. The piano also has a very stylish look that will fit well into any Upper East Side or Tribeca apartment. The best part about this piano is that it’s made by Steinway and Sons so it has all the latest engineering enhancements from their amazing development team at a fraction of the cost of an actual Steinway. This is definitely a great instrument for beginner piano lessons.
- Boston UP-118E PE: Here’s another great little piano. This one is slightly larger than the Essex but still small enough to fit into almost any room. The design of this instrument is definitely more traditional but the sound and performance is just as good – if not better than the Essex. Also made by Steinway, you are getting the same standards that has made that company famous for many years. Although this piano has a small footprint it is definitely a little heavier than the Essex so moving it around is slightly trickier. Any beginner student or professional would be very happy to own one of these instruments even if space was not an issue.
- Yamaha M560: This is a really nice piano. It’s definitely compact, so for apartments or small rooms it’s a great instrument. It’s really well made, sounds excellent and in my experience Yamaha pianos are real workhorses and can take a lot of abuse. It has a different sound than the Essex and Boston but all 3 are great when it comes to that experience. The design is very traditional and somewhat ornate. It’s not my favorite piano ascetically but a great instrument nonetheless. The Yamaha is close in size to the Boston but will still fit nicely where space is limited.
- Steinway 4510 Sheraton: This is my personal favorite of the small pianos. It’s actually smaller than the Yamaha but in my opinion has a bigger sound. It’s also super cool looking and will basically match any décor your home or apartment has. You can use this for beginner piano lessons in your home or it can be used professionally in the world’s best recording studios. It’s compact but maintains that authentic Steinway and Sons sound. The action on this piano is super quick for an upright as well. It’s also handcrafted in the same factory that Steinway grand pianos are made using the same process and craftsmanship. When you sit down and play this you can see it’s solid, sturdy and well-built but extremely artistic and visually appeasing at the same time. You can tell something extra went into this design. If I were learning how to play the piano this instrument would definitely keep me motivated to practice and constantly create.
If you’re someone who is looking for a piano in NYC or anywhere else and have limited space these are my top choices. Choosing the right piano can absolutely make a difference in how you play, practice, learn and create music. These are all winners in my opinion.
Image courtesy of Rawich at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Music to Your Home is lucky to be able to work with musicians from around the world, and Alejandro M. comes to us with words of wisdom from Argentina. Currently he’s a professional guitar player and teacher living the dream and gigging all over NYC.
Recently, Music to Your Home interviewed Jim P, one of our saxophone teachers and a current gigging musician all over NYC. Jim indulged our curiosity about his experiences with teaching, playing, learning and inspiring his students. His philosophies on teaching sax lessons in NYC are not to be missed, so read on:
1) What advice would you give to parents who are considering getting saxophone or other woodwind lessons for their children?
Jim: I would say this about any instrument really, but take the plunge! How often does your child get one on one attention from a highly trained professional working in their field?
I also like the idea of mentorship when it comes to learning music. Having somebody to look up to, imitate, and question is really important. I know the student-mentor relationship has been and continues to be integral for me as I master my craft, and I want to share that experience with others, as well.
2) What is the best woodwind instrument to start young students on?
Jim: This is a really good question – For flute and clarinet players, students should start on their instrument of choice, but for saxophone players, there is some discussion. I know my teachers started me on clarinet before switching to saxophone, because the clarinet requires more technique and control. I also understand the argument for starting students on sax right away – if that’s the instrument they want to play and it’s going to keep them interested and involved in music, then maybe it’s right to skip the clarinet and go right to sax. I think it’s okay to start a young student on saxophone, especially if they’re getting a dedicated lesson time once a week.
3) What are some obstacles that saxophone or clarinet students face when learning how to play and how can they be overcome?
Jim: I think a lot of it is just patience – with yourself and with the instrument. When you pick up a woodwind for the first time it can feel very awkward. You’re shoving a hunk of metal and wood and rubber into your face and it has all these buttons and levers and you can’t see what you’re doing with it.
Our modern culture in a lot of ways is centered on ease of use – if we can’t operate a new phone or app within two minutes we give up. Saxophone, and other woodwinds, they’re different. They take patience and perseverance. You have to pace yourself, and give yourself time to grow and learn.
4) How much daily practice time does a beginner need to realize steady progress and become a proficient player?
Jim: The short answer? About 15 minutes. With beginning students, getting acclimated and adjusted to the instrument is essential, and usually about 15 minutes of daily, uninterrupted, focused practice will help with that acclimation and learning the fundamentals of playing. There is also a lot going on with the muscles of your face and hands as you start a new instrument, and you don’t want to over extend yourself.
Depending on the student and their goals on the instrument, 15 minutes can expand into longer periods in the first weeks or months. Personally, I think about my own practice from a more goal-orientated perspective, but for a lot of students, timing their practice is very helpful.
5) What benefits outside of music can come from learning the saxophone?
Jim: Well I was talking about the patience aspect earlier, and I really think that’s huge. When I pick up a horn it can be very meditative for me. Working slowly on difficult passages, while it stresses some people out, really helps me to slow down and think about my problems methodically.
Beyond that, I mean you could go through a ton of benefits that studies attribute to studying music. Improved test scores and all of that. Problem solving skills, motor skills, spatial skills, learning a new language, they all come into play when you’re learning music, and in real time. To me, when people talk about that stuff, what they’re getting at is that studying music (or really any other art) helps you to become a more complete person.
6) What do you love about teaching and being a performer in NYC?
Jim: My favorite part about teaching and playing in New York is the people that I meet and work with, without a doubt. The people I know on Music To Your Home’s teacher list are great examples – Lena H. (woodwinds), Manuel S. (piano), Daan K. (guitar), Tim T. (drums), Owen B. (woodwinds). These men and women aren’t just formidable musicians, but amazing and inspiring people to be around. Honestly, they are the reason I work so hard to be the best musician and person I can be.
7) What was your most memorable teaching experience?
Jim: I was working with a student when I lived in the Midwest. He and I basically started together while he was in middle school, and we had a really good rapport all the way through high school. When I moved to New York we stopped working together, but we kept in touch. When he did his first solo recital as a high school senior he wrote a very heartfelt thank you to me in the program – knowing that I couldn’t be at the performance and that I would probably never read it myself. An old professor of mine actually sent me a picture – I’m not actually sure that the student ever knew I read his thank you. I think about that to this day, and how much of an impact a teacher can have on his or her students, and vice versa, and how cool that can be.
8) When and where was your most memorable performance?
Jim: This is a really difficult question – the “big” performances either featuring my music or at important venues or with important people, they’re memorable in their own way, but the performances I really cherish are the times that the music was really happening. I remember one time specifically, we were playing with this jazz-funk band at this dive – and for whatever reason, the whole band just clicked. We opened up to all these new territories and opportunities; it was like everything was brand new. It was really a beautiful moment. And even though we were on this little stage with only a handful of people in the audience, everyone was laughing and smiling by the end. Those are the moments I really live for as a performer.
9) Who are you musical influences?
Jim: I probably have too many to list. For jazz; Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Hank Mobley, Warne Marsh, Herbie Hancock, Bill Evans, and Mark Turner are just a few of my favorites on a long and ever-growing list.
For more rock or funk influenced music (because I end up playing a lot of it) I look to Maceo Parker, Lennie Pickett, John Scofield, and Kenny Garrett for inspiration.
10) Do you have a preferred woodwind method book for beginner students?
Jim: The Standard of Excellence series by Bruce Pearson or the Rubank books are my favorite methods for people just starting out. There are some great jazz methods by Lennie Niehaus and Jim Sniedero I really like once the student has some faculty on the instrument.
I also use a lot of my own material in my teaching – not only do I work on pedagogical material for all my students’ benefit, but I like writing stuff for individuals as well. I think about teaching – especially one on one lessons – as a two way street. There are a lot of ways to solve a problem; why not cultivate an individual’s problem-solving capabilities instead of just telling them what’s “right” and what’s “wrong?” In this way, we’re learning how to be human beings and artists instead of just pushing buttons on a shiny noisemaker. Plus it’s just way more fun.