Music beyond Words
India was celebrating 50 years of its independence. While most of the nation would be bathing in patriotism, I saw a moustached man from Greece own India’s most iconic monument in a way the 7 year-old in me thought wasn’t possible. All he had was a grand piano, a few keyboards and an orchestra. As the sun set on Yanni’s performance at the Taj that night, something had clicked. For the next few years, I couldn’t help but gasp every time at the sight and sound of a piano. No other instrument had that effect on me. Six years later, I finally took out my grandmother’s 49 key Panasonic synthesizer, dusted it off, and set upon a journey that has been fulfilling beyond words.
The synthesizer, and in the last couple of years the piano, have been a massive source of strength and support in my daily life. The internet is a treasure trove of fantastic learning resources, and I made as much of it as I could. I was fortunate to receive some very sound advice when I was an infant on this journey. A wise man told me “if you really want to do something with music, start making your own.” I have tried to follow his advice ever since, and though I’m still very, very young on this journey, it is immensely gratifying to be able to convert your emotions into a piece of music.
I moved into Chennai just this February and was looking to finally get some formal education in Western Music. I’m extremely glad I made the choice to join AWM. I’m being coached and mentored by two fantastic people in my teacher and the CEO, and I hope to make the most of this welcome opportunity.
Sarthak Krishna Dev
Piano Student –Academy of Western Music
My Journey with the Violin
I was eight years old when I started playing the violin. I was just naturally drawn to the instrument. My initial trainings were not structured, but I enjoyed playing the violin.
Looking back after seven years I had few moments during the journey where I felt like quitting. When I joined the Academy of Western Music I had no intentions of appearing for any grade exams. I was speechless when my master – Giri Sir told me that he was going to prepare me for the Trinity School exams.
I was happy with how I went about playing the Grade I. But there was always a Grade II. This is when the pressure started as the criticisms grew harder and the expectations were high. My Sir wanted perfection. I remember, until the previous day of my grade II exam there was a particular piece which I could not master. I played the Grade II exam as confidently as I could with the aim of bettering my scores. I passed the exam with distinction with 96 marks. I was very pleased and Sir was happy as well. He wanted me to carry on and not to be over confident.
It came to me as a surprise one summer evening when I was told that I would win a prize from the Trinity School of Music, Chennai Chapter for my outstanding performance in my Grade II exam. During the felicitation function I felt proud of myself for having got the highest marks among all participants in string instrument from Initial grade to Grade IV.
Thus this journey has been a great experience and I thank God, my violin teachers and my family for the support and encouragement given to me.
I would like to conclude by saying that anything is possible with dedication and effort.
Sered George David
Violin Student –Academy of Western Music
The Effect of Music
Many people play an instrument because they like the sound of it. Some people play an instrument because they have seen their family members or another person play it.
Me???? I wanted to play the piano because I liked the way how black and white could create such brilliant and colourful sounds. I am an Eighth Grade student of piano at The Academy of Western Music.
I started playing the piano since the age of 5. I first saw a piano at a music concert that I went to with my father. I being baffled, asked my father “Daddy, how can something which has only black and white produce such beautiful sounds?” Well he said, “Son, that’s the beauty of Music. It can make you happy when you’re sad”. That actually sparked my love for music and especially the piano. So here I am now playing the thing that I love the most and learning it at the best place in Chennai. Above all, my teacher Mr. Srikanth Gnanasekaran has taught me so much even though I joined the Academy only two years ago. The other things that I enjoy at the Academy include performance opportunities for students and the chance to watch and learn from other professionals, when they play at recitals hosted there. This is in addition to the exam preparation that a student gets at the Academy.
There is a quote in the lobby of the Academy by Bob Marley that says, “When music hits you, you will feel no pain”. Well, that is the same effect I have felt over the many years I have played the piano. Whether it was a bad test mark or an emotional attack from the death of a beloved family member, music was always there to help me feel happy again. Even now people still ask me “Why do you still play music and go to class? Isn’t it a burden?” Well, if only they could experience the way I feel every time I sit at the piano and play, then they would never ask me a question like that.
I would like to thank my teacher -Mr. Srikanth, the CEO -Mr. John Sudhakar and my family for giving me this opportunity to play this amazing instrument.
Tharun J Iyer
Advanced Level Piano Student -Academy of Western Music
Music to Experience
It was those days when India had just entered the world of television and internet was never heard of. Radio was the main source of music for listeners and I was no different. After accumulating some money, I purchased a pocket transistor and managed to hook on to All India Radio. The transistor was a true companion all day and night. My studies would be incomplete without the transistor emanating music in the background.
That was when I dreamt of playing a musical instrument one day. However I couldn’t muster courage to tell my parents that I wanted to learn music. The parental and peer pressure ensured I let my dream aborted but I did not allow it to die. I used to envy those who could sing or play music. I would lay my hands on a toy keyboard that had just one octave and would play some tunes. My ears and heart would rejoice even to hear sound bites coming from that toy keyboard.
It took me 20 years to realize the dream and I am glad I did finally manage. It is worth the wait and I always knew it is going to provide me an experience that cannot be matched by any other medium. In a highly demanding environment of corporate life it is like an oasis in a dessert. It is important for me to keep my senses in balance when there is every possibility of it drifting and become insane.
Chennai is mecca of music enthusiast and performing art. If one has time by the side and one likes any kind of music I would strongly recommend acquiring yourself some skill of playing any instrument. Believe me it makes so much difference to your music experience. It is one thing to listen to music but whole different experience to play it yourself and enjoy the frequency. Be aware sometimes it sounds interesting to try your hand at self-learning. As they say ultimately you need a teacher to show you the mirror and provide direction. It is easy to learn wrong way but hard to rectify it later.
To my advantage I could locate a Class within walking distance from my house where Srikanth Sir used to teach Keyboard. There was no excuse and nothing left to decide. I just joined knowing very well that I had to steal some time from my busy job that I do for living to fulfill my passion. It is a decision often gets procrastinated because obviously job comes first. But when you are busy earning livelihood for you and your family sometime you need to live for yourself and your passion. In these matters taking plunge is relatively easy but what is challenging is to sustain it. I have come across people enthusiastically joining classes just to terminate abruptly. The realization comes later when the passion keeps reminding perhaps you made wrong choice. I hope I will not be in that category of people.
The association with Srikanth Sir let me join The Academy of Western Music. It was again a no brainer since I didn’t want any excuse like distance to overpower the desire to learn. The learning environment that The Academy of Western Music provides is second to none with great facility and sophisticated instruments. What I like more here is the opportunity that is provided to students to perform while learning. Some of us have stage phobia and opportunities like SPOT enables in removing the phobia. It also assists in better preparing for the examinations.
I continued learning Keyboard but always fascinated with the elegance and grace of Piano. It is not to suggest in any manner that one is superior to another. In my view every instrument is a god gift to the mankind. In the past the only barrier could have been space and some investment but no more. Fortunately I could afford both. The choice was easy and I shifted to learning Piano.
These days my routine is adjusted to the time that is required for practicing Piano. I make it a point not to miss a class as much as I can. It is advisable to be regular in practice than erratic. The passion that started with listening to music has gone beyond listening. It is no more just music. It is now an experience that is for life.
Vice President, Business Services (globally renowned management consulting company)
Advanced Level Piano Student -Academy of Western Music
Elixir of Music
Ever since I heard my friend strum Für Elise on the guitar decades ago, I have been hooked on to Classical Guitar.
While I dabbled with the Acoustic Guitar briefly, Classical was enchanting.
Work, travel, family were excuses that I gave myself to avoid Music.
I read about the Academy of Western Music in a daily and decided to give it a shot.
I realised later that it gave me the much needed elixir of Music.
The ambience and facilities in AWM are ideal to further interest in Music. The Academy also has a library which few other institutes have. Student performances are conducted regularly to encourage talent.
There are presentations by experts on various aspects of Music.
Importantly. one can learn at one’s own pace. The Academy has qualified teachers to guide aspirants. I’m thankful to my teacher Jonathan, who puts up with all my lack of practice patiently. He made me realise that age is no bar for an interested person and gently nudged me to take the Trinity College of Music examination. I hope to play alongside him without missing a beat, note or pause! I’m enjoying Music and look forward to my weekend classes at AWM rather than seeing it as a chore.
Some youngsters of the AWM, whom I have seen perform, are amazing.
May be I’ll say some day that I learnt Music with them in AWM.
In Mr. John Sudhakar, CEO, AWM has a humane individual who, apart from being so involved and passionate about Music, also has an innate ability to spot and nurture talent.
Classical Guitar Student –Academy of Western Music
Music, One Thing I Truly Enjoy
I am happy that my parents helped me realise that I get energised when I sing and listen to music, especially western music. My parents have always encouraged and believed that I could be a singer. They have been taking me tirelessly to participate in music competitions. The learning is that I need to learn the basics and learn the fundamentals.
Chennaites, we are blessed. We have the right place where we get the right teaching, infrastructure and the coaching for Western Music – Academy of Western Music.
One day at school, I received news that I had been selected for the inter school singing competition at St. Johns Public School. About 48 schools and approximately 400 children participated in the competition. There were three judges, Mr. Yani Desh, Mr. Prasanna and Mr. Kumarasan. They announced that the winner would be awarded a trophy and a certificate. I felt slightly nervous right before getting on the stage.
Later, after all the schools completed their performances, it was time for the results. I was eager, hoping for a place amongst the top three. As the judges were about to dictate the winners name, my heart was beating fast, everyone were anxious to know the results. That’s when they announced, that The Best Singer Award goes to R.Sathviga Sri. I was startled. It was something very unanticipated and unexpected. Flying in excitement, I received my trophy and left the stage. There were mainly two reasons of my success, The Academy of Western Music and my family’s contributions to this competition. I would definitely like to thank my wonderful teacher, Ms. Sangita Santosham. For Patiently correcting my mistakes when I would go wrong, for constantly raising me up when I would sink and for heartening me when I would feel down. I am also thankful for learning everything you have taught me as it has helped me incredibly. I would like to thank my parents for helping me solve every problem I have gone through, pulling me up when I fall down and for believing in me with all their heart. Lastly, I would like to conclude by saying thanks again for all your support.
Sathviga Sri. R (Age: 11 years)
Vocal Student -Academy of Western Music, Chennai.
From Aspiring Composer to Aspiring Learner
I joined the academy of western music exactly two years back; with one steady goal- learn enough music to be able to compose within a few months. Having a strong base in the rhythm and lyrics departments, I figured that the tune was the only ingredient I had left to acquire, in order to make music. Rather than the violin, the guitar or the flute, I decided to play the King of all instruments- the piano (because once you chalked out the plan for a song in the piano, it’s very simple to extrapolate that plan and implement it in an orchestra). Like most ambitious people with a “how hard could it be” attitude, I was deluded by the thought that creativity thrived on ignorance. I felt that learning music gave the mind a fixed direction to think. This meant that learning would make you narrow minded in the way you’d approach new compositions and eventually, you will just end up becoming another artist with a perfectly predictable collection of tunes in a compact disk. On the other hand, if you were ignorant about the technicalities and just had a basic sense of what sounded good, you would sit in front of the piano and hit random notes in different combinations till you eventually discovered what sounded nice. Since you’re not really thinking in terms of playing “this chord for this note“, your mind would essentially look at the possibility of “12 different keys (5 black and 7 white, per scale) for each note” that you try. So this lack of bias would definitely yield something unique. Moreover, every song would have a whole new flavor of that uniqueness. All this sure does seem theoretically possible. But only when you actually sit in front of a keyboard and hit those keys hopelessly do you realize that you don’t seem to be going anywhere. So I realized that I had to equip myself with the fundamentals of the piano to some extent. Thus, despite my reticence, I enrolled for the piano course to get no more than a very basic idea which would prime my fingers and get me in the zone to start composing.
But as I sat in front of that beautiful contraption of strings, hammers and ivory keys, its very majesty drew my fingers to perch on its keys gracefully. Suddenly, even the mistakes I made while playing, sounded like music to me. I was able to connect with every single semitone that the instrument produced and felt an increasing need to delve into it. Since then, every single piano class (which is unfortunately only once a week) has been a source of happiness and escapism from everything else. My parents gifted me a digital piano (no, it’s NOT a keyboard, it’s a whole lot more identical to a piano in terms of the number of octaves and the behavior of the keys) during my second week of class and are still struggling to keep me away from it, even when I have to read for exams in college.
This journey has changed my approach towards music completely. For a very simple and relatable example, most of us have this mindset that any song on the piano can be divided into the main melody that we hum, which is played by one hand and the chords (or the bass or the background in general) which is played by the other. That does seem a bit simple because it makes you feel that once you figure out the tune, you can play the chord that’s centered round the first note (main note) of each bar. But right from my first class, that belief changed completely. First of all, the non melody hand needn’t necessarily play the whole chords. It can even play singular notes which perfectly fit like siblings to the corresponding melody line. Also, the role of each hand can be interchanged in different sections of the song. So, the background notes needn’t necessarily sound deeper (low pitch) with respect to the melody. Most importantly, the chords govern the way the tune proceeds, so if you have been selecting your chords based on the melody you have conjured, you haven’t been doing it right. This also implies that there can be a song with both hands playing only chords throughout, but there can never be a song which only has a melody component. Apart from making my jaw drop, these above facts prompted me to explore this world more to see what else I don’t know. My teacher, Mr. Srikanth Gnanasekaran, told me that it was time I started listening to classical composers, because I could only learn more if I listened more. Naturally I started with Mozart and Beethoven and soon, all those very common reverse tones, elevator songs and Nokia ring tones that we hardly pay attention to, became masterpieces to me when I studied the actual way they had been written. Every single chord transition that changed the mood of the song taught me a lot about progressions and instilled in me a huge sense of respect for the thought processes that those great composers were blessed with.
But what if I told you, that those few pieces were just the beginning of an era of musicians whose songs become more complex and intricate? Bach, Mozart and Beethoven laid the foundation for the composers of the next century to build up on. Soon, there was a surplus of musical geniuses in the post Beethoven period- the Romantic Era of Music. These Romantic Era composers have been the most significant influences in my musical learning.
Essentially, every composer spoke the same language “music”. But the way they conveyed their thoughts and interpretations of their life is what changed the music they made. Every song I listen to is like a movie where the notes speak to me to tell me different stories, show different moods and paint a picture of the way its composer looked at life. Who would have thought that I would reach a level where I can sit through as long as 75 minutes of a single song which is only instrumental? The fact that I would travel so far down that path which no one (including myself) expected me to even consider taking, is STILL pretty hard to digest for most people. My friends are still astonished when they think of the way I moved from “whoa! Eminem just dropped a new album” to “dude!! Have you heard Chopin’s Waltz in B minor, Opus 69- number 2?” The only exams I enjoy reading for are my grade exams. Through these tireless 2 years, as I moved through 4 grades, I don’t recall a single instance that I don’t want to relive. To sum it all up, I’d say that this piano course has made me more patient. It has slowed me down and given me the thirst to learn, rather than an ambitious thirst to achieve. I can never imagine what I’d do without my piano beside me in life. Yes, like I said before, learning music does make the mind move in a particular direction, and all I can say is that I really like the direction in which I am going, thanks to the Academy of Western Music.
Piano Student (Trinity, Grade IV) -Academy of Western Music, Chennai.
Finding motivation to practice: music-learning grounded in social experience and demystification
Perhaps one of the most common problems that we as musicians have (and by musicians I mean everyone involved in music) is finding motivation to practice. I hope this paper will provide you with some tips and methods to help you find motivation to practice, and make the learning process more rewarding. Ideally, motivation should come from within each of you and your own interest in music. Practice should not be something you dread, and it should not be something to be endured. You should be able to enjoy your practice, find it rewarding, challenging, and even fun. No-one likes to be forced to practice, and nobody (believe it or not) likes to force anyone to practice. So, the main question this piece of writing seeks to answer, at least to some extent, is: In what ways can we as musicians find motivation to practice?
A brief search in Google of ‘motivation to practice’ produces typical suggestions that encourage students to:
These are all good suggestions that can certainly help to motivate students to practice. However, they miss an important factor in finding motivation to practice: they are not related to the act of music-making or the music itself. This paper argues that students can draw motivation to practice from the act of music-making and the music itself.
Learning and the social nature of music:
So, we’ll begin with some of the most common factors that people who make music like about it. The most common assertion offered by musicians is that it is extremely enjoyable to make music with other people. Music is and always has been primarily a social act that happens with other people. Most of the acclaimed musicians in history had very social musical lives. Given the social nature of music, it should be a priority of people who learn to make their music-making and learning as social as possible. The issue I have with the way I learnt was that I did it in a very isolated way. I would practice the piece of music I was learning, go to my weekly lesson and play for my teacher, and then go home and practice for the next lesson. So, apart from the occasional performance, my teacher was, by and large, the only person who heard me play on a regular basis. I found this demotivating because I felt very isolated and wasn’t sharing the music I was making or the learning process with other people. In short, my learning was not social which goes against the social nature of music.
So, when I was about 21, I changed this. I played to friends on a regular basis and got them involved in the process of learning of piece of music. I’d ask them what they thought of certain passages, or if I was having difficulty I’d ask if they could suggest anything that could help. And I did the same for them.
I found this motivating for a number of reasons:
I would encourage those seeking motivation to practice to play to people other than their teacher on a regular basis. Moreover, if you can make music with other people on a regular basis, you will vastly improve as a musician.
Understanding through musical analysis
Analysis is quite a scary word for a lot of people, but I think it’s a very important tool for musicians to motivate themselves to practice. Analysis can be very simple, and it can also be very complicated. In fact, it can become so complicated that it is rendered useless, in my opinion. This sections describes the basic tools you should be learning and utilising from the beginning of your studies that will help demystify music and motivate you to practice by making the music more accessible.
We’ll begin with points / activities that surround the piece you are learning:
With both of these points you can include your friends and family and share your new found knowledge.
We’ll now move on to musical analysis:
Analysis can go even further, but for me these areas are a great starting point to help you develop as a musician.
So, How does this help with motivation to practice? Essentially, this kind of analysis makes the music more accessible. It:
Setting musical goals
Setting realistic musical goals to achieve in a practice session organises your practice. Almost all musicians will have been told at the beginning of their studies to practice for 30 minutes a day. This is good advice, but can be supplemented with the setting of daily musical goals. For example, instead of saying ‘I will practice for 30 minutes today’, you might say: ‘I will learn the first 8 bars of this piece of music’. Instead of adhering to the traditional 30 minutes of practice, you could practice until your goal is achieved. Having a clear goal will make your practice more efficient and help you get motivated to practice.
It is important to implement manageable goals. One way of doing this is to divide your teacher’s expectations into 5 or 6 daily tasks. If the first task is to work on the first section of music, the second task will be to work on the second section of music, and so on.
To conclude, this article has introduced three important approaches to learning that can aid students find motivation to practice which can be bracketed under the following themes: the social nature of music, musical analysis, and setting musical goals. It is hoped this article aids students find motivation to practice which holds as its focus and ultimate goal an adherence to the social nature of music.
Music Teacher & Doctoral Researcher (University of York)
The Struggle to the Competition
I’m thankful to four people: my teacher, my mother, my father and my grandmother for the third place that I won in the All India Junior Level Kawai Piano Competition.
Without my teacher, I couldn’t do any thing. He slowly, patiently, indefatigably taught me all the pieces I needed to play. Mr. Srikanth Gnanasekaran really helped me while I failed, lifted me when I stumbled, and pushed me high when I was low. Another teacher, however, taught one of the songs to me. In Dubai, where I used to live, a wonderful teacher named Ms. Valentina taught me the song, Menuet. Most of you would not have heard it. It was composed by Johann Mattheson and it’s included in Trinity Grade 2, 2012-2014 book. Mr. Srikanth tirelessly made sure I played the pieces to a certain level before heading for the competition in Bengaluru.
My mother sat with me everyday, enduring even the unendurable pieces and making sure I got better. She politely listened to my pieces and made sure she properly expressed where I had gone wrong. She encouraged me to go on and made sure my playing was audible. Without her I would have stopped preparing properly for the competition.
My father sat with me whenever he got the chance. He has an unquenchable thirst for music and could not stop listening to it. He would make me play, correct my mistakes, help me learn new pieces, and encourage me to go on. My father used to play the mridangam (a percussion instrument used in Carnatic music), so the difference between my mother and my father is that my mother was more fixed on the melody, while my father helped me out with my beat. Without him, my tempo would have been gone long ago.
This is the surprise one. You must be thinking, “How could his grandmother help him get ready for his competition?” You would not believe it, but when everybody else left saying I played badly, my grandmother stood by me, making me practice the piece again and again until I got it right. She would say a very popular saying “Practice makes perfect!” She could not come for the competition in Bengaluru, but listened to the recording that my parents had done. She congratulated me as soon as we arrived here in Chennai. Without her I would not have believed I could do well in the competition.
These four people with their talent, encouragement, and indefatigable thirst for music really helped me to be among the top three in this competition.
When I came to class that day, sir told my parents that there was a competition hosted by Kawai in Bengaluru. My parents immediately said yes. I was incredibly nervous. How would I do in a contest? Would I do well? Would I not do well? I’d never been to one before. The only place I’d performed was my old school’s talent show! I was so frustrated I couldn’t even play properly! So after the class I went and had a long think about it. Should I do it or should I not? This same argument went on until I got my award. Then, the warring parts of myself finally came to an unanimous conclusion. I should have. I definitely should have.
Suhrit Venkatvardhan (Age: 10 years)
Piano Student –Academy of Western Music, Chennai.