The Guitar is Interest(R)ing
My music journey started at the age of 11. It was Christmas eve and we just got back home from Church. People were exchanging gifts and under the Christmas tree was my first guitar! And, that’s how it began. I did not start because I wanted to. I was pretty musically inclined even before that as I was actively singing with a popular kids choir in town. So, my dad thought “Let him try the guitar, because it’s obviously a beautiful instrument, and it would be nice if he could play”, (he was thinking like any other parent……).
Hands down, best decision Dad took there. It was a life changing one but just that I didn’t realize it that early. Guitar has since then remained an important part of my life. School, College and now work, my ability to play the guitar always got, and still gets me through it all.
I decided to start teaching right after I started college. Times were tough and I thought I could use the extra scratch. I couldn’t really understand what was happening to me but teaching music became a very big part of my life. Something that started off as just a simple hobby turned out to be a passion, and now a career.
It’s very difficult to connect with your instrument if you are not interested in it. Great if parents can notice this early on (ideally when the child is below 15 years) and not force it on them.
The direction is clear when you go through formal training, and it is very helpful to make a steady progress. It is vital to find yourself the right place and teacher who will ascertain you, and help you to achieve greater heights in music. The structured approach through a graded curriculum from an accredited board like Trinity College London could serve as a good base.
Often students lose interest after a few weeks of guitar lessons. They either don’t find them so engaging as they initially struggle with music notion or because the student is just lazy to put in some hard work. So, it becomes very important for a teacher to keep the guitar lessons for beginners interesting enough, which is certainly a challenging task. I’ve gone through music notes, scales and stuff like any other student, and the only thought on mind at that time was “when will I be able to actually play a song or strum a few guitar chords”.
Once you’re guitar learning stabilises and you begin to play, the next question we usually ask ourselves is “how can I get better or how do I move to the next level?” …… Experts and senior guitarists will always sum their advice in just three words, “practice, practise and practise”. No doubt, practise is the key thing to become an accomplished musician. I cannot stress on this point enough. Without practice there is no perfection.
I like to share with every aspiring musician the following thoughts on how to learn guitar:
1. There has to be a strategic approach for learning anything. It is important to make a plan for the next year ahead and ensure you do it. It is not enough if you have the desire alone but you also need to put in the required effort in a disciplined fashion to make it work. The way you plan need not be conventional and similar to what may have worked well for others. You just need to be sure of what you are doing and be able to see results at the end of it.
2. It is important to develop your other music skills like sight reading, theoretical knowledge, etc. side by side as you work on improving your instrument techniques in your guitar classes. You will surely be a better guitarist when you become a better musician. This is when you understand that formal training supports each and every step of your learning in a systematic manner.
3. You should be in the company of musicians who are ahead of you. Good if you can spend time with them as and when you get an opportunity, and discuss about things that you may not have known. Ex. Techniques, soloing, chord progressions, etc.
4. It will be good to listen to music of various styles and this exposure in turn could inspire you to learn more. There are plenty of online resources available now that one can make use of.
5. You can build on things that enthuse you to motivate yourself. I like to hear others play, attend concerts, or even just listen to classics. The way you look at music will be more mature as you do this, and this will push you to do music all the more.
6. It might be interesting to do a bit of case study on your favourite guitar players to understand their learning experiences, and to benefit from the tips they may offer.
7. Try to balance your practice time efficiently between improving your strengths and dealing with your weaknesses.
8. Keep doing it till you get it. There should be no turning back once you start and you will surely make it. There will always be someone better than you, which should only motivate you to keep getting better and better at it. Just because someone is naturally talented doesn’t mean that it comes easy. It involves a lot of consistent effort. Your main investment here is time, which needs to be put to best possible use for achieving your goal.
I like to reiterate a couple of tips that my colleague, Mr. David has already given here in his post earlier:
• Practice daily at least for 30 minutes
• Review the lessons taught in your previous class before you go for the next session
• Memorize the song; you can interpret the song well if you know the Music
• Develop an ear for music; ear training exercises will be helpful in this regard
• Learn music theory
• Ensure your instrument is in proper pitch and is tuned well
A good teacher and the perfect environment are key ingredients in the whole recipe of creating the ideal guitarist or any other instrumentalist for that matter.
At the academy (AWM), they have an abundance in both. I teach music there and in all my experience being a teacher and a student I have never seen anything like it. The facilities that are being provided are simply excellent, the best.
The only thing that is left is someone who is eager to learn the instrument. Someone who is willing to put in the necessary hours of PRACTICE and I guarantee the result will blow you away.
In a time where the world is in turmoil, Music is what we need to bring back peace and Serenity!!
Guitar Instructor –Academy of Western Music, Chennai.
The Music Within
Whenever it comes to sharing of experiences, I prefer writing it down rather than quoting the same through a verbal conversation for the simple reason that conversations may be forgotten but the writings cannot be written off the wall. With this in mind, I pen down my little enjoyable ‘student’ experience with the Academy of Western Music (AWM).
It would be a fact that majority of us would have thought of pursuing music in our younger days but due to lack of opportunities or other reliable amenities we would not have moved along the said lines. I am equally not alien to such a history.
Acquaintance with AWM
I had seen a music instruments showroom called Sterling Music in Nungambakkam, Chennai quite a few times while crossing that junction. My wife had expressed in our initial days of marriage that she had inclination to learn guitar. Hence, to surprise her I gifted her acoustic guitar. Obviously it cannot stop by giving a mere gift. Hence, I had to ensure that she is drawn to an institution which hosts wonderful teachers with a learning ambience for her guitar lessons. I made a casual enquiry at the showroom itself and was guided to the AWM. This was my first introduction to AWM.
Personal Meet with AWM
Sometime later I visited AWM to get a feel of the place. All along I had been interested in music myself. My interest ranged from singing to playing instruments like flute, guitar and violin. Of course, my entrance to the Academy triggered my subdued interest for a long time. Hence, while visiting to enroll my wife I ended up enrolling myself with the Academy for a guitar course.
The process of admission in itself is so attractive that whoever visits the Academy might prefer to experience the innovation over the traditional approach to music.
The CEO, Mr. John Sudhakar, engages himself in a personal conversation to ensure that whoever joins the Academy is not swayed by other factors than his/her own interest in music. This is because whenever people join due to peer pressures, friends’ influence the sustenance becomes questionable. To introduce, Mr. John Sudhakar himself is a musician and a teacher in his own rights.
My selection of guitar
Now, the big question comes, why guitar? Obviously, girls like guitar and the guys playing it J!!!! Jokes apart, string instruments have their own peculiarity when it comes to music. I knew I understood the sound. I realized having joined the classes that I need to feel the sound when it comes to learning music. There is very subtle difference between the two which I feel words fail to describe.
My interaction with Mr. John yielded me in taking classical guitar lessons, a different variant than the acoustic version.
How to learn a guitar
Learning guitar is a joyful experience. But it requires dedication, patience and perseverance. Above all, a wonderful teacher, a good learning institution and a respectable ambience! This is where the search ends with Academy.
The Academy hosts some of the wonderful teachers in Chennai and I can personally vouch for that given my experience with the Academy which is close to a year now.
The Academy is unique in terms of offering the learning experience. It offers both structured and unstructured way of guitar learning. The structured learning mechanism allows students to follow a set pattern of books which are very carefully selected. These set patterns give students a perspective of what is due to come. However, following a structured pattern is not at all compulsory.
This is where the teacher’s experience comes into play. The approach adopted by the teachers in the guitar classes is very simple. They assess the student so fast that they start structuring the learning process as they go along. If the teacher feels a structured curriculum is suitable then they suggest the student to follow the option. This also comes with advantage of holding certain qualifications in music from Trinity College London. My wife follows a structured pattern of guitar instruction and enjoys it.
I have for my own interest chosen to follow an unstructured way of learning to play the guitar. I am grateful that Academy has not forced me to follow a structured curriculum. This approach speaks a whole lot about independence required in learning music. It also reflects that the Academy allows students to follow their own course of action. This is also in my own interest as I am not keen in attending to exams considering that as a working professional there are too many challenges to handle and one more examination appeared to me as an overload.
Hands on guitar
The feeling of holding onto a musical instrument is by itselfquite amazing. Especially if you have been longing for it. My first experience was in my first class when I started to learn the basics of a posture required for learning classical guitar. This included growing nails, sitting with the left leg in an elevated position and holding the guitar in a 10:10 angle as is reflected in a clock. I recently read an article in the ISL Football league wherein one of the coaches said that the basics are learnt at a young age i.e. as early as 15-16. And I fully agree with that as the later we start learning, the longer it takes the time to learn the basics.
It took me almost a quarter to learn proper sitting position, holding of guitar and playing the strings. This is because sitting in a given position for an hour especially when one does not get involved in daily work out is very difficult. It also has its own pains. I may be a slow learner but these did not deter me from my determination.
If I had to go by my speed of learning, I was a sure drop-out by choice then. However, within myself I knew that time is not the criteria and this is where my choice of learning the unstructured way helped me. And I must admit that my guitar instructor Mr. Nandakumar is an amazing person and he allows the space required for a working professional to learn music.
Playing music pieces
To learn the basics and reach a stated level it took me some time. I was also not equally disciplined in putting daily ten minutes of practice given the work load and the responsibility I handle in my profile. But despite all this, I did put in time for practice whenever I could snatch some. I used to spend some extended time during holidays. This is keeping in mind that I am also pursuing another professional course simultaneously which requires certain amount of time. Now, I have developed myself to a level wherein I can play some small pieces. Precision is yet a distant start but the confidence is the ship sailing in the desired direction.
The basic expectation that teachers have from us as a student is to put in daily ten minutes of time for practice. This is similar to the homework we used to do during our school days J! But this time there is no hard and fast rule. The teachers do understand the work pressure and they rather help us practice during regular classes, which of course would be ideal to avoid as otherwise we would never graduate to the next level. The regular practice may be difficult for working professionals in the initial days but as we progress along believe me this does not appear difficult. Because as we go along, there will be a learning curve effect in whatever we do. Same is the case with the guitar classes. In the initial days the learning is slower but in the later stage it all boils down to handling the strings.
I know lot of working professionals find it difficult to take time out for themselves due to work, family and kids. But if you ever feel living that portion of life which you wanted to, take the first step now. Because it is better late than never.
Music, if ever, had been on your wish list then you may wish to explore the Academy as an option. If not for you, then your loved ones may enjoy the pleasure of learning music. I do, including my loved one does – do you wish to share the same feeling J? Then you are welcome to join me in this pleasant journey!!
Guitar Student –Academy of Western Music, Chennai.
I remember asking my Uncle about who created music, when I was probably 5 years old, and trying to learn the guitar. Also, why he always tuned my guitar before I started playing? And, why my Guitar had 6 strings and not 7 or 8?
My Uncle sat next to me and told me this story that happened long time ago when the world was just made and where people did not have a language to speak. It seems some people were carrying big stones and one suddenly fell on a man’s feet. He instantly screamed loud and sharp which the people around had never heard before. The man was very curious to know what had happened and how the sound came from his mouth all of a sudden. So, he took another stone and dropped it on his feet again but this time the scream was different. He became all the more curious and gathered more stones of different sizes. He started to throw them on his feet one after another, and started making sounds of different kinds. His curiosity further increased and he dragged another person who happened to be a lady and did the same to her. And, to his surprise the sound was different, which he felt was better than his own. He then decided to do this trick before the BIG Chief, and get rewarded.
Having gathered a few more people including men, women and kids, he tried and discovered that it worked on all of them. Now, he took them to the BIG Chief with a huge sack of stones, rocks, etc. He made them all stand in a group before the BIG Chief and started tossing stones one by one on their feet and each of them started to make sounds. The BIG Chief who was truly carried away by the act, rewarded him and also gave him a position called the “SOUND CREATOR”. His job was to entertain people whenever there was a feast or any kind of celebration. The group of people he used told him “buddy, all you need is a sound from our mouth, which we will do without you throwing stones at our feet as it hurts; all you have to do is stand in front of us, wave your hand and we will understand, and make the sounds that you want”. That is how the first CHOIR came to life.
Singing is a beautiful art. But, you need to learn how to sing the right way in order to sound beautiful. Else, it could sound odd…………. When you take voice lessons from a qualified and experienced instructor, you will be taught the basic things that can help you go a long way. Before you start singing, you need to do a bit of warm up, and some work out, like how one does before playing a game. This is the first thing done in singing classes too.
Warm ups will gradually prepare your muscles for higher intensity of performance and help you sing higher notes easily. You will distinctly experience this when you go for singing lessons.
The Four steps of Effective Breathing are
A Quiet Breathing exercise
Repeat two or three times, watching carefully to maintain good form. When you memorize good form by watching yourself, you are teaching your muscles to “remember” this action for singing. This is best explained when you attend vocal lessons.
(Courtesy – Vocal Workouts for the Contemporary Singers, Anne Peckham, Berklee press)
For more details on the above topic, please refer to the book which is available at the Academy’s library.
Practice in front of a Mirror
Singers should constantly practice in front of the mirror. As soon as you finish learning a song, you have to put yourself in front of a full size mirror. This will help you express emotions in your music. The dramatic artist depends largely for his / her expression.
The singing mouth should always smile lightly. The light smile relaxes the lips, allowing them free play for words which they and the tongue must form, and together give the singer a slight sense of uplift for his / her expression.
The lips are of greatest aid in shaping and shading the tones. A singer’s mouth must always look pleasant, not only because it creates a disagreeable impression on the audience but also because natural and correct voice production requires a mouth shaped almost into a smile.
A good diction or the art of pronouncing the word properly and intelligently is very important. The same is sadly neglected by many singers, and is indeed not considered important by a large proportion of the audience, who do not understand foreign language. And in opera singing, where the language may not be familiar with the entire audience, sometimes it becomes unimportant whether the words are understood or not, as long as the music is good. It is very important to learn how to pronounce the word correctly before you start to sing.
Essential Vocal care
Some Hints to master the art
I would say to all young people who are ambitious to become singers, that it is a thoroughly hard-worked art, which requires long months and years of study. Daily practice is very essential. Practice on the diction; try to learn a few songs of different languages like-German, Italian and French. Daily workouts are very important. If you are given an opportunity to perform for an audience, just don’t hesitate, even if it is not the kind of crowd that will appreciate Western music. Performance opportunities for music in schools and colleges is also a great platform. Just get on stage and give your best shot. Someone from there will take you to the next level, trust me it has worked for me, and if it has worked for me it will surely work for all. When it comes to singing, you need to put your heart and soul, and bring life to the words of the song. And when you have put all of it together then definitely there will be magic in your voice. If you’re someone who’s looking for the right place for vocal music lessons, the Academy of Western Music in Chennai is where you need to go. It is the most sought after academy in town for music education, where training is offered in both classical and contemporary singing by experienced and qualified faculty.
Vocal Instructor –Academy of Western Music, Chennai.
Holistic Approach To Teaching
Most pupils want to learn music because they love the sound of their instrument or because they love music in general; others learn because they have a sibling or a friend who plays, or because their parents want them to learn. But unfortunately, often students lose interest after a few weeks of lessons because the lessons are not so engaging or because the student is just lazy to put in some hard work. So it becomes very important for a teacher to keep the students motivated all the time. Teacher has to carefully structure the lessons so that they are challenging and at the same time, enjoyable. The lessons should focus on helping the students become musically independent and creative.
A lot of students spend a whole year learning only the 3 exam pieces by rote. And a few weeks before the exams the teacher rushes with scales and some lessons on sight reading and aural. Teaching improvisation and composition is not even in the agenda. Integrating all aspects of music, like scales and technical exercises, sight reading, aural training, improvisation, building a repertoire, theory etc. in every lesson would be a better way to go about. Each aspect actually complements and improves the others.
Scales and Arpeggios develop an awareness of keys. They are a good way to warm up before a music lesson. They also help students recognize scale and arpeggio patterns in their pieces. Along with scales, students should also be made to practice technical exercises. There are a whole lot of technical exercises from Czerny, Hanon etc. that help improve finger dexterity when you study piano. My students are particularly fond of Edna Mae’s ‘A Dozen A Day’ series. These books have plenty of short exercises that address the technical needs in beginners.
A teacher can save a lot of time and effort when the student is good at sight reading. Sight reading helps the student to be independent and learn pieces quickly. With the ability to sight read, one can explore the ocean that is music. Students should be taught to recognize various rhythm patterns, interval and chord patterns. Always insist on maintaining a strict pulse, and reading forward, never to go back and correct a wrong note. A good way to improve sight reading is by playing in ensembles and duets. Recently, in a workshop, Karl Lutchmayer, a concert pianist and educator, showed an interesting way to teach sight reading. He would give the student a few seconds to have a glance at the score. Then when he asks the student to start, he would cover the first bar in the score, which means the student can only read the second bar while he is actually playing the first. And when the student plays the second bar, Karl would cover it, allowing the student to keep reading ahead. This way, the student was chased to keep up with tempo and read at least a few beats ahead of what he was playing.
Ear training helps to analyze and understand music. It improves musicianship and helps in improvising and composing. Teachers should emphasize on having alert ears. Insist on constantly listening to what the student is playing. Make the students sing what they play. This way, they internalize the piece. With the advent of smart phones, there are a wide range of mobile apps that make aural training fun. One can have exercises for pitch, interval and chord recognition, scale patterns, rhythm etc. even while travelling, without a teacher being around. Again this saves the teacher some time and effort in the class. Also there are dedicated radio channels like BBC radio3 and plenty of recordings on YouTube to listen to western classical music online.
Improvisation has become a lost art in classical music. Today’s music instruction has become more score centric. I believe improvisation lessons can retain the pupils’ interest in learning music. Students develop a sense of ownership in what they play and thus pay more attention.
The importance of teaching music theory cannot be over emphasized. A knowledge on harmony helps to understand the music better and to appreciate it. It improves the listening skills and makes memorizing easier.
A teacher will obviously spend a big chunk of time in teaching pieces in any music course. No matter how much importance you lay on scales and other technical skills, ultimately what anybody would want is to play some meaningful music. It is here that the teacher’s role becomes very vital in improving the musicality of the pupil. Given the limited time available in a day’s teaching session, integrating all aspects of teaching (sight reading, aural, improvising etc.) with the repertoire pieces will be an ideal way to holistic teaching. Paul Harris speaks in depth about this and various other teaching issues in his book ‘The Virtuoso Teacher’. In fact the very first few lines in this page have been borrowed from that book. But honestly, the subject is what I really mean and something that I practice.
Going back to the topic, Students should also be taught how to practice. Most young musicians find practice as a monotonous, mundane work. It is certainly the teacher’s responsibility to present practice as a rewarding and enjoyable experience. I don’t deny exams are important. But students may lose sight of the goal when preparing for a once-in-a-year event. Instead, arrange peer concerts every few weeks so that the students set shorter goals and ultimately achieve the bigger prize. Wouldn’t it be lovely to think you are at least one step closer to achieving your target, after every practice?
Finally, a good teacher is a good student. Learning is a never ending process. It is important to shed one’s ego and search for knowledge all the time. All the above ideas that I discussed are just a small compilation of my little experience, and learning from some of the great teachers’ that I have studied under. Academy of Western Music, the place where I teach piano has been benevolently providing all the piano teaching resources that I need, which allows me to experiment with my teaching methods and evolve as a better teacher. The nicest learning environment, good teachers and the right teaching methods at this Academy, makes it the best place in Chennai for learning western music.
Faculty for Piano & Keyboard –Academy of Western Music, Chennai.
Well Balanced Curriculum
Music is deeply rooted in human nature and learning music is something that many of us like to explore. The choice of institution, instructor, and a few other factors make music study, a pleasurable experience. It is therefore important to have the right mix of everything in music education.
What is a balanced curriculum and why teach a balanced curriculum?
A good music academy should have a balanced approach for holistic development in the student. It begins with the use of right books and methods, taught by experienced teachers, who effectively engage the student. A well-structured study is required to achieve the goal ahead, where every single lesson or activity is made enjoyable and meaningful. The three key areas that determine a well-balanced program and make it quality oriented are:
It is important for the teacher to regularly converse with the students as they need to know, why they do, what they do. There could be a purpose behind every application but the student will not work towards it, unless it’s explained. For example, some teachers like to introduce music notes through theory lessons even before they begin practical training since they feel it makes learning relatively easy.
It’s quite exciting when you begin music lessons but the need for real passion is realised only when it comes to sincere effort and hard work. The consistent practise at home is important whether you take guitar lessons or piano lessons to progress effectively. The students should avoid using the class time for practising old lessons. The teachers will appreciate when the students complete the necessary homework and come prepared to take the next lesson.
Music learning should never become just another school going activity. Instead, it should be made as interesting as one would play a video game or spend time on Facebook. There are several modern method books on how to learn guitar or how to play keyboard and other instruments. These books give a lot of confidence to the student, especially beginners through their tune based learning exercises. It makes the student play the simplest of tunes, right from day one, where each tune is a lesson by itself that introduces something new in music. Additional study materials like supplementary tune book, technique book and theory book should be slowly encouraged once they start progressing. This in turn will make their music learning more interesting and challenging. It will raise the level of seriousness with which their practise becomes even more important to accommodate these things.
Improvisation & Own Compositions:
It may not be a good idea to remain confined to written music. Creative thinking along with the ability to explore and find responses can be nurtured through right guidance. Music promotes intelligence by encouraging personal expression and gives enormous scope for imaginative ideas. Also, a good balance between ear music and sight reading is important. The student will have to be well equipped in a competitive music environment that demands both the abilities.
Yes, we learn because we want to perform and for that we need opportunities to showcase our talent. It doesn’t really matter whether you are playing for a small or a large audience as far as you get a platform to do it. In many cases, the opportunity will have to be created by the institution or the teacher so that the student experiences performance.Such events will also give the parents and friends an opportunity to see the progress made by the student. Performing in a recital hall or auditorium is a different experience for the student whose playing is mostly confined to classroom or home. It requires a bit of skill that the student develops over a period of time.
There are several options like solo, duet, ensemble, etc. that can be offered to students when it comes to performance. Not all students will be willing to perform in front of an audience as stage freight might worry them. Solo playing can be done by students who are relatively bold, and the alternate options could be explored by students who shy away from performing. Competition is another great platform but the decision to participate in it should be left to the student. It is one step ahead, where the student is expected to demonstrate higher level of certain qualities like showmanship, technique and proficiency, to name a few. The students should be encouraged to present their own compositions in addition to the ones that they have been taught.
There can be as many events as possible to make them perform consistently. Right from a small time piano recital, to a mixed instrumental, to a vocal evening, there are many things that can be scheduled through the year. It can be anything from classical to contemporary music. This will certainly improve their playing. It will help the student to build a personal repertoire and be prepared to perform any time.
Performance enables the students to develop the required confidence as they keep doing it regularly. It happens all the more when they perform and witness other students play. As they do this, they share with others,and also learn from one another by observing the uniqueness that each student portrays.
It is better to have a framework for studying music, and the graded curriculum is a good way to go about it. The assorted collection of music that has been put together in increasing difficulty by accredited exam boards, helps the student to go through structured learning.
The student can work on the graded syllabus and take exams in music to earn certificates that are globally acclaimed. It is the common basis on which the student’s musical ability is generally ascertained. The student’s presentation is evaluated by a qualified examiner who gives an unbiased report.
There is a sense of fulfillment when the student earns credits in music. The exam repertoire is not limited to the assessment based on general parameters like accuracy, fluency, technicality but also provides the scope for own interpretation in several areas.
In conclusion, I like to highlight that the overall talent development is a major focus at our “Academy of Western Music”. All the courses here are well balanced, well sequenced and well implemented. It is a great facility where skilled faculty help you to enjoy every bit of your learning. If you’re someone looking for Music Theory, Piano, Keyboard, Drums, Saxophone, Violin, Vocal or Guitar lessons in Chennai, I can assure you that our academy will be the best in the city. The dream of every student who aspires to learn and master western music is made a reality at our Academy.
CEO -Academy of Western Music, Chennai.