The advent of podcasts has been nothing short of a game-changer for music education. Hobbyists and professionals alike now have access to a slew of content on everything from music theory, to industry insider tips, to educational insights – delivered not in the form of a dry, arduous textbook, but an engaging aural lesson.
In this article, I’ll be discussing the incredible variety of podcasts out there and the purposes they serve, and recommending some to get you started. We’ll also look at why the format and delivery of podcasts makes them the perfect tool for furthering your music education. Lastly, I’ll also be sharing the story of my own podcast, Tune In, Tone Up!, and delving into the myriad of ways that podcasts can take you from listening to performing – as outlined in our episode, Taking Your Playing from the Woodshed to the Stage; from Podcast to Performance.
The Advent of Podcasts
Podcasts are pre-recorded audio and less often video shows, involving a series of episodes which usually follow a familiar pattern rather like a radio show. The format may be to build a collection of interviews, to explore a theme and share information, to release new and entertaining episodes or to develop a story. They can be produced professionally, perhaps as an extension to a radio show, or they can be made by anyone with some recording equipment and a desire to share something with the world.
They have gained in popularity in recent years, probably both due to the fact that more people have suitable recording equipment and also in the convenience and ease of their use. All of this makes podcasts a superb medium for enthusiasts to have a voice and to share their knowledge and experience with whoever wishes to tune in and listen, wherever they are in the world. This in turn means that there is a huge catalogue of podcasts out there to choose from and explore.
I started exploring podcasts following some suggestions from friends and perusing the recommendations of the Apple podcast app, searching for podcasts in line with my interests and hobbies, namely music and guitar. I discovered a wealth of information and a variety of forms – so much so that it encouraged me to start my own podcast, Tune in Tone up! Free Guitar Lessons, which I’ll talk about below.
The advantages to using podcasts are countless. Seeing as there’s so many interesting people with a skill, story, or interest to share, you will find yourself learning about things, building new understanding, finding humorous and engaging content, and developing new interests and hobbies. Podcasts are a great stimulus for deep thinking, questioning, and personal development. Listening to podcasts is also a wonderful communal experience – listening to a podcast with others raises fascinating conversations about topics discussed in the podcast.
Listening to podcasts is a great way to make good use of “dead” time. I find myself looking forward to a drive into town or a longer journey so that I can listen to a podcast on the way.
Finding that long daily commute a bore? Why not download a podcast episode or two, plug your headphones in and listen to enthusiastic people talking about your favourite interest? Have a radio in your kitchen but finding that the shows are not always inspiring or interesting? Simply plug in your phone in using an aux cord, and listen to podcasts while tidying up, cooking, washing up or doing other chores.
Finding that you want something to listen to while you are in the gym, going for a run or spending some time on that exercise bike? Make exercise a time when you are also learning and tuned in. The opportunities really are endless.
What are the advantages to listening to podcasts over engaging with content over YouTube, radio, or other channels? As outlined above, podcasts make multitasking a breeze – you’re not glued to a screen. Podcasters rarely make money directly from their show, so rather than being financially motivated by a desire to be the next YouTube sensation, the creators of podcasts are usually motivated by a purer desire to simply share information. Podcasts also inspire me to broaden my horizons – while I listen, I often find myself looking for further information on the internet or in books to improve my understanding, and get ideas for further study and research.
Finally and best of all, listening to podcasts is an intimate process in which not only are you being entertained or taught something but also picking up on subtleties of tone, pace, and humour of the hosts and guests.
Podcasts and Music Education
Podcasts are being used more and more for educative purposes. In the same way that languages are learned by first hearing a sound and then reproducing it and learning from it, a person’s musicality can benefit greatly from not just being told an idea, but also hearing it.
I find listening to podcasts to be an active, immersive process. The advantages of having access to discussion with experts is not unlike the benefit of attending formal music college. You are around great teachers, and get carried along by their enthusiasm and dedication.
Therefore, podcasts are a great way to develop your musical knowledge, increase your musical vocabulary, gain insight about equipment, and hear music professionals giving advice on business.
They are also the perfect way of multiplying the number of teachers you have. For instance, I take guitar lessons with Daniel Davies in Brighton; however, I also listen to the Musicality Podcast, which offers great insights from numerous other music educators across the world and I find having different ways of looking at things can help to resolve issues I’m having. Hearing similar ideas and suggestions from Daniel as well as other teachers can be very affirming, clarifying, and informative.
I distinctly remember the first time I typed “guitar” into the search engine of my podcast app, and saw how many results were returned – very quickly, I realised that this was a great way of picking the brains of musical experts. Further along my podcast journey, I discovered that podcasts were teaching me far more than how to copy songs, learn new techniques and develop my guitar skills. They were introducing me to the big picture of music, the lives of musicians, their doubts and passion, their jargon. They informed me about musicality and musicianship, some of the areas of which I hadn’t thought about before – for example, the value of learning to sing, audiate, and train your ear, as well as the kind of attitude that will help you to get along with other musicians.
Podcasts reassure you about things which you had come to realise by yourself, building your confidence, as well as dispelling musical myths that might hold you back. For example, I wish I had thought earlier about “talent” versus “practice”, as discussed frequently in the Musicality Podcast. Many players talk about the dedication, time, and effort which they have put in, yet still people wrongly believe that the greats just pick up their instruments and are overnight virtuosos.
”Podcasts are a great stimulus for deep thinking, questioning, and personal development. ”
Podcasts give you great golden nuggets of information and perspectives which stay with you. They lead you in ways which you didn’t previously anticipate, and help you to discover musical unknowns, give you practical tips, and show you the big picture – including the whole professional side, marketing, social media, and philosophy about music. And, as Adrian Legg said on No Guitar is Safe, you’re exposed to the idea of how good music should hit you emotionally.
The Role of Podcasts in Your Musicality
Of course, podcasts are just one part of the whole process – you will need to spend plenty of time practicing and learning music theory.
Podcasts play the role of helping you to make this time as valuable as possible, leading you to the best theory and tips for helping you practice deliberately.
To make the best use of technology, you should also explore lots of avenues such as YouTube and other forms of online tutorials. With regard to specific skills like ear training, transcription, rhythm training, singing, and sight reading, there are amazing programs, apps and websites out there like EarMaster, Transcribe, I Read Rhythm, sightreadingfactory.com, Sing&See, and SingTrue to help you along. When musicians spend a bit more time with these tools as part of their practice and get away from the idea of always needing an instrument in their hand, the time actually spent with their instrument actually becomes more meaningful and productive!
The first guitar-related podcast which really opened my eyes to the value of this medium was No Guitar is Safe. This podcast, hosted by Jude Gold for Guitarist Magazine, is a fantastic set of interviews with monster guitar players, who discuss their style, story, and sound. Each episode treats you to fantastic playing, valuable discussion, and a great introduction to new musicians, and you end up feeling like you really know the people involved in a way that written interviews do not always convey. Best of all, you learn without it feeling like work.
If and when you get to the end of the No Guitar is Safe podcast, a similar interview-based podcast with guitarists is Riff Raff, hosted by Shane Theriot. Music is Win is an interesting audio podcast from the YouTuber Tyler Larson. There are also loads of great interviews at Everyone Loves Guitar. Song Exploder is a great podcast if you want to learn the story about how tracks were created. The Everything Saxophone podcast by Donna Schwartz and Nick Mainella not only goes deep into the skills required for saxophone, but also has invaluable advice for developing your musicality in general.
For a more theory-based approach, Desi Serna’s Guitar Music Theory Lessons podcast is well worth a listen. This podcast is recorded by the author of Guitar Theory for Dummies and follows a really useful set of episodes in which he tackles the topic of music theory.
Interested in the business side of music? Tune into the Live and Teach Guitar podcast for perspective on making money as a music teacher. The Modern Musician podcast, meanwhile, has some fantastic insights into the industry and the business side of music. The NAMM Foundation’s Talking Up Music Education podcast includes chats with artist advocates, teachers, parents, students, and business and community leaders who share stories about creating music learning opportunities.
Finally, The Musicality Podcast is one of the most interesting and informative podcasts which I have found on the topic of musicality and the wider skills of musicianship. The podcast host, Christopher Sutton, has a great grasp of questions which elicit the maximum information from his guests. Musical U, the maker of the podcast, has a really strong underlying vision about music which introduces forward-thinking ways of viewing music education and how to develop areas of your musicality which will benefit you long down the line.
A great place to start is the Anders Ericsson episode, which provides excellent perspective on the debate of talent versus hard work. In the episode, Prof. Anders Ericsson and Christopher Sutton propose deliberate and purposeful practice as being more significant than the amount of time spent with your instrument. It serves as a great reminder that being goal-oriented and intentional in your practice will help you progress faster. This was an episode that in many ways underpins my own motivation and inspiration for playing music.
The Musicality Podcast has developed my understanding of so many essential musical ideas like ear training, intervals, solfa/solfège, tone, audiation, the Lydian Chromatic Concept, the value of singing, and so much more. And perhaps most importantly, it is a huge affirmation to hear how many of Christopher’s guests do not class themselves as having natural talent, and also found their early music learning challenging!
These podcasts are all inspiring and informative, and it’s just a matter of getting to the heart of what you want to hear about – I recommend you start listening and see where it takes you.
The Tune In, Tone Up! Podcast
It was November 2016 when I first said to my guitar teacher (Dan Davies of Brighton and Hove) that it would be really helpful for me to record our lessons, and asked if he would be interested in me trying to put those lessons together into a podcast.
I didn’t think that whole lessons were being recorded in this way and I was struggling to remember and recall all the information, even though I was religiously keeping notes. He saw the value of me listening back to our recordings and how this would help me to improve as a musician.
And so, the Tune In, Tone Up! podcast was born. Now, a year and a half later, we have a great resource which is also a record of my own musical journey – useful to me and many other people around the world.
It seems incredible that we have managed to continue releasing episodes with regularity and lots of new and useful information within. This is a testament to the time which Dan has put into his own learning, his wealth of experience playing live, and how generous he has been with his time in the creative, well-paced lessons we release.
We tend to avoid copying and reproducing songs and tabs, and rather focus on the mentoring side of musicianship, technique, and professional skills. The lessons are recorded live and then edited to form an episode usually based on a theme, style, musician, or method.
Our lessons are really organic and although there are plenty of more popular earlier episodes such as the ones on Blues, Chord Melodies, Tone Controls, Tom Petty’s music, and Songwriting, I would start with some of the episodes I list in this downloadable PDF in order to see the best of what we have released. Have a listen, rate, review and subscribe and get in touch.
Some of our episodes are organised into playlists on our SoundCloud account:
- A focus on rhythm
- On modes
- A really useful set of lessons on the tone and volume controls
- All our lessons
From Podcast, to Practice, to Performance
Some of our recent lessons at the Tune In, Tone Up! podcast have been in response to a listener interested in precisely this topic. We have taken him through some steps to conquer his performance-related fears, and he ended up performing an open mic night! As a result, he realised that his rhythmic playing and choice of songs needed some work, but he is going back to it and we are sure he will make good progress as a result of his positive attitude.
Our episode From Podcast to Performance: Becoming a Performer focusses on why you’d want to play your music in a live setting, and how to prepare yourself for the gig. Dan explains that when you avoid playing live and instead focus only on raising your skills to a certain level, you are putting off performing for far too long and missing out on a hugely important part of music – the social side!
After all, when you learn a language you do so in order to be able to create something with it and have a conversation. The same is true of music: you gain so much from the social aspect of performance that avoiding it because of internal fears will mean you learn more slowly and in a different way to those out there sharing their music. I hope that this podcast episode will communicate this nugget of wisdom.
Sharing Musical Stories
As you listen to your podcasts and read about other people’s journeys, it is useful to hear what they have to say about their early performances and how they persevered to become better musicians.
You can gain a lot by opening yourself up to the stories of others and so many are out there to be heard. There are often tales of early performances and competitions remembered with trepidation and discomfort. You will hear musicians say things you may not want to hear, such as take a job in a guitar shop or become an instrument techie or roadie – this facilitates meeting the right people and putting yourself into a position where your music might be heard. David Gilmour was a roadie for Pink Floyd before Nick Mason asked him if he would join the band as a guitarist, and Noel Gallagher was a roadie for Inspiral Carpets before he joined Oasis, after all.
Use podcasts as a medium to put yourself in seasoned musicians’ shoes, learn from their experiences, their triumphs, and their mistakes – and these multiple perspectives will take you further along in your music journey than training alone ever will.