Rewind: Practicing

Hey, Christopher here, director of Musical U, and normally your host for the show. But today we have something a bit different for you. Now, I’ll apologize in advance if you hear marching band music in the background. It’s because I’m in Valencia in Spain at the moment, and they’re celebrating this weekend, the Fallas festival and there’s literally a marching band proceeding along outside my window. They’ve been playing all morning. It’s a lot of fun – but not ideal when you’re trying to record some video. So if you can hear a little trumpets and horns in the background, I apologize.

What we have for you today is something a bit different and in a minute I’m going to disappear, and I will not be involved in the episode at all, because what we have is a team episode of the show. We’ve got the Musical U team together, and what we’re doing is it kind of came out of happenstance where we had a few weeks in a row where on our team call, one of the members of the Musical U team randomly mentioned they listened to an old episode of the musicality podcast and learn something really cool, or they particularly enjoyed something. After that happened a few weeks in a row I was like “this is kind of cool we should do something with this”.

So what I did was I corralled Adam Liette, our Communications Manager, to get the team together for kind of a “show and tell” episode where each of them would bring along an old episode of the Musicality Podcast, an old interview we did with a musicality expert, and share a little bit about what resonated with them or what they learned, or their own opinions and insights on that topic.

So that’s what they did. The team got together, that’s Stewart Hilton, Andrew Bishko, Adam Liette and Anastasia Voitinskaia, joined with our latest recruit Zac Bailey. They all got together, each bringing an episode to the table to share what they enjoyed about that episode. It turned out fantastic. They themed it all around practicing, and a little bit of performing stuff crept in there too.

I thoroughly enjoyed listening back to the recording afterwards, and I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. It certainly inspired me to go back and listen again to some of those past interviews.

So, that’s it from me I’m going to leave you in Adam’s capable hands in just a moment. Last thing to say it’s just, if you do enjoy this episode, please hit us up on social media and let the team know. You can go to Facebook or Twitter or Instagram you’ll find us under Musical U, and I would love for you to just show the team some love, show them some support. Tell them what you enjoyed about this episode, and hopefully we can tempt them back to do this again another time. That’s it for me – enjoy the episode.

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Adam: Hello, and welcome back to another episode of The Musicality Podcast, my name is Adam Liette, Communications Manager for Musical U, and I’m joined with the entire Musical U team for this special episode. And after so many episodes of The Musicality Podcast, here at the team we’re always amazed at just how many incredible guests that we’ve had, and some of the interesting tidbits and tips and tricks that they offered, that they’ve learned throughout their musical journey.

So we wanted to round up together and get the entire team to talk about some of our favorite episodes of The Musicality Podcast, and some things that we’ve been able to take from the show, into the practice room, and into our musical performances.

So I’m joined by the team, I’d just like to introduce them. We have Andrew Bishko, and Andrew, why don’t you take a moment to introduce yourself.

Andrew: Hi Adam, I’m Andrew Bishko, I am the Product Manager at Musical U, so I’m responsible for supervising and writing new educational modules, for fixing broken ones, for creating new products, I’m also on the customer service team with Stew, our Community Conductor, and I’m talking quite a bit to our members, and helping them out through their journey. I’m also the Content Manager for our blog and our publications.

Adam: Thank you Andrew. We also have Stewart Hilton with us. Stewart, why don’t you introduce yourself.

Stewart: Hello, I am Stewart Hilton, and on the site you probably know me as GuitarStew777, and I am the Community Conductor. So, I am there to help you with any issues you’re having, creating a nice community environment, and be a general social butterfly for the website.

Adam: And Anastasia.

Anastasia: Hi there, my name is Anastasia Voitinskaia, I’m the Content Editor here Musical U, and a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and singer.

Adam: And finally, the newest member of the Musical team, Zac Bailey.

Zac: Hi I’m Zac Bailey, Zsonic is my DJ name, and also my name on the Musical U website, so if you’re looking for me, @Zsonic. I’m a community assistant, I love encouraging and helping the other members. I love seeing what they’re doing and what they’re practicing. I also work on the social media side of Musical U, and that’s pretty fun. I’m a DJ, rapper, I’m learning to play the keyboard, learning to sing, so I can write music and compose, and do a lot of cool stuff, and Musical U has been an amazing experience helping me with that, and I love helping other people doing similar things.

Adam: Fantastic. So one thing that we hear a lot from the members of Musical U, is how to take all of the things that they’re learning within Musical U, and they’re learning in their music education, and how to actually apply it their instrument. And for most musicians, that means in the practice room. How are we applying all these skills in practice, so that we can then go and perform, or continue to play, or experiment with different musical sounds. All of this comes down to how we’re actually applying things that we’re learning, to our instrument.

So we’d like to focus this first episode, really just talking about music practice. And different tips and tricks that we’ve learned throughout all of the episodes of The Musicality Podcast. So each member of the team has picked a certain episode that really touched them, that really appealed to them and spoke to them, and they were able to use that in their own music practice. We’re gonna share those with all … Edit. And we’d like to share those with all of you, and so that you can revisit old episodes of the podcast, and continue to apply these things in your music practice.

And I’d like to start with an episode that we did with Jeremy Fisher. This was in episode 76 of the podcast. Now, Jeremy’s a vocalist, and although I’m not a vocalist, there were so many great things in this episode, that really spoke to me, and things that I was able to begin using, almost immediately as I was learning new things on my instrument. So I’d like to first share this brief sound clip from that episode.

Jeremy Fisher: You’re not trying to take in something that you couldn’t possibly deal with, ’cause there are 15 things wrong with it, that’s not the way that you learn or that’s just the way you get depressed. The way that you learn is to focus on one thing and work it, and just going right back to what we were talking about earlier about being a side reader, one of the things that when I’m learning new pieces, and I’m learning a lot of complicated stuff at the moment, I don’t focus on: I need to be able to play all the chords, and I need to be able to do this, and I need to do all that. I don’t do that. I do, there are certain and specific things that I do, and it makes me an expert practicer.

So I will do one run at super slow speed, much, much slower than you would normally play it. But my focus is not to stop, so I will get through that piece really, really slowly, but I will not stop anywhere. And if I do stop or I stumble, I just make a mental note of that’s the place I need to work, and if it’s a note, I’ll get to that note, and I’ll get two back from it, and practice that. So I’ll go two notes back, and then two notes past it, so I’m working five notes, or and then, I’ll go five notes back. So I’m always working that note, but I’m working across the period, I’m working across the phrase, so I’m not just practicing the notes, I’m practicing the approach and the release.

Adam: What I love about this process that Jeremy laid out was, we think about how to learn music, and we think about different techniques that we’re learning, but we’re actually applying it a piece of music, it’s so tempting to just to wanna run through a song from beginning to end, over and over again. But is that really the way that we’re learning individual pieces of music? Because there’s always those little motifs, those little sections, that give you difficulties, they give you the most problems. And if we’re just playing an entire song, over and over again, we’re not really focusing on the parts where we’re stumbling. And I love his method of just slowing it down, and then adding to that piece of music, bit by bit, until you’re able to play it comfortably and competently.

I’ve used this in my own practice, I’ve used it when teaching my children now, and I can think of so many different ways that just this really simple way just starting with the section that gave you problems, and then moving back a little bit. So that what working on is not only the section, but the approach, and then the conclusion. I love this approach that he used, and I continue to use it in my music practice, and it’s helped make me a better music practicer.

Does anyone from the team have anyone else to add about that clip?

Zac: I love the episode with Jeremy Fisher, that’s something I do all the time, with everything I practice. I call it, taking a microscope to your weaknesses. So you practice something slow like he said, and then when you get to that part where you stumble, that’s your weakness, and you focused right in on that. And then, yeah, you run through that, and then I’ll actually go through that same part until I can do it way faster than I would normally play the rest of the song, and I try to get it faster, and then slow it back down so I can play it really clean and smooth, the original tempo. Once I get that sticking point faster than the speed that is my goal, then I know that I got it down enough to play in the whole piece.

Adam: And Andrew?

Andrew: Yes. First of all, I really thought it was that you said you weren’t a vocalist, because Adam’s a great singer. He’s fantastic. But getting back to the subject at hand, that’s something that I’ve done for a long time with my practicing, working over this little exact column, in my teaching I call them wrinkles, we take the wrinkle and you iron right on the wrinkle, but if you stick the iron on the wrinkle and it’s only there, then you get a big burn mark and you gotta iron around the wrinkle, and iron around until you iron the whole shirt. I think a lot of our listeners probably don’t even know what an iron is, but I’m old, what are you gonna say?

Anyway … but one thing I found for myself, is that I get too focused on doing those kind of things, and like focusing on the wrinkles and then right around the surrounds, and I haven’t been practicing my pieces all the way through enough, where I get a feeling, okay I’m beginning and make it all the way to the end, and that’s why I like what he said in the beginning. Where, I’m gonna practice it slow, I’m gonna go from the beginning, the end, and not stop, and that’s something I wanna do more of.

Adam: That’s tremendous Andrew. Andrew, why don’t you take it from here, what was your clip?

Andrew: My clip was from episode number 151, which is hacking habituation, these were excerpts from a masterclass that we did with the neuro-symphonic horn player, Marc Gelfo, and I’m not gonna explain that. But I’ve had this general desire to become unstuck in all the stuck places in my life, and specifically in music, where there are certain things I’ve been trying to do that have been quite difficult. I’m playing … I’ve been doing mariachi arrangements for the accordion, where I’m playing all the different parts, the bass part on one side, then trumpets and violin parts on the other side, because we don’t have a full band, and there’s a lot of poly rhythms going on between the two sides, a lot of coordination, and it’s very new.

I found that I have an intention of what I wanna do, but somehow it just doesn’t happen, I would practice it over and over and over and over again. And I had the experience recently, where we had a gig coming up, and I working really intensely with the other band members, with this guitarist and the violinist, and to have them feel really comfortable and confident and ready for this gig. And we were practicing, and every practice for a few months for this one gig, I was sitting down. In the last two practices I thought, “Oh, I’m going to be playing standing up, I better stand up.” It was like, “Oh my gosh, I’m not ready.” And I had just been learning everything in this one position.

So the podcast from Marc Gelfo, in this first clip that you’re going to hear, he talks about this idea of changing location, and it’s so important. Like even if you’re in a little tiny room, and you just rotate around the room. Anyway, well let’s listen, and then I’ll talk more about it.

Marc Gelfo: One simple, do it for the rest of your life tip that will really change things around is to change location in your practice room. So, you’re looking forward, you’ve got 360 degrees of rotation, just rotate yourself 90 degrees in between reps. If you play four different scales, play them facing north, south, east and west, and what that will do is give you a different environmental context, and avoid habituating.

Andrew: Okay. So here, here I’ll do the next part of the podcast like this, and then like this. Okay, back to facing forward, so the rotating is great, I’m blessed you know, I’m a grown up and I have a house, and I can walk around my house, and I could go look out my window, and I can look at the socks that my boys left on the floor, and all kinds of things. And move around, and there was one part, this one thing I was trying to get, and I was practicing it over and over and over again, and I couldn’t figure out why the right hand part wasn’t coming through. I said, “Well there’s something going on with my bellows.” I was playing the accordion, and something going on with the bellows, where I wasn’t getting enough power in my bellows.

And so, I started walking around, I started moving around, I tried standing still, I tried moving with the music, I faced different directions, and all of a sudden I realized that it was not what was going on with my right hand, it was left hand having to make a big jump at the same time as right hand playing this line. And I had this insight of this thing I’ve been knocking my head against, for literally months, and was able to just change the whole thing. Just by moving around the whole room, giving myself a fresh perspective. And I’m going to be really be doing a lot of that, and of course using that with my students as well.

So another thing that I was inspired to do by this podcast, is not repeat things until I was bored, but that this was counterproductive to my learning. I grew up on that whole thing where it’s like, you gotta play it a thousand million times, over and over again until you have it right. I’ve been letting myself play it a few times, and then say, “Okay well that wasn’t perfect, but too bad, I’m gonna move on. Do it later.” And then go and do something else, and doing something else is called interleave practice. And then coming back to that thing and doing it a few times, but not so much that I’m gonna get frustrated, it’s really important for me not to become frustrated, because there is no learning when I’m frustrated.

And so, just having a good time with it, and then saying, “Okay, well this is good enough for today. I’m gonna come back to it tomorrow.” It’s amazing how much more progress I make, than if I’m really pushing myself to do lots of reps. I’ve been using this a lot with my teaching, where it’s like, I’m not gonna sit there now and make a student do it over and over and over and over again. It’s like, okay, if they do it for a while, and it’s like let’s do something else. And it actually helps more.

So this next clip is related, and it’s the idea, not just the outer environment changing, but the inner environment. Let’s listen to that.

Marc Gelfo: Just give up. Look, your environment is so rich, the inner environment is one place where you can do that too, and one way that I hack habituation is to change my inner environment, especially on Thursdays, which is the emotion practice days for me. On Thursdays, I have a whole inventory of emotions, like anger, joy, calm, resentment, and I will, like an actor, I will go, I play like emotion bingo, and I’ll just land on one, and oh okay, peace. And I’ll play the scale peacefully. And that I flush the inner environment, and then okay, shame. Like what would this sound like if I’m feeling incredibly ashamed? And that trains a certain resilience. I learned this-

Andrew: That was a really insightful thing, because I’m always working really hard to keep my emotions positive, and it’s not always very successful, especially when I’m performing. If I’m performing, and I mess up, it’s like then all of the flood of the inner critic comes in, and it’s just awful, and I’m just fighting this battle. But here he’s saying, practice the negative emotions too, and I’m realizing by practicing the negative emotions by just putting them on and taking them off, I realize I can put on and take off any emotion that I want. So I’m learning to be able to change the emotions, which of course I can use in terms of putting the emotion into my music, but also if it so happens that I hit a land mine while I’m playing something in a performance, and I start to feel that flood of negative emotion, I have the power, because I have practiced to switch from one emotion to another, to be able to switch those emotions. I’m looking to do a lot of practicing with that idea.

Adam: You know, I’m sitting here wondering, Anastasia you’re a composer. Is this something that you have practiced as well?

Anastasia: I take a very emotions-based approach to composition for sure. But, I don’t really practice as if I’m putting on a face that I’m, I don’t know like peaceful or angry or ashamed, because a lot of my writing tends to be like, quite autobiographical, which I think a lot songwriters can attest to. And so, it really does depend on what I’m feeling in the moment, and I think powerful emotions are of course, a great, great source of inspiration in music. But, that’s really an interesting thing to try, kind of write a song as if you’re feeling peaceful, but I don’t know, I never considered it before, because I sort of write precisely what I’m feeling in the moment.

Again, a lot of my songs are story-based, or at least have like a lose-narrative arc. So yeah, but it’s a really interesting tip, and if can say something else about Andrew’s clip, I really, really liked the point that he made in the first clip about just changing your surroundings. Because as anyone who has ever had to take some sort of exam or do a recital can attest to, it makes such a huge difference to your brain, where you are, what instrument you’re playing on, what kind of natural light is in the room, who’s watching you, et cetera.

So things like, I’m not suggesting you drag a baby grand around your room, and make it point north, east, west, south whatever, but yeah changing up where you’re practicing, practicing on different instruments, facing a certain way, practicing in a different room if your instrument is portable, makes such a big difference, and I think it makes you so much more confident when you do go to an examination or go perform in front of others. Because you’re just like, I have practiced this piece, in these 11 different contexts, of course I can do it here, and I think that’s really valuable. Yeah.

Adam: Yeah, absolutely. And I know Stew, you had something you wanted to add here.

Stewart: Yeah it actually, it kind of combines with the stuff you talked about with Jeremy. Zac mentioned being under a microscope, I always find being live and playing live, tends to turn the microscope into a really large TV set. And that kinda goes with all of what Andrew just talked about and moving around. The two groups I play with, one we do have rehearsals, we have band rehearsals, and we work on things, and that doesn’t always mean that … still live always brings out the possible issue areas in a song. And I have found that I need to stand a lot. Like if I’m working out a part, I may work it out sitting down, but man, when you go live, suddenly it’s like that little part you had nailed when you were sitting down, suddenly you’re like, “What’s going on? What, what, oops.” And then, but not you’re playing it in front of 50 people. But then that also goes into the inner side, which means now I have to get over what I just completely train wrecked on stage, and move forward from that.

But that also … the other guy I play for, the tribute guy, there is no rehearsals before we play. So when I first played with him, I literally kinda set up a downstairs concert area, and had the stereo going, my amp, and stood up and just kinda walked around while I was playing because I just needed to get used to some of what I was gonna go through. It didn’t solve every issue, but it definitely I think, got me a little more used to doing the music standing up, and I’m still working on certain things. Even in the country band we have a song where there’s … I swear I’ve worked the guitar solo parts out a few times, and then I get live, and I’m like, what happened, my brain just totally shut down.

So yeah, doing all that is a huge help though, because it gets better every time. And it’s kinda like that inner thing, it’s like, “Okay I messed that up, you know what? I’m gonna get it the next time.” And it’s kind of interesting, a band you love Adam, Metallica, I happened to run over a huge clip of Metallica fails on stage. And we all think of these big bands as being like, they have it perfect every time, they don’t. All of them, they make some pretty big blunders on stage, and the thing that I liked watching is they kinda look at each other, laugh and kinda smile about it, and then just get back on the horse and keep going. It just happened, it’s all right, I’ve played this song probably 2,000 times this, something’s bound to happen at some point, we’re human.

Adam: Yeah, absolutely. For sure, if you perform live, if you perform anywhere, you’re going to make mistakes. So that’s a healthy mindset to have as you’re doing any kind of performing art.

Stew, why don’t you take over, and tell us about your clip.

Stewart: Okay, well my kinda goes into the whole performing thing again. It was with Kevin Richards, and it was episode 126, and he hit something that I notice a lot when you’re on stage, something I always tend to think about is what the audience is seeing on stage, and if they’re being entertained or not. So I’ll let you play the clip and then talk about what I was thinking.

Kevin Richards: Because I had to be, I now had to talk to a room full of people I didn’t know. And the first thing I did, is I kind of I watched a lot of other performers local to my area who are really good at it, and I kinda took a lot of pointers. I asked some of them, like how are you really good at talking an audience. And I particular guy give me a really good idea, he goes, “I write everything down. I write everything down I’m gonna say between songs, and I learn it like a script, and I say it, and I kind of repeat it like an actor talking to … I kind of have a set … I know I have a set thing to say and I have certain cues for the band. When I say this, click the song in, and boom we’re right on.” So there’s a flow to the show.

Now, that’s a really good idea, so I started to come up with … and we use to rehearse this with the band, I’m gonna say this, this, this and this. And then you go right into the song. It helped me not have to try to improvise in front of people.

Stewart: Yeah, so that hit something like when I go out and see bands, and even when I’m thinking about what I’m doing … especially the country band that I play with, the country rock band. And that is what’s going on in between, ’cause I have gone and seen local bands, and I think it’s probably the most uncomfortable when they get done with one song, and then they all stare at each other and have these like intermingling conversations. Yeah, what Andrew just did, they kinda look, what’s next? And you’re kinda sitting there as the audience like, can we move on? But that’s something that … it’s one of those things that as you’re learning music, and you’re learning to play, and the thing, you know with music is, you wanna be able to share this love that you have with others.

Some of those little things that you don’t think about when you’re learning all that, suddenly take place as soon as you get on front of a stage, like, “Oh I just finished a song, now what do I do?” Yeah, you can go in, and you can start putting a bunch of songs together, but at some point you’re gonna have to talk. I’ve seen some interesting things. Luckily we have a singer in this current group, and he is great, he’s kind of filled with way too much energy. He’s kind of on a normal basis, acts like he’s had two Monster Energy drinks on stage, and he hasn’t had any. But I’ve also played in bands where I’ve had a singer who doesn’t like to talk a lot, and then you’re in between and he’s kinda staring at the ground, and you’re like, “Oh this is bad.”

So hearing this, it was good listening to him talking about actually practicing what you’re going to do on the stage, and have these scripts, and have these different things. And I even heard that on an old … it was before we were doing the podcast, I can’t remember the guy, but he talked about that, and he talked about having these scripts and even doing like little comedy routines just to keep the audience engaged. If you’re talking to one another on the stage, they’re not engaged to you, they’re just kinda watching going, are they confused, did somebody just have a moment and have a nervous breakdown on stage, what’s going on? So performing it, and practicing that is I think a pretty important part, and I’m learning that the longer I am. And here I am now in my fifties, but you’re still learning all this stuff.

Adam: It’s funny, I accidentally incorporated some of that very early in my gigging days, and it was all well and good until the other band members like, caught onto the fact that we play this song and Adam says the same thing every night. And so they started making fun of me for it, and it’s like they jumped to the microphone before I could get to it. I was like, “Wait a minute, that’s my line, you can’t take that from me.” So it became a running joke. I stopped doing it because they would just make fun of me, but they never let it go, two years later they were still doing it at the same time in the show every night.

Stewart: Yep. Well the tribute artist I play for, it’s kind of funny, the drummer and I will look at each other at certain points of the show, and know that he’s gonna say a certain thing about how great the food is in the place we’re at, but he’s got it and he does a great job at it, so we just kinda smile and go, “This is good.” So, yeah.

Adam: Zac, I have to imagine that’s something that happens in the DJ world as well, some of those cues. Is there anything you can add to this?

Zac: Yeah, that happens all the time. I was actually talking to some of my DJ friends recently about how an MC is super underused at a DJ show, and doesn’t necessarily mean a rapper, just someone who talks to during lulls. Sometimes it’s hard for a DJ to keep the crowd interested the whole time. It is a continuous wall of music, there’s not really breaks in the music, but there might be breaks in the attention of the audience. So it is important to get on the mic and say some things to crowd. I’ve never scripted anything, I’ve done a lot of improv in my day, I used to do a lot of improv acting classes. I’m very comfortable, I like to speak to someone specifically in the audience, that’s a DJ tip. If you play to one single person in the audience, like if there’s a cute girl dancing in the front, play for her, get on the mic, talk to her, just talk to a specific person, and I just like to say some clever jokes.

But I really like the idea of having something scripted, I never thought of that, I think that is definitely a valuable tool.

Adam: Anastasia, I know you had something that you wanted to add as well.

Anastasia: I did, yeah. I really like that clip. I’ve never scripted anything myself. A lot of my between song talking is entirely improvised, which has actually resulted in a lot of personal funny anecdotes being told, which I don’t mind, but then listening back to it on a recording and stuff, can be cringe-inducing at points. But I just wanted to say, I don’t know, there’s I think good stage banter is greatly underestimated, and I’ve seen certain bands kind of take on a dual role as comedians, and say some really hilarious brilliant stuff. Similar to an MC, it can really hype the crowd up, it can really add energy when it’s needed. It’s nice to feel it’s more of an interaction, it’s nice to feel like it’s not just someone playing at you. But music has always been and will always be a conversation, and it’s nice for the performing musicians to acknowledge that and kind of interact with the audience a little bit, so I think that’s wonderful.

Adam: Absolutely. Yeah it’s such a dynamic environment when we’re on stage, and yeah it doesn’t just have to be the music, it can be everything else that you are doing during the performance.

Anastasia, why don’t you tell us about your clip.

Anastasia: Sure, I’d love to. So as someone who was pretty much brought up by technology, I’m part of that generation, and also someone who has kind of put a guitar and piano and some of the more acoustic instruments I play, to the side a little bit, and instead shifted my focus to DJing and to making electronic music, I’m forever very much fascinated by what kind of tools and technology is available to me to make the process of making electronic music or DJing easier and more intuitive and more interesting. And there’s a lot out there from digital audio workstations to software apps, and a guest on our podcast honed in on a really, really interesting tool that I had never heard of before. I think it’s really brilliant in its simplicity.

So the guest for episode 37 of The Musicality Podcast was Katie Wardrobe, and she’s the creator of a site called Midnight Music, which is a website that I spend quite a bit of time on, and it’s an absolute goldmine for learning about the latest and greatest in music tech, and how it can make your practice and your music teaching, if you’re a teacher, more creative and inspired, and engaging. So yeah, the information on her website is great, it’s presented really in such a clear and accessible way, and there is just so much fantastic interviews on her own podcast, and tutorials, and just general tips on how to make music technology work for you. Which is something that I’m the most interested in right now in my own musical life.

So for the purposes of this installation of my favorite episode, I chose a snippet from our interview episode with her, it’s called, Top Musicality Tools and Tech, in which she discusses one of her favorite practice tools, which has since become one of favorite songwriting tools. So here it is, here’s the clip.

Katie Wardrobe: Tools for, particularly for teachers and students to use, but they’re great for everyone, so one of theirs is called Groove Pizza and it’s one of these online drum sequencer tools, and it doesn’t test you on anything but its a great place for you to build up a drum pattern and I love these for just either exploring rhythm yourself — it’s a great way to do it. So you can do that thing where you build up a pattern with a kick drum and a snare drum and it’s only got three parts so you’re limited, which is good, but I love to suggest to people, use that as your accompaniment for when you’re playing scales, you know? Just put a really basic drum pattern on and instead of playing scales or modes along to a metronome, which is tick-tock, tick-tock all the time, you can have some funky rhythm going and so I often suggest that and you can make the tempo really slow and then, increase it over time, and you can even export those little drum patterns from that website.

You get an MP3 and/or a wave file, and therefore you can save them somewhere. You could save them on your laptop or put them on to your device and take them with you. There’s all-

Anastasia: Yeah, Groove Pizza, great name, absolutely magical tool as I said before. Really just so elegant in its simplicity, I think it’s perfect for everyone from beginners to rhythm, to advanced percussionists. So, as Katie kind of touched on in that clip, also I have to say I love her accent. Groove Pizza kind of can serve a dual purpose for you. The first one being it’s a great tool for practicing repetitive exercises and drills over, for anyone who’s ever had to play scales over a metronome, that it gets very dull, very fast. But playing scales over a four/four groove that you’ve just created on the spot with Groove Pizza is far more fun.

And again, earlier in this episode, I was talking about playing the same musical piece or thing under different contexts, and I think this is another really, really great way to do that. And you can basically make those repetitive practice drills different every time, and apart from scales, use it to practice chord progressions over, or little riffs or melodies, or whatever. It’s great for all that, and not only does it make you a more versatile musician, but you have a lot more fun with it, and of course your confidence also goes up, because you can play the same thing under slight different circumstances. And I think that’s really, really important.

The second thing that Katie said about Groove Pizza, and that really resonated with me, was it’s used for just taking some time to just sit and explore rhythm. This I found to be particularly fantastic because again I’m a songwriter, so when I sit down and practice, I’m actually, I’m writing music, I’m rewriting my music, I’m perfecting it, and then I’m practicing my own creations. Many musicians really, myself included, I think pay too much attention to melody and harmony, and perhaps not enough to rhythm, and Groove Pizza kind of makes you pay more attention to just rhythm, because it’s isolated. You have three drum parts at your disposal, you the kick, you have the snare, and you have the hi-hat, just three parts.

So that means we talk a lot about the idea of playgrounds, where you put kind of limits or constraints on yourself, and then you kind of play around with these quite limited possibilities to actually bring out your creativity, and it works because you can actually do so much with so little, right? And that’s kind of exactly what Groove Pizza does, I played around with it a lot. It gives you a great little playground for rhythm, it’s so easy to just build up rhythms on there, you can easily take away and add elements, you can play around with emphasis, you can add back beats and off beat high-hats, and even swing rhythms if you want. And you can see what kind of stuff you can make.

Yeah, so I think that’s just such a powerful tool for songwriting, because kind of this experimentation and play can open up your ears to a lot rhythmic possibilities that you just wouldn’t consider otherwise. It’s great.

Andrew: You know, I was thinking about that, ’cause we were just playing around with that article this week that talks about Groove Pizza, and they have some awesome sounds, their kick drum sound, it’s just really very real. And there’s a lot of drum machines, and a lot of drum things you can play, and the pads, and all kinds of stuff. But when you break it down to just those three elements, the snare, the hi-hat and the kick, and you have really good sounds to go with it? You can really get to the fundamentals of it, and it’s manageable, where you really figure out what you’re doing and what the basics … what the fundamental groove is, that you’re working on. You can always add stuff later with whatever DAW you’re on.

I think that’s really important that you bring up the idea of rhythm being a neglected aspect in songwriting. Because so many people, as a songwriter myself, and a former songwriting instructor, they don’t think about it at all, they don’t give it a thought, and they come up with the same rhythms as everybody else. And if you really take some time to put some attention on it, you can get very creative with rhythm and make a big difference, because that is the big difference. When you’re moving from a verse to a chorus, you wanna change up that rhythm, and so many beginning songwriters, they just plow through the same rhythmic concepts, and the song falls flat. So having radical changes in rhythm, if you listen to master songwriters, they radically change the rhythm going from one section to another, the vocal rhythm as well. That’s a great tool for sensitizing yourself to the rhythm.

And I know we’re getting a little off the topic on practicing, so getting back to practicing. It’s just so much more fun and it gets back to what we were talking about with the outer environment changing the environment of what you’re playing. Here we’re changing the sonic environment of what you’re doing, and that’s really important as well. I know that one thing I love to do, what Adam was talk about practicing passages, is when I have a passage and that I’m stuck on, change the rhythm of it. Put longer notes and shorter notes, syncopate it, take something that’s written in groups of four notes, and play it in triplets instead, change the articulation on it, really change it up or like maybe you ought to just throw whole note bombs, like in the middle some things, where all of a sudden it will just stop on a note.

And that really helps with passages, and with our practicing as to focus that attention on rhythm where normally we’d be thinking about, all about the pitches and the fingerings, to put more attention back on the rhythm, it’s a great concept for practicing.

Stewart: I was gonna say, it reminded me of a way I will work on leads in different things in the band. There’s a website called backtracks or actually it’s, but they have backtracks that are pretty cheap, and you can actually go in there and remix the song, take all the electric guitar out, take out as much as you want until it’s just a basic track. And then, you’re doing the rhythm, you’re doing the lead, so for me it actually helps if there’s a certain melody in a lead that I need to make sure I got, I can do that. But I can also improvise with it a little bit, and make it my own. But that does help, and you’ve got that rhythm going so you know you’re in with the song, ’cause there’s a huge difference of playing along with the actual song from someone you’re playing. Like from the actual performer, a lot of us do that, and then we’ll work on the lead by ourselves with nothing there.

But to take it and actually be the person doing that with a backtracks going, it gets you to think of a little bit different ’cause now you’ve got that rhythm, and you gotta make sure you’re right with it, and you’re not only just playing notes of a solo, you’re being rhythmical with it. And also pushes you into a little improvisation if you like to spread your wings a little.

Zac: I love rhythm, it’s kind of interesting for me to hear this stuff, because I come from like making hip-hop and dance music and scratching, scratching drum patterns. So everything I’ve ever done has been 100% rhythm, it’s only been two or three years that I’ve actually been learning about melody and everything. But I will say that practicing different rhythms, say you’re practicing a scale and you’re trying to get your scale down, practicing different rhythms with it, makes it … gets you down way better. Like, I’ll run through quarter notes, then I’ll run through eighth notes, then triplets and sixteenth notes, then I’ll get into some different rhythms.

Like the T, ticka ticka, just different, I got flash cards, like this one is Ti, Ka-ti, ka-ti, ka-ti, ka-ti, anytime you have a straight section of a song, especially in a solo that’s like straight sixteenth notes, or straight scale, if you break it up into these weird rhythms, especially weird groups of rhythms, like fives, like you get things down so much faster just by experimenting with different rhythms. I love it, I love rhythms, I apply it to everything [inaudible 00:49:54].

Adam: Absolutely, thank you for sharing that Zac. And I know Zac, you selected an episode that was very powerful to you, why don’t you go ahead and share that with us.

Zac: Yeah, I selected episode 152 with Ruth Power, it was very inspiring for me. Her passion and her attitude towards the piano, it was just a lot of fun, it really just, I can’t think of the word, but it’s just like it pumped me up, it got me excited to wanna practice more. So let’s go ahead and listen to our clip, and then I’ll explain.

Ruth Power: Measure the scales, you can … there’s so many cool apps and backing tracks within the school year, and within … I do backing tracks as well, that you can use to play your scales. So you’re playing scales, but you’re playing along to like a funky blues track or something, so it’s not as boring as this kinda da, da, da. You know? You can make it into something cool. And then once you’ve played, you can reward yourself once you’ve played the scale perfectly, then you can just jam on the backing track for a while or whatever you wanna do.

Zac: Yeah, so that’s a really simple thing, but it never occurred to me, I never did it before. I actually hadn’t … Well, prior to listening to that podcast, I hadn’t practiced piano very much for a couple of months. I was just really, just like blah about it. I for like two years, I basically practiced scales to a metronome, and like penta-scales, and then some chords, always to a metronome, and that got super boring. So I got burnt out on that, and I didn’t practice for a couple of months, really maybe a few minutes a day here and there, but it was really like nothing. And then I heard that from Ruth, and the whole podcast is amazing, her whole attitude it’s just so positive and inspiring, I loved it.

But that simple thing, right there just helped me. I got a Boss RC505 loop station last Christmas, which has a bunch of drum loops on it, and then you can make your own loops over it, or you can put your own drumming … put whatever you want in there. So what I’ve been doing is, I’ll start with the drum loop that it’s got in there, then I’ll play some chords on the piano, then I’ll play a bass line on the piano, and then I’ll like run through a scale, kinda like she’s talking about, and if I get the scale nice, then I’ll improve a little bit, and it’s just been a whole lot more fun. I do other things than that now too, I’ve practicing way more, I’ve been practicing every day for at least an hour ever since hearing that, and it’s been incredible. It’s so much fun.

And that’s what I really wanna do, I wanna do a live performance where I play the piano and make loops and scratch, and all that stuff as well. So I’m actually practicing the thing that I wanna do musically. So that is very rewarding and it’s super fun. I love Ruth for that, thank you.

Adam: Well that’s wonderful, thank you so much for sharing that Zac. Overall, I think one of the things that we see the most in all of these clips, is not only how to make practice more effective, but how to make it more fun, ’cause music practice doesn’t have to be boring, music practice is part of who we are, it’s part of what we do as musicians, and some of these very simple tricks and tips are gonna help you enjoy your process in the practice room much more.

This is Adam from The Musical U team, have a great day.

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