7 Important Skills for Becoming a Better Musician

No matter which instrument you play, you will spend years developing your techniques and become a better player. But to become a great musician, you’ll also need a good set of musicianship skills. Here is a list of skills we think will help you along your musical journey, and the reasons why they are important:

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Ear Training

Ear training is the ability to hear melodic and harmonic intervals, identify chord qualities and progressions, find particular notes in a chord and work out scale degrees of a melody, etc. It is important because understanding how chords function in music will make you a better performer, and being able to hear harmonies and chord progressions allows you to improvise accordingly. When you want to compose and write down ideas, you’ll also need to know what is that you’re hearing. 

Timing

Being a good musician requires being able to keep a steady beat, and reproduce rhythmic patterns accurately. You might think that keeping the beat is the drummer’s job. But no matter what instrument you play, having good time and rhythm is more important than playing the “right” notes. A “right” played out of time will only sound out of place.

Music Reading

Music reading is the ability to read notes on musical staves in at least one or two clefs. Some musicians spend all their lives reading music, and some never read a note in their lives. Most classical musicians are trained to be excellent sight readers, while many improvising musicians in other genres don’t read as much. It might be less important to read music if you learn all your music by ear, but if you know how to read, or even sight-read, it allows you to play unfamiliar material or other people’s music and opens up more gig opportunities for you. Also, being able to read means you will also be able to write. You can write down melodic or rhythmic ideas and notate your own compositions, and have written record which you can go back to.

Singing skills

Unless you are a vocalist, you don’t need to have extraordinary singing abilities. However, it does help to have a basic singing skills which allows you to hum a melody on pitch, or sing back a tune you’ve just heard. It helps you connect to what you hear in your head, and is also extremely useful if you want to communicate with other musicians about musical ideas you have.

Music Theory

Music theory is everything from harmony, scales, chords, rhythm, keys, to notation and terminology. And it should be learned in conjunction with all the above skills we’ve already mentioned, as they are meant to be applied to all aspects of music making. By understanding the relationship between chords, you can hear them better; by learning about notations, you will become a better reader, etc.

Improvisation

In some forms of music, like jazz, improvisation is everything. On the other hand, genres like classical music, there’s almost no improvisation at all, which is a strange thing, since many of the greatest composers in history, like Bach and Chopin, were extraordinary improvisers. Being able to improvise not only means that you’ll have a deeper understanding of music, because you do need to know how chords and harmonies work; but it also gives you the ability to be free and creative in your playing, when you’re not confined to playing what’s on the page.

Composing/ songwriting

Compared to improvisation, composition is a much slower form of music creation. It allows you to come up with ideas, and develop, organize, and reorganize to create something that is carefully crafted. Again, having a good ear, notating skills, and improvising chops will leave you better equipped for writing your own music.

Performing skills

So you have been honing your skills for a while, and you decide to go out there, play in front of people, with other musicians or by yourself; and you realize everything feels different, you nerves creep in, and you can’t play the lick you’ve worked to perfection at home. Performing to a live audience is a completely different than playing in your bedroom, you’ll need to keep your mind more focused than usual, and be really prepared. Every time you perform, you take notes and go back to the practice room and work on it. Fortunately, like everything, the more you do it, the easier it gets!

For the parents: Keeping your child’s enthusiasm for playing.

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It’s a common situation. Your child’s been having lessons for a few weeks/months/even years, enthusiasm in bundles, and then suddenly, like that, they’re becoming more resistant to playing. You keep encouraging, reminding and then nagging until it gets to the point where it’s stalemate and the worst happens: music becomes a chore, unenjoyable and something they resent.

So, here we offer our tips on keeping your child’s enthusiasm for playing:

Make sure you are involved from the beginning. This means communicating with the teacher and checking what they’re doing in lessons rather than just reminding them to practise. Try sitting with your child when they’re practising-you could learn the instrument alongside them. This helps as you can really see how they’re progressing, and recognise areas that are more of a challenge/fun/easy and change the balance before they start to wane. 

Talk to your child and keep the communication open. You’ll know what they’re enjoying most as this will be what they play the most. But ask what they’re enjoying, why they like it. If they’re a bit more advanced what kind of pieces they like playing, is it the jazzy ones, the more classical ones etc. Do they like sight reading new music? Playing familiar tunes or making up their own music? Ask them what’s a bit trickier and get used to discussing it all. You’ll be able to get a much better idea of the whole picture and may be able to pre-empt a lull in enthusiasm.

Exams work for some not for others. Remember that above all your child has got to be having fun and enjoying playing. Some children thrive off working towards a goal whereas others find it intimidating. Exams aren’t the be all and end all and should be used as benchmarks rather than the only focus of playing. They may be something needed for school but remember that some of the best musicians didn’t learn this way. It can be hard to know how to guide your child if you are not from a musical background yourself but there are many different routes to learning music as well as the traditional sight reading route. Playing by ear, composition and learning chord patterns should also be incorporated for a broad and exciting journey so keep talking to your child’s teacher and make sure they can offer this. Which leads on to...

Find out about the teacher. Each one will have their natural leaning but make sure that teacher can be flexible depending on your child’s needs/interest. If a teacher only wants to teach a particular type of music or only focuses on sight reading, for example, they may be missing out on what really brings out your child’s enjoyment in music. If your gut tells you that you need a teacher with more enthusiasm/a broader outlook don’t be afraid to find someone else. Your child won’t want to keep having lessons if they’re not enjoying them.

Be relaxed and allow your child to try a few different instruments. You may want your child to take piano or violin lessons but maybe they naturally take to the guitar instead. Keep an open mind. Some children progress faster than others initially. It doesn’t mean they’re not musical if it seems like a slow start. Allow your child to find their own thing and they will naturally want to keep playing and practising. Remember that no amount of nagging to practise will make your child want to play and ultimately it’s got to come from them.

Encourage them to play with others. This can really fire up enjoyment as it is so different to learning and practising solo. Google your local area and find out if there are any classes or groups going; Perhaps band type arrangements, choirs, orchestras etc. Do they have any friends that would like to join them?


And lastly... Not all children will want to carry on with music. The rare few will make a career out of performing but ultimately if they enjoy their instrument and what they’re playing they will be able to pick it up at any point and have a skill for life. If it is something they see as positive and enjoyable you are giving them many opportunities in the future to work in one of the biggest industries in this country. 



Musical Talent: How important is it?

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We’re all born with different degrees of natural musical abilities, some people can memorize a tune just after hearing it once without any prior training, some have a natural knack for rhythms and beats, and we all know a prodigy when we see one. But how important is musical talent in learning music? Do you need to be musically gifted to become a good musician?

It helps.

If you are born with a good ear for music, you will be able to get a good grasp on musical concepts more quickly, and you’ll be more sensitive to pitch, dynamics, rhythm, intonation, etc. The learning curve will be less steep for you, especially in the beginning, which could be a confidence boost that leads you to naturally develop a passion for music.  

But it’s not everything.

However, the good news is, even if you don’t have exceptional musical gifts to begin with, you can still become a great musician. Everyone, as long as you have the will and patience, can learn any instrument and become good at it. Practice, or more specifically, deliberate practice, is what allows you to improve your skills. Your techniques on your instrument, your ability to sing, or your ear training skills can all be built on as long as you are willing to put in the time.

Passion.

What is more important than talent is how passionate you are about music. People who become great musicians are not only exceptionally talented, but they also tend to have this obsession with music, where they just have to go make music every living second of their lives. A child who’s forced to practise the piano (even if he has a natural knack for it,) might pass his exams, but he’s not likely to stick with it for long or excel at it. So if music is something that brings you joy, and you decide to devote your time to it, you will undoubtedly become a better and better musician.

Enjoy the journey.

Everyone’s musical journey will be different, some will pick it up quicker than others, some people start when they were young and some discover the joy of music later in their lives, and it’s never too late either. Music is not a competition, the only person you’re competing against is yourself. You want to continue to challenge yourself to become better than you were yesterday. We’re all on this journey of learning music together, as long as you are having fun that is all that matters!

Basic posture tips for beginner pianists.

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Paying attention to how you position yourself at the piano may sound a little trivial but if you get into the habit of applying these tips from the beginning you’ll find it will really help with your overall technique and make it as easy as possible to play freely as you progress. Over time, you’ll find you naturally develop adjustments in posture that work for you and, of course, you’ll need to be flexible depending on what you’re playing but these are a good guideline for getting you started.


1. Correct your stool height: Rest your fingers on the white keys, half way between the end of the black keys and the end of the white keys nearest to you. Your lower arms should be horizontal, not bending downwards or upwards. If you have an adjustable stool, great. Otherwise use an extra cushion ect if you need to be higher.

2. Hand position: Generally speaking, to begin with, your fingers should be on their tips and curved round so that your hand makes a bridge shape. Imagine holding a small ball. Don’t forget to curve your thumb too. Never use flat fingers. Developing a good hand position will make it easier to move quickly and smoothly over the keyboard.

3. Stool position: Place the stool infront of Middle C. Sit in the middle of your stool with both feet on the floor and your back straight but relaxed. With both hands on the keys in the correct hand position mentioned in point (1.) the full length of your arms should make an ‘L’ shape. Adjust the position of your stool a little further forward or backwards until your arms fall comfortably in this position. This will make it easiest and quickest to comfortably reach all areas of the piano.

4. Pedalling: When using the pedals keep your heel on the ground at all times and use the ball of your foot to lever the pedal. Rather than using your whole leg, this gives you the most control and stops the pedals from accidentally releasing and banging back up. Use the nearest foot to each pedal. You may need to adjust the stool position out away form he piano slightly depending on your height in order to comfortably keep your heel on the floor when pedalling.

5. Relax: Once you’ve placed yourself in the correct position remember to relax! Drop your shoulders and keep your arms and hands soft. You’re ready to play!

Graded exam tips: What is the examiner looking for?

So here at Jambo we believe that exams can be useful for some and not for others. Some children thrive off working towards a set goal alongside their peers taking a similar path while others can be altogether put off by the idea of being put in a room with an examiner ticking boxes. It’s important to note that working solely towards exams does not encompass many of the other important aspects, when learning an instrument and enjoying music as a whole, such as composition, learning chord structures for different types of music and playing with others. A balanced program of learning should also include these. There is no right or wrong way as long as you or your child is enjoying learning and progressing with their instrument.

If taking an exam is something you or your child decides to do, either out of choice, or a necessity for school read our tips to help you get the best out of preparing towards ABRSM and Trinity Guildhall exams:

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1. Choosing your repetoire:

Listen to the whole syllabus of pieces and choose the ones you like best. You will be working on these pieces for a good few months so make sure you’ll enjoy playing them! Have your teacher play them all through for you and decide for yourself. Remember the shorter pieces aren’t necessarily the easiest and the ones with the most complicated looking notes/rhythms aren’t necessarily the hardest! Try to choose the ones you most like the sound of.

2. Scales:

These need to be even, moderately loud and from memory for the best mark. Remember to apply the recommended speed for each grade. Have someone test you on them at random - it’s unlikely they will ask for them all.

3. Pieces:

It’s all about the attention to detail. The examiner will be looking for pieces to be polished and accurate. Take note of the metronome marking to play at the correct speed. For pianists, when beginning a new piece make sure you practice with fingering that works so you don’t have to readjust something you’ve already become familiar with. Apply articulation and dynamic markings and ignore repeats for exam purposes except for D.C al fine/da Capo unless specified otherwise.

Each piece will have it’s challenges, be it the finger work, speed, dynamic variation etc. Preparation needs to focus on polishing these areas. Remember good practice should involve isolating any difficult parts and practicing them on their own correcting finger work, speed, and dynamic variation as well as running all the way through from start to finish. Try to perform them for your family/school/friends before the exam.

4. Aural tests:

These can often be overlooked when preparing pieces and scales but remember they do contribute 18 marks towards the over-all outcome. Make sure you have your teacher tests you on these lots before the exam. Some children can find the singing exersizes a bit daunting in the early grades so it’s important to get used to these before doing it in the exam room. Sing out loud and clear and sound confident (even if you don’t feel it!)

5. Sight-reading:

Practice, practice, practice! There is no shortcut here. Buy the sight reading excersizes book and work through these and read any other new music - it all helps. Try to glance ahead to the next bar or so as you play - you will already have taken in some of the information when you come to it.

6. The exam:

If given the choice, ask to do your scales first so your fingers are a bit more warmed up when you play your pieces and for pianists you get a feel for the exam piano. Remember to try and relax and take your time - there’s no rush! It can be a nerve wracking experience especially for youngsters. Take a few seconds before you begin each piece/scale rather than rush in. If you make a mistake, try to continue rather than stop and start again; you may be penalised more for this.


Notes to Parents: What You Need To Know About Music Lessons

Having been music teachers for years, we have come to realised that parents do play a significant role in helping children learn their instruments. So you are a parent, and you have found a music teacher in the neighborhood who can come to your house and give your child lessons every week. Here are a few tips for you to help your child get the most out of it.

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The Instrument

After you’ve decided on the instrument and found a teacher, the next step is to acquire an instrument for your child. It might seem obvious, but I have had a young pupil whom I had taught for over a year and a half and still didn’t have a keyboard or piano at home. Ask your teacher for advice about decent beginners instruments, there are also instruments for hire if you don’t know how long your child will commit to it.

Practice, practice, practice

You can have the best teacher for your child, but in order to make any progress, she/he needs to practise regularly, as most of the learning is done through going over learned material repeatedly. Good teachers will encourage pupils to practise at home, but young children usually don’t have the self discipline that older students have, and that’s why parents need to instill in them the importance of practising.

Time management

Just like you schedule in violin lessons, football practices, or afterschool clubs for your child, you might want to set aside times during the week for your child’s practice sessions. It could be just 15 minutes a day, in the morning, or after school. Given the amount of extra-curricular activities children take part in nowadays, they definitely need help managing their schedules.

Practising together

Even if you don’t know anything about music or learning an instrument, try to learn alongside with them, and listen to them play. Children need more encouragement than adults when they are learning, and sometimes they could get frustrated when they get stuck or can’t do something straightaway. They need someone to teach them about patience, how to persevere, slow down and try again. Sit next to them during their practice, even just as an encouraging audience, so that practising becomes a fun activity for them.

Learn an instrument for the right reasons

There are arguments for how playing an instrument benefits your brain, and to many music is a passion, gives them confidence and even purpose in life. It’s good to give children the opportunity to try out different instruments, but at the end of the day, they need to find enjoyment and fulfilment in it. Don’t do it just so they could pass exams that would make them look good among other kids, and also don’t do it if they just don’t have to time to put into it. If they are having a good time, they will pick up their instruments on their own.





Finding the right teacher for you.

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Finding the right instrumental tutor for you can be a tricky task. To start with think about your goals when beginning to learn your instrument. Are you interested in a specific genre or style of music? Would you like to learn to play by ear, read music, compose? If so, finding the right tutor to specialise in these areas is key to start with. However, most of us need guidance in finding out what we enjoy most and styles we may favour and therefore it is best to find a teacher who can work with a broad outlook, introducing a little of everything. 

Our reason for founding Jambo was our belief that music does need to be taught with a more creative and adaptable approach. Often learning can be mostly or even soley focused on sight reading classical music from a score overlooking many of the other equally important aspects of musicianship in favour of learning pieces to perfection for exam purposes. Whilst there is indeed value in this, it must not be be the only focus. Many teachers will naturally have their own leaning to certain styles but finding a teacher who is willing to incorporate a broad range of styles which also includes improvising, composing and integrating theory into pieces and someone that encourages you to play with others may give you a much wider perspective and allow you to discover your own tastes, especially for beginners. So, chat when inquiring about lessons and see what their take is…

 Not all musicians that are experienced performers and have a music degree are good teachers but are more likely to be, owing to their own range of experiences and collaborative work with other musicians.

That being said, trust your gut. Many teachers with similar performance and teaching experience, will approach lessons in very different ways. 

 Once you’ve tried a few lessons have a think about how you feel you’re getting on:

·  Does this teacher seem passionate and enthusiastic about what they are teaching?

·  Does this person move at a pace that works with my personal rhythm?

·  Can I talk easily with this teacher and voice my opinions freely?

·  Does the teacher respond to me in a way that resonates?

·  Does this teacher understand and accommodate how I learn?

 

And finally, don’t be afraid to say it’s not working! There are many teachers out there and finding the right one for you is key to your enjoyment and improvement in your instrument. It can be healthy to experience a range of teachers even if you get on really well as each will have their own angle and strengths in teaching different areas.

 

10 Tips To Make The Most Out Of Your Practice Session

You can have the best teacher in the world, but when you are trying to improve your skills on your instrument and become a better musician, most of the learning is done through your own practice. Over the years, I have studied and taken lessons with many teachers on various instruments, and the most valuable takeaway for me always comes down to one question: How do you practice? There are many books and podcasts and blogs that have explored this subject, and quite a few of them share similar ideas, including this Ted-Ed video. Here is JAMBO’s take on how to make the most out of your music practice:

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  1. Block out time for your practice. A lot of us have busy lives, and practising won’t happen unless you set a time for it. Try to have the same practice schedule every week, and if possible, do it early in the day, before you get too drained and tired from a full day of work or school. However, even when you don’t feel too motivated to practice some days, the act of physically picking up the instrument and playing could actually get you in the zone before you realize it. Always have your instrument handy so it doesn’t take you too long to get set up.

  2. Remove distractions. You want to be focused when you practise. Ideally, put your phone and computer away or in airplane mode during your practice session. This could be a tricky one though, since there’s much on the internet such as YouTube and various online lesson platforms could be very helpful for learning and practising (but also dangerously distracting). In any case, try to silence your phone for a moment and keep your mind focused.

  3. Set realistic / small goals. You might have whole list of things you’d like to improve on, or 20 tunes you’d like to learn, but it is better to set just one or two goals each week, so they are actually achievable and you won’t get overwhelmed or frustrated quickly.

  4. Use a timer. Keep your practice sessions short and take breaks in between. Your brain can only be at its optimal focused state for a limited amount of time. Set your timer for 20-25 minutes at a time, and take short breaks in between. It can keep your mind fresh and give it a break when it starts to drift away from the task at hand.

  5. Deliberate practice. The number of hours spent on practising does not matter if you are not doing it effectively. You need to be able to identify mistakes or a spot tricky passages, then slow it down and break it down into small chunks to make incremental improvements by correcting them. If you practise without intention, and repeat something wrong over and over again, you will only solidify your mistakes. It takes extra time to unlearn something and re-learn correctly later. By approaching new skills the right way the first time, you will achieve a lot more in a shorter period of time.

  6. Record yourself. It’s not always possible to hear how everything sounds while you’re focused on playing the instrument at the same time. Record yourself using your phone, and listen back to it afterwards. You might hear something you haven’t noticed before - it could be a slight imperfection in intonation, tone, or rhythm, that you can then start to work on. It is also good to have a record of how you sound today, so you have something compare to a few months from now to see the progress you’ve made!

  7. Keep it fun. It’s good to have a routine for your practice, which generally includes warming up, reviewing material, learning new stuff, and improving on techniques, etc. But when it begins to feel dull and uninspiring, don’t be afraid to change up the routine. Come up with something new to work on to ignite your creative spark. Improvise, invent your own technical exercise, work on playing at a fast tempo, learn a new tune or piece, transcribe a solo, play along with recordings or backing tracks.

  8. Get enough sleep. Some days it seems your fingers won’t do what you want them to, and nothing you play sounds the way you want. That might just be a sign that your body and your mind are in need of a snooze. Take a nap, or go to bed for the night and come back to it the next day. You’d be surprised how much better you could do when you are well rested.

  9. Keep a practice journal. Write down your small goals before each practice session, so you don’t get sidetracked. It will also help you pick up from where you left off at the last session, and track your progress over a longer period of time. If you have new ideas about what you want to work on at any time, write it down in your practice journal as well so you can try them out at the next session.

  10. Get inspired. We all have times when we get stuck and not sure what to work on. Go out there and hear some live music, learn from other musicians, meet and play with other people, perform in front of people - it will help you get inspired and tell you what you need to work on.

Bluegrass Jamming Workshop

Last Monday we held a beginners bluegrass jamming workshop at the King’s Head Pub in Crouch End. Our wonderful Vivian Li headed up the session which was a great success… keep your eyes peeled for further dates….!

Vivian has her own bluegrass band ‘ Lunch Special’ ….. check them out here.

If your interested in workshops with us please let us know via our workshops and events page

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Jambo Open Music Afternoon 2018

Hello! We held our first open music afternoon back in October at Hornsey Parish Church Hall. It was a fabulous day with great performances from our fabulous participants young and old at the open mic! The brilliant Shaun O’Reilly came down to support us along with the excellent Vivian Li and Neala Hickey from Lunch Special. Cakes and coffees flowed throughout and we generally had a lovely afternoon meeting you all and hearing you play. Follow our events page for sign up to our mailing list for info on future events. The more the merrier!

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