Am I too old to learn to play music?

  1. MusicForYouSummerSchool2013-1“You cannot teach an old dog new tricks.”
  2. “When you get to my age, you stop learning.”
  3. “Learning is a lot easier when you are younger.”

These are all phrases I have bandied around when I talk to older people about learning music later in life. However, on a Music For You Summer Jazz school in August 2013, I met Sharron Stolarczyk, who by her own admission, came late to playing music at the age of 58 and would certainly disagree with all 3 of the opening statements and is living proof that a musical life begins after 40.  

Sharron with The Skipton Community Orchestra

Whilst interviewing Sharron about her experiences of being a later learner, I played the devil’s advocate and asked her whether she learned slower now, than she did when she was younger. Her response was a resounding NO. She said that as she had gotten older, she discovered so much more about HOW she learns. Knowing the way she learns, has dramatically improved her approach and the subsequent progress she made. I was keen to know how Sharron learns now and she described the process which works best for her.

1. Spend some time with a smaller group of musicians where the basics of the music can be worked out.

2. Spend a greater amount of time practising on her own, knowing that what she is practising is right.

3. Go to a full band rehearsal to practise the music in context.

As Sharron explained, until she had found the right way to practice which worked for her and decipher the music, much of her time as a younger learner was completely wasted.

At this point, I asked Sharron about her musical learning experiences as a younger person and she admitted that she had received traumatic piano lessons for a very short time. These lessons did not go well and Sharron’s teacher complained to her parents that she was not practicing. It is interesting that some teacher’s assessments of a students’ musical ability takes little of the individual’s preferences into account. Much later on, Sharron came to realise that it was not her musical ability which was at fault but the fact she was more suited to playing the flute. That was also the instrument that she really wanted to play! Personal preference is a real natural motivator in a student!

Sharron With Dales Jam

Bad experiences in our early years often lead us into believing that we are not musical and that thought can stay with us for our whole lives. Sharron was led to believe that she just wasn’t musical. Some teachers can only teach a certain ‘type’ of pupil and subsequently quickly dispatch students who do not fit into this perfect model. The reputations of such teachers are often perceived as being very good because their results with a very select ‘gifted’ few, are so impressive. Music is for everyone.

Sharron is incredibly busy with her musical projects these days and as a result, was not able to make the Excellent Jazz Summer School this year. She plays with Skipton Community Orchestra  and Dales Jam  and told me about an incredible film project she was involved with. The project was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and came to fruition in March of this year. Very exciting for any musician.

I asked Sharron what were the problems that some older learners experienced in bands or on courses. She answered immediately. Some older people make themselves old before their time. They tell themselves they cannot do things and then they start to think and act like they cannot learn new things in a new way. She found working in a band with younger people, absolutely refreshing and a real inspiration and kept her young. Structured practising was also easier for her now she knew how she learned she could practice in the best way for her.

The Half Lotus Position

Our older minds and bodies are often more willing to give us what we need to learn than we think. Many years ago, I spoke to an experimental psychologist about later learning. John Barrett was inspiring. He had worked with older musicians (ages 65 upwards) and realised that their learning ability was only 4% lower than that of a 10 year old. He also told me about his tuition on the sitar. He never thought he would be able sit in the half lotus position at the age of 70 but after 3 weeks, his flexibility increased and he was able to learn without an hindrance. This is news to me. Should I try now?

The evidence supports the fact that we are able to learn at any age if we allow ourselves time and patience to get better. I find her outlook and approach, refreshing. She lives in a musical place where she was constantly on the edge of her comfort zone. It is the thought I took with me to this year’s excellent Music for You Jazz Summer school. I followed her lead and I put myself outside my comfort zone in all areas and pushed myself beyond where I would normally. I will tell you all about it in my next post!

There are plenty of tips in my Confident Performer Book too.

So in short, if you are a later learner,

  • Work out HOW you learn best and structure your practice for you.
  • Put yourself outside your comfort zone to learn faster.
  • Learn from younger people to see how they approach difficult sections.
  • Join a group to bring structure and purpose to your learning.
  • Become involved in some cool projects along the way.
  • Remember that your early experiences of music do not define your musical ability ceiling.
  • It is never too late to learn anything.
  • Our bodies can improve and change if we exercise them.
  • What will you learn?
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Posted in beginners, Improving Your Confidence, Thinking in a better way, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Injuries and Poor Musical Technique

If it hurts, then you are probably doing it wrong.

Back pain from poor playing posture

Playing a garden party piano gig on a slightly inclined slope for a couple of hours seemed like a good idea at the time. However, the day after, my back went into an agonising spasm which left me unable to walk for the day. As the old adage goes, if it hurts, then you are probably doing it wrong. This experience is not uncommon and some of the stories I have heard, leave me to believe my experience was fairly tame! The drummer and author of Musician’s Hypnosis Sam Brown recalled taking a 3 week holiday from playing and then playing 2 hour sets for a Carribean Steel Band without warming up. His wrists ached terribly for weeks. One of the key contributors to my Confident Performer Book is the Piano Recitalist and Piano educator Stephen Marquiss He recalls:

I used to get something akin to “tennis elbow” when I was at music school, which I now believe to be related more directly to posture, which in turn is related to poor self-esteem…all a bit of a weird vicious circle…

singerOne of my singing colleagues got so over excited singing and screaming at a Metal gig, that he started to spit blood and had to miss the next 3 gigs as a result. There are some cases where musicians should know better but clearly if the teaching and effective technique is absent, then beginner musicians put themselves at serious risk.

Being a general classroom music teacher or lecturer of music, I often find myself in a position where I am coaching people on a variety of different instruments. The weight of responsibility for the health and well-being of the musicians in my care can be heavy. As a teacher, I often have to guide drummers or students on an instrument I do not play myself and I am sometimes at a loss as to the safest way to approach a problem. The advice and guidance I offer could at best be inaccurate and at worse, cause long-term damage in the musicians I am looking to nurture and develop. In such cases, my advice is always to stop right now and get help.

In general music education, musicians do not have 1 to 1 instrumental tutors and their reliance on my instruction is of prime importance. The cost of 1 to 1 tuition can be unaffordable for many young people and the responsibility on general music teachers is great and the reliable knowledge base of information is sometimes hard to find. Who do we ask for information? Can we trust the information we get from those we ask?
Over the years I have built up a strong base of teachers whom I know can ‘talk the talk’ and ‘walk the walk’ when it comes to reliable, safe and sustainable technique. My advice is to seek advice from those who perform regularly and remain healthy in their approach. Those of you who have read my interview with Lee Risdale will know how much I rate teachers like him to provide excellent reliable information on singing. Excellent musicians and teachers like Lee, Sam Brown and Rob Brian (Drums) Duncan Kingston (Bass) Richard Perkins (guitar)  who have proved themselves in their field are well-known to me in the South West of England but for new-comers, it can be a scary prospect. To say that Youtube does not always give informed information is a little bit of an understatement.

The Musician's Body Book

The Musician’s Body Book

Recently I was recommended to read a book about the well-being of musicians entitled, The Musician’s Body. The book is very well researched and fuses the expertise of an orthopaedic surgeon, Jaume Rosset i Llobet and music education specialist, George Odam. The book tackles voice and many instruments, giving tips, suggestions, activities and exercises to help any musician. It is accessible and yet very scientific with its very helpful diagrams. I found it particularly valuable for us ‘general music teachers’ as it uses some interactive quizzes at the end of each chapter which can be used with groups of learners.

So what should I do if I am having health problems related to my playing?

I would always say this to any musician, ‘Seek the advice of a doctor’ Your health is

Always see a doctor if you have any issues with health and playing music

too important for you to take chances. If you have ongoing problems related to playing then book yourself some lessons or even a lesson with a reputable player and teacher. Even just one lesson can help a great deal. If you live in the South West, I can give you some contacts for excellent instrumental and vocal teachers. Definitely read the The Musician’s Body as it is an excellent resource for your musical career. If you need more general guidance about developing confidence as a musician, you will find my book or Ebook, How To Become a Confident Performer of particular use.

So if you find that you are battling with health problems associated with your voice or instrumental playing:

  • Seek medical advice
  • Beware Youtube videos as you may learn harmful technique
  • Book at least one lesson with an expert instrumental/vocal teacher
  • Always strive to update your knowledge on healthy approaches with your instrument or voice
  • Buy reference books such as The Musician’s Body for physical and psychological issues related to musical related health problems
  • Rate the sustainability of your own musical technique and always seek to get better
Posted in beginners, Confident Singing, Improving Your Confidence, performance strategies, Sustainable Healthy Playing, Teaching Music | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What do you make of this performance?

Samuel T. Herring

Samuel T. Herring shows the focus that belief brings

What would it be like if you had 100% belief in what you were doing?

A month ago, my friend and colleague Ben Angel (Lead singer from The Bohemian Embassy) showed me a video performance on Youtube which has really had me thinking about it ever since. In an age of reserved minimalistic singer songwriter performances, this guy, Samuel T. Herring, hit me and nearly 2 million other web surfing people, squarely between the eyes and ears. I experienced the incredible passion and focus of this guy’s performance and I was left thinking, ‘What is this guy singing about? I don’t know, but I know he means it’

A powerful performance is nothing new to me. I grew up in an age where Queen were king and Freddie sang full-pelt at Live Aid. I remember the library footage of Joe Cocker singing ‘With a little help from my friends’ with a vocal tone that would give Robert Plant a run for his money. I recall the archive footage of Janis Joplin singing at Woodstock, giving everything she had. So the performance from Future Islands front man was incredibly powerful but had something different about it. The intense focus of his performance and the incredible belief were 100% mesmerising. His voice is a voice which I would not immediately say was a classic voice but it speaks to me. There is something incredibly honest, open and uninhibited about Samuel T. Herring’s performance which connects with me. His dance moves shout out, ‘Hear what I have to say’ The band (Future Islands) have a different kind of intensity which just seems to enhance the impact of the singer and his performance, something akin to the relationship between Jim Morrison and The Doors. I am not sure what my conclusion is about this amazing performance but I do know I want to see more from these guys. I know that watching somebody perform something they believe in whole-heartedly, is life-affirming. See them in London Hyde Park on July 3rd 

What are your thoughts?

Post a comment below.

 

 

 

 

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As a beginner musician, should I take grades?

The question: Should I take grades?

Should I Take Grades? – Picture by Ronnie Tucker

It is a question which comes up regularly in my work as a music teacher and lecturer. In the popular music world of guitar, vocals, bass, keyboards and drums, taking grades almost seems irrelevant to many musicians.

The idea of practicing some un-trendy custom-written piece is alien to many musicians just starting out. Until The Rock School grades and curriculum were introduced in 1992, to my knowledge, there was no recognised programme of study for non-classical musicians. For many of these musicians, grades are still a no go area.

Some tutors believe that the only way to keep pupils motivated is to stick to a grades system which has a certain set of pieces, scales and other exercises associated with it. Having taught piano (and guitar for my sins… ) I realised the merits of following a set curriculum. Pupils would lose motivation if there was no longer term plan or goals in mind. Many students arrived to their lessons not wanting to take grades and had an initial burst of enthusiasm at the start of their lessons. They then began to lose focus and momentum as the path became bereft of landmarks and hard work became apparent.

There are many tutors who balance the need for exams and fun content, maintaining motivation and achievement. Often by organising gigs and opportunities to play, teachers such as Richard Perkins and Rachel Kerry

I had many years of piano lessons from various teachers and never studied grades. Then I needed to obtain grade 8 piano to go to university. Having taken only a single piano exam in my life, it made things quite difficult for me when I started to teach piano. I had no in-built DNA to take other students through a series of learning stages. Having these set stages in my earlier years of teaching would have been gold dust. I watched other piano teachers who had traveled dutifully through the grades system, establish an instrumental teaching career very quickly.

I remember on my PGCE music course, George Odam indicated that teachers tended to teach their students in the way that they had learned. Rightly or wrongly, it is a system which can have massive benefits for the journey of a learner.

Piano Lessons George Goodwin Kilburne [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I have also seen in my life time, the stifling effect on students of sticking rigidly to a set programme of study. Some accomplished teachers are fearful of treading off the well-beaten path of the grades system into the unknown. Letting a student choose a piece or style which is outside one’s experience as a teacher, can be scary. For me, working with musicians from so many disciplines, I find it exciting when a music student wants to explore something new. It makes life interesting and the journey is fun for both teacher and student. We should never stop learning and lifelong learning is a good example to set our students.

What are your experiences as a student and/or a teacher? Do you stay on the grades path?

There are plenty more tips to help beginners here in the free Top Ten Tips book at www.confidentperformer.co.uk and a more comprehensive manual available too

I do tend to answer some questions with more questions but I guess that is the teacher in me! So in short:

  •  What is your goal or intention as a musician?
  • Are you motivated by exams and grades?
  • Will you need them to go and study further?
  • Are you motivated by a much more free approach?
  • Do you like to lead your own learning?
  • Are you good at finding ways to stay motivated?
  • Do you gain a real sense of achievement if you pass exams?
  • Are you around people who need some measure of how good you are?
Posted in beginners, Improving Confidence in others, kennedy violins, Teaching Music | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

So what is behind the Confident Performer?

Arnie Demonstrates How to be a confident performer.

The Confident Performer – Picture by Ronnie Tucker

A couple of weeks ago, presenter, actor, dancer, director and choreographer, Laura Graham-May interviewed me about the Confident Performer Book and I have had a number of requests for the audio interview to be presented as a written transcript. So here it is! I reveal the inspiration behind the writing of the book and  give some hope to the late starter.

Laura: so Clive Stocker, we’ve known each other as friends for some years now, I know that you are a music lecturer at City of Bath College

Clive: that’s right yeah.

Laura: but you’ve just done something rather exciting and written your own book, could you tell us a little about it?

Clive: well the book is called “How to become a Confident Performer” and it’s been 2 years in the writing or probably 12 years in the writing but 2 years with pen in hand. It all started from working with performance students who exhibit nerves and really the idea of the book is to give you quick fix things that will make a difference. There’s a lot of other books and this one is not really the same, other books tend to have long drawn out approaches and I think when you are working with teenagers it’s a different ball game, they want something that’s going to be quick and instant.

Laura: so when you say teenagers, what age group are you talking about and what sort of qualification are they doing?Pop-gig-(girls)-web

Clive: the people I work with are doing an Extended Diploma which is the equivalent to A levels, they are on a 2 year course and they go from very timid performers to, many of them, professional musicians by the end of the course, so I’ve learned a lot from them over the years definitely.

Laura: wow! So when you say professional musicians, have you had any that have gone on to a big worldwide success?

Clive: yeah we’ve had a number of artists, I mean, obviously the most famous is Gabrielle Aplin who’s doing very well as you’ve probably heard. Laura Doggett has been signed to Sony/ATV Pub UK and we’ve also worked with a guy called Max Goff who’s now playing bass for Tom Odell touring the world as we speak.

Laura: great

Clive: yeah, I think we’ve been blessed, we’ve done a lot of hard work with them as well.

Laura: yeah, I bet you have. Where does this book come in, so you were driven to write it because of your experience of auditioning students, watching students in rehearsals, what was it exactly that made you think this would be a good idea?

A nervous interviewer

People are always nervous when they interview – Picture by Ronnie Tucker

Clive: well initially it was working with students when they are performing but I do most of the auditions for the 16 to 18 year olds and I started to realize that you can make a difference to students doing auditions and I would try out various things to relax people, to get them to perform and get over their initial nerves and I learned many techniques and practiced different things with performers I’ve seen for the first time and I thought if I could make a difference with them then these techniques would work with other people as well, so I am very lucky to be able to be in that position I think.

Laura: sure, and presumably you’ve seen these techniques work on lots of students. What do the majority of them go on to do because there is only going to be a small percentage lucky enough or talented enough to have hits. Where do you see in the majority of students even if they don’t become musicians presumably these techniques can help them?

Clive: in every single job that you do, you have to interact with other people, you have to talk with them and many jobs have presentation or require presentation skills, there are many people I’ve met over the years who don’t go for promotion because they are too worried about presenting and standing up in front of a group of people and they would rather earn less and not have promotion because of that, so I think these skills are always relevant. I think if you remind yourself that you’ve stepped outside of your comfort zone, you can achieve anything because that’s the only way you are going to move forward.

Laura: absolutely. Where did you get most of the ideas for the writing of the book, is it something you’ve struggled with in the past with your confidence or did you have to do a lot of research to write it?

Cold hands Photo

Cold Hands brought on by fear

Clive: both. For many years I used to be very nervous about performing and I wanted to be a classical concert pianist and really there was no way I was going to do it because I just used to have problems with circulation in my hands, my fingers would go cold, I couldn’t move my fingers even in the middle of summer, my fingers would freeze up and I just got into such negative cycles of telling myself  I can’t do things, Henry Ford says if you say something isn’t going to happen, you’re right, it won’t and I told myself I wasn’t going to be a performer and I was right. Working with hypnotherapists and learning some techniques from an NLP practitioners and generally finding out from other musicians who had similar problems and just found ways around things really, because I think sometimes people think there is only one way to do things and there aren’t.

Laura: so have you used these techniques on yourself, do you think you’ve become a more confident performer musician as the years have gone on?

Clive: absolutely. I realized that I could step outside my comfort zone much more quickly and have strategies to breach the gap, so if I’m doing a solo performance, which I wouldn’t have done 5 years ago, I would never have done a solo performance with just me on the piano but I would do that now because I know there are ways  that I can cover up the mistakes and there are ways in which I can present things so that it’s not a problem, it doesn’t mean I don’t want to get better, it just means I’m comfortable with not being the best I can be when I performed something for this first time.

Laura: so do you think that performers generally learn these things, or do they start out with the conviction and confidence first?

Clive: Good question, isn’t it? I mean, one of my friends says being a musician is a

Music can be described as a managed mental condition.

Music can be described as a managed mental condition.

‘managed mental condition’, so I think anybody who is a performer has some of that about them. There has got to be something wrong with you that you need to stand up in front of hundreds or thousands of people and do the thing that’s quite nerve racking. They are not necessarily naturally confident, many of the performers I know struggled with that, very few of them are naturally confident, I think they all struggled and sometimes the people who I thought were very confident, if you ask them to do something outside of their normal comfort zone they go red in the face, they shake and everything. Ok, normally they look confident because they always stay within their comfort zones.

Laura: why do you think we are so worried about what other people think of us because that’s a lot of it, isn’t it? Personally I think confidence is a fluctuating state, so it’s not like you were saying I don’t think its static, I don’t think it’s the same in every situation but a lot of it I think has to do with our fear, our fear of how other people judge us, so why do you think we care about that so much?

Clive: I talked about it, it’s in the book really, at some point in our life we lose the ability to play, not in terms of music but in terms of having fun and trying something out, you know, you are an actor and you do improvisation and you know that unless you’re willing to play, you don’t have a show. At some point we unlearn the fact that it’s good to play and I think when you play music, if you lose that, I think sometimes classical musicians lose it because every time you play you have to play exactly the same and that can take some of the spontaneity out of it and the fun out of it and I think if you try and keep everything the same, that’s not human nature I think, I don’t know if I would go and see a performance if it was the same every time I went to see it. It was generally the fun, we lose that ability to try things out and not fail but we lose the ability to be willing to let something go wrong and I think that’s a really sad thing.

Laura: so what’s the next move now, once you’ve written something like this how do you get it out there, how do you tell people it’s there?  Marketing is a tricky thing, even the days of twitter and everything we’ve got available to us, I think getting the word out is tricky, how are you going to do that?

Clive: well that’s the area I haven’t had 15 years experience in, so things like twitter and facebook I’m learning how to use in a promotional sense and I think many people in our age group are. It’s been around for a long time but it seems alien to promote yourself through that way especially as a performer, it doesn’t feel very excited to stand up in front of a computer and press send, that’s the area which is new to me. Also thinking about workshops, book launches, coaching, all of these different areas because it’s not about writing a book and wanting to sell it, it’s about wanting to help people and hopefully to make that even more of my career.

Laura: and finally, because we have to finish, what would you say to other people thinking of maybe taking up and instrument or starting to perform again or learn to perform who have never done it before, what would you get from being a musician or from performing that maybe people are missing out on if they don’t try, if they don’t take that risk?

Starting later in life on an instrument has many benefits.

Starting an instrument later in life has massive benefits

Clive: oh well, where do I start? It’s never too late to start, you’re never too old, there’s people who have arthritis start to play an instrument and their arthritis improves because the body and the mind tends to do what you ask of it, it’s actually good for us socially, it’s really good for you, you get to meet other musicians, you can learn with other people, you can join a choir, so even if you have limited mobility you can sing with other people, you’ve done shows, you know what it’s like. Nothing pulls people together more closely than being in a show or putting on a performance I think. There is nothing better than doing a performance and rehearsing towards a performance. I’ve sung with people who are in their 90s, I’ve sung with kids and everyone all the way through and you always learn something new from people who are just starting out or people who have been doing it 70 years, you know, and everyone should do it, it’s what I think.

Laura: great, well that’s a brilliant message, thank you very much. Good luck with your book, it’s an amazing achievement especially if you are still teaching which I know you are; you have enough on your plate, so congratulations and all the best of luck. Thank you very much.

Clive: thank you.

Download the Free 10 Top Tip Guide - it will work on ipad, iphone

Download the Free 10 Top Tip Guide

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Listen to the original interview here on 

Interview with Laura Graham-May and Clive Stocker

Interview with Laura Graham-May and Clive Stocker

All cartoon artwork by Ronnie Tucker  Ronnie is also the illustrator for both the free E-Book and the  How To Become a Confident Performer Book 

Posted in Confident Singing, Improving Confidence in others, Improving Your Confidence, performance strategies, Thinking in a better way | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Russian New Year Concert in Frome

 Frome has a reputation for delivering hard hitting classical music and on Saturday 18th January, the town’s cultural status was elevated to a whole new level. The all Russian music programme was a delight for the people-packed pews of Christ Church. Featuring a wonderfully Rachmaninoff biased concert, concert goers were treated to some of the finest Russian choral music and piano music ever written. The local charity event featured  belAcappella and members of The Christ Church Singers performing a selection of Rachmaninoff vespers, led by Basira Ward and Paul Dowbekin.

Web pic bw high res 2At the piano, Stephen Marquiss wowed the audience with passionate and elegant interpretations of Preludes by Rachmaninoff and a lesser known, yet equally delightful piece by his class mate, Scriabin. Stephen’s fluent and florid style was captivating and seating ourselves within view of the keyboard, we were able to see and hear Stephen’s mastery of the instrument resulting in exquisite phrasing and dramatic narrative drive. Witnessing a professional  playing from memory is always impressive, removing barriers between musician, composer and audience and provided a continuous, mesmerising experience.

Basira sings Rachmaninoff

Basira sings Rachmaninoff and Conducts in Frome

Basira took to the stage with renditions of solo songs from the most uncompromising solo Russian song repertoire. Accompanied by Stephen at the piano, Basira’s vocal power and control packed a powerful emotional punch and the enviable dynamic control melted the listener with every phrase. The audience-packed church breathed together at the end of each piece with the release of the candle-lit tension.

The choir performed the very challenging choral works with incredible vocal tone and control, under the masterful direction of Basira Ward and Paul Dowbekin. Russian vocal repertoire demands a great deal from singers in terms of pitch range and dynamic control. The choir did not disappoint, delivering each piece with incredibly focused voices, even down to the lowest notes in their range. Many choirs do not have the ability to tackle the repertoire and I had not heard such beautiful low notes since the St Petersberg Rossica Choir sang in Bath Abbey 12 years ago!

Organist and Conductor, Paul Dowbekin

Organist and Conductor, Paul Dowbekin

The organ solo piece by Glazunov was refreshing and Paul Dowbekin’s interpretation was gentle and moving. A great choice to balance the heavy-weight Rachmaninoff programme.

Other soloists featured within the vespers and were balanced beautifully by the choir. Ed Cotton (Tenor Soloist), Dorothy Forrest (Alto soloist) and Paul Feldwick (Bass Soloist) oozed dynamic control and impressive pitch mastery. Paul’s bass solo with piano accompaniment by Simon Davies was also delightful with rich enviable low notes. Many concert goers may not be aware of the difficulties presented by the extremes of the Russian choral repertoire. Very high and quiet notes test even the most seasoned professional and yet soloists were spot on and the choir always blended and made them shine throughout.

Russian Hospitality

Russian Hospitality

The evening was topped off with vodka, beautiful Russian culinary offerings and a quick lesson for the audience in how to wish each other a happy new year in the Slavic tongue. Anybody who knows Basira, understands that when you buy one of her concert tickets, you get so much more than just a concert. You become a participant in a unique experience, a witness to a drama and a passenger on a musical journey. Concerts like The Russian Evening, keep the town of Frome firmly on the cultural map.

So, it just falls for me to wish you a С новым годом – (Happy New Year)

Clive Stocker

Author of the How to Become a Confident Performer Book confidentperformer.co.uk

Posted in Confident Singing, Reviews, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

How do you beat Writer’s Block as a Musician?

How do get creativity flowing again? (Cartoon by Ronnie Tucker)

How do get the creativity flowing again? (Picture by Ronnie Tucker)

Have you ever had writers block or noticed that you have struggled to create something musical? Over the years I have come to realise that limitations can be liberating when it comes to creativity. Make sure  you leave tips, suggestions and ideas in the reply section below. I will add the best tips to the list. 

After sitting at my keyboard for a whole Saturday and half of Sunday, the realisation that I had no ideas with which I was happy, weighed heavy on my mind. I had spent 10 or 11 hours with manuscript paper and pen in hand and my page was empty apart from scribblings out. My Logic arrange page was empty and I was thoroughly dispirited.

zero ideas...

The Sad Screen of Zero Ideas

Then a call from my friend Martin to say he was going to a concert and he would pick me up en-route in an hour, launched me into action. I worked furiously for that hour, and scribbled idea after idea. The passing of time went into some hyperdrive-like experience, with me sketching ideas for all the different sections of the piece I was writing. A text from my friend announced that he would be 10 minutes late and I was almost ecstatic that I had been granted extra time in an important creative process. I worked furiously and more ideas flowed. Eventually, he arrived and I was so absorbed in what I had been writing that I could hardly speak.

When judgement goes, creativity flows. (Cartoon by Ronnie Tucker)

When Judgement Goes, Creativity Flows. (Cartoon by Ronnie Tucker)

So what happened?
Being creative is quite a pressure on us as our musical ear and skills develop. As I discuss in my book, we need to catch ourselves off-guard, finding that excitement and lack of judgement in what we do. As an educator, I find young song writers becoming so judgemental about their own material that they often end up writing nothing.
How do we turn that judgement or creative blocking off?
In my own experience, I learned that plenty of time does not equal plenty of creativity. So when I have lots of time, I limit it by planning to go out in an hour or inviting an old friend round to introduce an element of value to the time I have.
This seems to turn the quality judgement barrier off and I tell myself that I can refine the composition later. Refining ideas is where real musical skills come in and not in creating the initial ideas themselves.
Other ideas to switch creativity on are to limit the notes I will use or picking a subject at random. Setting myself an arbitrary set of limitations to narrow down the scary vast desert-like expanse of creative possibilities always works for me. I can then widen out the creative field once I have started. Have you always wondered why the best parties happen in the kitchen? There was no expectation that there would be a party happening in the kitchen. Creativity and time are like that party in the kitchen. (Apologies for the random analogy)

After chatting with my drummer friend, Sam Brown, I realised that creative people often use a range of different strategies to get work done. Sam told me tales of being on the island of Skye for 4 days with no TV, phone or internet and it being a most creative and productive time!

What limitations can you impose to get you started?
How can you turn the ominous task of composing into a fun challenge?

There are many more ideas about creative processes in my how to become a confident performer book at confidentperformer.co.uk

So in short,

  • Limit your creative window by inviting somebody over at a given time
  • Limit the amount of notes you might use in your composing
  • Set yourself a task to write about a very strange subject
  • Find out when you are most creative and schedule such work at this time
  • If an idea seems a bit weak, leave it, start a new idea and come back to it later
  • Note any ideas you have in the day and come back to your notes later
  • Collaborate with other people when you feel stuck
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