Tag Archives: Degree

Advice for young musicians

We all know how it is. You want to prove yourself and show the world (and your peers) that you ‘have what it takes’ to work in music; Self assured and not in need of any advice of pointers from anyone else. How would they know your ‘story’ anyway? How could someone advise you when your style, your sound, your ‘voice’, is unique to you.

True, confidence can be a great asset to our chosen profession. Even in an industry where we work together because it’s the fundamental nature of how music operates, it can get lonely out there sometimes. But a false confidence, or bluff, will leave you alienated and likely to make the same sorts of mistakes thousands of musicians have made before you.

So swallow your pride, take a seat, and listen to a few words of wisdom from those who have made music work – and pay – for themselves.


Keybaord player and composer Ben Folds wrote some advice a few years ago on his Facebook page. Boiled down to the essentials, I found three things especially true:

    Work on finding your own voice
    However much you try, you will always be you. Stop trying to be anyone else and accept this fact. Once you have come to terms with this, work on being the best ‘you’ that you can be.

    Learn your technique, then forget it
    learn as much as you can, as widely as you can. Read about it & practise it. Then follow the advice of the previous point and learn to present these techniques in your own, unique way.

    Before you can express yourself in words, you first have to learn the language; it’s vocabulary & grammar. But think of how many books & poems were all the more interesting for their yearning up of the rules? The same applies to music first. However, to reach this point, you need to know which rules you are breaking…

    Don’t they to force people into liking you or your music
    There will always be people out there who find what you do interesting, provided you are doing it well, and playing from the heart. don’t bend over backwards trying to commercialise your sound, compromising your music in the process. The audience will come to you, so just persist at it.

    This is even more true in our digital age – search for good advice on putting you material online. You should never have to pay to do this, due to the high number of platforms out there. It might be slow at first, but you will eventually reap the fruits of your hard work.


NobleViola.com also features a really interesting article entitled ’10 things I wish I knew when I was a young musician’ which, while echoing the sentiments of Folds, adds the following gems:

  • Practicing isn’t a matter of how many hours you put in, but how many good hours you put in. It’s quality, not quantity.
  • Your body is also your instrument – learn how it works and take care of it.
  • Being professional is a 24 hour job.
  • Keep busy, and do a variety of things. Diversify as much as you can.
  • Love what you do – and remember to nurture that love.
  • As Pat Metheny says on his website, “for me, after everything, the only thing that finally remains really true is the feeling that at the end of the day, I know that I played really good, or I didn’t ; or that I made some progress and understand something that I didn’t understand at the beginning of the day; or I didn’t. This, to me, is the real currency of what it is to have a life as a musician”.

    Well said, Pat.

    As always, comments and responses are more than welcome. Feel free to check out my previous articles too! Enjoy the rest of your week & happy playing!

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    Music & Wellbeing (Part 5): Music & Pain Relief

    Music & pain relief

    So far, we have examined the positive effects of music on our wellbeing, both physically and mentally. However, if music can indeed make us ‘feel better’, is there any scope for its application towards pain relief? As well as being beneficial, can music be medicinal? There is historical evidence of music playing a role in treating disorders as early as ancient Egyptian times, circa 4,000 B.C. (Thompson, 2015). An additional benefit to the use of music is its lack of invasiveness, compared to other forms of treatment:

    Music is perhaps unrivalled by any other form of human expression in the range of its defining characteristics, from its melody and rhythm to its emotional and social nature. The treatments that take advantage of these attributes are rewarding, motivating, accessible and inexpensive, and basically free of side effects, too. The attractive quality of music also encourages patients to continue therapy over many weeks and months, improving the chance of lasting gains (Thompson, 2015)

    Rather than being a physical experience alone, pain is a ‘biopsychosocial experience’ (Gregory, 2014, p. 27) which exists in the mind as much as the body: ‘It is affected by psychological and social factors, such as the site and nature of the injury, personality, age, gender, anxiety, understanding and cultural factors’ (Godfrey, 2005, quoted in Gregory, 2014, p. 24).  In previous studies on chronic pain, it has been noted that patients who concentrated on other tasks or activities experienced less pain (Löfgren & Norrbrink, 2012, p. 2146). Since many sections of the brain are activated when listening to music (Levitin, 2006, pp. 270-271), it stands to reason that the use of music could be highly effective as a distraction from pain, reducing or cancelling-out pain signals.

    A clinical study by Mitchell et al (2007) supported the idea of music as a means of distraction from chronic pain, if not a complete remedy to pain altogether:

    Music listening, and in particular listening to our own preferred music, may provide an emotionally engaging distraction capable of reducing both the sensation of pain itself and the accompanying negative affective experience (Mitchell et al, 2007, p. 37)

    Mitchell et al’s (2007) study paints a highly optimistic picture for the application of music as an effective means of distraction. In particular, they noted that the patients in their study who place a higher value on music, and listen to it more frequently, responded that they were ‘enjoying life more, having more energy and ability to perform activities, and feeling depressed and in need of medical treatment less often’ (Mitchell et al, 2007, p. 37).

    Another study by Silvestrini et al (2011) produced similarly interesting findings:

    The present study was designed to test the pain-reducing effects of pleasant music compared to silence, unpleasant music, and to an auditory attention task. Results partially confirmed our hypotheses. Compared to the silence and the unpleasant music, pleasant music had a significant effect on the pain ratings and pain tolerance to the cold pressor test but not on the NFR. This finding suggests that the auditory stimuli used in this study, and more particularly pleasant music, did not produce any central descendent analgesic effect on spinal nociception, which would have resulted in lower NFR. In contrast, music had a significant effect on the NRS, the sensory and the affective thresholds, and on the pain tolerance to the cold pressor test compared to silence and to the unpleasant musical stimulations, and these results are consistent with previous studies showing pain-reducing effect of music on reported pain experience (Silvestrini et al, 2011, p. 268)

    Silvestrini et al’s (2011) report suggests that the areas of the brain responsible for processing pain signals are the same as the areas for analysing music we hear. This is mainly because our brains utilize several different areas and functions when listening to music. These include the areas which process movement: the Cerebellum; a combination of Cortexes (Prefrontal, Motor, Sensory, Auditory and Visual); and the areas which process emotions: the Amygdala and Nucleus Accumbens. (Levitin, 2006, pp. 270-271).

    Does this mean music is a distraction? Pain acts as a signal in the brain, alerting the conscious mind of something which may be an ‘issue’ or problem. This is a survival-trait ingrained in us through our evolution. Like music, ‘the areas of the brain involved in pain experience and behaviour are very extensive’ (Melzack, 1996, p.134). However, some studies, such as those by Fabbro & Crescentini (2014), indicate that once we are aware of these ‘issues’ with the body, manifested as pain we experience in the affected area, it is possible to cancel out the signal. We can, in effect, ‘switch off’ pain, depending on the individuals attitudes to pain.

    This might go some way to explain the variance in results found by Silvestrini et al (2011) and Mitchell et al (2007). Both seemed to find generally positive results when studying the effect of listening to music in relation to experience of pain. However, both reports clearly show mixed results amongst their test groups. Other research, while demonstrating an overall positive effect of music in medicinal use (Hargreaves & North, 2008, p. 301), met with similarly varied outcomes depending on the subject’s gender and age:

    With regard to sex, music was less effective for males than it was for females. With regard to age, children responded more positively to music than did adults and infants (Standley, 1995, quoted in Hargreaves & North, 2008, p. 302)

    This runs in accordance with the findings of Fabbro & Crescentini (2014), which stated that different people apply varying levels of importance and focus to the pain they experience. What one individual might experience as mild pain, another could feel something altogether more debilitating; the change in pain experience is determined mainly by the “expectations” of the patient’ (Fabbro & Crescentini, 2014, p. 545). Gregory (2014) agrees with this view. As we have already seen, pain is ‘an individual experience and the effectiveness of interventions can vary between individuals’ (Gregory, 2014, p. 24). Therefore, their ability to focus on music instead of the brain’s pain signals will be compromised. Giving focus to anything our minds have deemed important for our attention means the brain is devoting less processing energy to listening to the music. This renders as null the positive effect music can have on our experience of pain, because ‘even if you’re only paying attention to one other factor, our capacity to focus on the music may have already been cut in half’. (Green, 1986, p. 68)

    It is especially interesting that both studies yielded more positive results when the participants were listening not only to pleasant music, but to music they preferred (Mitchell et al, 2007, p.37). Levitin (2006, pp. 231) states that we often make our preferred musical choices during our early teenage years, and we attach a level of emotional importance to this music. Therefore, music’s ability to have a reductive effect on pain must be, in part, the mental act of processing these positive emotional feelings when listening to music we enjoy.

     

    REFERENCES

    Fabbro, F., & Crescentini, C. (2014) ‘Review: Facing the experience of pain: A neuropsychological perspective’, Physics of Life Reviews, Vol. 11, pp. 540-552. Available from: 10.1016/j.plrev.2013.12.010.

    Green, B. (1986) The inner game of music. United States: Pan Books.

    Gregory, J. (2014) ‘Dealing with acute and chronic pain: part two – management’, Journal of Community Nursing, Vol. 28, No. 5, pp. 24-29.

    Levitin, D. (2006). This is your brain on music: understanding a human obsession. Great Britain: Atlantic Books.

    Löfgren, M., & Norrbrink, C. (2012) ”But I know what works’ – patients’ experience of spinal cord injury neuropathic pain management’, Disability & Rehabilitation, Vol. 34, No. 25, pp. 2139-2147.

    Melzack, R. (1996) ‘Gate control theory: on the evolution of pain concepts’, Pain Forum, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 128-138.

    Mitchell, L., MacDonald, R., Knussen, C. & Serpell, M. (2007) ‘A survey investigation of the effects of music listening on chronic pain’, Psychology of Music. Vol. 35 (1), pp. 37-57.

    North, A. & Hargreaves, D. (2008) The social and applied psychology of music. United States: Oxford University Press.

    Silvestrini, N., Piguet, V., Cedraschi, C. & Zentner, M. (2011) ‘Music and auditory distraction reduce pain: emotional or attentional effects?’ Music and Medicine. Vol 3 (4), pp. 264-270.

    Thompson, W. (2015) ‘The Healine [sic] Power of Music’, Scientific American Mind, vol. 26, no. 2, pp. 32-41.

    “Seeing Without Knowing” (1)

    There are many downsides to being unwell, as well as all the usual symptoms – missing uni, calling in sick for work, snot getting out on my first Friday night not gigging in ages (grr) – but there is the upside that you get more time in the house. This means all of those small, niggling tasks I’ve been putting off since moving house a few months ago are now sorted. I’m also more or less up to date with uni assignments but best of all, I’ve had time to devote to research and groundwork for my new sonic project, provisionally titled “Seeing Without Knowing”.

    The premise behind the idea is simple enough: The accessibility of art to everyone

    How many times have you heard people discuss ‘high art’ without any practical experience of it themselves?
    In other words, think of a famous poet/playwright/composer/painter, etc – how well do you know their work? You know you SHOULD (and many cultural snobs will tell you, with great enthusiasm, what to like) but when was the last time you read poetry? Or went to an art gallery? Which brings me to my next point…

    Apart from a small handful of amazing venues (The Sage Gateshead, The Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Newcastle’s Lit. & Phil. Society Library and The Hatton Gallery amongst them) there are few opportunities to experience famous Art exhibits in the North East of England. Is this because the powers that be in at the Arts Council/Lottery Fund, etc agree with the notorious critic Brian Sewell when he said art and culture would be ‘wasted on northern monkeys)? Even the Lindisfarne Gospels were only loaned to the City of Durham before being returned to the British Museum, despite winning ‘attraction of the year’ at the North East England Tourism Awards, 2013 – perhaps it’s time to highlight this perception, in order to change it.

    Similarly, what makes some forms of art ‘high art’? There are people who switch off at the thought of certain genres because of their preconception of those as ‘stuffy’ just as there are those who can critique Pop music with very little listening experience to go off. These preconceptions are echoes of cultural use and prior opinion, which got me thinking – Why not use the echoes of an event as the source of a musical work, with the original performance removed?

    I’ve recently appealed via my Twitter account (@tim_guitarist) for suggestions of large, cavernous spaces in which I can record myself playing solo classical guitar. The main criteria I am interested in is a) somewhere with large amounts of natural reverb (as I intend to record the reverb separately to the guitar itself) and b) somewhere away from external noises (so underneath rail bridges or near busy roads are a no-go for sound pollution reasons). I’ve had some interesting suggestions so far, but still looking for additional inspiration – if you have any suggestions, please drop me a line.

    All will be made clear, but one stage of the process I have in mind will involve free public performances, so stay tuned for updates regarding dates and locations, etc. I am also interested in particular to hear from any visual artists who may want to add an accompanying visual element to the sonic piece I aim to create. Any who read this (professional or students) who may be interested in a collaboration please drop me a line so I can outline a few more details of my plan to you.

    More details to follow, but until next time…

    New Direction – the joys of being a mature student

    All very last minute, but I am now officially a mature student.

    I’ve been meaning to return to higher education and ‘top-up’ my foundation degree in Music, and now seemed like the right time. This time next year, I should – hopefully – have a BA in Music.
    At present, I am unsure as to weather I will continue on into either a teaching qualification or head down the Masters/academic route. I will of course keep you all updated.

    Despite considering this for some time, it was only following a chat with a friend that I originally contacted Sunderland University with a view to applying for next year – I mean, it’s already September, I assumed it was too late for this year! However, they mentioned available places and suggested I speak to the Head of Course. Following a ten minute phone conversation about the modules of the course and my relevant education and working experience I was offered a place.
    To ensure the university had everything they needed (presumably for audit/OFSTED reasons) I had to complete the basic application form and take along a copy of my last HE certificate – and that was about it. Now all I need is for the Student Loans Company to get their finger out and send the fees/living expenses over!

    So here’s some tips if you’re considering going into (or indeed returning to) higher education –

    * Speak to the Universities you are interested in DIRECTLY. Find out as much as you can about the staff, facilities, teaching & assessment methods and of course the course itself. If it seems like a good fit for you, keep the information handy.

    * Leave UCAS out of it – they operate best when catering for A-Level students waiting on results for their conditional offers. As a mature student, you only need ONE reference (an employer character reference).

    * Wait until Universities are in their ‘clearing’ phase. This is immediately after A-Level results day and they will be very keen to fill up any places they haven’t yet found students for and therefore very attentive and helpful.

    * Have everything ready to apply for any student finance. Find out what you are eligible to receive and what you need to provide in order for your application to be processed smoothly & quickly, without referring back to you for extra evidence (usually this is proof you have been self-funded for rent, mortgage, food, bills, car, etc, etc for the last three years). The Student Loans Company are notoriously awkward so make it as easy as possible for them and you!

    * Finally, have fun and enjoy broadening your horizons! Don’t be put off by the perceived age difference – on my first day I realised everyone else was a 20 year old going straight onto the course from their HNDs, and hough I’m only 30, I had concerns it would be difficult to get along with a gaggle of younger pups. However I was surprised to see a motivated and mature group of individuals so I’m still very glad I signed up! I did, however, get mistaken for a lecturer as well – pros and cons I suppose!

    My blog will continue with updates on my (mature) student life as well as information on my written and live-based project work. Either way, it will find a way into the projects I am currently working on in my own time.

    Peace out for now xx