Musical Resources
Why Teaching Music Matters - The Harmony Project Los Angeles

NPR's Cory Turner writes:

I went to Los Angeles to report a story on brain science. A new study had just been released, exploring how music instruction helps kids process language. The children the researchers studied were all participants in a community music program run by the nonprofit Harmony Project.

But after an hour talking with passionate staffers at the group's office in Hollywood — and then recording an hour of music lessons there — I knew I had a compelling second story, that of Harmony Project and the woman who created it.

“You teach music because the lessons that you learn serve you in your life and make you live a better, more functional life the same way the lessons you learn in math help you live a better, more functional life."

The group provides instruments (trombones, trumpets, oboes, flutes, strings, drums, you name it) and free lessons to kids in many of LA's toughest neighborhoods. It also sends teachers into the schools for onsite after-school lessons twice a week. Throw in a rehearsal each Saturday, and you have a program that gives much and asks much in return — which is one reason its students keep signing up.

And then there's Margaret Martin, who founded Harmony Project in 2001 after a tumultuous early life. At 17, she gave birth to her first child; she later spent a year homeless on the streets of Los Angeles while parenting two kids. A survivor of domestic violence, Martin eventually earned a doctorate in public health from UCLA.

Here are selected excerpts from our conversation, on the beginnings of Harmony Project and why it matters.

Why did you found Harmony Project?

I was inspired. A group of hardcore Los Angeles gang members walked through a farmers market on a Sunday morning: teardrop tattoos, oversized clothing, attitude. They stopped to listen to a little kid playing Brahms on a tiny violin. After five or six minutes without saying a word to one another, I watched those gang members pull out their own money and lay it gently in the child's case. [Turns out that "little kid" was Martin's son Max.]

Amir Pinkney-Jengkens, 8, is learning trombone through Harmony Project, a nonprofit that provides musical instruments and instruction to children in low-income communities. Recent research suggests that such musical education may help improve kids' ability to process speech.  I was at UCLA at the time finishing a doctorate in public health focused on what it takes to make a healthy community, and those gang members taught me that they would rather be doing what that child was doing than what they were doing. But they never had the chance. So I dove into the research literature and discovered that music learning was linked to improvements in language, cognition, music, brain development and behavior.

How would you describe the neighborhoods where Harmony Project is working?

They are the highest crime neighborhoods in Los Angeles. [The city] designate[s] gang-reduction zones for rates of violent gang crime that are at least 400 percent greater than anywhere else in the city. Something you don't always hear about: These are also the neighborhoods with the highest fertility rates, so they have also got the highest number of little kids and really nothing much for the kids to do after school hours. ...

With public schools across the country cutting music instruction to save money, the Harmony Project in Los Angeles is trying to make up the difference.

So I founded Harmony Project to help keep disadvantaged kids safe, in school and out of trouble. It was basically a public health approach. If they were in music classes or rehearsals or practicing their instruments at home, it would reduce their exposure to negative influences in their environment and it would increase their exposure to the positive influences of music teachers and conductors.

One thing we know for sure, and that is that if we want to get serious about closing the achievement gap for disadvantaged kids, we should provide five days a week of music instruction in every Title 1 inner-city school in the country, from K through grade five. If you do that, you could save a whole lot of money on remediation, and you'd save a whole lot more money on juvenile incarceration because ... we don't have behavior problems with our students. They learn how to work together from an early age, and those are lessons that they never lose.

And yet you and I both know that music programs are the first thing on the chopping block in district after district these days.

It's been going on for decades like that. You know, we talk about, "Oh, music programs are getting chopped," but it's been a death by a thousand cuts, because you used to have five-day-a-week programs. Kids could really thrive that way. And then you said, "Well, you know, why don't we just give them one lesson a week?" So then you had the music specialist go around to three or four schools.

When my son was in public elementary school there was a music teacher trying to teach six instruments to 40 kids one hour a week. And kids think that they couldn't learn; what they don't realize is that they were in a program where nobody could learn. It was sort of designed to fail, so it's just not fair.

“We need these things. We need to learn how to be precise, how to listen carefully, how to collaborate closely, how to express ourselves whether we're in the depths of despair or whether we feel joyful.

I was speaking to one curriculum specialist at a school district. She said, "Oh, all of our kids get music. The second-graders get music for eight weeks. The third-graders get music for eight weeks. The fourth-graders get music for eight weeks. The fifth-graders and so forth."

I mean, that would be like saying, "Oh, everyone gets math. The second-graders get math for eight weeks. The third-graders get math for eight weeks. The fourth-graders get math for eight weeks." And, like math, you don't teach music in order to make musicians, and you don't teach math in order to make mathematicians.

You teach music because the lessons that you learn serve you in your life and make you live a better, more functional life the same way the lessons you learn in math help you live a better, more functional life.

I mean, we need these things. We need to learn how to be precise, how to listen carefully, how to collaborate closely, how to express ourselves whether we're in the depths of despair or whether we feel joyful. ...

It's ... music, it's an authentic good. So, for all of those policy wonks out there who think music is just some enrichment tool, I'm sorry. Music is now permanently off the shelf with the warm fuzzies, and it's on the shelf with the rigorous, scientifically proven, evidence-based interventions that close the achievement gap for poor kids.

What do you see among the kids who either seek you out or that Harmony Project finds: Are these overachievers, or are they truly a cross-section of every neighborhood in which you work?

Let me tell you this. So, a dad walks up to me after a recital. And he says, "I didn't know what to do. I was losing my son. He was going with the wrong crowd. And then Harmony Project showed up. For the last three years he's been playing with a Harmony Project orchestra. He's a smiling, responsible kid." Tears filled that dad's eyes, and he said, "Thank you for my son."

Over and over, I'll have a student say, "You know, Harmony Project has really helped me. I have friends that are into a lot of bad stuff, and they say, 'Come with us.' And I say, 'I have to go to rehearsal.' " And then they say, "So it really helps me."

It gives them something else to do, something else that they're about. Something that's about achievement. They set different goals. They actually say, "I'm thinking about possibilities I never would have imagined."

Helping Your Child Choose the Right Instrument

From PBS

Here are some components to consider when helping your child choose the right instrument.

The first thing to consider is your child’s age. If your child is younger than six, make sure you understand the purpose behind playing an instrument at such a young age and acknowledge the physical limitations of a child that young. Piano and violin are the most popular instruments for children under six because they help build a foundation for your child to choose a different instrument at a later age, should they want to do so.

The violin is a smart choice because the instrument can be manufactured in particularly small sizes, making it easier for younger children to handle. Although instruments like the guitar are also available in smaller sizes, the violin is advantageous in its lack of frets or keys, allowing your child to focus solely on the sounds produced. In addition, this helps kids learn to play in tune, and the bowing of the right hand teaches the concept of musical phrasing. Both of these skills are the foundation for playing most other instruments.

Although a child doesn’t control the tune or pitch of the keys on a piano and there is no “bowing” skill necessary, the piano has its own advantages. For example, playing the piano allows musicians to play both the melody and harmony simultaneously, thus teaching important perceptual and musical skills. The piano also provides a visual representation of music that is essential to understanding music theory. In summary, choosing either of these introductory instruments is a wise decision for young children.


Choosing An Instrument For Your Child

I have to tell you–I’m THRILLED to hear those questions, because it shows a parent who a) understands how important music is and b) shows me that this is a parent who really cares about the “choice” of instruments, rather than just going along with a whim, or…what the neighbor’s kid takes! So, where to start?

First — AGE. Not all instruments are appropriate for all ages.

Ages 4 – 8

In this age group, typically the instrument selection is developmentally narrowed down to:


Why those instruments?

Piano is always a great “first” (and last!) instrument. Since the piano keyboard is set up exactly like the musical staff, it makes learning notes and understanding music theory very intuitive and natural. PLUS, you learn how to read both the Treble Clef (high sound) and the Bass Clef (low sounds). So, if your child ever wants to try another instrument, they can choose just about any of them and already know their language.

String instruments come in several sizes. This doesn’t affect the notes they play at all, nor does it affect the “positions” of the fingers. It simply shortens the instruments to various sizes appropriate for different arm lengths. So, remember: if you DO choose a string instrument, you must bring your child to the rental place to be “sized.” Don’t go “eBaying” an instrument — you’ll usually waste your money.

What about Brass and Woodwind instruments at this age? Usually out of the question, as they take a much larger body to blow through all of the tubing, and better embouchure (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Embouchure) in the jaw/lips/mouth/tongue. Not to mention they can be pretty heavy! Sure, most kids could lift those instruments (except perhaps a tuba!), but lifting for a few seconds, versus lifting for at least 30 minutes while blowing through the instrument AND putting fingers in the right place — that is a totally different thing altogether. Now, before the woodwind teachers shoot me down, I DO realize that some kids may start with a piccolo before going to flute (and the piccolo is about 1/2 the size of the flute).

After Age 9

Pretty much anything is available. Once the children are in 4th grade (about 9-10 years old) the world opens up to them. That is why most schools don’t offer band til that age — the instruments are just not developmentally appropriate for the majority of kids before that age.

Special Concerns for Voice Study
I’ve had some parents downright MAD at me for not being willing to teach their 5-year-old a private singing lesson. I know that other music schools will do this, but MusicMakers will not. Now, if you want to pair piano with voice (what we call a piano/voice combination lesson), that’s different — no more than about 15 minutes of voice for the children under 10 years old is appropriate. And, take it from a vocalist, it is virtually impossible to really learn to read music and understand music theory without an instrument. Voice alone, as wonderful as it is (and it is!), just won’t cut it. Too abstract, need to put your fingers on something!

Why not so young? A lot of people want to sing, kids are very innately musical, and love to sing around the house, in the car, etc. Well, that’s great, and I strongly encourage this in my own children, as well. But, starting formal lessons TOO young can be detrimental to your child’s singing voice, not to mention a waste of money.

Beware of the Flute – Trumpet -Saxophone -Violin Conspiracy
Ok, there’s really no conspiracy. BUT, you’d think there was, just looking at the numbers of kids who choose one of those instruments. My theory is that they choose those instruments because they’ve been exposed to them A LOT and probably have a friend (or two) who plays it. There’s nothing wrong with choosing an instrument because a friend plays it, IF AND ONLY IF the child actually enjoys the sound. But, again, go with what the child feels naturally drawn to (by ear, not by peer pressure)

The Case for Percussion!
When I was in 4th grade, I was SO excited at the prospect of studying drums in the school band and orchestra (we were lucky enough to have both). I had finally, FINALLY, talked my mother into letting me write “percussion” on the form that the music teachers sent home. And, I went on to become a fabulous percussionist (didn’t you know?)….NOT. Nope, this was the 1970s and the two (male) music teachers looked at this very shy, pigtailed, plain little girl and handed me a clarinet! STILL want to take the drums. (gee, it would be so nice if I had instant access to really talented music instructors, like, for instance — owning a MUSIC SCHOOL!). Yeah, I really need to fulfill that dream!!

Getting back to YOUR child — I LOVE the drums, and love percussion instruments in both band and orchestra. However, in most cases, its not the best place to start. For similar reasons to voice, it is just pretty hard to learn to note read and train your ear melodically and harmonically on just the drums. Piano is a percussion instrument — do some piano, do some drums, and be a double threat!

Getting a good “read” on your child’s preference
So, what is a parent to do if they want to get a good “read” on their child’s instrument preference? There are a few things you can do:

  1. Call a local music school and see if they are open to you bringing your child in to sit in on some lessons featuring different instruments. We do this all the time at MusicMakers, and it works very well. The child might just hear something that strikes them as “wow!” and voila — you’ve got your instrument
  2. Call your local high school and ask to come sit in on a band or orchestra rehearsal.
  3. Look at the website of your local orchestra. They often have a family series where you can actually watch a rehearsal, or attend a dress rehearsal. The tickets (if any) are usually pretty inexpensive, and you’ll get to hear pros play!
  4. Go to my favorite orchestra website: http://www.nyphilkids.org. There is a plethora of information about instruments, including fun games and graphics. Also, check out my friend John Bertles’ instrument lab to better understand how those instruments work.

And, the Dallas Symphony has a wonderful kids’ webpage with links to hear each instrument.

Again, when in doubt — take piano! It is NEVER a waste — all transferable skills! Any questions, or need some specific help? Feel free to leave a comment and I’ll reply personally!

Thanks for reading!

Paula Penna, International Academy  http://ow.ly/ApjdB 

From CNN: Picking The Right Instrument For Your Child... Tuba or Flute?

Tuba or flute? Picking the right instrument for your child 
Music educators use body type and personality to determine best instrument for a child
Experts look at how outgoing a child is, lip size, height to make best match
Best advice for parents is to first let the child decide what he or she wants to play
Researchers say music training turns kids into more effective learners

(CNN) -- Most parents are probably so focused on just getting our kids to play an instrument that we don't give much thought to the question: "What's the right instrument for my child?"
Quite honestly, on the list of things I'm supposed to keep in mind as a parent, I never knew such a question existed. Until now.

Ron Chenoweth is the band and orchestra division manager for Ken Stanton Music, a Georgia-based music education company with nearly 100 teachers providing more than 1,000 lessons every week.  Part of Chenoweth's job includes managing a team that regularly goes into schools to help band directors determine what instrument each student should play. Two things he and his colleagues are always looking at are body type and personality.  

Best instruments for kids who like center stage
If a child likes to be the star of the show, Chenoweth might steer the child to the flute because flutists tend to stand in front of the band.  "I look for the kid that's smiley, happy, sometimes talkative, rather than just very, very quiet," said Chenoweth, who has been with Ken Stanton Music for 16 years. "They usually are asking questions and they'll say, 'Well, I want to do this because ... ' and so they're telling you their story.  Other instruments for extroverts, Chenoweth says, are the saxophone and trumpet.  "They tend to be lead instruments, whether a jazz band or a show band. They play that higher melodic part, and these kids tend to be almost uncontrollable at some point," he said with a laugh. "But they just are very outgoing. You don't really see the quiet ones go that way."

How body type factors in
Physical characteristics can determine the best instrument for a child too. Take the bassoon, for example, which isn't ideal for small kids.  "The bassoon, when assembled, is almost 6 feet tall, and the spread of the finger holes is ridiculous," he said.  Someone with very small lips might be better suited for the trumpet or French horn, while someone with larger lips might have trouble playing those instruments, according to Chenoweth.  "The cup size of a trumpet or a French horn would be too small, and they wouldn't actually be able to produce a good sound," said Chenoweth, who played the French horn in his high school and college marching bands and has been involved in music education ever since.  "And then sometimes you're surprised. ... Somebody you thought 'Oh, they'll never get the sound out of this trumpet,' and away they go."
I asked Chenoweth what personality and physical attributes might lead to success with other instruments:
• Oboe: An important trait for mastering this "very intricate" instrument is "above average intelligence," according to Chenoweth.  

  Tuba: An excellent choice for students with larger lips, he said.
• Trombone: The player's front teeth should be even. "You want a nice bite that shouldn't be in need of orthodontia," he said.
• Violin: Kids can start playing as early as 2 to 3 years old. "I think because they have varying sizes, it makes them rather universal," said Chenoweth, who started playing the clarinet in the fourth grade.
• Piano: Long fingers or large hands are desirable, and so is being a good thinker. "Physically they're going to need good dexterity with their hands," said Chenoweth. "You would probably look for a propensity to something analytical, somebody who might show a little bit of inquisitiveness."


Let them play what they want to play

Even before you start assessing whether an instrument matches your child's personality, or if they have the right body type for success, you should let your child be the guide, Chenoweth says.
"My first thing is you have to get them onto an instrument that they first are interested in because if there's little interest in playing it, there will be the same amount of success -- very little," he added.
Try not to push them to play what you played, said Chenoweth. "Private lessons at home with the parent are not necessarily going to be successful," he said with a laugh.
And always try to be supportive, even when it just might not be music to your ears.
"We all know that the sounds are not going to be great," said Chenoweth, but parents should try to stay positive. That means avoiding comments such as, " 'Oh here we go. Here's something new to try for three months and then you're going to give it up. Are you ever going to pick something that you're going to stick with?' "
The importance of music education in schools   Why music matters
Dr. Nina Kraus, professor of communication sciences, neurobiology, and physiology, and the director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University, has been studying the impact of music training on a child's cognitive development for almost a decade. Her extensive research has been published in more than 200 journals and media publications.
Defining a musician as someone who plays music twice a week for 20 minutes, she and her team compare how the brains of musicians and non-musicians respond to sound and the impact music playing has on the musician's attention, language, memory and reading abilities.
"The same biological ingredients that are important for reading are those that are strengthened through playing a musical instrument," said Kraus. "The ability to categorize sounds, to pull out important sounds from background noise, to respond consistently to the sounds in one's environment ... these are all ingredients that are important for learning, for auditory learning, for reading, (and) for listening in classrooms."
Her findings, she said, have a clear message for policymakers and parents.  "It's not just about your child becoming a violinist," said Kraus, a mother of three whose children all played an instrument growing up. "It's about setting up your child to be a more effective learner for all kinds of things."
And the benefits continue even after a child stops playing, says Kraus.
"The brain continues to profit long after the music lessons have stopped," she said. (To visualize Kraus' extensive research and comprehensive findings, check out her slideshow.)
If my girls weren't already signed up for music lessons this fall (we're starting with piano!), I'd be signing them up today.   http://www.cnn.com/2013/09/09/living/parents-kids-body-type-music-instrument/

From PBS: Helping Your Child Choose an Instrument

Helping Your Child Choose the Right Instrument

Girl playing the violinFinding the right instrument for your child is a difficult but important factor in your child’s continued musical success. Forcing a child to play an instrument rarely leads to the love of music making we want. Here are some components to consider when helping your child choose the right instrument.

The first thing to consider is your child’s age. If your child is younger than six, make sure you understand the purpose behind playing an instrument at such a young age and acknowledge the physical limitations of a child that young. Piano and violin are the most popular instruments for children under six because they help build a foundation for your child to choose a different instrument at a later age, should they want to do so.

The violin is a smart choice because the instrument can be manufactured in particularly small sizes, making it easier for younger children to handle. Although instruments like the guitar are also available in smaller sizes, the violin is advantageous in its lack of frets or keys, allowing your child to focus solely on the sounds produced. In addition, this helps kids learn to play in tune, and the bowing of the right hand teaches the concept of musical phrasing. Both of these skills are the foundation for playing most other instruments.

Although a child doesn’t control the tune or pitch of the keys on a piano and there is no “bowing” skill necessary, the piano has its own advantages. For example, playing the piano allows musicians to play both the melody and harmony simultaneously, thus teaching important perceptual and musical skills. The piano also provides a visual representation of music that is essential to understanding music theory. In summary, choosing either of these introductory instruments is a wise decision for young children.

As children get older, some will move on and experiment with other instruments. With age comes the physical strength required to play brass instruments, woodwinds, or larger string instruments. It’s important to make sure that your child and his instrument are physically similar in size. For example, although there are exceptions, a child with small hands might have difficulty with the string bass or even the piano, which a child with large hands or awkward fine motor skills might have trouble with an instrument such as the mandolin or oboe. One test of matching physicality should be whether your child enjoys holding the instrument or if it’s overpowering and limiting to him; while this seems like common sense, it is often ignored because children imagine themselves playing the instrument before they even hold one. Sometimes the desire to play a certain instrument can trump the limitations; however, it’s better to start with an instrument more compatible with your child’s body.

Another important factor in choosing the right instrument is the sound of the instrument and how it’s produced. If your child doesn’t like the sound that an oboe makes, they won’t enjoy playing the oboe. Similarly, if your child doesn’t like the way the sound of a trumpet is made (by blowing) they won’t enjoy playing the trumpet. These are extremely important considerations because there will be little motivation to practice, your child might resent the instrument (or playing music in general) and the sound and way of playing aren’t attributes that “grow on you.” This may seem obvious to parents, but be aware that some teachers or band leaders might encourage your child to play an instrument they don’t like because the band “needs” another bassoon or French horn.

One of the most potentially defeating aspects of choosing an instrument is its “social image,” meaning kids will choose the instrument they perceive as the “coolest” even if that instrument seems like a bad fit. For some, this will lead them to their life’s instrument (as happened for me with the electric bass) but for others it will be a dead end because the “coolness” factor often clashes with the previously mentioned considerations. You can’t ignore your child’s preconceived notions of an instrument (or themselves playing it), but you should temper that with the reality of the other factors.

There is no greater joy than finding “your” instrument. I believe this is a cornerstone of future success. Keeping an open mind (both you and your child) and following these common-sense rules will serve as the stepping-stones to the perfect match of child and instrument.    http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/music-arts/helping-your-child-choose-the-right-instrument/

What Instrument Should My Child Play?

Quiz: Which Instrument is Right for My Child?

Find out what instrument might be perfect for your child. Simply choose the answer that best describes your child and then view your results to find out which instrument is the best match. Give it a try!

Question 1: What kind of music does my kid like to listen to?

Calm instrumentals
Classical. Mozart all the way!
Folk and pop
Jazz and big band
Rock. Everything from Elvis to Linkin Park.
Question 2: What's a good way to describe my child's personality?

Quiet and introspective
Confident and calm
Laid back and friendly
Outgoing and big-hearted
Boisterous and active
Question 3: What is the ideal size for an instrument?

As long as it doesn't have to go anywhere, it doesn't matter
Small. My child will have to carry it to and from school and practice
Medium is perfect
My child can handle a medium to large instrument, no sweat
My child has the maturity to handle something quite large and bulky
Question 4: If s/he were a color, it would be:

Light Green
Bright Yellow
Cherry Red
Question 5: My child is happiest:

Playing alone
In a museum or aquarium
With a small group of friends
At a party
On a jungle gym
Question 6: How active is my child?

Very low-key
Slightly Active
Quite Active
Very Active
Question 7: His/Her favorite animal is the:

Tasmanian Devil
Question 8: Which movie does my child like best?

Finding Nemo
The Sound of Music
Wallace and Gromit
The Incredibles
Back to the Future
Question 9: How much noise is s/he comfortable with?

Indoor voices, please
No louder than Beethoven's 5th
Hannah Montana levels
Controlled chaos
Blast that radio!
Question 10: My child is great at:

Manual dexterity
Fine motor control, like knitting
Singing along
Keeping rhythm




The Middle Class Coming Together to Stop Music Education Cuts...

Has music education been saved?

.. a government climb-down over proposed cuts to music education funding in schools

The government has backed down over its proposed cuts to music education funding Photo: Christopher Jones
Well, they did it. The combined fury of 134 music organisations, led by the Incorporated Society of Musicians (ISM), has saved music education from the full force of the cuts being imposed by a cash-starved government.

The ISM’s petition, mounted in response to the Education Department’s Consultation Document, has won two specific concessions. An extra £17 million has been found for the national network of 123 music hubs,which provide the kind of vital music education services that schools cannot do on their own – providing instruments, setting up ensembles and orchestras and so forth. And the government has backed down from its recommendation that local authorities stop funding music education.

This is undoubtedly good news. That extra £17 million (the government says £18 million, but no-one quite understands their arithmetic), means the total amount spread around the music hubs will rise to £75 million. This will reverse the decline of recent years, which has been steep. In 2012-15, the grant stood at roughly the same amount, around £75 million, but this declined in 2013-14 to £63 million, and in 2014-15 to £58 million, a fall of nearly 23 per cent.

This is a great result. The effect of the climb-down over local authority music funding is less easy to gauge, because authorities have complete discretion over where the cuts to their education budgets will fall. Those cuts are certainly severe. The damage music might have endured next year can be gauged by looking at the cut announced yesterday to the Education Services Grant paid to local authorities. In 2013/14, the ESG stood at £116 per pupil. In 2015/16, this will shrink by a quarter to a mere £87 per pupil. Music will surely suffer from this, to a degree, as will all the other things the ESG funds, from geography field trips to school repairs. But at least the invitation to make music the easy sacrificial lamb has been retracted.

So, the ISM’s campaign succeeded in two of its stated goals. The only failure was to wring from the government the same commitment to long-term stability of funding that David Cameron recently announced for sport. No doubt the ISM will make that the focus of its next campaign.

Here, for once, the well-off were roused for a campaign organised on behalf of the disadvantaged, specifically those parents who can’t afford music lessons and instruments for their children. It offers the heart-warming spectacle of a battle fought and won for a moral principle. People are inclined to mock when you suggest music can bring out the benevolence in human nature, but this campaign has shown it might just be true.  from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/10986437/Has-music-education-been-saved.html

What Rockers Can Teach Us About Success...

What Rockers Can Teach Entrepreneurs

Embarking on a career in popular music is in many ways like starting a business. You develop a brand, a distinct identity in the marketplace, and try to get people excited about it. What can entrepreneurs learn from musicians about getting a new business off the ground?

The 10-Year Journey to Overnight Success

Any musician you’ve ever heard of has worked countless hours to master his or her instrument and has endured humiliation after humiliation in the form of small and apathetic audiences, discouraging label executives, and dismissive incumbents. It takes hard work, commitment and determination to succeed as a musician.

The same goes for people who want to start a business. Entrepreneurs can get impatient when all they hear about are overnight successes and young self-made billionaires. Overnight success stories make for good headlines. But they are misleading.

In both music and entrepreneurship you need to commit fully and decisively, and then stick it out through the long haul. You have to be willing to make personal sacrifices, and you have to be persistent in your pursuit of excellence.

When I interviewed super-producer Rick Rubin for an article about meditation, I asked him why so many musicians meditate. He told me meditation is good for musicians because it reinforces the lifestyle of consistent practice and discipline. People tend to focus on the inspiration aspects of the arts (and the inspiration aspect of entrepreneurship). What we don’t see is the tedious disciplined practice involved in translating that inspiration into a success in the marketplace.

Persistence means overcoming the deeply personal pain of failures. We all know that you need to fail to learn. But what rockers can teach entrepreneurs is that failing is like mourning the death of a loved one. Your business, like your art, is your baby. You are personally attached to it. You love it. It is part of who you are and its success is tied into your feelings of self-worth. How must Robin Thicke feel around now that his deeply personal album about his failed relationship with his wife sold only 530 copies in the UK in its first week? That’s how entrepreneurs feel every time they fail.

Musicians have been told their entire career that their babies are ugly, stupid, and boring. Jimi Hendrix was kicked out of every band he played in until he started his own. Which doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt. It just means that it’s part of the deal.

The same goes in business. Starbucks founder Howard Schultz was passionate about his vision of bringing Italian coffee bar culture to the US. He approached 242 investors. 217 said, “No.” That’s 217 times that his baby was insulted. Then he couldn’t show a profit for three years. That’s rock star persistence.

Creative Adaptability

Charles Darwin said that it is not the strongest or the most intelligent who survive, but those who can best manage change.

Rockers are masters of change, flexibility, and adaptability. Madonna, one of the only women in popular music to have a consistently successful career into her fifties, has done it by constantly changing and adapting. She didn’t lose her brand of empowered sexuality, but she changed with the times. In fact, she sometimes changed ahead of the times. Now making her thirteenth album, she’s getting today’s hottest producers to give her their most exciting tracks.

When U2 transitioned from their signature sound, epitomized on The Joshua Tree, to the dark electronic sound of Achtung Baby, they proved that they were agile. Likewise, Radiohead transitioned away from guitar-based songs after their hit album OK Computer to a more electronic sound for its follow-up, Kid A. It wasn’t easy to make the changes, but it paid off. Achtung Baby was a commercial smash for U2, selling 18 million copies, while Radiohead’s Kid A topped the Billboard chart, won the Grammy award for best alternative album, and went platinum.

Any team should be wary of abandoning its core strength to superficially adopt a trend. But that wasn’t the case with U2 and Radiohead. What they were doing was growing together. They were able to interrupt their habits of thought and their habits of action. They were innovating.

It’s not the strongest or most intelligent that survives but the one that is most adaptable to change. Startups need to keep changing if they are going to hold their customers’ interest, adapt to changing market, and outperform competitors.

Everyone is a Rapper

In both music and entrepreneurship you need powers of persuasion. You need to get people excited about what you’re doing so that they can give you money to keep doing it. You need to rap.

The original meaning of the word rap was talking. But it was more than that. It was your ability to talk smoothly, to talk yourself out of trouble, to use talking to get your way. It was a smart way of talking, a way of talking that impressed other people. Rapping was selling. That’s why rappers are such good entrepreneurs.

When rap started, there was no institutional support for the genre. So rappers learned salesmanship. Rap culture was about proving you were better than the rest. It was about distinguishing yourself and your originality above the crowd.

Startups need to do that. Just like rappers, they need to convince people that they are better and bolder than the rest. That they can rise to any challenge and circumstances. Entrepreneurs can learn from rappers that stepping up to the mic with confidence can go a long way.

Entrepreneurs can also learn from rockers to make an emotional connection to their audience through body language and stories. As I’ve written before, you can learn techniques that will strengthen the effectiveness of your communication.

But most importantly, rockers teach entrepreneurs the importance of finding your unique voice and expressing it. As an artist, you have to differentiate yourself from others. Doing well in business requires the same thing. To stand out, you need to put yourself on the line and express yourself with confidence and passion.

Nurture the Team

A startup company I once interviewed faced a situation where one partner wanted the company to always be small enough to all fit in an elevator. But the other partner wanted world domination. One wanted to be Zuckerburg, the other wanted to be Zingerman’s. It collapsed. Another company had a partner who didn’t feel like he got a fare share of the equity split. So he split, right as they were about to be approved for a grant on which he was the primary investigator. The grant fell through.

Partners are a major source of uncertainty. They are also the most important factor for your startup’s success. What can we learn from rockers about minimizing partner risk? Invest in the connection with your partners.

In 1995 Anthony Kiedis, singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, was in rehab for heroin addiction. He was the singer of one of the biggest bands in the world, with a new album coming out and a tour to embark on. His band mates needed Kiedis to do his job.

Part of the rehab center’s recovery process was to invite friends and family for a group session. Flea, The Chili Peppers’ bassist, showed up. When the group session began, the therapist asked Flea, “How does it make you feel when Anthony’s out there using drugs and you have no idea where he is or if he’s ever going to come back?” Kiedis cringed in his seat. He figured Flea was going to rant about how mad he is that Kiedis is ruining all of their hard work. And he would be right.

But Flea burst into tears. “I’m afraid he’s going to die on me,” he sobbed. “I don’t want him to die.” Flea cared about Kiedis as more than a means to an end.

Truly great bands such as The Red Hot Chili Peppers treat each other like family. That’s where their resilience comes from. Flea wasn’t happy about what Kiedis’s behavior was doing for the band. But first and foremost he was worried about him as his friend.

The same goes for startups. Other people are not just there to get the work done. They are not disposable parts. If they are, the team will have zero resilience for when times get tough. Without a strong relational fabric, the team will collapse at the first bump in the road.

Why does caring matter so much? Because it brings out the best in others. It facilitates others by giving them the support they need so that they can contribute at their highest level. It also creates a safe environment for making mistakes and experimenting.

Caring comes with playfulness, which helps with burnout and also opens up the team’s resources and creativity. And caring increases loyalty. When band members look out for each other, they build a reservoir of goodwill that they tap into when times get tough.

Why Music Education in Public Schools is Important - from a Child's Eyes

In preparation for the Jeffco Parent Arts Advisory Coalition meeting on May 20th, we put together this video to impress on the Jeffco Board of Directors that the public school music programs are extremely important.  Our student is Alexie Uecker, a private cello student at Golden Music and in the public school music program at Mountain Phoenix.   He describes how music has been important to him this year and his teacher, Justino Perez talks about his students and the impact the music lessons have on them. See it here:

How to Clean Your Brass Instrument - Give It A Bath

We can clean it for you which is included in the maintenance plan if it's on our rent-to-own program.  A bath might be what it needs.  Here's the directions for that.

  1. Find a bath big enough to comfortably take your horn and line it with an old sheet or towels. (This prevents damage to horn and bath.
  2. Fill the bath with lukewarm water.
  3. Remove all slides, mouthpiece and any other moving parts from the horn.
  4. Submerge the horn completely in water and press down all valves to open them (just a couple of times, you don't need to keep them down.)
  5. Leave the horn for an hour to around three hours (only if it is an instrument that hasn't been bathed in a very long time, or if the valves are stuck down.)
  6. Get a snake to clean the horn. While the horn is soaking, use a pull-through (snake) to clean out all your slides in a separate sink. If the pull-through is too wide to get round the bends in the slide, don't force it. It will get stuck and just cause damage. Use a mouthpiece brush to clean out your mouthpiece just now as well - no point in blowing all your mouthpiece gunk down into your nice clean horn!
  7. Finish cleaning. When bath-time is almost up, put your pull-through through your lead-pipe (from mouthpiece end to tuning slide) and then use either the end of your pull-through or a similar smaller brush to clean out all the valve-slides.
  8. Remove your horn carefully from the bath and tip all the water sitting inside of it out. You should be able to hear any water sloshing around inside but if you are having trouble getting it out try depressing all the valves and tipping the horn round 360 degrees towards the bell - any water should come out of the bell!
  9. Dry the horn. After making sure you have gotten rid of any water sitting in the valves, lay your horn on some towels or another clean sheet to dry. Remove any surface water with a clean cloth or towel and then leave the horn, preferably in a room with some circulating air for a few hours to dry out.
  10. Wait a few hours then tip your horn out again to remove any water that has settled.
  11. Pour some low-viscosity valve oil down the slides into the valves, and oil all the bearings and rotors.
  12. Re-grease all slides and replace them.