Ukulele for the non-beginner

Who is a non-beginner? Someone who is comfortable with his instrument. Ukulele players , often self-taught or have taken a few beginner workshops, are non-beginners if they already know how to tune, play the basic chords from memory (C, F, G7, Am, C7) and strum instinctively. They know how to read a chord diagram. They know how to look at a song sheet and finger the chords indicated with the lyrics.

What would a “ukulele for the non-beginner / busy adult” course include?

Continue reading “Ukulele for the non-beginner”

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Stepping up to yes I can

The journey from “I can’t” to “I can” starts with “I won’t” and ends with “Yes, I did it.”

When I saw the following picture on Facebook, I couldn’t resist posting a blog about its applicability to education.

From I won't do it to Yes, I did it
From I won't do it to Yes, I did it

When required to do it, many of my math students arrive the first day of class with the  attitude of  “I can’t do it.” They have to take math which is a pre-requisite. My goal is to get them to realize that they can do it.

My piano students, on the other hand, arrive with “I want to do it” written all over their faces. These are not music majors so they are not required to take piano. While a humanities elective may be required for their major, they had the freedom to choose music, art, and other subjects. Even within music, they had a choice of guitar, ukelele, choir, and other courses besides piano.

To me, it’s a matter of empowering my students to believe that they can do it. Look at all the steps from “I won’t do it” to “I can do it.” That’s a lot of convincing.

Some are born with the belief that they can do anything.

Others like my mother give the excuse that they can’t do it. What they really mean is that they don’t want to do it. Or so I tell my mom. You’re allowed to say no after a lifetime of yes.

As for me, I’m so used to wanting to do everything that I have to tell myself “don’t do it.” After stepping up to “Yes, I did it. And done that” I have to now sit on the ground floor, and say, “No, no, no! Don’t make me do it.”

Food for thought.

Future of music business models: contact with your fans

The third thing we weren’t taught in a classical music education is contact with our listeners. At conservatory, we were not taught to promote ourselves or our music. Least of all, we were not taught to get to know our listeners, let alone build a fan club. If we don’t know our fans, how can we contact them?

The previous blog got too long. The third thing we weren’t taught in a classical music education is contact with our listeners.

Futurists advise that the business model for musicians in the future is contact with your fans.

I mentioned in another blog that classical musicians don’t know their fans. At conservatory, we were taught to interpret, analyse, perform, teach, and compose music at conservatory. We were not taught to promote ourselves or our music. Least of all, we were not taught to get to know our listeners, let alone build a fan club. If we don’t know our fans, how can we contact them?

The blog simplifies the formula as follows:

Connect with Fans (CwF) + Reason to Buy (RtB) = The Business Model

Classical musicians want to spend as much time as possible practising and perfecting their music. This explains why agents and impresarios are necessary to deal with everything else. In a big concert hall, it’s impossible to look into the black void to see who your fans are. Only with a small audience can you see them.

Getting to know your fans requires time to network with them. The best time is after a concert. There are no free drinks or snacks after a concert at the conservatory.

I was at a final exam concert recently, packed with supporters of the singer whose teacher applauded her as her first master’s student at the conservatory. She said,”Now let’s pop the champagne.” (or something to that effect.) The student replied,”Thank you. I have given you my music. That’s all I have.” (or something to that effect).

Indeed, after every concert at the conservatory the opportunity to stay and network is squashed by lack of drinks and food to lure people to stay. If musicians are conditioned to leave right after a concert, where is the opportunity to get to know who your fans are? If you don’t know who they are, how can you contact them?

Mayor of London Ealing signs guest book after a concert, 2003
Mayor of London Ealing signs guest book after a concert, 2003

What they don’t teach you at conservatory

The best time to learn about succeeding as a self-employed musician is after conservatory studies. But this is where the conservatory is no longer obliged to educate you or to ensure that you do make it in the real world. As conservatory students, we didn’t learn how to get gigs.

Now that many of my musician friends are graduating, I would like reflect upon what I learned in the past two years after conservatory.

My hypothesis is that even if the following topics are taught at conservatory, students would rather spend more time on performance or composing (their main subject). The best time to learn about succeeding as a self-employed musician is after conservatory studies. But this is where the conservatory is no longer obliged to educate you or to ensure that you do make it in the real world.

Final exam concert at Utrecht Conservatory, 2 June 2008
Final exam concert at Utrecht Conservatory, 2 June 2008

The black hole after conservatory is felt by many people, including myself.

I felt this void today when I met with the director of a local residence for elderly patients with dementia.

The 600-year old building has gone through extensive renovation such that it feels like a 5-star hotel. Conveniently located in the Museum Quarter of central Utrecht, a Roman city of cobbled stones, the impressive building has a brand new concert hall that seats 80 to 100 people. The new Yamaha grand piano gives a velvety soft sound, perfect for my piano guitar duo.

Yet as I sat in her office with my various marketing material, I am confronted with a disturbing reality.

“I am flooded with enquiries from musicians and people who know musicians,” she exclaimed. “Everyone wants to play in our concert hall. I have conservatory students willing to play for free.”

A knock on the door interrupted our conversation at 10:30 am. One of her staff complained that they’ve run out of bread.

“Call the baker,” she said.

“Nothing is open until noon.”

“Call the baker after 12,” she said.

As conservatory students, we didn’t learn how to get gigs. We were happy to play for free. We didn’t know how to get people to come to our concerts unless we told them to come to the conservatory where every concert was free.

After conservatory, we compete with musicians who are willing to play for free.

What differentiates us from the not-yet-graduated musicians?

We need an income. We can’t perform in the conservatory anymore. Where can we play and get paid?

So the first thing that we should have learned at conservatory is how to get paid concerts.

We’re taught to find students to practise our teaching on. In the training for a piano teaching diploma, my teacher told me to get started early. Learn to build a piano teaching practice.

What if you don’t want to teach? What if you want to perform? What if you want to compose for a living? None of my compositions teachers told me how to get a commission, how to apply for funding, and how to get paid as a composer.

If anyone is interested in this topic, please LEAVE A REPLY below and mention whether you want your comment published or not. I have learned a lot more things not taught in the 4 years I was at conservatory. And I’d like to continue onto another blog about “what they don’t teach you at conservatory.”