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Why We Do, What We Do

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Earlier this year, a colleague and I had the honour of representing MusicLab at a Workshop for Piano Teachers. The workshop was being conducted by ‘The Forum for Teachers of Western Classical Music’ in association with ‘Theme Piano World: Bangalore”. The person who was mentoring the workshop was a woman by the name of Nadia Lasserson, a music teacher of quite some repute in the UK. Now, I’ll be upfront and say that our modus operandi was to network and spread the MusicLab name around. But I was also rather curious to see what a workshop for piano teachers would involve.

The event began with a piano recital by Mrs. Lasserson and it was quite evident that she had only a little time to practice her pieces. But the crowd of twenty or so was more than forgiving. The highlight of her recital was a little folk piece that was a tribute to her Romanian heritage. (This piece is also used in a TV commercial for jewellery. It has Sheetal Mallar in it. If anyone knows what I’m talking about please let us know what the brand of jewellery is. It’s driving us mad.)
After the recital and a quick interlude of tea and biscuits came the “real” workshop. To be quite honest, it didn’t do too much for me at first. It was just a basic question and answer session between a few piano teachers with Nadia Lasserson offering all solutions. But over time the questions as well as the answers got more interesting. And that is what really got me thinking and, eventually, is the focus of this little piece.

Music is a primarily a communal activity; considering the interaction between musicians in a group or between the musicians themselves and their audiences or a myriad of other musical interactions and relationships. But the process of learning music is almost always practiced in a one on one environment (between teacher and student). Of these two, the teacher is in the more isolated environment because as a guide, the music teacher is expected to know his/her way around the musical maze of notes, time signatures and techniques.

My point is this. Music teachers require support systems. The Workshop for Piano Teachers opened my eyes to the reality that music teachers face a host of problems when trying to impart knowledge to their pupils. Whether it’s dealing with over achieving parents, trying to raise funds for an annual show or just trying to relate to a student so that he/she grasps musical concepts easily, these problems can be overcome with more ease when put to a floor of people who may have already dealt with the same problems successfully.

A support system for music teachers is something that MusicLab is trying to create; an environment for teachers to come together and share their experiences and generally better the quality of music education in India. We hope to achieve this through our newsletters, blogs, social networking, suggested lesson plans and such, to make sure that when you’re faced with an unsolvable problem we can offer a platform for you to find the best solution.

Author: Siddharth Prakash

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Kneading Notation

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For someone who wants to play music for the ‘fun’ of it, notation never enters the picture. You learn to tune your ear so you can learn to tune your instrument, and just hear the music and play. Rather than spend time learning notation, you want invest it into technique, chord charts and songs. This at least was my understanding about the order of importance in learning music. This was always reinforced by stories of heroes ranging from Jimi Hendrix to Victor Wooten having never gone to music school or learnt notation. Having heard that music can never be learnt by reading books, my attempts at learning notation stopped at half-hearted attempts of going through Mel Bay’s books (I am still at Book 1 – page 15).

But when the core element of MusicLab happened to be notation and notation software, I was forced to re-look at it. I tried out using some basic notation software and dismissed it after having figured out how to input the notes, and felt it was still too tiresome. But my job required me to be convinced about the need for notation, and therefore I plunged in.

The history of notation goes back to 2000 BC, with a form of notation found in Iraq. The Greeks, as with all things meddled with music and notation, and the ubiquitous names of Pythagoras and Aristotle pop up in music too. The early forms of notation involved only timing and pitch differences – you weren’t told what instrument to play on or what notes to play. The notes would just indicate positions higher or lower than the chosen pitch. Notation was refined over the ages, especially at the time of the Renaissance and Baroque eras to catch up with the techniques and instruments of the day. The concept of clefs and staff lines made music notation so much more accurate.

So much for the history class, but I tried to understand why the need for notation. I arrived at the following conclusions (again, elementary now, but insightful then)

1. Notation is actually the pages of musical history. If not for notation, we could never have obtained the music of Beethoven, Bach or Mozart
2. The need for notation in Western music also arose because of the range of the instruments – the piano covered the bass and treble clefs, the guitar could be accommodated in the treble clef alone etc.
3. Western music is based on harmony, and therefore – parts. Orchestral arrangements have many parts comprising the whole. As a musician I need to know my part to play
4. There was not much improvisation in classical music, so notating the music made perfect sense
5. Notation is a language – having never heard the music, I can still meet up with any musician and play, if I have the notation for the song.

Software like Sibelius has taken notation to a whole new level. More than the thousand short-cuts, the software is essential for a music educator simply because it allows you to immediately hear what you compose, something that could never have been done before. It allows you to look over what you have done, mistakes included and correct them. It allows you to hear all parts of the music, the sound of your song with the violins, cellos, brass parts, drums and even the sitar. That is something that a regular teacher can never show you. You can save your music and mail it off to someone on the other side of the world, and he can instantly understand your music. You can convert it into audio or midi to hear it as a song. I could go on…

Let it suffice to say, that using such software will actually raise the level of music education in schools to standard level, allowing everyone to learn and appreciate music – the talented, play-by –ear musicians will blaze their trail anyway. So the bottom line with software and notation – anyone can play

Author: Umesh P.N.

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MusicLab 101 Kicks Off To A Great Start

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Our first spillover training course for MusicLab 101 was conducted from September 20 – 24, 2010. Having finished our own in-house training for Team MusicLab and experienced the power of the MusicLab concept, we were eager to share it with our first set of participants. The three participants came from diverse backgrounds.

Kedar Nayak came with the formidable reputation of being the bass player of Warden, one of India’s most formidable rock acts. But he had a chink in his armour – music notation. He also pursues Hindustani Vocal training and wanted to see how this could add value to it.

Joel Davids is your typical working musician. During the day he is a music teacher at Vibgyor school, but at night he is a formidable one man band, playing at various restaurants and clubs in the city. One of his urgent needs was to learn about MIDI and how he could use it for his music teaching as well as playing.

Augustine Oliver dons several hats – musician, actor, painter, artist and HR guy in an MNC. He came to the course looking at how he could doff this last hat, and turn full time music composer. Oliver also belongs to the class of musicians who prefers playing it by the ear, and he wanted to pick up notation as a composing tool.

These three musicians, along with MusicLab’s Rudy David, went through the five day course starting off with the history of music and ending with looking at the future of music. Michael Dias was one of the facilitators, and what Michael doesn’t know about MusicLab technology doesn’t exist. The participants went through a detailed study of Sibelius, Auralia, Musition, Groovy Music, Pro Tools and concepts of MIDI, networking and more. The biggest excitement of course was creating their own compositions, and notating them with Sibelius. Two different songs emerged from this experiment. The musicians also had to go through two online certification tests, and this bunch convinced their trainer that they actually had learnt their stuff. In the end, all three went away thrilled with the knowledge of what they could now do.

We at MusicLab are looking at many more musicians and music educationists shaping the future of music education with us. See you there soon.

Author: Umesh PN

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Music, India, …Education?

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Music is moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything. – Plato

Rhythm could very well be one of the governing principles of nature and the universe. Its prominence can be illustrated in events like the movement of the stars and the changing of seasons. Life itself pulsates with rhythm. It is all pervading. It is also one of the fundamental elements of the world’s most popular creative pursuits.

Music. The natural progression from the unwavering stride of rhythm. Of all the primary arts, none can be as ethereal and indefinable as music. Its mysteriousness and inability to be pigeonholed, makes music the most popular art form. Evidence of this can be seen in the fact that, at any point in history, music has permeated through every strata of society.

There is no denying that rhythm and music are integral parts of human existence. Anne Warrior, senior educationist and director of Mallya Aditi International School, delineates their intrinsic values. “It begins before birth when a baby is swaying to the rhythm of its mother’s movement. And it continues with the rocking and singing that countless mothers, through the ages, have used to calm their infants and cajole them to sleep. It is a part of almost every human custom, accompanying almost all rituals from birth to death. If you think about it, music is engrained in a great many of our religions. It is one of the ways in which we communicate with the divine.”

In India, music has always held a special prominence. Earlier, music was given major importance in the form of patronage. Musicians were commissioned by the kings and queens of court to perform for them and train the next generation of musicians.
The transfer of musical tradition through the oral system between ‘guru’ and ‘shishya’ is illustrative of how deeply personalized music was to our culture.

But fast forward a century or two ahead and suddenly we see that this mode of music education has taken a bit of a beating. Societal pressures like academics and the associated cultural changes no longer deem it necessary for a student to live with the guru to attain musical wisdom. Today, one can either enroll for classes during the day, take individual ‘tuitions’ at home or simply attend certified music courses. Not only are students unwilling to live with their tutors but the ‘gurus’ themselves are unable to provide the kind of tutelage that was prevalent in the past. Patronage is now rare and the ability to house, feed and educate students for years together are now beyond one’s means.

So the burden of music education must then fall on our schools. But somehow the integration of music into our education practices has never really materialized. If looked at as a whole, what passes for a music education in schools today is quite dismal. For the most part, music sessions in schools are restricted to one class a week. During such a session, an entire class maybe made to learn and memorize the lyrics to patriotic songs, hymns and such. This approach may stem from the problems of trying to impart music knowledge to such a large number of students.

A lot of schools simply don’t allocate appropriate funds for music programs because there is no foreseeable upside to their efforts. The fundamental assumption that music is ‘just for fun’ adds weight to this grim outlook. Jason Zachariah, Chief Co-ordinator of programs at the Nathaniel School of Music says, “Why would they want to have a structured music program when it’s not compulsory?” He goes on to say that “things could change only if those prominent in the education system push for music to be part of a well-rounded education.”

The problem is that many educationists do not see the benefit of making music an integral part of education. Majority of Indian schools do not give enough attention to the arts. It’s just something that’s not in our educational culture. Music has become something of a luxury; to be pursued outside of the class room.

The class in that sense has been restricted to ‘serious’ academic pursuit. Besides, it takes a lot time and money to conduct and maintain a good music program that caters to everyone in a school; things that are, many a time, out of the resources of a school. Evelyn Kelton, music teacher at Mallya Aditi International School, says “it doesn’t help that a career in music is not viewed as a viable option.”

But what most people fail to see is that music can be an extremely effective tool in education. Anne Warrior says that, “Music is natural mode of expression for a child. If you listen to little children playing, very often you will hear them making up their own songs and tunes. And they’ll be absolutely immersed in the creativity of sounds that they are forming.” This innate, pre-disposition to music has the potential to harnessed and utilized in education.

According to research, music education before the age of seven has been shown to have lasting effects on a child’s intelligence. Elementary music education, in that sense, is paramount.

Positive behavioral changes seen in children that study music are numerous and could make a case for music education by itself. Some of these are listed below:

• Kids who practice their instruments everyday are seen to build up good organizational skills. In turn, they learn that it takes time and dedication to become good at something.
• Playing amongst a group of musicians highlights the importance of being in sync and being a team player. They learn that it’s not always necessary to be the star. It also illustrates the skill of being able to listen to the other members of an ensemble and to build quick improvisational skills.
• For a child who doesn’t excel in the pursuit of academics, music can help build self confidence. It could provide him/her with a chance to excel in something besides studies. In turn, it positively affects the child’s ability to deal with academic subjects.
• Behavioral studies have also proven that students of music are less likely to participate in activities of violence, substance abuse and adjust better to issues of authority.

Scientific research also favors the use of music as a valuable educational tool. Studies have shown that elementary music education stimulates greater observable physical development of the brain. It has also been observed that music students show an increase in math scores (27% higher than average), IQ scores and increased verbal ability. Children who receive early music training score higher than average on standardized tests. Another report found that almost all of the best technical advisors and designers in Silicon Valley were practicing musicians.

Most importantly, the effectiveness of music education can be seen across a spectrum of all student groups; irrespective of cultural, socio-economic and gender differences.

“Music even benefits the school because it contributes to a well rounded education and to the full development of an individual. And that is what we should be focusing on in education,” says Anne Warrior.

An on-going survey to determine the future of music education in Bangalore schools has turned in some very interesting results. The survey is being carried out by MusicLab, a project aimed at schools across India to realize the importance of music in education. So far, the survey has found that many schools are extremely interested in setting up no-nonsense music programs that will cater to all the students in their schools but have no idea where to start. It shows a changing attitude towards the importance of music in our schools today. As Rudy David, program director of MusicLab says, “It’s only a matter of time before educationists in India realize the potency of music and take that final step to integrate it into our education system.”

Author: Siddharth Prakash

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Education & Musical Expression

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Education, one might say, primarily stems from the vast sea of human experience and the need to pass along our inferences. It is a tradition that is carried out so coming generations may by-pass age old obstacles, in the hope of furthering civilization and inevitably humanity. Art, on the other hand, is borne from the need to be remembered in the vast and forgetful universe and to make a connection across time and space; or in other words, to communicate. When viewed along a continuum the two seem to run parallel, with one facilitating the other.

So why is present day ‘education’ devoid of artistic and, more specifically, musical expression? Earlier in India, music was given major importance in the form of patronage. Unfortunately, the need to be successful today, by society’s standards, does not allow one to properly follow a passion in this field. Very rarely does one see a course curriculum, at a school level, that deems music worthy of a formal education. It is pushed to the side; always to be pursued as a hobby and never a career. But industry demands are high for quality personnel who are skilled in the arts; albeit with a flair for the current technology as well.

Enter MusicLab. Brainchild of musician Rzhude David, MusicLab is an initiative to get schools to utilize the vast array of technologies present today in the pursuit of music education. The first of its kind in India, MusicLab provides ‘ready to operate’ learning solutions by integrating music instruments, audio components, computers and software. The company works at all levels for prospective institutions by providing sound advice and planning, installation of hardware, training of staff and after purchase support. In addition MusicLab also offers lesson plans to aid teachers in their profession. Because pre packaged solutions are not always practical, MusicLab’s account managers spend time with teachers to customize a solution for a new or existing curriculum. It must be remembered that all of this supports traditional music education and in no way deems it obsolete.

Umesh PN, Program Manager of MusicLab says, “if you’re interested in an entire music computer laboratory, a digital audio workstation, a PA system or just a piece of software for an existing system, MusicLab allows you to make an informed decision by eliminating the guesswork of choosing from a wide array of music technology products.”

One of the key notes of this endeavour is the use of Sibelius educational software to enhance learning. Sibelius is a music notation program which facilitates writing of musical scores and is used by widely by composers, arrangers, performers and music publishers. Its introduction to the schooling level is profound, as it gives students a structured approach to understanding and composing music. It also allows for international collaboration among composers and artists. Where, in the past, boundaries of distance was a virtual dead end, Sibelius provides for easy exchange of musical ideas. The possibility of a composer writing a score, sending it to an artist half across the world for his/her input in the form of music notation, and receiving that input relatively instantaneously, is very real.

Their first project to setup a music laboratory at Mallya Aditi International School is panning out beautifully. Though still in the process of becoming fully functional, people are already wowed by the possibilities of such a facility.
In effect, MusicLab is trying to change the course of how we perceive music, and not just within the educational realm. By bringing industry standard music tools to a whole new generation of users, MusicLab helps youngsters to gain access to a variety of audio construction tools that would otherwise be out of reach for many of them. The exposure that is attained through such a program may well change many a mindset to the opportunities of a career in music. Greater influx of people into this field will generate competition and can only ensure higher quality of musical ventures and openings of new markets and audiences. In short, one could see the possibility of a complete upheaval of the current music scenario.

But as with most evolution, such large scale change requires time. In the meanwhile, the project at Mallya Aditi International School is poised for success with more schools realizing the need for such an undertaking. Perhaps it’s only a while before you too begin to believe that music can be more than just a hobby.

Author: Siddharth Prakash


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