The Mission of Sound Reason Studio

Offer expert musical training to people of all ages for participation in contemporary music-making activities. The educational approach respects the entire music spectrum  from amateur songs, stories and dances to vigorous professional attempts to conquer the Classical canon.

Background

The American music tradition is remarkably diverse and challenging as it draws upon a wealth of cultural and ethnic traditions across many generations. It ranges from folk and ancient religious materials up and through high European Classical to Caribbean and African American rhythmic and vocally expressive song and dance.

With the passing of the Euro-Classical torch to modern popular music in the 20th century, music education has been going through it's own transformation in fits and starts. And a perception exists in some quarters that the “Great Schism” still divides the art form. That is, the notion there is “serious music,” and all the rest is populist amateurism. Those who hold this view often aren't able to see that these new expressions are the dominant music of today. Musicologist Christopher Small cuts to the quick with a simple aphorism: “Music is not a thing, it is an activity.”

Over the past 4 or 5 centuries music has shifted from an activity enjoyed by amateurs and professionals alike to a strictly high grade professional occupation that assumes the rest of the population is content to play the role of an “audience.”

The American cultural earthquake of blues, big-band swing and early jazz broke through this stale thought-meme in the early 20th century and brought a vibrant new music to the world. Soon, educators began creating learning systems to enable a wider populace access to these styles. Two of the more prominent educators, Frederick Schlieder and Joseph Schillinger had strong followings among the young generation and their systems were widely practiced from the mid-twenties to the 1950's.

Students of these educators like George Gershwin, Glenn Miller and B.B. King became quite well known and a school called “The Schillinger House” was set up to teach the new method. That school became the Berklee College of Music, now a landmark contemporary music college in America and the World.

The innovative learning systems of the early to mid-twentieth century did not catch on everywhere and remain controversial even today. The Classical hold on music education is still going strong in America indicating the tradition continues to have vitality.  However, new “Creative” music studios and websites are popping up all over suggesting it might be time to put a more inclusive and contemporary spin on the process. Indeed, it is time to develop and extend the new music to our children

Another reason to update our approach is, quite simply, it doesn't work for larger and larger numbers of would-be music learners. David Sudnow (“Ways of the Hand”) says “Piano playing is the most failed-at social skill in the United States. There are 11 million unused pianos.” How often do we hear in casual conversations people admit that they tried piano or some other instrument years ago, and gave it up?

If music participation is so beneficial and rewarding, why this failure rate? Not an easy question to answer. But I firmly believe that a new integrative approach to music learning can be very helpful. After many years of teaching and pondering these questions I have come to believe this new approach should also include insights from emerging fields like multiple-intelligence child psychology (Howard Gardner), neurology and neurobiology (Frank R. Wilson and Dan Levitan), visualization literature (Eloise Ristad and Timothy W. Gallwey) and the psychological study of emotions so brilliantly illuminated in the writings of Antonio Damasio. By unearthing the work of Schlieder and Schillinger and mixing in thoughts and insights from these newer fields a new music learning approach can be devised. It is currently in progress at Sound Reason Studio and the early results are promising.

Foundational Assumptions

Okay. Stop. Breathe. It gets easier. A new music learning system is a big “get”. Many people have tried to do this, and there is a forest of widely divergent materials online promising everything from instant piano magic to math skills for your kids if they buy piano lessons. How to sort it all out? Let's start with the basics. Here are the fundamental assumptions upon which my learning system is based:

--Contemporary studies in neurobiology and psychology are showing humans are DESIGNED BY NATURE to understand and participate in the activity of music.

--TALENT IS OVERRATED - to quote Geoff Colvin's book of the same title. Studies show that hard work over several years normally yields a satisfactory result for skills involving sensory motor development. One has to work at it. No short cuts or instant success.

--EMOTIONAL MOTIVATION lies behind almost everything we do. To teach a robotic, sheet music based one-size-fits-all music system is a disaster waiting to happen, and it often does. Music-learning properly begins with some kind of motivation. Goals, reasons, inspiration play crucial roles in our choices. And it is the same for children. Learning is possible when goals are formed.

--MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCE THEORY - the work of Howard Gardner has turned the field of child psychology and creative arts upside down and inside out over the past 40 years. His assumption there are several forms of intelligence is exciting enough, but his rethinking of child psychology in books like “The Unschooled Mind” have placed a critical challenge in front of every would-be music educator. Children are not “blank tablets”, “tabula rasa”, empty of all knowledge. Each child is unique having a variety of knowledge and capabilities that the educator needs to assess before beginning a course of instruction.

--The most important aspects of musical art that have emerged with sharp focus in contemporary African-American influenced music are IMPROVISATION AND VOCAL EXPRESSIVENESS. Improvising and personal story-telling with song form the basis of our music today. Some would argue that it was ever thus. Think about it. Where does music come from? It doesn't exist. It's not a “thing.” It's an activity, as noted above. So again, where does it come from? Clap your hands and jump rope. What happens? Kids bust out in rhymes. Sound, rhythms, melody and harmony surround us.

Beethoven's notebooks are filled with snippets of improvised melodies that never made it into the scores of his published works. He, like all other musicians, started with basics.

His own words say it best:

“Music is a higher revelation than all wisdom and philosophy. 

Music is the electrical soil in which the spirit

LIVES,
THINKS,
and
INVENTS.”

The Learning System

Given the assumptions and historical discussion above, I am in the process of developing and sharing a modern learning system, SOUND PRISMS, that is organized around the following outline:

      1. GOAL-SETTING INTERVIEW. Define the background and purpose of a person's musical study. This process begins with a free first consultation and evaluation lesson.

      2. INSTRUMENT SETUP and adjustment session (when necessary),

      3. BASIC LEVEL PLACEMENT evaluation lessons. These early lessons help determine relevant learning materials.

      4. Music study begins with TEMPO, RYTHM AND MUSIC-TIME LITERACY materials. This material is foundational and used with all musicians. Expressive time-awareness is the center of any solid music system.

      5. Developing sensory motor activity begins with BUILDING THE HAND materials on the chosen instrument.

      6. Hand-building continues into the basics of MUSIC COMPOSITION: Notes, melodic fragments, intervals, chords and harmonies.

      7. When the hand is properly established, and the basics learned on scales and chords, IMPROVISATION EXERCISES are introduced going forward into musical form and harmony.

      8. Students move to STYLE, COMPOSITION OR PERFORMANCE-BASED GOALS. These include original songwriting, sound design, blues, rock or jazz. Additional options include training in music production and recording.