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Who decides the Future of Musicianship?

A few days ago I attended a fantastic discussion panel session at The Hub, Westminster, entitled “The Future of Musicianship”. It was the first event put on by the newly-launched “Loving and Living Music” project, brainchild of Ben Hillyard and Heli Rajasalo.

The goal of the initiative is outlined in detail here but to give you an idea:

What we are looking for in the Loving & Living Music project is a definition or a description of musicianship that includes all aspects of musicianship across all genres and instruments. Having this definition will enable discussion of musicianship to take place on a wider scale than is possible today.

We see a gap in the way that music in commonly taught. With the Loving & Living Music project we are looking to provoke awareness and discussion among the music education sector about how Musicianship is and could be taught.

The future of musicianship is a subject close to my heart due to my work with Easy Ear Training, where we try to use modern technology to make learning music more fun, easy and effective.

The event was fascinating, and the discussion broad and interesting. I won’t try to recount the discussion (not least because the entire panel session is now available online) but the event was eye-opening for me in a number of ways.

Musicianship is not what I thought.

In my work at Easy Ear Training I live immersed in a world of aural skills and over time (more…)

The spaces between the notes

There’s no such thing as not playing. Music has rests in it. So, you’re on a rest and the music will begin shortly.

If you’re interested in musicianship, aural skills, and ear training, most of the practice you do probably revolves around listening to sounds. Whether you use individual notes, chords, rhythmic parts, complex timbres, or practise active listening in real music, you probably spend your training time listening. As well you should!

But perhaps we’re forgetting a complementary part of developing our ears for music?

Claude Debussy said that music is in the space between the notes, and it’s important to remember that silence can be just as important as music.

Silent Adoration

In the midst of a week filled with all kinds of exciting music, most of it new to me, I went for the first time to an “adoration of the blessed sacrament” service. Though I was raised Catholic, this is a part of the Catholic tradition I’d never really come into contact with before. The service started with some prayers spoken together, the sacrament was presented at the altar, and then for the rest of about an hour we simply knelt and prayed. In silence.

This was a marked change from the rest of the services during the week which were lively, musical and generally full of youthful exuberance. We simply knelt, and prayed, in silence.

That’s not to say that the world was silent around us.


My Avian Awakening: Learning to hear the music of birds

It’s often been said that birds are nature’s musicians. They have an incredible variety of sounds and songs, and each species has its own distinctive calls. An experienced bird-listener can identify the type of bird just by its song. And from Vaughan Williams to Olivier Messiaen to Bob Marley, the music of birdsong has long inspired composers in their creations.

One of the wonderful things about developing your ears is that the more you learn about the sounds you hear, the richer the world around you becomes.

Just as a capable musician will hear riches and depths in a piece of music far beyond what the regular man in the street hears, somebody who has taken a bit of time to understand the sounds of nature will experience the world around them in a fuller, more inspiring and ultimately far more enjoyable way.

I recently enjoyed this kind of transformation with sounds from an unexpected source: birds.

The bird-watcher’s bind

If you grow up in England, taking an interest in birds is something of a social faux pas. There is a long-standing stereotype of the bird watcher as a sad obsessed nerd who has no ‘real life’. Like the train spotter, he suffers prejudice as someone who lacks friends, or any appreciation of ‘cool’ stuff. Cool stuff like football, chasing girls, drinking too much… and whatever else the current prevailing social conventions happen to be.

Of course, as they grow up, most people realise how silly and arbitrary the cool/sad distinction is – and how anybody with a passion or a hobby they’re enthused about is a deeply lucky individual. You begin to see that somebody with a specialised knowledge of an intricate subject is to be admired, not stigmatised or ostracised.

Although I have yet to be won over by bird watching, I have had my mind (and ears) opened to the wonders of bird listening.

The Dawn Cacaphony Gradually Resolves


Harmonic Context in Ear Training (and the frustration of App Store reviews)

Being an Apple App Store developer is really a mixed bag. While it is streets ahead of other mobile platforms’ app stores in terms of platform consistency (which developers love), the market size, and audience for your apps, there are some deeply frustrating issues as well.

I want to briefly discuss one: the lack of two-way communication with users.

I’ll also look at some particular issues one user had with the RelativePitch app my company developed, around learning relative pitch with or without a harmonic context.

The App Store Review System

Users are free to write reviews of apps they download – and in my experience user reviews make an enormous difference to app sales. The App Store interface shows the most recent reviews of an app prominently, and having a negative review visible there can really impact sales.

A recent 1-star review can strongly influence App Store shoppers

A recent 1-star review can strongly influence App Store shoppers

What’s truly frustrating though is that developers have no way to respond to reviews, either publically or privately. We can’t email the users, and we can’t post a reply to their review. Some developers will respond within the app description text, but this isn’t scalable or particularly beneficial.

Sometimes a user will have misunderstood something, or somehow missed out on a large part of the app’s functionality. In a lot of cases this can be useful information: you can improve the app to aid the user’s understanding more in future. In other cases you just have to throw up your hands in the air and wonder what went wrong and whether the user spent even a couple of minutes trying to resolve their issue or looking at the help screens!

Once in a while there will be a review which puts me in a bad mood. Normally this is because they’re flaming the app without real justification – this inevitably affects the impression other potential customers get of the app, despite lacking substance.

And sometimes the reviewer raises interesting points which I disagree with, and I’m simply frustrated not to be able to respond.

Harmonic Context in Interval Training

One such reviewer appeared this week. They were kind enough to review both of our paid apps, leaving a 1-star rating and a strongly worded negative review for each. They raised some interesting points though, which I’d like to respond to here.

I’ve included the whole review below, and then again with my comments in-line.