Thursday, October 23, 2014

If You Want Kids to Learn Music, First Teach Them How to Sing!

At first this might sound obvious. Kids and adults are always singing, at least the ones I hang around with are :) But when I stopped to really think about it, a lot elementary instrumental programs attempt to start kids off learning a musical instrument, when they haven't had any musical training at all yet. Learning the music basics (melody, rhythm, reading music) AND learning how to make an acceptable sound out of a trumpet, saxophone or (shudder) a violin, can be very difficult even for adults.

We all hear songs that we love to listen to and hum along to. If you start kids off learning how to sing some of their favorite songs, they will learn a lot about how to a musical phrase together, and about different types of melodies and rhythms. You can first start off with songs of the Sesame street variety when they are small (3-4 years old), and then graduate slowly to slightly more complicated songs (Nick Jr & Disney) by the time they are 6 or 7. This will gradually and eventually lead to them learning popular songs from the radio by the time they are 9 or 10 years old. Not the trashy songs from the radio mind you, but the ones that convey a positive message and are appropriate for kids. Believe it or not, there are still some great songs played on the radio every year that are appropriate for all ages. I'll run a separate post later this month and point out some of my favorite examples :)

We recently came across an article about award-winning conductor Richard Gill who is the driving force behind the National Music Teachers Mentorship Pilot Program now beginning in Australia. Core to Gill's program is a mentorship for music teachers by more experienced music teachers. The teachings are led with the philosophy that teaching kids how to sing first is a better when to introduce them to music. Here's a link to the full article on the ABC News website down under ABC News - Singing the Key to Teaching Children Music

All this talk of singing makes me remember a song written by Sesame Streets Joe Raposo and made popular by the Carpenters (top 5 hit in 1973) and by almost every character on Sesame Street over the years. Yes its "Sing" or as you may remember it "Sing a Song" - Check out this beautiful rendition of the "Sing" by the Carpenters

That's all for today folks - I'll be back soon with another post. In the meantime please consider teaching your little ones how to sing as soon as they can talk (maybe even get them humming sooner than that). You may be surprised how many other benefits they receive from this very early "musical" training!

Music, Love & Laughter,

~Vincent James @

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Keep Music Alive" Visits the Lennon Bus in Springfield, PA

Each year, the John Lennon Education Tour Bus visits schools throughout the US to help elementary, middle school and high school students learn different ways to express their creativity. They teach them how to write songs, and then help them record those songs. Taking it one step further, they then help the students create a music video featuring their newly created song and the students that created it. My wife and I were very fortunate last week to be able to tour the Lennnon Bus while it visited E T Richardson Middle School in Springfield, PA as part of the Support Music Coalition and NAMM Best Communities for Music forum. The Lennon Bus itself is a technological wonder, with a full audio recording studio, full video recording & production suite plus living quarters for the three onboard engineers who literally live on the bus 10 months out of the year.

First we arrived for the "Support Music Coalition" forum that began at 8:30 AM in the school auditorium. The forum was a outstanding panel of folks including representatives from the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association (PMEA), National Association of Music Merchandisers (NAMM) as well as music teachers and parents of music students. The panel also included the Superintendent of the host school district, Dr. James Capalupo, who is an outspoken supporter of music in schools with the quote "Support the arts, ALWAYS, cut the arts programs, NEVER". Dr. Capaulop is part of a growing trend of Superintendents across the country who started their own careers as music teachers.

The "Support Music" panel discussion centered around the benefits of music education in the schools, what it does for the students, both academically and for their confidence and social skills. The panel also touched on some ways that schools and communities can help with the arts programs in schools. One method that has been very helpful in the Springfield School district is the non-profit parent and alumni booster organization that helps rally the community with fundraisers and other activities to help keep the focus on the arts.

After the forum we headed outside into the light rain to wait for our turn to get the official Lennon Bus tour. There was a tent set up outside with music equipment including a full drum set, keyboard and guitar. I couldn't resist the opportunity to jump on the keyboard and I played a few songs with Bryce from the Lennon Bus keeping the beat on the drums. If my voice was awake that early in the morning I might have started to sing as well, but I'm pretty sure the frogs were still in session :)

After a brief wait, we jumped in on the last general tour of the bus before the students began to line up for their days activities. Peter, one of the 3 Lennon Bus engineers, then demonstrated some of the videos that the students had done, including a high school group with a polished, MTV-like quality to a fun and quirky music video done by an elementary school group - something about saving themselves from the "Land of the Stashes" in reference to mustaches and beards. This is the cutest video, and you can tell the kids had so much fun creating it. This was a story the kids made up all by themselves and the Lennon Bus team helped them create & record the song and then film a 3 minute music video to help tell the story. The resulting music video is colorful and entertaining and would be a big hit in any grade school classroom or even as a Nick Jr segue way in between shows.

Springfield's ET Richardson Middle School was previously chosen as one of the 500 schools in the nation to have the best music education support. Each of these schools was asked to submit a short video about "What Makes Music Education Great in Your School" for a chance to win a visit by the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus. For more information on upcoming Support Music events and John Lennon Educational Tour Bus visits please visit and . Here's the winning video sent in by E.T. Richardson Middle school which will then also play into videos that some different schools have created during their own visit by the Lennon Bus. Emjoy!

That's all for today folks - It's Music Monday and the Monday part is almost over - I'll be back in a few days with more musical fun and infotainment for you - Until then let the music play on!

Music, Love & Laughter,

Vincent James @

Thursday, October 16, 2014

This is your BRAIN on GUITAR!

In a 2012 study in Berlin, Germany, researchers hooked up 12 guitar players to brain scanners and learned some pretty amazing things. They had the guitarists all play the same piece together (ie. like a big guitar band), and what they saw was that their brain waves synchronized together while playing the piece. Even more interesting was the fact that their brain waves actually synchronized slightly before they started to play (like they were all coming to starting gates of a race at the same time).

Being more of a keyboard/piano player myself, I wonder what the brain scans would look like for musicians playing other instruments playing the same piece of music. What if you had a full band with different instruments, say piano, guitar, bass, drums and maybe a horn section? If they were all playing the same piece with the same notes written out would their brains synchronize as well? Or is there something different about guitar player brains as a recent article in The Open Mind suggests.

I do agree with the article when it claims that that guitarists often tend to be the more creative musicians. Maybe its the years of trying to emulate and outdo guitar solos from the all the guitar virtuosos from the last 40-50 years starting with Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, BB King, Jimmy Hendrix, Eddie Van Halen, Slash and a host of others. When you are trying to play what you hope is an exceptional guitar solo (or any instrument for that matter), at some point you let go of your conscious mind to see where you're creative brain waves will take you on their own. I know myself I have written some of my very best pieces of music when I forced myself to not think about what I was doing, but instead just let my hands and fingers go where they wanted. Sometimes our best path to discovery of any kind is to let go and see what floats back into our being from the universe (I'm getting a bit spiritual here I know, no apologies :)).

To learn more about the Berlin research please check out this article on The Open Mind website: The Open Mind: This is Your Brain On Guitar

Stop back this weekend for an update on how our visit to the John Lennon Education Bus went this week - in short it was pretty amazing but we'll have more details and pictures to share. For now have a great Fridayyyy (almost) and will be back this weekend with our next post.

Love, Music & Laughter,

~Vincent James @

Thursday, October 9, 2014

BBC Music releases one of the coolest cover songs ever!

The BBC, one of the most well known and trusted sources for news and information, has jumped into the music business with BBC Music, and to celebrate they have created one amazing rendition of "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. With proceeds going to the BBC's Children in Need charity, the song features an amazing cast of artists including Sir Elton John, Pharrell Williams, One Direction, Lordes, Sam Smith, Kylie Minogue PLUS Brian May from Queen rockin' the guitar. They were joined of course by the legendary songwriter and Beach Boy himself, Brian Wilson who appears twice briefly during the entertaining 3 minute video.

The recording and video feature 27 different artists and is backed up by the 80 piece BBC Orchestra. The artists participating range from pop to rock, and classical to opera (yes opera!) - together they've created a very heart-warming rendition of the Beach Boys classic.

Here's a link to the Forbes article where I first discovered this: Elton-John-Lorde-Pharrell-and-more-help-launch-BBC-Music-initiative-with-Amazing-Beach-Boys-Cover-Video

The Guardian takes it one step further by giving us the lowdown of exactly who is in the video and when plus giving us their performance rating of each performer (does this now count as an Olympic charity single since we have scores or maybe at least a shot on The Voice or American Idol :)). The Guardian - BBC-God-Only-Knows-Cover-Every-Performance-Reviewed-and-Rated

And now for the video itself, check it out and see if you don't agree its one of the coolest cover songs and videos you've ever seen:

That wraps it up for today kiddies - I'll be back soon with another post as soon as I dig myself out of my "to do" pile of fun sitting on my desk :) Have a great day and be sure to play some extra music tooooday!

Music, Love & Laughter,

Vincent James @

Sunday, October 5, 2014

John Lennon Educational Tour Bus Brings Unique Music Experience to Schools

For 17 years, the John Lennon Educational Tour Bus has brought music recording and video production experiences to students all over the USA with their high-tech (and colorful) bus. With the assistance of three on-board engineers, students learn how to write, perform, record, and produce original songs, produce and shoot music videos and documentaries and complete a broadcast quality music video – all in a single day. Boy what I would have done to have experienced something like this when I was in school! Endorsed by John Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono, the bus is also supported by long list of corporate partners including Apple, Sony, Yamaha, Gibson and many more

From the website:

The John Lennon Educational Tour Bus is highly adaptable, and is designed to provide students, their schools and communities with performances, demonstrations, remote recordings, and studio sessions customized for their needs, levels of experience and interest. The bus travels the country visiting schools, musical and technology conferences and events, and partners with newspapers and other media to host Battles of the Bands with the national winner selected online

I recently learned that the tour bus will be visiting a school just 10 minutes from where we live, so we are hoping to get a up close glimpse of what they are doing and will do another post about it.

I can remember very clearly the time period when John Lennon passed away. I was playing in a wedding & club band called "The Sound Of Gold" and we played many Beatles songs with the band leader Mark Tully taking the Lennon parts and me doing my best with the McCartney parts (my voice was definitely still developing then :)). I remember we played a New Years Eve event just 3 weeks after he passed and performed a tribute to Lennon with a heavy dose of Lennon influenced Beatles songs along with some Lennon solo tunes. To this day I still perform "Imagine" whenever, wherever I can. This song along with "Let There Be Peace On Earth", perfectly embody what each and every person in this world need to fully embrace, one by one. I can only hope that through music, arts and other non-violent means we can slowly move towards this end for the human race.

I'll leave you with the song that John Lennon is most remembered for.

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
No religion too
Imagine all the people, living life in peace..

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will live as one

I hope you have a wonderful day and stay tuned for some more fun posts coming this week on "how music can help you!" :)

Music, Love & Laughter,

Vincent James @

Monday, September 29, 2014

Heard any good Babylonian Love Songs Lately??

Believe it or not, there was most definitely music in ancient times. While written records and notations telling us exactly what the music might have sounded like don't exist, there were enough clues left behind to let us know that music did indeed exist. Stef Conner is a performer, composer and musicologist who is working with a group that recreated an ancient lyre and is trying to reverse engineer music from the 2nd millennium BC. Originally from Sussex, England, Conner has performed across multiple continents to critical acclaim all along the way. With a PhD in composition, she has studied jazz, classical and many other forms of music. Her training and worldly musical experiences have definitely helped prepare her for what many would consider an amazing challenge: How to write music that sounds like what ancient music would have really sounded like

Conner was able use her skills and knowledge to make the long leap from modern folk music to possible ancient love songs by teaming up with Andy Lowings, and the Gold Lyre of Ur Project. This project actually built a replica of a 4,550-year-old Mesopotamian gold lyre and asked Stef to compose music for the lyre. When asked how she attempts to best write compositions that might sound something like ancient Mesopotamian music, Conner states:

"I propose to look for features that recur frequently in living music linked to Mesopotamia. The point is to look for the most consistent features in a widely dispersed collection of music. The most commonly occurring will be those most likely to have been features of Mesopotamian music, either because they have been preserved through musical lineages branching out from Mesopotamia, or because external influences have caused them to be invented over and over."

Last year, Conner and the Gold Lyre of UR Project recorded the results—an album of contemporary music, sung in Babylonian, called The Flood, which will be out December 2014.

We originally learned about Stef and her ancient music project via Slate Magazine - Babylonian Music Recreated . To reach Stef Conner directly you can go to her website Stef Conner - The Lyre Ensemble .

I'll leave you with a short video clip from the Gold Lyre of Ur Project which by the date appears to possible before Conner was involved. Some fascinating pictures of ancient artifacts straight from British and other museums along with some ancient sounding melodies. Please enjoy and we'll see you for another post very soon!

Music, Love & Laughter,

Vincent James @

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Music helps teacher speak again after brain surgery

Allison Woyiwada is a music teacher from Ottawa, Canada, and had literally taught thousands of elementary school students in her 28 year career. In 2012, she was diagnosed with an brain aneurysm which required a very delicate and risky surgery. When she emerged from the surgery, her family quickly realized that she had lost most of her motor and speech skills. Two months after the surgery she basically had the skills of toddler, unable to even put two words together.

Then a miracle happened. Her daughter was pushing Allison in a wheelchair through a hospital waiting area and saw a piano. She wheeled her mom up to the piano and then something amazing happened. Allison started to play the piano, and not just any song. She began to play the Beethoven Sonata sheet music that was sitting on the piano at the time. Her daughter and everyone around was absolutely astonished. Allison soon began working with a music therapist who used a method called "melodic intonation therapy" to help bring back her speech. Today, just two years after the surgery, Allison is almost fully recovered and is once again teaching music and even sings in French, German and English.

Stories like Allison's never cease to amaze me. Once again, musical therapy has proven to be a sometimes miraculously tool when someone is up against something seemingly insurmountable. For the full account of Allison's amazing journey and recovery thanks to music, I invite you to check out the newly published book entitled "Allison's Brain" by author Robert McMechan found on right here: Allison's Brain -

I first learned of this story through CBCNews and CBC Radio in Ottawa. Here's a link to the CBC Radio story in Ottawa by Anna Maria Tremonte Allisons Brain Documentary

That's our inspirational story of the week, and I hope you liked it as much as we did. We'll be back tomorrow night with a new post, and if you've got an inspirational story to share please let us know about it. Thanks and goooood nite all!

Music, Love & Laughter,

Vincent James @