When starting to play a musical instrument,many beginner students need a while to get their head around music theory and musical notation – this is completely normal as learning music is similar to learning a new language!
Luckily nowadays there are many good books for learning the basics of musical notation and theory – it takes some quiet study time on your own at home; but it is definitely worth investing the time into trying to understand the basics as then the rest will fall into place much quicker.
Here is a few suggestions on suitable beginner books – some of these are applicable for any instrument; some specifically for the piano:
– MUSIC THEORY FOR YOUNG CHILDREN by NG, YING YING (ABC Books, UK)
This one is a great introduction to the basics of music theory with fun sticker and drawing activities
– MICHAEL AARON PIANO COURSE GRADE 1 by Michael Aaron (Belwin, UK)
This books is suitable for children and adults alike and covers all basic music theory and note-reading comprehensively.
– HAL LEONARD ADULT PIANO METHOD by various (Hal Leonard, USA)
For adults, this book covers basics for the piano well. It might be challenging for younger learners, but if one has played another musical instrument before, this might still be suitable.
Once you get the basics right, you’ll be a happy musicians 🙂
‘What is a good musical instrument to learn first?’ is a question I hear as often as ‘When is a good age to start learning?’. We are all different and many of these questions can be answered once you get to know the individual in question – it is hard to generalize. Yet, there are certain instruments that have over time been hailed as ‘good first instruments’. We often hear about piano and piano keyboard that they are helpful for getting a good basic idea of music as one can easily learn notation and simple songs on them.
Out of curiosity, I researched the topic and discovered the most common first musical instruments in the UK. Here is the top ten:
1. Keyboard 30 %
2. Piano 28%
3. Recorder 28%
4. Classical guitar 20%
5. Drum kit 14%
6. Electric Guitar 13%
7. Violin 12%
8. Percussion 6%
9. Bass Guitar 5%
The findings are based on instruments learn in and out of schools (ABRSM, 2016
So it does seem like keyboard and piano come out on top – yet we should not forget that different factors influence these outcomes, such as practical issue, e.g. it is much easier to have a keyboard at your house than a whole drum kit.
It has also been found that the level of parent’s education influences the decision of which instrument their child learns; some parents might not even be educated enough to consider other options than the keyboard. When parents themselves have received music education and been exposed to different types of music, they are more likely to consider other instrument options.
As an anecdote, yesterday my 5-year-old son came home from school having had his first ukulele lesson – he was buzzing with excitement. Not only because he is learning to play a musical instrument, but he also liked the social aspects of learning to play together with his friends. This social aspects seems to be an important factor to consider when younger kids are concerned as they might feel more motivated to learn when encouraged by their peers.
Therefore, I would say that any musical instrument is a good place to start – in any case, the student would learn all the basics of music, enjoy developing a new skill and potentially cultivating a life-long interest in music.
We all have our individual and unique ways of learning and approaches to new tasks at hand. Our preferred learning styles are the cumulative result of what we have learnt at school,and out of school – and our general approaches to learning new things.
Some of us learn better by looking at something – for example, they can easily memorize something after reading it or seeing it written down. This is often referred to as photographic memory.
Some of us learning easier by hearing something or listening to someone explain something to us – for example, by another person playing something on an instrument and then copying it with one’s own instrument.
No matter what your learning style,luckily nowadays there are suitable teaching approaches and resources to everyone. For teachers, it is important that they communicate their preferred way of learning to their one-to-one music teacher so that the teacher can adjust the lessons accordingly. Don’t be shy about stating your preferences as that way everyone gets the most of the lessons!
We live in a competitive society where exams are taken for all sorts of abilities and skills. This is true nowadays at least in most European countries. Young people grow up with competitive mentalities and under pressure to perform – this can be good; but in excess it can also be damaging.
This mentality also applies to music education. The graded exam system for musical instruments, singing and music theory has become increasingly popular over the past years and the majority of students want to do them. This is good for getting used to performing in front of others – as well as learning the materials for the exam – and receiving proof of one’s level of ability and learning.
Yet, the exams seems to be overtaking the learning process so much (at least with some students!) that the overall learning process gets sidelined and the sole focus is on passing the exam. But what about developing your skills and ability on general level and, as a result, becoming a confident and capable performer?
I always advice students to do roughly one instrumental exam per year – I strongly feel that everyone needs a fairly good amount of time for developing their overall musicianship abilities and becoming confident and capable musicians. This makes getting ready for the exams so much easier as well – you don’t feel like you are having to learn something very hard but rather you feel that you are at the right level for learning the exam material. What I have witnessed many times is that students just want to pass the exams and so just focus on the exam materials, but then they struggle as they are not yet at high enough level to learn the materials well.
As a teacher, I feel that I need to guide them in not just focussing on exams, but also their overall musicianship skills and, most importantly of all, their enjoyment of playing a musical instrument as well as providing them with a creative outlet.
Here is to enjoying learning to play music and not to stressing over exams!
Nowadays a number of our students choose to do grade exams on their instrument. The exams are a more formal and official way of illustrating someone’s ability and level of playing a musical instrument – when someone asks about your ability to play, by telling them of the grade that you are at will give them a good idea. At the same time, when applying for schools or scholarships, having passed your grade exams, will demonstrate our commitment to your instrument and you can score extra points from having passed such exams.
With any musical instrument that you play, it is better not to start doing grade exams till you feel ready and have mastered all the basics. It will be much easier to learn your materials for Grade One once you feel confident in your technique and your sight-reading ability. A good way to test whether you are ready for a grade exam is by going along to the Pre-Test. This Prep Test is ‘a soft landing’ to grade exams. It gives you a good idea of what the exams are all about and whether you are ready to embark on the exam journey.
The Prep Test has the same structure as the following exams – you will need to learn and memorize three pieces, do an aural test (consists of clapping, humming and some music theory related questions) and play scales. For the Prep-Test, you will receive a short written report with an indication if you passed. For the following exams, you will receive a full report with a break down for how many points you received for each sections followed by points. You will need at least 100 points to pass, 120 for a merit and 140 for a distinction.
There are 8 grades in total, after which you can carry on to study for a diploma.
After playing your instrument for a few years, you might have grown to like playing different types of music. For the Grade Exams, you can chose between Jazz Exams or Classical Exams. If you opt for the classical route, you will be learning beautiful classical pieces either by famous composers or more recent modern pieces by contemporary composers. For the jazz route, you will be learning blues and jazz pieces in more traditional or modern forats. All the jazz pieces will include sections for improvisations ad free styling.
In a nutshell, if you crave something more creative, go for the jazz ones; if you enjoy playing from notation and learning grand classical pieces, go for the classical route!
Our exploratory pilot study on the current practices and ways forward in the field of music education in Uganda took place from September 2017 to March 2018. During this time, we collected a vast sample of data from education professionals in Uganda, and conducted a thorough literature review on music education in the country. The exploratory approach enabled us to remain open-minded and with explored the issue with curiosity.
The main findings highlighted the evident discrepancy between the very musical culture across Uganda and the lack of and poor standard of music education found in schools. One would think that a country with such rich musical traditions would place emphasis on ensuring that the younger generations are educated in the field; however, what we discovered is that locals want to learn practical musical skills, yet schools fail to deliver music to a high enough standard. Further findings were a lack of national monitoring and assessment in music, as well as teachers feeling poorly qualified to teach the subject.
Moreover, a significant finding was that there is a need for professional musicians across the country, as live musical performances take place daily in all sorts of cultural functions ranging from school ceremonies to funeral. The fact that the younger generation are not learning practical musical skills in school is resulting in there being a growing void of professional musicians. At the same time, unemployment and poverty amongst the youth are increasing. This indicates that the young could be trained in practical musical skills in order to assist them in finding employment as musicians and avoiding falling into poverty.
We are currently seeking further funding for building a larger-scale project on the basis of the findings. The intention of the bigger project would be to trial training teachers in music and piloting a new improved music education curriculum. As part of the project, awareness of workshops on choosing music s a career would also be piloted.
For a full report on the findings from the first study, please see:
Learning to read musical notes is a task that many students find tedious and often want to put it off – yet, it is crucial to learn to read note in order to be able to play pieces of music without anyone’s assistance. It can be quite a technical and mechanical task that requires a great deal of repetition.
What often happens is that students get so fixed on solely looking at the musical notes that they forget to consider other aspects of the music, such as dynamics and correct rhythm. This then results in the musical piece not sounding right and rather just as if someone is playing one note after the other from a random task.
When we think about musical performances, or even music that we listen to regularly, it is clear that there is so much more at play than simply playing the correct musical notes. Correct rhythm is important for getting the melody of pieces to come out; dynamics add variety to the piece and make them more colorful; slow or fast tempo of a piece create a different feeling in the listener… All these different aspects combined together result in a beautiful musical performance that evokes feelings in the listener (as well as the performer).
What we often hear from parents is that the student is not considering anything else than the musical notes when they do note reading, e.g. not the dynamics or even the correct lengths for the notes. This seems to be most true for students under the age of 12. It seems that the majority of this age group are so focussed on looking at the notes that they simply forget to consider any other aspects of playing the piece. When students reach the age of 11 or 12, they seem to pay more attention to the emotional connotations of music, as well as the correct rhythm.
There are plenty of exercises that can help with assisting students to consider the rhythm, dynamics and tempo of a piece. If this is something that the teacher and the parents feel like they need to work on, there are specific books out there for this. Another simple way to encourage students to consider these other aspects is to let them listen to music or take them to a concert and ask them to feel the music. Afterwards you can have a chat with them about how the music made them feel and what elements of the music made them feel in certain ways. That should help them consider these other aspects when playing new pieces on their own.
Our research team in the UK and in Uganda has been focused on finalizing our exploratory study on the current practices of music education in primary school in Uganda. Our research team member who is a primary school teacher trainer at the Kyambogo University (the main primary school teacher training college in Uganda)gathered data from various schools and teachers in different parts of the country. Our survey was well-received and we would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who took part!
The main findings of the study reveal that there is significant and vast differences between teachers and schools as to how and if they teach music. A great number of teachers lack the skills to teach the subject altogether, whilst in other schools, it is taught but often sidelined by other subjects such as Maths and English. The responses highlighted the fact that teachers lacked knowledge of the importance of music education and,subsequently, didn’t feel it important to include in their teaching practice on regular basis.
Yet, there was a strong consensus of music being a significant and crucial part of Ugandan culture and all participants reported that they would like to improve the status of music education in primary schools.
A further very significant finding was that a career in music was seen as a potentially lucrative way of finding employment for the young who are unemployed. All the respondents stated that training musically could bring self-employment for the young, as musicians were all the time needed for cultural functions such as weddings, church ceremonies, sporting events and the like.
The full findings of the study will be published as an academic article soon and also as a report that will be shared with government officials.
On the basis of the findings of the study, the research team has put together a proposal for a larger-scale project that would aim to train teachers on teaching music and to develop an improved music education curriculum for primary school. The team will be working closely with the Kyambogo university and local government officials. More details to follow soon!
Our research project on music education in Uganda progressed well over the last term and we are now getting head on with the second term of the project. It has been interesting to talk to different education professionals; in particular teacher trainers who have been working for local primary school teacher training colleges for a number of years. We have also enjoyed hearing anecdotal stories from locals on how they learnt their musical skills when growing up; ranging from hitting rhythms on a pan with a wooden spoon while being conducted by one’s grandfather to singing worship songs at church.
Thus far, one of the most significant findings seems to be that unemployment among youth is very high, yet the youth could easily gain employment as musicians in cultural events and functions given the rich musical culture of the country. Music is played in all types of events, such as graduation, weddings, church events, local government events just to name a few. The dilemma is that the young are not trained sufficiently in music and so are not able to seek employment in the music sector. This indicates that implementing appropriate music training in school could help the young to find employment as musicians and, therefore, assist in breaking the cycle of unemployment.
The findings indicate that music education is not just novelty but could actually help tackle unemployment in Uganda. And this is the direction that our project will take in the coming months and help to shape the state of music education in Uganda.
Uganda is not the biggest country on the continent of Africa, but still it covers a fairly large area of the East part of the continent. Our music school and consultancy is based in Kampala, the capital, which is in the central region of the country, conveniently located on the shores of Lake Victoria and near Entebbe International airport.
Over the years, we have done much work in the Eastern region of the country, close to the Kenyan border near Mount Elgon. At the moment, this part of the country is not developing as fast as the Western part due to tribal issues and the tribes from the West dominating in politics, further leasing to the marginalization of Eastern tribes.
Our consultancy work has also spread to the norther parts of the country, which has suffered under military occupation and been much affected by the instability on the other side of the border in Sudan. We are pleased that our schools books and teacher training materials have brought some joy to this region whilst improving educational standards.
Below you can find the map of Uganda that shows the different regions that we work in.