New to 2017 – Musical Projects and Performances in 2017

New to 2017 – Musical Projects and Performances

Over the course of the next year I’ll be putting more time into new musical projects and developing older ones. I’ve been very fortunate to have had some great fun over the years with various artists, bands and teaching set ups. For me this year feels different. There is something in my playing and general understanding of music that has evolved over the past few years. And this development has brought me here, to my starting place in music. To many of you that may seem strange. I’ve been learning an instrument of some sort since the age of 7. But the way I see it, you build up a musical identity over years and years of practise and listening.

Listening is really the key element here. When you first start out you listen to music in a particular way for particular things. But as you become more exposed to new ideas, rhythms, influences you start to listen for these in all forms of music. And invariably this takes you on a whirlwind musical journey that really is never ending. I feel I was wiping my feet on the matt before the start of the ‘yellow big musical road’ and I’m taking my first steps on it this year.

So to my musical projects of 2017..

The Jazz Duo

Duo and Trio for events - Sheldon Conrich

I plan to put more time into developing my instrumental jazz duo. I feel we’re at the very start of something interesting. Whilst we have performed a lot over the years pulling out jazz standards arranged for acoustic guitar and saxophone, we’ll be looking to freshen up our sound, look and performance levels.

Che Bello

Che Bello - Italian Music Duo for events

‘Che Bello’ is my first attempt at learning and mastering traditional and modern Italian songs. There’s a lot of jazz, soul and pop in the Italian genres. So it’s been fun doing this with Alice Edun’s cracking vocals. So watch this space over 2017.

Chord Melody Guitar

One of my core passions is guitar chord melody. This involves adapting and performing instrumental versions on my guitar of songs I like. It takes a fair bit of chord and melody knowledge to be under your fingers before you can just let go and see your own style emerge. This has been a big transition for me and I’m excited to arrange and record a load of material that will go on my YouTube Playlist.

DJ Shel

sheldon-conrich-dj-for-events

It’s been quite a year of learning and improving. And something I’ve really spent time on this year is DJing. This really has been born out of trying to make lives easier for clients at events who want the mix of acoustic music and DJing. As my DJing experience and catalogue has grown I’ve been able to offer clients more and more and save them time and stress looking for separate musical entities. So I look forward to DJing a lot more in 2017.

Guess The Intro

Guess the intro is just a fun little game I’ve been playing for the past few months. I’ll record literally the intro of a song and you the public must guess what I’m trying to play. Some songs are obscure and some quite current. So it’s been a good learning experience for me. I’ve had to test my musical knowledge and I look forward to posting new videos of this every week.

Cocktails and Dreams Band

Sheldon Conrich - Full band

This is really a small side project I’ve been involved with for the past year. A 5 – 6 piece function band, this musical project really allows me to play around with party pop tunes and keep in touch with what the kids are listening to these days. As a serious musician you can sometimes go long periods without listening to the modern pop charts. So bands like Cocktails and Dreams keep me fresh on the scene.

The Function Band

Wedding ideas on a budget - DJ Live

As always and ever present I’ll be performing with The Function Band over the coming months at weddings, corporate events, private parties, Bar Mitzvahs and many more. This musical project has been part of my staple music diet for the past ten years and I feel very lucky to be involved with the DRE team.

So there you have it, my 2017. And to add to that I have a little mini me on the way, yipeee. See you at an event real soon.

Teaching piano to students with ADHD

Sheldon COnrich Piano Teacher

Teaching piano to students with ADHD

Sheldon COnrich Piano Teacher

Over recent years I have taught a number of students with ADHD on both guitar and piano. The condition has a relatively new label in the medical world. So I’m sure I’ve taught many more students with ADHD but it is only in recent years that parents and schools have brought my attention to it.

In this blog I would like to feature a student I’ve been teaching for around a year. He suffers with diagnosed ADHD and learns the keyboard. I will discuss common observations I have noticed over this period and some of the solutions I have found to helping him learn better.

Teaching Student E the keyboard

Teaching keyboard to students with ADHD

Over the past year student E has been learning the keyboard with me. I was initially approached by a local school to take on the student as a way of helping him focus. The idea was that playing an instrument would introduce a weekly routine and a pattern to aid his ADHD. They originally asked me to teach him guitar but for a particular reason unrelated to his ADHD this was not possible, so we decided to move to the keyboard.

The keyboard is very different to the piano and especially to children with ADHD. There are many buttons on a keyboard which can be very distracting. Each button can change the sound of an instrument being played. And if the child finds a particular sound they like it can distract them from the learning. So be aware that this may be an issue from very early on if the child learns keyboard. A simple solution is to cover up these various buttons with a piece of paper and over time the student will understand not to touch the buttons.

Learning an instrument requires a few key components for any student to flourish. The first is that there needs to be an inner desire to want to learn the instrument and a general interest in listening to music. I would say without these two in place you really can’t teach a student an instrument. If the student does have these two components, the next one is a good attention span. Often learning an instrument requires understanding concepts or ideas and it will take a lot of focus for these to sink in. The last component to learning an instrument is a strong will to practise and repeat something which may sound awful at first.

With student E we could tick the first two boxes quite easily. I would go further to say that he actually had an interest in writing songs or at least coming up with simple melodies of his own. However his attention span and willingness to practise regularly has proved a real stumbling block.

In Lessons Observations

I noticed that student E had a lot of difficulty with basic reading and writing skills. I’m not an expert so I can’t say for certain this is common with all students with ADHD but it was very noticeable with student E. This meant that reading music posed a problem. Part of reading notes requires a kind of photographic or picture memory which student E is fine with. However connecting letters to these pictures has proved very tricky. As an alternative I have devised a more organic approach to his learning process. I’ve managed to teach him the names of the white and black notes on the keys because he has a strong visual recall. He actually really likes to draw  and so I decided we would write letters rather than notes as a way to reference melodies. From here we have been able to write and develop simple melodies using both the white and black keys. We’ve covered both single octave ideas and double octave melodies. I feel the note reading may have to be introduced at a later stage once he understands pitch, note distances and note names better.

Something else I’ve noticed in lessons is that if we focus on something too long – a melody or song – his attention will wane. He will ask about playing a different game or even suggest new games to play. This is fine for non instrument based learning but as mentioned the key to learning an instrument is repetition. So this is where the ADHD proves to be the biggest hurdle. While he can only focus for short periods of time on one idea (melody, hand technique, scale, song etc) we will find progress slow.

Lesson Length for students with ADHD

Teaching a student who has difficulty focusing and holding their attention means that the lesson length is important. From my experience in general kids tend to have shorter attention spans anyway so my usual hour lessons are reduced to 30 minutes. I would say that with student E this 30 minute lesson length was basically the threshold point. Anything longer than that and I would’ve lost him, so I made sure we packed as much varying exercises as possible in a 30 minute time frame.

Solutions for teaching keyboard to Student E

Icons of musical notation

I will go as far as to say that ADHD is certainly something that makes learning an instrument more difficult. However it is not impossible. With the development of great music apps to aid learning, these seem to have been a real revelation in helping student E improve. These apps are able to use interactive and fun animated games that deal with separate music ideas. Anything from melody, rhythm, technique, reading notes and more can be found in the app store.

As mentioned before a large problem is the constant need to switch focus regularly. So it’s important to decide on three games per lesson which you know will be cycled throughout the lesson length. Even if you get five minutes of one and move to the next app, you can then come back to the previous one later and it will feel fresh to the student. If you are really clever you can find three apps which essentially teach the same thing but in a slightly different way. By swapping between these apps you’ll end up teaching the student without them realising it’s the same concept. If the student isn’t interested in what you’re trying to teach them then move on. Don’t be fixed on one lesson idea or piece of music. If it’s not working then move on.

Some good app recommendations are My note games, Rhythm Cat and Note Teach Free. Just to say I tried Yousician but for a student with ADHD there is a lot going on and it’s very busy. It can be very intimidating for them and as much as the app has a lot to offer I wouldn’t recommend it to students with ADHD.

For teachers it’s really important you maintain patience throughout the lesson. Never get angry with your student – in general – but especially with a student with ADHD. The more relaxed they are the easier they are to teach and the longer their attention span lasts. You will need to constantly find ways to keep their attention on the task in front of them. Just keep persisting and if they aren’t interested in the thing you’ve asked them to do, move on. They will get quite agitated if you persist on something they don’t like and they’re attention will be everywhere except on the music.

Conclusions

  • Keep lesson lengths short (max 30 minutes)
  • Keep the content varied (multiple exercises)
  • Keep lessons fun (fill them with games)
  • Keep the student relaxed (Reassure and praise the student when they do the smallest thing correct)
  • Focus on note letters and writing at first rather than reading sheet music
  • Give the student plenty of time and patience
  • Be reactive and don’t be too rigid about lesson content

If you or your child has ADHD and you’re looking for piano or keyboard lessons, it is very possible to learn the instrument. If you have any questions or would like to learn piano/keyboard or guitar with me feel free to get in touch. I hope this blog has been helpful for students with ADHD and teachers trying to improve their lessons with ADHD students.

 

Teaching Guitar to Students with Disabilities – Multiple Sclerosis

Guitar Lessons for kids

Teaching Guitar to Students with Disabilities – Multiple Sclerosis

Sign of the times EP - instrumental music

Over the years I have been teaching guitar to students with a wide range of skills and disabilities. Often I have found the students with disabilities to be the most challenging but also the most rewarding. Every student I teach presents me with a new challenge. These students help me to become a better teacher because with every challenge in front of me I’m forced to find a solution.

After speaking to a good friend of mine on the weekend about the various types of students I’ve taught over the years, she thought it would be helpful to others if I shared my experience and findings. I had never thought about this before because all these solutions I developed were really to help me and my own students. And in some way that is a little selfish, especially if I can help other teachers trying to teach students with disabilities.

So I’ve decided to write a short series of blogs covering some of the students I’ve encountered over the years. From students with M.S. those in wheelchairs, children with growth issues affecting their size and strength, ADD, arthritis and past finger trauma, and others. My hope is that the things I have learnt from these students can help other teachers and students improve faster and better.

Teaching guitar to student L – M.S. student

Guitar Teacher - Sheldon Conrich

Over the past ten years I have taught student L guitar – not their real name but you get the picture. Student L has suffered with multiple sclerosis since their early twenties. They came to me with a keen interest in the guitar and probably the notion that learning the guitar will aid their M.S. For me it was the first time I’d taught someone with a disability and student L proved to be a big challenge. My limited knowledge of M.S. at the time came from friends whose parents had the condition and general conversation. So interacting with student L on a weekly basis for over ten years has certainly helped me understand M.S. to a much higher degree.

My initial observations were that student L found forming chord shapes difficult. She could remember the shape in her mind but there were a host of physical issues preventing her from achieving these shapes. One of the main problems was that her wrist position seemed to move quite a bit. Also getting her wrist angle and thumb position to remain consistent was a regular problem. So this meant that she was almost having to learn the process of holding the guitar each lesson. She was also finding it tricky to push the notes down to get a clean sound, but more noticeably avoiding open strings or other fretted notes. So this came down to spacial awareness and touch sensitivity. I would also say finger strength was playing a part in these problems.

The right hand was also interesting. I noticed that strumming in the correct direction wasn’t a problem. However, strumming from a specific string seemed to be more of a challenge. And some times the accuracy of rhythm wasn’t always achieved in the normal time frame – around 5 – 10 minutes. When it came to finger picking, on a basic level student L actually could find the strings relatively quickly but with multiple strings involved and faster rhythms the right hand lost accuracy.

I would also like to mention a little bit about the way in which student L interpreted instructions. With M.S. it affects your hearing and student L’s hearing was gradually diminishing. With the help of a hearing aid this did improve things but I did noticed something interesting. Some times I would ask student L to play something new and it was like her brain couldn’t quite compute what had been said. So I would either have to say it again or in a completely different way. Often this related to a visual concept or a concept that required thinking outside the box a little. I use a lot of metaphors and imagery in my teaching so student L has been great in helping me develop multiple ways to explain the same idea.

Clamp Capo                                          Knob controlled Capo

clamp-capo-bad-for-multiple-sclerosis                         planet-waves-capo-better-for-mutiple-sclerosis

When teaching guitar to student L we found using capos for songs was initially a challenge. There are certain capos which look like mini claps and require a large amount of hand strength. Student L bought several capos over the years with varying degrees of tension which proved problematic. I thought it might be a good idea to keep using them as a way of developing hand strength but this proved to be an incorrect assumption. We settled on a capo that allowed you to lie it over the fret and then just turn a knob to create the tension. Honestly don’t waist your time with clamp grip capos – it really is very difficult with someone with multiple sclerosis.

What I have learnt from teaching guitar to Student L?

teaching guitar to students with multiple sclerosis

I can safely say that I owe a lot of my knowledge about the nuances of guitar learning to student L. The issues she was finding on the guitar were akin to the difference between catwalk and high street fashion. Where very subtle problems may be found with the average student, because of her multiple sclerosis they were magnified greatly like a caricature. What I can say is that I still teach student L today so the following solutions have helped her improve in varying degrees.

Left hand Performance

In order to maintain the left hand position in both angle and area we have focused on isolating individual parts of the hand consciously. Often her thumb would move around which is the equivalent of the floor moving as you walk. You need stability in the thumb and wrist to be able to give your fingers and tendons confidence and muscle memory. So we have spent many lessons just trying to play a few chords and focusing on the thumb staying firmly in one place. I’ve also found positive reinforcement and regularly encouraging her has also helped. I think this is because it keeps her calm and not stressed as she hears buzzing it hits the wrong string. Maintaining a relaxed persona throughout the learning process is essential.

We’ve also looked at the angle of the wrist which moves dramatically without conscious attention. So we have spent many lessons trying to play single note melodies and simple chords trying to move the bottom of the wrist as little as possible.

Student L is very reliant on looking at her hand to guide it to chord positions. So we’ve taken some time to force her to feel her way between chords. Closing her eyes, looking at me or looking at music have all been used to help her become more in touch with her left hand senses.

I find getting student L to play single note sequences i.e. fingers 1 then 2 then 3 then 4 on the same string has helped with spacial improvement. We’ve done this same exercise in different orders with hammer ons, pull offs and on multiple strings. This has even helped improved the overall sound of barre chords which I never thought would become a reality.

Bends seem to be a large obstacle at the moment so we have avoided them so far to focus on other areas.

Right Hand Performance

As mentioned student L’s right hand has always been quite good at strumming patterns on a basic level. Fast strumming and intricate strumming has proved an issue because it requires quickly turning the hand over in a small area. For this reason we’ve worked on the wrist strength and trying to build strumming speed gradually. We are limited to semi quaver rhythms at the moment but we will be working on building on this even more.

The accuracy of where to strum from has been one of the biggest challenges, especially without looking at the guitar. So this has been more about the elbow positioning. If student L maintains a regular position with her right elbow, this seems to help with her locating of strings. So we’ve worked on this as well as string skipping exercises with the pick.

Another problem mentioned was finger picking. If a chord is fretted whilst working on right hand exercises it seems to confuse her brain so we’ve focused on finger picking with open strings. I’ve developed a little sequence of creating independent finger patterns in varying PIMA orders to strengthen this part of her playing. We’ve also worked on picking multiple strings at the same time which invariably is easier for her.

Teaching Student L new ideas

It’s all about clear instruction with multiple approaches to the same idea. I think there is something to be said about multiple layers and senses working together. For this reason I thought I’d play around with student L’s core senses minus taste and smell – Visual, Touch and hearing. We’ve used colours, visual diagrams, visualisation in the mind, touching certain strings with certain shapes, all with the aim of learning one new idea. This new idea might be a new type of chord like major sevenths or a new rhythm like triplets or swung quavers. I’ve found that by activating all of these senses altogether it helps to speed up the learning process. As mentioned I haven’t tried smell and taste but I have a feeling that these would help also with the learning process.

Student L today

best way to learn guitar

Student L is still a regular student of mine and each week we have new learning adventures. Her physical level on the guitar is still that of a beginner but her knowledge is very much of an intermediate. So our aim is to bring her physical level up to her understanding of the instrument. You might say well what’s the point if after ten years she’s still a beginner. To the average person or teacher this could seem very long, with minimal results and for those will little patience very frustrating. But for student L it has helped her focus on something week to week. She has small goals and has to take life week by week as the condition requires constant monitoring. Some times she has to take new drugs or new dosages of drugs. In these cases she some times is not allowed to drive and is noticeably unsteady with her balance. So any progress made, however little it is, for someone with multiple sclerosis is a huge achievement.

Are you teaching guitar?

If you are teaching guitar and have had similar experiences please do get in touch and share what you have learnt. I feel we can all help each other to improve the way we teach pupils with multiple sclerosis. Let’s give them the best lessons and learning experience possible as a community.

For more information on multiple sclerosis head over to the mssociety website which has tonnes of advice and support for those suffering with M.S.

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