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Becoming a well rounded musician

Updated: Jan 23

What do artists like Ed Sheeran, Paul McCartney, Prince and Miles Davis all have in common? They are all well rounded musicians. When people discuss their favourite musicians, the phrase ‘well rounded’ often gets thrown around, so let’s dive in and unpack what it really means to be a well rounded musician and why it's so important for your growth. Successful musicians possess more than just a high degree of proficiency on their instruments. They are, more often than note, extremely dedicated, passionate and hard working individuals who have committed their lives to their craft.


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Musicians in Toronto.


Improvisation


Improvisation is a great way to inspire creativity. Guitar master, Yngwie Malmsteen had this to say about his songwriting process in an interview, “Improvisation is the genesis of composition. In order to come up with something cool, you have to jam. Here’s what I do: I have a little Marshall amp in my living room and it's always connected with a guitar. I just sit on my couch and play around while watching tv. If I come up with a really cool melody or chord progression or riff, it escalates from there.”


Practicing on your own isn’t the only time to work on improvising. Getting together with friends to jam is one of the most fun things to do as a musician and will be quite beneficial to your development as a player. With the Greater Toronto Music School band program, you can be matched with like-minded students who want to play music with other people and jam sessions give you the opportunity to take what you’ve learned in your lessons and put it into practice. Improvising is a skill in its own right as well and our teachers can work with you to develop your rhythmic, melodic and harmonic vocabulary to equip you with ideas for when you are improvising.


Certain genres of music, like jazz, are heavily focused on improvisation. These songs usually start out with a melody, called ‘the head’, over a set of chord changes known as 'the form'. After the band plays the head, each musician will have their chance to improvise over the form of the songs. Each soloist may take several 'choruses', or cycles trough the form. Jazz musicians also do something called trading, where each musician takes turns soloing for a set length, often for four bars but this will range. While trading, the band is still aware of the form and the chord changes and this is how they will seemingly come in together out of nowhere. Improvising is integral for taking these musical compositions to the next level and often leads to the most exciting and spontaneous moments in a concert. Contact us today to learn more about how our in-home or online music lessons in Toronto can help you.


Composition


Yngwie Malmsteen's approach of jamming and improvising to compose is not the only way to write a song. Each musician and composer will have a different approach as different things work for different people. Often, musicians will begin with a clear idea -- this could be a mood that they are trying to convey, a simple progression, rhythm or melody that came to them or maybe some lyrics that need music to accompany them. Sometimes, people will sit down with no clear ideas just to explore harmonies, melodies, or motifs in an attempt to create a new and inspiring idea. Saxophone player, Kamasi Washington, describes his EP Harmony of Difference, as an exercise in counterpoint, which he describes as, “the art of balancing similarity and difference to create harmony between separate melodies.” Other people enjoy writing songs more than performing them themselves, like Max Martin, who has written hit songs for everybody from Britney Spears to Taylor Swift to The Weeknd.


The online and in-person music lessons in Toronto that we offer can teach you the theories and techniques that you need to write your own songs and help you gain the skills that you need to break down and analyze the songs that you love. Composition and songwriting are big parts of what makes a well rounded musician and the theory that our teachers can introduce you to can take your songwriting further.


Reading


When the band Snarky Puppy was getting ready to record their 2014 album, We Like It Here, their drummer Robert ‘Sput’ Searight wasn’t able to make it to the recording. With only a few days until they recorded the album, Toronto based drummer, Larnell Lewis, was called to the gig. The album was being recorded in the Netherlands and Larnell learned how to play most of the songs on the album by reading and studying the sheet music on his flight. This is an impressive feat in any event, but considering the complexity and difficulty of the music being recorded, this is absolutely mind blowing. This incredible performance catapulted Lewis into the international spotlight, often times being called the greatest drummer of our time from listeners all around the world.


Although reading is not absolutely vital to your success as a working musician, having strong reading skills will make you a top call in the event that a band needs a last minute sub for a gig. Certain big band gigs or commercial recording studio gigs will also require that the musicians are able to read and reading music is also a requirement for auditions for going to study music in college or for conservatory prep exams. The instructors at the Greater Toronto Music School can give you all the tools that you will need to work on your reading with our online or in-person music classes in Toronto.



Ear Training


Strong listening skills and the ability to decipher the chords and intervals that you are hearing is an extremely valuable skill for any musician. Some people are born with the gift of 'perfect pitch' and are able to identify any note that they hear on command. The rest of us have to work at this and while we can gain 'relative pitch', will never have true perfect pitch. The ability to listen to a song and understand what is happening is a skill that any well-rounded musician needs to have as it will help you to learn and transcribe what you are hearing easily and efficiently. Music lessons in Toronto can teach you the tips and tricks that you need to know so that you can practice your ability to improve your ear to identify notes and chords. These skills go beyond just learning songs, if you are called on stage at an open mic night or show up to a jam session,

when you can easily identify the chord changes that the other musicians are playing, you can seamlessly join in and add to the music.


Production


The music industry is rapidly changing and with it the ease of access microphones, interfaces, studio monitors and digital audio workstations, is becoming increasingly more accessible. Post Malone released his first single, White Iverson, on Soundcloud in 2015 and this self-produced track catapulted him to stardom. The Australian guitarist Plini is another person who got their start producing their own music at home.and had amassed a huge fan base before ever going on tour. Another well known example of this is Billie Elish, who's Grammy Award winning album was produced in her home. Well rounded musicians know that learning how to utilize these platforms to record professionally sounding music on their own is an excellent way of getting their music out to as many people as possible. It also gives you the ability to be hired for home recording sessions which can be a great source of income.


Greater Toronto Music School offers classes on how to use digital audio workstations. Whether you want to use Ableton, Logic, Pro Tools, Garage Band, or anything else, our teachers have you covered and you’ll be able to record and produce your own music in no time.


Become a Multi-Instrumentalist


The most well rounded musicians often play many instruments at a high level. Earlier in this post we mentioned a prime example of this in Paul McCartney, who just put out a brand new album on which he plays every single instrument. There are many advantages to learning many instruments and doing so will almost certainly help you progress on your main instrument in ways that you did not imagine. A pianist who decides to learn how to play the guitar may be inspired to write a piece using new ideas that would have never come to them while playing on the piano. A drummer who starts playing piano may become more aware of melodies and harmony, making sure to compliment them more when he or she plays. Any rhythm section player who learns to sing can provide backup vocals, adding rich layers to the music. These are not the only ways that learning other instruments will help you become more well rounded. Multi-instrumentalists have become more common in recent years. We have seen the emergence of prodigies like Jacob Collier and Louis Cato and it’s not uncommon to see the same person playing different instruments on several high-profile gigs. Contact us today if you are looking for online music lessons or in-home music lessons to start learning your second instrument!


Playing your instrument well is just one component of being a musician. In the current landscape of the music industry, musicians need to be wearing multiple hats to get ahead. The teachers from Greater Toronto Music School can help you get there. We are focused on inspiring your passions through quality, fun, and engaging music lessons.


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