'Flow', Participatory Music by Stanford Prof. Ge Wang creator of SMULE at MSRI

with bonus: amateur defined

After a crash course including a life-sized image of 20 Stanford kids circled up onstage into a SLORk -Stanford Laptop Orchestra - (there is a PlORk at Princeton), our lecture turned performance - or perhaps 'demo' for those of us newly intiated. You ask, "A laptop computer transformed into many new instruments?" Where is the wood? the vibrating string or hammer? At least explain how the IKEA salad bowl speakers work.....

The PR getting me out of the studio was the promise of discussing how people are naturally musical, how now with the internet and prevalence of mobile devices, we easily and passively 'consume' music. Is music only a commodity? What about making it for its own sake? for fun? This is the fiery debate I'd come out on a school night to hear.

Ge waxed about lowering barriers to participating in music, affording access through this little item we are very attached to: our phones. "Mobile music making" he further ties (via animated tablature for his Ocarina and Piano Apps) to games - and - what can be called getting 'in the zone' or 'in flow'.  As a musician, and in sports of course, many of us can relate to being lost or finding 'the flow'. Ge describes that headspace as being in flow with a sense of freedom borne out of a perceived skill set and perceived challenge. During flow there is a complete sense of joy and unconscious merging of action and awareness. He says that people who are used to manipulating their smart phones can learn easily to make music on them. Clearly, some college students are diving deep into instrument identities making up and crafting their parts to be in the SLORk. 

Of course, dedicated Suzuki approach teachers might relate it to learning the Book One songs with all the tunes and rhythms already in your head! The doable challenge of playing the known piece when well matched with skills at the keys produces an unconscious 'flow'.


The last memorable point was dissecting the word, 'Amateur'. It used to very honorably be defined as "one who engages in a study, art or sport for pleasure rather than for financial gain". Derived from latin 'amare': love of the activity.  Today the definition often describes one who is a a non-professional, dilettante or dabbler, with superficial knowledge in an activity or lacking polish. Elevating the love of learning and playing music is what Ge really left the audience with- it kind of rescued my niggling questions about how or whether a laptop or a smartphone is a musical instrument.  

Meanwhile, keep the creative and active fun stoked with your child at the keys. Ask for a little song to reflect the emotions or activities of your day. Name the song. Do one yourself and try to remember it (use a smart phone to record it!) for your next lesson.


Going Viral on Sound Cloud, Spotify, You Tube

Inspiring youth composers, Emmit Fenn 

(Fall 2015) Who knew that encouraging playing music at any time of the morning, noon or night would result in a song going viral?

This young man, using his own name, Emmit Fenn, is smack in the middle of his college career. He has been messing around with composition for as long as I can remember and is one of those kids who just hung around the house and the pianos, playing all the time.  Many of the songs he wrote (and sometimes my son, his pal helped with) were mocking, laughter laden imitations of famous people, rap stars and balladeers. His mom and I would laugh and laugh at the originality and the antics. As he grew so did the kinds of compositions. Wherever he found keyboards or a piano, he just sat and played. At home. At his friend's house.

Now this 20 something uploads his beats and tunes to Sound Cloud and itunes. A hybrid genre song he wrote, Painting Greys, features his throaty (fashionable) vocals.  Surprise, THE THING IS GOING VIRAL. What a lark and a joy: make music in a home studio and then 'release it' like blowing on a dandelion flower into the wind.

Music is the universal connector.  Play it for joy.

PS Now there is a second song, Blinded. 

Effortless Piano Skills: Immersed!


Babies arrive with music in their bodies. Cooing, grunts, wailing. Side to side rocking in a rhythm, clapping hands on the floor, kicking feet before they carry the toddler walking....Don't forget how your children could so EASILY imitate your sounds - and how they never tired of doing so!  

Here is the magic: if you love making music with your young child, he or she will want to as well. Merely desiring music in the child's life is not the whole story. You have to think it is natural to do (nearly) all the time! Whenever! It is a circle of pleasurable energy. Play good quality recordings in your household. Pickup your instruments and play them! Sing familiar tunes while you do chores. Make time, just a bit, at the keys all day long.

So, be emotionally prepared to favor musical moments over others. Keep those efforts apart from other negotiations on daily life activities. Always make the time doing music together a positive place of joy in your own heart, then it will feel that way--you've transmitted the value -- to your child.  

We have several new siblings in our piano studio this year who are swaying, clapping, humming and rocking to the melodies played by their big brothers. Having heard the songs from Suzuki Book One while inside their mothers, these babies are at ease and even activated to smiles or soothed to sleep with the familiar sounds, rhythms and dynamics.  

There it is! The immersive environment where young musicians flourish unconsciously absorbing the music without any 'effort'.  Welcome home to music little ones!