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My scales story #MUS654

(2 min read) As a student I was a latecomers to seriously studying music, and as we know it takes a lot of practice to be excellent at any instrument (yes, voice is an instrument). As a first year undergraduate I had a great friend who gave me a present to help with my practising. It was a pink mini-Fender Amp that had a slot in the back for a 9v battery, an input and an output. I used it for years until it finally went to live with the other amps in the sky.  (Photo CC-BY by S.Su)


What was it for? Scales and intonation. That’s right, my little pink Fender amp was a drone machine for me and it would be hooked up to my digital tuner and blast out sine tones (like these) so I could have a solid, fixed reference pitch as I practiced. I used it religiously everyday – and I needed to! There was no quick fix for developing an inner ear or learning the placement of fingers on a fretless instrument. I quickly realised that as a cello player, I thought about notes, and scales, mainly in a melodic context. What I mean, is that I didn’t have that key harmonic reference in my head like another musician might. (Photo CC-BY-NC by Bill Selak)

The amp was a stepping stone for me. As I plugged away learning the patterns for my scales and solidifying the geography of the fingerboard it helped to keep me on track. The next step was to create that drone myself, with my voice. The magic of this (once you get over the fact that you are not supposed to sound like a diva holding a low G -or whatever note- for a minute or more) was that the combination of the voice and the cello notes interacted in a very physical way. I could FEEL the vibrations of the different intervals. So an octave really felt smooth as glass, whereas the major 7th had a sawtooth edge that produced very tangible harmonic beats. These were different from the more textured velour of a 3rd. It is a real challenge to hold a pitch steady when the interval is moving, and not to waver. Really, give it a go – even if you sing against that sine wave generator I linked to – play a note on it (turn it up so the volume matches your voice) and sing a scale. You’ll feel those intervals too.

It is a practice that taught me to tune in, literally, as well as to get into the mental space where I could really listen. Scales became more than rushing through the Galamian finger pattern of ‘stretch-stretch-squash-squash-squash’ (which is how to play a major scale on a violin/viola/cello staring on any note) and moved into a real tool for teaching me about relationships of notes and balance within my hand and the sound.

Do I still do it? Yes.

Do I make my students do it? Yes.

Do they think it’s silly? Yes, and I volunteer to sing the first drone – and we all laugh. It is very good to laugh. …and then to practise some more!

Don’t forget this week’s #MUS654 Hangout/Webinar happening on Wed. 30th September at 6pm BST. We’ll be talking about scales and the relationship of notes, and I look forward to welcoming Roozbeh Golpaygani روزبه گلپايگانى who will be sharing his knowledge of Persian music. You are more than welcome to join in the conversation in person or via Twitter.

Week 3 is here! #MUS654

This week in the open music course #MUS654 we think about ‘Scales and the relationships of notes’ – there is content to spark your thought and imagination and you are invited to join in with the various tasks. These are intended to get you thinking differently – beyond your own experience or practising habits, and to extend outward so we can all learn from each other.

You can find the Week 3 page HERE or you can navigate by hovering over the #MUS654 2015 tab above.

We will be having another webinar/hangout next Wednesday, 30th of September at 6pm BST and you are more than welcome to join in! The plan is to have people with different instrumental specialisms and from different traditions to talk about the topic of scales, notes, and how they relate to our music making and learning. If you missed last night’s webinar with Duane Padilla and Pete where we discussed melodies, you can catch up here:


I look forward to seeing you (or your posts!) in the week – as always, if you have any questions, observations, or suggestions, please get in touch. I am happy to reply and improve what is here.

All the best for the week ahead!


Photo CC-BY-BC-ND by Peter Witham

Santana on the cello for #MUS654

It’s a Week 2 update and today I did the task of playing a melody on a new instrument. (It’s not fair if I ask people to do tasks if I’m not prepared to do them myself, right?) So here we go…

Last night I decided to play the beginning solo from Black Magic Woman by Santana on my cello. It is just meant to be an experiment, so see what you think. I found a backing track online here and the tab (I cheated!) and got going. Here’s what happened:


I’m looking forward to talking with Duane Padilla about melodies in this week’s hangout tomorrow at 6pm BST. He is a master at learning from other instruments and of learning new instruments. You can drop in on the hangout and watch on youtube

or contact me for a live link to join in the discussions in real time. You are more than welcome!

It’s Week 2 #MUS654

Time flies – must be having fun! It’s time for Week 2 of #MUS654 and this week is all about melodies. Tunes. Songs. Have a look, listen, and explore the tasks. Share and let’s get some comments going!

Last night’s webinar via google hangouts was fun (you can catch up and watch it here) and at next week’s hangout on Wednesday 23 September at 6:00pm BST we are in for a treat- Duane Padilla (who features in this week’s page) is going to join us from Hawaii!! Beside being supremely amazing of him to make the time for us – it will be an astonishing 4:00 AM for Duane!

On that note, enjoy the Week 2 content about ‘What makes a melody?’ and I hope to hear from you – via comments, Twitter, or your own blog page.


Photo CC-BY-NC by Joe

#MUS654 Our first Hangout!

Announcing the first Google Hangout for #MUS654!

Happening today, 16 September at 6:00 pm BST. If you would like to join us, please contact me and I’ll send you the link to participate in the hangout. Feel free to watch and contribute via Twitter using the hashtag #MUS654

We’ll be talking about the first week – thinking about sound, setting up blogs, and how it is to be a musician and think and communicate about different musical processes and topics.
Join us!


Musiquality at RAISE15

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey for live streaming our presentation at the RAISE (Researching, Advancing, and Inspiring Student Engagement) conference in Nottingham. My co-presenters Pete – a current final year student, and Jess – who just graduated, and I were very pleased to be invited to share a bit of our story. You can watch here:

(Fiona says the best bit starts at 17:55 – that’s where we perform some music!)

We would love to share our story, and what we did with you too. If you think we can spread quality and connection through music to you, your students, or your community – please get in touch.

Soundscapes! MUS654 Week 1

Photo CC-BY-NC by Amber Case

This week in #MUS654 I challenged people to explore how they listen by making a soundscape and seeing if others could figure out what or where it was. Last year I made this:

Soundscape 2014

which tells a story… have a listen and see if you can guess it. I hope there are some pretty clear clues to at least part of it. I’ll walk you through it to explain the idea, and then give you the two I made for this year to see hear if you can be a detective and put together the pieces. LISTEN TO THE LINK ABOVE BEFORE READING ON!

In last year’s recording (the link above) I walked across the (very) squeaky kitchen floor to get an apple out of a bag, walked to the sink and rinsed it, got out a plate and a knife, cut the apple, and ate it!

Screen Shot 2015-07-19 at 10.54.31

Could you get that from listening? Most of it? Some of it?

Well, you’re ready for this year’s challenges!

Here are the two short recordings I made for today.I am not a tech whiz, these were recorded on my phone, transferred to Audacity, and then converted to MP3s before uploading them to Soundcloud. If I can do it, you can too! Each is different and the only clue I’ll give is that the first one is one place, and in the second recording I am moving- so I take you to hear different sounds that are found in the place I chose.

Have a listen and please comment with all the things you can hear – even if they are guesses. I promise there is nothing unpleasant on the audio… all ordinary things… and then in a few days I’ll post the photos that reveal the settings. It’s like a game!

We can chat about soundscapes, the processes of listening, and anything else from Week 1 at our first Hangout:

Wednesday 16 Sept @ 18:00 BST (GMT +1)

to be involved, email me!

Calling all musicians! Come join us!

Are you out there?

It’s that time again…

time to join in with #MUS654!

(photo CC-BY-NC by Eknath Gomphotherium)

What is #MUS654?? A MOOC? – well yes and no. It is an open connected course. The idea was borne out of a basic and essential desire to learn, connect, and find the best resources (people and things) to enable my students to grow and develop their knowledge as they enter the profession. These people will be developing their own curricula for their students. Music teachers do this all the time and there are not so many resources to guide people in how they do this. I teach within the Music Department at the University of Chichester and I have students who are studying instrumental/ vocal teaching and performance – and this is all part of their course-  I believe that learning about connection, networking, communication, and working with others is something that cannot be done solely in a closed classroom or in a private lesson. We need to reach out.

Every time I connect with someone else, I learn something from them – from their experience and observation, from their perspective of life and learning. In music we often learn from a select few individuals and that can give a narrow focus to our perspective. With that in mind, I made this online content, to encourage people to look outward, connect, and draw upon music students, teachers, and enthusiasts world-wide.

The rationale behind the topics follows a bit of advice that my teacher once have me – to build a taller house, you have to build a stronger foundation. And so to be prepared and equipped to create a curriculum for a student, first we have to deconstruct the components involved with music making and music learning, and then we can put them back together in a way that fits the situation. We are really bespoke practitioners. In education people talk of ‘student centred learning’ – and this is it. In music each private student comes with their own needs and to have the tools to understand how to guide them to be able to learn and achieve is a great skill and asset.

Tomorrow I welcome another class of students on campus to learn about how to create a curriculum. #MUS654 is the online version of the class and you are invited to join in with us regardless of your musical experience. We will be following along, week-by-week, having discussions over twitter, doing the various tasks, blogging, having google hangouts, and making things interactively between us – across the ether.

So I hope you will be interested, and maybe know someone else who is interested in music, music learning, and music teaching and that you will join us ! Dip in to a few sessions or follow along every week. Sessions are located under the #MUS654 tab at the top of my webpage. You are most welcome to join in with any part of the course. Come explore, learn, and create with us.

We will be using the hashtag #MUS654 whenever we post things on Twitter, on blogs, or on any other platform.

Enjoy! and any questions, please ask!


Rusty Guitar O' Mine

Photo CC-BY-ND by madhan r

Fostering Self-efficacy… book out next month

This book has been a year in the making and a longer time bubbling away in the back of my mind. It is a book for all teachers, and for students too – across all areas of learning (it is not a music book). I cannot promise any instant solutions to cure all self-efficacy issues, but I can give insight into the construct of self-efficacy, why it is important, and how to build it through practical, everyday means. At a time when students, their opinions, experiences, and ultimately achievements really do matter, self-efficacy is something that needs consideration, because at the end of the day it’s you and only you who know what you can do, how you feel about it, and whether or not you actually can and will see it through.

In the book I use my research and the foundation of research that has been built over the past 30 years, plus my own experiences and the experiences of other teachers across fields of study to demonstrate self-efficacy in action.

It is something that I believe in wholeheartedly. I hope you find it useful!

The book can be found via Palgrave Macmillan or Amazon. Any questions, please ask! Either email or comment…

LRitchie book flyer