Thinking about trying Musical U? Maybe you’d like to have a look inside before you commit. Well, lately we’ve been posting Musical U news once a week or so on our blog so you can see what’s going on inside the site. Today we want to give you a glimpse into a real Musical U member’s experience, and also recognize the progress she has made since she joined us.

We were particularly intrigued by ChristineP – a choral singer, jazz/middle-eastern flute improviser, and pianist – who has discovered how much the inner musical skills of ear training, solfa, sight-singing, and audiation touch on every aspect of her varied musical expression. ChristineP also articulates her learning steps clearly in her Progress Journals, inspiring other Musical U community members in their journeys – and we hope she inspires you as well!

ChristineP was gracious enough to share something of her musical life with us, as well has the steps that brought her to Musical U and keep her active in her training:

Q: Hi ChristineP! Being a flutist, pianist, and singer myself, I’ve enjoyed reading about what you’ve shared on Musical U. Would you please tell us about your musical background?

Growing up, there was lots of music in the house: many records, the radio, my mother’s piano, my sister’s recorder… My father taught himself guitar and clarinet, and I started playing flute in fifth grade. We children joined the church choir, and I played in school band and orchestra.

Early on when I started on Musical-U, I made the comment that ear training made me feel awful. I don’t feel that way anymore.

As a child, I taught myself to play piano using my mother’s method books. Then for many years after high school I didn’t have easy access to a piano. Several years ago I finally couldn’t stand the itch any more so I bought a piano and started taking piano lessons for the first time. I also joined a local chorus, and took a few years of voice lessons. More recently I’ve joined classes in jazz ensemble and middle eastern ensemble (both on flute) at the nearby music school.

I had, sporadically, a total of about a year of flute lessons at school, but otherwise didn’t have formal music lessons growing up. I think I did pretty well regardless, but, in particular, I didn’t have any formal ear training. Listening to music in the way that ear training asks you to do was completely foreign to me. So there’s a kind of aural understanding of what I’m hearing that I’m trying to learn to do with Musical U.

Q: Even if you had had more formal lessons, ear training is often neglected, or taught in a dry, ineffective manner. That’s how it was for me. So we can get to know you a little better, could you share your favorite music track these days?

The group Euouae singing “Illumina oculus”, a chant notated in neumes in the St. Gall style.  Neumes are the notation that preceded our modern notation. One might think of them as being less precise than modern notation, but, in fact, they contain a rich expressiveness of their own which Euouae specializes in reading. The passion with which Sven Edward Olmos sings the solo part here (from [1:06]) astounds me.

Q: That’s amazing – most Gregorian Chant performances I’ve seen and heard sound much more emotionally “detached”. The conducting style also seems to give a look “inside” the chant itself. What musical endeavors are you currently working on?

I’m learning the music for my summer chorus’ concert in August. We’re singing an assortment of American music, culminating with Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.

That’s quite a demanding work!

On Musical U, I’m working on the roadmap for playing tunes by ear using solfa [also known as solfege – Ed.].

Q: So before joining Musical U, where were you stuck?

I was stuck on aural identification of musical elements: e.g. intervals, chord qualities, whether a piece is in major vs. minor, etc.

Q: How did that bring you to become interested in Musical U? Why did you decide to try it?

I’m starting to feel like I’m exploring my own journey in musicality, rather than just learning things because someone else says I should.

On a piano forum that I read, the idea of “audiation” being a help in memorization was brought up frequently. I couldn’t make any sense of this: how could knowing how a piece sounded help me to play it? Eventually, I came to understand that there are actually people who can make the connection from the sound in their head, to what they should play. (And then came to want to gain that skill for myself.)

So then I wanted to understand more about what audiation means. That led me to the Musical U article “The Secret Music Practice Skill: Audiation” – but more importantly, to the Musicality Checklist. I filled it out, and from that became convinced that Musical U could help me with the many musicality skills I want to learn.

Q: One step following another… It’s good that you had an idea of what you were looking for. So many aspiring musicians can feel like there’s a missing link, but don’t know how to describe it. That’s why we started the Musicality Checklist.

So, once you joined Musical U, what experiences – and surprises – have stood out during your journey?

The biggest surprise was when I realized I can audiate. I discovered this while working on the major pentatonic scale.

The experience that particularly stands out is discovering that steady work over time has, in fact, increased my ability to work out tunes by ear, and to sight-sing based on understanding solfa.

Q: Steady work is so important! We try to provide structure and encouragement in that direction. So what other benefits have you gleaned from Musical U so far? Why is it important to you?

The experiences and surprises I listed in the previous answer are all due to Musical U, so those are major benefits.

I also found it much easier to learn my chorus music this summer because of my practice with solfa and sight-singing from Musical U.

Beyond specific skills, I have learned how to tailor my musicality training to precisely my own needs, strengths, and weaknesses. From my progress journal:

Christine PJ 1

Some long term goals I have for wanting to improve my musicality include: be able to find pitches precisely when I’m singing, be able to keep track of the form in my jazz ensemble better, have more ideas about what I’m expressing in my jazz flute improvisations.

Q: You have quite a range! Often, as we enter into learning something new, we change course a little as we go along. How have your plans changed along the way?

Hmmm, that’s a hard question! I’m still working on the first roadmap that I chose, so in that sense my plans haven’t changed.

I find myself thinking about musical skills differently than when I started. With the encouragement and support at Musical U, I’m starting to feel like I’m exploring my own journey in musicality, rather than just learning things because someone else says I should.

That’s wonderful, ChristineP! And I’m sure I speak for the Musical U team and the other community members when I say that your progress, and your careful and expressive writing about it in your Progress Journals are inspiring to us all.

One of the most powerful tools inside Musical U, the glue that holds all the varied and abundant educational modules together and puts them at the service of our members’ individual goals, is the Progress Journals. That’s where ChristineP shares her progress in achieving her musical goals and her discoveries along the way, and one of the places the Musical U team can give individual feedback and support. Soon, we hope to see you inside Musical U as well, and help you explore your own “journey in musicality.”

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