We are excited to bring you another inspiring edition of Pathways. In this special series of episodes you’ll hear the stories of music-learners just like you, reaching out and lending each other a hand on our musical journeys. We’re speaking with Oli Fuhrmann, a swing dancer and swing dance teacher from Berlin, Germany.

Oli started learning piano and trombone in the last three years to play the music he loves to dance to. He’s eager to try new things and happy to risk failure. You’ll hear how his attitude has really payed off for his music learning and the richness of his musical life.

In this conversation Oli shares:

  • Why it was easy for him to start joining jam sessions despite being only a beginner-to-intermediate player – and a few specific tips for how you can make it easy for yourself.
  • How learning trombone was relatively simple after piano, and why he realised the importance of a good musical ear.
  • How he discovered the power of community support as part of his online learning.

Enjoy this episode and be inspired to be more bold and risk new endeavours in your own musical journey.

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Links and Resources

Have you picked up useful ideas or techniques in your own musical journey so far that you think could inspire or help others on their path of exploring their musicality? Get in touch by dropping an email to [email protected]! We are always looking for new guests for Pathways and would love to share your story next.

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Oli Fuhrmann shares his musical journey and how he started jamming with high-level musicians. Learn practical tips to help you jump in the next jam session.



Well, I knew from Oli’s Progress Journal inside Musical U and some conversation before the interview that there was going to be a lot of goodness packed into this one – and I hope you spotted as many insights and learning points while listening to his story as I did! Let’s recap.

Oli grew up exploring all kinds of creative pursuits, from writing to rapping to improv theatre, until about ten years ago he found swing dancing and it stuck. He became a professional swing teacher and found himself DJing swing music for dance parties and then wanting to start playing it himself.

He began learning piano after a friend suggested it to help with his back posture, but as he noted, that was really just an excuse! He borrowed a friend’s digital piano and dived in, at first learning by himself using online resources, then taking lessons with a teacher and then from local pianists who weren’t always teachers but did specialise in the kind of style he wanted to play, which was the old-style swing he loved dancing to.

He found he was self-motivated enough to keep up his practicing between lessons and so he could just have the occasional lesson with a great teacher, rather than needing the strict weekly schedule – though he notes that if money wasn’t a factor it would be great to have a teacher by his side for every practice session!

Relatively early in his piano learning journey, just a year or two in, Oli began joining in with jam sessions. This came about for a few reasons. That live music is particularly popular in the swing dance scene, that he’s willing to put himself out there and risk failure, for example joining in singing with a group even though he was sure he’d be off-key, and also that he was clued into one key insight for successful jamming which is that you’re generally free to take on as little responsibility or role as you like. For example if you just know how to play the melody, then volunteer to do that. Or if you don’t know the tune but you can read a chord chart, just play the chords or play their root notes.

He also highlighted the importance of rhythm. As he said, it’s something we’ve covered various times here on the show, that rhythm is both something which music learners tend to handle better by ear than pitch, and that it’s more important to maintain steady accurate rhythm than necessarily get the pitches right. Particularly in a jam context, if you play a wrong note or two it’s not the end of the world – but if you’re constantly out of sync with the rest of the band, or you’re improvising with no rhythmic imagination, that’s much more of a problem. In fact he shared a funny comment from a friend he’d jammed with who said it was like Oli didn’t play a single note in-key, but his rhythm was always excellent and he always ended on the right note – so it was hard to tell if he was making mistakes or just playing far-out advanced jazz!

Oli also mentioned the importance of finding friendly musicians. He acknowledged that yes, there might be super-high-level jams where everyone expects you to be note-perfect, but there are also tons of opportunities where you’ll be welcomed in regardless of your abilities, and as long as you’re trying and learning, nobody’s going to mind if you aren’t yet a professional-level player.

Along the way, a friend left a spare trombone with him and so Oli started trying to learn to play that too, and found that although it had its own challenges, it was overall much easier than piano, since it didn’t have the two independent hand parts that piano does and the expectations in a jam context were so much simpler than piano, where you’re expected to play complex two-hand arrangements on the fly if you’re sitting in the pianist’s seat.

With trombone he did have to take responsibility for the accurate pitching of notes though, and he said it gradually dawned on him that being a good musician meant having a good ear as well as the instrument skills and so he tried out various ear training apps. Most focused on interval recognition which he found challenging but one, Functional Ear Trainer, instead worked on recognising scale degrees which he was able to make fast progress with.

He started listening to this podcast too, which he said aligned well with what he’d learned about talent and practicing in the world of dance instruction, and in due course he joined Musical U as a member – even though he wasn’t sure at first if it would work out and he’d stick with it, or if it would have more to offer than free YouTube videos online.

He began working on playing chords and melodies by ear, and found that the solfa approach for melodies was interesting and useful, even if a bit challenging when it came to the singing side of things. Unlike with the apps, having friendly support from the team and being surrounded by other learners helped him keep up momentum and get help when he needed it.

Oli definitely deserves some credit here himself as he’s quick to share his progress, whether that’s in a Progress Journal update inside Musical U or in performance or demonstration videos on his Instagram and Facebook pages – and he noted it’s been great to hear feedback from not just his close friends, but also fellow music learners and even musical role models who’ve applauded his progress.

Now Oli has gone from attending jam sessions to organising his own, which led to creating a jamming workshop and then a 6-week course to teach other beginner and intermediate level musicians how to jam in a swing jazz style.

With the current Coronavirus situation his swing school has had to suspend its in-person lessons, but this is launching them into action creating a new website swingstep.tv providing online courses, and he said he’s looking to include some of the same community and support features he’s found useful at Musical U.

His takeaway tip for playing out and jamming was to “just do it” – that if you’re scared of it (and it’s not an actual tiger) then that’s an indication that you should do it, not avoid it. And that yes, you’ll have failures along the way – but the more you fail, the more you’ll learn.

I think Oli’s attitude and activities are inspiring and I hope you found encouragement in hearing his story, and that it prompts you to be a bit more bold and daring in your own musical activities.

Remember, we’re always eager to feature more Pathways stories here on the show. You don’t need to be a member of Musical U to take part, just somebody who’s on the journey of developing their musicality who has a few stories, tips or resources to share with others. Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

Thanks for listening to this episode, and I’ll see you on the next one!