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    Finding Extra Motivation Through Music

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    Science has proven what those of us who have begrudgingly hit the treadmill at 5 a.m. know – music can maximize your workout.

    Researchers gathered 20 men and women and had them perform two interval routines consisting of four, 30-second intense cycling workouts followed by four minutes of rest. One workout included music and one did not.

    “As expected, people found those heart-pumping sprints more enjoyable when they had their tunes—and they could push harder, too,” wrote Health magazine. “The participants had higher peak and average power output when their headphones were in.”

    Not just any music will suffice. Not only should the music be upbeat and not soft, slow and soothing it should have somewhat of an emotional connection.

    “Music also increases endurance by keeping people awash in strong emotions,” write Scientific American. “Listening to music is often an incredibly pleasurable experience and certain songs open the mental floodgates with which people control their emotions in everyday situations. If one strongly identifies with the singer’s emotions or perspective, the song becomes all the more motivational.”

    However, music’s positive effects varies on the occasion. People who are lacking motivation such as early morning workouts, outdoor exercising on cold, rainy days, are likely to be underestimated and benefit the most from listening to music. Athletes who are already stimulated and excited — such as before a race — will have limited benefits from music.

    Do you use music when you exercise? What songs get you going?

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    Music Concentration At Its Best

    In any type of education — music, arts, athletics — focus and concentration are essential elements for success. Just as a baseball batter needs to ignore distractions and focus on the ball, a musician must be able to focus on the notes.

    We recently learned of a young musician who took her concentration skills to a new level and we were impressed!

    Flutist Yukie Ota was performing at an international competition in Denmark when a butterfly landed on her forehead. To make matters worse, the butterfly did not flutter away. It remained on her forehead for at least a minute and, according to NPR, was most likely looking for a salty drink to satiate itself.  Aside from one, perhaps two, glances up at her forehead she did not succumb to the distraction. Ota continued playing and, at an appropriate break, swatted the butterfly away.  At all times she appeared composed and professional.

    Ota told Michigan Live: “He [the butterfly] just came and landed on my head. I didn’t see it coming. All of a sudden it landed, ‘What is happening? It was kind of surprising, at the same time, I had to concentrate on my performance. If I stop, I will fail.”

    We were happy to learn that Ota advanced to the next round, despite her butterfly distraction, and eventually placed second in the competition. She considered the butterfly incident an unexpected benefit that helped her place high in the competition.

    “It left a good impression on the judges because they saw I had good concentration on the music,” Ota told Michigan Live.

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    What A Spontaneous Jam Session Can Teach Us About Improv

    Sometimes the best music can happen inside a concert hall.

    And other times the best musical moments are unplanned.

    That’s what happened recently in Texas when an aspiring musician strumming his guitar outside a grocery store was joined by two strangers. A third stranger recorded their impromptu session and posted it on YouTube and Facebook. The rest is Internet history.

    The video is has since gone viral, boosting the popularity of the three men so much that they  were flown to Los Angeles to perform on “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” Not only were the three strangers reunited but they also were joined by rappers Trey Songz, Juicy J and Aloe Blacc.

    While the video is entertaining, it is also very educational. Improvisation appears deceptively simple but it is a very difficult skill because it requires music knowledge and creativity.

    Here are some basic improvisation tips we observed from the video:

     

    Wait: Notice how the singer in the blue jersey takes in the song before joining in. He may or may not consciously know it, but he’s listening to the song’s scale and the rhythms, figuring a way he can contribute.

     

    Simplify: You’ll notice that the guitarist’s song is more complicated in the beginning but when he is accompanied by other musicians, everyone works to simplify the song. Eventually, they all seem to agree on an ostinato – a brief, repeated pattern that is at the heart of improvisation. The ostinato the men create are the hooks: “I don’t know what you came to do” and “Tell them that I just don’t know.”

     

    Be Fearless: The creativity needed to improvise a song can be daunting. Musicians, however, need to be fearless and experiment with music-making. If your music education has been focused on scales and reading music, The Music Junction educators can work with you to enhance your improvisation skills.

     

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    The History of Take Me Out to the Ballgame

    It is October and we are lucky to have two Los Angeles-area teams in the playoffs this season — the Dodgers and Angels. If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket to a game you’ll likely participate in some treasured traditions such as eating hot dogs, cheering for the home team and singing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame.”

    Just what is the story behind the song and why is it played in every Major League Baseball game in this country?

    According to Time, the song was written and composed approximately 105 years ago by two men who had never seen a baseball game. Writer Jack Norworth wrote about a girl named Katie Casey who wanted her boyfriend to take her to a baseball game instead of a show. It originally consisted of 32 lines but the most famous lyrics are those she told her boyfriend:

    Take me out to the ballgame,

    Take me out with the crowd.

    Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack,

    I don’t care if I ever get back, ’cause it’s root, root, root for the home team,

    if they don’t win it’s a shame.

    For it’s one , two, three strikes you’re out, at the old ballgame.

    Composer Albert von Tilzer set the poem to music and the duo set off promoting the song to vaudeville performers and it eventually became popular among entertainers instead of athletes. a

    All of that changed, however, in the 1980s with Chicago sports broadcaster Harry Caray.  He started a tradition of having guests sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and when he begn to work for the Cubs his tradition was broadcasted to a national audience thanks to superstation WGN.

    “Other teams quickly followed the lead of the Cubs and White Sox, substituting or supplementing the ‘Mexican Hat Dance’ or ‘Thank God I’m a Country Boy’ with ‘Take Me Out to the Ballgame’ in the seventh,” reports ESPN. “And now, all 30 major league clubs play the song in the seventh inning, as do all minor league teams and many college and high school teams.”

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    The Music Behind Political Ads

    Midterm elections are a month away and it’s time to ready ourselves for a steady stream of television and radio ads by politicians and special interest groups. Whatever your political stripe, we can all agree that political ads, especially negatives ones, can be irritating. To make matters worse, this year’s political ads are already more negative than those that aired in 2012 and 2010.

    How will you survive this onslaught of ads?

    Next time try putting your music knowledge to the test.

    If you closed your eyes, how long would it take you to realize that the campaign was negative? Probably not long. The music would likely be slow, filled with low and repetitive notes. Sometimes the music is overpowered by snares drums, suggesting a militaristic tone. Other times, the music can be overly synthesized, a subliminal message of a dystopian future.

    Matthew Nicholl, a professor at Boston’s Berklee College of Music, knows about these tactics and power of music to persuade people. He composed music for several political campaigns including the presidential aspirations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole and says that despite the fact that music is considered background music, its role is vitally important.

    “And you can tell no matter who shows up on screen … we need an immediate cue that this is the bad guy, this is the Terminator,” Nicholl told radio station WBUR. “We see him on the screen, the music says, ‘Wait, this is not warm and fuzzy, this is stuff to worry about.’ ”

    Californians, however, can take comfort knowing that their state isn’t filled with the most negative ads. That dubious honor goes to Wisconsin. We’ve included a political ad from that state’s hotly contested gubernatorial race. What do you think of the music?

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    Why You Hate The Sound of Your Own Voice

    We recently learned that people are more forgiving of our out-of-tune singing that musicians who play other instruments. Now, science is proving again why we might the worst judge of our own voice.

    The truth is we hear our own voice differently from everyone else.

    Do you remember the first time you heard your own talking or singing voice in a recording? It could be a recital video or simply a voicemail message. Chances are you were surprised about how high it sounded and you didn’t like it. Also, there’s also a good possibility that no one else seemed surprised by your tone.

    A recent SciSchow segment on YouTube explains why. Host Hank Green says that when other people listen to us, our sound travels through air into the ear drums into the inner ear. However, when we talk we are hearing our sound from two sources – through our ears and in our head. When we talk, “the voice bounces and transmits vibrations directly into our inner ear.” These vibrations are conducted through — quite literally — our flesh and bones creating a lower frequency. That is why we are always astonished about the highness of our pitch.

    Eventually, we get used to the sound of our own voice if we hear it enough times so not every playback of audio will be cringe-inducing. With some voice lessons from The Music Junction you will learn not just how to tolerate your own voice but enjoy it!

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    Following the Ninth

    Few pieces of Western music have been as beloved as much as Ludwig van Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, which first premiered in 1824.

    Yet, 190 years later we still debate its meaning.

    It is Beethoven’s only vocal symphony and it is also his last.  It is big and loud and “wildly unstable.”  It projects a sense of calm then turn recklessly loud, and yet make the audience feel triumphant at its closing. Some believe it was a political statement against European governments. Others think it is a statement about peace and unity. Still others, assert that both interpretations are correct.

    It is perfectly ambiguous writes Slate’s Jan Swafford: “As with the Mona Lisa, maybe its very ambiguity is part of its success. Paint it any color you like, and it remains its exalted and inexplicable self. If you want universality in a work of art, here you are.”

    Its universality cannot be denied.

    Chilean protestors living under Augusto Pinochet’s military dictatorship sang it. A student protesting the Chinese government played it in Tiananmen Square to drown out the government’s orders. It  is revered in Japan, where every December there are concerts and sing-a-longs devoted to this classical work.

    Filmmaker Kerry Candaele studied the Ninth Symphony’s global impact in his documentary “Following the Ninth.” He interviews people throughout the world to learn what the music means to them from the professional musician to the Chilean protestors.

    The movie debuted last year and is still appearing in small theaters throughout the country and we hope to get an opportunity to see it soon. If it stops by your city, try to see it too and become inspired by the power of music.

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    An Increase in Music Prodigies

    It doesn’t seem possible to refer to musical prodigies as commonplace or 14-year-old virtuosos as over the hill but Newsweek provides some interesting insight about the increase in talented young musicians.

    In its article, “Musical Prodigies Find Plenty of Youthful Company,” Newsweek writes: “Conservatories in Europe and North America report an increasing number of pre-teens who turn up for auditions flawlessly performing repertoire previously considered the domain of 25 year olds.”

    The reason for this increase is uncertain. One person attributed the trend to the Olympic syndrome of wanting to break records and attain fame. Another mentioned the growing Chinese population that typically tends to value music education. It is estimated that there are 30 million young pianists in China.

    Music, however, is not just technical perfection — hitting the right notes and executing difficult passages. It’s also about artistry and creating an emotional connection with the music and to the audience.

    Just ask Gabriela Montero, a Venezuelan pianist and a former a child prodigy who made her musical debut when she was just 8 years old.  She stopped playing piano at 18 years old and lived life outside of the piano. She returned two years later and says the break added meaning to her work.

    “The danger is that we’re creating machines that can play any piece at any speed,” Montero told Newsweek. “As an artist you have to say something to say, but you don’t have anything to say if you’ve spent your life in a practice room.”

    What do you think? Is the increase in young music prodigies good or bad?

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    50 Years of Batman Music

    The Batman franchise has entertained audiences over the years from the campy television show of the 1960s to the dark cinematic thrillers that garner Oscar nominations. Yet, the one element that remains constant is the iconic music.

    A new YouTube video condenses 50 years of Batman music into an entertaining 4-minute track, sampling “Batman Theme” by Neal Hefti, “The Batman Theme” by Danny Elfman, and “Like a Dog Chasing Cars” by Hans Zimmer. Each sample is performed on sets — or in one case, a rooftop — that mimics the look and feel of each movie. As an added bonus for movie fans, they include replica Batmobiles for each rendition.

    The video was created by The Piano Guys — a Utah-based group that oddly has only one piano player. It has become an Internet sensation and if you look at the video you’ll see why!

    The Piano guys have created several popular YouTube videos over the years including a classical version of Bruno Mars’ “Just the Way You Are” and a pop version of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony thanks to a little help from OneRepublic.

    We also love how this video captures how much fun the musicians are having. They love playing music, which is something that can be inspiring for the young musician in your life.

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    A Garden Orchestra

    We like when science and music collide, especially when it makes us re-think the meaning of sound.

    News site Vice published a video story on an artist who ditches the violin and piano and finds her instruments in nature. She also proudly proclaims: “I want to make a mouth for plants.”

    For this artist, her garden is her symphony!

    Mileece, a Los Angeles-based artist and environmental designer who goes by one name, attaches electrodes to hearty plant leaves and conducts their bio-emissions into a special software program she created. The data collected in the software is then turned into musical notes. She creates her own unique compositions based on each plant’s different sound. She has performed her unique creations — what she calls “organic electronic music” — at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, London’s Kew Gardens and has been an artist-in-resident at Los Angeles’ Lycee International school.

    In the video, you can see Mileece pressing gently on a leaf and a light sound akin to the ringing of a small bell emerging. It’s very interesting to witness. You can listen to more of Mileece’s music here, here and here. As a whole, her tracks are very soothing and calming, as a garden orchestra should be!

    Mileece’s art is part of a larger movement to recognize that plants are sentient — or capable of feeling, hearing and smelling — and should be  treated with the utmost care and respect. While we don’t know enough about botany to even assert an opinion, it’s intriguing to think of a landscape in which every plant and flower is capable of producing music.

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