Jonathan Graves is a producer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist raised in Pittsburgh, PA and currently living in Brooklyn, NY.
He writes and performs music with the electronic/indie-rock group Corbu, and will be releasing his second EP on the New York/Paris-based record label Scissor & Thread in the winter of 2012. Jonathan was the first music teacher at The Lang School, a visual, tech-oriented primary school for gifted children with special needs, only the second of its kind in the United States. Along with developing the music curriculum at Lang from its inception in 2010 until the summer of 2012, he has spent his days with the innovative local teaching collective Brooklyn Music Lessons since its formation in 2008.
Jonathan has been performing since age 10, when he toured the world as a soloist with the Pittsburgh Boychoir, sang with the Samara (Russia) Symphony Orchestra, the Pittsburgh Opera, and performed the national anthem for the Pittsburgh Penguins. He grew up playing piano, guitar, drums, violin, and french horn, and studied voice with Grammy-winning tenor Timothy Nobel at Indiana University's Jacobs School of Music.
Jonathan's musical influences include:
The Beatles / Radiohead / Boards of Canada / The Radio Dept. / Björk / Broadcast / Michael Jackson / Neil Young / Marvin Gaye / Aphex Twin / Steve Reich / Sufjan Stevens / Wendy Carlos / William Basinski / Animal Collective & Panda Bear / Erland øye / Bradford Cox / Modeselektor / Warp Records / Motown Records / Most bands from Gothenburg, Sweden
Being a Musician in 2013: A Convergence of Skills
Undertaking a study of the guitar, voice or piano is ultimately a study of music itself. Don't limit your goal to becoming a good guitar player, for instance - expand it to being a good musician that happens to play guitar.
I grew up singing and playing piano, and along the way I learned to write songs, record them and play a handful of other instruments. I did this because I wanted to be self-sufficient, without having to rely on other people and their own busy schedules.
This multi-dimensionality has become my greatest strength as a teacher. If a student comes to me for voice lessons, he'll end up playing a bit of piano to understand the parts he's singing. A guitar student will find herself singing along to the riff she's learning, so it's better engrained in her memory. And most likely, a laptop will be sitting nearby, acting as a robotic assistant that the student will learn to use to her advantage.
These skills are fundamental to being a musician in 2013. The concept of being a "one-man" band has gone from an awe-inspiring novelty to something a musician should expect from themselves to some degree. This should be embraced!
Playing piano has made me a better guitarist. Playing drums and making beats has made me a much better piano player. So in conclusion, no, our lessons will not look like "normal" voice, piano or guitar lessons. In my time as a teacher, I believe I've developed a format that is more flexible, personalized, fun and, most importantly, just as effective as that.
What if I just want to learn to sing / play piano / play guitar?
You will! You'll just have a more holistic understanding of your instrument and your material. At the end of the day, the hours you put in with your instrument will be the same as those practiced by another student with a more standardized lesson plan.
What styles of music do you teach?
I work exclusively with the music a student listens to and wants to learn to play. Everyone is unique, with their own taste, learning style and goals, so each student has their own customized lesson plan.
Admittedly, a musician is best at teaching what he or she loves to play. My own tastes are eclectic, as you can see in my bio, and include indie rock, hip hop, R&B, and some jazz and modern classical music.If your goal is to perform exclusively in a classical ensemble, I might not be the ideal teacher for you. If you want to become something like one of the artists on your iPod, however, I can help you get there.
Isn't using the computer cheating?
Not the way we'll use it.
A computer can be anything you want it to be; we'll be using it as a tool to make visual notation come to life, to let you hear your own progress, and to give you customized practice tracks to play along with.
With kids especially, the beauty of software is its ability to act as a set of glowing, futuristic training wheels that come off as the student gains skill. The tricks we learn on the iPad can be (and have been) transferred to an old, wooden upright piano sitting in Grandma's living room.
A student wanted to work on vocal harmonies, so we took apart a classic example ("Because" by the Beatles) and re-created it from scratch, singing all three parts:
In instrumental lessons, I like to use technology to visually demonstrate what's happening in the song. The following example is from a beginner guitar session focusing on Broken Social Scene's "7/4 (Shoreline)." You can see the following lesson elements in action:
+ visual representation of the song as it plays
+ end-of-lesson video reviews for the student to watch at home
+ custom practice versions of the song, rendered for the student to play along with at various tempos
When working with software, we have the luxury of being able to record the entire lesson on the computer so you can review it later. This is a sample from a production/songwriting lesson with a student in Ableton Live. We explored the program by re-creating a simple version of one of her favorite songs, "Silver Lining" by Rilo Kiley.
Kids tend to enjoy the learning process more if they feel like they're playing a video game. Luckily, with devices like the iPad and programs like Garageband, we can give them that kind of experience. Since everything from keyboards to guitars to vocals can be recorded into the software, every instrument can be learned in a futuristic, interactive environment.
A 9 year-old piano/composition student of mine was fascinated by the sinking of the Titanic. He edited this video, scored and designed the sound for it with my guidance in an hour. This lesson and others like it are conceived on the spot, which allows me to ride the student's already-present wave of enthusiasm into something musically productive for their goals:
The following songs were written and performed by the kids of The Lang School in class, with me providing some structure and finishing touches:
"Jonathan's individually tailored style of teaching, combined with his easy going attitude and extensive knowledge of both the theoretical and applied sides of music make him a teacher I enthusiastically recommend to everyone. He got me playing the kind of music I like quickly, and then used that to teach me about the theory behind it, and often records videos or Ableton Live sets for me to use as practice study guides between classes.
I've taken both guitar lessons and voice lessons from Jonathan, and when I pick up the piano I intend to go to Jonathan for lessons on that as well. In short, taking lessons with Jonathan has made music fun and satisfying, and also made me feel like nothing is out of reach."
“My son enjoyed music class so much at The Lang School, where Jonathan teaches, that we decided to hire him for private lessons as well. I'm so glad we did! As a bright, young, easy-going musician, Jonathan connects easily with my son on his level. He has a unique teaching style where he doesn't just teach, but collaborates and nurtures my son's musical talents and interests. One day they'll be working with the piano, the next day the guitar, and the day after, they'll be making beats on the computer. With Jonathan, it's not just about learning one instrument or one type of music, it's learning about MUSIC - period. I highly recommend Jonathan. Hire him if you want someone who can inspire your child musically!”
"What you're doing is like Rosetta Stone for music."
I’ve been really into the Australian psych-rock band Tame Impala lately. Kevin Parker’s songwriting keeps getting better, and seeing them live last week made me notice how crazy and effective his song structures are becoming.
One of my favorite tracks on the new album is “Music to Walk Home By.” Like a lot of the record, it bounces around between sections almost unpredictably, but the transitions and arrangements make it feel natural and effortless. It’s almost 5 minutes long, but feels short because it moves around so much.
I put the song into Live to see how it works. Here’s what I got (click to enlarge):
EDIT: I realized how abstract this whole thing is without a video. Here you go:
Noise Intro / 8 bars / Kevin doing some pedal feedback stuff
A (vocal) / 8 bars / Jumps right into the “verse”
A (instrumental) / 8 bars / synth solo
B (vocal) / 8 bars / keeps the feel of section A but with different chords
A (vocal) / 8 bars / back into the verse
A->C transition / 4 bars / Keeps A going, then stops with an FX build into the new section
C (vocal) / 16 bars / a whole new melody and feel, with a start-stop rhythm
D (B alternate) (vocal) / 8 bars / returns to the chords of B, but with the start-stop feel of C
D (B alt) (instrumental) / 8 bars / synth solo with some amazing vocal harmony stabs
D (B alt) (instrumental 2) / 8 bars / a different synth melody, mostly stays the same but chords start morphing towards…
E (instr) / 4 bars / introduces a new chord progression
E (vocal) / 8 bars / vocals over the new progression
C (intro) / 4 bars / whole band breaks down to a quiet version of C
C (vocal) / 12 bars / bursts back into C, with Kevin singing “So anyway…”
C (instrumental) / best guitar melody on the record starts creeping in over the vocals, then finally Kevin stops singing and doubles it. vocals return as the riff keeps going and the song fades out.
You can be pretty ambitious with changing the chord progression again and again, as long as the rhythm ties it all together. I’m pretty sure it’s not recorded to a click track, and feels like a live band playing together in a room… but supposedly he tracks everything himself in his studio. How does he get it sounding so fluid, when he tracks guitar and drums separately? Pretty amazing.
From Lifehacker - “The more you struggle with new information, the more likely you are to learn it”:
Trying to learn new skills or new information can be really frustrating, but as Time Magazine points out, the more you struggle with taking on new information the more likely you are to retain and recall that information later.
Nobody likes to fail when learning a new task, but it’s an essential part of the learning process that’s often left out when we’re offered up information in a neatly packaged, structured way. While much of the research into the learning process is concentrated on children, it’s a lesson adults can learn from as well. As Time notes, employers use the same process as many teachers:
[W]hile the model adopted by many teachers and employers when introducing others to new knowledge—providing lots of structure and guidance early on, until the students or workers show that they can do it on their own—makes intuitive sense, it may not be the best way to promote learning. Rather, it’s better to let the neophytes wrestle with the material on their own for a while, refraining from giving them any assistance at the start.
It’s a healthy reminder that struggling through a difficult problem—whether it’s learning Photoshop, getting used to a new webapp, or picking up a new skill—is a necessary part of the learning process. It also works out in the long run because you’re better able to recall the information you learned.
This is definitely true, though the trick as a teacher is to maintain a certain level of push and pull with a student… letting them sail for awhile to build confidence, then force them into a place where they’ll struggle, knowing they’ve built the confidence that will get them through it.
Svante Stadlerat Heart of Noise gets it. His app, FLAIL, automatically detects the BPM and key of the song you’re listening to, then throws you into jam mode using the notes from the song’s scale. Badass. And that’s the best app demo video I’ve seen since iMaschine’s Jamie Lidell bit.
Stadler has a bunch of good stuff going on at his site, including a Flash-based human voice synthesizer. Take a look:
Noteflight is a new-ish online service that lets you create, read and share musical scores. It’s been amazing in the classroom with my kids, and I’m finding it to be a great tool for all ages when it comes to notating melodic ideas.
I don’t have a ton of experience with Finale (the most established software package for this sort of thing), but I’ve played around with Sibelius and found it to have a pretty steep learning curve. Noteflight is simple to use, but powerful enough to score out unlimited parts. A free account gives you ten instruments to use in your compositions, and a moderately-priced paid account (around $8/month or $50/year) bumps you up to 50 instruments, along with direct MIDI input and other features.
When I started teaching music using contemporary songs and electronic tools, it was a challenge to make traditional sheet music feel relevant. I could teach students how to read notation in the abstract, but actually bringing it into the world of MIDI composition and samplers felt forced. Noteflight is great because it lets my students compose melodies and harmonies with the notation, and then export those parts (via MIDI) back into Garageband or Ableton Live for the usual synth-and-beats treatment. It feels modern, with a clean, easy-to-understand interface and YouTube-like sharing and embedding functionality.
As an example, here’s a short piece one of my 12 year-old students at The Lang School composed in my class (Tumblr & Noteflight’s embed code don’t seem to get along yet):