Tag Archives: opinions

Why was the Greatest Showman panned by the critics?

The Greatest Showman is the biggest movie success story of this century so far. With scores like 6/10 and just 2 stars from movie critics, it wasn’t expected to make much of a return on the whopping cost of producing it and yet audiences have loved it. In my opinion, it’s the music, and superb performance of it, which holds this film together. Big numbers such as ‘This Is Me’ and ‘A Million Dreams’ have captured the hearts of young and old with their feisty lyrics and singable tunes. Beside them however are more mature themes, both in the lyrics and the music, giving changes of pace which add an extra level of depth. ‘Never Enough’ and ‘Rewrite the Stars’ have soaring melodies and serious messages which are beautifully exploited by composers Benj Pasek and Justin Paul. The remarkable songwriting elevates this film far beyond what the critics were expecting.

It seems the critics were expecting a film that would explore the extremely interesting true life story of P T Barnum. It would definitely be a story worth telling. We already have the stage musical Barnum (1980) which loosely tells the rags-to-riches version of the tale. Both it and the new movie ignore almost entirely the fascinating real life story of a man who was an author, publisher, philanthropist and politician. An influential figure in prohibition and the creation of prostitution laws, he was also very vocal about the abolition of slavery, famous for saying ‘A human soul, that God has created and Christ died for, is not to be trifled with. It may tenant the body of a Chinaman, a Turk, an Arab, or a Hottentot – it is still an immortal spirit.’ This attitude of inclusion may have made some significant contribution to his desire to rescue the people who became part of his show from being persecuted as freaks.

So, the film doesn’t touch on much of this at all and yet it is captivating and fabulous. The simple answer is probably ‘sometimes critics get it wrong!’

Buy sheet music from The Greatest Showman movie for piano, ukulele, flute, violin and more here!

How can I get my child to do their music practice?

Here are our 5 top tips to achieve regular and effective practice between music lessons…

1) Don’t set unrealistic goals.

10-15 minutes good practice 5 times a week will achieve a much better result than an hour crammed in before a lesson, or no practice at all because you can’t fit in a longer session around other activities. Without the pressure to set aside an enormous amount of time, children will often play for longer by choice (or by accident!) once they get into a routine of little and often.

2) Treat regular instrument practice in the same way that you treat other homework.

You wouldn’t let them off Maths homework would you? By treating music lessons with the same importance yourself, you are setting an example to your child. Even if you don’t play yourself, or them wanting music lessons seems like a bit of an unusual choice, by gently giving the message that you expect it to be taken seriously, you are giving them the best chance of making the most of the opportunity they have.

3) Make sure your child has all the necessary tools to work with.

If playing an instrument is a new venture, it is understandable to make a minimal financial investment until you are sure your child is committed to learning to play, especially if they tend to get bored with things. However, there are two things which are proven to improve the chance of them sticking to music lessons. A stand for their instrument so it is on display instead of hidden away in a case means that if they only have a few minutes to spare, it’s easy to pick up and play. It’s also less likely to be forgotten until just before the next lesson, or damaged accidentally. Also, a music stand will make it easier to practice in the correct position and achieve progress more quickly. It’s impossible to follow all of a teacher’s rules if you’re leaning over the bed or sofa to see your book!

4) Be aware of the reasons why your child might be avoiding playing.

It’s less likely that your child will stop playing because they dislike doing it and far more likely that other factors will play a part. The most common are peer pressure, other activities, reaching a point where it seems hard to progress (a plateau) and issues with the teacher. It’s very easy to get into a battle of wills over music practice but a quick chat to see if any of these are causing a problem is much more productive and less stressful.

Often, it’s simply the style of music being played that causes frustration. Most teachers are very happy to mix in modern pop and rock, jazz or other styles to keep things interesting. Don’t be afraid to approach them and ask.

5) Encourage involvement in group music opportunities.

Students who play in orchestras, jazz groups, rock bands and even sing in choirs have a better track record for continuing to play. Find out what activities are available at school or get in touch with your local Music Hub who will be offering all sorts of music groups for all abilities throughout your area. In North Tyneside, you can visit www.ntmeh.co.uk to see all the fabulous, free activities your child can enjoy.

Top 10 music blogs and review sites

1) If you play ukulele, check out this fab blog packed full of tips, tricks and reviews by the well-known ukulele author and teacher Brett McQueen. http://www.ukuleletricks.com/blog/

Being the online presence The Guitarist magazine, it seems only natural that Music Radar would host some of the best guitar resources online, including these two….

2) Learn something new and improve your technique at http://www.musicradar.com/guitartechniques

3) Don’t buy an expensive piece of kit until you’ve read the reviews at http://www.musicradar.com/reviews/guitars

4) Everything you need to know to be a healthy and happy gigging musician from http://www.musicianwages.com/

5) Everything from creating a fab website for your band to tips on dealing with an agent http://www.musicthinktank.com/ deals with the big issues of the day affecting both professional and amateur band members.

6) If you enjoy supporting new artists and want to know about the next rising star before everyone else, surprisingly one of the best places to be is the BBC! http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/introducing

7) Stay in touch with the Classical music scene at http://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music – CD reviews, performer interviews and brilliant snippets of trivia.

8) All the latest gossip from the Jazz world http://thejazzbreakfast.com/

9) Although it’s the blog of Alex Ross (the music critic at the New Yorker), http://www.therestisnoise.com/ also features reviews of the most influential productions and performances happening around Europe, as well as fascinating articles about musicians old and new.

10) http://www.soundonsound.com/ is one of the most informative music technology websites with an active and friendly forum for all your questions on set-ups, recording and software.

Picking the right pick – plectrums for beginner guitarists

At enjoymuzic we stock a varied range of plectrums and for new players it can be confusing as to what plectrums to use.

Let’s start with guitar plectrums (there are plenty of them!). Also called picks, plectrums come in different shapes, sizes and thickness. There is no official right or wrong plectrum but you have to decide what suits your playing style and what feels comfortable.

Tortex guitar picks are my favourite (after 10 years of using a wide variety of plectrums), they are plastic picks and come in different gauges (thickness). The textured surface provides a good grip even if your fingers are slippy.

Dunlop also make plenty of different plectrums, make sure to check them out. Ernie Ball have a plain plastic plectrum range and also have a nylon style that offers more grip for those (like myself) who like something to hang on to. My colleague loves Planet Waves Picks because they’re cheap, good quality and come in loads of different designs from tortoiseshell to rainbow!

Sharkfin plectrums are shaped like a shark fin. The green sharkfin is so flexible you can bend it completely over on itself. The black ones are the heaviest and provide no give at all. Acoustic players often like to use the thin plectrums as they can control dynamics, whilst still maintaining their tone whereas thicker picks give a louder, brighter sound.

If you have a favourite band, film or television programme the chances are you will be able to get them on a guitar pick. See our selection of character and rock band plectrums here – we even have Spongebob Squarepants picks! Many of them come in pick tins – a very handy way to keep them safe!

If you don’t know what plectrums to use I would advise to buy 6 – 10 different ones that vary in both shape and gauge. Have a try of them all and hopefully you will find out which plectrum suits you. Starting at 3 for £1 for good quality, branded picks, you can’t really go wrong!

Other picks and accessories you might need…

Bass players tend to use a very heavy gauge of plecs as the strings are much thicker. Big Stubbys are popular with bass players ranging from 1mm to 5 mm in thickness.

Folk instrument plectrums

Some players like to use guitar plectrums for their folk instrument whilst others believe that the strings on folk instruments will be damaged from the use of plastic plectrums and the tone will be poorer.

Felt plectrums are commonly used on ukuleles as they are soft on the strings and reduce the clicking sound on the strings that you get with plastic picks. We sell both thick and thin felt plectrums. We also stock leather plectrums that are designed to give you a bright sound yet it doesn’t compromise playability. These can be used on ukes and mandolins.

Banjo players use finger and thumb picks. These are normally made of nickel or plastic and help to produce a clear picking sound. They come in different sizes to help find the ones that snuggly fit onto fingers and thumb. You can try a plastic thumb pick on your guitar if you find it difficult to grip a normal plectrum.

Plectrum holders

Where to keep them without losing them?! The problem with guitar picks is that even if you put them in your wallet/pocket/a special place at home, they do mysteriously disappear.

Dadi pick holders are great as they are small and store a good amount of plectrums for the size and price. They even have a sticky patch on the back so you can stick it to your instrument case or music stand.

Keep rockin’


Which ukulele should I buy? (Part Two)

So you’ve read ‘Which Ukulele Should I Buy Part One’ and hopefully you have a clear idea of what size you need to buy but there are soooo many brands, finishes and price ranges out there, so here are a few of our preferred ukes for you to consider….

Things to look out for:

Friction pegs v. machine heads – Ukuleles, like most folk instruments, all had friction pegs until relatively recently and many well respected brands such as Ozark have stuck with this tradition. If you’re new to playing a stringed instrument however, we would always recommend that you look for one with machine heads (like a guitar) as friction pegs tend to slip and require some maintenance. Ask the shop to explain the difference if you’re not sure.

Laminate v. wood – There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a cheap laminate ukulele and seeing how you get along but be wary of paying too much for one. Real wood ukes are surprisingly inexpensive and sound so much better.

Accessories deals – You will need a tuner and maybe a bag or a stand for your ukulele. Ask the store if they offer any discounts or accessories bundles.

First time players and children: If you’ve never played an instrument before and you’re going to take up the ukulele, then good on you! Keep it cheap and cheerful with a Mahalo soprano ukulele package. There are loads of cheap ones around but we really rate the Mahalo brand for good value playability. If you’re confident you’ve selected the right size for you and would like a better sounding one, Mahalo also do an entry level wooden ukulele with a smart padded bag which is available in all the standard ukulele sizes. Brunswick is a slightly more expensive but better quality brand which is worth a look. They do ukuleles in a popular shade of mahogany or the more unusual blond maple version.

For guitarists: If you or the person you’re buying for already play guitar then it’s safe to say that a soprano ukulele is likely to seem too cramped and fiddly. Go straight in for a concert or tenor size. Brunswick do some beautiful real wood ukuleles at a great low price and there is also an electro-acoustic option at less than £100. This is ideal if the person already plays electric guitar and enjoys playing through an amp.

Of course, if you want to hit the ground running, the easy thing to do is choose a baritone ukulele which is tuned like a guitar. Again, the Brunswick Baritone Ukulele is a good value buy but Ashbury do a great Baritone too.

Intermediate players: As you approach the £100 – £200+ price bracket, a whole new world of ukuleles comes into consideration. When you’re ready to pay this kind of money, you’ve probably been playing for a while so the best advice is to get out there and try as many as you can. It’s also a good idea to decide whether you think an electro-acoustic ukulele would be of any use to you, rather than finding your perfect uke and having to pay someone later to fit a pick-up for gigging or just experimenting with changing the sound through an amplifier.

Regardless of the brand, the ukuleles we really love are all made from Pacific woods like Curly Mango and Koa. The trees grown in that Hawaiian region are much sought after for ukulele building and tend to carry the specific twangy tone associated with original ukuleles.

One of the best brands at an intermediate price is Kala but you may want to look at some of the big guitar names (Martin, Gibson, Gretsch) who have all been outputting some great ukuleles recently. If you fancy something that looks a bit different, try Riptide.

There are plenty of other options including the pineapple shape and also the classic ‘George Formby’ Banjo Ukulele like this one from Barnes and Mullins which is often the first thing people picture when you mention ukes. Great sound but try before you buy! They’re heavier than they look and can be a bit awkward to keep in tune.

Female musicians are still battling hostilities within a male-dominated profession…

…according to Arts chief Jude Kelly. Speaking at the launch of the Southbank Centre 2014-15 season, Ms Kelly highlighted the recent career of US conductor Marin Alsop who was famously on the receiving end of some shocking sexism when she became the first lady to conduct the Last Night of the Proms last year. Many leading male musicians have made comments indicating that the role of conductor is too physically demanding for women and also implying that females cannot be committed to the shifting life of a musician because of their expected role within a family.

It’s all complete b*****ks of course, since the ability to perform in any role is down to the talent and life choices of every individual. However, we were wondering if any of you lady musicians have ever experienced any hostility from the male musicians you work with? Or what opinion you fellas hold on working with (or under) lady pros? We’d be interested to hear your stories.

Orchestra Image
Female musicians are still battling hostilities within a male-dominated profession…


Top 10 Most Annoying Christmas Songs/Hits

Following our Top Ten Favourite Christmas Tunes, here’s the ones we can’t stand!  How about you?

1) All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth
I want you to get them as well – so I can knock them out for you!!
2) Driving home for Christmas
3) Santa Baby
4) Last Christmas (I gave you my heart)
5) Lonely This Christmas

6) When We Collide – Matt Cardle
7) There’s No-one Quite Like Grandma – St Winifred’s School Choir
8) Mr Blobby – Mr Blobby
9) Earth Song – Miichael Jackson
10) That’s My Goal – Shayne Ward

The Power of the Mind

Music stirs the most intense emotions in everyone. Different emotions certainly – happiness, sadness, wistfulness, excitement or occasionally boredom. And as we all know from discussing the topic with friends, (Westlife or Boyzone? Bach or Wagner? Opera or Heavy Metal??) we feel these emotions very intensely. Different music does it for different people. But how about when the music IS the emotions? That’s what the University Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona have been looking at recently resulting in the premiere of music played using only the power of the performer’s brainwaves translated into sound. The Multimodal Brain Orchestra is the creation of the Synthetic, Perceptive, Emotive and Cognitive Systems (SPECS) group at the University and uses some of the technology of an EEG brain scan to control the sound.

OK, it’s clever. But given that the sounds are synthesised and the outcome is based on the ability of the ‘players’ to react to little dots on a screen, isn’t it more like the Krypton Factor than a musical concert? It seems to me that although the emotions and the brain are key to the success of this performance, the result must be a sterile and scientific sound, entirely devoid of the little nuances and lyricism which makes music speak to our hearts.

Susan Boyle – is a voice enough?

The UK has produced many musical stars over the last couple of decades who have each contributed their own special talents to classical music. Charlotte Church – the child star, the ‘Voice of an Angel’: great voice, great face, iconic rise to fame. Charlotte Church the teenage Hell’s Angel (great voice, great face) reformed and became the much loved family girl we know now, proving to be a multi talented yummy mummy with gorgeous dresses and her own chat show (oh, and a great voice.) Hot on her heels is Katherine Jenkins, great voice, great face. There’s a pattern emerging here.

Susan Boyle – great voice…er….and now we begin our inner struggle with each of our personal demons. Because, unlike the aforementioned, she has no looks, no charisma and as she has proved many times in recent weeks, absolutely no fashion sense. The real question is does art have to be pretty? It is a question that painters and sculptors have been wrestling with for years but it becomes very pertinent in the music world for people like Susan. There is a practical element to this question of course, based on the fact that the large majority of leading lady roles require a young and attractive damsel. However, the sad fact is that even when the role does not require it, 9 times out of 10 the director will choose a young beauty who then spends 3 hours in make-up every day striving to look older or uglier.

Should her looks affect her art? Is there a niche in music for girls who don’t look as though they have stepped out of the pages of Vogue? And should older ladies feel such pressure to keep their looks or figures? Clive James talked to the BBC about how the attitudes of the judges on Britain’s Got Talent proved that we tend to expect beautiful people to be talented and vice versa. I’m sure you, like me, can think up many cases which do not bear out this theory.

You can see Susan’s performance on Britain’s got Talent on YouTube. Tell us what you think. Is her voice beautiful enough to overcome our prejudices? And which mediums could do more to showcase the talents of musicians like her? Or should she just accept that for the people we look at on stage or in concerts, beauty is part of the package – an essential element of the overall experience.

This story seems to have touched women everywhere – their looks never stopped the likes of Pavarotti and Paul Potts. But gender stereotyping in alive and well in the music world.  Cosmopolitan told Susan’s story from a woman’s point of view and leads me to ask whether a make-over is really what she needs or should she continue to stand up for women everywhere who have a talent but happen to look like the back end of a bus…

The secret of the Strad

Strads (or violins made by Stradivarius in the early 1700s in Cremona, Italy) have been in the news a lot recently. An uncommon number have come up for auction, with some surprising results. (The record price paid for a Strad was in 2006 when the violin nicknamed ‘the Hammer’ went for a massive £1.75 million pounds.) An equally unusual number have had some surprising adventures in taxis and trains. (I mean, losing your umbrella’s one thing but come on…)

And now someone else thinks they’ve discovered the root of the unique Stradivarius sound. There have been some interesting theories over recent years including the use of secret wood treatments or varnishes and using wood from extremely old structures such as ancient churches.

This time it’s a mini ice age (seriously!). Apparently the density of the wood from this period of the 1700s is very even, whereas modern trees grow faster in summer than winter, making a less uniform pattern which one can see would make a difference to the sound production across the instrument. This idea was floated back in 2003 but this month, researchers in the Netherlands have used CT scan analysis similar to that used on emphysema patients to create clear comparisons with modern violins.

Maybe all of these scientists have a point and the combination of all of these factors which have been researched individually play their part in creating the heart wrenchingly beautiful and entirely individual sound we expect from each Stradivarius creation.

By the way, if you don’t have a couple of million quid to spend, Antoni Debut Violin Packs offer great value for money. Violin is a great instrument for children to start on as it’s available in a massive range of colours and sizes and is relatively cheap. It also suits loads of different styles of music including classical, folk and pop.

My only remaining question is this – who lets scientists try out these crazy theories on their Strad???