The Most Important Presentation Principle: Instructing with the Edge

A student of mine recently spoke of his distaste for practicing. I asked him why he had such a bad taste towards this timeless art. The problem was just that, he didn’t view it as a timeless art, but a chore. This is something that concerned me immediately by asking him how it could be made better. His answer astonished me, and made sense: He bluntly stated that the whole idea of practicing would change for him if it was fun. Fun, I thought, why didn’t I think of that?

Children, young-adults, and grown-ups all want to have fun. “Fun”, as defined by as the following:

Enjoyment, amusement, or lighthearted pleasure: “anyone who turns up can join in the fun”.
Amusing, entertaining, or enjoyable: “it was a fun evening”.
Joke or tease: “no need to get sore—I was only funning”; “they are just funning you”.
noun. amusement – joke – sport – jest – lark – entertainment
verb. joke – jest – banter – jape – lark

If you notice, the word “amuse” comes up the most (3) out of all of the descriptive words used to define Fun.

When you define “amuse”, via, you receive the following:

  1. Cause (someone) to find something funny; entertain.
  2. Provide interesting and enjoyable occupation for (someone).
entertain – divert – recreate – tickle

If you notice, the word “entertain” comes up the most (2) out of all of the descriptive words used to define Amuse.

When you define “entertain”, via, you receive the following:

  1. Provide (someone) with amusement or enjoyment.
  2. Receive (someone) as a guest and provide food and drink.
amuse – divert

After looking this over, you will now see that we have made a circle, coming back to the word “amuse” as the primary word used in the descriptive definition of entertain.

This is interesting, could it simply mean that in order for one to have “fun” they need the following two components?:

1. Amusement

2. Entertainment

Arguing as truth, what does it take to give someone this sense of “fun” as you are trying to impart valuable information to them? The key word is, ENGAGEMENT. Look, I’ll give you the formula – step-by-step:

Step ONE: Understanding your core message. You should be able to narrow this down to 2-6 words, and 1-2 phrases.

Step TWO: Understand the way(vehicle)you are going to deliver the message. I.e. A game, questions, quizes, trivia, stories, etc. The question here is, “How am I going to disguise my message?” Think of it as when you were a child. Your mother didn’t give you straight medication, she disguised it via jelly or applesauce.

Step THREE: The vehicle must engage in order for longevity. Does your vehicle leave a lasting taste that will enable the listener the access to the information over a long period of time. This is why stories and games are really important.


If you are able to fill in these three steps for your next presentation, you will have a lasting impression on the ones that hear your instruction. When this is done correctly, the information you are imparting will go beyond you as an individual. This is the goal. When someone is able to say ten years from now, “Hey, remember that game we played in order to learn cell production and turn over rates? Yeah, that was a great game!” You see, they remember the game, but your information is tightly and securely wrapped right there with their solid memory that was fastened via an activity that required their engagement.


Recording and All It Offers

Many times I get asked how recording can benefit an artist, outside the usual monetary and recognitional properties that stem from producing a recorded work. In this blog posting I want to address the many subtle benefit that come from recording on regular basis.

As artists sometimes we become accustomed how we sound, how things feel, and how we expect things to come out. Through this, we develop a sense of how we think things should come out. In other words, we become conditioned by our own technical success. Ultimately, there is nothing inherently wrong with this. However, if we plan to progress in our art form we should consider techniques that will keep us unbiasly accountable. Recording ourselves offers this technique. By recording ourselves, we are able to hear ourselves void of conditioned hearing. We are not judging our sound, combined with the filters from out preconceived notions of what we should sound like. Therefore, our progression is dependent on us thereafter. How we view this recording is completely dependent on us. Ultimately, we should strive for constructive judgment. We should look at the recording as a light on our blemishes, an opening eye to things we may have not heard when initially recording.



The key to this viewing is by disconnecting yourself from the recording, taking a subjective look at your recording. Then, you will want to focus on how you can improve on the things you hear that you want to fix. At this point you should consider yourself a sculpter. This juncture is critical due to the displaced nature of the situation. You are able to hear what you did and literally sculpt your sounds. Be honest, easy on yourself, and detailed oriented. Keep in mind that the recording is such as a guru giving your a vast opportunity to change the course of your musical life.


Thomas McGregor

Modern Improvisation Part III

In modern improvisation we find the alterations of key signatures, time signatures, and harmonic displacement. I will address more on these in Part IV. But for now, I would like to talk about the philosophical implications of these changes. When an improviser takes it upon himself to change, not just the notes but the feel of a composition, he implies that a great knowledge base is in place of that composition. Compositional knowledge is paramount before one can attempt to manipulate in any capacity. This vast understanding of a piece of music may take months, years, or decades. In some circles, it is believed that not one person can know all there is about one particular song. The only exception would be that the composer himself is the only one that knows his composition the very best. First, one must take the initiative with an explorative mind. You must set out to analyse and mentally notate everything that you come in contact with, while working on the piece. When you are doing this, keep in mind that even though you are participating in the producing of the sounds that make up the piece, that you are only that for which makes that sounds. Sound manipulation is at the very essence of what you are participating in when improvising. You are changing the vibrational qualities from what was originally placed by the original composer.




The message that you will transmit to your listener from this change in vibration will be dictated by how dense and dimensionally loaded your tone quality is. This, stimulates the implications of validity of practice and tone cultivation. One must spend time to closely analyse your tone quality. The musician should consider using a form of meditation in order to quiet their minds and inner vibrations. Experiment: Notice the next time that your inner mind is racing, and your biological vibrational energy is fluctuating how this effects your musical expression. All musicians and artists perform better[in quality]when they are quiet inside and focused.


/// Music. An Emotionally Clean Slate ///

As we go through life we experience different situations that enable us to open ourselves to a degree. We find that when we allow ourselves to let the moment be as it is, the experience we are in flows naturally and cohesively. Music can act as a conduit. A portal out of the daily areas of our lives we continue to try to change and manipulate. Music can offer us a time for when we are completely present, void of meaningless thoughts of the past and future. When we play music we plan, we think, and we map. These are the same aspects that seem to hinder us from every day happiness. Why then do we run to music as a refuge? Why do we strive for that creative spark to take hold? What we find in music no elements of attachment. Although, we can develop musical attachment – I.e. Our favorite songs, artist, or genre(s). However, there is still a detached aspect even from our very beloved songs. When we are detached from something, this means that the thing we are detached from has little or no aspect to mentally grab a hold to. Music is invisible. We can associate images with songs, sounds, or artist. We can even associate experience when we were listening to particular music. To us, that experience is locked in time by way of that music. However, we cannot see the musical vibrations that occur when someone creates a tone on their instrument. This presents an element of assumption by the listener. Meaning, after hearing something for the first time we start making assumptions about what the music represents. We do this in the attempt to make an association with an emotional construct with the music in order to have something to hold on to. This is key, because we self generate the implied music emotions. Music itself is a clean slate for this action. As a composer, improviser, and educator I know that what I produce for the world can be absorbed in any fashion. This means, that I am not the only one being creative. For each listener can be creative in the choices they make when choosing an emotional value for what they hear.

The Cultivation of Dimensional Music

As a composer I understand the importance of multidimensional music expression. By the addition of the different aspects of sounds and tonal manipulation tools one can create something that has a dense significance to the whole of musical expression. Through history, we have seen such expressions change through the interpretations of music that is passed down from generation to generation. The interesting part is that the musical dimensions such as dynamics, bowing styles, phrasing, and note accents don’t solidly transfer from person to person. This has two implications: 1)Musicians have their own ingrained musical personalities that they superimpose on music they learn. We even find children placing their own musical ideals on music they are learning. 2)These dimensions aren’t directly taught when the transfers of music happen. What this implies is that that our focus is on the notes themselves when we first setting out to learn from a teacher. From a teacher’s standpoint this can present issues in teaching musical expression in future lessons. We find that through the cultivation of musical expression during the act of learning a new tonal sequence is optimal. If musical expression transference does happen when a teacher is teaching, the results are a perfect basis for a student to future develop their own musical expression. I find it interesting that music educators tend to teach musical expression separate from melody. I believe this divide comes from the misunderstanding that musical expression can only lend itself to those of higher caliber artistry. I would challenge this by saying that when you find a child playing on pots and pans in the kitchen, their technique isn’t perfect. They aren’t concerned with how they are holding the spoons. Their main concern is how it feels to hit something and produce a sound. At this juncture we find ourselves at a dilema to how we approach the idea of adding musical expression development in young artists during the learning of the original music. Simply, we would  subscribe to becoming conscience of the fact that each song taught to our students would also include multidimensional aspects. This, in turn will contribute to the all-around interest in music by the students. For I believe we have drifted from thinking as music as more than just melody, harmony, and rhythm. For I see teachers teaching their students singly the melody and moving on to the next tune. This is an abomination to the art of music, directly. Clarifying, I am not insinuating that one should spend a year teaching a single song. However, we should not neglect the options of the many dimensions that are possible with musical expression. When teaching we should understand that the musical expressional tools we install in our students are those for which will be primers of their musical future. Through the cultivation of musical expression in learners of the artform they are opened up to the dimensions of music. In this, we set the standard of musical development and progression.

In the 1959 release by Miles Davis titled “Kind of Blue” we find such dimentional aspects demonstrated during the listening of the track Freddie Freeloader. When listening through the first time you might not catch the simple additions of dynamic influxes, rhythmic subtleties, and note placement. However, as you listen you will find more and more slight modifications to each phrase as if the song is morphing under your ears. Through the listening of such masters at work, we find that one can literally take a previously composed melody and make slight alterations to the melody without touching the actual notes composed. This kind of musical manipulation is in the forefront of a seasoned and experience musician. Therefore, as communicators and  educators we should continue that focus through our instruction. For we can learn from this recording that there are multiple dimensions possible in a single song. But, we can’t instruct students that there are many aspects to a song during the teaching of the song? I believe this to be a faulty belief by instructors. For we should always be perusing the best in our pupils, guaranteeing the highest in music excellence and expression by presenting to our students every aspect we are aware of.



A canon is a compositional technique that employs a melody with one or more imitations of the
melody played after a given duration (e.g., quarter rest, one measure, etc.). The initial melody
is called the leader (or dux), while the imitative melody, which is played in a different group of
identical instruments or voices (or voice, is called the follower (or comes). The follower must
imitate the leader, either as an exact replication of its rhythms and intervals or some version of.
Repeating canons in which all voices are musically identical are called rounds – as in popular
examples, “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Frère Jacques”.

An example of a canon in sheet music:

Notice how the example shows 3 “voices”; 2 beats apart.

The earliest known canons are English rounds, a form called rondellus starting in the 14th
century. In the 14th century many canons were written in Italy under the name caccia, and
occasionally French chansons of that period used canon technique.

The most familiar of the canons is the perpetual/infinite canon or round. Additional types include
the spiral canon, accompanied canon, and double or triple canon.

A popular, famous canon favorite includes; Pachelbel’s Canon; by German Baroque
composer Johann Pachelbel. It was originally scored for three violins and basso continuo and
paired with a gigue in the same key. The Canon remained forgotten for centuries and was
rediscovered only in the 20th century. Today, it is frequently played at weddings and included
on classical music compilations, along with other famous Baroque pieces such as Air on the G
String by Johann Sebastian Bach.

[Wikipedia-Pachelbel’s Canon]

By: Gretchen Almind, Student of Violin at Austin Texas

Thomas McGregor, Instructor

Gebrauchsmusik | Musical Vocabulary Word



This recent term, for which “utility music” or “workday music” is occasionally used as a translation, denotes music which is designed for “practical use” by amateurs, in the homes or at informal gatherings, as opposed to music written “for its own sake” and designed chiefly to be used in concert performance by professionals or virtuosos. Characteristic traits of Gebrauchsmusik are: forms of moderate length; simplicity and clarity of style; small ensembles; avoidance of technical difficulties; parts of equal interest on whatever instruments are available; soberness and moderation of expression; emphasis on “good workmanship.”

Harvard Dictionary of Music 1958. Copyright by the president and fellows of Harvard college © 1944.

Stella by Starlight | Miles Davis | SONG STUDY

Recently, I have taken on the seemingly philosophical challenge of preparing a solo violin arrangement of Victor Young’s composition “Stella by Starlight” for recording. During this process of immense submersion I have found that there are deep subtleties that surround the melodic shifting of this song. Mainly, I have been referencing the live Miles Davis recording from New York. This recording diligently shows that for which Stella by Starlight can encompass. For each song carries its own platform for which the performer is to stand on. From there, the performer has the choice to go from that platform in the manner he sees fit. Stella by Starlight is a gentle song asking to be articulated and evolved. Mr. Young was very crafty in his way of allowing space for the interpreter of his music to grow and learn as the interpreter grows and learns. Therefore, Stella by Starlight is more than a song, it is a place for which we can all start a-new. A place for which we can experiment with our surroundings. And finally, a place where we can create a world of our own.

By: Thomas McGregor, Violin

Student Report | Hava Nagila

Recently, I submitted a research project on the history of the song Hava Nagila to one of my very dedicated violin students. I am proud to present to you the following student report by Gretchen Almind:

Hava Nagila Recording:

-Thomas McGregor, Music Instructor & Lecturer