3 Facts about music in the Bible that Christian Musician should know about !

The first reference in the Bible about music is in Genesis 4:21, “His brother’s name was Jubal, the first of all who play the harp and flute.” Other early references can be found in Exodus 15, where it referred to Moses singing a song of deliverance to the Lord. At that time Aaron’s sister Miriam Exodus 15:20 “Then Miriam the prophet, Aaron’s sister, took a tambourine and led all the women as they played their tambourines and danced” . Both the Old and The New Testament encourage music and strongly support its use for worship purposes. The compositions of songs and hymns in the Old Testament shows the importance and the value God places on creative musical expression. Although there are a lot of passages and verses in the Bible that talk about music, I will single out some facts that I personally like.

Music flows out from a thankful heart
I remember, when I used to write songs for churches and choirs, how easily the words just flowed whenever I was writing about giving thanks to God. The fact is that there are so many things to be grateful for that there will never be enough songs and poems that can cover it all. This may be a plausible explanation as to why the Bible urges us to always give thanks to God. As Psalm 33:2 says, “Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; Sing praises to Him with a harp of ten strings.”

I also love Psalm 32:7. Although a lot of commentaries overlook this specific verse, I think it was very important for David to express himself this way because he wasn’t just a powerful tool in God’s hand and a faithful servant, but also a musician. He put his faith in God and trusted that He would renew his mind and inspire him with new songs: “You are my hiding place; you will protect me from trouble and surround me with songs of deliverance.”

Music has a calming effect
A lot of people today use music for theraputic purpose… [5 Amazing Benefits Of Music Therapy] It is certainly not a new science, although many people would question the spiritual vs the scientific use of it; let’s not get into that now. 1 Samuel 16 describes David as a very talented young musician. He was recommended to Saul by one of his servants both for his amazing musical talent and his godly traits. I assume that David was well known for his gift, and it probably was in his habit to use it to help people dealing with either emotional distress or demons possession. 1 Samuel 16:23 tells us, “And whenever the tormenting spirit from God troubled Saul, David would play the harp. Then Saul would feel better, and the tormenting spirit would go away” . This gives us an idea about how important and powerful music can be. I believe that if people who consecrated themselves to God and the music ministry recognize the value of their gifts and talents and allow God to use them, He would certain do as many amazing things as He did before.

Music is an insult to God when hypocrisy is in the heart
Many people are gifted with musical talent. I have come across extraordinary musicians. Some of them are dedicated church musicians, while others just choose a different path. Many of them can make art from trash, manipulate, and trick your ears. However, just because someone is a very good musician doesn’t mean that their performances bring glory to God. Amos 5: 23 couldn’t say it better: “Away with your noisy hymns of praise! I will not listen to the music of your harps.” It is no doubt that God wants us to serve Him with honesty and a truthful heart. It’s clear that He doesn’t tolerate any form of hypocrisy. In this context, I’m singling out those with musical gifts without neither a heart for God’s work, any sense of ministry nor devotion.

It doesn’t matter what appearances or whatever superficial characteristics someone may have, if what that person is doing doesn’t come from the heart, it’s just an insult to God.

Music is an inexhaustible source of inspiration. When you put the knowledge, the understanding and mix those with the Love of God and ministry I believe that has the power to change the world and more importantly people’s lives. Because not only you will have a poweful message to deliver you will do it with love.

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5 easy steps to master mediocrity !

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While I usually talk about perspective and improvement, this article is about how to be mediocre. It sure sounds awful but I’m sure anyone wants to be one. So while these steps are tongue-to-cheek, they will help you to know exactly what not to do if you want to become a serious musician.

Step 1 : Don’t learn everything in the 12 keys
The ability to play in every 12 keys are essential for every musician. At the beginning, it may look like you never use some keys or may appear not necessary, so why even bother learning everything in 12 keys? Knowing your major scale in a key is just a start to becoming proficient. As a serious musician, you should be able to create and develop ideas, use progressions in any key without thinking twice. This a very important task and it requires hours of practice, every dedicated musician had to do it at some point in their career. Developing this ability is a very difficult task and takes years of practice and work. No one can put pressure on you or force you to do it but beware that soon or later it will catch up with you. If you have a daily detail plan you will sure be on the way to easily express yourself in 12 keys. Don’t be a lazy musician or a one-key-mastered-musician, get out there and practice everything in every key.

Step 2: Don’t ever try to bring something new
Playing music is not just about sounding good and being capable of entertaining the crowd or even feeling content. Some musicians spend their entire life looking up for their favorite improvisers and repeating them. As a matter of fact, listening to the best performances and learning exactly what you want from them is one of the best ways to improve and get better but as a musician, you need to allow yourself to think and create your own music. The records you listen to, the musicians you emotionally feel connected to, have an immense impact on your musical creativity and it’s something that can’t be copied, it’s unique only to you. Don’t be afraid to express yourself and get creative. Remember that developing your own voice takes time and produce an original voice begins with imitation. With dedication, study, and consistency you will bring a sound that is truly original.

Step 3: Practice only when you feel like it
This is certainly one of the most important points in this article. Who wants to spend several hours every day or every week in a room learning, sometimes very late at night, trying to figure out how some progressions works, working on melody lines, licks, chords extensions…? We all want to be just good the first time we hit the rehearsal home. Some of us after reading tons of theory and trying to understand as many as information as we can, feel like the Job is done and it’s time to move on. Others, from time to time do not really feel any need to learn new concepts, theory or even touch the instrument. Some others adopt a more drastic attitude; they think that as long as their performances are good (according to them) practice can be skipped !

Even if this article is entitled 5 step to master mediocrity, my intentions are not to blame or to make anyone feel bad. I want the best for everyone including myself, who are fighting to produce a perfect sound. We are all on the same road and few of us can use some good tips and encouragement. The goal here is to help you find the perspectives and confidence you probably need right now. If you really want to stay connected with this art form you better get into it and embrace it. You never going to stay at one place, it’s either you progress or regress. The decision you make today while reading this will determine what kind of musician you are and where do you want to go from here.

Step 4: Blame your equipment !
Many of us spend countless hours practicing, gathering tons of information to better our skills. Because of that, while performing we expect the sound we produce to be excellent. Our mind put us in a state where, when something wrong happens it’s certainly not on us. We did our job, we practiced we got ourselves ready to perform, we were errors free. Once in a while, we think that way. In fact, musicians who take their career seriously, by nature have the tendency to exaggerate a little in that kind of thinking. However, it’s not necessarily a bad thing because what we’re trying to achieve is the ability to produce a perfect sound and it requires confidence.

At a point of my music life, every time I come across roadblocks I blame it straightaway on my equipment. It was either the sound that the speakers produce or the mixing is not good. I said to myself, the instrument sound bank is useless or the instrument itself is bad if I could put my hand on a real Pro Piano, I’d do so much better. I even had piano brands in my mind that I was convinced can make me sound amazing. This attitude is completely delusional, yet many of us keep thinking like this for years. Now, I’m not going to deny that having good equipment don’t help your performance. The point here is, you are the sound you produce, no instrument will make you a better musician than what you are. No speakers will make your performances greater than what is playing in your mind. Therefore, when you feel like blaming your sound engineer [who sometimes deserve it] or planning on buying better instruments so you can sound better think first about who you are as a musician. What kind of sound is in your mind? What do you do and how do to externalize it?

Step 5: Don’t bother training your ears !
I’ve heard a story about a young boy that had perfect ears. You can drop any kind of coins on the ground he could tell you in a blink of an eye what musical note matches it. But let us be more practical, in our musical journey we find ourselves sometimes in the presence of a musician with amazing ears. Someone who have the ability to pick the melody to any tune easily. Someone who can solo on any chords progressions without guessing. These are the people who put a lot of efforts in what we call “ear training”. In an article Forrest and Eric wrote, they said: “Essentially, ear training means the process of learning to identify intervals, chord qualities, chord tones, chord progressions and the ability to play what you’re hearing. And real ear training happens when you put your ears to the test.” Fundamental Ear training exercises.

Listening and training your ears is a very essential in the process of learning and understanding music. Some consider it not important and others too difficult but either way it’s a step every serious musician should take. Don’t just put your fingers on your instrument or blow, don’t get comfortable without knowing how your next notes or chords will sound. One of the advantages the ear training exercises has is, you don’t need an instrument to understand what’s playing in your mind. You’ll spend less time cracking chords progression and learning new songs. If you are reading this I assume it’s because music is very important for you so, I suggest if you really want to be fluent in music languages you should start now and have a little fun with it.

Whether you’re a professional player or a beginner, you as musicians sometimes should take a step back and have a look on your progress. Being a musician is not easy and it requires efforts and sacrifices, you don’t perform for your own joy and pleasure. Music is not self-centered, it is something you create and bring to and for the world. Because of that, it is imperative that you know what you’re sharing, understand it and master it as much as you can. If you were discouraged or heading in a bad direction I hope this article is a great help.

If you love it, do it right, keep working hard and enjoy it !

Donald Remonvil

Be The Worst player in the room and Be Ok with that !

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As musicians, we always feel like competing with each other. When we break some chords or transcribe an entire Keith Jarrett ‘s solo the only thing that comes up in our mind is, “When am I going to be able to put that out?” Or, after spending days learning a Bill Evans approach on our favorite standard, how good would that be to show off a little bit huh? Although this may sound like a misguided motive, but it often results in skills and confidence development.

When we know there are musicians around who listening to us while performing we do our best to impress them. And at that precise moment, all we can focus on is, “Take this!  Take that!  I bet you didn’t know this licks!” and so on… How proud we are when we attend a workshop a concert or a music festival and we know for sure that we are the best there? Personally, I have found myself in similar situations and it’s a quiet good feeling. We like when we walk in the room with our instrument and we smash the competition. With an effortless mastery, we tackle every chord progressions every run and every challenging techniques. We play like the roof is on fire !

…… Unfortunately, it isn’t always the case.

Sometimes we can give everything we have and find ourself in the middle or even at the bottom of the pack.  When that happen we can find that music is not excited anymore, it’s not fun.  We feel discouraged even depressed; all we want to do is run to our comfort zone.

One thing that sometimes happens to me, after a day of rehearsal, playing in front of other great musicians or watching a master class video is a sudden awareness of my weaknesses. It is almost as if everyone knows what they are doing except me; I feel overwhelmed, like a beginner all over again. I hate those moments. If you like me have had this experience, don’t lose hope, you are not alone. Even the great Miles Davis felt the same way at times, “When Bird would play a melody I’d just play under him and let him lead the note… I used to quite every night when I was playing with that guy. I’d say, what do you need me for? “

In my personal experience, I sometimes play so bad during a gig I wish I had caught a cold and stayed home. I’ve listened to my musical heroes and say to myself “whaaat! I really don’t know a thing!”

But wait a second…. Being the worst musician in the room isn’t a bad thing ! 

The question you are probably asking yourself right now is, How being the worst could ever be a good thing?

If you look at this issue closely you will find it very helpful. In order to grow you need to get out of your comfort zone. You need to be challenged. To Move forward you have to face this kind of situations where you’re barely can keep up with the other guys.

Here are some reasons why being the worst could help you grow as a musician !

It higher your standards
What is a “great performance” is to you? The answer to this question could give place to a long debate because the answer is relative. It’s relative to what you’ve learned, your experiences and what you listened. What you consider great might not be as great for the musician you look up to. If this is the case for you, maybe you should higher your standards. Try to gain more perspective, explore and exploit more, allow yourself to consider new approaches, move out of the box. Practically it could be anything, some chords progressions you never heard of, some standards you’ve been approaching a poorly way, techniques you’ve been practicing the wrong way etc… Your eyes and ears have been opened to new possibilities and that’s a positive way to look at it.

You can Learn from the great
I’ve been teaching music for quite some years now. The first thing I always try to make my student understand is “You become who and what you listened to!” This is not mathematics but it’s either true or false there’s no in between. When you surrounded yourself with great players, choose wisely your heroes and make them your inspirational source. There’s no excuse for a musician to never listen to music or gather some information about the greatest players.There’s no excuse for a musician who does not listen to good music or read about great players. The technological advancements have put at our disposition a great and accessible source of information called the Internet; let’s make good use of it. Feeling bad about our skill should prompt us to learn. This is a good way to keep growing !

It kills laziness
I’ve been there, probably you too. This is not uncommon for a musician to not feel the desire to hit the rehearsal home or spend time with your instrument. But what I’m talking about here is a completely different issue.

Some of us at some point in our musical journey think like that “Hmm ok !  This is it. I think I’m going to stay there for a while. No one around here plays better than I do,so everything is good for now!” Well, guess what? This is exactly what is going to happen, you are going to stay right where you are unless you do something about it. Learning is not something you do one time and then you don’t have to do it anymore. It’s a constant sacrifice, it never stops. One aspect of learning is consistency. Let yourself be inspired by people who have been where you are. Don’t procrastinate, get to it today! Meet some musicians, find out when there’s a concert where great musicians are playing, go to some church service rehearsal, read some biographies, listen to some other kind of music.

We all have been to situations where we feel like we don’t even deserve to be called musician but guess what… It isn’t a bad thing !

Let’s make something good comes out of it ! 

Donald Remonvil

Haïti: Why (many) church musician do not practice!

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One day after church a Sunday morning, I decided to have a little chat with the musicians who just got off their instruments. I was very concern about their lack of improvement over the years. As I was trying to help, I highlighted the very issue that was bothering me and ask them some questions in an attempt to find more clues about what was really happening. What I finally got out of them is “We do not practice!” But the very best question I asked in the whole little talk we had was “Why do you not practice? ” That could seem odd to many but as someone who grew up playing in church, I assure you, many church musicians, especially in Haïti, would answer the way these guys did. That was no surprise to me!

let’s see what they answered…

We are not allowed to use the instruments
Well, for some church leaders say something like that is nearly offensive. But for many musicians who give themselves entirely to serve their congregation, this is their reality. I have been there and a lot more are going through this. As a contracted musician who get paid monthly for church music ministry I don’t nor should I have any resentment toward my leaders because it stipulated in my contract that I must touch the instrument only when I’m playing the in church services or to not take it home when church’s done …etc (which is not the case) But to someone who’s willing to put aside all the benefits they can get and freely serve this is not fair. I’m not debating church policy or criticizing leadership authority here but this is the reality many musicians are living in actuality. And to you, my musician brothers and friends here are some pieces of advice you can use whether you play for a church who doesn’t allow you access to your designated instrument or you’re a freelancer like myself.

First
What you have to understand is : There’s a lot you can do without an instrument !. Do not stay there and accept the fact that your music life is going no were because of your church policy or a physical instrument is nowhere to be found. There are plenty of things you can discover. For example, you can Look for good and instructive documentations online, there are tons. Find out who are your most favorite musicians and how they can affect your playing. Read some biographies and don’t be afraid to buy good music books.

Second
As I always tell my students “do not limit yourself! Don’t be afraid to ask when you need help.” Good musicians are those who never feel too proud to ask or to look for help when in need. There are a lot of musician unlike you who have unlimited access to an instrument: use them! I’m not saying you should take advantage of someone who can help you, I say you should get to know as many as musicians you can. Musicians naturally are friendly and cheerful so don’t be afraid to get in touch with them this way you will have a friend or a partner who can either ease your access to an instrument or help you grow musically.

We don’t really know what to practice
In one of my recent article Be effective in the practice room, I gave some advice about how a musician can improve better and efficiently. In my music career combined with the experiences, I gathered through the years I realize that many musicians failed to improve because they have no idea where to start or what to work on in their practice time. As a team you should work together, get to know your peers and have a clear idea where they’re going while playing but if you really want to improve you should start doing more personal work.

I play almost every day of the week in the church: that’s enough practicing !
What a lot of musician don’t understand is, the best musicians in the world spend an enormous amount of time practicing. They do not just appear to be good players. They work hard and apply in order to get themselves where they are.
By playing frequently you’re not learning. Repeating makes you good only with what you already now. Don’t get stuck in one place, learn some new concepts new theories and new approaches.

We’re improving anyway !
Yes, that is correct ! But there is something you have to be aware of. Have you ever been to a church where the musicians play really good but when the lead singer try to improvise a little suddenly everyone get lost? Another scenario is, the musicians are killing in some songs but others are like needles in your throat. And you sitting there asking yourself:

are they the same musicians from the other songs?

Well, sadly Yes, they are! The important question should be:

What in the world is happening?

There’s a misconception that hits many, which consequently leads many musicians to play more in church or play a song over and over. Many of them believe the more they play a song the better musician they will be. This way they think they’re improving. But what really is happening is, they get better in performing one or two songs but don’t have any concept or idea of a whole. Their music knowledge, in general, stays the same. It’s like saying “Bonjou” the creole words for good morning, over and over until you master it and sound like a Haitian native. As long as you’re working down the street people say bonjou to you and say it back very good everything is fine but a simple change like, “Bonswa” Could turn your world upside-down. This is exactly what is happening with a lot of guys out there. Their music vocabulary is so empty that when you say something else other than what they previously kept on loop, it crashed their world and get completely lost!

Music is a language itself, in order to speak it fluently you have to learn tone of words, build vocabularies, work on phrases, pronunciation. With hard work and consistency, you will surely hold an entire conversation. Work on progression, longer lines, and licks, chords color and so on. The choices are limitless. Start now !

Donald Remonvil

Be effective in the practice room !

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I started to play music very young and I was passionate about it, I still do. I was very excited every time I find something new to learn. I used to spend more than 10 hours daily on the piano. Sometimes my parents had to beg me to eat something because when I was working on something I would not leave until I mastered it. I remember those time very often because they have contributed greatly to put me where I am now as a musician.

My point here is, when you love something and want to be good at it you have to compromise and spend sufficient time in doing it. Just because you love music and you want to be good doesn’t really mean that is going to happen. If you don’t apply yourself and spend valuable time with your instrument you will always feel left out when you are playing in a band or when you’re having a jam with your friends.

There’s a lot of good musician all around the world who spend a lot of time in the practice room. But a lot them have difficulties meeting their goals, some doesn’t seeing any improvements. Every musician most likely use their practice time differently, and it has a serious impact on how they’re improving. I’ve look closely at this matter and found 3 different ways one get use of their practice time.

Practice #1
You have your instrument here and you just start playing something. There’s a few nice things and ideas coming and goes in your mind. You have a nice feeling, the things you’re doing can even deeply touch you. Maybe there’s a few people listening to you; you just go with the flow. But you’re not exactly working on anything.

Practice #2
You have a big event coming up, a music Festival, a concert etc… you force yourself to learn some few chords, some scales and a bunch of licks. But this is just a task for you, you can’t wait to get up and leave the instrument.

Practice #3
There is the kind of practice when you know exactly what you’re going to do. You come prepare with a list of things to do. You know where you are and what to expect when you get out of the room. You have a goal! When you’re done you feel that you’ve accomplished something and you can move forward.

It seems like most player are going in between the first and the second type of exercise. We have to admit, it’s great to have a jamming session with some peers and put out some good stuff we’ve been working on when people are listening. But the important question we should ask here is, How do we create the 3rd type of practice? The one that seems to bring more to a musician who want to grow and be efficient. The secret to a very effective practice time start before you even get to your instrument. As you’re reading this you should be focus on how your next practice time going to help you be the musician you always wanted to be. But to do that you need to consider some few things.

Make a plan
Like I said before, a lot of musician are spending a lot of time practicing but without seeing any improvements. This could be very frustrating and stressful. But at the other hand there are the one who use less time and gets better result. This is simple, the one who are improving have a plan. They set some goals and identified the method or materials that can get them there.

We all can get very frustrated sometimes when we spend time practicing and doesn’t see any improvement. We should probably attributed that to one of those first 2 practicing method.

Having a goal before practicing could be learning new scales, soloing over diminished chords, understand the II-v progressions, master a standard you like. In order to see your progress, you should have a plan for all these set of goals. Precision is the key! Don’t be vague and clueless when you enter the practice room. Make a list about the things you want to get done and be serious about it. Instead of saying “I’m going to practice or I probably should now this stuff” Say “Today I’m going to learn the first part of Georgia on my mind and I will train my ear to know the difference between a major and minor chords.” The second statement sound more like someone who has a plan and know exactly what results he should be expecting.

Don’t waste time in your practice session going back-and-forth. Be precise and know exactly what you want to accomplish. Set your goals and hit the practice room with a serious plan !

Listen and listen!
This is one of the major problem the music art is facing nowadays. Musician don’t really spend time listening. I like to ask my students this question : “What or who did you listen to this week?” sadly most of the time no one have a clear answer to that question. It’s nearly impossible to improve as a musician without having the sound in your ear, meaning listening. How often you listen have a serious impact on how you approach music in general and higher your expectations.

One of my friends called John who is a fine singer was chosen by our music team which at this time I was directing, to sing a song by Marvin Saap one of the best gospel Singer. What he did annoyed a lot of people including me but it sure had good results. John played the songs for 3 days non-stop. He put the cd player on repeat and just let it go night and days. I bet he even dreamed about the song. After that everyone who had to endure this torture including him know exactly every little part of the song. He knew every variations every changes everything to perform the songs exactly as it were. He completely ingrained the music in his mind.

Of course, no one will nor should be asked to do exactly like John did but you can’t also keep practicing without having anything in your mind. The first thing to do when you want to improve is get use of the sound of the best. Whether you want to learn a solo or some chord progressions, whatever it is, you first have to ingrain the sound in your ears.

Focus
Many musicians especially in my country have a full time job so even when they’re serious about it music is like a hobby or a second job for them. A lot of us have other responsibilities and life can be stressful. So make sure when you’re going to practice you have a clear mind for the 30 minutes or one hour you are spending with your instrument. Make sure your phone is off so you won’t have to answering calls or checking your facebook every 2 minutes. Make the time count!

Don’t get discouraged
The road to success is not always as nice as it appears. The great improviser you like, the player you admire, all these people spend hundred of hours listening and practicing. They don’t magically appear to be good, they work hard with consistency and a mindsets that keep them going.

Seeing improvements in your playing is a good thing but when you don’t, don’t stop there. Set some goals! Make a serious plan and have in mind where you want to go from where you are and use the time you have wisely.

Let’s get started….

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A couple of months ago, I started to think about a better way to share my thoughts and some advice to musicians who have anger for knowledge and want to improve like I am. As someone who have been in music for almost 15 years, I think it is very important for my fellow musician and people who care about music to keep learning and growing in their abilities but It is also very important to know about other people who are invested in this art as they are. And the best way to learn from them is through their writings, articles and documentaries that talk about the struggles and difficulties they face in their music career and everyday life.

I did some research on how to do built-up a website and also read some tutorials about other possibilities that might help me in this path. I finally decided to use WordPress which I think fit more or less the kind of information I want to share.

I will use English, French and Creole  here depending on the subject I’m writing about.

Many musicians are discouraged and lost their passion but one can always find his way back. This is why I will be sharing exciting ideas, stories and testimonies that can hopefully help you gain some perspective on your musical career.

Donald Remonvil