by Author nicbriggs

Published on

You are here:

Engaging with participants with little musical interest by James Stanley (Quench Arts’ Wavelength Music Leader)

How I engage with participants with little musical interest. 

Sometimes you have participants who have very little interest in learning how to make music. It could be because a whole generation in today’s world have been given and expect instant gratification. They like the idea of 'being a musician’ up until the point where they realise it doesn’t happen overnight! How do we reach these people in our relatively short music sessions?

The most important thing we can do to engage these individuals is to make it seem (at least at the beginning) like it IS happening overnight. Simplify our craft down to the bare minimum, use our skills to make even the simplest of things sound as good as possible. Whether this is using alternate tunings on a guitar, applying a good effects chain to a vocal mic or whatever else suits your art form; a little bit of planning and thought ahead of time can do wonders in the session.

As an example, I worked with one young musician who loved the idea of being a rapper, releasing his music and hearing it on the radio. As a hook, this worked well - I made his vocals sound amazing and made him a really inspiring track to rap over. In the next session, I needed to keep him engaged. I needed to get him to start creating his own tracks, taking control of his music. He had zero interest in doing this. He was a beginner musician and got frustrated by how slow the process of putting a track together was. I failed to engage him because I hadn’t thought and planned enough. I hadn’t simplified my craft to enable him to feel amazing about how quickly and simply he was putting something together! I didn’t hook him in fast enough. I needed to come to the next session with a different plan. How could I get him to create something quickly? I decided to use some technology that is aimed at inexperienced musicians.

I came early to the session and then set up two Roli Blocks. They work inside an iPad app called Noise and enable the user to play in rhythms, bass lines and melodies with a range of great sounds before layering them up and creating arrangements - all of this with one finger! I made sure that this was all set up to come through the speakers, ready to record and that the studio microphone was then ready to go if we needed it for vocals later on! I needed to make sure the process was streamlined.

Before the participant came into the room, I set up the Blocks with a drum sound I thought he’d like. They're designed so that they are very difficult not to touch and play with. They look very inviting, covered in cool flashing lights, and so as soon as my participant walked through the door he said, “Wow, what’s that!?” and then, as soon as he touched it, even before he knew what he was doing, he was creating a drum pattern that sounded good and that he could imagine rapping over.

Again, before he noticed, I’d got it recorded using one of the ‘Loop’ blocks that work as small wireless controllers. This was then constantly looping round and because he was already hooked (because he already thought in his head - “I can do this!”). I went into a bit more detail with him about how he could use the technology to add extra sounds. Over the next few minutes we built up several loops of drums and synth sounds that he was really proud of. I kept it simple, only using four different sounds. Sometimes, as musicians, we can go into TOO much detail and go a little far with our explanations, tips, techniques and productions that we disengage the participant that way. Once this process was over, we decided it was a good enough piece of music to rap over. The participant got on the microphone with some lyrics. I handed him another one of the Blocks that was set up to trigger the loops he’d just made, turning them on and off. He burst into a performance, both recording his rap and building up the structure and arrangement of the track in real time to suit his lyrics. After about an hour he had created a great sounding track and recorded his own vocals over the top. It was ready to export, put on a CD and as he was leaving, he was telling me all of his ideas for the music video he’s going to make for the track.

Since that session, he has loved making music in our time together and I’ve been able to go into much more detail about certain processes. What I learnt from this experience was that to engage someone who has a limited musical interest, you have to do a lot of the work yourself initially. As musicians we need to use our skills and expertise to simplify things, to make things quick and easy and, most importantly, make things sound GREAT. How each of us do this in our own work is up to us but if we do it well, we’ll be able to ‘hook’ in a lot more individuals and hopefully get them more interested in making music on a bigger scale with us or someone else in the future!