News / Blog

Playing Strong and Wrong

There's an old saying: The only difference between a professional musician and an amateur is that a professional isn't afraid to make mistakes in front of other people. There's a lot of truth to that.

When first learning anything - a new instrument, or a new piece - it's natural to approach it with trepidation. However, in the long run, this fear will ultimately hinder student progress and motivation.

As teachers, it's important to be able to hear what students are doing and help improve what was prepared for that lesson (assuming you practiced, of course...). Students often suffer what is lovingly referred to as Teacheritis: a 10% or more drop in the quality of the performance because it's being done in front of another person, not to mention another person you know is likely scrutinizing your every move. But remember, that's what we're here for! Know that most of us build in this golf handicap-like measurement when we first hear something from an unsure pupil.

But if confidence isn't instilled into the student early in the process, many songs can come across as meek, timid or worse, just plain boring. Music is about expressing something, like any language. If you're a wallflower about communicating, it reflects poorly in the pieces you play.

Rather than worrying about mistakes - and honestly, if you didn't have any mistakes, why would you be taking lessons to improve? - present what you have with joy and pride. Most of us would much prefer Strong and Wrong to Weak and Right. It's easier to correct mistakes than improve strength. Without it, we have to move from Weak and Wrong, to Weak and Right, then finally Strong and Right. Better to skip that extra step sooner rather than later.

Taking music lessons is often an exercise in courage. We recognize that, and appaud each and every student who plays their instrument for us, week in, week out. But let's try to make it weak in, strong out instead.

Lots More Coming Soon!

We're off to a roaring start, and it's definitely thanks to all of our community. But we're not done yet. Here's some of the exciting - at least, to us! - things happening soon at Toronto Music Alliance.

Stuff for the Site

We're really proud of this website (thanks, Utan Media!) - and with good reason. It's easy to navigate, clean, and full of content. But there's some great stuff coming soon, including:


We're always looking for feedback. As the ToMA site grows, we're looking to not just be a place to check us out (though, while you're here, you definitely should if you haven't already!), but for interesting stories, perspectives and happening from the musical community in our city, country and from around the world. So, coming soon, we're looking to allow you to interact with our stories. Let us know what you think, or if there's something else we should check out. 

Filling in the Blanks

We're working to get the last of our content up as quickly as we can. Things like more photos showing our facilities and community around us are coming as quickly as we can. And when we say that Registering Online is coming soon, we mean it!

Prettying Things Up

We'll be adding more finishing touches to our site, making it even more rich and dynamic.

More Stories from You

We're looking to highlight achievements from our students, as well as our supporters and the musical community at large. You probably noticed the Holiday musical treat on the front page (with hopefully another one coming next week). We'd like to feature more of our students this way, so let your teacher know you'd like your online fame!

And believe us when we say this is a very short list of some amazing things to come. But we have to stop there in order to actually do the work! More details and unveilings to come, and it'll only get better from here. 

"You Can't Play That"

“You can’t play that yet.”

At times, they are the worst words you can hear as a music student. But there’s always a reason – even if it isn’t obvious at first.

If you’re learning to play an instrument, chances are you started because either a) your parents forced you, or more likely b) because there was some song that inspired you to pick that instrument. That’s a wonderful thing to have: inspiration. The only problem is that achieving that “goal piece” takes more than inspiration; it also takes perspiration.

What you want to play and what you need to play are two distinct things. For example, in a piano lesson, there will typically be some finger exercises, scales, repertoire and then, finally, something for “fun.” You may want to play the Harry Potter theme, a Beatles tune or something elegant by Chopin, but if your fingers are still tripping over a C major scale and triads, this isn’t going to happen yet.

The difficulty comes in when what you want and what you need are very far apart. Especially for beginners, this is disheartening. A lot of the time, students feel that their teachers don’t understand what they want, or worse, that they don’t care.

If you have a caring, professional teacher, then you must remember that we most definitely care about your well being as a musician, along with keeping you on a path we know can lead you to the success you want. Sometimes that path involves things you may not expect, or necessarily like at first. Please know that your teacher truly does want what’s best for you in the long run.

So the next time you ask to play that Adele song, or that Beethoven sonata and we say, “Not just yet,” remember: it’s not forever. We’ll get you there. We promise.

Online Lessons: A How-To and Why-To

See the screenshot beside this story? It's a student project. What makes it more amazing is that it's not on the teacher's computer, but the student's. Live, online and in another country. Toronto Music Alliance proudly demonstrates the future of music education, right now.

Toronto Music Alliance has stated, since its inception, to use technology in a very real, tanglible way that can create educational opportunities never before possible. For proof, we'd like to share a story about how to have a lesson and maintain a student-teacher relationship when thousands of miles separate both people.

A long-time student, Leah, has been studying theory on and off with Toronto Music Alliance teacher David Stone for a few years. Leah is an excellent student, but there's one problem getting in the way of regular instruction: Leah lives in Boston, studying music at the world-renowned Berklee College of Music.

David was thrilled with Leah's abilities and attitude as a student, but the commute was making lessons a bit difficult.

When settling on a new major - film composition - Leah had several assignments that, while she was doing well, felt she needed some extra instruction.

"I learned all my chords and harmony in the jazz program, but I feel like I'm missing some of the fundamentals of harmony, of function," she explained.

A little technology, mixed with a little know-how, has enabled David and Leah to continue working together on a regular basis. Both are thrilled with the ability to have a regular lesson that truly is almost as good as being in the same room.

Here's all that is required:

- two computers, equipped with webcams and a reasonably-fast Internet connection

- an online chat program such as Skype

Once both parties have exchanged contact information, it's as simple as making a phone call and being online at the same time. But that's just the beginning.

Most online chat programs allow users to Share Screen. This allows people to actually view, live and in real time, what's happening on the other person's screen. Better still, it allows both people to work together on a single desktop.

In David and Leah's case, Leah opens up her current composition project in Finale 2009 - a music notation program; think Microsoft Word for sheet music - and David can take control of the pointer, circle an area of interest, and even mark changes directly on the score while both can listen to the changes together, live.

It's an exciting first step towards the future of music education. While it doesn't replace the live interaction of teacher and student, in the case of David and Leah, it's a dynamic, interactive and feasible solution to a previously-unsolvable problem. Toronto Music Alliance is proud to be on the forefront of this emerging field.