Soapbox Teaching

Teaching Music Is More Important Than Teaching Math(s)

Welcome to Soapbox – a series of short posts where I put forward a unusual argument about music, education, musical education (maybe even educational music?). Each post is a single bite and is not intended to cover every possible point pro or con. 

Teaching Music Is More Important Than Teaching Math(s)

This runs counter to everything coming out of mainstream education, but it’s true.

One reason it’s true is that the skill required to do many maths problems is being rendered obsolete by computers. And not just huge MIT style, server farmed computers. The tiny computers your 10 year old kid carries around in their pockets and occasionally phones home on. Just like we no longer teach kids how to use a mangle, churn butter or shoe a horse, most people no longer to need to learn the kind of maths we spend days, weeks and months cramming into the heads of 8 year old kids. Like map reading, it’s a skill which the machines are now doing faster, better and cheaper.

Music creation on the other hand is not a profession that our robot overlords are going to be taking over any time soon. Programmers have succeeded in creating software that can listen to music, decipher the tempo and then tap a robotic foot along to. That’s as good as it gets. But the human brain can hear Happy Birthday To You, played fast or slow, on a piccolo or a bass guitar, in the key of Bb or F# and instantly perform the mind-numbingly complex equations to identify the tune without, you know, your mind going numb. We’re decades away from a computer program that can do that.

That’s decades of gainful employment making music with no threat from the machines, while the math dudes are asking “do you want fries with that?”

Education Music Is The Best Soapbox Teaching

Why Guitar Lessons Are More Important Than Any Other Lessons

There are lots of things you can do to make you smarter but music is the only thing that will make your corpus callosum thicker. The corpus callosum is the wiring system between the two halves of your brain. So when you have a guitar lesson you are literally rewiring your brain and upgrading it. Only music does this – not literacy, not maths, not even SRE.

And music doesn’t just help your brain talk to itself. It’s also great for strengthening the areas that handle balance, movement and motor control. It’s one of the few activities that gives the entire brain a workout; the parts that handles higher thinking (frontal cortex), memories (hippocampus), emotions (amygdala) even the parts that we share with animals (cerebellum and brain stem). And if that wasn’t enough, music makes you feel good by releasing a neurotransmitter called dopamine. Spelling tests don’t do that.

Recent studies have shown that music can help people with parkinson’s disease walk, autistic children socialise, premature babies gain weight and even reduce pain during spinal surgery.

Music doesn’t just change your brain when you’re young though.When older people lose the ability to speak after a stroke, scientists have found using music not only aids recovery but can produce visible changes in brain structure after only six months of treatment and it’s far more effective than getting them to listen to audio books.

Take that Charles Dickens!

Source: Zoe Cormier “Tune Into Treatment FM” in Focus Magazine (p.59) Oct 2015
A Blog's Life Homework Teaching

The 2015 String Learning Speed Championship Thing

This term I’ve been teaching all my pupils the notes on the guitar up to the 12th fret. Big congrats to anyone who managed to learn the WHOLE GUITAR. Here’s the fastest 3 peeps for the whole guitar and the fastest 3, string by string. Then we have everyone who did the whole guitar and everyone who did any string in 5 seconds and under (except for the top E because there were just toooooooooo many!).

Well done everyone (try not to forget it all over the holidays!)


(NAME – SCHOOL – TIME, in minutes and seconds)

1) Empress (HF) – 0.30.0
2) Emily G (FW/PR) – 0.33.0
3) Lauren (HF/PR) – 0.35.9


1) Aysha (FW)  – 2.7
=2) Ishmael (FW), Sam E (FW) – 2.8


1) Nathan (HF) – 2.8
2) Sam M (SCA) – 3.1
3) Zac H-I (FW) – 3.3


=1) Nathan (HF), Oliver (HF), Sam M (SCA) – 3.0


=1) Emily G (FW/PR), Harvey (SCA) – 3.3
3) Katy H (SCA) – 3.6


1) Abbie-Leigh (PR) – 3.3
2) Sam M (SCA) – 3.4
3) Katy H (SCA) – 3.7


1) Zac H-I (FW) – 2.8
2) Abbie-Leigh (PR) – 3.1
3) Harry (FW) – 3.2



1 Empress HF 0.30.0
2 Emily G FW/PR 0.33.0
3 Lauren HF/PR 0.35.9
4 Destiny HF 0.37.7
5 Pav HF 0.39.3
6 Robert FW 0.52.2
7 Melissa SCA 0.53.7
8 Abbie-Leigh PR 0.57.0
9 Niall HF 0.57.5
10 Leo FW 1.00.0
11 Jess S PR 1.02.7
12 Yashas FW 1.48.8
13 Ethan FW 1.52.4


1 Aysha FW 2.7
2 Ishmael FW 2.8
2 Sam E FW 2.8
4 Ben M FW 2.9
4 Ruby FW 2.9
6 Emily G FW/PR 3.0
6 Harry FW 3.0
6 Sam M SCA 3.0
9 Conor D FW 3.1
10 Pav HF 3.2
10 Seb FW 3.2
12 Aimad RF 3.4
12 Aman FW 3.4
12 Ella FW 3.4
12 Owen FW 3.4
12 Robert FW 3.4
17 Lily FW 3.5
18 Destiny HF 3.6
18 Jai FW 3.6
18 Leo FW 3.6
18 Summer HH 3.6
22 Abbie-Leigh PR 3.7
22 Louis FW 3.7
22 Niall HF 3.7
25 Eden FW 3.8
25 Martha D FW 3.8
25 Subhaan FW 3.8
25 Tilly FW 3.8
29 Daisy FW 3.9
29 Harry FW 3.9
29 Lauren HF/PR 3.9
29 Todah FW 3.9


1 Nathan HF 2.8
2 Sam M SCA 3.1
3 Zac H-I FW 3.3
4 Ben M FW 3.5
4 Lauren HF/PR 3.5
6 Emily G FW/PR 3.6
6 Robert FW 3.6
6 Seb FW 3.6
9 Josh T HH 4.1
9 Skylar HF 4.1
11 Katy H SCA 4.3
11 Pav HF 4.3
13 Kieran C PR 4.5
14 Abbie-Leigh PR 4.6
15 Emma C SCA 4.9


1 Nathan HF 3.0
1 Oliver HF 3.0
1 Sam M SCA 3.0
4 Ben M FW 3.6
4 Katy H SCA 3.6
6 Robert FW 3.7
7 Emily G FW/PR 3.8
7 Empress HF 3.8
9 Emma C SCA 4.1
9 Niall HF 4.1
11 Lauren HF/PR 4.2
12 Daniel H SCA 4.3
12 Pav HF 4.3
14 Abbie-Leigh PR 4.6
14 Destiny HF 4.6
16 Josh T HH 4.7


1 Emily G FW/PR 3.3
1 Harvey SCA 3.3
3 Katy H SCA 3.6
4 Robert FW 3.8
5 Oliver HF 3.9
6 Daniel H SCA 4.0
7 Abbie-Leigh PR 4.1
7 Empress HF 4.1
9 Josh T HH 4.2
10 Kieran C PR 4.4
10 Nathan HF 4.4
10 Pav HF 4.4
13 Lauren HF/PR 4.8
14 Leo FW 4.9


1 Abbie-Leigh PR 3.3
2 Sam M SCA 3.4
3 Katy H SCA 3.7
4 Emily G FW/PR 4.1
5 Aman FW 4.2
6 Empress HF 4.3
6 Zac H-I FW 4.3
8 Daniel H SCA 4.5
9 Kieran C PR 4.6
9 Lauren HF/PR 4.6
9 Sadie H FW 4.6
12 Alex S FW 4.7
13 Drew FW 4.8
14 Josh T HH 5.0


1 Zac H-I FW 2.8
2 Abbie-Leigh PR 3.1
3 Harry FW 3.2
4 Niall HF 3.3
5 Conor D FW 3.4
5 Sam M SCA 3.4
7 Katy H SCA 3.5
7 Todah FW 3.5
9 Emily G FW/PR 3.6
10 Pav HF 3.7
10 Sohola HF 3.7
12 Nathan HF 3.8
12 Sadie H FW 3.8
14 Daniel H SCA 3.9
15 Aman FW 4.2
15 Evie FW 4.2
15 Leo FW 4.2
18 Harvey SCA 4.7
19 Jess T HH 4.8
19 Skylar HF 4.8
19 Tyler HH 4.8
22 Josh T HH 4.9
22 Lauren HF/PR 4.9
22 Matthew SCA 4.9

A Blog's Life Teaching Testimonials

Kids, Eh?

Had a touching moment today. Went back to teaching as we had a christmas concert to rehearse for, but after a little while my voice started to give out (due to Wednesday’s accident). And one by one these little kids strumming away on Rudolph started taking up the slack and leading the singing for me.

*The whiteboard ‘vandalism’ is by the same kids, but from a different session


Best Posts Songwriting Teaching

Three Things Every Musician Should Be

A big welcome if you’re visiting from CD Baby – you probably want to jump straight to the application, right?…

I’m a guitar teacher by trade. Sure I write songs and perform, but if you met me at a party and ask what I do I’d say “teach guitar.” If I won the lottery tomorrow* I’d still carry on teaching (but maybe reduce my hours a little) because I feel a responsibility to pass on what I’ve learned and I think it’s something every musician should do.

At the same time, it’s a battle. Full-time teaching tends to squeeze the original creative impulse out of my soul that made me want to play guitar in the first place. And I’m aware that not having the time to learn anything new on my instrument dries up writing AND teaching, keeping me going round the same ever deepening ruts.

Many of us will be firmly in one camp. A teacher, student or creator. That’s fine. But to be a truly healthy member of musical society, we need to be a little of each.

A Teacher

I am self taught. What that means is my school music teachers, Jonathan Trout, Steve Milward and Lesley Lear, taught me a little notation, broadened my horizons, got me to listen critically and perform in school productions. Malc Rowe, an older guy at school, taught me all the Judas Priest songs he knew in return for me roadying for his band. My art teacher, Ken Jones, introduced me to lots of jazz & avant garde music. My sister Roberta loaned me everything from Gershwin & The Beatles, to Ry Cooder & Led Zeppelin. Denton Williams gave me a case full of gospel tapes. I devoured instructional books and columns by people like Mickey Baker, Paul Baloche, Paul Gilbert, Joe Satriani and attended courses and masterclasses lead by Brian Doerksen, Jon Gibson, John Etheridge.

I hope you get the point? No one is self taught. We all had help coming up and we all have to give something back. Not everyone could or should teach formally – some of us lack patience, punctuality or an analytical mind, or have issues with alcohol or the police. But we can all do something to help the next generation.

A Student

Sadly, most teachers stop learning anything new about their subject right after they qualify, just like recording artists stop learning once they start touring the first album. Thereafter the next 20 years worth of music (or teaching) is drawn from an ever diminishing pool of ideas.

Teachers and lecturers get long summer breaks (some even get sabbaticals) but many down tools just to collapse and recover. And the few successful artists that do seek out formal tuition usually do it to correct career threatening flaws in their technique.

A Creator

Art & Fear warns of the danger that –

“…an artist who teaches will eventually dwindle away to something much less: a teacher who formerly made art…like some perverse recycling process from a sci-fi novel, the same system that produces new artists, produces ex-artists”

and goes on to say

“The greatest gift you have to offer your students is the example of your own life as a working artist” (p.82-3).

Meanwhile students are sometimes trapped into a mindset that they must learn everything before they create anything, not realising that the best way to understand any musical concept you learn is to use it.

So if you know you’re lacking in any area here’s some tailor-made suggestions

A Teacher who Creates
A Teacher who Studies

A Student who Creates
A Student who Teaches
A Creator who Teaches
A Creator who Studies
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A Teacher who Creates

  • Write for you school/church/organisation – A colleague who teaches piano recently wrote a song for a school’s centenary celebration. One of my english teachers always wrote the book for our school musicals. He later quit to write radio plays for the BBC.
  • Write with your pupils. Many have the ideas to kickstart a song but not the skill to bring it to completion. Filling in the gaps for them can be inspiring for you. For the last 3 years I’ve co-written and recorded songs with groups of kids aged 6 to 18 for events like FAWM and 50/90. Speaking of which…
  • Sign up for FAWM. An insane one month writing splurge is doable and Feb is a good time to do it. You even get a half term holiday.
  • Have a summer recording project. Don’t be too ambitious – maybe write and record a solo acoustic EP and stick it on Bandcamp.
  • Hit the open mics. It’s hard to hold a band and a career together but getting up to do a couple of tunes in front of a handful of other musos is low maintenance.


A Teacher who Studies

  • Allow your pupils to bring in current music and learn some of it. It’s a great way adding to your catalogue of teaching resources.

  • Always have a piece of music or some scales/chords to work on in down time – lunch breaks, kids not turning up. Redeem the time rather than zoning out in the staff room.
  • Try to have one composer/artist who you dig down deep into and try to master their whole catalogue and style. Read, watch, and listen to all you can find on them. Here’s mine.
  • Pick a genre you’re not too familiar with. Find a good ‘best of’ compilation (eg “Now That’s What I Call Samba Metal Vol. 1”) and learn every song.


A Student who Creates

  • Every time you learn a new chord, scale or technique, get into the habit of writing a short piece of music using it and record it. Don’t even wait till you’ve mastered it.
  • Try to mutate a song you’ve learned, changing it a chord/phrase/word at a time till it becomes yours. Subconscious plagiarism is a massive problem for beginners. Solve it by deliberately stealing your ideas!


A Student who Teaches

  • Find someone who knows less than you and show them something. Don’t try to be a teacher, you’re just someone a few steps further along the road, so remember to act like it.
  • If you’ve been learning a while you’ve probably found some good songs, books, articles, youtube videos, even real live teachers. Point people to the good stuff.


A Creator who Teaches

  • Work with the younger generation, let them learn from you up close as they write, record and tour with you. That is how the apprentices of old learned, side by side with an experienced craftsman.


A Creator who Studies

  • Find a new chord, tuning or scale and write 5 songs in it
  • Learn a new instrument and play it on your next album.
  • Learn to play all the songs on a classic (or brand new) album and perform the entire thing at a one off charity gig
  • Record a side project EP playing a completely different instrument or genre
  • Every month listen to the top 20 songs (or top 20 in your genre) and try to write something as good or better. Incorporate any new ideas you pick up.
  • Collaborate with an ‘outside’ co-writer from a different genre.
  • And yes, if you have some downtime you could get some formal tuition from an expert.

Over to you

  • What area do you fall short in?
  • Is there anyone you know who’s a good example of a well balanced musician?
  • Do you have any tips to share?

Leave me a comment

*unlikely, as I don’t do the lottery.

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Showing Up Teaching

Day 145: More Kids Than You Can Shake A Stick At

Lady Gaga attempts to eggscape from marauding pre-teen fans

Today I’ve been spending some much needed Kwal-Al-Tee time with my GLW (good lady wife). Then teaching kids. Teaching adults. Then doing a school gig. Traditionally no matter how many kids are down to do it a good percentage don’t turn up. So I wasn’t too fearful of putting a group of 40 kids aged 8-10 forward.

Well wouldn’t ya know it about 50 of the blighters showed up. So thanks to Long Jenny Silver Morton who helped me get all of em in tune so we could rock out with our rendishun of Bad Romance.

Oh Yes. I am, in fact, down with the kids.

After all that I felt, “I’m tired, I deserve a night off”. But I couldn’t do it people. I had to go down to the Matt Cave (aka my bedroom) and play through a few old songs for ideas.


  • A couple of really bad old songs filed away. Did I say bad? I should be doing a blog called Matt Blick Bad Songwriting Academy where my younger self demonstrates how NOT to write songs…
  • One bad old song called That My Heart May Sing that has something about the 2nd verse lyrics that speaks to me still. Back in the song starts folder for you. (Update: This has now become Never Be Silent)
  • Some transcriptions of old Vineyard songs that I now have the real music for – bin!
  • A song I transcribed written by my old pastor! In the ‘songs written by others’ folder
  • A crazy little interesting song that I never recorded called Small Is The Gate. Into the song starts folder. Maybe I’ll record it now I have some recording gear.

So that was a productive half hour.

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A Blog's Life Teaching

A Week In The Life

Quote of the week.

Teaching guitar to a class full of kids

ME :“what should you do when you can’t play something properly?”
Kids: “Mime”
Me: “No. What should you do?”
Kids: “Give up”

The correct answer, in case you’re wondering, was “practice”.

Welcome to my world. By next year I anticipate answer number 3 will be “autotune.”

My own personal download festival

It seems like only 11 months and 16 days ago I was blogging about my song downloads surpassing the 100 mark. This week they topped a thousand!

1013 to be precise and 110 sheet music PDFs on top of that. This is amazing. Thank you!
Looks like those two days I spent doing html on my download page paid off (even if I do start twitching when anyone says “anchor text”).

The Eglon Song (375+) & The Weight of Glory (just topped 125) are still the big hitters, along with Great High Priest (though First Black President & The Ballad of N.D.C. are starting to catch up).

New kid in class The Greatest Commandment has started to make a few friends in the playground and at 25 downloads he’s no longer last to get picked for football.

My very good friends…

I had no idea when I posted my rant about gospel rap being criminally under-valued that Tedashii, Trip Lee & DJ Official would fly all the way to Nottingham to thank me personally. But they did!

OK they didn’t. But they did do a gig in the world’s best city. It was the sweatiest time I’ve had in Church since I had a Lamb Rogan Josh the night before a baptism service. It was off the chain fo’shizzle. But where was you? Where was you at?

Back in the real world…

I spent most of last Saturday doing some guitar overdubs on Ben Green’s new song There Is Mercy. Download the original version here unless you want to wait and hear how I ruined a perfectly good worship song.

Tomorrow I’m hoping to head to Barrow Upon Soar for a songwriting seminar run by Joel Payne of

I may have another song nearing completion. I’m on the 3rd rewrite of the chorus already so don’t get too excited. Oh, and by the way, it’s a congregational worship song.
Remember when I used to just write those?

Related Posts: A letter to my pupils

Your next 1013 downloads

Homework Student Zone Teaching

Too Much Monkey Business – Practice Advice From Chimps

It’s not everyday a bunch of monkeys gives support to one of you ‘pet’ teaching theories but here it is.

Anytime you’re trying to learn something new musically you’re only truly practicing when you’re doing it correctly. If you’re getting it wrong 50, 40 or 30% of the time you are NOT practicing.(Other than practicing how to do it wrong, and chances are you already excel at that).

Prof Earl Miller from MIT, who has already spent more time than is healthy teaching monkeys how to use computers, found that monkey’s neurons became more efficient when they made the right decisions but showed no change when they got it wrong. In short (neurologically speaking) you don’t learn by your mistakes.

So what should you do next time you pick up your guitar, or piano (my, you are strong!) and try to get the nice scientist to give you a banana?

  • Slow the music down till you can play it easily. 
  • Play the music in small sections.

Playing everything at top speed is one of the biggest errors that people make. And many musicians start at the beginning of a song, play till they make a mistake and then start again. Let’s break down what is happening in this scenario.

  1. Every single time you play you are making a mistake.
  2. So what are you really practicing? Making mistakes.
  3. Bad monkey! No bananas for you Bonzo!

If you don’t want your practice sessions to be an exercise in futility, isolate the one element that is causing your musical train wreck and just practice that.

It might be a physical thing – you just can’t get your fingers in the right place. So forget about the song, the groove, the tempo. Just get the chord.

It could be a mental thing. The reason you keep messing up is you don’t really know what you’re supposed to be playing in the 14th bar. Learn it.

It could be stamina. Forget the song. Put on Season 2 of My Name Is Earl and play that riff till your arms go numb.

But remember you’re only practicing if you’re getting it right all the time. Listen to the monkeys.