Some Kind of (Wonderful) Spark

Documentaries about music education are a rare find – though when you stumble across one, they have a way of tugging on your heartstrings.

Music, unlike other academic subjects (I’m thinking of you, mathematics), has such a universal, emotional appeal. Anyone and everyone can sense a connection to music. You don’t need formal training or years on the road or in the studio to have such deep appreciation for the world’s most beautiful language.

Enter Director and Producer Ben Niles, creator of ‘Some Kind of Spark’, a film documenting the lives of seven inner-city children attending a special music program at Julliard in New York City. (Mr Niles is no stranger to making movies – his latest film, ‘Note By Note (The Making of Steinway L1037)’ won top honors at the Sarasota Film Festival and was screened in over 30 countries in 5 different languages.)

‘Some Kind of Spark’  features the personal stories of these children and their teachers, shot over a two year period, beginning in 2010. It shows the powerful impact music can create, regardless of who you are and where you come from. It follows these kids inside the classroom, in their homes, and on stage.

The film also acts as a chilling reminder about the decline of money invested in music education in US schools over the past quarter century.  (It’s not much different here in Canada, unfortunately) This trend, Niles notes, is not looking good for future generations:

[It’s] compromising our children’s education and jeopardizing our culture. Low-income children-children who also tend to be from racial and ethnic groups underrepresented in the performing arts-are missing out on the immense value of music training on a child’s development. Children who study music do better on standardized tests in both math and reading and are more likely to go to college. And music programs are proven to be an effective tool in keeping kids off the streets and preventing teen violence. Through music study they learn many life skills such as problem-solving, self-discipline, creativity, empathy, compassion, and the value of hard work. Not to mention that many students-including the poor, the disadvantaged, and the emotionally disturbed-who might otherwise be unreachable can often be taught through the inspiring power of music. (

As an independent film, the film’s producers will not take money from Julliard to help fund post-production costs, citing that it is not meant to be a promotional tool for the world-renowned school. It’s aim is to squarely raise awareness about the powerful influence music can have on our children’s lives.

To raise money for this project, Niles’ team has put in place a few online campaigns to garner support. One is backed by Women Make Movies, which allows any donation to be tax-deductible. There’s also an online campaigned featured on

So, music friends, if you are in a position to donate, please do! Any amount is appreciated. It’s a project we can all feel good about.


In the Studio with BMA’s Tashi Bernard

We spent the day laying down some vocal tracks at Fat Dog Productions with one of BMA’s vocal teachers, Tashi Bernard. She will be teaching out of our new location once it’s officially open in July.

Tashi recorded a version of one of her favorite tunes, Etta James’ At Last. Click here to listen to the finished product!

Best websites for music theory games

Here are some handy websites for students (and teachers) who are looking for fun, interactive games for learning theory rudiments: is an “ever-growing collection of highly customizable online music theory flash cards.” Great for beginner  students learning basic rudiments as well as advanced learners looking to go further. Incorporates both piano and guitar note naming exercises.

Music Note Name Flash Card Game: An interactive game of note-naming flashcards for bass and treble clef (including leger lines!). Grades you as you go and offers feedback and tips. Gives students the option to download the program as a .zip file right to their desktop, for future use.

Free Online Music Flash Cards: A fan favourite! (Make sure your Flash player is updated and installed) Highly interactive and animated; great for younger students.

Musical Flash Cards (WCU): A great user-friendly resource for naming notes and key signatures.

Music Quizzes & Games: Giant database of over 130 quizzes and games relating to music theory, note-naming, rhythms, terms and history.

By no means is this a complete list of everything that’s out there on the web, but it’s a good starting point.  If you have a site to add to the list, post a comment below!

Music Education Apps for iPhone or iPad

Music and technology have seamlessly integrated into one other over the past decade.  Nowadays, most musicians have a handful of digital tools to help them learn and play their instrument of choice. Here are 5 great picks for music education apps for the iPhone or iPad:


1. Nota ($2.99)
Nota is likely the most comprehensive music app out in the market today. And, for its small price, you get a lot of goodies in return: a 4 octave piano, scale and mode reader, chords, solfège, and note naming quizzes. My favourite part: an extensive Reference Library with over 100 musical terms and items.

2. Gibson Learn & Master Guitar (free)
I may be a bit biased for listing this as high as#2, but regardless, this app is great. The best feature, by far, is the tuner, which is my main use for it. It also houses a built in metronome, chord bank and hours of videos and practical lessons.

3. Metronome (Free)
This app is simple, easy to use, and effective. Just like having a real acoustic metronome in your pocket, this digital version allows you to select your tempo (up until 210 beats per minute) and your time signature of either 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4 time. While not extensive or packed with extra features, this little gem should be in every musician’s app library.

4.  Karajan Ear Trainer ($14.99)
This app is a one-stop-shop for everything ear training. It helps students recognize intervals, chords, scales, pitch and tempo, through quizzes and stats displayed on screen. A Multi-Touch keyboard is also available for playbacks and exercises (using the landscape view). While the price may seem steep, it’s unlikely you will ever need another ear-training app. If in doubt, however, a free, lighter version is also available.

4. Rhythm in Reach ($3.99)
Rhythm in Reach is designed to help students with their rhythm playing and reading by displaying on-screen notation phrases and asking you to tap it back. Bonus point: When you make a mistake, it will show you exactly where you did it, so you can correct yourself for next time. Great for percussion students.