Toot Your Horn

What a great prompt for a music teacher, especially one who teaches the saxophone! I of course like to think that music in general is what I excel at. I think I’m a good sax player and pianist and I hope that my students get as much from their lessons ass I do teaching them.

I wonder sometimes though, if anyone else finds they tend to go a bit over board on what they excel at? Take the other day, a new student called and mentioned that he was buying a sax. I was immediately intrigued asking what he planned to get and happily sharing expertise on which saxes play well and which, in my opinion don’t. Before I knew it I’d been on the phone forty five minutes and hadn’t got around to booking a lesson time. Fortunately my new student didn’t show any signs of being worried and I hope found the discussion helpful. I was rewarded a few days later when he called again for more information.

So maybe besides the playing and teaching I can add ‘useful opinions regarding saxophones’ to my list of musical things I excel at. Of course it could just be that I excel at talking…

What’s in a name?

Name’s are very important things. I have spoken before about the amount of head scratching that went on whilst naming Storm Dynamics (it was rather a lot.) but what if you have a product up and running already that you want to re-brand?

Re-branding sounds like quite a big deal. Probably because it is. You are changing the public identity of something you have worked hard to promote thus far. It’s not something to be undertaken lightly. So what happens when you want to subtly suggest to a fire d that they should re-brand their company? You take them to Nando’s, of course.

It sounds a bit clandestine when put like that:
“Hey Scott, how do you fancy a meal at Nando’s? I know it’s your favourite. Oh and whilst we’re there I’m going to let my other half try and convince you to change the name of the disco we run… And the logo… And the website… And do more business cards and new flyers.”

I have to admit it wasn’t something that occurred to be before. I thought LightBeat was a good name for the disco as we did amazing lights and all the beats. It does what it says on the tin. But when neither Scott or I had considered was that it didn’t. In the advertising world the word light has been overtaken by ‘lite.’ When read aloud all people hear is a kind of diet version of a disco or worse a disco that specialises in Nora Jones type music. Who wants to book an elevator music disco for their wedding reception? No one does, which is why all our business has previously been referral.

Once explained to Scott he agreed and then the thinking caps came out. It had to be something Scott liked, he didn’t want it to be about himself, he didn’t want more than two words and if possible not even the word disco for fear of people hearing YMCA instead of David Guetta.

He came up with ‘Experience’ one word for a whole lot of things. Officially Experience Disco and Light Show with the tag Unique Disco, Ultimate Entertainment.

We set up a website and a Facebook page and so far so good. We’re even booked for a Wedding Fair at the Princes Hall in Aldershot on Sunday 27th Jan.

I’d be interested to know people’s opinions on the name and the rebranding scheme. All comments welcome.

32 Flavors

It seems to me that in this day and age everyone wants something a little bit different from the norm.  Just having the choice of vanilla or chocolate isn’t enough and if you were to pick one of these simple flavours you might be tagged as boring.

The same goes for more than just food though. How many times have we heard kids screaming for an iPad white, because, like, everyone has the original one. Even simple things like admiring a friend’s shoes end in you buying them in a different colour, because it just isn’t done to be the same.

But what if you have a product that is better than your average bear? How do you go about promoting it to the masses? After all it should be obvious that what you have is superior to the competition, but unless you have the gift of the gab then no one will know about it.

That’s what has been happening to my best friend. Scott runs LightBeat Laser Disco which is a disco with a difference. The light show is all lasers; he has some of the most up to date lasers in the country and can create stunning effects on a budget that any party host can afford. He really believes in giving his clients the absolute best and so goes the extra mile for clarity of sound and atmospheric lighting for their events.

Don’t believe me? You can check it out at:

Standard laser setup

Standard laser setup

Locked in a room with something I fear

The daily prompt today is to describe what would happen if you were locked in a room with your worst fear.  At the moment that would be spending another three hours trying to decipher computer code to make my website more visible on Google.

Having noticed that the website for my music school doesn’t appear on many of the relevant searches I thought I should try and do something about it. I suppose the smart approach would have been to talk to someone who actually knows about these things but that’s not for me. I bought a book and it’s called Get to No.1 on Google by Ben Norman. Catchy title; it appears to say it can do just what I’m looking for.

I think it’s been thought out very well. So far there have been many handy screen-shots to show you what your computer should be doing and it goes about describing a lot of the free software included in Google Webmaster, which is very useful. It’s applying that knowledge that I’m finding hard.

For instance once you log onto Google Webmaster it asks you to verify your website by planting a bit of code onto your home page… Ok but where exactly? In the title box, the main text, the side bar the menu? I tried them all and all failed the verification test.  The book doesn’t explain this (or if it does then I haven’t reached that page yet) fortunately Google itself offers other solutions. The first was this piece of code and the second is creating a sub-domain through your host. Lost yet? I was, thank God for step by step. Until, that is you get to the last step when you get the red error message of doom and suddenly it won’t work after all.

Their other suggestion is to include a Meta Tag in the html code under the header but before the body, I think. But there are no instructions on how to do this either. By process of random clicking I found a box in my settings menu that said you could input things in html. It didn’t say where but I gave it a go anyway and HURRAY it works!

Storm Dynamics has now been verified on Google through its Meta Tag. I have no idea what this is or what it does but I’m very pleased with myself for managing to do it.

Any ideas what the next step is?

Saxophone confidence. Playing the Blues

Here’s a good way to gain loads of confidence playing the sax after only a few lessons.

Have you started your scales yet? If not don’t worry just try a C major scale now, it’s quite easy, all you have to do is play C,D,E,F,G,A,B,C on your saxophone. It is often easier to start on the C in the middle of your sax (3rd finger, right hand) and work backwards descending down the sax.

Now a little music theory. Try think of your scale like this:

C = 1

D = 2

E = 3

F = 4

G = 5

A = 6

B = 7

C = 8

Why do this? Because numbering your notes will not only help you remember where you are in blues, but it can then be applied to any key signature whilst playing blues. To apply it to another scale just remember that if you are in the key of C then the note C is the first one you play and so becomes note 1. If you were in the key of F then F would be the first note you play and so F becomes note one, G note two, A note three etc.

Next question; what is the twelve bar blues progression? This is a series of chords which form a style of music used in many jazz and rock n roll numbers. You’ve probably heard it and not realised, but if not then YouTube it and you’ll find thousands of examples. A good place to start is C Jam Blues by Duke Ellington. The original videos of this are a little difficult to follow so look for a school jazz band version.

You’ll notice the same melody being played interspersed with solos. Now listen to the rhythm section (Piano, guitar, bass and drums) even during the other instrumental solos they’ll be playing the same thing, again and again. That’s the twelve bar blues progression and it goes like this:

Bar Number

Chord Number


























Now compare that to the way we numbered the notes in the C major scale and you have a key for playing the beginnings of a blues progression.

In bar one you need chord number one. Chord number one is based on the first note in the C major scale so in bar one you begin by playing C. Skip to bar five; in this bar you need chord number four in the C major scale. Chord number 4 is based on the 4th note so in bar five you play an F.

Using this guide you can try and play along to many blues based songs using the basic notes of the progression. Be aware though that saxophones are transposing instruments. To keep things nice and simple we need to find songs that let you play in the key of C major so if you are playing an alto you want to search for blues in Eb and if you are playing a tenor, blues in Bb.

(Eb and Bb are the concert keys or the notes as they would sound on a piano. Because a saxophone has a different range than other instruments we have to play in different key signatures in order to sound correct with everyone else.)

If you have any question please leave a comment and I will answer you/

Daily Prompt: Call Me Ishmael

‘Prince Rupert rode his unicorn into the Tanglewood, peering balefully through the drizzling rain as he searched half-heartedly for the flea hiding somewhere under his breastplate.’

This is the first line from Blue Moon Rising by Simon. R. Green which has been my favourite book ever since the first time I read it aged about twelve. Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t a kids book. It isn’t even a teenage fiction; it would probably give the average Twilight reader nightmares. This is a dark fantasy but with all the trappings of a typical girlie fantasy book.

You have a prince on a white horse, a princess in need of rescuing from a dragon and a kingdom calling out for a hero to save them. Only in this book the white horse is a unicorn (they can only be ridden by virgins in case you don’t know your mythology) leading to a lot of sniggers for our valiant prince. The dragon ends up being rescued from an over bearing princess most people want to be rid of and the hero the kingdom is calling out for is not Prince Rupert but his older brother Harold. All this happens in chapter one. A few chapters later demons come spilling out of the dark wood intent on slaughtering the people of the first kingdom fuelled by the magic of the evil Blue Moon.

I suppose I should have realised earlier that power metal would be the form of ‘heavy’ music I’d be most attracted to, going by this book anyway. I once heard power metal described as:
“The protagonist arrives riding a white unicorn, escapes from the dragon, saves the princess and makes love to her in an enchanted forest.”
Which sounds very saccharine until you realise that you can apply that to my favourite book which is anything but.
Some of the other metaphoric definitions -which can be found here – don’t fit all all. For example:
HEAVY METAL: The protagonist arrives on a Harley, kills the dragon, drinks a few beers and f***s the princess
This doesn’t really appeal at all, though I admit it isn’t exactly a true definition of heavy metal music, which appeals greatly to listen to. But when it comes to actually playing the music heavy metal just isn’t as fun as power metal.

The obvious and most egotistical reason for this is that a lot of heavy metal bands don’t employ a keyboard player and I’m fairly untalented on the guitar. Like most people I enjoy the things that I am good at. But also it doesn’t matter what effects pedal you drive your guitar through you just can’t create the wall of sound you can with a keyboard. You can play the same chords in the same rhythm as the guitarists but you can do so much more with them. Inversions, for instance. By changing the inversion of a chord you not only change the overall sound but you give yourself far more options for where to progress to next.

There are also instances where the keyboard player can change the tonality of a chord, in this case whether it is major or minor, despite the fact that there are (in Draegon’s case) three other guitarists in the band. This is because guitarists like to play power chords which consist of open fifths. As they’re not playing the third this leaves the chord’s tonality ambiguous and it is the keyboard player who fills it in. I should point out that if you have a guitar soloing it is a good idea to tell him which chord you are using or you could end up in a mess. You also have the option of playing an awesome solo as well as the wall of sound which you can alter to your hearts content.

All in all it’s a bit like my book. There you have a book pretending to be a bright sparkly fantasy which contains elements of horror and a wicked since of humour. With a keyboard you have the task of being labeled ‘rhythm section’ and keeping the song flowing, but you also have options coming out of your ears.

Quote me

“Facebook Official” is possibly the most annoying phrase that never seems to go away. Nothing is real until it’s Facebook Official. Since when did I need to post my life up on Facebook for it to become real? I’m fairly certain that I was dating Russell before I announced it on Facebook but one question my cousin continually asked me was:”when are you making it Facebook Official?” In her eyes it wasn’t a serious relationship until I’d posted it.

I have friends who have tried to fight this. If you read their profiles then Facebook will insist that they are twelve and ten years old and are married. Alarmingly this is fine – shouldn’t Facebook have a filter for that? You’d have thought that flagging up child marriage would be a priority, but apparently not. As the marriage is “Facebook official” though it must be true and both of my friends have been asked how long they’ve been married and if it was a nice service.

On a more depressing note my poor mum was greeted by name by one of her managers today after adding him on Facebook last night. It’s the first time he’s used her name yet she’s been working there for six months. Facebook Official can’t apply to our names as well, surely? Does this mean that there are millions of nameless people running round out there who only become real once they’ve joined Facebook and uploaded a photo? What if they don’t upload a photo? Does their visage cease to exist and they become just a blue outline? Where does it end?

It should begin with common sense. I accept, as reality, that people are still doing things when I am not around. I also accept that people sometimes lie. If you add these things together you get Facebook posts that are not only random but often completely idiotic and pointless as well and that’s fair enough because it’s cyber-space not tangible reality.

However as they’ve written it on Facebook it’s Facebook Official and so must be true.

Kick it

I haven’t got an order to my bucket list. There are thing that I want to do and have wanted to for years but I’ve never wanted to put them in order. If I did then I would start to feel that I had to do them in that order and that leads to stress which I can’t really be bothered with.

One thing that’s been on the list for over a year is to do a gig with power metal band Draegon. I joined the band just over a year ago and since that time we’ve been working on the up coming concept album. I joined by applying to an ad they’d placed looking for a keyboard player and I got the job with the most unusual email I’d ever written. The gist of it told them who I was and listed my experience – as a saxophonist. I quite honestly said that I’d never played their style of music but enjoyed listening to it and that I’d not played piano outside of a university recital. This is clearly not the way to apply for a position, but it worked and I was instantly teleported from a Steinway Grand to a triple stack of Yamaha and Korg’s.

I loved it. A part of me will always enjoy Mozart and Debussy but to apply those techniques to the wall of sound produced by the Yamaha alone is simply amazing. It also brought a dimension to their music that was unexpected.

Now the entire band is itching to get back out and play live. So with luck I’ll be getting this ticked off my bucket list by the end of the year.


The one word my other half uses most often to describe me is ambitious. I have big ideas and I always have a plan to set them in motion.

Storm Dynamics was one such idea, though this one was years in the making. I love music and have a knack for writing it. It turns out that I also have a knack for teaching people music so my family thought that my career was all set out. I would be a school music teacher. What’s not to like, I get to do what I love and get job security and good further career options. There was only one problem; I hate being around people who don’t want to learn. School music lessons we sheer torture for me as, not only did I already know the standard Key Stage bits and pieces but the vast majority of my class mates saw music as a ‘doss’ lesson and had no intention of learning. Whilst I was at Collingwood College this wasn’t too much of a problem as our teachers there had devised a system of keeping us instrumental learners challenged. Grammar School, however, was completely different. Despite having a class of only 8 students our teacher did his utmost to make classes routine and dull – that was if he turned up, his duties as Head of Lower School kept him very busy. He’d say the same thing to me every day: “Oh, Jo, you play piano and what else again?” I was first study saxophone, grade 8. I was also the only saxophonist in the entire school and the only grade 8, maybe I’m being egocentric but I’d have thought that would make me memorable. Two years under the tutelage of this man and I knew that if there was the slightest possibility of turning into anything remotely like him then I had to stay away.

So I resolved.

I was going to teach instruments, not classroom music. That way I could work with individuals who actually want to learn their instruments and I would get to work at creating music (particularly appealing at the time as I hadn’t developed my love of music theory yet.) So I began giving private instrumental lessons and that’s what brings me to last year’s resolution, which I kept.

I had two resolutions last year. The first was to try online dating and the second was to grow my client base. The first was easy to keep, I signed up to eHarmony and much to my surprise met Russell as my first match and we’ve now been together for nearly a year. The second was harder as I first had to learn some business acumen. Luckily for me that is something Russell has in abundance and he started pointing me in the right direction.

The first thing is to brand yourself and the easiest way to search out competition is to plug all your ideas into google and see if anyone else has thought of them first. Have you ever tried to come up with an original title using a musical term? If not try it now because I swear everything we thought of has already been captured by someone else. After three days (yes really) of both of us trying we found that there were very few companies using the word dynamics. So we put that into Facebook and twitter and anything else we could think of and it stayed, reasonably, free.

We now had a name: Storm Dynamics. Storm because it’s eye catching and Dynamics because it’s musical. Next came the logo, which was outsourced and after that the assault on social media and local advertising.

Six months later Storm Dynamics had tripled in size and I am now officially the Managing Director of my own company. Not bad for one resolution.

Stroke of Midnight

I was most definitely not where I thought I’d be at the stroke of midnight. The plan was the same plan my disco partner DJ Scott and I have used for the past few years.

1) Book New Years Eve gig for Lightbeat Laser Disco.
2) Run disco.

As plans go it’s not that complicated and previously has worked it well. Not this year. This year we got a call saying it was all off on the evening of the 30th. Lovely. New Years Eve is always the Big Event in the disco calendar. We even had a brand new PM-1800 Swiss Las multicoloured laser which, naturally, we we’re dying to try out, but it was clearly not meant to be. So what do we do? Well, after what felt like a million phone calls we were left with the evening to ourselves.

So what do you do if you’ve spent all your previous years making the party for someone else?

You do the exact opposite.

So Scott, myself and our respective partners Russell and Inga ended up in a restaurant called Sang Thai in Dorking. If you haven’t been then I highly recommend it, they serve the best Thai food I’ve ever eaten. The service was brilliant, I don’t think I’ve ever seen staff so happy to be doing their jobs and they had also really put a lot into the atmosphere which came complete with glittery cowboy hats for all patrons, party music and free Champagne.

We didn’t stay till midnight, however. We wanted to do something that no one in our merry little group had ever done before. We wanted to see the fireworks and for that we needed a view.

The view from the top of Box Hill durning the day is spectacular. The rolling hills of England stretch out for mile after breathtaking mile. At eleven thirty at night, however, the drive up is quite spooky. The narrow road complete with twisting hairpin bends is crowded on both sides by looming trees which hide any sign of an outside world. We were all trying not to think about it when Russell yelled:
“Hang on. I think this is where the Olympic cyclists rode!”
He was correct and we spent the rest of the drive up looking out for slogans such as ‘Kiss my Cav’ and ‘Go Team GB.’

At night Box Hill is just as spectacular as during the day, but this time it is the lights of the towns and villages below that took centre stage.

We might not have had a microphone to announce the count down over, but between the four of us were can be pretty loud and we may not have had our sound system but Scott had Auld Lang Syne on his iPhone. So we shouted the count down out from the top of the hill and stretched out before us the lights from twenty different displays played themselves out.

I think we had the best seats in the house.

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