If you’re like most people, music is a big part of your life. Whether it’s playing your favourite artist’s song when getting ready for work, or listening to it on your way to work or gym, music elicits memories. And can be the backdrop of many of lives’ beautiful and sad moments. Music is life. It is art. It is a skill and talent that blesses the world and has done so for years. This month, we’re shining the spotlight on a musician Ethan Winer, as he shares his 50-year journey on the stage and with Alison.

Introduction and background

Please tell us about your career as a guitarist.

I’ve been a professional musician for more than 50 years. Like many kids, I started on the violin in the fourth grade, but I really began to enjoy playing music when I picked up the guitar at age sixteen. I loved it so much that I played at least three hours every day after school, and within three or four years I was able to play at a professional level. That led to performing regularly with local bands, and even recording several radio commercials.

Which part of your career stands out most to you and why?

I’ve had many careers, and now at 74 years old, I’m still very active. When I was a teenager I  became interested in electronics and built a little AM radio transmitter that let me play records and hear them in my backyard on a portable radio. Later I designed and built audio devices, and owned the largest recording studio in Connecticut. I studied music theory in college, then got into computer programming and had my own successful software company. I’ve written hundreds of technical articles for audio, music, and computer magazines, plus several books, and more recently I owned a company that manufactures acoustic treatment.

Publishing on Alison

What made you decide to create courses on Alison?

I’ve always been interested in education and sharing what I know. So I decided to create a music theory video series to explain everything I learned in two years of music college. It took nine months to create just under three hours of video! Many of the “educational” videos on YouTube ramble on and on, so I always write a script for my videos.

What do you enjoy most about publishing on this platform?

In my case, it was easy to transfer the videos to the Alison platform.

Music is very personal. How do help your students connect with you and their music in your course?

Music may be personal, but music theory is more of a set of facts. There are a lot of facts to learn! But anyone who likes music enough to choose it as a career will hopefully find learning fun rather than a challenge.

Tell us a bit more about your Complete Music Theory course.

My course, Complete Music Theory, covers everything I learned in two years of music college. It covers a lot of ground pretty quickly, so students may need to go through it more than once to digest it all. But spending a week or two with my course beats two years in school and of course, costs a lot less!

Who should take your course?

My Music Theory course will be helpful to anyone who currently plays a musical instrument or sings, or hopes to in the future. As explained in the video’s opening, musicians who play only by ear will find this video useful, as will musicians who read music but wish they understood better the meaning behind the notes they play.

Learning music

Where does your love for all things music come from?

My mother was musical, so we always had classical music records available when I was a child. Then later in my teen years I began to listen to popular music and switched from violin to electric guitar. I still love both, and my own productions often mix classical and pop elements. I’ve also written four pieces for a full orchestra, including a cello concerto, all of which have been performed.

Music is broad- writing, playing, engineering, and more. How does an aspiring musician narrow down which aspect to focus on?

Some people prefer the artistic side of music, such as playing and composing, while others are more interested in the technical aspects of music (and video) production. I happen to enjoy both equally! So just follow your interests.

What skills and qualities make for a great musician?

The most important aspect of mastering a musical instrument is playing the notes accurately and cleanly. Yes, “passion” and “feeling” are important too. But none of that matters if the notes aren’t correct and in tune!

e-Learning in music

How has music changed from when you first played to today?

Music styles change over time, but the basics of music – the theory of melody, harmony, and timing – have been the same for at least three centuries.

What is your take on AI (artificial intelligence) being potentially used to write music?

Some people worry that AI will take jobs away from musicians and composers. That may in fact happen someday! But for now, the composing algorithms I’ve heard fall short of what musically educated humans can do. Further, sampled instruments have been around for a few decades, and have already taken jobs from musicians. But when the budget allows, hiring real musicians to play, for example, a movie score will always sound better than a mockup created with samples.

What are the biggest challenges learners face in learning music?

The most important part of learning music is the same as learning anything else: You have to truly care and want to learn. The type of person who takes a seat at the front of the class and asks questions will always do better than someone who sits in the back and hopes they’re never called on by the teacher. For online courses like ours, you need to be the type of person who looks forward to sitting at the computer and learning, rather than someone who puts it off for as long as possible.

For someone looking to pursue a career in music, what should they do:

a) Excel in

Reading music is important if you intend to play professionally because it’s the most efficient way to get the composer’s notes into the player’s hands. But many great rock and pop musicians can’t read music, and many jazz musicians can read the chords on a lead sheet, but not the melody notes. You’ll never play in an orchestra if you can’t read music, nor is a job in the Tonight Show’s TV band possible. But some of the best players can’t read music at all, and Paul McCartney of The Beatles has stated publicly that he can’t read music. That sure didn’t stop him from writing dozens of amazing songs!

b) Be wary of

LOL, be wary of gig offers that don’t pay any money, but promise valuable “exposure” for your band or singing group.

Last thoughts

Any last words, advice, or wisdom you’d like to share with our learners?

My only advice is to work as hard as you can, knowing that it will pay off in the end. It takes thousands of hours to play any musical instrument at a professional level, and there are no shortcuts. So don’t get discouraged if you still sound like an amateur after only one or two years. If you’re more interested in composing music than mastering an instrument, spend time learning at least the basics of playing the piano. Unlike instruments that can play only single notes, the piano lets you easily try different harmonies.

“The true beauty of music is that it connects people. It carries a message, and we, the musicians, are the messengers.” – Roy Ayers.  Ethan’s journey, skill and talent have crossed many borders and are available to each of us if we’ll open our hearts and ears. 

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