James Littlewood (VIC) bass trombone
It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 has devastated musicians, music teachers and students everywhere. Making music is about creating and fostering connections between musicians and audiences, and this, of course, becomes more difficult as events are cancelled and institutions are closed.
When ANAM temporarily closed last month, I was left wondering how I could connect with others through music when there is no one to play with and my own playing is confined to my practice room at home. I wanted to find a way to use this disconnection to reconnect.
As major orchestras had their concert seasons postponed, there was a flood of these musicians sharing their work online. There have been many orchestral players sharing their advice for daily warm-ups, routines, and technical work online during this time, as well as plenty #100daysofpractice challenges and multitracking projects starting. It has been awesome and inspiring to see and hear all of this music and ideas about music making being shared by our musical heroes!
I noticed that much of this content was aimed at other ‘serious’ musicians (and perhaps very enthusiastic amateurs who may have a lot more time to practice than usual at the moment). Social media has become a fantastic repository of these resources, but I wondered what was being made for younger musicians, or for anyone who just wants something fun to play. I asked myself: how can a wider range of musicians stay connected and inspired during this time? That’s where my new project Your Tune A Day started.
Your Tune A Day is a free resource for musicians, teachers, and music students, providing everyone with a new melody to play every weekday. While there are many ‘tune a day’ method books written for younger musicians, my goal with this project has been to create a resource that gives musicians of all levels a fun, original melody that they can use in any way they wish every day. I write out the melody in many clefs, octaves and transpositions so they can be played on any instrument, and I currently make the sheet music and recordings of the tunes available through Facebook and Instagram.
My tunes can be added to one’s practice as a bite-sized musical challenge. While the tunes are usually only eight to sixteen bars long, they can be used to target a variety of technical and musical areas. They are also perfect for musicians wanting to finish off a big day of practice by sight reading some fun music.
I’ve learned a lot from writing and practicing these tunes, and there have been some that have really stood out for me. Marching ‘Round was my first foray into multitracking, and it is certainly harder to play in time and in tune with your own recordings than it sounds! There have been other technical challenges scattered throughout the tunes; Surges was a nice reminder that every musical detail needs to be clear and every note needs to have resonance regardless of tempo, dynamic, or difficulty. I’m also partial to slow ballads and lullabies, and I hope to turn my recent tune Reconciliation into a longer piece of music in the future.
The really special part of Your Tune A Day is seeing how it has inspired a lot of creativity and connected a lot of musicians! The tunes are a ‘launch pad’ for musicians to explore and create something new, and many people have recorded their own renditions of the tunes. It has been wonderful to hear musicians from around the world add accompaniment parts to the tunes, create re-harmonisations and mash-ups, multitrack with friends and pets, and even add choreography! A couple of people record every new tune, including ANAM tubist Sean Burke and his enthusiastic housemates (these recordings are a real treat if you can find them!). I have saved some of these highlights for everyone to enjoy on the @yourtuneaday Instagram page. It is beginning to feel like a small online community is growing, and we are able to keep connected by sharing something fun and constructive during this time. I’m so appreciative of everyone’s contributions, as they all inspire me to keep writing and hear my own music in new ways.
Aside from helping establish a regular commitment during these uncertain times, this project has had plenty of other benefits for me over the last month. Starting Your Tune A Day has forced me to put myself out there as a musician, which was definitely nerve-wracking at first! In the past I have had an aversion to sharing recordings of my performances online, because I can be very critical of the imperfections in my playing. Committing to sharing these short recordings every weekday has helped build my confidence in my playing, while also giving me a chance to analyse my playing and find ways I can improve for next time. I also find reminding myself that it is a musician’s job to share their music and connect with listeners has really helped me stay committed to the project.
While I’m excited to continue creating new music for the project and see how it grows, it is hard to know what exactly the future of Your Tune A Day will be, especially once South Melbourne Town Hall reopens and face-to-face classes resume at ANAM. For the moment I am just happy writing and sharing new tunes for musicians around the world every day. It has been great to see how this project has helped connect people through music, and how it has brought so many smiles and so much joy to people during this difficult time in our history.
YOUR TUNE A DAY WEBSITE:
Download Free Sheet Music Here
James Littlewood is a young bass trombonist from Melbourne, with a passion for connecting people through music. He enjoys a varied performing career as a soloist, orchestral and chamber musician.
Photo by Pia Johnson