Launching our series... 'Funky Friends'
Dan chats to platinum selling, Brit Award and Ivor Novello Award nominated British singer songwriter Nerina Pallot about music.
"...the most important thing is for music to be fun. It should always be fun! That's the whole point of doing it and the reason I wanted to be a musician and not work in a bank..." Nerina Pallot
[DB] Was music an important part of family life when you were growing up? [NP] Yes, my mum's family are all really musical, everyone plays an instrument and/or sings, and as a kid I remember family sing-songs. Which I hated with a passion, and every time I hear 'Oh Danny Boy' it makes me shudder but not in a good way. It just reminds me of being really embarrassed having to sing in front of family. My brother is an avid music fan and has really great taste, and he would make me mix tapes of very cool records that I would never have heard because I was too busy listening to Kylie or A-Ha.
Can you tell us any early musical memory you have from those days? I think the day a piano arrived in our house. My Dad is big on auctions and loves buying junk because, uh, it's really cheap. (He once came home with a plough and looked really pleased with himself until my mum pointed out he wasn't really a farmer and he didn't have a field.) Anyway, I think it cost £50 and I was fascinated by it, and took to playing it all day long even though I didn't know what I was doing, and sleeping under it in my sleeping bag. I was about five.
When you were at primary or secondary school, did you get offered music lessons or music clubs/activities? I basically pestered the visiting piano teacher at my primary school for lessons but she didn't take kids under the age of 7, but I think I was so desperate that she gave in. Growing up on Jersey, the opportunities for music making in schools were pretty decent as there were budgets for every kid to get free music lessons on one instrument. I'm not sure if there is anything like that now though.
Did you decide to take up music opportunities at school, and if so, can you say what influenced your choice? I was really involved in music at school until secondary school, but I couldn't bear the main music teacher at secondary school and it really affected my experience. He was just horrible (I was not alone in thinking this) and should never have been a teacher because he didn't encourage kids and was simply not suited to teaching in an all-girls school. Luckily, I had an amazing piano teacher and singing teacher outside of school and so I just worked really hard at it in my own time.When I was 16, I won a music scholarship to a public school in England and it was like being let into heaven really. Incredible music facilities, three different orchestras, different choirs, a studio - I mean, it was like a mini music college. I feel so lucky to have had that experience and I'm sure that's why I went on to study music and make it my career.
If you could 'turn back the clock' is there anything you would want to tell your younger self about music and life? Listen more! I know that sounds weird, but I was always learning classical pieces and it didn't occur to me that if I was finding it tricky I could just try to find a recorded version in the library. Now you can find everything on youtube in seconds. It's such a great way to make a piece of difficult music make sense. And you can do it with pop, rock, rap - it doesn't matter - whatever you're into, make a point of listening to it really hard; figure out what the bass is doing, what the drums are doing and so on. Each time you listen, you'll hear something new, and you can learn so much about music and how it's put together and played this way. I think if I had listened to a lot more classical pieces as I was learning them it would have helped my technique develop faster. But the most important thing is for music to be fun. It should always be fun!! That's the whole point of doing it. And the whole reason I wanted to be a musician and not work in a bank (which I have done). There's no reason why you can't have fun and make a living from it.
At FunkyPunk Music, we are always encouraging our students to pick up their instruments outside of lessons and just play! How important do you think it is just to enjoy playing for fun when you're learning an instrument? Well, scales are very boring, I grant you and they don't feel like fun, but they make playing fun if you know what I mean because as you progress you can try playing so many different kids of things. It's just great to make a lot of noise though sometimes, isn't it? Sometimes I just love to bash the piano really hard, or plug my electric in and just play along to whatever records I'm really loving at the moment. There's nothing better than playing along to my favourite records, or jamming with friends. It shouldn't matter about how well you're playing something, if you miss a note or are a bit out of tune - there's always time to practice that - but sometimes it's just good to make noise and not care, to just experience the feeling of playing and making sound.
If you were the Minister of Music Teaching and you could invent a whole new way of inspiring young people to learn music - mixing traditional (grades) and informal (fun!) - what top tips or approaches would you include? One of my favourite memories from music college is the improvisation workshops we used to do. One day, our tutor decided we should play each other's instruments even if we had no idea what we were doing. It was brilliant. We all stopped thinking about being good and whether we were being marked, and just started exploring these new instruments and seeing what cool sounds we could make. It was really liberating. And it gave me confidence to use what I knew from one instrument to teach myself other ones. Literally within a few days of that particular workshop I started playing drums, and feeling more confident about my guitar playing even though it wasn't my main instrument. I think if we could teach young people 'music' instead of 'violin' or 'guitar', they'd fall in love with music in such a way that they wouldn't see practice as practice, but exploration. To be advanced on any instrument requires dedication - but for most of us who reach a certain level of expertise, that dedication doesn't feel like a sacrifice, it feels like doing the thing you love over and over. Most people love or at least really like music - and I firmly believe that most human beings have it in them to play music well themselves. If we could just foster love of music rather than making it this dry, technical slog, we'd have loads more musicians in the world, and call me a hippy, but a much happier world as a result. I have to be honest though and say that my parents very cleverly used grades as a motivating force and promised me cool stuff if I passed them. So I kind of like grades...
Finally, can you give us your own personal motivational message to all our FunkyPunk Music students?
"Everybody has music in them, everybody. And so you need to let it out. It's not about who can play the fastest, or sing the highest note, or playing something through perfectly - it's about being able to express yourself through your instrument or voice. If you learn to play, your instrument can be your friend for life." Nerina Pallot
Thanks Nerina! For tour dates please visit: www.nerinapallot.com/news
& be sure to check out her amazing music, including 12 EP's released in 2014!