Stratos-Invention Heralds Music Revolution

Over the past eighteen months, trombonist, teacher and bandleader Marcus Reynolds has had his eye on more than sheet music and big band charts. He’s been poring over technical drawings and specifications, in order to develop a simple brainwave into a new training device – a device that could revolutionise the way people learn and develop their brass instrument technique.


“If I’d have had a Stratos before I may not have had to retire so early!”

Terry Lax – Former principal trumpet of the Welsh National Opera (WNO)

“Wow! That was a Eb above Eb! And no mark on my lips so you can’t even tell I’ve been playing”

Stephen Sykes – Trombone soloist, has performed with Black Dyke and the Cory Bands

I believe this to be an invaluable tool for busy educators like myself.

Ld. Chris Jeans – International Trombone Soloist

After only 2 days of trying to play with it on she was making the best sound I had ever heard her make.

“I was so impressed with the result that I have bought one for myself”

Pamela Wedgwood – composer, educator and professional French horn player.

“Since studying with Marcus my range has gone up over an octave (beyond double C), my endurance has increased and my sound is bigger and richer.

Jim Woolley – a trumpet student of Marcus’s

My range has increased from struggling with a top C, which has been blown away with a top F played with consistency and ease. Not bad for a 76 year old!”

John Spruce

“I suddenly found I could hit top notes on top notes!

Ian McKay – a French horn student of Marcus’s

“The STRATOS is teaching me how to play with minimal pressure, and once I had developed my chops to play this way suddenly notes literally went stratospheric!

Marcus has produced a embouchure tool that is sure to revolutionize teaching and practicing brass instruments.

“His patient advice and teaching has helped me at times to produce such a massive tone from the trumpet that I have looked at the instrument in shock and disbelief

James Firmin – a trumpet student of Marcus

I am thrilled with the transformation taking place in my playing through using your STRATOS. My sound is blossoming in the high register (French Horn g2 – g3).
You’ve under promised and over delivered. Thanks a million.

Andrew Joy, Cologne 10thof May, 2013

The STRATOS is a precision-engineered practice-aid adaptable to all brass instruments. lt comes with a DVD that shows you how to easily fit and remove it from your instrument and also how to adapt your embouchure to get the best from your newly-adjusted jaw position.

”If you practice even briefly with the STRATOS in place, its astonishing how quickly your muscle-memory stores the new position. After a little longer going through some of the exercises in the DVD, it becomes second nature. Players develop new muscle

strength in the right places, and instead of exerting unnecessary pressure, you can actually relax into higher notes, and increase the volume without strain “

The development of the STRATOS has been a technical challenge, but a great journey, says Marcus.

“One of the highlights has been the instant reactions of some of my current pupils, trying out prototypes. One trumpet player produced some of her loudest and highest notes even yet with perfect tone and said, simply “lts magic — it’s like all the lessons you’ve taught me coming back all at once”.

It’s astonishing how quickly your muscle-memory stores the new position…it soon becomes second nature.

3 Drumming Tips to Playing with a Click Track

In this video I give you my 3 tips to be able to play along to a click track well!!

I hope you enjoyed the video and gained some useful insight into playing along with a click track!! Thanks for checking it out!!

Make sure you check back next week for another video lesson!!

In the meantime, please sign up for my free program “30 Days to Better Doubles.”

Also check out my website and my YouTube channel for more lessons!!

Stephen Taylor – MU Educator

Altissimo Fingerings for the Saxophone

Most of the time when I am out where other saxophonists can hear me play the question I get most often is how I have such flexibility in the altissimo register. Well aside from the hours I spent developing the range and sound of my altissimo register I think that the fingerings, for me, are the key.

After years of experimenting, these particular fingerings I have found flow easily from note to note and allow the ability to play intervalically. So, I encourage those who wish to learn these notes, start slowly. Beginning in the normal range of the saxophone (high D, E, or F) work up chromatically one note at a time. Get smooth going from the normal range to the altissimo.

Focus on transitioning and maintaining the tone. Pull out your scale exercises and work on playing your scales from within the normal to the altissimo range and when you are comfortable move on to playing entire scales in the altissimo. Once this is working for you, work on the interval studies.

I encourage you to follow this method to become able to play in the altissimo as freely as in the normal range. Above all, do this slowly. It took me nearly 4 years of study to become “fluid” at using the altissimo and I still have some sequences that are difficult to play spontaneously.

If you can get a copy of “The Art of the Saxophone” there are exercises to learn and practice the overtones of the saxophone. Learn and practice this to get a jump ahead on the playing of the altissimo. By the way, I started trying the fingerings in this book but altered them to the ones below which work for me. (All are with octave key.)



I hope that these charts will help you not only expand your range but expand your mind with new ideas and your heart with new hope for creativity. If you have any altissimo fingerings that work better for you, please share them here at Musicians Unite.

Never let cash money determine your availability. If you have the opportunity to play take it and make it the best gig of your life!!

Have a great week, check out some of the other articles on Musicians Unite and think of ways that you can use the information provided. Spread the word, share the link to us and add your comments below!! Thanks for reading!!

If you have any questions or comments please leave them in the comments section below or message me on my Facebook page!!

-Frank Valdez – MU Columnist

What Skills Do You Need to Play Jazz Guitar?

A question that came up a lot on one of my previous vlogs on “How to practice” was, “What skills do you need to play jazz guitar??” In this video I am going to try to answer that and open a discussion on what you need to study to learn jazz guitar.

I might have a simpler list of things that you should work on than you expect!!

My attempt at an answer is of course going to be very open. It is impossible to come up with a study plan that will fit everybody (which I am sure you understand). At the same time it’s a good topic to discuss.

It’s not the only way to look at this, so if you have ideas for a different approach then feel free to leave a comment!!

Thanks so much for checking out my weekly lesson at Musicians Unite!! I hope you found it helfpul in finding out what skills you’ll need to play jazz guitar!!

Please check back next week for another lesson, and in the meantime please catch up with me on my website and social media pages!!

Jens Larsen – MU Educator

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Music is LIFE – Part I

My wife and I were watching a movie the other day and I caught myself listening to the background music, noticing how it flowed so well with the movie. This got me thinking about how music is everywhere: TV, sporting events, even retail and grocery stores. We use music to mark special events such as birthdays, weddings, and even death. When you really start thinking about how long music has been around, not just in a human cultural aspect, but as a part of life in nature, you can go back not just thousands of years, but millions. Mating calls of the first animals to walk the earth, down to the guttural songs of our oldest Neanderthal ancestors. A single song can transport us back in time to remember a single event or an entire day. Here is part of my musical life journey.

I was born in March 1968. A very influential band in my music career was born the same year, but we’ll get to that later. I don’t remember individual songs of my very early youth, but I do remember my dad listening to his jazz and big band music on a reel to reel. I also remember that my parents bought me a very small record player in pre-school and supported my music development by buying albums of artists that I liked.

Living in Idaho, country music was popular and I remember hearing the music of John Denver and Kenny Rogers on the radio before disco took over. However, I had found my favorite station, which would fade in and out due to living at a distance from it. It was a “rock” station and because of this influence, Aerosmith, The Eagles, KISS, and similar bands made it into my record collection.

In 1977, I saw Star Wars in the theater and like most nine-year-old boys, was blown away. Not only did I get the soundtrack, but also the The Story of Star Wars on record. Thanks to Star Wars, I was introduced to the incomparable John Williams and his compositions. That same year I asked my parents for a mix record of popular rock music. On that record was Foreigner’s Cold as Ice. If I hear that song on the radio today, I’m immediately transported back to my bedroom in 1977 playing air guitar to the solo of that song.

1980 found me in transition. Not only did I move from Idaho to Rhode Island, but my entire music world was changing. I turned 12 years old just before moving and was so completely awe struck by one band that I purchased my first record with my own money. AC/DC’s Back In Black was a pivotal album as both it and the move to RI ushered in a heavier level of music for me as both rock and metal radio stations were more prevalent.

The combination of a new town, new school, and new people left me transitioning from being very popular to being at the bottom. I fell in with a rather tough crew for the rest of my school years. I remember us as the “tough, semi-jock, metal-head crew.” Being in a “tough crew” led to us listening to tough music, laden with tons of heavy guitar, lyrics, and percussion. Judas Priest, Ozzy, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Van Halen became an everyday part of life.

In 1982, I borrowed a bunch of records from an older kid and my life changed forever when I pulled out an album with the words Black Sabbath (also born in 1968) in purple lettering and Master of Reality in black. I put the album on the record player, dropped the needle, and was shaken to the core of my being. Coughing emanated out of the speakers followed by the opening riff of Sweet Leaf. Even though I had some heavy music in my listening repertoire, this was on a whole different level. That day, that song, made me want to play guitar and other than a five-year break in the 2000’s, I have never stopped playing.

Little did I know that that song, and the guitar and amp my mom bought me as a gift (a 1984 Aria Pro II ZZ Deluxe and a Peavey Backstage Plus), would become such important aspects of my life. Around 1984, my world was once again changed when I was listening to the Headbanger’s Ball and heard Creeping Death by Metallica. This experience rounded out my major influences for early guitar playing: Black Sabbath, AC/DC, Judas Priest, and Metallica with some Ozzy/Randy Rhodes thrown in the mix.

After graduating high school in 1986, I found myself at Navy boot camp just one month later. One of the first things I did when I got to my permanent duty station was to buy a guitar (Yamaha SE250) and a Tom Scholz Rockman headphone amp so I could play on the ship. 1986 also saw the release of Metallica’s Master of Puppets and it is still, to this day, my all-time favorite album from their collection. However, a different influence came out that defined my time in the Navy.

In 1987, during one of my tours in the Persian Gulf, Guns N’ Roses Appetite for Destruction was released…and I hated it, until I started listening to it and it became synonymous with my time in the Navy. In 1988 my ship, among several others, was invited to the Rose Festival in Portland, OR. This is a weeklong event held annually to thank the Navy for their service. The first night the town hosts the Sailor’s Ball. As it would happen, I met a girl named Christy that evening who would become my companion for the entire week. Whenever I hear Cult of Personality by Living Colour, I immediately think of that night and the following week.

In 1990 I helped my shipmate drive home cross-country and we stopped to see Christy, who was attending college in Kansas. We stayed the night, talked old times, and I showed off my new guitar, a 1988 USA Jackson Custom Shop. Once again, I think of this time and this girl and I think of Skid Row’s, I Remember You as our song.

When I got out of the Navy in 1990, I moved back home to RI and began college. Over the next six years of school I was playing guitar constantly, even jamming with people at parties. One of my best friends at the time was a metal head as well and he played a song from a new album that had just come out. My jaw hit the floor as I heard Pantera’s Vulgar Display of Power for the first time. This was and still is absolutely awe-inspiring to me.

I graduated in 1996 with a dual B.S. in Geology and Geological Oceanography and soon after, started working at a local job site. In 1997 I got a government job at NOAA in MD as an oceanographer. I also started dating a girl I’ll call G who would become my wife a few years later. As I said earlier, weddings are significant events where music was involved and this one had A LOT of music. The big song for us at the time was Aerosmith’s I Don’t Wanna Miss A Thing.

In 2002/3, for various reasons, I put my guitars in their cases and set them in the garage for what I thought would be forever. I had hit a plateau in my playing where I just couldn’t move forward and my job was becoming very demanding, as well as my marriage. 2007 rolled around and a game came out called Rockband. I HAD to have it and told my wife about it repeatedly. One day she got irritated and told me, “You don’t need the damn game. You’ve got three guitars in the garage, USE THEM!” So, I went out, bought a very small practice amp (Vox VT20, awesome) and began learning to play guitar again.

There were major changes in my playing and it took me about a year to get proficient again but I kept with it. Somehow, over the five years of non-playing, my ear had gotten very good at hearing music notes so much so that I could play the song in my head and then play it on guitar. I also began writing my own music and lyrics, even writing an entire concept album of lyrics.

In 2008, a new song came out on the radio and the band caught my ear, even though it was never announced on air who they were. The vocals were a blistering roar and beautiful at the same time and the riff and drums were just plain HEAVY. Finally, a DJ said the name of the band, Slipknot, the song Psychosocial. WOW! That same year Metallica’s new album, Death Magnetic was scheduled to be released. It was getting a lot of hype about being very old school and I was hopeful as I went to purchase it the week it was released. Sure enough, it had an old-school vibe and I gave it a thumbs up. As time continued to pass, my music was getting back to its old self but my marriage was on the decline. I would need music more than ever for this next stage.

Next week I’ll continue the story. Thank you for reading and please feel free to comment below!!

-Scott Duncan – MU Columnist

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The Importance of Engaging the Fans

A musician’s sole purpose when they’re on stage is to please the fans they perform for. They accomplish this by playing their chosen instrument on a daily basis, by working hard to perfect their craft in all aspects of what they do musically.

One of the most important aspects of a musician’s job is how to engage the fans. Our band’s approach is to ask what their favorite music and/or band is, and we encourage them to come back next week, and we’ll know how to play whatever style it is they want to hear, or we’ll play a song they request by their favorite band. That is how my band works on engaging the fans.

That lets them know that we as musicians care enough to come off of that stage and ask what they want to hear, and that kind of courtesy leaves a lasting impression, whether you ever see them again or not. The fans are who ultimately pay the bills and are the reason we as musicians get on the stage and play our hearts out every weekend, and we would do it seven days a week if we could.

Just like always, if you practice and are dedicated to the music you play you can accomplish great things musically. Engaging the fans is a must in all genres of music you play regardless of the style. If we can leave our fans feeling like they are a part of our music, we have done right by them, and that is one of the many things that make us the kind of musicians we need to be. A musician’s fans are their livelihood, and without them we wouldn’t be anything more than a glorified garage band.

My advice for any musician would be to engage their fans, to strive to keep them happy, and to keep yourselves playing music regardless of what genre you play.

As a musician myself I do my very best to play it all. That way I keep both the fans and myself happy. I’m doing everything I can do to show them I am a caring musician who puts their needs before my own, and that is the way it should be.

Any musician will wind up doing well if they know how to engage the fans!!

How do musician’s brains work while playing?

When musicians play instruments, their brains are processing a huge amount and variety of information in parallel. Musical styles and strengths vary dramatically: Some musicians are better at sight reading music, while others are better at playing by ear. Does this mean that their brains are processing information differently?

This is a question posed by Eriko Aiba, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Informatics and Engineering at the University of Electro-Communications in Tokyo, Japan. During the 172nd Meeting of the Acoustical Society of America and the 5th Joint Meeting with Acoustical Society of Japan, being held Nov. 28-Dec. 2, 2016, in Honolulu, Hawaii, Aiba will present research that delves into the various ways the brain engages in music signal processing.

Aiba began learning to play the piano when she was five years old, and quickly realized that musicians might be roughly divided into two groups: sight readers and those who play by ear.

“When considering a human brain as a computer, playing a musical instrument requires the brain to process a huge amount and variety of information in parallel,” explained Aiba. “For example, pianists need to read a score, plan the music, search for the keys to be played while planning the motions of their fingers and feet, and control their fingers and feet. They must also adjust the sound intensity and usage of the sustaining pedal according to the output sound.”

Such information processing is too complicated for a computer, so how do the brains of professional musicians handle such complex information processing?

One piece of this puzzle is that pianists who are good at playing by ear are also good at memorizing, according to the group’s findings when they put it to the test.

“Some were able to memorize almost the entirety of two pages of a complex musical score — despite only 20 minutes of practice,” Aiba said. This means that auditory memory may be helpful for memorizing music following short-term practice.

They also discovered that “each musician has their own strategy — even if it appears they’re all playing the piano in the same way,” she added. “These strategies aren’t completely different, however, because most musicians have some things in common.”

The group’s findings extend well beyond professional musicians to experts within other fields who also practice extremely hard every day to excel in their skills.

“It’s difficult to validate individual differences … and the conclusion that ‘the strategy depends on individuals’ could not be assumed to be scientific research,” said Aiba. “On the other hand, it may now be possible to categorize professional musicians based on their type of prioritizing modality information — in terms of visual and auditory processing.”

This work may help contribute to several research areas exploring expertise and performance. One, in particular, is language learning.

“To learn a language, some people prefer to read phrases aloud repeatedly — combining auditory and motion information. Others prefer to write phrases repeatedly — combining visual and motion information,” Aiba explained. “But some prefer to simply read — visual information. They’re all studying a language, but their brains are processing the information in different ways, depending on the strategy best suited to them.”

It will take more time to “reveal our brains’ brilliant strategy,” Aiba noted, but it may lead to the development of efficient, individualized learning methods in the future.

Mothers and infants connect through song

As one of the first records of human music, infant-directed singing permeates cultural boundaries and parenting traditions. Unlike other forms of caregiving, the act of mothers singing to infants is a universal behavior that seemingly withstands the test of time.

On the surface, the exchange between mother and child may seem standard, but to Shannon de l’Etoile, professor of Music Therapy and associate dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Miami Frost School of Music, there is much more to the infant-directed song than meets the eye — and ear.

“We know from previous research that infants have the innate ability to process music in a sophisticated manner,” explained de l’Etoile. “Initially, I set out to identify infant behaviors in response to live infant-directed singing compared to other common maternal interactions such as reading books and playing with toys. One of the main goals of the research was to clarify the meaning of infant-directed singing as a human behavior and as a means to elicit unique behavioral responses from infants,” she added.

Additionally, de l’Etoile explored the role of infant-directed singing in relation to intricate bond between mother and infant. In an initial study, she filmed 70 infants responding to six different interactions: mother sings an assigned song, “stranger” sings an assigned song, mother sings song of choice, mother reads book, mother plays with toy, and the mother and infant listen to recorded music. The results were promising, but also raised additional questions.

“High cognitive scores during infant-directed singing suggested that engagement through song is just as effective as book reading or toy play in maintaining infant attention, and far more effective than listening to recorded music,” said de l’Etoile. “But what did the infant engagement tell us about the mother’s role during the interaction?” she questioned.

de l’Etoile continued the study by focusing on the role of the caregiver during infant-directed singing by measuring the make-up of the song and the mother’s voice.

“Findings revealed that when infants were engaged during song, their mother’s instincts are also on high alert,” said de l’Etoile. “Intuitively, when infant engagement declined, the mother adjusted her pitch, tempo or key to stimulate and regulate infant response.”

While the intuitive adjustment of the song or singing voice seemed natural to most of the mothers, de l’Etoile was inclined to dig further. In a study published in the Journal of Music Therapy, she explored the acoustic parameters in the singing voices of mothers with post-partum depression.

“The extraction and analysis of vocal data revealed that mothers with post-partum depression may lack sensitivity and emotional expression in their singing,” stated de l’Etoile. “Although the infants were still engaged during the interaction, the tempo did not change and was somewhat robotic.”

According to de l’Etoile, for mothers with postpartum depression, infant-directed singing creates a unique and mutually beneficial situation. Through song, the infants are provided with much-needed sensory stimulation that can focus their attention and modulate their arousal. Simultaneously, mothers experience a much-needed distraction from the negative emotions and thoughts associated with depression, while also feeling empowered as a parent.

“Mothers around the world sing to their infants in remarkably similar ways, and infants prefer these specialized songs,” she said. “The tempo and key certainly don’t need to be perfect or professional for mothers and infants to interact through song. In fact, infants may be drawn to the personalized tempo and pitch of their mother, which encourage them to direct their gaze toward and ultimately communicate through this gaze,” added de l’Etoile.

Music in the brain: The first imaging genetic study linking dopaminergic genes to music

Sounds, such as music and noise, are capable of reliably affecting individuals’ moods and emotions, possibly by regulating brain dopamine, a neurotransmitter strongly involved in emotional behavior and mood regulation.

However, the relationship of sound environments with mood and emotions is highly variable across individuals. A putative source of variability is genetic background.

In this regard, a new imaging genetics study directed by Professor Elvira Brattico from Aarhus University and conducted in two Italian hospitals in collaboration with the University of Helsinki (Finland) has provided the first evidence that the effects of music and noise on affective behavior and brain physiology are associated with genetically determined dopamine functionality.

In particular, this study, published in the journal Neuroscience, revealed that a functional variation in dopamine D2 receptor gene (DRD2 rs1076560) modulates the impact of music as opposed to noise on mood states and emotion-related prefrontal and striatal brain activity, evidencing a differential susceptibility for the affect-modulatory effects of music and noise on the GG and GT genotypes.

In more details, results showed mood improvement after music exposure in GG subjects and mood deterioration after noise exposure in GT subjects. Moreover, the music as opposed to noise environment decreased the striatal activity of GT subjects as well as the prefrontal activity of GG subjects while processing emotional faces.

These results are novel in identifying a biological source of variability in the impact of sound environments on emotional responses. The first author of the study, Tiziana Quarto, Ph.D. student at University of Helsinki under supervision of Prof. Brattico, further comments:

“Our approach allowed the observation of the link between genes and phenotypes via a true biological path that goes from functional genetic variations (for which the effects on molecular function is known) to brain physiology subtending behavior. The use of this approach is especially important when the investigated behavior is complex and very variable across subjects, because this means that many biological factors are involved.”

“This study represents the first use of the imaging genetics approach in the field of music and sounds in general. We are really excited about our results because they suggest that even a non-pharmacological intervention such as music, might regulate mood and emotional responses at both the behavioral and neuronal level,” says Professor Elvira Brattico.

“More importantly, these findings encourage the search for personalized music-based interventions for the treatment of brain disorders associated with aberrant dopaminergic neurotransmission as well as abnormal mood and emotion-related brain activity.”