Take a breath...   

Feeling exhausted? Overwhelmed? Over it?  

Take a breath...  

We have to make time to recharge ourselves and our souls. Recharging yourself physically, spiritually, mentally, and emotionally is as important as any work you will ever do.  

Music soothes the soul.

The Amazing Life-Long Benefits of Learning Music 

The Amazing Life-Long Benefits of Learning Music

One of my favorite undergraduate courses at Berklee College of Music was “Music Cognition.” My Professor, Dr. Susan Rogers, studied and worked with Neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, author of the groundbreaking book, “This is Your Brain on Music,” among others. Before becoming a scientist, Dr. Rogers worked as a record producer, studio engineer, and mixer, most notably for the artist, Prince from 1983-1988. We’re talking “Purple Rain,” my friends! 

While I, like so many, have always loved music, I discovered a new appreciation and respect for the process of learning music. Doing so can literally change a person. 

Music enhances the process of learning by simultaneous engagement of senses, muscles, and intellect. Music cognition is a branch of cognitive psychology—the scientific study of thinking and information processing. Cognitive psychologists investigate mental processes such as: 

  • learning 
  • memory 
  • attention 
  • language acquisition and use 
  • decision-making 
  • categorization 
  • action planning 
  • consciousness 

Music cognition is the study of mental activities that lead to musical behaviors. Musical behaviors include the following: 

  • sensing—the physical sensation of sound 
  • listening—perceiving and attending to sound 
  • learning—internalizing (i.e., to acquire knowledge of) musical norms from exposure to music in our culture 
  • remembering—learning new songs and recalling or recognizing them later 
  • feeling—recognizing and being affected by emotion in music 
  • performing—expressing emotion, ideas, rhythm using a musical instrument or voice 

Humans do not need musical training to express musical behaviors. This has led music cognition researchers to conclude that music may be an innate property of the human nervous system, meaning that we are born with a capacity to understand and make music, just as we are born with an inescapable drive to acquire and use language. 

In his excellent book, “This Is Your Brain on Music,” McGill University neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin notes science has shown that when children learn to play music, their brains begin to hear and process sounds that they couldn’t otherwise hear. This helps them develop “neurophysiological distinction” between certain sounds that can aid in literacy, which can translate into improved academic results for kids. A 2014 study from Northwestern University revealed that in order to fully reap the cognitive benefits of a music class, kids can’t just sit there and let the sound of music wash over them. They have to be actively engaged in the music and participants of it. 

School-age students of music and the arts have higher grades, better standardized test scores on the verbal and math portions of the SAT, better attendance in school, and are more active in community affairs as documented by multiple studies performed at higher-level institutions. 

Music cultivates skills that are useful throughout life for both children and adults. These include concentration, coordination, perseverance, self-confidence, and esteem as well as relaxation. Music provides benefits that can counterbalance highly competitive activities. 

Many employers and colleges view participation in arts and music as a way of broadening the understanding and appreciation of the world. 

Music provides all kinds of physical and mental benefits for both children and adults. Study of a musical instrument strengthens cognitive skills as well as auditory memory and the ability to hear speech in noisy environments. Music relaxes the mind and reduces anxiety and depression. Further, the adjustment decisions involved in the performance of a musical instrument for tempo, tone, style, rhythm, and phrasing train the brain to be good at organizing and conducting numerous activities at once. 

Music is a language that brings people together. It is a bridge to connect with others. Music uses communication, creativity, and cooperation to enrich lives. It's also a lot of fun. 

I would love to share your creative journey. You can sign up for a FREE LESSON right here.

- Michael Pickering

Did Facebook, Instagram Actually Ban Music Livestreams?  

Did Facebook, Instagram Actually Ban Music Livestreams?

The devastation which coronavirus has wrought on the live entertainment industry has left the music business understandably skittish, so it’s no surprise that an upsettingly vague announcement from Facebook that they would be cracking down on online “music listening experiences” sent industry executives into a tailspin. 

Guest post by James Shotwell of Haulix 

After sending shockwaves through the music industry last week, Facebook has clarified its statements regarding “music listening experiences.” 

It’s not hard to send the music business into a panic these days. The novel coronavirus has shuttered live music for the foreseeable future, physical media sales are dropping like an anchor, and nobody seems to know when some semblance of “normalcy” will be possible. To make matters worse, everything is online, and each day brings new rules and regulations that dictate how artists can (or cannot) use existing platforms such as Facebook and Instagram to further their careers. 

Facebook scared music executives worldwide when it announced plans to crack down on what it labels “music listening experiences.” The new rules, as explained in Facebook’s Music Guidelines, stated: “You may not use videos on our Products to create a music listening experience. The rules go into effect on October 1. 

The social media giant made a significant mistake in its announcement. The phrase “music listening experiences” is too vague. The news made many in entertainment worry that the world’s largest online platform would no longer allow live stream concerts and listening events, two promotional tactics that are seen as vital to music marketing success in the COVID age. 

After days of outcry and concern, Facebook clarified its statements on Monday, September. The company wrote in its blog: 

“We want to encourage musical expression on our platforms while also ensuring that we uphold our agreements with rights holders. These agreements help protect the artists, songwriters, and partners who are the cornerstone of the music community — and we’re grateful for how they’ve enabled the amazing creativity we’ve seen in this time. 

“Our partnerships with rights holders have brought people together around music on our platforms. As part of our licensing agreements, there are limitations around the amount of recorded music that can be included in Live broadcasts or videos. 

“While the specifics of our licensing agreements are confidential, today we’re sharing some general guidelines to help you plan your videos better: Music in stories and traditional live music performances (e.g., filming an artist or band performing live) are permitted. 

“The greater the number of full-length recorded tracks in a video, the more likely it may be limited (more below on what we mean by “limited”).” 

They added: “Shorter clips of music are recommended. There should always be a visual component to your video; recorded audio should not be the primary purpose of the video.” 

“These guidelines are consistent across live and recorded video on both Facebook and Instagram, and for all types of accounts — i.e. pages, profiles, verified and unverified accounts. 

“And although music is launched on our platforms in more than 90 countries, there are places where it is not yet available. So if your video includes recorded music, it may not be available for use in those locations.” 

Last weekend, a spokesperson for Facebook also confirmed to NME that although new guidelines will come into effect across the site in October, the music guidelines have been in place for some time and will not affect artists using the site to livestream gigs or share their music.

What Is Tonara? 


Tonara is a new and exciting music app, created to transform the teaching, learning, practice, and performance of aspiring musicians worldwide. Tonara’s digital experience gives teachers and music students a platform to interact and engage in a whole new way. Here is a brief video overview.

Tonara’s goal is to make music education thrive.

It takes the best of traditional teaching - that is, the one-on-one interaction and learning experience - and blends it with the best help cutting-edge technology has to offer. With Tonara, students practice better, more often, and longer. Teachers build their digital studio, send home assignments to and chat with their students. Together, both enjoy a supportive, active, and flexible environment for promoting consistent, high-impact practice for all ages and levels. 

All Pickering Performing Arts & Entertainment students are already members of Tonara.

I've created accounts for all. Download the Tonara App from your preferred App Store. To access your account use the LOGIN option listed under “I already have an account” and enter your login details. (DO NOT use the option to set up a new account on Tonara, it will not be connected to me if you do.) I've emailed all current student's login credentials to each. If you do not have your login credentials please text 720-767-3627 to get you login credential.

Please watch this very helpful video explaining how the Tonara app works:


Assignments hold a critical part in the progress of music students. They help give students detailed instructions and practice goals to reach while in-between lessons. 

As such, Tonara includes a comprehensive Assignment module enabling teachers to send students practice assignments with different types of attachments (notes, recording, pieces, etc), directions, and guidance on how they should practice. Moreover, teachers are able to tailor each assignment to fit the needs of their student(s), edit assignments, and archive them upon need. 

Whether the goal is to practice the piece and receive a perfect score (‘Compare Recording’ assignment) or complete all required repetitions, students will be able to stay on track of their practice goals and teachers will be able to track their progress. Tracking their progress will give teachers the ability to create the most suitable and relevant lesson plan. 


Creating music is also about creating a community, and communication is the foundation for that. 

Communication is one of the keys to success. Tonara has created many ways for teachers, students, and parents to communicate with one another. Making music-practice fun doesn’t come on its own, and sometimes requires the assistance of rewards, stickers, and a community to encourage one another. That’s why Tonara invested in bringing a practice experience with unique stickers, a cool rewards system, and groups for teachers and students to talk with another for encouragement and share their accomplishments. 


The messaging module consists of one-to-one messaging (teacher-student, teacher-parent), group chats, and channels. 

Giving students and teachers the ability to communicate in-between lessons helps students better understand what they need to work on and gives teachers the confidence that their students are truly practicing at home. One-on-one messaging connects teachers and students, helping the student to find support, encouragement, and of course, share their accomplishments with their teacher right inside their private chat. Group messaging is mostly used by teachers with studios or music schools enabling them to communicate with their entire studio on assignments to work on, motivation, also enabling students to engage with their peers and ideas, opinion, and progress with one another. Channels, on the other hand, are a one-way type of communication used by teachers sending guidance to their students without the students being able to respond back. 

Support & Encouragement 

Students benefit from the support and encouragement they receive from their teachers and parents. 

When receiving support from their teachers, students feel empowered and motivated to continue in their practice and continue progressing to the next stages of their practice. Teachers always stay updated with how the students are progressing and are able to adjust their support whether it be to encourage them of being on the right path or guidance and adjustments. 


Rewards are a great way for teachers to encourage their students to practice in-between lessons. They serve as a way to show support and encouragement. 

For students, practicing their instruments at home isn’t always the most entertaining thing to do. So, to combat that we’ve introduced rewards that make practicing more fun and engaging with a gamification side. The more students practice the more they are able to reach higher XP levels, earn points, and climb the teacher’s studio leaderboard. As they reach higher XP levels, they unlock more stickers that they are able to share with one another, and of course with their teachers. The stickers are a great way to communicate between students and teachers. 


We all know that the more students practice, the better they play and the longer they stick with it to feel that incredible joy of creating music. 

As such, the student’s experience within Tonara is just as important to us as the teachers’ experience. Finding the motivation to sit down and practice music can be tedious and tiresome at times for kids. Tonara provides features and benefits for students that make practicing more engaging, interactive and also fun. 

With features that interact and engage with students, give students real-time feedback, and a level of gamification students are excited about their practice sessions. Overall, Tonara teachers report an increase of over 68% in average practice time since they have started using Tonara. 

For students, Tonara has a studio & global leaderboard that allows students to always check their standings, and the more they practice the more points they earn. I truly believe in making practice engaging and interactive. I believe in trying to help my students see the homework assignments, not as something boring which they need to do but rather a fun, interactive activity that they look forward to each day. 

As students continue to practice with Tonara, they are able to see their own growth and progression with statistics and all the fun rewards that they receive as they practice more and complete more assignments. 


As teachers continue to interact and engage with their students’ in-between lessons, students are more likely to practice at home. Teachers are able to send detailed assignments for their students as well as talk with them in their private chats to help with specific frustrations and of course share how proud they are of their progress. 

Listens & Get Feedback 

Once a student starts practicing with a ‘Compare Recording’ Assignment our patent AI technology will compare the students playing to the teacher's pre-recorded piece. In addition, Tonara will provide the student with real-time feedback on their fluency, pitch, rhythm, and tempo. They can then share their progress with their teacher, get feedback from them, and further improve until their next lesson. 


Enjoy practicing is an important step to ensure kids will continue to learn and improve. Gamification assists in getting kids more involved and excited around practicing. As students practice more, they are able to reach higher XP levels, earn more stickers, and gain more points & climb both their teachers' and global leaderboard. The more assignments students complete the higher they grow in the XP levels and the more stickers they unlock. The stickers are a great way for teachers and students to communicate with one another for encouragement, support, and help. During each practice session, students earn points based on their playing which allows them to reach higher standings in the global leaderboard. Tonara offers a studio leaderboard for each teacher’s studio where students can see where they stand with their classmates. They also offer a global leaderboard, so students can see where they stand with students from all across the globe.

Your Lessons Are About To Receive An Exciting Upgrade! 

Your Lessons Are About To Receive An Exciting Upgrade!

What began in March 2020 as my desire to provide a little normalcy and hope for my community in response to a state-wide pandemic shelter in place lockdown order is evolving into a full-time dream come true. I am committed to the idea that life's challenges should not prohibit access to the activities we all love and the education we all want. Over the past 6 months, Pickering Performing Arts & Entertainment has doubled in student enrollment, providing private lessons online and in-person at my home studio. I am beyond grateful and, frankly, crazy surprised by all that has happened! I want to thank you for being a part of this amazing, creative journey. We're just getting started!

Two Challenges

Starting and growing a performing arts & entertainment academy during a pandemic is a fascinating experience. While most things have been extremely positive, there are two challenges I've wrestled with, as have some of my burgeoning artists and their families.

Challenge 1: Ongoing inspiration and self-motivation for students to practice in between lessons. The struggle can be real!

We know that consistent practicing of good habits produces progress. And while we all have fun during our lessons together, self-directed practice in between lessons can be less appealing. 

Challenge 2: Building a growing community and providing opportunities to engage with one another during a pandemic. 

While most of us have quite rapidly and unexpectedly become unwitting Zoom Experts, working, learning, and interacting virtually, we long for community and human connection and interaction. The performing arts and entertainment is a world of human interaction, culture, innovation, and relationships. Under non-pandemic conditions we would be gathering in classes, putting on live shows, hanging out at my home socializing, playing games, and singing songs. I do believe the days of togetherness will return, but for now, we need other options.

Time to Level Up: Introducing Tonara

While considering the challenges before us, I've been researching potential solutions, or better yet, opportunities for overcoming obstacles. The opportunity that I am most excited about is a FREE TO YOU music education app called Tonara. (www.tonara.com)

Tonara is the proud recipient of the "Best Tools For Schools" award, presented by SBO Magazine at the annual NAMM show. This achievement is a reflection of all we do to empower music teachers and engage music students.

Tonara's mission is to provide a fun and engaging solution to the challenges I've (we've) been wrestling with. 

With Tonara, I Can: 

Create Smart Assignments 

  • Send my students assignments with compare recordings, videos, voice notes and textual notes. 

Track Progress 

  • Track my students’ weekly, monthly, and yearly progress. Set goals and watch my students. 

Motivate Practice 

  • Tonara’s music practice app hears students play and gives personal and real-time feedback! 

Stay Connected 

  • And with one-on-one and group messaging available, I can keep your students updated and engaged.

With Tonara, Students Gain: 

Engaging Lessons 

  • Connection, engagement, and community via groups, games, and more.

Track Progress 

  • With Tonara's chat features, students can Stay in touch with me and fellow students. 

Motivation for self-directed practicing

  • Earn points and climb the leaderboard as students practice and keep track of your own progress. 

Real-time feedback 

  • Tonara's patent AI technology listens to how students are playing and can give you feedback on fluency.

Tonara isn't designed to replace any of the one-on-one work that I am doing with students, but instead to complement what's been done during our time together in between lessons. All online students will continue lessons with Zoom - no changes there. It's also a way for students to stay in touch with me, get to know other students, help to motivate and encourage one another, and (IMHO) to give them something better to do on their screens than watch Tik Tok! (Arabella is in constant Tik Tok from-the-waist-up-arms-flailing dance mode. You know what I mean!

Next Steps 

Over the next week, I will be preparing to get all of us up and running with Tonara. I am currently learning the teacher side of the app. It's very intuitive and highly capable. I have no doubt that together we'll have questions and probably hit a few speed bumps. I've been encouraged that in addition to a great number of tutorial videos available online, Tonara also provides fantastic customer service.

The app is free and is available for Mac and PC platforms via your preferred App Store. They also have a Youtube channel that contains numerous helpful videos. I have links for their website, Youtube channel, and other helps below. When you have a moment, please take a little time to check any or all of these out.

And please reach out to me with any questions or concerns! My email is michael@pickeringarts.com and the school phone is 720-767-3627

My Next Steps

I will be creating Tonara accounts for all of my students. I will email account information, login, and initial passwords to each family. I will also be uploading and creating lesson and other content for us to engage with! I truly believe that offering this solution will provide a fun, engaging, and effective upgrade to our experience together!

Your Next Steps

Download the Tonara App to your iPad, Tablet, and/or Smart Phone. Log in to your student's account with the information I will send and activate your account. Watch for in-app alerts for new assignments, announcements, games, groups, and additional lessons and community resources.


Tonara's Main Website

A Video Tour of the Tonara App for Parents and Students (by music teacher Nicole Douglas) (10:31)

Apple App Store: Tonara

Google Play App Store: Tonara

Tonara Youtube Channel

What Students Experience With Tonara Video (1:44)

Our Future's So Bright We Have To Wear Shades!

I love to teach! I love our time together making dreams come true. I hope that your experience with Pickering Performing Arts (& me) is as much a bright spot in your life as it is in mine. We need all the "wins" we can create and get during this challenging time in our world. 

I am working on other exciting things for us that I will be sharing in the weeks to come. In the meantime, please reach out to me if I can be of help or service. I'm looking forward to seeing you again soon!

"Music can change lives because music can change people" - Bono

All the best,

Michael Pickering