Saturday, September 28, 2019

Looking for teachers that have online studios.

The Sweet music studio is hiring teachers that have online music studios. If you do not have a studio, but you have experience teaching online, we would like to hear from you also.

Musical instruments that we are looking for include woodwinds, brass, banjo, percussion, and voice.  

Although we use slack with all of our teaching experiences, whatever software you have the most experience with is fine with us. Whatever works is the best way.

The way it works, is much like other online services that cater to musicians, except we will handle all of the marketing and promotions related to you and your studio, all you do is pay a small monthly fee. You will be listed on the website, with links to your calendar and a registration page where students can learn more about you and sign up for a trial lesson.

You set your own prices and you pay our fee via PayPal.

To learn more and register your studio contact us.

Friday, September 27, 2019


I have been creating simple podcasts for about a year now.  If you'd like to listen to them, here's a link.  Today, I'm moving in a new direction and am setting up to invite guests.  As I'm learning with YouTube videos, people like product reviews more than tunes.  They prefer lessons over recordings, and they prefer interviews with interesting people most of all.  My plan is to set up podcasts and invite various musicians to be on the podcast. 

As you can see from the picture, I have a small set up.  I'm using two SM54 microphones connected to a Europort EPA150.  For software, I am using Audacity on a Windows 10 laptop.  This is a very simple, yet affordable, solution for a small studio like mine. 

I have friends who have much more complex (and expensive) systems.  For example my friend Brian Bender set up a $100k studio in his garage with all the bells and whistles.  I want to keep it low key until I figure out the kind of podcast people like.  

Suggestions are welcome!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Obligations, Loss and Liability

One of the biggest losses a studio faces is when a student resigns or steps down.  It can be a big blow not only to the teacher, but to the other members of the studio.  Recently, two key members of Celtic Calamity, the Thursday night Celtic Group Class had to resign.  I'll not go into their personal details, suffice it to say that family and financial obligations always come first, and in my mind, you have to take care of those before you can do anything else.

But while this recent loss is painful, it brings me back to the loss of another student in 2016.  This student had been with the studio since the early 1990s, participated in all of the groups offered, and was a participant and key player in the formation of Mandolin New England, the mandolin orchestra that assembles once a year with players from New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island to perform in western Massachusetts.  When they said they were resigning from the studio, it was a horrible loss not only to me, but to the other group members, their spouses and in some cases their children.  To this day, I'm not sure how much they were aware of the positive impact they had, and the abrupt almost violent impact they had when they left.  The ripples are still spreading out and their absence is still felt, almost four years later.

As a Studio, we are obligated to keep going, to shoulder the burdens and to continue to do our best to reach out to interested communities and continue to grow.  Each new group of students contributes such positivism and helps to further the participation and contributions of other members.  And, as the 21st century trundles on, we are forced to seek out methods of meeting those obligations in an increasingly online world.

Twenty years ago, word of mouth was key.  Area stores that carried mandolin-family and violin-family instruments were critical sources of new business.  Now that most of those businesses, except for a few stalwarts, have closed or consolidated, private studios such as ours, are finding fewer and fewer students coming from referrals.  Fifteen years ago, MySpace was the primary social network, and source of many new students and musicians.  Facebook took over in 2006, competing on multiple levels.  Ten years ago, Craigslist was the primary source of new students and participants in the various jam sessions, sight-reading sessions and even new orchestra members.  This source has mostly dried up due to Craig Newmark's sale of the site to new owners who have switched to a payment option for small businesses and studios.  Nowadays even social media is a weak source of new musicians, as Facebook/Twitter/Google+ squeeze the attention of their members, removing potential eyeballs from pages and posts, and forcing new algorithms that don't work for small businesses.  Now a combination of word of mouth and social media are just about the sole methods for reaching new potential players, audiences and students.  Events still work for encouraging participation in programs, but they often do not result in paying members.

Studios such as ours are facing a new attack from another direction.  Over the past six or seven years, liability insurance costs have skyrocketed.  No longer part of a home-owner's insurance, private studios such as ours are forced to take out additional liability insurance plans with a monthly payment that is as much if not more than a car payment!

I do not mean to sound negative, and if this post reads that way, I apologize!  I am doing the best I can to keep the various programs alive and engaging, and the rewards of positive comments from participants and students are helpful, and technology has increased the conveniences available to existing and new students.  Skype and Slack, for example, are two software communications options for online lessons.  We use Slack, and many other studios use Skype.  Competition from "Free" lessons through YouTube and other social media is fierce, however, and using the words of one of my students, there's no THERE there.

We continue to market online lessons however, because it does drive traffic to our events, YouTube channel and Podcast.  A new model is emerging, that of becoming a studio "Patron" through a monthly "contribution" is interesting.  We are experimenting with that.  So far it's a dud, but we will continue to try it out.  It obviously works for YouTube channels that provide content that people want.  The key is to know what content is most interesting currently and to provide more similar content.  For example, people spend more time watching and sharing the "product review" videos on my YouTube channel, than they do the music-related ones.  Obviously this means I should be creating more "product review" videos, and pushing the "subscribe" and "become a patron" buttons there.

In order to maintain a successful small business, one must be constantly vigilant, flexible, have a thick skin, and be forward thinking.  To be a good teacher, one must be sensitive, open-minded and passionate.  Do the two compliment each other?  I've been doing this for more than 30 years, so I would say yes.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Double the strings: Mandolin orchestra forms in Granby (formerly South Hadley)

Gazette Contributing Writer

Cynthia, Mary, Teri, Ben
Adam R. Sweet would like to see mandolin jam sessions, popular in the early 20th century, make a comeback.

But for now, the music teacher and owner of Sweet Music Studio has founded the group, which had its first rehearsal in February.

According to the Classical Mandolin Society of America, it is likely the only mandolin orchestra in the Pioneer Valley.

“They said, ‘Look, we’re a dying breed. There are very few of us left,’” recalls Sweet, referring to the nonprofit organization, based in Minneapolis. He said the closest mandolin orchestra the society knew of is in Providence, R.I.

Formed at the urging of some of his students, the South Hadley Mandolin Orchestra has nine members — seven mandolinists, one mandola player and one mandocellist.

“The big thrill of playing in an orchestra is being in the middle of the sound,” said member Will Melton, who plays mandola. He was a member of the Providence Mandolin Orchestra before moving to South Hadley. “Being in the middle of acoustic instruments, playing harmonies in split-second time — it’s a spiritual experience.”

To make mandolin family instruments popular again, Sweet aims to reach out to the young.

“I find that most people think they’re banjos,” he said.

He said he has approached South Hadley Superintendent of Schools Nicholas Young about setting up a pilot string program in the schools.

Ben Levy, Granby
Benjamin Levy of Granby, an orchestra member and also one of Sweet’s students, said he took up the mandolin four years ago as a “retirement project.”

He grew up playing the piano and tuba, and began playing the guitar as an adult, he said.

He stresses that musicians of all levels of expertise should consider joining the orchestra.

“All you really need is a mandolin, an ability to read music, and an interest in playing classical music in a group,” Levy said.

Mary Jennings, a mandolin player who has been taking lessons for a year and a half, said she initially thought she wasn’t ready to play in a group, but Sweet encouraged her to join. She previously studied piano.

“It’s my very first experience in an orchestra, working with more experienced musicians than myself,” she said. “So it’s a lot of keeping up.”

There is no formal audition or fee to join, Sweet said.

“I want it to be a fun community thing that has a life of its own. That it’s something that grows and continues to grow over the next number of decades — that’s really my hope.”

The mandolin

The mandolin is a string instrument played by strumming or picking like a banjo or guitar and using violin finger patterns. It was developed in Italy during the 17th and 18th centuries, and became popular in the United States during the 1920s after Orville Gibson designed a new style with a violin-like arched top.

Gibson would go on to found the Gibson Mandolin-Guitar Manufacturing Co., which today is the Gibson Guitar Corp. of Nashville, Tenn.

In the early 20th century, when people listened to live rather than recorded music, mandolin bands would commonly play in people’s homes, said Sweet, a scholar of music history. As recorded music became more popular, the trend waned, along with the traditional mandolin orchestra.

Mandoln, Mandola, Mandocello, Mandobass
The mandolin is commonly associated with bluegrass, Celtic and classical music, but can be applied to a wide variety of genres. Sweet teaches a weekly mandolin group class where students each semester study a different genre and how the mandolin can fit in to it. This semester, Beatles music is the focus.

“What we need is a rock star of the mandolin world,” said Sweet. “Like a Yo-Yo Ma.”

In a recent interview in his studio, Sweet demonstrated how a mandolin is held and played.

Tuned the same way as a violin, any song that can be played on a violin can be played on a mandolin, but a mandolin player can strum chords, too, unlike a violinist, he said, momentarily breaking into “Danny Boy.”

He describes the mandolin as a social instrument that can be played in groups, like guitar jam sessions. While the violin is one of the most difficult string instruments to learn, the mandolin is one of the easiest, he said.

Other instruments in the mandolin family — which all have four sets of double strings — include the mandola, tuned like a viola, the mandocello, tuned like a cello and the mandobass, tuned like a bass.

Sweet, 57, has been teaching violin and mandolin in the Valley since 1986. He is a classically trained violinist, and spent six years studying the mandolin. He operates his music studio out of his home on Lincoln Avenue where he lives with his wife, Emily, and his two sons, Ricky, 4, and Bina, 14.

He has 37 students — most on mandolin and violin, with others studying bass, cello, guitar, mandola, percussion, voice, theory and composition.

Melton said he learned of Sweet from his music teacher in Providence. “The mandolin community is incredibly close-knit.”

Melton, who is the executive director of development for the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said he is grateful to have found another opportunity to play in a mandolin orchestra. He estimates there are only around 120 of them in the country.

As well as playing in Sweet’s orchestra, he said, he often jams during lunch breaks with several of his co-workers who play the mandolin.

“The College of Natural Sciences has a pretty impressive string band,” he said.

The mandolin orchestra rehearses from 7 to 9p.m. on Tuesdays at Sweet’s studio on Amherst St in Granby, MA. Right now, he is looking to have three musicians for each part, but the orchestra could grow to 50 pieces if interest warrants it.

“I don’t think there are 50 classical mandolin players in western Massachusetts — but I could be wrong,” he said.

Sweet can be reached through his website:

Website experiment

Adam with student
As some of you know, I experimented with having a website in addition to the blog.  I felt that I was spending a lot of money every month with zero ROI.  As a former national sales manager, I know that this kind of profit model can't sustain. 

I had established a six month budget which including $$ for Facebook and Google ads, the cost of the domain and the rental of the host. 

After the time was up, when I had not sold any products nor acquired new students (through the website), I sat down with my investors (my wife and older son) and we decided the best thing to do was to take down the new website and keep the blog.  This way I can continue to write about topics that interest me as well as include links to various projects and podcasts, without costing additional money (other than the annual domain name). 

For what it's worth, Blogger, while being an older blogging platform (more than 10 years old) and somewhat antiquated, works as it should.  It's easy to set up and easy to use.

So I am back to the old URL:  The email is the same: as is the phone # (text only please): 413-200-2628

Thank you, as always, for your patience as I struggle along!

Adam Sweet

Adam Sweet: What's the best way to contact you?

Send me a package:
Adam Sweet 
117 Amherst Street
Granby, MA 01033

Email me:

Facebook me:


Monday, September 2, 2019

The Irish "session" has its origins in America in the 20th century

by the Standing Stones, a duo with Michael Robinson and Vicki Parrish

Some people are under the impression that Irish music sessions are a type of traditional event. However, authorities such as Breandan Breathnach and others agree that Irish music as played traditionally was a solo, unaccompanied musical form. Furthermore, the artistry of the music depends for a large extent on the variation and ornamentation of the basic tune by the performer—subtleties which are necessarily lost when there is more than one performer.

In Cape Breton, which has probably the most conservative tradition in Gaelic music, it was unheard of until quite recently to have more than one fiddler playing at a time. To play while another person was playing would have been considered just as rude as talking while another person was talking.

The only circumstance in which it was common to have more than one person playing at a time was at dances. The lack of affordable PA systems in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made it necessary to have multiple performers so that the music would be audible.

From the reports of some of the early collectors, it appears that many professional musicians avoided performing in the presence of other musicians for fear that their tunes would be stolen. The stock of tunes in a given area may have been quite small, and knowing a tune that others didn't could be a distinct advantage. Many of the old musicians were extremely jealous of each other, and would carry their special tunes to the grave rather than teach them to anyone other than possibly a son or extremely well-loved pupil (with instructions not to perform them during the teacher's lifetime).

Some of the professionals were more generous, however, and some schools of playing can be traced back to particular founders. (This is described in The Northern Fiddler.)

While there were of course many talented amateur musicians, traditionally the best musicians were usually professional or at least semi-professional. However, being a professional musician in the early 19th century was a career rather similar to being a professional beggar. They often played for tips at cattle fairs, horse races, etc.

A number of professional musicians in the old style kept going well into the 20th century. For example, Johnny Doherty and Padraig O'Keeffe made their livelihood from music without giving concerts until late in their lives, if at all (aside from being taped and played on the radio).

The old harpers were almost all professionals, but they were usually maintained by the old aristocratic families. This form of patronage died out around the middle to late 18th century.

In Scotland professional musicians adopted the modern style of giving concerts, going on tour, etc. around the middle 18th century, just as the old patronage system died out. The musician/beggar lifestyle existed as well—no doubt it depended on your class origins.

Amateurs were much more likely to play in sessions than professionals, lacking the jealousy caused by having to depend on your store of tunes for your bread and butter, and lacking the artistry to perform elegant variations. Since such professional musicians as emigrated to the U.S. from Ireland in the 19th century tended to gravitate towards stage performance (since the opportunities for a traditional musical lifestyle and prejudices against lower-class performers appearing on stage were both absent), it may well be that the establishment of the session as the standard venue for the performance of Irish music was an American innovation.

It is certain that the growth of sessions has changed the form of Irish music. The amount of variation of the tunes has decreased radically and the old descriptive pieces of music have almost totally died out.

The lifestyle in which Irish music originated is almost totally gone, and before we become too nostalgic about it we should remember that it was a life of hard physical labour, grinding poverty, poor health and early death. The fact that the music is changing is an indication that it is still alive and has not become a museum piece. This is not the first time that the music has changed in order to adapt to changing social structures, by any means.

Hammy Hamilton, the well-known Irish flute maker, responded:

Michael Robinson's comments about the session and the development of non-solo playing are very relevant. I've been working in this area for some time and I believe that there is a strong connection between the improvement in social and economic conditions in Ireland at the end of the 19th century and the rise of amateur playing of traditional music. It seems that previously the vast majority of players were professional. Non-solo playing doesn't really appear until the early recordings of the 78 RPM period in the States. The session as we know it today is a much later development, in the majority of cases not being common until the 1950's! The earliest date that I can establish for a pub session is in the late 1930's and I think this would have been very unusual at the time.

Margaret Steiner at Indiana University responded:

First of all, Robinson is quite correct in asserting that traditionally, playing was a solo activity, around the hearth, and perhaps taking place in conjunction with other expressive arts—singing, storytelling, etc., among neighbors who gathered together at a "ceili house." The ceili band, and later the session, were recent innovations.

I can tell you about my experience in Newtownbutler, Co. Fermanagh, where I did my doctoral research and where I returned in 1992. When I began my research in 1978, virtually no instrumental music was heard in the pubs, although sometimes someone would get out his fiddle, or, maybe there would be a fiddle and an accordion, but this was generally at Mrs. Connolly's, a well known "ceili house"—i.e., a home where folk would spontaneously gather to socialize and sometimes to play music or sing or tell stories. Singing, the subject of my dissertation, was integral to community life, and the songs celebrated neighbors and ancestors. People accorded the singers their utmost attention and would signal that attention by "good-manning"; [giving verbal encouragement during performance], singing along on choruses, and applauding on the song's completion. Again, the sort of ensemble playing that people associate with the session was NOT a part of the tradition.

When I returned to Newtown butler, which I had been visiting over a ten-year period, while writing, when I did a post-dissertation visit in 1992, sessions had made their appearance. Young people, some of whom were the progeny of singers, were playing the familiar session tunes, and, as you suggest, for most people, it was background music. I suggest that unlike the songs, which were fraught with palpable meaning for the community, the session music, brought in through radio and records, while pleasant to listen to, did not bear the same meaning for the community. At one session, at the end of the evening, some of the older singers sang began to perform songs which encapsulated what being from Newtown butler is about, and,the moment the singing began, the whole atmosphere changed, and virtually everyone in the pub became intensely engaged.

Les Poules huppées

CRESTED HENS, THE (Les Poules huppées). French, Bourrée à 3 temps (3/8 time). E Dorian. Standard tuning (fiddle). Composed in 1983 by French...