Tamara Hey’s intensive Alphabet City Music Workshops are all about bang for the buck. Classes meet once a week and are very immersive. In a city where topnotch private instruction is everywhere, what’s the advantage? Money, obviously, but also an entertaining environment: these classes are very lively.
Who takes these courses? This blog was in the house for Hey’s Basic Theory 1 class back in 2014, and also for a relatively rare installment of her more advanced Basic Theory 2. The participants in the more advanced class were an intimate bunch: a busy jazz guitarist, a Moroccan-born classical pianist, a singer-songwriter, the frontwoman of a cover band and a longtime sideman working up material for his own project, looking for a refresher course in chart writing. Hey’s currently teaching her popular Music Basics 2 course, for the fist time in a couple of years, in an information-packed three-week session starting March 19, meeting weekly on Tuesdays from 7 to 9 PM through April 2. Comparably speaking, the $105 fee – which can be paid once class starts – is a real bargain, less than a single individual session with a topnoch instructor. The classroom is about a block from the Astor Place train station on the 6 line.
Beyond erudite banter and debate over issues like whether a swing beat is based on a triplet rhythm, or whether the Stones’ Time Is on My Side is in 6/8 or 12/8 time – both of which came up in Basic Theory 2 the last time around – these classes are all about information. You are expected to participate – classes are small, so there’s really no way to be a wallflower – and complete your homework. If you can handle a brisk pace and are committed to learning the material, you will have an awful lot of fun; if you fall behind, it will be less so.
Hey tailors these courses to students’ needs, beyond the basic syllabus. In the Basic Theory 1 class that this blog’s proprietor took, everybody wanted to write charts, so that’s what we focused on. The Basic Theory 2 crowd was more consumed by in the nuts and bolts of songwriting, so there was a lot of analysis and disassembling, using examples from the Beatles to the Kinks to Maroon 5, to name just three.
Along with a weekly class, there’s audio and also a workbook which might be the best bargain of all. Months after you’ve taken the course, if you’ve forgotten something, you can look it up. Basic Theory 1 was built around the circle of fifths: we didn’t get to minors and seventh chords like we eventually did in Theory 2. Ear training and transcription are integral parts of all her courses; Theory 2 requires a basic ability to read music and at least a familiarity with the circle of fifths, while with the course currently being offered, Music Basics 2, a basic knowledge of major scales and rhythm is useful but not mandatory: everybody is welcome.
Hey’s wit in front of the class reflects her devious, clever approach to songwriting – she’s been touring a lot lately, which is why she hasn’t offered this course in awhile. She had a fondness for very short songs with big punchlines, and she really knows her catchy hooks. To get a sense where she’s coming from in the classroom, you might want to check out her show March 27 at 6 PM at the small room at the Rockwood, where she’s followed at 7 by another deviously funny, more eclectic tunesmith, Lorraine Leckie.