Noterunner.com is a fabulous new website for buying and selling digital sheet music. Not only do they give composers a great venue to sell their compositions and teachers another venue to find new digital sheet music, but they also sponsor competitions with great prizes for musicians of all ages and levels. I recently had a chat with Jen Butikofer, the mastermind behind Noterunner, and a very accomplished composer and musician herself.
What would you consider your first instrument to be? Do you play others? What made you decide that was “your” instrument?
My first instrument is the piano. I dabble a bit on the guitar and love to sing.
What made you begin a life path in music? What age were you when you started and what was the inspiration that fueled you?
I was raised in a very musical family and have always felt passionate about music. I remember falling asleep to the sound of my Father singing and my Mom accompanying him on the piano most nights when I was young. When I was around 6 years old I decided I wanted to write music. I hadn’t had any formal training but must have had some exposure from my mother because I knew the names of the notes. I started writing my own “compositions” on the back of a diaper box using letter names and long and short lines to represent the length of the notes. I wanted to play in the talent show when I was 7 so I remember figuring out Mary Had a Little Lamb by ear and performing that. My Mom started officially teaching me after that. I began studying with Juliette Gamero for a short period of time and trained with Debrah Gamero until I graduated from high school. I continued to study music from professors at Utah State on the side while pursuing my masters degree in Computer Science . I have loved piano and singing ever since. I enjoyed song writing, performing, and competing.
Describe a typical practice week.
Truthfully, I wasn’t always the best at practicing properly. In the beginning I was faithful about it and practiced 30 minutes every day. As I got older, I would practice harder before competing but had times where I focused on school and other interests and my practicing wasn’t hot. But I always kept at it and the goal was 30-60 minutes a day. I participated and graduated from the AIM program in Utah. I also did federation, recitals and monster concerts and other events throughout the year which gave me incentive to hustle and catch up on my practicing. But even when I wasn’t officially practicing, I was always playing. I often got in trouble at lessons for making up new parts and not playing what was written. Although, not a tactic I would necessarily recommend, it helped me gain a love of composition. I had a group of close friends and we got together almost weekly and would sing and rotate who was accompanying the group. I was the church choir accompanist, organist and school choir accompanist and outside choir accompanist throughout high school and college. I also earned money by accompanying for individuals and voice teachers. I bring these things up because even when I thought I wasn’t always perfect at practicing my official lesson, my life was filled with incentives that kept me playing and growing without thinking of it as work.
Are there any practice tools you feel you have learned and would share with others?
A couple tricks that help me are:
1) Identify “bug” sections. Then play those sections several times a day perfectly. You can go as slowly as you need to but you should have no mistakes and no restarts.
2) Have goals in your practicing. Without goals, the practicing isn’t as efficient or effective. I like to have things to work toward like recitals, competitions or accompanying. It makes me focus and helps me take my practicing to the next level – even if I don’t win.
3) Practice only as fast as your weakest part
4) Learn the art of the performance flow for accompanying. Pay attention to your deadline. Notice how much progress you make and set goals. Then, if you can see you are not on track to make your goal, figure out how to “cheat.” So, for example, if you are accompanying for a choir and have one week to get the piece ready and there is a measure that will take you three weeks, adapt your piece so that it flows. This may require dropping some parts and focusing on essential notes.
When you are learning a new piece, how do you begin? Do you analyze the chord structure, identify the hardest part and practice that first? Play from beginning to end without stopping? Etc.
What should I do or what do I do? I typically play through it to get a feel, then identify problem spots and drill. Ideally, it is best to divide the piece into sections. Each section should be small enough that you can play it perfectly within a few days by repeating it several times perfectly. You may not necessarily get to all the sections on day one but will have learned the piece right the first time.
What type of music do you feel most inspired by?
I love so many kinds of music! I love music that makes me feel something. In classical music I like the Romantic Era. I love pop and have a special place in my heart for the 80’s. I love country, classical, musical theatre, you name it. I’m not a big fan of most rap or heavy metal. If it makes you dance or helps you feel something, that’s what makes me tick.
How important do you feel ear training and composing are to musicians? How have you developed a musical ear? Do you compose your own pieces? Enjoy improvising melodies? Write your own arrangements of familiar pieces?
I think ear training and composing are helpful to musicians in that the musician can more easily identify patterns in music that make a piece quicker to learn. Since I love to sing, it is also nice to be able to change the key of a song or create my own arrangements when necessary. I enjoy arranging and composing my own pieces. I call composing my “bliss.” When I am composing, everything else in the world stops and I am consumed in the process of expressing and being in the moment. I usually have a digital recorder with me at all times so I can catch the melodies that come into my head. The best time seems to be 1:00 in the morning when I’m trying to sleep!
I first learned to play by ear through experimentation – probably when I should have been practicing! I would listen to my favorite songs and try to figure them out. Playing by ear can be helpful in your lessons if you haven’t practiced! : ) I still remember sitting at the piano when I was 11 listening to Richard Marx sing “Right Here Waiting” and trying to pick it out. As I got older, I was involved in AIM where I was taught specific ear training skills that helped increase my capacity to hear the music. The reflections program also helped foster a love of composing.
Who is your favorite composer and why? How has this composer influenced the musician you have become?
Rachmaninoff! My favorite part of music is the dynamics. Rachmaninoff’s compositions have such an emotional and powerful component. I love the chord choices that he uses.
Growing up I also listened to a lot of artists similar to John Schmidt and Rachmaninoff. I find my new age compositions are very influenced by their sound. I love 2nds and 7ths!
Where can people see or hear you perform?
I perform singer/songwriter style with a children’s choir around the valley at events such as MADD, fallen police officer memorials, the Festival of Trees etc. I also perform at community and religious events with Malinda DeBry and my family.
Do you teach private or group music lessons?
I teach in a limited capacity right now as I am focused on my children at night and my new business www. NoteRunner.com during the day.
If music is not your first profession, how do you balance your other life and profession with your music career?
I would say my first profession is a being a mother to four beautiful children. I enjoy working on NoteRunner because I can do it from home during the day and still be available for my children in the evening and also have the flexibility to help out with their classes during the day.
If you compose music, where can people view and purchase your compositions?
I have sheet music available on www.NoteRunner.com and am adding to it regularly. I have primarily recorded for contests with a singer/songwriter style such as Nashville Star or the Tyler Castleton/Jenny Phillips songwriting competition. Most of my music is in my head or recorded. I am currently in the process of making more available in sheet music form.
“I Believe in Christ” is a CD I produced with Malinda DeBry who plays the fiddle. Our arrangements are available on CDBaby, itunes and www.JenAndMalinda.com. Sheet music for those is coming soon. You can find other singer/songwriter style music through my facebook page.
If you could go back to when you were a new music student and tell yourself anything, what would it be?
I would have told myself to practice a little harder! Music has brought so much joy into my life. The initial road can seem monotonous at times, but once you get over the initial wall of drudgery, your whole world opens. It can also be an avenue for income that works with raising a family.
Do you have any great memories of music as a child?
More than I can count! One of my favorites is my Dad laying in the hallway between the room of my two brothers and my room and singing my grandmother’s Mexican folk songs to us. His voice is still one of the most beautiful voices I have heard. It made me “feel” the music. I still sing those songs to my children today.
What else do you want people to know about you or your organization?
We regularly hold piano and vocal competitions for cash prizes and welcome anyone interested to watch for the NoteRunner Piano Jam contest coming in spring 2016! We also welcome new composers who write music and teachers who have created music helps or curriculum to be part of our NoteRunner community. On our site composers and music teachers can create their own store and sell from the site for great commissions.
Thanks Jen! I’m sure Noterunner.com will soon be a go-to resource for music teachers and composers alike!