“At its core, music is human and simple,” said Mahealani Lee, a Santa Barbaran who now works as a senior producer for online music-teaching website Soundfly. “There are those who claim it will always be a mystery to them. Good. It’s a mystery to all of us — but there’s a melody to your speech and a rhythm to the way you eat a sandwich, so in a sense, we’re all musicians,” she asserted. “Since music’s a part of what we are, learning more about it can help us be better versions of ourselves, even if it’s in a very small way.”
Taking steps toward self-betterment through music is just the kind of service Soundfly offers. Through bite-sized, free, prerecorded music lessons — some just 20 minutes, others an hour — the innovative new service breaks down occasionally mystifying music topics into understandable concepts, from blues chords to touring cheaply to synth oscillators to chiptune music — all you need is Wi-Fi and an instrument. Both Lee and Christina Apostolopoulos, a fellow Santa Barbara–raised singer/songwriter, contribute lessons to the site, having joined after they both attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston.
Of learning music while at Santa Barbara High School, Apostolopoulos said, “[It] gave me a great sense of comfort and solace,” not to mention confidence: “Spending those hours learning a fingerpicking pattern or mastering an F chord gives you a kind of ‘If I can do this, I can do anything’ feeling.” She applies that assurance to Soundfly’s Open D Course, the first in a new series of free classes on alternate guitar tunings. The course includes multiple videos, chord guides, backing tracks, and simple activities, and after completing the lessons, students will receive a free set of D’Addario guitar strings. Apostolopoulos said her teaching style is “about the balance between keeping [students] excited and making sure they are challenged.” She feels that the Open D tuning allows for both creativity and the opportunity to go beyond the standard guitar tuning. “It’s a great feeling, especially from a songwriting standpoint, to be able to look at your instrument in a completely new way,” she said.
Lee, who teaches a course on piano improvisation and also edits Soundfly’s videos, said her music education began at Kellogg Elementary. “My earliest memory as a music ‘educator’ is being an 11-year-old at Kellogg, clumsily teaching a 2nd grade class to sing ‘The Rainbow Connection,’” she said. “I’d like to think [that] on some level, I realized how cool it was to be able to share this intangible medium with others even then.”
Through the Internet ether, Soundfly allows students to learn in their own time from teachers all over the world. “Online courses certainly have more flexibility in terms of when you can teach and learn,” Apostolopoulos said, “and you can’t come to an in-person lesson in your pj’s.”
While Lee was skeptical at first of the web format, she now believes online teaching enhances a student’s self-discipline and creativity. An online lesson, she said, “provides additional tools and inspires us to explore on our own. Online education teaches us to be honest learners. We aren’t focused on impressing someone else and can’t lie about how much time we spend practicing.”
Still in its fledgling stages, Soundfly may grow to include real-time lessons, and the website continues to expand its roster of teachers and courses, with new ones each month. So for those who have wanted to learn a new creative tuning, tackle that synth modulator, or orchestrate a set of string players, these two Santa Barbarans can help open your ears and eyes to new music frontiers.