How Music Works: A holistic and fun approach to music theory

-What are the building blocks of music?
-How do chords work, and how can I learn to recognize them?
-What makes a great song?
-How do melody, rhythm, and harmony fit together?
-How can I become a better songwriter?

The answer to these and other questions will be explored as we delve into the inner workings of popular music. All levels are welcome—no experience or reading ability is required. No sheet music is used—just our ears and voices! We will examine how music works through the melodies, structures, and chord progressions of popular songs of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Other topics include the role of repetition and contrast in music, similarities and differences in various music styles, how songwriters create, and more!

Participants have said:

“With patience, warm geniality, great intuition and impeccable comedic timing, Brian encourages the curiosity of his student body while weaving in his inspirational knowledge of theory without any judgment. “How Music Works” is a fantastic spring-board and invitation to dig deeper into the music we sing.”

“A master teacher, Brian makes theory relevant, profound, and joyous. He makes what might seem tedious into an awesome adventure!”

“Brian demystifies one of life’s most cherished mysteries: music!”


“A must for music lovers!”

“Terrifically fun and educational. Two thumbs up!”

Dates: 4 Wednesday evenings: Sept 18, Sept 25, Oct 2 & Oct 9

Hours: 7:30 – 9:00 PM

Cost: $85

Location: TBA (likely Cadboro Bay area)

Contact: briantate@shaw.ca

How Music Works Fall 2019 flyer.pdf How Music Works Fall 2019 flyer.pdf
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Brian is renowned for his exhilarating choir workshops. Lift up your voice! Custom-design a workshop for your school, community, or church choir. Workshops are for all styles of choirs and soloists. Choirs will fine-tune and polish their current repertoire, and learn new, easy, fun songs. A passionate advocate of learning and making music at all levels, Brian believes that music has a fundamental role in learning, communication, understanding, community, health, and wholeness. Choir workshops are:

  • For Churches: A Gospel Music Weekend
  • World Rhythms
  • "WOW"-ing Your Audience
  • Lift Up Your Voice: The Gospel Experience
  • It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing: Singing Jazz
  • Singer's Masterclass
  • Music in the Moment: The Joy of Improv  


"Brian has worked with and composed works for two groups I conduct, the Vancouver College Chamber Choir, and the British Columbia Boys Choir. His work with both groups had been exemplary. Brian is deeply passionate about the music he presents in a way that is infectious to young singers and adults alike. His thoroughly professional approach brings the best out of these performers; he appeals to the mature musician in all of his singers. He is able to clearly articulate his excellent ideas in rehearsal and effectively reveal them through his conducting. Not only is he clear about what he wants, he knows how to achieve it, through a mixture of a disciplined approach and sheer inspiration." Gerald Van Wyck, Head of Choral Activities, Vancouver Community College, former Music Director, British Columbia Boys Choir.

"The Island is humming with the news of your workshop, which has percolated out into the community. You enabled all our singers to make enormous leaps and they feel so stimulated and inspired. Thank you so much for sharing your enormous talent and your sensitive approach to singers. You are rare indeed and we have all been touched by you." Clare Mathias, former Music Director, Pender Island Choir.

"It is uncommon to discover a superb musician and a gifted educator in the same person. Brian Tate is such an individual. His workshop for our singers was inspiring, motivating and great fun. Most important, the learning was phenomenal, dramatically impacting the rehearsals and performances that followed. Our singers are looking forward to their next opportunity to work with Brian." Judy Herrington, Music Director, Tacoma Youth Chorus.


"Brian is a fabulous choir instructor. He challenges us with new music and progresses as quickly as we can aptly do so. Challenges me to pay close attention and to be an active participant. Great pieces, too."

"Thank you so much for working with us. I enjoyed your creativity. You are obviously passionate about music. Thank you for helping us with expression and dynamics. The rhythm activities you shared were very valuable, and catchyI still have some running through my head!" 

"Brian's passion for music is infectious."

"I loved that we were able to bring our bodies into the songs. It reminded me that I am not a talking head. I loved that we did not focus only on North American music. We got a taste of culture."

"Brian always provided encouragement and appreciation for our work. It has been wonderful to sing again in a choir that wants to work, with an instructor who knows the serious side must get done but throws in fun things too!"

"He has a very strong interest and passion for what he does. He is professional and expects the same of his students. The work is challenging, yet not frustratingly hard."

"By his consistent attention to detail in every piece we do, he has challenged us to extend our range and ability."


For Churches: A Gospel Music Weekend

Bring your congregation alive with music! One of his most popular workshops, Brian leads an all-day choir workshop (on a Saturday), teaching several easy-to-learn gospel songs and spirituals he has composed or arranged himself. There are opportunities for soloists, as well as a chance to expand the church choir to include members of the congregation (no music reading ability is needed for the workshop). All the music learned Saturday is included in the Sunday service. Most of the music includes congregational singing, and Brian is an expert in inviting congregations to participate. Your church will never be the same!

"Thank you so much for all of your work with us. It was a blast!! One long-term member of our church told me that he thought your service was the best ever at our church. That's high praise indeed!" Donna Brown, Choir Director, Unitarian Church of Vancouver

"Thank you for your enthusiasm and for sharing your talent with us. I think you'll be part of a new wave of music throughout UU sanctuaries this fall." Beth Banks, Parish Minister, UU Church of Davis, CA

"Everyone I've spoken to has been enthusiastic about your work here. We did "Go In Peace" at the end again last Sunday and everyone was singing. People are saying that music in the church will never be the same." Margaret Nicolson, worship associate, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Hawaii

World Rhythms

Everybody has rhythm! And much of today's contemporary choral repertoire features exciting African, Latin, and jazz rhythms. This lively, hands-on workshop will give you and your singers a solid start in getting a groove happening in your choir. Exercises include clapped and spoken rhythm "rounds", syncopations, African and Afro-Cuban music, and more. The rhythms are learned through movement, clapping, speaking, and singing. Easy-to-learn and fun musical games and songs will help your choir listen better, loosen up, and become a tighter ensemble. A guaranteed good time! For all ages and levels.

"WOW"-ing Your Audience

You've heard of extreme sports - how about extreme singing? Wowing your audience takes more than singing the right notes in the right place!

One of the most common challenges choirs face is to break away from "mezzo"-itis; that is, a middle-of-the-road approach to making music. Watch your choir come alive musically by taking its current or new songs to the extreme: in dynamics, phrasing, tone color, rhythm, and articulation.

Lift Up Your Voice: The Gospel Experience

Audiences and singers alike love to be moved and inspired by the rhythmic, passionate, and soulful experience of spirituals and gospel music. Combining elements of classical vocal technique with jazz and blues stylings, your choir will experience musical benefits that apply to all styles of music. This workshop consists of easy-to-learn songs taught in the oral tradition (or: polishing your current gospel or spiritual arrangements). Fun and inspiring for all! The workshop includes:
Freeing the body and the voice by integrating singing, gesture, and movement.
Feeling the rhythm rather than counting the beats.
Stylistic elements such as "swung" rhythm, scooping and bending pitches, syncopated accents.
Expanding vocal color and expression.

It Don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got That Swing: Singing Jazz

Jazz is one of the most liberating, exciting, creative, colorful, and limitless styles of music that any singer can explore. Whether as a choir or a soloist, singing jazz will expand your technical, musical, and creative range like nothing else! This workshop can be for beginning to advanced jazz choirs (or choirs with little or no experience singing jazz), soloists with choir, or soloists alone.

The workshop includes:

Jazz rhythms: swing and syncopation; getting tight by getting loose!
Jazz phrasing: the "elastic line" and rhythmic freedom
Jazz harmonies: fine-tuning your ear to extended harmonies
Jazz color: "playing" your voice like an instrument; expanding your palette of sound
Improvisation: allowing your own spontaneous musical ideas to bloom

The Singer's Masterclass: Finding Your Authentic Voice

A masterclass on technique, style, and interpretation for soloists. Participants may perform a song of their choice in any style: classical, pop, folk, jazz, etc., whether accompanied or a cappella. Although there will be some attention to technique, the focus is primarily on singers finding their "authentic voice", and making the song uniquely their own. All levels may participate, and beginners are encouraged to participate with more experienced singers, as everyone works independently with Brian at their current level. This class may be done with the whole choir in attendance or only the soloists involved, at the discretion of the teacher and the wishes of the participants. This workshop is conducted in a safe and supportive environment!

Music in the Moment: The Joy of Improv

The essence of musical expression, improvisation is the exploration and expression of spontaneous musical ideas, and is never the same twice! Based on the premise that there are no wrong notes and no bad choices, "The Joy of Improv" begins with a general warm-up with some bluesy/jazzy call-and-response patterns and then moves into:

1. CIRCLE SONGS. Made popular by singer Bobby McFerrin, discover the joy of singing multi-layered, spontaneous musical lines to create a tapestry of sound. Brian will divide your singers into groups and give each group a line to repeat as other groups add other interlocking, ever-changing parts. Discover the basics of improvisation as part-songs are built before your eyes (and ears)! 

2. SOLOING. Aspiring soloists are invited to improvise solo lines over a simple pattern sung by the other participants. Small ensembles may also be formed for even greater freedom and possibilities: imagine theatre sports, only with singing! This workshop helps build self-confidence, musicality, listening skills, creativity and spontaneity.


Generate creativity and teamwork in your workplace. 

Photo: Guy Smith 


Organizations that thrive are those using their greatest resources: innovation and creativity. "Creativity is the corporation's competitive edge. In the new corporation, creativity and innovation are organizational treasures."—John  Naisbitt, Megatrends. Brian's workshops for the workplace involve music, theatre, improvisation, and fun. Participants discover resources that support them in their work, as well as other areas of their lives. Workshop topics include:

  • Teambuilding
  • Leadership
  • Innovation and Creativity
  • Managing Change
  • The Liberated Voice


"I never would have believed I could have done it!"
"A touch of magic."
"Really fun and really different."
"A wonderful experience."
"...shows that we need the talents of each person to fit together to make the unit complete."
"I learned to trust that no one will laugh at me for taking risks, and that working together can be something enjoyable."
"I thought I had no rhythm, but in one session I found out that it is really not all that difficult."
"You made it possible to totally let loose and not have to worry what others think."
"Excellent change of pace and stress reliever."
"Demonstrates working in harmony together."
"We sometimes say we're working together, but this workshop really forces us to, in order to make things happen."

Contact Brian at briantate@shaw.ca to discuss a customized workshop for your workplace.