Running Red Lights - Smedley

Here's an eclectic mash up of songs that evolved over a 7 year period that we affectionately dub the "Smedley". This concert was recorded live in May at a private intimate house-concert hosted by the House Of Commons.

Running Red Lights is:

Vocals: Scarlett Flynn

Drums/Vocals: Kevin Howley

Jeff Carter: Bass

Guitar: Yours truly

Anthony Brancati joined us as a guest on the keyboards.

Video courtesy of Stratasfear Productions

Will Music Teachers Be Taken Over by Machines? - What I Think About Yousician

I recently had a discussion with a fellow music teacher on their thoughts regarding the rising popularity of interactive music apps — more specifically Yousician. Does using Yousician and other interactive music learning platforms help or hinder the process of learning an instrument? My quick answer is that it does help and i’ll get to some of the reasons why later. To be clear, i'm speaking from personal experience as someone who has used Yousician myself (I just had to take it out for a test drive!). Concerns around this topic were wafting around the air during my time at the CDBaby Independent Musicians Conference in Chicago in October. I think the concerns are well warranted in a profession where it’s hard enough to make ends meet to begin with let alone suffering the threat of being put out of work by machines. I’ve done some thinking and i’ll explain why I think this won’t be the case.  

One of the benefits in adding Yousician to my students' curriculum has been that it encourages them to play and practice during the week in between their lessons. More often than not, students will practice just before a lesson out of guilt or  parental command. Yousician allows a teacher to monitor the progress of a student by simply seeing how many exercises a student has or has not completed. This isn’t possible in the traditional book approach to music lessons. There is definitely more compliance when Big Brother is watching you!

Yousician is dynamic and engaging. Books don’t congratulate or tally your progress. I also find that the exercises found in the Yousician targets specific rudiments quite well. A great example of this is how Yousician requires a student to integrate both visual and aural sensory information simultaneously. This isn’t easily achievable in the traditional book approach. There is a lot of experimental evidence to back up the benefits of multisensory learning (Shams & Seitz, 2008). Our brains learn better when more than one sensory modality is engaged because we evolved in environments where sound, sight, and touch were all involved in the same cognitive task. 

Boredom is a big hurdle in any established practice routine. Because Yousician tracks a students progress in real-time, I often find my students engaging in a fierce competition with themselves. These students get the opposite of bored: they strive for perfection with excitement! Glenn Kurtz in his book Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music quite brilliantly states that “When you sit down to practice, however casually, you cast yourself as the hero and victim of your own myth.” The best learning comes from being in competition with yourself.

I don’t think that we should underestimate the primacy of human contact. Nothing can replace the experience of contact between teacher and student. Within this contact emerges respect, care, encouragement, trust, and support  — virtues that promote and foster a productive mentorship. How “influential” and “inspirational” can a machine be? Do we ever attribute these adjectives to non-humans? Marvelling at the skill and aptitude of a machine seems absurd. “Wow that Chopin Nocturne sounded fantastic— now play it a but more rubato” said no one ever to a player piano or MIDI file. I would personally marvel more at the human who developed the algorithm for a machine to play rubato.

I am and will continue to encourage my fellow peers in music education to embrace learning software like Yousician as a tool — not a ominous mainframe that threatens to take over their profession. I feel that teachers should be more concerned about the rising ubiquity of guitar tuner apps since they serve as impediments to a student developing an ear for tuning a guitar relative to itself and other instruments. The day smartphones die, guitars everywhere around the world are doomed to dissonance. 

So don’t sweat it too much. Yousician doesn’t have to put you out of business or threaten your livelihood anymore than the invention of the car did to the wheel…

Human relationships are critical in any type of learning. Most other jobs that have been or are in threat of being automated relate to manufacturing. We shouldn’t be in the business of manufacturing musicians or artists anyway. 



Kurtz, Glenn. (2008). Practicing: A Musician's Return to Music. New York: Vintage Books.

Shams, L., Seitz, A. (2008). Benefits of multisensory learning. Trends in Cognitive Sciences. 12(11), 411-417.

Sarnia Boys - FALL Mini Tour

Over the last year or so I've been writing songs with Vancouver based singer-songwriter John Pippus. John and I are part of other original projects (Running Red Lights for me and John his own solo project). John suggested the name "Sarnia Boys" because our first single Found You Out was recorded exclusively by a few members from a Sarnia band called Funk Eh! That band included drummer Tim Tanner, bassist Max Williams, and harmonicist Mike Stevens. 

We are playing three dates with the first one kicking off in Windsor on November 17th at the Phog Lounge in Windsor, ON.


November 17 - Phog Lounge w/ Sarah Hiltz - Windsor ON.

November 18 - Paddy Flaherty's w/Running Red Lights - Sarnia, ON - 9pm

November 19 - C'est What w/ Running Red Lights - Toronto ON - 9pm

The Benefits of Improvisation

I've always made the cultivation of creativity a primary focus in my teaching method. One of the main ways of cultivating your creative side is by increasing your improvisational fluency. Improvisation unlocks the potential for not only being a reproducer of notes on a page but also a creator of music. When you give the music you play some of your own self-agency by creating it in a spontaenous moment, the music becomes a part of you. The relationship between you and the music changes from something external to internal. This shift more often than not, in my experience, deepens a students appreciation for music.
Here is a great clip on the neuroscience behind this phenomenon. The brain tends to get "bored" with rote learning via notes off a page. Improvisation seems to engage and help a person regain an interest in musical activity.



Sarnia Boys - Found You Out

I'm excited to release my first single with the Sarnia Boys

is a driving blues juggernaut about love gone bad, a take-no-prisoners musical steamroller ride from Sarnia Boys' David Puzak and John Pippus. The track is propelled by a killer guitar riff and an overdriven harmonica played by Canadian virtuoso, MIKE STEVENS

“I Found You Out” is the first studio release from the writing team of DAVID PUZAK and JOHN PIPPUS

 Enjoy the ride!


Composer/Producer/Engineer: Dave Puzak

Lyrics: John Pippus

Recorded, Produced, and Mixed at:

Noʊ Nəʊ in Toronto, Ontario

Additional Engineering: Kevin Howley

Additional Engineering: Bob Hiltz at EyreSpace, Chatham, Ontario

Lead Vocal: John Pippus

Guitars and Foot Stomp: Dave Puzak

Harmonica: Mike Stevens

Drums: Tim Tanner

Bass:  Max Williams

BG Vocals: Sarnia Boys

CD Baby Conference Chicago

While in Chicago, Running Red Lights had the unexpected but rewarding experience to work with Live Music Production, Tom Jackson. I'm going to quote what singer Scarlett wrote (because it's so good I had to steal it)

PLEASE be sure to check out Tom's sponsorship program


"Running Red Lights returns from Chicago, upon attending the CD Baby DIY Musician Conference, with a renewed exuberance and immeasurably impressionable experiences.  One of these experiences was the spontaneous and unique opportunity to participate in the LIVE BAND MAKEOVER panel, presented by the renowned and notorious, Live Music Production Guru, Tom Jackson.

'Tom Jackson has worked with hundreds of artists in nearly every genre, including major artists such as Taylor Swift, Magic, Jars of Clay and The Band Perry.' He helps artists to realize their full performance potential.

The results of our experience were wondrous and he elevated our performance to a world-class match for any major touring artist. The 500 plus attendees were astonished by the transformation and many were left with shivers by the end of the demonstration. We are so very very grateful to CD Baby and Tom Jackson for this incredible circumstance that seemingly and almost quite literally befell upon us from the skies.  

Tom Jackson is also a passionate activist and advocate for the poorest of the poor. Tom Jackson Productions has developed a tour sponsorship program called LIVE MUSIC GIVES ( Please visit the website for more information on this incredible opportunity to pay it forward. For additional information on Tom Jackson please visit his website at"


Ten Chefs - Jane Goodall Foundation Fundraiser

I'm really excited to be the musical part of this evening. I've been drawn to Jane Goodall's unconditional love for animal welfare ever since reading a book on chimpanzees in grade five. Jane is one of a kind and has been a gift to the world in her helping grow awareness in areas of ecology, biodiversity and primatology. Please consider donating to Jane's cause.