Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Don’t you think you ought to learn how to take off and land the plane first?

August 15, 2018

Perhaps you’ve admired those stunt pilots who turn and spin in the sky, leaving behind a trail of colorful smoke. Now suppose you decide you want to pursue that skill and take some stunt-flying lessons.

It would be a pretty good idea to learn now to take off, fly level, and land the plane first, right?

So who do so many beginning ukulele players (and players of other instruments, as well) want to start learning fancy “strums*” and fingerpicking patterns when they haven’t yet learned some of the very basics of rhythm and melody?

Like venturing into the woods without a basic knowledge of the terrain – memorizing a step-by-step set of moves is okay as long as you don’t get lost.  But take one step off the beaten path and you can suddenly find yourself lost, both in the woods, and in the music.

Think of how much more satisfying your playing experience would be if you knew a little of what you were doing. This doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice all other musical exercises until you know all about theory and rhythm. There are plenty of things to learn, and as long as you are learning something – you are doing good.

Fortunately, if you get lost and don’t know that to do while playing the uke, you won’t find yourself plummeting  toward the earth in a death spiral.

But take the time and effort to learn the basics. It’s worth it.

 

* Strums… let’s say “strumming patterns” instead.

 

Take a Hard Class

July 3, 2018

Wouldn’t it be fun and informative to be a fly on the wall at a top level meeting where they are discussing a topic that is of interest to you?

Perhaps you have an interest in marketing and would like to know how the big decisions are made about logo placement and audience targeting – wouldn’t it be an eye opener to sit in on a meeting on a top floor executive meeting? Or imagine another “inner working” you’d like to be privy to… like music.

I teach a lot of music in both private and group settings and something I have observed is, that in many cases, students just want to review what they already know, or they are there just to have fun.

I often start a workshop by asking the attendees why they chose my particular workshop – in this case, a workshop on leading and following during play-alongs. One lady responded, “I just wanted to play some songs.” When I informed her that though we might be playing some songs in the class, we were really there to learn how to be a song leader and how to follow others who were leading. She got up, packed her uke, and left.

That was both a good thing and a not so good thing. One one hand, it’s good to be clear on what you want – on both our parts. She just wanted to have some fun, and I made it clear that I was going to teach some useful information. We both were better off. (By the way, we did have fun while learning.)

But it got me thinking about how much one could learn by challenging oneself. It’s true that reviewing information is helpful – taking an easy class to confirm your existing knowledge, but there are so many opportunities to do that without paying money to attend a festival or workshop series. Think of how much that woman would have learned about playing together – which was actually what she said she wanted to do!

And that brings me to my first paragraph’s statement: wouldn’t it be fun to be in a group where they are discussing top level information?

Why not take a class that is hard once in a while? Challenge yourself! Sit there politely and let the “know-it-alls” talk, but rather than look frustrated and let things “go over your head”, you simply listen and absorb the information discussed. Sure, you won’t know everything they are talking about but take notes and imagine yourself in that league. Make it a goal to someday soon, know what they are talking about. Put it in orbit! 

I remember as a young man, sitting in on rehearsals with a bunch of older musicians who were in a salsa band. I was so eager to learn and so honored to be allowed to sit there and listen to them discuss rhythms and how to improvise. Once in a while, they would let me play a simple part, but mostly I would just sit there and observe. I didn’t interrupt nor try to divert the conversation to something I could understand – I just listened. Wow, what a difference it made in my musical learning.

So I ask you: what do you think about what I’ve said?

You Deserve to Know the Truth

February 1, 2018

I often get a bit critical when it comes to discussing play-along groups – specifically ukulele dominant gatherings and their leaders.

While I absolutely love the community that is created by the legions of adventurous and enthusiastic uke players, many of whom are for the first time in their lives discovering the joy and pure pleasure of playing music – I sometimes cringe when I hear a group leader dispense incorrect advice and instruction.

“But what’s the harm,” you might ask, “as long as everyone’s having fun?”

“That is absolutely true,” I say to myself. But something nags at me. An inner voice tells me that it is important to point out when incorrect information is being inserted into the DNA of these minds starting out on the musical trail.

I have solved the dilemma of how to dispense correct information to these groups: I lead workshops at uke events, and I started my own weekly workshop/performance group in my home town – The All In Good Time Orchestra.

But I have been struggling with how to answer the question of why do I feel the need to “put the train back on the track.”

Because the train has fallen off the track. The train that was on its way to a wonderful musical destination fell off the tracks somewhere near the station from where it just departed. No one was hurt, thankfully. In fact, no one even realized that they had stopped. They just started playing where they were – but never moved on.

Again you might ask, “So what’s the problem with that?”

The problem is that some of those people wanted to continue their ride. They were hoping to join others at the other end. They wanted to learn how to play with the native music speakers they admired and hoped someday to be.

Imagine taking a language class in preparation to travel to Mexico city and you find yourself in a classroom of people being taught by someone who simply adds an “o” to every word and calls it Spanish.

“I have to go to the bathroom-o.” “Where-o is the library-o?” “Muchos grass-ias for your help-o.”

I imagine it could be a fun class, but imagine your embarrassment when you actually get to your destination and say that out loud. You would be wishing someone had spoken up in class and pointed you to a better teacher.

You may not be planning a trip to Musicland, but you may change your mind. You may want to “speak” with other musicians in actual musical language – not some localized pidgin concoction that is shared by only a few.

You deserve it. You deserve to be led in the right direction with the best information you can get.

Clean your windows. (Why the little stuff matters while performing.)

May 10, 2017

When you look out of your home through a clean window, you see the trees, the yard, the street, or whatever it is that lies beyond.

But when your windows are dirty, you can’t help but notice how much better it would look if they were only streak-free. Of perhaps they have a thin film of dust on them, hardly noticeable –  until you wipe them clean and then wonder why you hadn’t done that long ago. Everything is so much better now.

And so it is with performing a song at an open mic or concert – clean up that stuff that is keeping the audience from “seeing” you clearly.

Is your instrument in tune? Even if you tuned it last week, tune it again. (People actually say “Well, I tuned it last week.” That’s crazy.) If you use a capo, make sure it is seated properly and not making your strings buzz. Failure to do either of these things is like purposely hobbling your horse before running a race. Why would you do that?

Be prepared, look as confident as you can (I know it’s hard), and do your best. Be aware of where your mic is, and sing into it. If you have to look down at your music stand, then place the mic where you can both sing into it, and see your music.

Make a mistake? If you think everyone heard it, then apologizing and drawing attention to it only makes it more noticeable. Better yet – if you make a mistake – keep going and pretend no one noticed it. Your clever recovery will make a good impression on everyone and soon, their attention will move on the rest of your song.

When you’re finished with your song, let that last note receive its due credit. Don’t run off the stage while people are still clapping for you. (Sure, you may want to run and hide, but a few more seconds only feels like an eternity. Take a bow and soak in the love.) 

Playing and performing is hard enough. Even when it isn’t obvious what the problem may be, the audience feels something isn’t quite right, so make sure you aren’t accidentally making it harder on yourself.

Do you have thoughts on this idea? Have you noticed little things you could have “fixed” before performing? When watching someone else play – do you “see” things you think they might have done better?

Remember – this isn’t about judging, or shaming yourself or others – it’s about learning and improving.

 

Perfectly Imperfect

May 5, 2017

I teach music to a lot of people these days, and the most useful tip I can give them is to learn how to be imperfect.

We all stumble. We all make mistakes. But it is in how we handle those mistakes that shows our true character – and experience.

For example: I have seen many an open mic performance, where the singer/player makes one little goof, then makes a horrible face, and then apologizes for that mistake. We all heard it – but now we are remembering it. Had the player just skated on past it, minimizing its impact – chances are we would have moved on to the rest of the performance and forgotten all about it.

Forget a lyric? Make one up. Improvise.
Sure, we want to “tell the correct story” in our lyrics, but what’s more important: start, stumble, stop –  or keeping a nice musical flow? Chances are – if someone does notice that you made up a word here and there, they would also notice the skill and cleverness you demonstrated in a tight spot.

Forget where you are in the song? Vamp!
Vamping (playing a chord or chords over and over) is a very useful tool. It keeps the music and the performance going, while you gather your thoughts. (It’s also a great way to start songs, as it gets everyone’s attention and sets the mood.)

The point I am trying to make, is that all but the very most experienced musical geniuses make a mistake here and there, (and even then, I think they do, too.) But the reason you don’t notice those mistakes so much is because attention isn’t drawn to them. They have practiced being imperfect.

Here’s a practice tip I find useful:
Practice a song you like, but don’t refer to the lyrics. Start with the words you know, and when you forget something – make something up that fits in with the chords you are playing. Keep trying – sometimes it will be silly and nonsensical, but you will be amazed at how at times, it will actually be pretty clever. You can even try singing complete nonsense, and see how musical you can make it.

Practice being perfectly imperfect.