Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

When In Rome…

April 18, 2019

When traveling to a foreign country, a one-time visitor may wish to participate by “parroting” a few simple phrases and memorizing the route to the most popular museum or tourist destination. One mispronounced word, however, and you may be saying, “I want to fish your pants heavenly,” instead of “Where is the bathroom?” Taking one wrong turn to the “best bakery in the city” may lead to the back alley behind who knows what on a one way street to the fish cleaning facility.

For safety and comfort, some people will want to stay with the tour group – huddled together, speaking through an interpreter, and always close to the bus that will take them back to familiar surroundings.

But for someone who wishes to really learn about the culture, language, and lay of the land; someone who plans on returning again and again and exploring – a different approach is suggested.

A language lesson or two to learn how to pronounce the words is a good starter, along with some basic understanding of key words – that will get one started along the path to learning the language. And rather than learning “left-right-straight for two blocks- turn right” style directions – a look at a map can help to understand alternate routes to get to where one is going, in case one gets lost.

I believe the same ideas can be applied to learning to play music, which is what you are doing when “strumming” your uke. Mimicking an UDDUD pattern may get you through a particular song as long as you play it right and don’t get lost. One wrong strum however, and may find you playing the opposite of everyone else, moving to the next chord early or late – and unable to rectify your simple slip of the hand.

Saying things like, “A em” instead of “A minor” is alright if you’ve never seen a chord name before (Am), but after that you might as well hang a sign on your head that says “DON’T TAKE ME SERIOUSLY – I’M A MUSICAL TOURIST!”

Sure, your first few visits to “Music-land” may find you getting lost in the song, or mispronouncing a musical term, but if your goal is to continue to participate in the most amazing experience in the world (in my humble opinion) – playing music – then a simple change of intention will get you started.

Begin by embracing the notion that with some time and commitment, you can become fluent in the language of music. Comfort yourself by knowing it won’t happen immediately, and that there is no time limit, but head in that direction nonetheless. Imagine yourself stepping away from the tour group and trying out a few phrases with a native speaker. Try taking a few lessons from a professional musician – someone who knows the language and can instruct you on the proper pronunciation and use of terminology. Make a point of acquiring new information and adding it to your musical “toolbox.”

Again, there is no time limit or test to pass. The key is to keep moving forward, rather than being content to simply idle in place. This is what I teach. This is how I instruct. I want you to step on the path that is shared by the rest of the world’s musical travelers, rather than to isolate yourself with the notion that you are “only a uke player.” You still have, and always will have, the option of deciding how far from the tour bus you want to venture – but I want you to know you can go as far as you wish.

I Don’t Care What the Audience Thinks

January 7, 2019

Perhaps you’ve have you heard the phrase, “You opinion is none of my business.”

In personal life, we can take that to mean that we needn’t let other people’s opinions based on their life’s experience, influence how we conduct ourselves.

In musical life – as an artist – I follow a similar mindset. The music I craft and present to an audience is a reflection of who I am and what I value. To ask for feedback and/or opinions is a can of worms I don’t wish to open.

Imagine asking 10 different people what they think about what you’re wearing. Depending on who you ask, you could get 10 different opinions, varying from “it’s wonderful!” to ” I don’t like it at all,” and anything in between. Who are you going to listen to?

If I were to ask a happy hour crowd what they wanted me to play, I could get a variety of answers, depending on who I asked. The woman who just got off of work and wants to party would want me to play something fast and familiar so she could dance and sing along. The older man who popped in for an afternoon beer might want a country western song. Another person might only want to hear happy songs, as they were just adjusting to life after a nasty divorce. Someone else might not like any music at all – they just came in to watch the game and want the TV turned up all the way.

If I wanted to be a “people pleaser” – who would I please? I could try to satisfy all their needs – compromise – but no matter what I did I could not please everyone.

And – oh yeah – there is that other opinion that mattered… MINE! The most important opinion in the room is that of the artist – the one who is on stage and is there to create! By following my heart – my intuition – I am playing the best music I can at that time and by doing so, I will attract listeners who like what I am doing. Little by little, gig by gig, I will attract a larger and larger audience of people who love my music. Those that don’t care for my choices will find another musician that better serves their needs and they both will be the better for it.

But what about constructive feedback? What’s wrong with seeking out some honest, helpful comments about your presentation? Nothing – but consider this:

I read something very helpful in a book about wealth. It said “If you want financial advice – don’t ask your parents or your friends… ask someone who knows. Ask someone who is wealthy!”

So, if you want advice about your music – ask someone who has already achieved a certain amount of success. Ask other musicians who present a similar stage presence and who have gathered a large following. Ask someone who you admire what their secret is.

Don’t change what you do – learn how to do it better!

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.