Posts Tagged ‘guitar’

Playing Music with a Microwave

October 2, 2021

A lot of people come to me for music lessons and what I have learned is that I must first ask of them this question: “Do you want to learn to play music, or do you want to be able to just heat something up in the microwave?”

Now that I’ve possibly confused you with this horrible mixed metaphor – allow me to explain: If one were to take a cooking class, it’s doubtful that a good teacher would spend much time, if any, on how to take a package out of the freezer, place it in the microwave, and serve it. Instead, the student would learn a variety of basics: how to use measuring utensils, proper knife techniques, doubling portions, etc.; beginning with simple recipes, moving on to more sophisticated ones, and eventually learning to create sumptuous meals from scratch.

So when a student comes to me with the goal of learning how to play their favorite song or play along with their weekend community sing-along, I start them off with the basics: how to count in time, basic chords, simple charts/songsheets; incorporating little bits of theory and knowledge along the way – all towards the goal of teaching them to play “from scratch” – that is, being able to play along with others with or without music to follow.

But they often lose interest and are discouraged because they thought that, somehow, there were shortcuts they could use to avoid having to learn; that there were the equivalents of “microwave-ready” music skills they could master in a few minutes that would require little or no effort that they could use in all situations forever.

Playing music doesn’t really work that way.

Take conversing, for instance: you can’t really learn a few stock sentences and simply place them into a conversation and expect them to make sense every time. As children beginning to talk, we learn how to substitute words and to change from past to future tense as needed. Each conversation is unique and we must be able to keep up with what’s being said.

And so it is with playing music. You simply can’t learn a trick of two and expect to use it in all situations. Tempos change, arrangements vary, and unexpected hiccups occur, even in a well rehearsed number.

But these are not difficult challenges. If you learn the basics, adjusting your tempo mid song is as easy as adding a teaspoon of water to thin out a sauce. That difficult sounding chord you’ve been avoiding? You just may find out it’s a simple as adding a little Dijon mustard to a sauce you already know how to make.

There’s nothing wrong with “zapping” a burrito now and then, but when you’ve taken the time to learn to gather a few items from the fridge, add a bit of seasoning, and cook them up into a delicious, satisfying meal – there’s nothing like it.

And when you pick up your favorite instrument, strum a few chords, and make up a song (or figure out an existing one) – you won’t believe the joy and sense of satisfaction you will feel.

Learning is like glitter…

April 16, 2021

Have you ever been present when there’s glitter thrown around or opened a card containing the some of the shiny stuff? It gets everywhere. Some of it lands on you where you can see it; some of it lands on the floor; and some of it, despite your best efforts to sweep it all up and throw away, is found later hidden in some pocket or crease in your clothing.

What if we imagined that learning is similar to having glitter tossed about us?

When we try to learn something it often seems that too much information has been thrown about, and that much of it lands on the floor and is wasted. We might have picked up a couple of bits of information, like the glitter that lands on us visibly, but after we process that information (cleaned up and vacuumed the floor) we might think that we learned all that we could at the time.

But like glitter, some of that information gets lodged in some cranny of our brains without our knowing it, and is likely to resurface at some time in the future.

Be on the lookout for those random glittery bits of information. And be confident that more will surface in time.

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?

Rub your Belly and Pat your Head

March 21, 2013

Is there a better way to describe the difficulty of doing two things at once than to use the example of rubbing one’s belly and patting one’s head at the same time?

As difficult as that can be – now imagine if you didn’t even know how to either rub your belly, or pat your head.

This is what learning a new song can be like: you are learning new chords, rhythms, AND trying to sing – all at the same time. No wonder you are having trouble!

Here’s my suggestion: take a look at the song. Look for odd chords you aren’t familiar with and spend a little time learning how to change to them from the previous chord, and from them to the one that follows.

Then try playing through the song without singing – just sort of hum the tune, or not sing at all and get the music to sound comfortable.

Then do the same with the lyrics. Sing it without the music, or along with a recording, so that you get familiar with the rhythm of the words.

Now, after you are good at doing both of those separately – try them together. Slowly. You might even choose to just hum the lyrics at first, so that you can concentrate on the chords and rhythm.

Allow yourself to go over it a few times – at first somewhat loosely and rough, and then with each passing attempt – refine the areas that need work.

Trying to do it perfectly the first time may be fun to try, but to really get it in your head – have patience and do it step by step.
And by the way, – can you rub your belly and pat your head at the same time?