Posts Tagged ‘santa cruz ca’

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.

There is no magic pill.

July 2, 2016

Do you really want to be a better player? Really?

Often, I am approached by someone who claims to want to improve their playing. We schedule a lesson, and I “hear where they are at” regarding their playing.

Sometimes it’s easy to help them immediately – I can see that they need a better way to shape a chord, or I write out a clear chart showing where chords actually change in a song.

But more often, I hear that they need to work on their rhythm. A chord is easy to learn: you look it up and play it. But rhythm is what makes a song sound right. It is the pulse of the song – the very element that keeps it together. So I start them from the very beginning and explain how to count and I give them some very basic exercises to work on. I even assure them that it’s okay to continue to work on their song, play, have fun, but to spend a little time on this exercise. Very few do.

Some of these extremely eager students suddenly disappear – having gotten “too busy.” Why?

Yes, it occurs to me that it could simply be that they don’t like my teaching style, but I have a sneaking suspicion that they were hoping for some magic pill – a lesson where I disclosed “the secret” to playing great, and that they would leave an amazing player.

“I want a new strum,” they ask me, but when I start to teach them how, they lose interest.

“What can I do to make this song better?” they ask. But when I tell them that the song is pretty good, except for the timing and feel, they move on to another song, as if that was the problem. (Perhaps they thought I would suggest sitting differently, or that they should wear a different outfit.)

There seems to be the thinking that the ukulele is an easy instrument to learn. Sure, it’s small, only has four strings, and is easy to begin to make music on, but the actual playing of music is something that takes time – on any instrument.

It takes commitment to think about what you’re doing, practicing the individual elements of a song, observing, listening

There is no magic pill, ukers. If you want to get better, then work at it. It can still be fun.

By the way, I do have several students who are committed and work at what I give them and you know what? They’re AWESOME! Every week they improve, and every week I get to show them new material. They are getting what they asked for.

That’s the real magic.

Take your foot off the brakes!

November 21, 2013

(An expanded and/or edited version of this post appears in Rhan’s new book, All In Good Time – a Book About Playing Music for the Aspiring Ukulele Player. It is available at: www.rhanwilson.com/allingoodtime )

So often I have been asked to help someone learn something about music: new chords, strumming, singing, etc., but almost always the first thing they say to me (and often repeated throughout the lesson) is something to the effect of, “I can’t do this.”

There are countless variations to these negations; sometimes they say, “I am horrible at rhythm,” or they will constantly shake their head at the mere mention of a new term they hadn’t heard before.

Now I understand the tendency to want to “warn” me of one’s problem areas, but c’mon – it’s like asking me to help you push your car and having your foot on the brakes! Not only is it not necessary, but it actually prohibits me from helping you.

If you want to learn something, you have to take your metaphorical foot off the brakes and HELP PUSH! That’s right – aim yourself in the direction you want to go, and push! And just like a car – it’s a little hard at first, but as you gain some momentum, it gets easier and easier.

This is always the first thing I teach people, and it often takes up a good portion of the first (and subsequent) lesson/s, because I have found that once I can get my student to “get their foot off their brakes” – then the actual learning of material proceeds rather easily.

We have all formed some bad habits. I, too, have to always watch what, and how, I phrase things.

Here are some suggestions:

Instead of saying:  “I am no good at….”
Say: “I wasn’t good at…”
Or: “I haven’t been good at…”

Instead of saying: “I can’t……”
Say: “I will try to…..”
Or better yet: “I can…..”

Instead of saying:  “I have no rhythm.”
Say:  “I’d like to improve my rhythm.”
Or: “I am improving on my rhythm.”

These are subtle changes, and you might not think them that important, but they make a HUGE difference in how we learn. By simply stating our intentions in the positive, we have effectively taken off the brake and are free to move in the desired direction.

Now, what was it you wanted help with?

All In Good Time Class Starting Up

February 7, 2012

Hello Everyone.

This blog site and concept was developed some time ago, when I noticed that need for some very basic musical knowledge. Initially, it was aimed at drum circles, where I noticed that there were a number of participants that clearly wanted to improve as time went on. The teaching and lessons have drifted over to apply to ukulele players, though all the concepts apply to music in general.

For those of you who are following this blog and who live in the Santa Cruz, CA area – you may have heard that I am starting a band/choir type class that will be applying these lessons on a weekly basis. I am looking forward to explaining the difference between a “swing” feel, and a “straight” one, teaching visual signals to indicate dynamics and other musical changes, and arranging specific parts for a variety of instruments.

You can read more about this class here!

I will, of course, continue to post new ideas and quick tutorials as often as I get inspired. Please contact me with your questions and suggestions – they really help.

Rhan Wilson