Posts Tagged ‘Ukulele’

There’s a stud in my wall?

October 19, 2020

In one of the classes I am teaching, we are learning how to write a simple song, chart it out, and share it with others to play. One student remarked that they weren’t particularly interested in song writing, but rather wanted to know how to play songs already written. In thinking of my response, I came up with this analogy:

If you were to want to hang a picture on your wall, and had no idea of how a house was built, you might wonder why sometimes a nail goes right into the wall and falls out when weight is put on it, while at other times, it hits something hard and is quite secure. You might just attribute it to luck.

But if you were to observe a house being built somewhere; if you were to notice how first a foundation is built; then upon that a floor is constructed; and on top of that a framework of studs forms the shape of the walls, over which sheetrock is attached – you would have a better understanding of why you sometimes hit something hard when you were hanging a picture, and why sometimes you didn’t. Observing and learning a little bit about how a house is built certainly doesn’t imply that you are planning on building one yourself – it just means that your future of hanging pictures is going to be less of luck, and more of the awareness that there are studs behind the sheetrock. Knowing that the studs usually run vertically, and are regularly (for the most part) spaced 16″ apart also help you to determine where you can hope to find one when you want to hang something heavy and in need of that support.

So, by learning how a song is laid out; how beats are grouped in to measures; and how by observing when chords change – you are in a better position to know what you’re doing when you play an existing song. Your experience writing a simple song will teach you a lot about playing a simple song.

Rather than guessing when a chord will change, you will be able to anticipate the change. Knowing what chords sound good together will inform you of the likely next chord – even before you get there. Being aware that for many songs, measures are often grouped into fours – you will “feel” changes and new sections as you encounter them.

Music, like a blank wall, may seem like there is no structure behind it, but that is rarely so. Behind the wall – and the music – there is a simple, predictable structure you can depend on when you want to hang your picture… er, I mean change your chord,… er… you know what I mean.

Just tell me where to cut the board.

October 9, 2020

Tim and I were hired to design and install the proper sound treatments to make a new venue worthy of the talent it was to be featuring on its stage. Tim was the sound engineer; the brains of the outfit; the guy who has recorded many of the best musicians in the area in his recording studio high in the mountains of Santa Cruz; the guy who works for high tech sound companies; a guy who reeks of smart.

I, a musician and woodworker among other things, was there to build whatever was needed to take care of all the echoes and noise in this empty building that used to be a dance studio.

Anxious to work on the sound absorbers, I asked Tim what the dimensions were for the first one. I had the board; I had the saw… all I needed was the measurement.

“Well, you see… there are three types of sound treatments to consider…” he said.

“Yeah, yeah… where do I make the cut? I can have it ready in a second.”

“… there are reflectors, absorbers, and diffusers,” he continued. “Each one serves a different purpose. “

Tim wasn’t going to let me do anything without first explaining what it was that we were making, and why and how it was going to work.

“You know the high notes are easy to take care of,” he said. “A little foam or carpet can absorb them – but it’s the low notes that take work to tame. Their wavelengths are longer and travel through material easier. That’s why when someone next door is playing music too loud, all you hear is the bass and drums. Those sound waves cut through…”

He told me how to read his excel spreadsheets that used precise calculations to determine how deep to build a sound absorber that would capture a precise frequency, based on the size and weight of the material we were building it with. He explained how, by alternating the absorbers on opposite walls, we could eliminate the echoes in the room.

Not wanting to make the room too “dead” sounding – Tim told me how we would leave some reflective surfaces to add “shimmer” to the room. He explained how, by pointing the main speakers in a particular way, we could decrease the amount of sound that was bouncing off the walls which added unwanted sound to the listener’s ears.

“Bass traps” – consisting of a stack of used tires filled with insulation and carpet scraps rested in the back corners of the stage, capturing the low notes that tend to accumulate in corners, while the convex covering I made served to both make the stack of tires “disappear” as well as to reflect sound in a wide arc, rather than directly back at the microphones.

When we finished, the room sounded absolutely terrific. In fact, many said it was the best sound in any of the local venues. I knew all about the sound in that room; how Tim’s knowledge and the science of sound directed me to construct the treatments; and how to know what I had actually been doing, and why.

Instead of simply following a set of blueprints, I was taught how to make my own whenever I needed them.

A year or so later, Tim and I were again hired to treat a room for sound – this time it was a recording studio that needed to sound neutral. And this time, I knew the drill. Tim still directed the project, but I knew more of the approach we were to take, and much of the time I anticipated, correctly, the next step and how we were to take it. Some of the time he even left me with the vaguest of instructions, knowing I could figure out the details.

I am a musician, after all. Sound is my life. It’s what I work with. I should know about it. And now I do.

And that’s why I don’t want to tell you what strumming pattern to use for a song 🙂

Treasures Roadhouse
The venue that sounded awesome.

Planting and Tending to Your Musical Seeds…

September 24, 2020

Ah, learning. Isn’t it great? Sometimes we absorb so much so quickly; filling in the blanks, checking off the correct answers like a pro only to wake up another day and feel like we are getting nowhere and unable to remember the last sentence we read. This can be frustrating and quite discouraging – to think that we are spending all this time learning a new skill and feeling like we are getting nowhere.

But if we would take the time to peek beneath the surface; to see that, while we may be struggling to grasp a new concept, we have unconsciously grasped some of the ones we previously had trouble with. I call this planting and tending seeds of knowledge.

While this article is intended to speak of musical seeds, I’d like to relate my experience, briefly, with learning Spanish.

I grew up in a part time Spanish speaking household. I can speak with an authentic accent, yet I am far from fluent. I desperately need to learn the various tenses: past, future, conditional, etc., and add to my vocabulary. I signed up and am taking Spanish online with the Babbel app. I breezed through much of it, already knowing the present tense and many basic words and phrases. But then it started to get challenging. I doubted my ability to ever learn the difference between ” I wanted” and “I would have wanted.”

But as I stumbled through these new challenging courses, I became aware that, although I was not completely understanding these new lessons, I was easily understanding most everything else – even material that just a couple of weeks before was giving me trouble. I had learned a lot while trying to learn even more.

And so I find that some of my music students, while working on some new and challenging chords or rhythms, are able to quickly and easily answer a random question I pose about something we learned (and had trouble with) weeks before.

Here are my directions on how to grow some musical skills:

How to grow musical skills:
Planting seeds starts by simply opening the package.
Look at those new and challenging chords and try to play them.

Place the seeds in your brain soil.
Try the chords again and tell yourself that you really, really, want to learn them. Introduce them to your brain!

Open another package of seeds.
Start to learn something else; new chords or new strumming patterns.

Tend to your seeds – old and new. Nurture them.
Don’t forget about those seeds you first planted. Visit them daily, and make sure they don’t wither and die. Practice those old chords often, even if you have to look at the chart again and again.

Plant more seeds.
Begin to learn more. Pat attention to your new seeds, but continue to visit and tend to the ones you previously planed. They need attention, even if they haven’t yet sprouted. Keep trying to play those challenging chords and rhythms while trying some new chords and rhythms.

Pay attention…
One day, while carefully planting some of those new seeds you got, you will notice that some of those earlier planted seeds will have begun to poke their little heads out of the ground. You may have even forgot you planted them.

You will be trying out a new chord, perhaps; reading a chart for a song you like, and without realizing it, you will have played several chords instinctually, without thinking about them, in perfect rhythm,as you were so focused on the upcoming, difficult chord.

You have successfully reaped your first harvest of musical skills. Don’t stop there – plant some more.


You might think this is wishful thinking on my part, and that you will “never get it“, but I urge you to first; believe you can do it, and then, try it.

I have observed so many students learn things while claiming that they haven’t, and it was only after I pointed out their achievements that they became aware of them.

Oh, and, by the way…

Me gustarĂ­a leer sus comentarios sobre este artĂ­culo.

(I would like to read your comments on this article.)

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?