Wisdom of the Hands vs Eyes & Rational Mind 

As for my monthly musical musings, here goes. I have alluded to the tremendous growth that I have witnessed in the musicality, precision and execution of previously difficult ideas and/or techniques. This has come since the onset of the pandemic and I find that, in and of itself, very thought provoking. Perhaps students have found more time to practice, or, human connection has become more valuable. I'm not sure I'll ever really know the answer. I can tell you some observations about the overwhelming shift, though.

Wisdom of the Hands vs Eyes & Rational Mind

Countless times over the years as a music teacher, I have witnessed a phenomenon that is often prevalent in adult learners. They want to approach learning music like they would learning anything else. Makes sense so far, right? They listen to me talk about a song, technique or approach, watch me do it and then ask questions. Sometimes I have had entire class sessions derailed by  question after question. Eventually, I noticed that this was a clever plot to ensure that they play no music. The mind and the eyes are of little use to a music learner. Of course, this is a huge contradiction with "conventional" life and learning. The hands and the ears guide the musical process. I'm starting to doubt that the logical brain needs to involved much in learning, at least, until after the hands and ears are aligned. I'll elaborate.

The neural pathways between our hands and ears are largely unformed unless we have played a LOT of music. Even then, new techniques, chords, songs and approaches will take some time to develop. Our ears cannot hear the new data correctly until our hands deliver it correctly. Once this happens, there is an aha moment where all the previous rational questions go out the window and the player gets it through their hand-ear coordination. Over the past few years I have intervened with more physical manipulations to hands and arms to help the music flow more readily. It has worked more often than not. These experiences have helped me with my virtual students by verbally instructing them to alter their bodies for maximum music making. Another way to think about this is that our hands and ears are the best tools to use to solve musical problems. Our eyes and logical brain functions offer little to this process. 

It's been really intriguing that when students "get it," the body and the physical brain are having the epiphany, not the logical brain. This is very similar to riding a bike for the first time. Gravity and physics are at play, but, the rider must feel these things for themselves and adjust their own body to successfully travel on a bicycle. Understanding physics before, and during, riding a bike for the first time are of little help. Same with learning ukulele or guitar. In fact, tuning into the body, breath, posture and sound are hugely helpful for music learners. Try it and let me know how it works!

Lastly, remember that playing music is reliant upon building muscle memory. There is a built-in number for every muscular task to successfully turn into reliable, replicable skills. The only way to discover your number is by repetition. Once your body "gets it," the myelin in your brain will store it and it will be accessible, even after long periods of inactivity. If you stop before you hit your magic number, the brain has nothing to access. Notice that you will likely make a mistake after 5 reps, then 7, then 11 and, eventually 23 reps might be your magic number. Consider celebrating the bumps along way. They are more important than the destination. 

     - April 2023

SXSW March 2023 

Spring is springing in Austin, SXSW is near. Music is in the air. You can practically smell it this time of year. Here at Kevin Carroll International Headquarters, I marvel at the thousands of visitors coming here to seek that record deal, play in front of promoters and music industry types who talk loudly  during their set, or just crank up the Deluxe Reverb on a flatbed trailer in their cul-de-sac until the cops shut them down. Their hopes and dreams remind me of my own at age 27 or so. That was many years ago. Let me tell you, folks, it's a tough road for a young musician. I feel for these hungry youngsters.

My path has had its ups and downs. At the risk of toxic positivity, here are a few of the ups: playing 14 straight years of SXSW shows; signing a humble record deal as a singer-songwriter with a small Italian record label; getting hired as a guitarist for local legends Jimmy LaFave, Charlie Robison, the Flatlanders (Joe Ely/Butch Hancock/Jimmie Dale Gilmore); playing the iconic Austin City Limits 2x. Plenty of other ups, too. There's a lot to be thankful for in the larger cosmic music sense. My passion for music is still in tact, for instance.

In the opposite corner, let's just say there were plenty of downs: being a six-foot tall man and weighing 138 lbs as a result of living on free happy hour snacks and the occasional meal included with gig pay; chronic shoulder issues exacerbated by hours of daily guitar work; the stuporous boredom of spending all day in a parking lot outside a club in, let's say Amarillo or Durant, OK; and many other slings and arrows of life as a musician-for-hire. The true issue for me was that I only got to spend 90 mins a day playing music. What to do with that other 22.5 hrs/day? Therein lies the dilemma. If only there were a way for me to spend an honest 8hrs/day 5 days /week playing, absorbing, and immersed in music?

Enter teaching and ukulele. Boom! The rigors of the road were traded for learning to read music. 12 years of teaching ukulele has opened me up to what life long learning looks like! I have been changed by learners like you. Thanks! I'm committed to paying that gift forward as a teacher, content creator and artist.

It feels great to return to some light guitar gigging after bathing in the purifying waters of the ukulele world.

In retrospect, I'd probably make most of the same mistakes, but, on purpose this time if I had it to do over. A hungry, wise young songwriter once wrote: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now..." Seems about right. These young musicians will do just fine, I'm sure.

     -March 2023