June Musings: Learning & Listening
Music That I LOVE!
Like many teens, when I first started to play music, I was ONLY interested in playing music that I truly loved. By going toward these songs and artists I was able to assimilate the nuance and approaches that helped me create the sounds that I loved to hear. I spent countless hours watching Keith Richards movements and tried to find out if they were part of his sound. Yes, they are, I decided. This quest continued for decades. At my peak as a touring guitarist, I'd say that I was a consolidation of my favorite players. My own sound grew from those influences, naturally. I definitely had my own voice as a musician, but, the boundaries of my choices and abilities were confined by the weaknesses of the players that I emulated. This approach got me to a great place, but, left a lot of gaps in my musicianship. When the ukulele came into my life, I had no expectations of what could be done. I wasn't trying to create an identity with the instrument, which opened up a whole new world of possibilities for me as a player.
Music That I Don't Love........yet
In 2012, when I started pursuing ukulele with a passion, my focus switched to just being a sponge for knowledge. After enrolling in James Hill's JHUI teacher training program, I was accountable for at least 90 songs in that curriculum. Additionally, I was learning to read music for the first time in my life. The rigor of the program and my openness to learning were of great benefit to me over the years. I can honestly say that my younger self would not have chosen to learn one of the 90 pieces of music because I didn't love them or identify with them. Making a living teaching this allowed me to be a conduit for these songs so that others could learn. I discovered that, eventually, I had a true love for classical music from the Baroque period. Many new discoveries followed and I deeply love many new forms of music through this process. Learning to let go of myself and "enter" the music has been a real life-changer for me. The music that I would not have naturally chosen has taught me things that I would not have learned otherwise. My strengths were usually amplified in the music I loved, while, my weaknesses have been sharpened through pure study.
Many years ago, Texas songwriting legend and sage Robert Earl Keen had given some songwriting advice to a friend. My friend had voiced his extreme dislike of a particular band and Robert suggested that he write some songs in the style of that band and see where that might lead him. What a mind-blowing idea, pure genius! He'd either have an appreciation of their art OR he'd discover the exact things that he didn't like in their songs. I would've benefitted from this approach as a younger writer and player.
Finding the Balance
After practicing the art of pure learning, it seems that there is room for both music that I already love and music that I might love in the future. Both approaches seem to feed each other very well. Oftentimes, as an arranger, I utilize a tool that I learned from some music that I didn't love. I can use this tool to help actualize music that I do love. The opposite is also true, sometimes I can just infuse a generic arrangement with a bit of love and it will transform into something much more beautiful.
For my students, I try to provide a balance of tune-based fundamentals with some passion pieces for them. Strangely, students tend to grow most from the former vs the latter. The good news is that once a student has the skills and has gained enough experience learning, they can guide themselves toward their truest passions as players.