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Monday, September 12, 2011

Your Parts

     The thousands of hours of music lessons that you might take throughout your life, and all of the crazy gigs, and tours that you embark on, will eventually add up to one incredible body of work, full of entertaining stories, funky compositions, recordings, and a truly interesting personality. Oh no, it’s not easy to stay on the guitarist, composer, and educator train, but hopping off, is not an option. One of the biggest challenges that I ever faced was taking private guitar lessons at the colleges, and universities that I attended. You are not just taking lessons, but your entire degree is incumbent upon your being successful in the relationships between you, and your private lesson professors.  
      You are the sum of your parts – not just some of them – all of them! Remember that, when you attend your private lessons, and your classes. Consider your professors to be helping you, not hurting you. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard my students, and my peers (back when I was a university student) complain about their private lesson instructors, and the seemingly endless institutional requirements for applied music students. So, believe me, I know where that frustration comes from, and I can identify with it. Many students suffer from the grass is greener on the other side syndrome. Yeah, Yeah, I did it myself.  But, I have a very different perspective now that I have been a student, a teacher, a performer, and an educator. Enjoy the grass that you are sitting on – don’t kill it. You might be able to get rid of a some of the weeds, but nurture, and feed that grass. Don't stomp on it.
     Instead of complaining, or belittling your private lesson instructors, teachers, and professors, take the time to find out what they are really good at, and learn, and embrace their passions, and ideas. All of that knowledge, and hard work will contribute to the sum of your parts. The more knowledge, and experience that you have, the better off you will be. The whining and resistance takes place when you don’t love the knowledge, or the experience that you are engaged in. Most people want to control their environment. Students are no different. You won’t be choosing a lot of your repertoire, exercises, hand positions, or even musical interpretations. But rather, your professor will strongly suggest, if not require you, to adhere to his, or her ideas. Embrace those ideas, and throw yourself into your lessons. Make your professors proud!
     Maybe you really wanted to play rock guitar, but you are attending a college where classical guitar is taught. You, or maybe your parents chose that college, so stop whining - get with the program! It will make you a fantastic player in the end. There will be plenty of time to get your rock chops together, even it it’s after you graduate. Part of the college experience is to build a platform of knowledge that is deeply rooted in the basics, and in a wide variety of disciplines. You may not learn a lot about one subject, but you will learn something about a lot of different subjects. Enjoy learning outside of your comfort zone. Every lesson, and class doesn't have to directly relate to your specific style of guitar playing - c'mon man! Life is long - don’t rush your learning.
     It was always a dream of mine to learn the pentatonic scales inside and out. That’s a little tricky on the guitar. There are five different positions to learn. It’s confusing for a while. It’s one thing to get good at playing the scales note for note, but quite another to become fast, and furious while playing, and interpreting the scales in a wide variety of musical styles, grooves, and tempos. My life was really busy for many years. I learned many different musical techniques, and lot about music history, and theory. But, I never had the opportunity to put my undivided attention into those scales. My wife and I were raising kids. I was either rehearsing music for gigs and performances, or working on schoolwork. I was writing academic papers, and playing a lot of classical guitar. My wife would remind me not to get frustrated. The day would come when I could play whatever I felt like. Besides, she reminded me of the fact that I would have an incredible body of knowledge, and many years of lessons, and studies to draw from.
     That was exactly what happened, and it feels great. I had to wait until I was almost out of school to really dig into those pentatonic scales, but I can smoke those notes now! Having a Doctorate Degree in Classical Guitar, and being able to spend my time rocking like Hendrix is a blast – right on brother! Remember – you can do a lot of cool things in your life, you just can’t do them all at the same time. It would have been a disaster in the long run for me to have jeopardized my education, and shirked some of my responsibilities around the house for those pentatonic scales which weren't necessary for my career at the time.   
     If you have young kids at home, then play music that will help you pay the bills. Maybe you are teaching a lot of lessons. But, if your kids are gone, then play your ass off all day long!!  Don’t just prioritize your life, prioritize your guitar studies. If you are in a university program then embrace it. Get every last piece of knowledge out of your professors. You are the sum of your parts, not just some of your parts. Until next time - Surf it Mellow Brothers and Sisters - the MD