Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Complexities of the Mandolin

  I have an "issue" where I will glance at something and my brain interprets it as something completely different.  Here's a few quick examples:

  Reality: Man holding a bag with his arm draped over the back of an adjacent seat.

  What I See: Man sitting next to a large dog that is wearing a scarf.

  Reality: A random jumble of branches in the woods along a hiking trail.
  What I See: A man wearing a hat and sitting atop a horse.

  My friends have mocked me for years about an incident where I was riding in the front passenger's seat of the car and suddenly folded up, throwing my hands in front of my face and yelling out like I was about to die, which is exactly what I thought was about to happen. Yet I survived the incident with only my pride damaged.
  On the antenna my friend had a piece of tinsel shaped like a stick figure holding on for dear life. When I glanced up this time, my brain decided instead of the stick figure - which I'd seen dozens of times - that it was a guy riding a bicycle who we were about to hit head on.

  This misinterpretation applies to words as well.

  Early this morning, I had gotten lost in Youtube the way one does after looking up a few topics and then following various 'related videos' links from the sidebar. I was watching a video on methods of finding chords faster when I noticed a video, "Mandolin Made Easy" and I decided to see what it was all about. 

  I want to blame it on being 5 in the morning that I didn't notice a few obvious signs that it wasn't a mandolin video. I'm watching and she's talking about tones, then making various sounds with her mouth, and I'm not really getting why she's not using the instrument, all the while thinking, "wow, mandolin is really a different learning process than other instruments." 

  I only watched the video for about 45 seconds, but those were 45 very confused seconds. When she started talking about how you'd end up with a cat if you used the wrong tone, I knew one of the following things must be true:
  1.   I didn't want to learn mandolin.
  2.   This video wasn't about learning mandolin.
  Glancing at the title again, I read the actual name of the video this time, which was "Mandarin Made Easy". I'd like to think this mistake could have happened to anyone seeing as how it was grouped with a bunch of music lesson videos, but I still felt a little silly.

  On the plus side, I now know how to ask for a cat if I ever am in dire need of one while stuck in China.

Piano Class 1: Notes, Measures, and Rhythm

  (Class Date: 6/5/13)

  After making a New Years resolution to start back with music, it has only taken me half a year to actually follow through with it. Unless you count my haunting renditions of pop songs while in the car, in which case I never really stopped. Not that I'd ever admit to knowing or liking such songs.

  While guitar has historically been my instrument of choice, I decided I wanted a fresh start and to reintroduce myself to playing music by learning piano. When I left off previously, I felt like I was stuck on a plateau that I could not traverse, and I didn't want to begin anew only to feel like I was stuck from the onset. Plus I figured so much music is based off of piano that it would help me with the theory aspect. Thus I dusted off my old Casio keyboard, made sure it could still play the midi version of "Green Sleeves", then signed up via The Skillery for a seven-week group class.

  I didn't think I'd enjoy a group class, but right away I took to it. Looking back, my love for playing diminished when I stopped being social about it. I may not get as much practice time in a group setting but I feel the collaborative atmosphere really energizes me about what I'm doing. Watching other's success and failures teaches me a lot more than I would have expected. Everyone seems to get charged up by each other's little victories. Besides, if I was alone, who would appreciate the fact that each time I use the keyboard I somehow switch it into a mode where each note sounds like a tugboat horn?

  Being forced to play in front of others when I KNOW I'm bad will be good practice for playing in front of others - be it other musicians or simply observers - when I'm less bad. If I ever get to such a point. And while I'm not especially competitive, if someone does better than me, I think to myself, "well I can at least do it as good as that," and I feel motivated to try a little harder.

  Much of what makes the class so great is our instructor, Ariel. I've never before seen anyone as excited to teach a subject as she is to teach piano. Super energetic and positive, she somehow makes mundane things like practicing scales seem exciting. Almost. Her positive reinforcement reaches heights I didn't know existed. Even when you completely botch something she finds a way to be positive about it. A direct quote from her that I loved was, after one student finished a piece that they had struggled playing):
"Fantastic! That was beautiful. Your posture was wonderful and I loved the curve of your fingers and your timing was excellent. All I would say is next time try and hit the right notes."
  If we had more teachers out there who loved to share their knowledge even half as much as she does, we'd be in much better shape.

  As far as topics go, there not a lot to discuss yet, as far as class one goes (of which I have completed 4 as of this entry). I don't even think we hit a single note that class. It was the five of us (4 students, 1 teacher) introducing ourselves, sharing our history, and goals. After that, we covered some beginner stuff. Basic note values (quarter, half, dotted half, whole), measures and timing, then rhythm reading. Then we all clapped along to notes in the book to see how well everyone could keep time and read. I felt a little silly because timing seems very natural to me but I thought that, while this part may be basic to me, it won't take long before I'm in deeper waters trying to keep afloat. Most things I've learned over the years I've studied on my own and I always find that there are key areas of knowledge I end up missing. It will be nice to start from the very bottom and learn in a more structured manner for once. And if I have to clap until my hands are bleeding to get the foundation laid right, that's what I'll do.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Safety Goggles On

  This blog is an experiment. Let me clear that up right away. I have no strict structure in mind right now and no real game plan other than wanting to chronicle what I'm undertaking. I'm tossing ingredients together without any rhyme or reason - and certainly without any guidebook - so it could blow up in my face or it could create something worthwhile. The latter would be preferable.
  The only constant in the experiment: music. I'll get to that in a bit.

  The blog itself is more of an aftermath from an idea than anything. It's not an end nor even a means to such a place. It's merely something to lean on as I travel up a path to my main goal. That main goal is something I feel is too ridiculous to really voice just yet and in truth not even something I'm 100% clear on. Whatever it may be, it's fragile enough that I want to strengthen it before it has to withstand a rain of blows from reality or criticism.

  I will give you a quick overview of why I'm here...

  I woke up recently to realize I'm old. Not old by the standards of the world or even people. I just felt old in the way everyone eventually does when they realize they aren't teenagers any longer and somehow their 20s are already gone even though they could swear they were there just a second ago.

  I'm in my very early 30s. Not old by anyone's definition aside from children and aforementioned teenagers. Possibly those early 20s people who don't yet grasp that 20 doesn't last forever. But really, in this instance if I'm actually old isn't all that important. What is important is that I felt old when I woke up that day. Worse than feeling old is feeling old without the accomplishments under my belt that I assumed I'd have at this point. 

  I've built a decent enough career over the years, I do well for myself, and I don't really want for anything. I'm not high rolling by any means, but I get by. By those standards, I can't complain and I try to be thankful. That doesn't mean I can't want for more or - in this case - different things. 

Everything I've done I feel has been attained by taking the safe routes at every fork in the road. What happened to those ridiculous, far-fetched, unlikely dreams I'd had as a kid? They'd been forgotten. They'd faded without even the slightest whimper to signify their passing. And for a while that they even existed was not remembered. It took me years to notice.

  Sitting at a desk 8 hours a day was not what I'd imagined of my life when I was younger. That can likely be said for 99% of the country but I thought it should be stated for clarity. When I woke up on that particular morning, I realized that I'd never really stopped wanting those other things out of life. To travel, to write for a living, to create music. I'd simply allowed myself to forget as I propped the burdens of life upon my shoulders and made my way through life. Living without really living, you know?

  I could say more about all of that but it's all very unexciting. The point is that I decided I wasn't quite ready to give up on a few of those silly ideas. If I had tried and failed, that would be one thing, but all I had done was failed because I'd never bothered to try. That's a pretty sad way to go out.

  This blog exists to chronicle my efforts at bringing my musical side back from the grave, that love of a Younger Me that I have missed most over the years even if only recently realizing it. I'm basically going to be starting over and trying from a clean slate. Those 15 or so years of guitar playing - which make me sound far more skilled than I actually am considering I've played about 5 hours total over the last 6 years - aren't magically erased of course, but I'm going to try to start at a more basic level and see if I can build my foundations better this go-around.

  I can't make any promises other than I'm going to try my best to stick with it, which is part of the reason I'm going to be writing. I figure if I'm learning something new, practicing, reading theory, or even just writing about ideas and concepts and challenges I may be having, I will be keeping the topic in mind and hopefully that will led me to sticking it out even through frustrating period. 

  My overall goals are still unclear, but there's a few things I never really did that I'd like to do:

  1. Learn a second instrument.
  2. Develop a solid understanding of music theory, of which my grasp has always been tenuous at best.
  3. Write a whole song.
  4. Perform in front of people.
  I think that is plenty to focus on for the time being. Of those four, I think I mostly want to see if I have it in me to write a good song. I feel like I do.

  A final thought: it's slightly ironic that when I moved to "Music City", I quit playing music. I think my senses were so overloaded with the sheer amount of music in the city that it broke my brain and I just threw in the towel without realizing that is what happened.