The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
When I tell people what I’m trying to do I always pay attention to their reaction, I get a lot of surprised looks, some wow that’s cool looks, sometimes an intrigued look but mainly especially from those who play an instrument the reaction is one of scepticism. I’ve even had that from my teachers at one time or another and it’s a perfectly fair & justified one. Yes Tom is a multi instrumentalist (he plays way more instruments than I ever will) but he didn't learn them all at once and he didn't do it in a few years like I'm trying. He worked hard over a long period of time and gained a lot of experience so it makes sense to question my thinking. Zak has put years & years of hard work into learning guitar and is still going, I can understand why he would be concerned about me spreading my energies over so many. But 'I've got it covered' (there's four words that could come back and bite me on the arse!) haha!
The journey I’m on isn’t just unusual it’s daft, why? Because I don’t want to be a guitarist who can lay down a few drum beats or a pianist who can strum out some chords. I want to play all the instruments – not at professional level that wouldn’t be possible but certainly at a highly competent level (and you heard my drumming I've got a lot to do to get there!). And let's face it I may be young at heart but I'm no spring chicken! I have very good reasons for making these choices but that I'll talk about in later posts.
What makes me qualified then to give this a go?
I was talking to my husband yesterday about this and I think what gives me an advantage or at least a fighting chance is that I love each instrument individually, I want to achieve different things with each and when I’m playing each I get lost in it, when I’m playing - that’s the instrument I love right then and there (yes even the bass much to my surprise!). I respect that each has it's own set of exercises that I will need to do, each one requires heaps of practice and dedication. I need to train my mind and body to think in entirely separate ways for each. It's a BIG job and I not only respect that I embrace it (told you I was nuts!). Nuts, determined and most importantly I think passionate.
Personally my goals are as follows, I want to get to an early advanced level on drums, piano and bass. However ... on guitar I’m aiming for the stars, it will take the rest of my life and I will absolutely fall well short of where I want to be but I'm going for it anyway! I do NOT expect to get to advanced level on all of them within the next 4.5yrs, that's a goal for my first song this journey will be a lifetime – I’m no fool, I know where I want to go and I respect what I’ll need to do – the ridiculous level of commitment I’ll need to show every single day.
The reason behind today's post? I wanted to make this clear because over time there will be people who will stumble across this blog and think I’m being a total dingbat (they may be right!) and there may be those who think it’s cool and think oh yeah I’ll do that too (they are definitely wrong).
I fool around but I am extremely dedicated to this and committed to the hard work, to the great length of time this will demand which at my age is a fair chunk of my life! See why I practice so hard ..!! And of course why I embrace it so much, I'm giving up so much for this it can't be about an 'end goal' it has to be about the journey.
We're all unique in our own way and I can be a rather 'interesting' individual. One of my main traits is that ticking brain of mine that goes day and night pumping out ideas (whether I want it to or not).
Great right? Well it can be yes, but if I had even $1 for every idea that's even been pretty good I'd be reasonably well off by now. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. To earn the moolagh you have to do something with the idea (got it covered), not just something - the right something - ah, therein lies my downfall!!
What's that got to do with this journey and music? - well everything! When I'm coming up with musical ideas my brain clicks into gear and off I go on my ideas journey leaving me with an over complicated, & at my stage of learning, unworkable song concept. And that's before I add anything to it. For me running the idea off to the sunset feels like the natural course and it morphs from concept into concept but as my teacher pointed out quite rightly, as usual, I'm not writing for me. He claims not everyone is a weird muso (he didn't say weird I'm paraphrasing!) who likes to be taken on a long crazy journey (really?? 😳 I'm not the norm!!). Like I said he's right of course.
My next goal is to dumb down, yes, let the ideas run riot BUT then pick the best (easy to do when you know what you're looking for which I don't!) and develop that. I think I understand a little better, the idea is to build that simple idea up in depth using the other instruments. To pull out a couple of complimentary ideas to 'mix it up' a little but to stay focused. For someone who's mind wanders a lot - that's hard. I have a feeling we may be working on this for a little while yet. In order to write what I like I have to learn to start with what I hate, but a girls gotta do what a girls gotta do I guess.
So my point, I need to explore the idea, milk it for all its worth BUT be prepared to let it go and realise the real gem may be in just a few seconds of all that magic. I'll let you know how it goes!
I was a 'late bloomer' when it came to playing over songs, I could do far more complicated things long long before I could strum out a simple song. But we all do things at different paces and have different strengths and weaknesses so it doesn't bother me one bit. I'm having lots of fun now though!
So I thought I'd share a few of the first songs I learnt to play along to - not just the first but the most fun ones, as a starting point for any beginners reading this blog. Some are very easy with lots of room between the changes and simple strumming, some will take a bit more work and a couple I found a bit harder but were worth the effort. None of these were beyond my ability (I may not have sounded amazing but the point is I could play along). Also don't worry too much about how you play along, it's more important to have fun first and use that enjoyment to push forward with technique & polish up timing.
Anyway enough waffle, here's the list - happy jamming! If you think of others let me know in the comments and I'll do a second list (Oasis is missing on purpose - I hate them and it's my blog so I'll sulk if I want to!). 😉
Chords & Tabs available at Songsterr or Ultimate Guitar
Wagon Wheel - Old Crow Medicine Show
Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd
Within You - Ray LaMontagne (very easy & lovely song)
Can't You See - The Marshall Tucker Band (easy and very fun)
Closing Time - Semisonic
Speedway - Counting Crows
3 Rounds and A Sound - Blind Pilots
Vaporise - Broken Bells
Toes - Zak Brown Band (a bit harder but sooo much fun!)
People Are Strange - The Doors (watch the timing on this one)
I Remember You - Skid Row
Sultans Of Swing - Dire Straits (Great for barre chord workout. Bit trickier though)
I'm currently working on getting to grips with "Let Me Die In Southern California" by The Voyces which is a very cool song to play along too. I'm still a terrible strummer (haha) but I'm improving bit by painful bit!
ps Quick tip, I'm assuming that if you're using this list you're a beginner so listen through a few times doing chord changes without strumming to get the timing down. You probably know this already but no one told me so just in case ...!
Yep I'm actually starting this post with a Star Wars quote (did you recognise it, if you did I'm proud of you!) as the title because 1) In my little head it's quite funny 😆 and 2) It's very relevant to today's subject.
It's easy to think that as a housewife my life is free and easy and I have all the time in the world. And maybe if I wasn't such a nut it would be but I've already said when I do something I go (pardon the expression) balls out. I'm under no illusion that this dream I'm aiming for is ridiculously hard, extreemly unlikely and that's if I wasn't trying to get there in just five years but add on the fact that I'm not going to college, I have little to no support structure and it's suddenly so crazy you might wonder why I'm even trying.
I might wonder why I'm even trying! I'm always telling Tom (my brilliant multi teacher) that he has a very unique set of skills and he certainly does but.... so do I. The way my life panned out has meant I needed to do things differently. I needed to push myself to breaking point and beyond, I had to learn to think 30 steps ahead, I had to learn how to do each step while I was thinking of it and I had to multitask like a octopus on steroids. So I do believe I have the skills required but I need one very important thing, something that in the past has eluded me and cost me time, money and sanity (queue dramatic music - this blog will be so much better when I can put a soundtrack to it don't you think?).
I need FOCUS. I can do a million (no I'm not being literal but I'm allowed to exaggerate now and again!) tasks at once but what I suffer badly with is two things, and I'll need to master both if I'm to have a chance in hell of reaching destination musician.
1). I need to pick my battles carefully. Picking the right song or practice technique can push me very quickly. The wrong ones will have me wasting time and effort - both are now precious commodities.
2) I need to organise these battles carefully. There is so much I can do, so much I need to do, that every week now becomes an opportunity to leap forward or a danger that I'll work my butt off to go absolutely nowhere. I've already learnt that I can get more through doing things I initally think are less important so it's going to be difficult to recognise opportunities if I'm not careful.
Am I panicked - yes.
Do I believe it's even possible - I think so.
Can I personally do it - 50/50 - with the right focus, hard work and a little luck - maybe.
Will I do it? I really don't know, having the skills to push doesn't guarantee me the talent I need and that's still where I fall down confidene wise but I'm going find out anyway - so to work we go!
Oh and I'm aware it didn't end too well for the poor freedom fighter in Star Wars but don't worry - I've got it covered!
I do have teachers but that totals 10 hours a month and that's if they can make every lesson which seldom happens. To get where I'm going that is not going to be enough so most of what I need to do, especially from here on out, will be self taught with the direction, technique correction and support coming from my teachers.
Self teaching is hard, I melt down quicker than ice-cream in a heatwave when I can’t get my head around something. My normal approach when it happens is to dig my heals in and allow my pig-headed determination to take over - no matter how crazy it’s driving me (that and using lots of naughty words!). But sometimes I know to leave well enough alone and come back later.
The thing I find so hard is knowing when it's best to push through something and when to let it rest because they can both be right - and they can both be wrong 🤔. I dont have any answer to that but I do have a couple of tips that really help me when I'm struggling that I thought I'd share in today's post.
Leave on a high
I make sure I break on a good note (pun not intended!), if I need to I will simplify what I’m doing and target one small area until I feel I’ve done something a little better – then I make myself stop. Its easier to come back to a tough challenge in a positive frame of mind.
Come back soon
Keep the momentum going, it's hard to restart once you've gone cold on the subject. How long I leave it varies between 10 minutes, a few hours or (rarely) a day – it's important to ensure my head is in the right space. I use the time in between to think about the problem. Sometimes being away from it allows me to see it more clearly.
Bite sized chunks
One other thing I do is stop/start learning, I will work for a certain amount of time (say 10/20 minutes), take a few minutes to think about what I’m doing and relax, maybe enjoy a quick cuppa, then push on until I feel stressed & repeat. I take it in bite sized chunks, especially learning a new song, brand new technique or soloing over a track that’s stumping me ideas wise - that happens a LOT.
When I’m really really struggling, I stop trying to do the project itself and think about what specifically is bothering me – timing, hand movements etc and I target that, I slow it down so I can focus on technique.
Go find help
The internet is the self learners paradise. When you're stuck use it, see if you can find some resourse that helps you. Be careful though because it's easy to get flustered by the differing opinions and techniques but if you're stuck it can really help you see it from a different perspective. I'm a big believer in learning from multiple angles and in multiples ways but I've already harped on about that so I won't do that now.
Here is a link to a few tips about self learning in general that I found really useful.
It’s not much but it may help you a little too - happy learning!
Todays post isn't about how to find one, it's not about what kind of teacher (personal, college, online) it's about the importance of their role in your learning. It's about the importance of their role in mine.
If you are serious about wanting to play you need to have drive, determination, passion and a teacher you can connect with. Because it's going to get hard, because you're unique and because you're going to be putting yourself through some tough challenges.
I'm a whole new level of nuts, I want (don't laugh, just because I lack faith in myself doesn't mean I don't dream big) to reach professional level on guitar - some day! And I want to play the bass guitar, piano and drums (man the drums are fun!) to a pretty good level, AND I want to write music. Then factor in my unique personality and, yep, a teacher who is in it for more than the money is pretty crucial.
Again I can't tell you how to find the right teacher only that you need to look for someone who has passion equal to your own. Someone who can adapt to your learning style, someone who inspires you, someone who will push you in the right way. You're looking for someone you can depend on, this is a long journey after all. Find a teacher you trust and respect and it will make a huge difference to your learning.
Both my teachers are far younger than me (I'm still younger than them at heart though 😁) but I have the utmost respect for them and they are very special people because they fit all of the above criteria. Poor Tom, who teaches me across all instruments (he has 4 times the grief and still comes back for more!), has had to endure a lot because I'm complicated and where I've taken on so much it can be extreemly hard for me. I adore him and he's crucial to keeping me on track. Zak who teaches me guitar has a crazy level of faith in me I simply don't understand but I'm very grateful for - that alone is a huge driving force because I don't want to let them down. These bonds are very important to me and I can tell you, unequivocally, without them I wouldn't be where I am - wherever that might be (haha see no faith!) its definately further than I would have been.
So more important than anything when you think about learning to play is your teacher. And don't forget as a side note to make sure they are teaching you correctly - whatever style you want to learn in, both in terms of the actual music (classic/contemporary) and learning method (school/private/distance) make sure they are fully qualified to teach you or you could be picking up some very bad habits.
Yep it’s theory time. Now bear with me, don’t run away because I’m going to try and bring this to you in a different light – I’m going to give you unbelievable power!
I love theory, have since I first started so the temptation is to approach this from a passion point of view but I can already hear you yawn! Now most people tend see it as either an instruction manual or a rule book and it’s neither. It purely explains what you’re doing in order to give you power and control. That’s what makes me most excited – the more I understand what I’m doing the more control I have over it and the more power I have to decide what I want to say. The only thing as important to me as theory is my ear – which has a longgggggg way to go to be even remotely developed *sigh*.
If you understand theory then learning new pieces becomes easier because it makes sense to you, it’s not just a series of notes any more, they fit together. Think of it as seeing the picture of a puzzle, the more pieces that fit the easier it becomes to fit the next. It’s also far easier and much more fun to “break the rules”! To break away from convention, be different and make it work.
But what really sets my spidey senses tingling is the control element, understanding why two chords sound the way they do, or why playing notes in a certain order makes you feel a certain way gives me power over my music. When I understand fully I will be able to utilise this information at will in anything I write to take you on the journey I want to. Combine that with my ear and my (overly) emotional self and what I hope will happen is the ability to create/design stories, emotions, drama & adventure. At least this is where I’m trying to get to – it’s a long journey but it’s worth the effort. Think JK Rowling of the music world! J
You see – if you understand you can tweak what you’re doing using this information to push the message harder, faster, or slower (you little tease!). Or you can use it to imitate something that already inspires you without copying – what did they do to achieve that very cool sound. You can use it to move something you hear on one instrument to another etc. See, if you think of it not as a boring book of facts but they key to unlocking your creative genius it’s suddenly very very exciting!
Told you theory was cool!
Im not the smartest person but I'm intelligent enough to grasp most concepts and understand most things (eventually!!). But due to my strangely wired mind I find it easy to perform complicated tasks but the simplest of things throws me. I've had a multitude of meltdowns during lessons because I don't understand what my teachers want but can make huge leaps in progress suddenly where everything comes together. I am not an easy student to have but my mentors have amazing patience with me.
What precisely is going on in my head I don't really understand but I have worked out that I need to fully understand a concept before I can apply it. Then suddenly everything becomes much clearer and because I now know how, why, when, where (at least from a foundational level) I can become experimental and much freer in my thinking.
So the purpose of this post is to try to make you think about learning in different ways. The more creative you can be the more it may help long term, and music is all about being creative so giving that part of your brain a workout is no bad thing!
Ive done a lot of self teaching, again through necessity. I couldn't afford a web designer or graphic designer of marketing expert so I had to figure it out. It's not easy - what is? I never became an expert at any of them but I did develop some invaluable skills that really help me learn music. Above are two of my 'inventions' (and a couple of books as an example!). I believe in learning visually, aurally, through writing, reading & playing (games as well as my actual instrument) and any other way I can think of. Reinforce the message, to look at it from a whole new light. For me there is a VERY VERY big difference between understanding a concept and knowing a concept. When I understand it, I can follow what is happening but when I know a concept I can apply it. Knowing sometimes takes me a long time - soloing took me forever because I had to have purpose I couldn't just noodle to me that's not soloing.
The tool I use most often is my magnetic board, it's just some cards, magnets with stickers on and storage tins but it's helped me a lot. Second resource I couldn't do without is the Internet. Bugging my teachers constantly would do the job in a fraction of the time but it's not an option so I'm trying to be more self sufficient in my learning and everything I could need to know is already out there, people approach things from lots of different directions so one is bound to resonate. Then there are books, I have a tonne and I love them, YouTube, music forums etc.
If you're like me and you struggle to get that "ding" moment sometimes then using these concepts as a tool should help. Don't forget to make up your own, even if it's rubbish or fails to do what you intended you're still exercising your creative mind and that can only be good.
Being someone who procrastinates and becomes easily overwhelmed by choice you would imagine that I would NOT be naturally proactive and you'd be right. However, the circumstances of my life (including my husband being totally useless at getting anything done!!), running my business and raising my kids pretty much without any support forced me to change.
Not having a support cushion of friends or family I HAD to become proactive and that is now one of the most crucial skills that is supporting me on this journey.
So how do you 'become' proactive?
For me the biggest and hardest thing was being honest with myself which is something everyone thinks they do but most do not (sorry but it's true). The harsh truth, sometimes life is full on and there's no more room but usually if you want to do something you will & if you need to find time for something or someone you will. If you can't chances are you simply don't want to or don't care enough to (yes of course there are exceptions but mostly this is true). If you accept this and be hard on yourself when you make excuses you will improve straight away. This is not easy but it is true - try it.
Next thing I learned was what I call the 'jump' skill, that hold your breath and just go mechanism that we all use to jump into a cold pool or eat something we really don't want to!! You have the skill already, training yourself to use it at will is hard. Next time you begin to think of a reason you can't or think about doing it later - jump - just do it .... NOW. It really works.
IMPORTANT - A little proviso on the aforementioned tips - If you are not ready, if your heart isn't in it you will not be able to do this properly and it could do more harm than good so make sure your head is in the right place because you will be going far outside your comfort zone. Once you are ready being able to do this is life changing, at least it was for me.
And lastly think ahead, plan, set goals and tell people about them .... commit. Take away the option to not do something. See excuses as something to avoid not something to depend on.
When you learn to do these you will find you can achieve so much more. It's HARD, finding excuses is so much easier and I never ever judge others by what I can or cannot do. Just because I can find the time, I respect that others can't whatever their reason. This is a personal skill to enhance me and help with my goals not a contest. 😊. I am still very much developing this myself especially in areas of extreme discomfort but I am aware of them. I'm aware of the excuses I make, of things I avoid but I'm not ready to confront everything YET! One step at a time and every time you take one be proud of yourself, just always keep your eyes forward.
I hope those few tips helps you in not just your music practice but life in general.
Learning Time Log
How long I've been learning as at at the end of Dec 2020.
What's This About?
One fateful day I decided to get guitar lessons. 5 years later I'm learning four instruments and trying to become a musician and songwriter. I've set a five year goal (Aug 2021) to create a very special song for my 25th wedding anniversary and this is a record of my crazy journey, weird thoughts, strange doodles and unapologetic music obsession! Enjoy!