Making Music – Some Sound Advice

I can remember sitting down at my Dad’s old Wurlitzer organ. I knew nothing about playing it, I was just impressed by its appearance. All those black and white keys and the colored buttons, just looking at it sparked an interest and sense of excitement at such a young age. But the real magic came when I turned it on and played a couple notes…I was hooked!

I would rush home from school every day just to try a new song I’d heard. I probably drove my mother crazy, fumbling through song after song note after note. She never said anything, she could see the joy and sheer concentration on my face. I would start a song over dozens of times if I made a mistake, slowly learning which key made what sound. It was a labor of love for me and an exercise in patience for her.

When my Dad learned of my interest in music he beamed. He shared my love of music and admired those who could play well. We would sit together on Saturday nights and watch the piano players Big Tiny Little and Jo Ann Castle on the Lawrence Welk show and marvel at their talent. My Dad had a natural talent and although he never learned to read music, he enjoyed playing, mostly the old standards… for him it was just for the pleasure it brought.

As I grew older and became more adept at playing, at my parents request I would perform for family and friends. At family gatherings, we’d sit in the living room and people would shout out requests. I had come to the point where I could play many of the popular songs of the day. Noting this, my Mom and Day decided it was time for music lessons. They set me up with a local teacher at a music store downtown and I was off. The teacher was extremely nice and like my Mom, showed the patience of Job. I loved the idea of being able to read music but that’s where I ran into a problem. If I new the song, my natural ear would take over and I’d play faster than I could read the notes and would quickly become lost. It soon became a lesson in frustration for me.

I’m sure many musicians out there have run into the same problem. They probably picked up an instrument at a young age and figured it out on their own. When it came time for formal training they fell into the same category as me and lessons became a chore.

I stopped the lessons, taking from them what I could and always regretting that I didn’t continue. At the tender age 12 years, it seems I couldn’t unlearn the habits I’d accumulated in the 5 years I’d been learning to play by ear. It was so foreign to read from a page and translate that to the keyboard. I just couldn’t coordinate reading and playing.

If I can share a thought with you:

– If you’ve shown an interest and even the slightest ability, take lessons – the younger the better. Don’t give yourself the chance to pick up bad habits. Sure it’s easy and music comes naturally to you but take that gift and start honing and shaping it early. Aquire the tools and skills that well structured lessons can provide. There are so many resources today that weren’t around when I was young. The internet, of course is probably the best place to start. Google music lessons. Local papers are another avenue. At the very least, look into it.

Another suggestion:

– Keep it fun! It’s hard to learn when you find it boring. Even if you find lessons sheer drudgery and your teacher smells of furniture polish, find something you like about the experience and focus on that. Concentrate on the end result, it’ll make the lessons go faster.

One last piece of advice:

– Stick With It! Develop this trait and it will carry through even the toughest lessons and steepest learning curves. It’s a characteristic, that if deeply engrained, will improve your music and your life. Too many people, including me, start things only to find themselves running into the inevitable bump in the road and they quit, often just before an unforeseen breakthrough. Stay the course!… Even the smallest success might give you the motivation to keep going.

As an adult I still love playing, but still can’t read music. I even tried picking up a guitar and found myself falling into the same old habits. I opened a book, learned a half dozen chords and began playing, though not well. I still enjoy playing and like my Dad, I play for the sound of the music and sense of fulfillment it gives me knowing that music is coming from me.

I know there are many musicians who reportedly don’t read music and are very successful but I imagine those are the exceptions and I’ll always wonder where it might have taken me if I’d had the perseverance to stay with the lessons.