banjo, bluegrass, musician

I’m Having a Foggy Mountain Breakdown: A Banjo Player’s Lament

I am telling myself it is time. I have been playing banjo for a year as of 2/14/2016. Nothing says love like a banjo, right? I am ready to take the relationship with Earl, my Deering banjo, to the next level. I’m about to have a Foggy Mountain Breakdown.

For those of you who don’t know, Foggy Mountain Breakdown is the penultimate banjo song demonstrating the bluegrass speed and style of the late, great Earl Scruggs, banjo master. We will talk bluegrass technique and history another time. I am focused on the rite of passage this song is for a banjo player.

It is not clear to me what the rules are for when you learn different things on the banjo, so I am trusting my instinct. I have done this right so far. I have the Scruggs authored guide. I have weekly instruction. I have standard and forward backward rolls, fine tuned with daily metroGnome practice (it is a gnome indeed). I can even find my way around the banjo to create some of my own songs with rolls, slides, and pinches. I feel good about my progress in a year. So why Foggy Mountain now?

Foggy Mountain is a hard song to learn. It teaches you to use basic banjo techniques in a new and extremely challenging way. In my opinion, it breaks some of the rules I thought were hard and fast. I love breaking rules. This song is also a joyous, break out dancing, yeehaw hootenanny of a song. Quite simply, I am ready for the challenge.

If we never challenge ourselves as musicians, we can still be decent and create enjoyment for others. If we challenge ourselves, we can become great, not necessarily for others, but for ourselves.

Since I started looking at the tab and watching videos to help me learn this song, I have sworn profusely and told Earl I never want to see him again, only to come back to him requesting forgiveness 30 seconds later. I am in love, and I could not think of a better breakdown to have than this one.

If you need to see & hear the magic, check out Earl and Steve Martin (yes, the Steve Martin) do it justice:

 

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Roger Humphrey: One Teacher’s Commitment to Shaping the Future of Classical Guitar, Part II

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/?fref=tshttp://www.rogerhumphrey.com/Sorry for the delay in this next installment of the interview with Roger Humphrey, classical guitar great (even though he would be too humble to say this himself). It has been a chaotic existence for me, including some WordPress technology issues. This, however, is a great way to kick off Part II of the interview with my treasured classical guitar instructor.

Roger gets technology, and he wields it well in making sure he reaches students and interested parties regularly. From regular blogging on the art of music, backed beautifully by his tenure as an player and instructor and his humor, to his use of FaceTime and Skype ensuring students near and wide maintain regular lessons, Roger seamlessly blends classical and modern.

In fact, he helped keep me on track with lessons last week when I was unable to make our in-person time slot due to the aforementioned chaos. He understands life happens, but beautiful music makes it better. I would still be struggling on 4th string music reading and Yankee Doodle if it weren’t for a FaceTime call last Thursday. Roger had me work backwards through the second line of music, saying the notes as I played and stringing (pun intended) it all together bar by bar.

To celebrate my technology savvy instructor, we learn more about his history as a teacher, and a little love story as promised in the last post below.

_________________________________________________________________

What motivated you to teach guitar/music?

When I had a normal day job, getting out of bed in the morning was exhausting to me. Teaching has always just come naturally because I enjoy it so much. And, the opportunities for me to teach have come naturally as well. I have never needed to pursue jobs teaching music as they have been offered to me ever since I decided to focus my career on being an instructor. I taught at Olivet College for 26.5 years, in addition to Lansing Community College, Kellogg Community College, Michigan State University, and Alma College.

I also teach private lessons and found myself in a spot 15 years ago where I was teaching 93 private lessons, 5 college classes, and had 26 people on a waiting list. My wife asked how long I was going to keep that up. I said, “Fifteen weeks and not a day longer!”

I now teach about 55 people a week. I just don’t know what I’d do if I did not teach. I enjoy it.

Is it any different for you teaching these days? Have students changed?

It is not a lot different other than I find I have less patience at times. Music is important to the human condition, and while I see some differences in child rearing and focus, kids still find learning music a cool thing to do, and I want to teach them.

I am serious about teaching as a profession, so I used to wear a coat and tie every day, and this created a sense of respect. I have scaled this back to more casual attire, but I still believe you need to act professional and look professional to create a good musical learning environment.

What has been a highlight of your teaching career? How about a low time?

On a more personal side, in the late 70s, I had the worst student. She didn’t practice and did not do well in practices, so I ended up marrying her. That was 36 years ago. We were both divorced at the time, and music brought us together.

Another time of significance I can remember was about 10-12 years ago at the end of a recital for my students. One of the fathers of an 8 year old boy stood up and complimented me in front of everyone. This inspired a standing ovation, my only ovation ever, even with performing. It was unexpected and a little embarrassing, but it validated my life choice. I only wished my mother and father were there to see it.

I sometimes have a disappointment here and there in teaching, and I still have not learned how to effectively teach a love for the process of learning music. I want my students to stop thinking of the outcome, and simply love getting the instrument out to figure out the puzzle before them, appreciating the challenge of it for 30 minutes or whatever time alone they have to focus on playing. They can experience real joy when something comes together, and it sounds suddenly beautiful. This is not mowing the lawn or doing chores after all!

What advice would you give to students picking up a guitar for the first time?

I would really want students to focus on enjoying the process of learning right out of the gate and not giving in to impatience or frustration. Also, playing well is not an obligation to perform. There is a pressure to perform if you play well. I had a student once read me the riot act for not performing. You have every right to be good and not want to walk out on the stage. Playing well and performing are two separate things. You play for you first, and then decide what to do from there. I have a saying on the wall in my lesson room: We will learn to play beautiful music beautifully.

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Roger does indeed teach students to play beautiful music beautifully. I’ve watched my son do this as a result of Roger’s instruction. I am starting to play in a manner which makes me smile. I unfortunately have more content from this interview than I could fit into two posts. I may ask Roger to revisit some of this content dealing more with classical guitar and its future in another post in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, I would encourage you to follow Roger’s blog and visit his website, Facebook page, and YouTube channel. Also be sure to add him to your Spotify and other playlists! The links are as follows:

http://rhumphrey223.blogspot.com/

http://www.rogerhumphrey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/?fref=ts

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC5NDXiMcc2vjw3vRfspJe-Q

 

 

 

 

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Roger Humphrey: One Teacher’s Commitment to Shaping the Future of Classical Guitar

Roger Humphrey is a classical guitar artist and teacher, and a genuinely decent and humorous person I have the pleasure of calling teacher and friend. My son has taken lessons with Roger since he was six years old. He is now nine, and his time with Roger has shaped him into a musician with potential and a little man with focus and heart. If you don’t think a music teacher can shape a child this way, you need to meet Roger. It has been my privilege to also take lessons with him since the beginning of this year, and the path forward I see involves beautiful classical music on the strings of my Cordoba and betterment as a person for knowing Roger both as a parent and a student.

Roger is savvy with technology. He understands where it can assist in spreading classical guitar interest and education to a larger audience of young and not so young aspiring musicians. So, when I asked him for an interview and time from his busy teaching and playing life, he agreed to FaceTime with me and made my heart and mind play Ode to Joy on repeat. I present the first part of our interview below, focusing on Roger’s path to classical guitar and a touching piece of his musical history. I look forward to sharing the next half of this interview on Thursday, February 11, 2016.

When did you start learning to play classical guitar and why?

I was 22 years old and had already performing as a guitar player. I was not happy with my abilities at the time and started to consider learning classical guitar. I fell in love with the music after hitting the wrong button on a jukebox and hearing Jethro Tull play Bach. I was in the military at the time, and I needed to be able to play at least this song if nothing else. Then, once I started learning classical, it always became one more song.

This was an abrupt change of heart for me. I took time off from performing for about 10 years while still teaching and working. I was hooked.

Was music an important part of your life and/or household growing up?

Not in a particular way. Both of my grandfathers played fiddle, although neither one of them would play in front of anyone. My father played accordion, which was the coolest thing to listen to, but he was just daddy to me, not a musician.

As for me, I liked music in general, and I was encouraged by my father to play. My mom tolerated my playing, but neither my dad nor mom wanted me to go pro and consider music as a livelihood.

Was there a turning point for your parents on your choice of music as a career?

I was performing a couple of years after the military when I met first wife. I had to learn to balance a day job, being married, and my first child. My parents were proud of my decision to balance life this way, but it was hard. During the downturn of the 70s, the company I was working for filed Chapter 11, and I was out of a job. I started teaching guitar until I could find another day job. I eventually found another job and kept teaching at Marshall Music in the evenings. I was competent at my day jobs, but it was not a good way of life for me. I hated going to work. So I put pencil to paper to figure out how I could make a living at teaching classical guitar, and I began my new career. This concerned my parents.

My mother has been gone 20 years, and she never quite understood my decision. I have enough of her in me which lead me to walk my own path. She was just quiet as I did.

As for my father, five years before he passed away, it was my turn to drive him to his snowbird destination, and we spent a few days together. This was the most time we spent together since I was a boy due to an estrangement, and he came to understand and accept why I was doing what I was doing.

Return Thursday for more of Roger’s story, including his experience teaching and his views on where classical guitar is going. There is also a love story in the next blog!

Links to Roger:

http://www.rogerhumphrey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/

http://rhumphrey223.blogspot.com/

 

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musician, Uncategorized

The Art of Learning Music

Hello. I am back after a break where I assisted in running a fabulous writing conference and completed two major work projects. During these events in my life, one thing remained consistent: my effort to learn music.

Through my full immersion into learning bluegrass banjo over the past year, followed by starting down the path to electric and classical guitar, I have learned more about myself as a person than ever before, including the following:

  1. I have a remarkable work ethic and a dogged desire to keep at something until I get it right, and
  2. I have a knack for finding the right people to be partners in my learning.

I am sure some people are born with a natural fluency for music, and they quickly find the right strings, keys, percussion points, and breaths of air to produce beautiful noise. I, on the other hand, liken my fingers finding the right strings and frets on my banjo and guitars to drunk giraffes (nice, longish fingers with decent nails) wandering the Serengeti aimlessly, eventually becoming entangled in the chaos. So, I have to work really hard at learning, and I rely heavily on daily practice and various resources to learn. There is an art to learning the art of music, and here are the mediums I use to learn.

I practice, on average, one hour a day. As often as I can, I try to increase this by a half hour to one hour or find moments in the day where I can pick up an instrument and perform one piece of music or an exercise (even scales) quickly between life’s activities. I use a metronome for a portion of all practices, and I touch all three instruments daily. It is my labor of love, and one I have been engaging in for nearly 365 days straight since 2/7/2015. Doing the math now, and I’m going to guess I have practiced between 450 and 500 hours. This would equate to me practicing for nearly 21 days straight at the high end if somebody locked me up and threw away the key, and I did not sleep or eat or etc. I am not planning on this by the way! Music is life, and you must live life to make music.

I also find time to read music theory books and relevant magazines and newsletters as well as watch YouTube performances or lessons to learn from those much more talented than me. I am never without tunes in my ear whether at work or play, and I study and listen to the greats for each instrument.

All of this is wonderful, filling my soul cup daily with bourbon, and I am making significant progress as a result of the effort and focus. There is something much more important than this though. I could not do this without the help and guidance of two talented, interesting, and dedicated instructors for helping me along the path to playing music beautifully.

Recently, I was given the gift of an interview with my classical guitar teacher, Roger Humphrey. I will be sharing his story, wit, and wisdom in a two part blog special starting tomorrow. I hope you will stay with me on this journey.

In the meantime, please check out Roger online:

http://www.rogerhumphrey.com/

https://www.facebook.com/RogerHumphreyClassicalGuitar/

http://rhumphrey223.blogspot.com/

 

 

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Mourning Sir Bowie

There is not much I can say about the impact of David Bowie’s life on the music, art, and fashion worlds as most of it has already been said in the wake of his passing. I can share my personal experience of what he meant to me as a musician, a writer, and a person with artistic and quirky tendencies though.

I started listening to David Bowie’s music when I was nine years old. It was before the days where you could Google an artist or follow them on the web  and social media to find out everything you wanted to about them, whether truthful, exaggerated, or just plain wrong. I will even admit to watching Labyrinth more than once, entranced by everything about his presence. He created what he wanted. He dressed how he wanted. He acted how he wanted. To me, he did this in a bubble with little regard for convention or social norms. He was a hero to me not for his art, although I loved it, but rather for his passion and unique presence. He was not afraid to be who he was at a moment in time, and he rocked it.

I had insomnia when I picked up my phone to find David Bowie had left us. I had just listened to his new album on its release day and thought it was a beautiful, melancholy masterpiece, and I wondered who he was at this moment in time to make such an album. I now understand. He was the David Bowie about to leave us, and he was fully in charge of how he would do so even in the face of an unpredictable disease. His death was almost one year to the day I spent perusing the masterfully prepared art exhibit called David Bowie Is in Chicago on its last stop and last weekend before leaving the United States. This timing was not lost on me.

In mourning someone I have never met, I have learned Sir Bowie was not just an a person to me. He was an idea I could define myself, break convention, and determine a direction which was not in line with current practices or fads. David Bowie was living art recreating itself on the fly. He was change. He was color. Most importantly, he was an inspiration to many such as me who never quite fit in with the rest. He was an inspiration to not care about being a piece of the puzzle. Rather, he was the inspiration to create the puzzle and determine how you fit within your creation. As a result, I find myself today peacefully standing out from the herd, and this fuels my creation of novels, music,  and fashion which often delightfully stand out from the rest. I don’t do it for fame or money. I do it for the love of it much like I believe David Bowie did, and I will continue to do so in his honor. David Bowie Is Art.

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Late is the New Early: Better Late than Never to Learn Music

blog post 2 pic

ACDC Thunderstruck Tab from electric guitar lesson this past Saturday and a guitar aerobics book I love.

 

I was just pondering on this snowy Sunday evening regarding my “late” start to  musical pursuits. I use the word late because this is what I heard many times over when I picked up my banjo and made my way down the bluegrass trail one year ago. It almost made me put the banjo back on a peg. I had people telling me children have a much easier time learning. I had others say it did not seem worthwhile if I could not do something with it. I am happy to say I was wise enough to employ a filter which has come with wisdom. And here is what my filter said…

Late is something you are when somebody assigns a time to an activity, and you arrive beyond this time. In my lifetime so far, I was late for parties (we could debate whether you are supposed to show on time). I was late for work. I was late for my period, and we all know where that led! I could not be late for my return to music-making because I was in charge of the arrival time. I own my time now more than ever, and I have assigned a sizable portion to learning music.

On the matter of children learning music more quickly, there is science to back the amazing capacity of a child’s mind to learn. I have a lot of noise in my life, and I have for sure altered my brain chemistry on occasion whether with medicine or a youthful & free night out. My brain still has amazing capacity though, and when I exercise it with music or reading or writing, I can feel it gain power. Our brains can still exercise as adults. Also, I would argue most of us have developed more discipline and passion for pursuing art and other challenging and/or relaxing activities. Finally, I find not having to balance intense schooling with other learning frees up brain waves for music.

On the final topic of what I will do with my music, I have little patience for this discussion. I learn and play music for the love of it. No matter what age you are and what you are pursing, if you are not starting from a place of love and passion, you are not giving your true self to the opportunity. The only goal I have right now is to love what I am doing and learn to do it well.

Late is the new early in my date book. I do not waste time thinking about why I did not start earlier or where I am going with music. I just pick up my instruments every day and learn to play better than I did the day before.

I want to leave you with three practical tips if you are down the same path, even further along than me, or if you are pondering a pursuit of passion on this very day:

  • Make sure you find time for the pursuit daily, even if for a few minutes,
  • Be rigid about practice time, giving what you can and maintaining focus during practice,
  • Find all resources (people, books, online) to help you learn more quickly, and
  • Tell your friends, family, and colleagues you would like their support, and what you are doing is important to your happiness.

Good luck. Shred it. Roll it. Pluck it. Play it. Do it.

Nice article to read:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/06/playing-an-instrument_n_4903835.html

 

 

 

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The Novelist Musician

I have been a writer since I was a little girl. From plays to songs to poems to books, it was my favorite thing to do. In fact, I make a living from it today. I also had a passion for music though, and at one point, I found enough time to take piano lessons. There were not enough hours in the day for me to pursue both artistic paths to the level I wanted, so I kept writing through undergrad and two advanced degrees, and the piano became decoration until it was sold. I was still an avid music listener and concert attendee, and no moments passed where I was not exploring music in all of its forms. I just did not make it myself. Don’t lament! Let’s fast forward to one year ago.

I found myself finally landing in the career I wanted in January of 2014 after a disappointing (actually, downright terrible) fall. It had the right mix of challenge, writing, and life balance. I could breath. I was happy. Inside of me the desire to make music rested waiting for a spark and was no longer impeded by stress, lack of time, and sadness.

The spark was a simple visit to a local music store to browse. A banjo caught my eye. I don’t know why. They say instruments find you, and this one jumped off the peg into my arms. Of all forms of music, country and bluegrass were not forms I frequented on playlists or through purchases. I did sweet Jesus knows what with the banjo as I had nary a clue on how to play it, and it still made a beautiful, joyous sound. I went home, did some research, discovered Earl Scruggs and old school bluegrass. I also discovered the key of sweet, sweet open G. I bought a banjo and started lessons in February of 2014. I chose to learn Scruggs style which I will discuss more in a future post and became a bluegrass mama.

When I had about seven months of banjo under my belt, it did not take long for the guitar bug to bite me. I was crazy for strings, and I wanted to explore another instrument with a different range of sound. After much research and testing, I bought a Fender Telecaster with dual humbuckers and began electric lessons with my banjo instructor, who I am convinced could make a cardboard box with strings sound good.

This brings me to yesterday. I went to my first classical guitar lesson after receiving a Cordoba C5 nylon string guitar for Christmas. That’s right. I’m taking banjo, electric guitar, and classical guitar lessons. I practice all three every day, rain or shine, happy or sad, healthy or sick, calm or chaotic, and I take lessons twice a week. And, I am still writing novels with a plan to put the final polish on my current manuscript and find an agent in  2016.

I have risen to a level of dedication, study, and hard work where I am comfortable calling myself a novelist musician.  I plan to keep sharing the story of my journey here so I can marry my passions in one small place in the digital world. I will also share tips and resources for anyone looking to explore similar passions. I’m going to be honest about both my achievements and my opportunities for improvement (we won’t use the word failure here). I can be pretty damn funny at times, and I hope to meet some new people of all skill levels in these two wonderful realms of my life.

My ultimate goal is to convince people sitting on the fence regarding their passions to pursue them with vigor. I’m not the most talented novelist musician. I have a truck ton of passion though. I hope it lights your fire.

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