“‘Twas gearig, and the racks of pre-s were wired and winding through I/Os.
All sizzle-y were the high 10Ks, and the transients dithered in the ‘phones…”
Yes, mutating one of your favorite poems is one way of making music fun – but there are so many others!! In this article, we doff the jester’s cap to our screaming concert-goers, dance and prance with glee to the beat of our own drummers, and fold anechoic space into a reverberating “YES!!” of merriment!
Do What You Like!
Much of what I’m sharing here today comes from my years of teaching music students in my studio. After a while you begin to see what inspires and what does not. The biggest thing that keeps students coming back is working on music that they are interested in, and trying to get them in the habit of doing the same during their practice times at home.
Imagine this scenario: you’re a 10-year-old girl who likes Taylor Swift (I have taught quite a few of you in recent years!). You start to take guitar lessons but the teacher starts you off in a book learning how to play “Home on the Range”, “London Bridges” and “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”. Now, you try this for a few weeks but, honestly, it’s kind of embarrassing. Even if you can play these perfectly you wouldn’t play them for any of your friends. You’re not three, for heaven’s sake! So you quit lessons.
Happens too often. As a teacher, my first question, after their contact info, is “what music do you really like??” The answers are as divergent as there are people in the world (tho’ I’ve noticed Classic Rock crops up all the time. YES!!!). We then work on the songs and artist that the student likes, and try to sneak theory in when they’re in the middle of euphoric riffing and strumming. Tends to stick with them that way.
So the first secret of having a blast with music is practice what really makes you smile. The songs that get your blood pumping. The tunes that emotionally pull and twist and rock you like nobody’s business. When you can play those…you’re in the ZONE, baby!
Play What You Don’t Know!
The next thing I encourage all students to do is to put on some good music, and play to it without any thought of playing it perfectly. Simple improvising around the melodies and chords. Will mistakes occur? Ohhhhh, yea. But who cares? This exercise does many things:
- develops music intervals recognition
- builds endurance
- introduces comfort with different styles/genres
- strengthens hand and/or embouchure
- creates a ‘listening’ ear habit
- teaches the importance of silences among notes
- hones the technique of playing in different keys
- helps the student find or strengthen their own unique, musical ‘voice’
I still do this whenever possible. It’s so much fun!! I tend to play different music for different instruments: for drums, I LOVE playing ‘The Cars’! For sax: Steely Dan. Electric guitar? Classic rock (especially Van Halen!). Bass? Peter Gabriel. Violin? Irish fiddle tunes!! And the list goes on….
I also HIGHLY recommend for every student to pick up “backing tracks”. These are CDs, thumb drives or online streams of full-band instrumental songs that have no singer or lead melody line. This allows the student to sound like the soloist, and, honestly, you can play to these tracks for hours and still not be bored. Here are options that I personally jam to all the time:
- the Big Book of Backing Tracks
- Standalone Tracks – “Funk”
- Standalone Tracks – “70’s Rock”
- Standalone Tracks – “Basic Guitar”
- Standalone Tracks – “90’s Rock”
- Jam Track – Blues, Volume 1
My favorite of the bunch would have to be the Big Book of Backing Tracks. It has every concievable genre of music I could want to jam to and then some. If none of those pops your weasel, Google “Backing tracks book” and you’ll see many others to choose from. Definitely check them out though. It’s soooo rewarding to see a student’s face when you put on a backing track that sounds killer, with a full band, and they get to be the out-front solo gal or guy, no matter what the instrument. A star is born!!
Play What You Do Know!
Of course, if we never learned songs that other masters of the craft have written, we would be poor in spirit, and skill, for sure. Thus, it’s important to spend time practicing an existing, challenging song until we can perform it, beginning to end, with ease and mastery.
The important thing is to pick something that the student LIKES. Often it’s a song they’re familiar with, but it doesn’t have to be. They just have to be obviously inspired and appreciative of a song to practice it week after week. This is a must for long-term enjoyment and discipline. It all goes back to the old adage, which I definitely can vouch for as a performing songwriter: “you’ve got to give the people, ….give the people what they want!”
(The O’Jays will now be in my head all day, I’m sure. But that’s okay by me – classic song!)
“Plays Well With Others”
I can’t stress this one enough. If you only play alone, you are missing out on an incredibly fun and educational method. Call some musical friends and play together! Or, if someone else in your family plays an instrument, get together and try something with both of you. Or maybe you’re lucky and have two or three or more people in your family that play something. Wonderful! Get all your instruments out and just JAM!!!
Here’s a way to put two great things together (like Oreos!): put on one of those backing tracks albums and take turns being the soloist! This is so much fun, and pretty unforgettable, especially for kids. You can even make it a weekly occurrence at your house, inviting any musical friends, family neighbors: “the Smith Weekly Jam! Bring your instrument and get DOWN with us!!”
“This is a Song About a Squid….”
One of my favorite things to do for students that really helps them learn music from the inside out is to show them how to write a song. We go over how to do the chords. Then we talk about the melody and carve that out. We usually then turn to the words, and, let me tell you, the stories you will get from kids writing their first songs are…well, they’re inspirational, but they’re also usually just….totally bizarre! And I love it! I always tell them to have FUN, and write about anything as long as it’s truly “you”. Most of the time there’s an animal or two in there somewhere, and most of the time they’re doing things that you’ve never seen any animal do, at anytime…..ever!
My absolute favorite task in the world to tackle is songwriting, and I continue to pass along this exhilarating mode of creativity to students, as a means to free them into the enjoyment and exploration of their inner worlds. Those worlds might be, indeed, as crazy as a Jabberwock, but they are just as legitimate, dynamic and powerfully insightful as anyone else’s.
It’s All Fun & Games Until…
…until someone demands something that’s boring, monotonous and uninteresting, that’s what! Life too short to be pressed into bad song slavery. Escape the Monsters of Dullville! Demand your own voice be heard! Raise your banners and fly them proudly, be they squid, amoeba or kangaroo-filled! Even if you’re doing someone else’s song…do it your way! Music belongs to you, so fill your practice times with things you enjoy.
Once you express the smiling, childlike inner you through your instrument, I guarantee you….you’ll never be the same.