I deserve a gold star

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This past Thursday, Danny and I spent an entire hour working on the Simon & Garfunkel piece. Not because I didn’t practice. Not because it was difficult. But because he was delighted to see my progress and gave me page 3 and 4 for homework. Which means I’ve completed two-thirds of this fingerpicking song!

It felt really good–I mean, really, freakin’ good to have Danny proud of me. “Now, didn’t I tell you-you’d be great at fingerpicking if you just practiced?” he said in his twangy South Carolina accent.

Typically Danny’s lessons are complex due to his “pop quizzes” and ability to fly through an extensive amount of material but last week it was 100% fingerpicking. But even he said it was worth it.

Although, my performance was nearly a 180, there were a few errors Danny teased me about (that’s the kind of relationship we have). When reading music, I tend to skip measures when I get bored/zone out. And secondly, I often neglect my pinky. The latter is most difficult because I’d already learned how to play tricky finger patterns (my way) and now I have to relearn them by using my pinky. Oh well, it’s nothing a metronome and repetition can’t fix, right?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PIXTAWAN / FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

Shame. Shame. Shame.

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Last week was embarrassing. I am ashamed of myself for walking into Danny’s studio full of false confidence. I knew good and well my fingers lacked the muscle memory needed to play Simon & Garfunkle, a 7 page arrangement I promised I’d learn.

I could blame it on my internship with the Symphony Orchestra. I could also blame it on my current romantic interest–the most social (or “busy body”) man I’ve dated in a long while. I could even blame it on the numerous U.S. states I’ve visited this summer. But no matter what my excuse is, it will never erase the shame I felt in Danny’s studio.

Well, that was then, and today is a positive now. I’m sitting at my MacBook after a long weekend in Georgia, thankful that I took my guitar along because I made major improvements in my fingerpicking. I may have already said this, but I did not expect this summer to be me fighting distractions–that’s exactly what it’s come down to.

I see Danny on Thursday and I am determined to blow him away. Seeing the disappointment in my guitar teacher’s eyes feels no different than disappointing my own father.

IMAGE COURTESY OF Stuart miles / FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

It’s been a busy summer!

ID-100234772It seems to be that I’ve overextended myself this summer and because of that fact, Tipsy Tuesday will go on hiatus.

With my busy schedule, I’ve discovered that the mornings are now the best time to practice. Just like the old days, I’ve begun see Danny for guidance.  Although I was attached to Alek, I realized I learn more material (faster) with Danny.  He’s been pushing me and making my practice routine significantly longer.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough because it’s become so important to impress him.  Is that backwards?

I guess it could be viewed as such but I know if I make him the slightest impressed, my performance will be astounding–beyond my very own goals.  I suppose that’s the benefits of having a mentor with high expectations of his students.  In comparison, Alek was constantly complimenting me when I knew good and well that I did not practice to the best of my ability.

“Okay, let’s hurry up and get you back into this,” Danny told me.  “There’s no telling how long I’ll have with you.  You might move across the country again.”

It makes me laugh to know that he knows me well enough to accurately predict my adventure seeking agenda… and as usual, Danny is right.  Adventure seeking or not, I need to find my groove.  It’s taking me a bit longer than expected this summer…

Image courtesy of Whitthaya phonsawat / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Cold Feet

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As I donate my belongings to Salvation Army and turn my furniture into cash, I realize the hardest part is almost here: saying goodbye and actually leaving.  Not just talking about leaving but emptying what was once my home and boarding a plane with no intention of returning anytime soon.  And as much as I love the adventure of picking up and moving, the thought of saying goodbye to my routine, comfort, and California friends is making me sick to my stomach.

This week, I had my second to last lesson with Alek.  We reviewed a lot of the theory he’s taught me the past 4 months and it left me dreading my final lesson.  I don’t even know what we’ll work on.  There’s no point in working on something new so maybe we’ll do something fun – more blues soloing?  I shall wait and see.

I will admit I am having second thoughts about this move – cold feet, perhaps?  I just have such a great connection with Alek and his explanations are down to earth and it feels like we’re just two friends chatting away about music.  I don’t even feel like I’m paying for lessons because he doesn’t rush me in and out which is a good and bad thing.  I’ve accepted the many times we’d start my lessons late because I knew that he would give me the same opportunity to learn and was willing to go over the allotted time to ensure I left with a full understanding and foundation to practice new material at home.

Danny has a lot more students than Alek so that’s never an option.  But I’m excited to see Danny too.  He’s like a second Dad to me.  Except it’s not awkward talking to him about dating and other personal events in my life.  I mean, I’m extremely close to my Dad but that’s a rare topic.  I’m sure some of you understand where I’m coming from.

Anyways, I’m squeezing in one last lesson on Sunday – gotta get my money’s worth.  Gotta say goodbye… although a small part of me wants to stay.

Image courtesy of Digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The woes & triumphs of finding a mentor

Kristen L. Acoustic Guitar

I’ve met some talented guitarists in the San Francisco Bay area but I finally settled on one–Alek.  He has something the other guitar teachers did not: a teaching style similar to Danny’s and chemistry that inspires me and makes me hurry home and start practicing.

To all of you self taught guitarists, I commend you because I don’t have the self discipline to watch videos and organize my own curriculum.  Instead, I need accountability and motivation or else, I lose momentum and wonder why I am doing it in the first place.  I can’t imagine sorting through thousands of guitar videos that are available today… do you ever feel conflicted in your interests?  I think I would learn things out of order. But if you ever decide to get a guitar teacher, definitely be extremely picky.

Growing up I’ve had my share of bland, non-inspiring, overpriced teachers.  Fortunately, I’ve figured out what I prefer in a teacher and came to the conclusion that no matter how talented or at what price… chemistry and teaching style is at the top of my criteria.

  1. Chemistry is everything.  This is my number 1 priority.  Three weeks ago, I had a “free trial lesson” with a guitarist who used to live in NYC and LA.  He had friends who played with Michael Jackson and what not… simply a long list of impressive connections but our lack of chemistry made me forgo his services.  Don’t get me wrong, he was really outgoing, a great conversationalist and everything but he didn’t get me amped up about practicing.  He also didn’t cater his lessons to my goals and it felt more like a check list: “learn the parts of guitar, okay good, CHECK.”  I felt like he didn’t care about what I already knew and was just going through the motions.
  2. Teaching style is not one for all, nor is it customizable.  I’ve stuck with some wonderful musicians thinking I could just ask them to slow down or reword their explanations but it’s difficult to change a person’s teaching style and mind set.  You must find someone who naturally accommodates the way you learn because very few teachers can adapt to different students.

My favorite thing about Alek is he jumps right into the nitty gritty: theory, technique and technical terms that hurt your brain.  Luckily, I enjoy squinting my eyes as I memorize and wrap my mind around music theory.  It helps, it really does–no, not all actually.  On top of that, I can visibly see in his eyes and hand gestures that he’s passionate and enthusiastic about my journey to layin’ down some sweet solos.  We typically (accidentally) we go over the allotted time period but he’s never rushed me out or glanced at his watch.  In fact, sometimes I am the one packing up my guitar while he’s still yammering on and on about our lesson–it’s refreshing.

The other guitar teachers I “tried out” simply covered barre chords (which I already know) and how to read music (which again, I already know).  It baffles me because they knew I can read music after I explained my history but they quizzed me anyways.  I know, I can’t be annoyed about that because, yeah, a lot of people are big fat liars.  But I proved to be well-versed, big thanks to my militant, high school marching band director.

In retrospect, Danny is still the best teacher out of the 8 or 9 I grew up with.  And I still keep in touch with him, in case you’re wondering.  In fact, he texted me a couple days ago asking when I’m moving back to the east coast!

Farewell, east coast!

I’m heading back to California tomorrow and I must admit, it’s bittersweet.

“Now, call me and let me know how you’re doing, okay?”  Danny requested as I walked out of the studio.
“I will,” I answered.
“You don’t mind, do ya?”
“Of course not.  That’s always the plan.”

Yesterday concluded my last lesson with Danny.   We played a few cover songs, reviewed 6th string barre chords then discussed 5th string barre chords.  Due to my renewed focus, it was the strongest lesson in the 2 months I’ve been here.

According to society’s standards, I have overly large hands and not to mention, feet.  Throughout grade school, I did every thing I could to hide or reduce the appearance of them.  But now, I finally appreciate my daddy-long-leg fingers as I advance in guitar. Thanks to them, learning the new barre chords were a breeze (after understanding the theory behind ’em, of course). It just goes to show how being a clone of everyone else has no benefit or value. So I’ll continue to stomp around in my size 10 Doc Martens boots and be thankful for the genes my father clearly passed along to me.

Chivalry isn’t dead after all

Now, before you judge me, let me just say I love various styles of music: Punk Rock, Classic Rock, 90s Rock and R&B, Country, Blues, Motown, Jazz… and so forth.  And well, recently I’ve been working on a Taylor Swift cover–OK, now you can judge me.  But hear me out!

Don’t get the wrong idea, I’m not getting into Taylor Swift politics.  It’s just, my guitar teacher, Danny, is really hung up on me covering her song titled, Begin Again.  “Let’s play this Taylor Swift song, if you don’t mind,” Danny suggested. “I think you’d relate to it and the vocals are in your key.”

My lessons hardly ever consist of song collaborations, not to mention cover songs.  But Begin Again came up in a side conversation about my dating life which is fairly similar to Swift’s lyrics– I’ve gone on a few dates with a new guy and was enchanted by his chivalry, which I thought was long gone in my generation (thankfully it’s not).

I practiced the song a few times this past week and Danny was right… With the capo on the 3rd fret, the key suits my voice extremely well.  We worked on it again today and he showed me how to “walk down” the bass during the chorus.  I can only assume he wants me to nail it when I see him next week because we’re returning to fingerpicking Simon and Garfunkel’s The Boxer.  

Can we say, polar opposite?