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The Woodshed: Music Stand Slaves

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JJ Rocks Article # 128:
From St. Croix Music Magazine, Issue # 27, December, 2008
Before music was written down it had to be created first. It's as simple as that. There is a DNA that lies beneath all written music and that is the foundation to my easy mathematical system of learning how to play any instrument. In an earlier article (the simple math of music) which you can find in the search bar, explains the basic concept. But this time I want to emphasize the bottom line, and that is sound and math. Even though many people need music in front of them to perform, it doesnt mean that there is only one way to learn or play. And believe me; my system is not just learning by ear, it is meant to define the roots of music and not just written interpretations.

So even though I'm not trying to repeat myself from an earlier article, I must point out that there is a giant myth when it comes to learning music. The two trains of thought are usually that you either read music or play by ear. That's cow dung! There are many mixtures of the two but not many people take it down to the bottom line. Let me give you an example.

About a year and a half ago I thought that a 6 year old drum student of mine needed to know more than just beats and counting time. So on the way out of each lesson I would show him a note on our cheap Casio keyboard that I had in my teaching room. Then I showed him a major scale and told him the math that made up its construction.

Point # one:

I did not show him notes on a page, I only wrote out the math to the scale in a little cartoonist diagram. Thats all it took! The next thing that I showed him was the construction (or spelling as we call it) of various chords starting with major and minor, and then four note chords like minor 7th and so forth. Now what you have to realize is that my hands only touched the keyboards in the very beginning to show him the notes and basic scale fingerings. After that all I did was tell him the simple mathematical patterns that I wanted him to play.

At first I got him to play chords on simple reggae songs (we live in the Caribbean). Then as he advanced he was playing chords and grooves to songs in my student band with a wide variety of music styles and was really impressing the audiences. Then still, without my hands ever touching the keyboards, I showed him melodies to jazz tunes by using the same system. And of course he looked at a chord chart in the beginning to learn the changes, but soon he remembered everything and there were no more charts. Then he started adding the melody and chords together and he was playing his first jazz tunes. After that I just gave him more and more jazz tunes from Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and many more. So now after a year and a half just as he turned 8 years old, he is blowing people away with his jazz keyboard playing. His name is Chris Tirado from St. Croix and I want you to remember him because he is going to be a legend one day!

Point #2:

I don't even play keyboards! Anyone who has half a musical brain can find the notes in a major scale on a keyboard and then show someone. But not many people can break it down into a simple mathematical formula that a 6 year old can understand. I'm not trying to blow my own horn, it's just that I'm appalled by the fact that many music teachers on this island only go to college and then teach without having hardly any professional experience. And it's that kind of experience that allows a real musician to be able to break it all down to what makes it tick and not just teach from books.

I have seen local music teachers from notable schools here on the island play at little jazz festivals and the whole time they are staring at charts. It makes you wonder if they have ever heard the tunes before. And what is worse is that they breed this into there students and get them to do the same. My students look at them and say "I guess they don't know the tune" as they gaze upon a local high school jazz band whose eyes are glued to the music stands!

Now of course I show my students the basics of standard single note notation in case they ever have the urge to be in a situation where someone is giving them a chart that they never heard. This "Slave to the Music Stand" situation is easily rectified by them buying a ten dollar book on music notation after I have shown them the basics. But most of my students are more interested in being creative with the knowledge that I have given them and not becoming dependent on a piece of paper to get them through a gig. This makes me proud because believe me, my music connections who are at the very top (look at the home page) are not looking for artist that have to stare at sheet music in order to play like many of St. Croix's music teachers. They want someone who is original, sure of themselves, and perform with all their hearts and soul without staring at a book as the audience tries to communicate with them and enjoy their true talents and not the ones that they bought at the local music store.

JJ Rocks - The Spotlight Zone