How to Avoid Regrets as a Musician

It’s probably inevitable that the older we get, the more we think about regrets we may someday have about things we have, or haven’t, done. So as a Part-Time Musician (PTM)…how do we avoid those regrets?

Some time back, friend Robert DeMaine of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra shared this satirical story, courtesy of The Onion. Like most good humor, it has enough basis in truth to really make a person think. To me, it always seems to come back to this: don’t keep your music within you.

If you haven’t yet found *your* instrument, I’d encourage you to look for it. If you have, I’d urge you to play it. Music, like most gifts, is of little worth unless it’s shared…and once shared, it’s a gift to all – including you, the giver.

It may sound trite, but simple truths are just that. Think about it.  :-)

Keep playing,
Mark

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Choosing your Instrument

How did you choose your instrument? I’m not referring to the particular axe you play now, or even your first one…but rather, how did you decide which instrument to play in the first place??!?

I’ve been meaning to write on this for some time, but as a multi-instrumentalist who does much better at a couple and only dabbles with others, I wasn’t sure where to begin. Consider this article a first stab at that.

Let’s take a step (way) back in time, to when I was a small fry – fifth grade, to be precise. At that point, I had been taking guitar lessons for over a year…but while guitar was fun, it just didn’t offer the excitement that I had expected. Ah, but when the band instrument expo announcement was made at school, now that was exciting! There’s just something about those shiny instruments that makes young boys go wild.  :-)

From the first time I saw a slide trombone, I knew that was the instrument for me. So cool, the way you can play it just by moving the slide! Yes, from that day on…what’s that you say? I play trumpet? Well, yes. A funny thing happened on my way to becoming a world-renowned trombonist.

While I was standing there staring at the splendiforous trombones, the nice instrument demonstrator came over and popped my fifth-grade bubble. “You’ll never be a trombone player with arms that short. Why don’t you look at trumpets?” Wisdom comes in many forms of packaging, even ugly ones with sharp edges. Going home, I shared this conversation with my parents. Their response? Mom dug around and produced an Al Hirt LP and handed it to me. Before even one side was done, I realized that I was a trumpeter and had always been one; I just hadn’t known it.  :-)

Between Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, I had inspiration enough to carry me for years. Other trumpet heroes of all stripes came later – too many to mention – but all cemented in my mind the “choice” I had made. Which brings me to the primary point: I’m not really sure how much of a choice we make. I often think of the idea within the Harry Potter series of books/movies in which Mr. Ollivander tells young Harry that “the wand chooses the wizard”. Somehow, you just…know.

Skipping over the other instruments I’ve enjoyed playing over the years, my discovery of the bass guitar was a similar affair. After medical issues removed the trumpet from my lips for awhile, I picked up a bass guitar to play around with. Expecting it to be a “filler” instrument, somehow less exciting than I find most six-string playing (a story for another time), I was first intrigued, then enthralled. Bass lines suddenly leapt out of the radio, tempting me with their combination of rhythm, melody, harmony, and overall musical glue holding every song together. Like the trumpet, the bass unexpectedly found me.

I’m often asked by parents how to find the right instrument for their kids. That’s a tough one, but I’d suggest letting youngsters see/hear musical performances of several kinds to see what instrument really catches their attention. It may not be the final stop, and I’d still recommend they give any instrument a year’s honest effort before they “move on” to another…but chances are, they won’t be far off. And that advice doesn’t just apply to kids either; adults typically know (or discover) the instrument they love when they really start to think about it. I had idly thought about playing bass for years before I finally gave it a try. Crazy, isn’t it?

Care to share your story? Please do! You just may inspire a future musician in ways you can’t even imagine. Drop us a line or comment below; you’ll be glad you did.

Keep playing,
Mark

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PartTimeMusician.com goes mobile!

As part of the PartTimeMusician.com family, we wanted to give everyone a quick update on some work on your site that has been happening behind the scenes. We’re pretty excited about what’s already done, and we’re eagerly anticipating what is to come.

PartTimeMusician.com is going mobile! Yes, you read that right. We’ve added capabilities that makes the site much more “smartphone-friendly”, especially for those with iOS-based (iPhone/iPod Touch/iPad) or Android-based devices. We’re trying to work out some quirks for Blackberries; hopefully, that too will be in place soon. The site has a very nice look and feel on the iPhone and Android phones, and the option is there to switch between the web view and the normal (full) display. Pretty sweet.  :-)

But wait, there’s more! We’re also begun work on a native iPhone app with some pretty nifty “bonus” features. No release date to announce – hey, it’s only in the very early phases! – but we’re excited about it and wanted to share the news. Stay tuned!

Well, it’s time to get back to the music. All the best to you!

Keep playing,
Mark

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How to Make a Transposing Wheel

Transposition is a tough concept for those who haven’t done much of it. Learning music as it’s written often poses enough of a challenge! But learning to transpose, either “statically” before you begin to play or “on the fly”, can really take your musicianship up a notch. Let’s take one step at a time.

This article from our friends at CathysChords shows how to make a transposition wheel. Transposition is a handy skill for guitarists, as you’ll often want to play music in a key that differs from what is written on the music you have (for orchestral players, please see Transposing for Trumpet: A Handy Reference). Whether the chords are particularly nasty as written or the singer just needs to take it down a step or two, transposition can be used to carry the day. It’s a simple skill once you get your head around it, and the wheel can help getting started even easier.

The basic idea is that when you see a chord or key (for guitar) that you want to change to a more suitable one, you can just “dial it in”. Line up the original chord on the wheel with the one you want to use instead, and then use the matching chords instead of those written on the music. To try it, grab a pencil and a piece of music that you’ve always avoided playing due to the ugly chords and give it a try. Dial in the first chord, lining it up with an easier-to-play one (maybe A or C). Write in the “new” chord by the original one on the music, and then repeat for each subsequent one…maybe for a line or two. Then try playing it. Magic!

Have a transposing story to tell? Drop us a line! We’d love to hear from you.

Keep playing,
Mark

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Crazy conductors

Friend and fellow trumpeter Stan Modjesky passed along a great clip that I felt must be shared with all. For anyone who has played in an ensemble, this is hilarious! And if you haven’t yet, it gives you something funny to look forward to.  :-)

Of course, not all gigs are like this. But just one time with a quirky conductor/bandleader/frontman and you’ll treasure those memories forever. Eventually, you’ll have a collection of them, and they make all the hours of scales, exercises, and etudes worth it…all by themselves.

Without further ado, here is Mr. Bean conducting a Salvation Army Band. Enjoy!

Keep playing,
Mark

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