A dear friend is coming to visit for a few days this week, so I spent much of the past week stressing out about cleaning et cetera. Nothing like an impending houseguest to make you look at your place of residence and realize oh crap, this place is a dump! (It’s not actually that much of a dump. But it does need to be vacuumed.)
So that hasn’t left much time for pursuing creative endeavors (and I’m not expecting to make a whole lot of progress by next week, either). But I did retrieve my old accordion from my parents’ house today.
I started playing accordion in 2010 but stopped in 2012 when I left to live abroad for a few years. Before my departure I took it in to a local accordion shop to have it examined, and while the technician was impressed that it was in such good condition (it had been sitting in a garage for 40 years before it came into my possession) she recommended that it be worked on before being used to any great extent. It would have been several hundred dollars’ worth of repairs* so I put it back in its case and put it in a closet, where it remained until I returned in 2015. Even after that I only pulled it out sporadically, not wanting to cause any more damage until I had the money to spare to fix it up.
Then I started playing Breath of the Wild and heard Kass’s theme, a pleasant little accordion ditty that made me want to stop in the middle of playing and listen to it for a while. And then it made me want to grab an accordion and try to play it by ear.
Video game music has had a big influence on my since I was quite young, actually. I remember thinking the credits theme from Super Mario World was one of the prettiest things I’d ever heard. (And that was back when video game music was still chiptunes that drove my mother up the wall.) When I was in fifth grade and took up clarinet in band I would hang out with my friends after band practice and try to play the ocarina songs from Ocarina of Time. And one of the first songs I learned to play on the accordion was “London 3” from Professor Layton and the Unwound Future. A very large portion of my music library is music from OC ReMix (which I’ve been following/lurking on since 2004) and other video game covers and rearrangements. Despite never having successfully finished Chrono Trigger or any Final Fantasy game, I have a special fondness for the music of Yasunori Mitsuda and Nobuo Uematsu.
So Kass’s theme is next on the list, though I really should look into that accordion repair. But right now I need to focus on cleaning the kitchen.
*Still cheaper than getting a new accordion, which run in the thousands of dollars for a well-made one.
The performance for my West African percussion class is coming up soon, and we’ve doubled down on rehearsals. It’s getting pretty intense, but I really enjoy the group I’m in. Everyone’s been kind and welcoming, and it turns out several of them are artists or musicians in another way. I guess that shouldn’t surprise me.
Outside rehearsing, though, Breath of the Wild continues to be an addictive time sink. I intend to practice better self-control this week.
“Ukulele” was not originally on my How I Will Go Bankrupt list. I thought it would be too similar to guitar, which I did try some years back when a used one made its way into my hands but ultimately gave up. I was used to instruments that had a keyboard or at least a somewhat chromatic or diatonic layout that I could play around with and improvise on—and necked instruments seemed inscrutable. I never learned anything past C major, G major, and F major. Also pressing down on the steel strings nigh shredded the fingertips on my left hand.
Yet this weekend certain circumstances came together—namely, that (1) my tax refund is coming soon, (2) I’ve been watching a lot of Steven Universe lately, and (3) I found myself at local music stores staffed by friendly people who showed me that the ukulele is not as intimidating as I’d feared.
Now I own a little soprano ukulele, and I’m kind of in love with it. As an acquaintance of mine who plays told me once, “you can’t not be happy while playing the ukulele.” It’s true.
Realized this morning when I woke up that I’d missed my self-imposed deadline (Saturday) for a weekly post. I could pretend that I’m giving up self-imposed stress for Lent or that the calendar week ends on Sunday, but the truth is that I simply forgot. Last week was not fantastic for me—Murphy’s law in full effect plus lots of stressful commitments all running together. I barely got in any harp practice time, let alone writing. Though I did stumble upon this useful TED-Ed video, “How to practice effectively… for just about anything”:
The “wham line” of the video for me is probably this:
“Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets content or weaknesses that lie at the edge of one’s current abilities.”
When I practice harp, or piano, or any other instrument, I more or less sit down and pluck (or plunk) out whatever I feel like. I guess there’s value to improvisation and playing by ear, and it’s how I discover new things. But I’m not reinforcing important basic skills. I know at least my finger independence is pretty underdeveloped, not helped by the fact that my fingers and brain seem to have some odd quirks that limit my coordination. (The most annoying and visible one is that if I make a motion with one hand, I unconsciously make the same motion with my other hand, just weaker. Oddly I haven’t tried Googling this until just now–turns out it has a name: congenital mirror movement disorder.) I’m sure I’m unintentionally cementing bad habits in my brain, too.
Additionally, I feel I would do well to remember these four tips from the video:
- Focus on the task at hand. Minimize distractions.
- Start out slowly, or in slow motion.
- Use frequent repetitions with allotted breaks.
- Practice in your brain, in vivid detail.
New goal: to get through Volume 1 of the self-teaching book I have (Pamela Bruner’s Play the Harp Beautifully!) by the beginning of summer.
Tried un-ickying my goals this week and ended up writing a list of musical instruments I want to eventually learn how to play, ranging from the tin whistle to the $2,000 Array mbira (seen in this video). Retitled the list “How I Will Go Bankrupt.”
My harp’s still in the shop. They say they’ll need to contact the manufacturer and get parts, which means I’ll probably be harpless for a while yet. I should focus on my other, functional instruments.
On the writing side of things, I finally compiled and sent my responses to my friend who critiqued my second draft. Now I need to start looking toward Draft #3, which I’m determined will not take four-and-a-half years like last time.
Wanting to remind myself of how serious I am about writing, I joined the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators this week. It’s something I’ve been looking at for a long time, and with this second draft finished and revisions underway I feel like I could get more use out of the resources it offers. That is, if I can concentrate and apply myself enough. Maybe one day I’ll have the money and the body of work and the confidence to attend their New York conference.
I’ve also taken in one of my aforementioned folk instruments, a little lever harp, in for repairs. A couple of the levers have gotten buzzy and I’ve been using that as an excuse not to practice. Sending it in is not only to remove that excuse, though; it’s also to remind me how much I enjoy it. Somehow, even with how I’ve been slacking at practicing, not having it in the house makes me miss it, and more resolved to keep at it once it comes back.
My self-discipline has been lacking recently, even at work. I need to watch less TV and remember where my passions lie.
A few years back I attended a special “make a joyful noise” kind of worship service. The music director brought every portable instrument she had and handed them out to anyone who wanted to play. I received a djembe. Though I had no idea what the proper technique was, I happily thumped away at the thing until my palms were red and sore.
In reality, percussion and rhythm are some of my weaker points–so when I saw a flyer last month for a beginning rhythm and African percussion class offered locally, I decided to take the plunge.
It’s nice to be in an actual class with an actual teacher there to observe and correct my technique. I don’t think I’ve had a real instrumental music teacher since I took piano in high school thirteen years ago; I’ve forgotten how valuable the presence of one is. YouTube tutorials and looking in the mirror can only get you so far.
I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I don’t have a lot of self-discipline. Even back when I had a teacher you’d have to chain me the piano to get me to practice twenty minutes a day. My parents weren’t terribly strict about it, either; they tended to be more invested in my moral development than stick-to-itiveness. Which I suppose is important, too, though I had to play some hard catch-up in college when it turned out my study habits were not up to snuff with their rigorous liberal arts curriculum.
I think (hope) I have a little more discipline now than I did in high school; I’m intrigued by the things I learned this week and maybe will come home with a rented djembe sometime soon? The issue now is finding direction for all the instruments I want to become proficient at. My “musical goals” are pretty vague; I just know I enjoy the heck out of music and I’d like to explore composition and arrangement. I have a pretty good keyboard and a small assortment of odd but good folk instruments, and I’d like to develop skills worthy of them.