Thoughts on noodling.

“I should really sign up for lessons” is something I say a lot. Currently the only musical instrument I play that I’m taking lessons for is the djembe, and I can see the difference in how I play that vs. how I play piano, accordion, folk harp, and ukulele. The last time I took piano lessons was 2004, and I stopped accordion lessons in 2012 when I left the country. Since then I haven’t really pushed myself on either instrument. I used to be able to do scales on the bass buttons on the accordion, for example—now at the Celtic music sessions I mostly oom-pah (or oom-pah-pah) the bass in a very vanilla, uninteresting way. I’ve never had a teacher for folk harp and ukulele, and my experience with them has been pretty much messing around plus the occasional YouTube tutorial. I can’t tell if this is helping me develop my self-expression or holding me back. Maybe both.

Thing is… lessons are expensive, and I’m not exactly rolling in dough. Djembe is a group lesson, so that one’s affordable, but for everything else it’d probably have to be one-on-one. For the unusual instruments it’d be even more expensive (and I’d probably have to travel).

Dunno, just something I’ve thought about as I’ve plucked my harp and strummed my ukulele this week. Guess I’ll just keep going my own pace till I find opportunities and means to learn from real people.

On a related note, the Cotati Accordion Festival is coming up, and while that’s a bit of a drive for me it’s still something I intend to check out.

Drumming and reading.

Drum performance went well, though the best part is probably the camaraderie I’ve found within the group. Since joining I’ve been invited to birthdays and happy hours and have really gotten to know everyone a lot better than if I’d limited my contact to just classes and rehearsals.

Haven’t been keeping up as well with the creative endeavors per se, but I did make dedicated time for reading, which professional authors seem to universally agree is an essential part of being a writer. I must have finished four or five books this week alone. Granted, they were pretty much all middle grade, which tend to be fast reads (and working in an environment with lots of kids and books makes access to them easy). But there’s some certain honesty that middle grade fiction tends to have in abundance that I rarely find in YA or adult literature—an honesty that allows mounds of subtext without taking away from an engaging surface narrative. C. S. Lewis famously remarked in his essay “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Best Say What’s to Be Said” that “a book worth reading only in childhood is not worth reading even then.” I’m very pleased to be discovering (and rediscovering) the surprising depths in these books ostensibly aimed at middle schoolers.

Also, I have to say this: Diary of a Wimpy Kid is truly funny. Its protagonist is such an awful role model, so realistically self-centered and unaware. I had to stop myself from spit-taking on some of the pages.

Practice and confessions.

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.

Onward.

My West African percussion class continues, and I’m having a lot of fun with it. We have a performance of sorts for a local event coming up in a couple of weeks so there are rehearsals in addition to regular class (which has turned into rehearsal time, as well). The things we’re rehearsing are a good bit more difficult than what we’d been doing in previous sessions, and I’m enjoying the challenge.

I also got in some good time for Draft 3 revisions on that novel I wrote. I’ve bought tickets to see friends in the Midwest this summer, including the friend that gave me all those helpful notes on Draft 2, so my new goal is to finish Draft 3 by the time I depart.

On the ukulele front, I’ve gotten pretty good at the first (and last) part of “Giant Woman” from Steven Universe, but I should probably expand my chord repertoire a bit more than F, Cmaj7, G7, and E7. Or at least learn that middle part.

Discipline and direction in music.

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.