Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Ready For More Music Lessons

I'm ready to resume private music lessons with a new teacher or teacher(s) to address some critical weaknesses in my playing.  My first lesson is tonight and I have another one scheduled with a different instructor next week!  

The area most in need of work (in my perception) is ear training.  For example, I struggle with hearing the chord changes in a simple fiddle tune like Soldier's Joy (it's complete guesswork), and playing a common melody such as For He's A Jolly Good Fellow by ear is a challenge.  I flounder all over the place not knowing if I've found the right notes or not.

Technique I'm already fairly decent at because I have memorized basic versions of over 100 tunes that I got from tune books and other written sources.  Theory is also something I'm relatively comfortable with and fascinated by.  For someone who primarily plays traditional music - historically passed down by untrained musicians - the words "dorian" and "mixolydian" don't give me brain freeze.  But, trying to pick out Happy Birthday or Twinkle Twinkle Little Star by ear can cause me immense frustration.

Music Teacher Jan DeWeese
Back in March when I took a couple one-on-one lessons at an Irish music workshop, the instructor was under the impression that he was providing instruction on "Irish tenor banjo".  That was, I suppose, correct, but what I'm really trying gain in any situation like that is musicianship skills that will apply across the board.  Even though I mostly play Irish and Appalachian tunes on tenor banjo, the musicians who really inspire me are guys like Jerry Garcia, Trey Anastasio, Bela Fleck, John Medeski and Bill Frisell -- artists who transcend genres and have an open-minded and original outlook toward music and complete command of their chosen instruments.  

There’s a music teacher in Portland, OR named Jan DeWeese who places music theory at the center of his teaching method, emphasizing the cultural roots of the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic elements of music.  DeWeese states that “European traditions leading to classical music gave us our chordal foundations, Irish tunes delivered the melodic invention of bluegrass, and through the Malian blues and the African diasporas in Cuba and Haiti came the polyrhythmics of ragtime and New Orleans jazz.  It's here that much of my music theory teaching now focuses.”

Through learning by ear, DeWeese helps his students break free from rote dependence on notated collections.  He emphasizes that understanding the harmonic (European), melodic (Celtic), and rhythmic (African) features of each is central to this learning process.  Jan DeWeese isn’t local to me, so he’s not the instructor that I’ll be using, but I’m hoping that the teachers I work have a similar approach!

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