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Studying music

October 16th, 2007 | No Comments | Categories: bass ideas · Musing on Music · teaching news · tips for musicians |

I spent a really enjoyable day today giving a couple of masterclasses at the ACM in Guildford. They invite me down there a couple of times a year to speak to the students, play a bit, and hopefully inspire them. The ACM is a fantastically well resourced college, and they spend a lot of time and effort finding cool clinicians to come in and talk to the students. What amazes me is how blasé the students are about having the access to information and experience in that way…

When I was studying we hardly ever had anyone come and visit the college – a couple of ex-students came back who’d done a few minor things, but it was before the college was really in a position to book proper visiting celebs to come and speak. But I lapped up whatever information I could get my hands on, going so far as to blag my way into a midi class from the second year of the course when I was still in the first year – it was during a free period of mine, so I asked the tutor if I could sit in. I used to practice a crazy amount of time (sporadically, not consistently, sadly), and spent just about all my time talking about music. I still wasted a lot of my time (though I realised fairly quickly that the time I spent going clubbing when I was a student did wonders for my sense of rhythm – nothing beats dancing for internalising rhythm!)

Anyway, back to the ACM – both the groups I had seemed like nice people, and there were some cool questions that came out of the sessions that sprung off into some good topics. As usual 2 hours wasn’t nearly long enough (given my dispensation towards tangentalism when I’m speaking in that kind of setting…) but I was still at least able to plant a few mental seeds.

Anyway, given that I know at least a few full time music students read this blog, here are a few tips that you REALLY ought to take on board, and I write these as both a teacher and a former music college student who got lots out of it, but could’ve got more…

  • all music is worth learning – there’s a tendency amongst students to specialise way to early. i don’t really give a shit whether all you listen to is punk, you’re doing a full time music course, and the opportunity is there to become a great all-round musician, to learn the nuance of a whole range of styles… which brings me to point 2:
  • never underestimate the difficulty of lines without many notes – obviously that’s worded for bassits, but it’s the same for simple guitar or drum parts. Country, Reggae, Bossa Nova, Stadium Rock – all are about so much more than just getting the notes in the right order. Don’t expect to be convincing as a country bassist without having emmersed yourself in country music. Go and see as many different kinds of music played live as you can, and use the radio!
  • You will never have access to that many other people wanting to learn music again – don’t waste it – being surrounded by keen music students is a fantastic experience, so form as many bands as you can, rehearse, jam, improvise, write, learn covers. just play as much as you can, you won’t ever be in that situation again.
  • Use your teachers – they are there to help you learn as much about music as you can, so quiz them, remember there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers. If you don’t know something, ask. NEVER EVER pretend to know something you don’t. You’re there to learn, there shouldn’t be any pressure at all to already know…
  • Buy music – call it Karma, call it sowing to reap, call it whatever you want, but if you want to make a living selling music at some point, it’s probably best that you promote the culture of still paying for music. If you haven’t got much money, use a subscription service like emusic or Napster. Remember, if you’re spending more on booze than you are on music, you’re actively wrecking your own music education.
  • while the qualification may be a waste of paper, the information needed to get it isn’t – we all know that there are very few situations where actually having a music degree is of any importance at all. Great musician trumps degree certificate every time. BUT the course modules you’re having to learn stuff for are indicative of how well you’ve absorbed the information presented to you, so do the work. It also gets you used to the discipline of deadlines and playing what someone else wants you to play the way they want you to play it…
  • Make friends with everyone – the industry is all about contacts, and there’s no reason why being a student should stop you from building those contacts now, and even starting to get work while you’re still a student. Students, teachers, visiting musicians, college staff, venue owners, bookers… everyone, just be nice, you’ll be amazed at how much more likely you are to get work by being nice than by being a surly bastard. Smile, all time time. :o)
  • Play. All the time – lunchtime, breaktime, over breakast, evenings, weekends, on your own, with mates, in bands, orchestras, whatever and wherever – there’s no substitute for just playing music, so do it. DON’T WASTE THE OPPORTUNITY YOU HAVE!! Studying music is one of the best things in the world to do – I’m still doing it, every day, I’m still trying to get better. Segovia, just before he died in his mid-90s, was asked if he had any unfullfilled ambitions. His answer? ‘i wish I knew more about the guitar’ – none of us have any right to think that we’ve done enough after that.

Enjoy it, work hard, play constantly, surround yourself with people who encourage you to play, not people who distract you, make friends, teach your peers, learn from them too, listen to every pro musician who steps through the door of the college, ask questions and do as many gigs as you can.

Now, off you go, quit reading this, and practice!

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