Friday, May 6, 2016

De Musica

I was startled, pleased and then elated by a recent video featuring Harry Connick Jr. and several game-show "singers" as they butcher some great American standards.

Mr. Connick's point was: You don't have to muck up great songs with vocal fireworks. Those songs have lasted due to their melody and chord structure, and sound great when sung as written. I. e., sing the flippin' melody. See the video here.

I am a huge proponent of beginners learning how to play their instruments properly. If you're thinking, "Ace, waittaminute. You have long been a maverick, a bellwether. You fight in the face of convention. Why be so hidebound?" please follow, dear readers.

I see too many younger musicians who play with too little feel, to put it in terms civilians can latch onto. They may be technically proficient (e. g., speed, high notes, fancy trimmings) but display little technique. Yes, there is a difference.

Some music "schools" concentrate on teaching kids songs, as quickly as possible. This is great, especially when said institutes run concerts, charging twenty bucks a pop to mom, dad, Little Iodine and Aunt Hazel to see young Jehosaphat slam some Zeppelin chords.

In a nutshell, sound, basic principles are falling by the wayside. Kids are not learning (and practicing!) scales, rudiments and etudes. Instead, they want to become performers. And quickly, if Aunt Hazel has a say about it.

There are a few ways to play, say, trumpet with proper technique, breathing and whatnot. And about a gazillion ways to do it wrong. And when you start wrong, you get worse at what you're trying to achieve. You end up practicing mistakes, thus embedding them deeper.

All this slop ends up on YouTube, of course. Isn't little Dweezil great? He can play "Stairway to Heaven". Well, kinda. Plus, playing fast, shredding away, and screaming high notes all sound great to grown-ups. Which is why I avoid being one.

I'm not highly trained musician. But I can drum. Witness cute, li'l Avery. Now most folks will say, "Wow! He's great!" Not. Sure, he knows how to bang on things. But he already has bad habits he may never overcome. Thrashing away on a $2,000 kit. The headphones teach him nothing about playing a groove, about communing with other players. I still practice patterns I learned at age 9. Does Avery?

Nothing beats a great music educator. I am lucky my daughter has received excellent training from grade school through college, all while playing with other humans. Now, she can find her own voice on her instrument. Have some geniuses succeeded without formal training? Sure. And the odds of little Cheyenne being a genius? Like a hot day in Maine.

People rave about Southern-style "showbands" on the gridiron. The trouble is: The players spend so much time dancing and gyrating they become substandard musicians. Noted African-American music educators are up in arms about this. Music majors at such schools have trouble getting teaching jobs after college due to lack of ability on their instruments.

As budgets cut the arts, I fear of a dwindling musician population. Look, Eric Clapton and Jeff Beck are two of the best guitarists in the world. And they're older than I, if that's possible. From where does young talent emanate?

This tired, old writer needs to sign off. I have to practice my alternate sticking on Swiss Army Triplets.


  1. I agree whole heartedly. Great writing also!

  2. I agree whole heartedly. Great writing also!