Take lessons with me!

Looking for music lessons in Portland, OR (or perhaps over the internet)? I teach all ages and levels and all sorts of musical styles. Along with traditional approaches, I offer a unique emphasis on the science and psychology of music and on creative exploration. Visit the lessons page to learn more.

Friday, October 24, 2014

I Hate Advertising!

My formative years were especially influenced by MAD Magazine. I started reading in the late 1980's, but I quickly amassed a large collection of back issues and book collections going back to the magazine's start in the 1950's. In fact, my introduction to many cultural icons was through MAD's satire of them before I'd even experienced the original. MAD was full of ingenious political and pop-culture satire but perhaps the primary target was advertising.

MAD even attacked the subtle details of things like the proportions of cereal boxes. Every manipulative detail of the ad-biz was ridiculed and laid bare.

Most substantially, MAD magazine itself had no third-party ads from 1957 through 2001. This practice went against all business assumptions about the publishing industry. They did everything backwards. Cheaper paper, black-and-white, no ads, and they purchased the rights to submitted artwork outright so they could use and reuse it freely. They savagely satirized all of America's consumer culture, ad-biz, and celebrity obsessions. Their interests were aligned solely with the readership.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Guest on the Unformatted podcast with Ryno the Bearded

This past week, I was a guest on a podcast show called Unformatted. The host, Ryno the Bearded, does podcasts dedicated to Creative Commons music, and Unformatted is the looser chat/interview show.

Check out the podcast at http://rynothebearded.com/2014/09/mere-exposure-effect

The show is a bit over two hours long and covers topics including: copyright, music business, economics, participatory vs performance-based music, philosophy of art, barbershop harmony, software freedom, and more. Overall, it's a good casual summary of my whole personal story of my life and career and how I came to my current understanding and feelings on these topics.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Many Ways to Introduce Guitar (or related instruments)

There's no one right way to start learning the guitar.

Even within the scope of strict classical guitar, teachers debate all sorts of things: Should we start with the plucking-hand alone or including the fretting-hand right away? Start with rest-stroke or free-stroke? Start with only rote listening and following of a teacher or use standard notation? Start with single note melodies or with chords and arpeggios?

Break out of classical assumptions and the options grow exponentially. Start finger-style or with a pick? Start with standard tuning or open tuning or other alternatives? Learn simple songs or simplified versions of more complex songs? Focus on solo guitar or guitar as accompaniment to singing or guitar as in a band context? Use tab or notation? Start with blues, rock, pop, Flamenco, folk-songs, or another style?

Even all those options have cultural assumptions. So, I prefer to start by teaching the basic physics of the guitar (which are truly universal to all styles and approaches). Then, we can explore the options creatively! However, despite my love of open-ended creative exploration, I've found that many students do best with the plain old traditional approaches. It varies from student to student based on personality, interests, and experiences from other studies (both musical and otherwise). With so many different things to learn, even advanced guitarists with decades of experience may remain totally unaware of some of the basics in other directions than the ones they know.

I already posted a lesson video on the rhythmic foundation of guitar. That's one great way to start. Today, I'm sharing a handful of other lesson videos which are still are only a sample of the countless approaches to the instrument.


If you have any trouble with the streaming videos, you can download the files directly at archive.org/details/guitar-intros.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Rhythm Guitar Lesson

I've been teaching guitar lessons professionally for around 15 years, and certain things keep coming up. I've been wanting for a long time to record the core set of lessons that I teach various students on day one. I can't teach every student everything, but there are a dozen or so ways to get started playing guitar. Each approach has a different focus.

Here's the first of the series:



Of course, there are a lot of details not covered in the video. So here I'm sharing further notes that touch on things I typically cover in the next several lessons (with varying amount of detail, depending on each student).


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Homage to Pete Seeger 1919-2014

Today, I reflect on the passing of one of my few great heroes. Pete Seeger was first and foremost known as a musician, but he was much more than that. For Pete,
music was a vehicle. At his core, he was an activist for cross-cultural understanding, civil rights, a healthy environment, love, justice, and inclusion.

In my own essay about my teaching approach, I  quoted from Pete's guitar book which somehow cut right to the core in a way none of the other 400+ guitar books I've read have done. His sense of perspective was just wonderful, and he cared about people more than about music.

I don't need to provide any biographical overview here as Pete has been, thankfully, recognized and honored by millions of people. The Wikipedia page linked from the picture above goes through the details. The simple fact is: the core energy that Pete had was unfortunately unusual. He was a man of deep integrity who lived all his life working for a better world.

I grew up listening to his music and conscious of his notable roles in the civil rights, environment, anti-war, and labor movements. Still, it wasn't until I began my own deep explorations of folk musics from around the world and struggling with my own feelings about my music career that I really came to appreciate Pete more deeply.

As a musician, Pete was the essence of what I call being expressive instead of impressive. Im- means in. To impress someone means that the energy goes inward from them to you. By contrast, to be expressive means to send your energy out as a gift to others. That is the core of Pete Seeger as a musician: a performer who didn't care about his performance. Every element of his music was about tearing down any walls between himself and his audience. Unlike other sing-along concerts and pop music idolatry, nothing about a Pete Seeger experience was contrived. He cared only about making everyone else feel appreciated, welcome, and connected. He wanted nothing more and nothing less than for everyone in the world to join together in harmony, recognize our common human heritage, and work together for peace and justice worldwide.

I could go on and on about how the core values that Pete expressed inspire me and provide such a great model for a life well-lived. For what it's worth, I know Pete would celebrate the cultural freedom and open participation that I am promoting now through my website: Snowdrift.coop.

Pete Seeger lived a humble and sincere life of great service. I encourage everyone to learn about his legacy and continue the important work needed to achieve a peaceful, healthy world where we can all sing together in harmony while celebrating our connections with each other and the rest of living things as well as our marvelous diversity.

Addendum: Probably the best example of Pete other the prototypical examples of his most famous songs, All Mixed Up written in 1960: