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I teach in Oregon City and online videochat. I work with all ages and levels and a variety of styles. I specialize in creative exploration, the psychology of music, and conscious music practices. Visit the lessons page to learn more.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

Auld Lang Syne 2020 — on the Kite Guitar

All this year, I've had a note on my task list to write about how I've been continuing lessons with video chat (so far sticking to the free/libre/open tool Jitsi Meet instead of Zoom or other proprietary options). I have a lot I could (and will later) say about this whole situation. It's been working out surprisingly well, continuing with most of my students and adding new students who are local, out of state, and even overseas.

Of the many reasons I haven't gotten around to writing articles about video lessons, one issue is the time and energy I've been putting into the Kite Guitar! This new system of guitar fretting and tuning fulfills a dream I've had for 20 years to be able to play more harmonious chords and expressive melodies in a flexible-enough, practical way. I will be publishing much more about that soon.

In honor of the New Year (and played extra slowly so that astute listeners might notice the special qualities of the tuning):

I'm resisting the urge to go on about the guitar, the tuning, the arrangement, my process of updated video production (using all free/libre/open software), and more. It will all come in due time. Looking forward to a productive and prosperous 2021, and sending my love and well-wishes to everyone in the world! Happy New Year!

Friday, February 14, 2020

I Finally Wrote Another Song

Summer 2018. A couple years into fatherhood. Still holding onto all sorts of creative dreams but making little progress. I was juggling compulsions, goals, responsibilities, thoughts, worries…

I was getting into mindfulness meditation. I dabbled in meditation since childhood, but I had not previously made it a routine practice. Meditation now is among a slew of efforts toward getting my routines and life in better order.

One day in August (2018), I took a break from some chores. I put on some random music. I heard some singer-songwriter stuff I liked well enough. I felt inspired (and perhaps also looking for an outlet to procrastinate and push away some stress).

I picked up my guitar, and a new song came out. It was just a bunch of thoughts that had been on my mind. Thoughts about my relationships, my compulsions, my procrastination. I recorded a better take a couple days later. Now, in early 2020, I'm finally posting it:

Friday, January 31, 2020

Featured on the Now&Xen podcast playing the Kite Guitar

I was featured on the Now&Xen podcast! Full link:

Here's an embedded player:

The "xen" in the podcast name refers to the prefix that means "strange" or "foreign" (so xenophobia is fear of foreign people or things, xenophilia is love of them). In this case, it refers to xenharmonic, a term for musical tunings that feel foreign.

In the podcast, I'm playing on and discussing the amazing Kite Guitar, named for my friend Kite Giedraitis who discovered the tuning and invented a practical language around it.

Friday, February 8, 2019

My Tribute to Mister Rogers' Neighborhood

Fred Rogers photo by Robert Lerner
In this article, I describe my recently renewed appreciation of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In particular, the artistic intentions and the marvelous music.

Raising kids in today's media reality

I wish for everyone in the world to know and embrace love, compassion, curiosity, creativity, mindfulness, emotional intelligence, and so on. Of course, it takes regular investment to maintain and strengthen such things in my own life. And as one person, I only have so much influence and only so much capacity to support others. I do what I can with my students. And as a father, I bring these concerns to raising my now two-year-old son.
An enormous threat to these values happens to dominate today's media: manipulative advertising. For perspectives, see my older post: I hate advertising, and check out the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood. Putting ads themselves aside (ideally blocked by a good adblocker), our ad-driven economy creates a race-to-the-bottom toward whatever spectacles or addictive designs get the most attention. It brings us enormous quantities of unhealthy, annoying, hyper, and dumbed down works. In the worst cases, we get the deeply traumatizing perils of YouTube's "kids" videos

Sunday, January 14, 2018

My new Strum & Sing group class

Over my career, I've taught a variety of group classes covering a range of topics from general blues-rock/jam to classical ensembles to music-theory-and-cognition. Most of my students were school-age kids.

Now, I'm starting a new adult-focused (but younger students welcome too) beginning Strum & Sing class. Here's the flyer:

A new, more flexible approach to beginning guitar

The focus of the class will be students keeping a good rhythm while playing simple chord progressions and singing songs. Depending on each student's preference, any option that works will be fine including power chords, single-note bass-lines, small bits of chords, open-tuned bar or slide chords, various strummable instruments, or even muted percussion strumming. This addresses one of the biggest challenges of a group class: how to work with both absolute beginners and more experienced students playing together.

Unlike the way most teachers do this, I'm going to focus on the flexibility of some basic music theory contexts. We'll learn songs using common letter counting such as 1, 4, 5 which could be A, D, E or C, F, G, and so on.

The main emphasis: that there's no one right way to play any song. We can adapt and adjust to fit what works for our level and context. So, we'll explore multiple approaches so that each student can find a comfortable way to fit with the group and learn to be flexible musicians going forward.

For those in Portland, contact me if interested in joining the class. For consideration of the pros and cons of classes versus private lessons (versus other learning approaches like watching online videos etc.), see my old article on comparing learning options.

The rest of this article gets into some initial thoughts about the folk-song / pop-song focus of this new class…

Monday, January 1, 2018

The 6 Parts of a Balanced Music Practice

Over my couple decades of teaching, I evolved a framework for balanced music practice. Recently, I've moved toward also modeling this balance within my lessons. It has six parts:
  1. Set up
  2. Warm up
  3. Repertoire
  4. New pieces
  5. Creativity
  6. Listening & Studying

Friday, June 17, 2016

Cooperation in Everything

In all areas of my life — as a self-employed music teacher and musician, social entrepreneur, scholar, activist, parent, and more —  the most defining element is the issue of how my individual actions fit into larger social context. This relates to everything from my embrace of participative music to my embrace of free/libre/open culture and technology. The dilemmas around effective cooperation or lack thereof frame nearly every topic.

William "Salt" Hale, the Community Director of my non-profit startup, heard me give a pithy and personal explanation of these things in a lightning talk at SeaGL last year, and he requested a video of it. So, with help from my student, friend, and fellow volunteer Athan Spathas, I recorded that spiel and several others about the ways that cooperation and coordination matter in so many areas of life. Athan prompted me with a range of topics, and I explained how they all connect to these social issues.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I was a guest on Music Manumit podcast

I was honored to be the recent guest for a podcast called Music Manumit, a show focused on Creative Commons music. Check it out:

I regret that I didn't specifically name the folks I mentioned in passing. My teacher I referenced was Steve "Oz" Osburn. The barbershop songwriter friend I mentioned who used a Creative Commons license is the wonderfully talented Paul Olguin (who I need to help get his own website up sometime!).

I mentioned also my barbershop arrangement of Copying Is Not Theft. More significantly, this podcast prompted me to finally get more of my old recordings posted. I had some up before, but now I'm finally sharing more thoroughly and specifically updating my old music under CC BY-SA license. For a start, I posted my 15-year-old album, Conspiracies & Racketeering on along with some of the source files (MIDI tracks). I hope to post more albums and other backlog of music soon…