Pedal Point Music Blog

The Roof Is Higher On One Side

Friday, June 29, 2018 by William Suit | Uncategorized

I think I was probably eleven when my parents gave in to one of my phases of "When I grow up, I want to be..."  At this stage I wanted to be an artist.  I still have two prehistoric looking birds I painted and designed out of devil's claw (Proboscidea).   There was the woodburning set I used to etch out signs and designs from scraps of lumber I'd find. I made cornhusk dolls and put them in a local shop to sell.  I tried to construct creative items that I thought my parents might proudly display in the living room for others to see.  There was just no end to the creative ideas.

As a gift during this time, I received an elaborate starter art set.  It was a fantastic gift.  The black vinyl case with a shiny black carrying handle was full of pastels, oils, watercolors and all of the brushes needed to help a young artist express himself.  There were even a couple of canvas boards, which I quickly turned into pieces of art.  One of them was proudly displayed by my doctor.  Although, looking at it now, I'm sure he was just being nice.

During this time I had the novel idea that I would paint a watercolor of our home.  We lived in the country.  So, I had to improvise on some things, but the setting was ideal. The lush green leaves of the forest surrounding our little house entranced me as I painted away.  I perched myself near the top of an old 10 foot step ladder half way up our driveway for the best vantage point.

A few days later my "masterpiece" was finished and I covered it with a sheet in the living room to be unveiled at our nightly family gathering.  With dinner over and the kitchen cleaned, everyone gathered to share some time before bed.  Dad always started it by reading from the Bible.  Then we would all share something.  Everyone was anxious to see what I had hidden behind the veil.  So, I stood up and proudly walked over to the painting and announced my masterpiece.  Dramatically, I whisked the veil away and there it was!

My older sister smiled and shouted, "That's our house!"  Mom gave me a big hug and gushed over the artistry.  After a moment of celebration, it became painfully obvious that there was a very strong silence in the corner of the room.  My dad was sitting there expressionless, looking intently at the painting.  Everyone stopped and looked at him.  He looked at it again, tilted his head and observed, "The roof is higher on one side."

The room suddenly became cold and tense.  Mom's expression changed to a look of disdain as she glared at him.  I, being a sensitive child, crumbled and ran to my bedroom.  In fairness, dad later apologized for being critical and encouraged me to keep working on my craft, but I never forgot that moment or how it felt.

That moment sprung up to me a few years ago as I sat listening to the painful attempt of a child to play her assignment for me.  I suddenly sat back and heard myself calling out note corrections and phrasing.  I looked over and saw the child's expression was one of intent bewilderment.  This was not a delightful experience of learning.  It was pure torture to her.  I slumped back on my stool and sat  silently while she finished.  In my mind I heard it over and over, "The roof is higher on one side...the roof is higher on one side...the roof is higher on one side..."

That was the moment that turned my approach to my students.  In fairness, I've pretty much always been upbeat with my teaching, but I found an area in this of great importance that needed to change.  I decided that, moving forward, I would no longer interfere with a student's performance of a prepared piece, unless asked to do so.

When lessons begin, after settling in and warming up, I always sit back and listen, without comment until the student is finished.  I then go through the entire piece, pointing out everything that was done well, applauding the student for each accomplishment.  Only then, do I lead the student to areas of improvement.

I believe the best growth musicians experience, is growth from that which is done well.  Failure is a very weak foundation upon which to build accomplishment.  Does that mean there are no shortcomings or failures?  Absolutely not!  We all fail numerous times, before we accomplish our goals.  Yet, we rise above the failures by recognizing the path to accomplishment, not by assembling a bridge from our failures.

These children, trusted to me for thirty minutes each week, are seeking a path to accomplishment.  I'm excited to guide them to their goals and I applaud each step in the right direction.  That helps make this often difficult journey seem less daunting and more fun.  Shouldn't learning involve some pleasure?

In the end, I go with my sister's words, "That's our house!"  Her unprompted, innocent childlike view of my hopeless attempt at watercolor still gives me a sense of accomplishment every time I see it in storage.  By the way, the roof is higher on one side.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018 by William Suit | Uncategorized

Starting music lessons for the first time can be somewhat intimidating.  There's excitement and anxiety pounding at your nerves, assaulting the tranquil vision of musical wonder.  Still, there you are standing in a studio, meeting your instructor for the first time.

I'm always amused and curious of a new student's perception of me as well as their expectations during that first 30 minutes together.  Every teacher has his/her approach to the orientation process.  It can't be avoided.  You have to take a few minutes to establish a loose rapport while setting clear expectations about the weeks ahead.

Personally I try to make the first lesson all about the student.  After all, this person has invested time and money to meet with me in hopes of growing musical skills.  I would sell the student short if I spent the entire time explaining my demands and setting expectations.  This is a person in front of me - a unique individual with a talent like no one else in the world.  Who knows where that will go?  I certainly don't.  So, I feel a grand responsibility to make every minute count toward accomplishing goals!

I have a number of students who are incredibly analytical.  Every note, rest, dynamic, etc. is meticulously picked apart with them as they meander through a song for the first time. Time and experience has taught me to gently guide these students toward an understanding of how this plays into their musical experience.  To me, such a student is often a very good musician in the end.

That's because these students ask "WHY?"

Asking why is actually very important to your growth as  musician.  It drives you to understand the shape and direction of the composition before you.  That drive creates a thirst for my favorite subject, Music Theory.  Music Theory answers the question, "Why?" and stirs the curiosity of the musician toward a better interpretation of the performance the song demands.

So, if you're one of the musicians who gets a song stuck in your head that plays over and over until you've conquered every theoretical aspect of it, relax!  You're analytical mind is preparing you to enjoy that song to it's fullest!  Perhaps you will perform it in a way that brings out qualities and elements that before now have gone unnoticed.

So ask away as you learn!  You'll be a better musician for it!


A Hockey Stick and a Guitar

Monday, June 25, 2018 by William Suit | Uncategorized

A few months back I was at the airport for an early flight.  The atrium was not as busy as usual.  Perhaps it was because of the tragic circumstances to the west with all of the flooding.  I'm certain many flights and plans were postponed.  Nonetheless, there I sat.

I was watching people pass and surmising what brought them to this place at such an early hour, when suddenly I heard a reverberating crash that I fully recognized.  It was the sound of a wooden, acoustic instrument hitting the ground.  I winced.  Then I saw a little boy with a mop head of blonde hair swooping up an acoustic guitar.

As an adult, I wondered why that guitar was not in a protective travel case.  Then the little boy, holding the instrument by the neck, threw it onto his shoulder and ventured forward with the cart.  I laughed out loud as his mom turned around and suddenly realized the difficulty he was having handling the cart.  She quickly reached into her baggage cart and pulled out a hockey stick.  She passed it to him and took control of both carts.  I laughed quietly at this point and watched them venture toward baggage claim.

A hockey stick and an acoustic guitar; this kid had it going on!  Later as I was awaiting my flight people moved about with little enthusiasm for whatever was happening at the moment.  Most everyone appeared to have secure luggage and all of their toys and belongings were safe. A lady was carrying what appeared to be a violin case, careful not to bump it or drop it.  Beside her was a guy busy on his laptop, with a Bluetooth in his ear.  He seemed to have a nice computer bag and it appeared to be meticulously organized.  Frankly, though, he looked bored and uninterested.

I kept thinking about that kid and his guitar.  He was so proud of it.  Even though, I'm sure the hard floor did him no favors (and I hope his mom buys him a case), I can't argue with the enthusiasm.  Who knows?  He probably brought it along to show his grandparents.

How enthused are you about your talent?  How excited are you to play or sing?  Does it drive you to make accommodations when you travel so that you can enjoy it?   My son cannot pass a piano without playing it.  There's an airport through which we pass that has a grand piano in its atrium. Anyone is welcome to play it. If I don't walk past it, he's tugging at my arm, demanding that we go there before we depart.  People pause to listen and give encouraging words.  Some walk by and scowl.  (What's that all about?)  He's oblivious to everything but the music.

We as musicians have the privilege and absolute delight of bringing people face to face with their thoughts and emotions.  May we never lose the enthusiasm that drives us to share that talent with others.  So, grab your hockey stick and sling that guitar over your shoulder!  Bring to your world the sound of your heart!  Now go play your songs!  Will