How to Handle Your Nerves

Every so often, extended families engage in an emotionally draining, usually fun, always risky activity. I am, of course, referring to the “family reunion”.

As I write this, my wife, my brother-in-law, sister-in-law and I are on our way to north central Michigan for our yearly event. Though this reunion is for my wife Sue’s family, I really look forward to it and the opportunity to catch up with their family, neat people with hearts of gold. (And no one paid me to say that!)

One of the impromptu activities that may take place today is a bit of singing, and so my guitar is in the car. And I find myself getting just a little nervous about it.

I’m not worried about the actual playing. It’s informal and I know my instrument pretty well. But what songs will we sing? We’ll probably start with some standards and then at some point, we’ll realize we really don’t know the words. Like, “Keep spreading the news, I’m leavin’ today, la la la la la la la la… NY, NY!” It’s really amazing how many songs have similar lyrics.

Expect to be Nervous

I’m sure you know what I mean. Every performer experiences fear before the performance. In fact, a little anxiety is not something to be endured, rather it can be a useful tool. It is necessary, so that we stay sharp and do our best. Successful performers at every level and in every medium know to expect it; each one has learned to control it, letting it drive their performance to a higher level of excellence.

On Sunday mornings, I usually lead the music teams at our church. Even though I’ve been doing this for years, I still get a little nervous every week. Once in a while, I’m tempted to relax and let the familiarity of the routine take over. And on those weeks, I almost always blow it in some way, sabotaging any sort of worshipful moment we are trying to create. And so I should be a little anxious, a little nervous. It helps.

Now for some, fear can certainly be a debilitating thing, and too much nervousness can paralyze. Such was the case with a friend of mine, a flute player with many gifts and a servant’s heart. Yet for a full six months, every time I would ask her if she wanted to play on the music team with us, she would put me off, citing her fear as the reason.

The first time I asked her about playing, I found her bravely working in the church nursery, a place that makes me break out in a cold sweat! But she told me that there was NO WAY that she would ever be able to get up in front of people and play. Much to nervous.

I remember the day, weeks later, when I once again asked her my now routine question. “So… when are you going to start playing with us?”

She stood up slowly, coming over to the partially closed Dutch-door that kept the kids inside. With a slightly scared yet purposeful smile, she surprised me and said, “Steve, I’m going to say yes. Yes, I’ll play. But I want you to know that I’m scared to death!”

I joyfully told her that we could work with that, and welcome to the music team! And her determination paid off. Six months later, after the opening set of music for a Saturday night service, she rushed over to me with a huge smile on her face.

“Steve, Steve… I wasn’t scared that time!!” Hallelujah! What a wonderful moment! And what a joy for me, to have played a part in a good friend’s victory over fear.

How to Handle Fear

So how can we learn to handle fear when faced with a nerve-wracking performance? Here is what I do.

1) Accept fear as a normal part of performing. You’re laying out your heart through your music for all to see and hear, and so often we are judged on our performance. We are risking being hurt. But you’ve got it in you to take the risk.

2) Remind yourself of your why. Why are you about to perform? What outcomes are you hoping for? Maybe you want to impress so that more opportunities come out of it. Maybe you want to please the listeners for the sake of being a blessing. Maybe the excitement of performing draws you. Remembering your why really helps you push through the nerves and think clearly about what’s ahead.

3) Rely on your training. You know your craft and you know your tools. Think through your performance in the way that you have been taught. Your teachers have paved the way for you.

4) Rely on friends. Your friends want you to succeed, and they are glad to help you in many ways, from listening to advice, from helping with resources to prayer. Good friends are ready to come to your aid, just let them know how they can be of service to you.

5) Purposefully take a mental snapshot of the moment. You were made for this moment, so do your best to take it all in. You might even enjoy it!

6) Prayer. I have faith that there is a God who loves me and cares about what happens in my life. And so for me, praying before I perform is essential.

7) Take the plunge. Now all the prep work is done, this is your moment. Go out there and do what you were born to do!

How have you learned to overcome your fear? Do you expect it, or does it still surprise you? Is handling fear one of your next steps?

I’d love to hear about your experience with this. If you would like to leave a comment, please do so below and we can all benefit from your experience! Or if you’d like to email me with any questions about music, music theory or next-step musicianship, contact me at [email protected].

(c) 2013 Steve Case

The Art and Science of Decoding Written Music

music layers example editedFor some of us, reading music is second nature, as easy as reading our native language. But for others of us, music notation is a code to be broken, a mystery yet to be unlocked.  Now any language, when written down, is reduced to patterns of ink on the page.  When we read English, for example, we have been trained from a young age to assign meanings to the various splotches, and we then interpret them as letters, words, phrases, paragraphs.  

Reading music is, in fact, a very similar process.  We interpret the symbols to represent various aspects of sound, reading left to right in a representation of time passing.  Over the past 400+ years, music notation has been developed and honed (quite elegantly in my opinion) to express complex and unique sounds in a flat, 2-dimensional format.  And yet, when we read the music on the page and decode it properly, we find layer after layer of information.  Let’s unpack these layers.

Mechanical Layers

The first three layers of ink on the page (once you get past the title, composer, arranger, copyright and so forth) indicate mechanical facets of playing or singing the song. The first two layers, note names and note types, tell me which notes to play and when, relatively speaking. Where the note is on the staff gives me the pitch, and the type of note (whole, half, quarter, etc.) gives me the duration. The third layer is still mechanical but relative to the specific instrument. This could be either the fingering, if playing an instrument, or the lyrics if singing. Each of these facets is either a yes or a no, a right or a wrong. It’s either a “G” or an “F”, either a half note or an eighth note, played with the 2nd finger or the 3rd. Black and white choices.

Expressive Layers

The next three layers are expressive, and their interpretation is left to the musician. This group would include articulation (staccatos, slurs, accents), dynamics (louds and softs), and tempo (overall speed of the music). For example, playing a staccato note means to play it in a short, detached manner that is relatively light and released very quickly, like pulling your finger back from the hot stove. But exactly how short is that in terms of seconds? I don’t know. Depends on the piece and on the musician. Or playing the music forte (loud, strong) – how loud is loud in terms of decibels? Again, it depends. Playing forte in the piece that has a range of dynamics from pp (very soft) to f (loud) will be much more pronounced and strong-sounding than in the piece that ranges only from mf (moderately loud) to f (loud). Contrast is the key, and it is all relative. These are stylistic choices, not mechanical.

Still more layers

Beyond these, there will often be symbols related to the “roadmap” of the music; repeat signs, double barlines, endings and codas all indicate how we are to travel around the page. Some songs are played simply from start to finish, like walking down the sidewalk. Others may have the musician leaping from section to section, fitting 6 pages of sound onto one piece of paper. Personally, these go from interesting to challenging to irritating pretty fast!

And finally, there may be prompts on the page for specific instrumental techniques. For the piano, it may be pedal markings; for the trumpet, it could be an indication of which mute to use; for the cello, a special technique like spiccato may be desired. Often, the music will contain instrument-specific markings that bring out unique characteristics of that instrument.

Learning to Read

If you are just starting out as a music reader, go to your local music store and find a beginner’s book for the instrument you prefer.  Then start with the mechanics.   And as you practice, let me suggest these steps:

1) Say the alphabetical note name aloud as you play each note.  Saying it will make it much clearer than just thinking it.

2) Count the beats aloud as you play.  Again, using your voice to reinforce the rhythm really works.

By doing these two steps, you are determining what to play and when to play it, and making yourself say what you are doing as you do it causes you to sharply focus your efforts.  The general rule of practice that I have found to be true is this:

      If you can say it while you play it, you know it. If you can’t, you don’t.

It takes time and effort, but it is so worth it!  It is remarkable how consistent and reliable a language written music continues to be after centuries of use.  And whatever your level of musicianship, even at a beginner’s level, you can decode the symbols to find layer after layer of music under your fingers, opening up new musical experiences with every page. It really is amazing, and a tool that I rely on every day.

Is music reading a tool in your toolbox? If it is, how do you think about these layers of ink, how have you become more proficient at reading and decoding it?

I’d love to hear your perspective on this, reading music is an art and a science that most of us want to improve in!  And as always, if you have any other questions about music, music theory or its practical application, please comment below or email me at [email protected].  Thanks for reading, and invite your friends into our conversation!

© 2013 Steve Case

How to Find Practice Time in a Busy Week

Practice record dudI think I have this conversation with one or another of my students at least once a week.

ME: “So how did your week go?”
Student: “Okay, but I was really, REALLY busy!”
ME: “Did you get some practice time in?”
Student: “…REALLY busy!”
ME: “You know you’ll only get better on your guitar if you practice, right?”
Student: “But I don’t have any time! I have so much [insert activity here, i.e. homework, family responsibilities, job pressure…]
ME: *sigh* “Okay, let’s take a look at your calendar…”

Paraphrase this in a hundred ways, and you’ll get a glimpse of an often repeated moment in a music teacher’s life.

It certainly can be hard to find time to do the things we consider important. So often, we simply don’t know where our time goes! Yet we really need to figure this out if we’re going to be productive and happy.

I enjoy listening to Dave Ramsey on his radio show. I’ve learned a lot about financial matters from him, and I highly recommend his books and teaching. You can find him at www.daveramsey.com. One of the budgeting principles he emphasizes is that every dollar in your budget needs to have a purpose. Give every dollar a name, and it will go where you want it to. If you don’t, it will simply be spent in any number of ways, and you will have lost control over your money.

Our time is a key resource that requires purposeful application as well. And just like our money, if our time is not spoken for, it will get spent. And we’ll only realize it when we look in the rear view mirror.

If you are having trouble gaining mastery over your time, I’d like to share some principles of time management with you that work for me and for my music students.

Write It Down

When we put our schedules in writing, whether physical or electronic, it’s like pounding a stake in the ground that marks our intention. The blank calendar page is the enemy of our purposeful use of time. Write down the events and activities that you need to follow through with, and review your calendar daily.

Prioritize

There will be some listings on your calendar that you can’t change, like holidays and special family events. And there are always last-minute things that happen that will interfere with the best planning. Expect them! But as you plan, make sure you strive for a balance between those things that you have to do and the things that you simply want to do because they are important. And don’t forget to schedule some down-time! When you prioritize your schedule, it can give you the permission you need to do the fun things as well as the important things. For me, fun is a big deal – fun with my family and fun in my work both help me keep an optimistic outlook on life. I’m not pleasant to be around when I’m grumpy!

Post It In Plain Sight

Where is it that you spend most of your time at home? When you walk in the door after work or after school, you drop what you’re carrying, and head to the fridge. Then after a minute or two, you go somewhere and probably sit down. Where is that? Your calendar needs to be there, in full view and within reach. If it’s on your computer, like mine is (I use Google Calendar, seems to be adequate for my needs), make sure your computer is turned on with a shortcut on your desktop. If you can, leave your calendar open by default, so that it is easily accessible anytime.

Take just a minute to review your calendar. You’ll find through trial and error the types of events you need to include on it. At first, I’d recommend creating a time block for everything. ‘Give every minute a name…’

If you’ve never done purposeful time management before, here is a quick method for creating your schedule. I find that I need to go through this process at least once or twice a year now, though it used to be a monthly exercise. It may well start out as a daily discipline for you as you discover where your time is going. We’ll start with time that is already spoken for and move toward more discretionary uses as we go.

How to Craft Your schedule:calendar pic

1. Create a table with eight columns. Label times down the left-most column in increments of 1/2 hour, starting with the time you usually get out of bed and ending with your usual going-to-bed time. Then label each column header with the days of the week, starting with the 2nd column.
2. Thinking through your week one day at a time, box in and label all the regularly occurring events in your life. For example, if you eat dinner at 6pm on Monday, box in that 1/2 hour time slot, labeling it “dinner”. If you get home from work or school at a certain usual time on Tuesdays, draw a line at that time that indicates you just got home.
3. As well, block off time for those regular activities in your week that you know you will do, even though they don’t seem as important. For example, if you know you really love to watch a certain TV show on Sunday nights from 8 to 9, go ahead and block it off. If you know that Fred will be coming over after work on Friday like he always does, put it on the calendar. If you know that getting out of bed before 10am on Saturday is impossible for you, then block the schedule off accordingly. It is important that this schedule reflects reality.
4. Check to make sure you include your personal appointments, social engagements, family responsibilities and household routines; these things are expected of you and are non-negotiable!
5. Next, write in those activities that are discretionary but require daily or weekly discipline to accomplish, like practicing your instrument or going to the gym. Often I find it helpful to insert these next to other activities that always happen, no matter what. For example, if you eat dinner at the same time every evening (getting more uncommon these days), you may find you can practice right after dinner pretty easily. If you are a morning person, make a 10-15 minute practice session part of your routine before you leave the house.
6. Now it’s time to list things you would like to do because they are important to you. Working around the matrix of events you’ve created, you will probably find entire 1/2 hour blocks of time that are not spoken for. It’s up to you how you prioritize your activities; just remember that you need time to breathe! Each of us will have a different tolerance for expending energy in a straight line toward our goals. Taking time for recreation and time just to be quiet are essential.

Your process may accomplish these steps in any order. The important thing is to be purposeful, be deliberate in how you look at your daily and weekly routines in order to accomplish those things that are the most important to you. As a musician, it’s really easy to say “I can’t find the time to practice”, but for the musician who wants to make progress, this is how to find the time. It really works!

How do you find time to practice? What has your experience been with creating or keeping to a schedule for your music and all of the other things you do?

I’d love to hear about your experiences in mastering your use of time! If you have any questions about this technique or any aspect of music and music theory, please leave a comment below or email me at [email protected]. Thanks for reading, and let all your friends know about Casetunes.com!

© 2013 Steve Case

Multi-dimensional Listening

20130717_223413Understanding music, whether written on paper or an audible experience, is like deciphering a code.  The simple, most obvious aspects stand out first, like the fact that there are ideas transmitted through phrases.  But the more you study it and know what to look for, the deeper the experience and the more significant the expression.

Seeing What You’re Hearing

I realize that this may sound a little strange to you, but when I listen to well-produced recordings, particularly with headphones, it has a 3-dimensional quality to it that fascinates me.  

The textures and images in my mind begin with the stereo mix, that is, where my ears are perceiving the location of each instrument or voice in a 180-degree arc from left to right (this is the “stereo image”, or in recording terms, the “panning” function).  Some mixes may even expand to 360-degrees, like a 5-speaker surround-sound system does.  And as I listen, the various sounds become more and more distinct, to the point where I can imagine each of them as tangible objects with height, width, depth and color.  The experience becomes a little like walking through a forest, passing various trees, vegetation, small animals …

Sounds a little like I’m on something.

 

The Time Machine (H.G. Wells)Music in 4-Dimensions

Every tone I hear has a certain pitch, which can be thought of as either the tone’s height dimension or its vertical placement in the mix.  The volume gives me depth, the duration gives me width.  And the timbre of the sound, the bright-to-dark, harsh-to-mellow quality, gives me the color or texture.  Some sounds are rounded, some are blocky; some are fat, some thin.  Some sounds have jagged edges, some are silky.  Some are monolithic and obvious, others are tiny and must be sought after.

   Each sound, as I perceive it in this way, becomes like clay in the potter’s hands. When I compose, I can give each sound or group of sounds its own size, shape and texture to reinforce the emotion I am trying to convey.  When I listen, it’s like walking through a pottery shop. Some other artist has made all the creative decisions, I simply have the honor of choosing what I like and what I don’t!

The 4th dimension, if I refer back to The Time Machine, the iconic novel by H.G. Wells, is time. Not only does each individual sound have a length of its own, but the sounds that comprise a piece of music are all in time relation to one another. And so my traveling through the musical forest, so to speak, has a beginning, a middle and an end, following the winding path that the composer intended.

Hopefully, if you put on your headphones with a well-mixed recording, you’ll begin to see what I mean.  It does take a little time and imagination, but once you glimpse a little of the “tangibility” of the sound, the 4-dimensional experience becomes easier and easier.  You won’t want to go back!

If you have any questions about music, music theory or its practical application, please email me at [email protected].  I’ll do my best to answer them!  And let me ask you:

   How do you perceive music?  When you close your eyes and just listen to music, what do you “see”? 

I look forward to hearing from you!

© 2013 Steve Case

Faultless Fundamentals: a Lesson from Louie

77th army band uniforms   After high school (almost ancient history), I did a tour in the military, playing my trumpet (and guitar and keys) with the 77th Army Band out of Fort Sill, Oklahoma. Though I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunities that were afforded me at the time, I learned lesson after lesson in style, arrangement, genre and instrumental technique. But one of the lessons that stands out to me still was one I learned when we were on a recruiting tour just over the Arkansas border.

We were the guest stage band for a tri-state music festival, gathering schools from Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas. There was a guest artist as well, a great jazz drummer who made it during the ’60s, one of the best jazz players of that decade.  I met Louie Bellson as he entered the auditorium, shaking hands with many of the musicians in our stage band.  The large, round pendant of gold he wore on a chain around his neck stood out against his white turtleneck and blazer, and I was immediately taken right back to his decade, and I looked forward to playing with this iconic musician.

 Playing with Louie

   Because we were the guest band, we became, for the moment, Louie’s band.  We had been practicing a chart written for him, entitled “Explosion”, and we had made pretty fair progress on the music.  But then, when Louie sat down at the drum kit and counted it off, we dove headfirst into the song faster than we’d ever played it.  It was like being shot out of a cannon!  He led us through the chart so much faster than we had practiced, it was all we could do to hold on.  Of course, being a drum feature, it was all about Louie being able to shine.  He did, and it was impressive!
   Our own drummer was quite accomplished on the kit himself. For this performance, he gracefully stepped aside so that Louie could play. After the performance, I asked him, “so what did you think? He’s pretty good, eh?”
   He still had a fairly awestruck look on his face. “Man, he sure can play!”  And then, after a slight pause, he added, “But as I watched him, I realized that he’s not playing anything that I can’t play, he was only playing rudiments.” Then with an admiring smile, he quipped, “he just did them BETTER!”

 

Fundamentals

   I’ve never forgotten that comment.  Now after years of teaching, working with many different types of students, I can say that expertise in musical fundamentals are so much more important than fast fingers, loud volumes or how many songs you can check off in your repertoire.
   It’s not retuning your guitar according to the latest fad that makes you a great guitarist; it’s not how fast you can make your fingers play the runs and octaves in Mozart’s Alla Turka; it’s not how well you can make your voice flip between head and chest voices when you’re singing Sarah McLachlan tunes.  Nothing against Sarah McLachlan or Mozart, their music is wonderful!  But it’s not the riff, the speed or the style that set apart competent musicians from the wannabes.  It’s the fundamentals.
   We’ll cover more on this topic soon.  If you have any questions about music, music theory or its practical application, please email me at [email protected].  I’ll do my best to answer them!  But for now, let me ask you:
   How solid are you on musical fundamentals?  When you play or write, how have you sharpened your tools and focused on the rudiments?

    Thanks for sharing your experience, it will help the rest of us!

(c) 2013 Steve Case

Finding Inspiration

My view of Jazz Fest 2013Though it has been a favorite regional event for some years now, I had never gone to the Syracuse Jazz Fest until last week.  And what a cool event!  Free admission, bring your blankets and lawn chairs, fill your cooler with your favorite munchies and beverages (no glass bottles, please), and settle in for some top-notch performances.

When we arrived, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band was playing.  We were pretty far back from the stage and it was a little hard to see them.  But their music was unmistakable, from pure Dixieland to blues to some Cajun-flavored tunes.  All done with excellence, style, and a decent sense of humor!

Their music took me back to my high school days, when I played my trumpet with our own Dixieland band.  I liked the improvisational nature of the music – you didn’t have to always color inside the lines, you could sometimes take off on a rabbit trail of a melody, still contributing to the complex texture of a piece.  My problem was that I usually overplayed it, often trying to get our band teacher’s goat.  He was a pretty easy target and usually responded with irritation, which of course made it a success for me.

Fiery Inspiration

My orchestra conductor, on the other hand, commanded respect from me.  Not because he insisted on it, but because he inspired me to make great music.  He would remind all of us in the orchestra during rehearsals that we had the opportunity before us to craft something beautiful, something transcendent.  His sense of humor allowed him to take our ribbing and give it right back to us.  He was never afraid to express his opinions and emotions about the music or about his respect for you, his confidence in you and his desire to see you excel.  His enthusiasm, his fire, his unabashed joy for the musical process left their mark on me.  I’m even writing about this fiery German conductor 36 years after my last concert with him.

Now back to Jazz Fest.  It was the 4th of July, and the fireworks display, while actually quite a good one, was not the show I had really come to see.  That was next.

I don’t know the story behind inviting the Doobie Brothers to play for an event like Jazz Fest.  The Doobies I remembered were rockers, whether it was blues, folk-rock, or classic, intelligent, get-you-on-your-feet rock.  But Jazz Fest?

Just before they came onstage, some friends came up to us and invited us to sit with them.  Right up front.  20 yards from the stage.  Nice.

Still Inspiring

It wasn’t long before the Doobies were playing their hits for us.  Then they mixed in some new songs (I didn’t realize they had released another album in 2011), and the new material was every bit as thoughtful, intricate, in your face and fun as the old songs.  And, I’ve got to point out, these guys are older than I am, and their music has only gotten better (in my humble opinion)!

The Doobie Brothers have always inspired me, and in all these years, they haven’t dropped a beat.  Their attention to detail (like having two drummers playing the entire night in complete unison, a trademark sound that is crazy and perfect), their energy and sophistication – it made me want to sit down and start writing more music when I got home.  I loved their concert, and I really enjoy their new newest recording.  But I think what I appreciate most about their music is that it urges me to write more and to write better.  To be even more serious about my musical contribution to life.

Thanks, guys.

So let me ask you: Who inspires you to pursue your own music?  What teacher or artist draws the best out of you? Please leave your comment below or email me at [email protected]  And thanks for visiting my site – tell your friends, I’d appreciate it!

© 2013 Steve Case

Clarify, Simplify: Music Theory Doesn’t Have To Be Complicated

20130531_115102 I sat down with a music student the other day, a young man who plays very well but still is not where he wants to be musically. He writes his own music, but needs help thinking out of the box; he would also like to have his band play his songs. Though he is without a significant theory base to pull from and lacking the tools to rewrite and hone his work, he has done pretty well. He is a fun student for me to work with – I get to explain the whys behind his music, why some things work and some don’t, and I get to watch his face light up when he gets to an “aha” moment!

He has taken theory courses in school, but honestly, the courses he mentioned haven’t helped much, and probably won’t, because he isn’t interested in analyzing Bach and Beethoven. I remember being in his shoes.

One of the first things he and I did was to make sure we were speaking the same language. There are at least two key principles here that his previous music courses overlooked:

1) One term = one meaning

If you call a particular fruit an “apple”, that name has to be exclusive. There are, of course, many varieties of apples, but you’ll never see a carrot or a mushroom being labeled as an apple at your farmer’s market. An apple is always an apple.

For example, we can assign numbers to the major scale (you remember, “do re me fa so la ti do”… just like in The Sound Of Music…) A major scale then becomes 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8. And it is the basis for any discussion of music theory in our culture, it is foundational. But if we say a major scale is 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, then I start talking about a minor scale being 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, I have just added to the student’s confusion and torpedoed my integrity as a communicator. A minor scale is not 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8, rather, it is 1 2 flat-3 4 5 flat-6 flat-7 8 (the natural minor scale). And this is just one instance.

Music is subjective enough that in order to talk about it intelligently, the terms we use really need to be consistent. But if we can’t be consistent about a musical idea, then we need to admit it up front. Take music genre terms for example. There are definite criteria for some styles of music: swing tunes always have uneven (swung) eighth notes, while pure rock will always have even eighths. Jazz will emphasize embellished chords (like Cma7 or G13), Latin beats are syncopated (emphasizing the off-beat).

But other terms we have to admit won’t always fit our preconceived mold. Try to define what “pop” music is, or even “classical”. Our definitions may be different.

Nailing down music theory can feel like trying to nail jello to a tree. And so as often as we can, let’s be consistent and give one term one meaning. As your own lexicon develops, you’ll be able to decide for yourself how to define the elusive terms.

2) Streamline your thinking

20130705_164455Music theory can be complicated and subjective, just as any sorts of theories are. If the theory is to help you write or perform, it has to be usable, meaning it’s uncomplicated and dependable.

When I’m trying to rip through my guitar lead or jam out a new chord progression on my keyboard, I’m not going to think, “I need to increase the frequency of audible vibration, increase the perceived amplitude while decreasing the duration of the envelope of…” Not if I want to make music any time this week. I will, on the other hand, think, “I want to go higher, louder, faster”. Those terms are usable and practical.

The first way of thinking is not incorrect. But it is unhelpful when I’m trying to play.

My student laughed and nodded when I pointed out that he did, in fact, know a lot about the terms we were defining. But the key for him, and for each of us, will be to simplify how we think about the nuts and bolts of music. This is a topic we’ll be returning to again and again, it is critical for us to be successful with our music.

How can I help you simplify and streamline? If you have any questions about music, music theory or its application, please email me at [email protected]. And while you’re thinking about that, let me ask you one:

What has your experience with music theory been like so far? Has it been helpful or not? Simple or confusing? I’d love to hear from you, and hopefully we can help each other sharpen our skills!

© 2013 Steve Case

What are next steps?


20130507_134824It has been my privilege to work with some great musicians over the years.  It has been my privilege as well to work with some… not so great musicians!  We’re all on the spectrum somewhere, from those who bend music to their will expertly to those who dabble in it as a hobby.  We all have our own set of musical values, musical experiences and musical expertise. And we all have next steps to take toward becoming better musicians or music-appreciators!

To a few of my family and friends, I have become the “music Jedi”, the master who can make and mold music on a whim.  But, as I suspect with other musicians who have some well-developed skills, my own observations tell me that I have not come close to mastering the art.  The more I know, the more I know I don’t know!
What’s Next?
I am, however, always looking for what I can learn next.  I really enjoy music that makes me think, from progressive jazz and polyrhythmic world music to classic rock.  On my instruments, it is painfully obvious to me where my limitations are, and so next steps are dictated by what I can’t do (yet).  As a composer, I am well-equipped for some genres and much less developed for others.
Some musicians I know play really well, but they don’t know how to think about what they play;  their fingers have gone way past their knowledge.  Others have musicians in their families and they are trying to keep up through their own instrument.  Some want to write more effectively, some struggle with note-reading.
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Your Next Steps
My goal through this blog, through my private lessons and through the tools I offer on my website, www.Casetunes.com, is help you take your own next step in music.  Do you know what your next step is?  Where are you on this spectrum?
a: like to listen to music, wish I could sing or play myself
b: took some lessons in middle school, I play as a hobbie
c: self-taught and serious, but now I’m hitting some brick walls
d: professionally trained with a few accomplishments, but I’m looking to make a bigger splash
e: I’ve been a pro for a while, and now I am interested in exploring new expressions of music
f): (fill in your own description)
I hope you’ll be able to attain more success and satisfaction in music as you read and study.  Please leave a comment if you find this site helpful.  If you have any questions about music, music theory or its practical application, please email me at [email protected]  I’d love to hear from you, and I’ll do my best to answer your questions so that you can take that next step!
If you could do or be anything at all musically in the next year from writing your own songs to singing at the Met, no holds barred, what would it look like?
©  2013 Steve Case