Here Comes The New Year … So What?

Me and Mike
Me and Mike

Oh no. Here it is, New Year’s Eve. The end of 2014, and the time when it seems everyone is writing about the past year’s top whatevers and new goals or expectations for the new one.

“So what will they write about on CaseTunes?” you wonder.

What I Could Say To You

Now I could write again about managing your time more effectively this coming year. Make sure you get that practice time in. Don’t waste so much time doing unimportant things. You always find time for the things that are important to you. Yeah, yeah.

I could write about taking your art seriously, seeking out an instructor or a mentor. Not procrastinating, not giving into inertia as you sit on the couch. Disciplining yourself through blood, sweat and tears to do whatever it takes. To take the next step, to develop, to grow. Okay, nothing really new here.

I could write about how great the past year was (and in many ways, it was), listing the high points and benchmarks. But you can do that yourself.

So how can we, at CaseTunes, possibly be of service to you here at year’s end?

By reminding you of the big picture.

Your Unique Work

You are here for a reason. There is work for you to do that only you can do. There is music to be made the rest of us are waiting for.

Do you have a project that’s almost there? Don’t wait for it to be perfect, get it pretty decent, then ship it.

Are you waiting for inspiration? Don’t just wait, go get it. Dig for it. Listen to some different artists or shows, read some new books, go to an open mic night and meet some other musicians to collaborate with.

Are you waiting for someone else to join your project and do the hard stuff, the parts you aren’t competent with yet? Two choices: learn it or hire it. But don’t wait, do it!

Even as I write these reminders to you, you’ve got to know I am preaching to myself. My biggest hurdle in any project is usually my own insecurity, followed by procrastination that quickly morphs into inertia.

But this coming year (starting tomorrow) it is our hope and plan to “ship” several projects that have been in the works, from books to courses. Groundwork has been laid, details have been fleshed out. Now is the time to make things happen! I’ll let you know about each one as it becomes available. Thanks for being in our corner!

In 2015

Fun with our stage on Christmas Eve
Fun with our stage on Christmas Eve

Opportunities are on the horizon to do some amazing things. My wish for you is that you will understand how

important it is for you to make music and share it. Express your heart through your music. Play and sing with passion and excellence, over and over again. When you’re in the zone, in your unique sweet spot, making music work for you, you’ll find great joy and fulfillment. And you will bless others with your gift.

So get to it! We’re all waiting for you!

Please feel free to comment below, or email any questions about music, finishing your project, or next-step musicianship to [email protected].

© 2014 Steve Case

The Right Time

Our set design team did an incredible job with the stage for the production, "The Right Time", held at our local high school.
Our set design team did an incredible job with the stage for the production, “The Right Time”, held at our local high school.

In music, timing is everything. Well, almost everything.

Now I know there are many other things to get right in any song: pitch relationships, dynamics, stylistic devices and textures, not to mention lyrics.

And you’ve got lots of room to improvise with each of these musical facets. If you hit a note that doesn’t quite work – hey, it was a passing tone, a neighbor note!

Now the listener might hear the mistake or not. But even if they do, the ear will forgive it pretty quickly as you move on through the song.

Timing is another matter. If you blow the timing – a rhythm that is way out of place, or even worse, if you insert unlooked-for pauses in the music – it’s really obvious. Sounds like you hesitated because you didn’t quite remember what came next. It felt like you were a moment away from the whole train coming off the tracks.

I don’t think I’m overstating it when I say a song’s timing is a really big deal.

Timing in life, however, while most of it is out of our control, is an even bigger deal.

The Right Time

This past weekend, my church presented “The Right Time”, our Christmas musical production for 2014. But what does Christmas have to do with timing? Well, quite a lot, it turns out.

At just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. …God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6,8)

God’s timing is perfect. He sent Emmanuel (which means, ‘God with us’) at the perfect time in all of human history to teach us Who He is, to invite us into a personal relationship with Him, and to be the sufficient, atoning sacrifice for all who receive Him. Emmanuel, that is, Jesus Christ, is Himself the relational Bridge for sinful man to cross and find the holy, almighty God waiting for him.

That’s the big picture.

But day to day, we will face over and over again challenges that stretch us. From strained and broken relationships to deteriorating health, from financial worries to choices of morality. It gets overwhelming.

And on top of those challenges, we have our own imperfections that slap us around: our impatience, our ambition, our ego. Often, we don’t understand why we have to wait for, well, anything. Or why circumstances invade our lives that we never wanted and always arrive at the worst times.

And the best thing for us to do in the face of each of these life stresses is to step back, take a breath, and remind ourselves of the big picture.

Stepping Back

Working with a guitar student the other day, I was tangibly reminded of the need for gaining perspective when we’re under pressure. My student and I were jamming to a prerecorded rhythm track, a band playing an uptempo 12-bar swing blues. Sometimes he would play lead, sometimes I would. Back and forth.

But I watched him struggle a little, trying very hard to remember patterns to play while at the same time hearing all this music on the recording. It was hard for him to focus on his own playing while he heard this cacophony happening at the same time from the speakers.

I watched as he would start to play, then stop, let out a long slow breath, then start again. At first, he was discouraged. But then, as we talked through the process, he felt more freedom to let the background track keep going and not play while he figured out what to do next. He would mentally ‘step back’ enough to gain perspective, to remember where he was on the neck and think how to proceed.

And that’s exactly what we have to do when challenges come our way. Step back, remember the big picture: there is indeed a God who loves each of us so much that He sent His only Son, Jesus, to come and be ‘God with us’, our Emmanuel. To show us who we are and offer us life in Him. Mercy and grace like we’d never experienced before.

I truly hope that each of you feel refreshed and inspired this Christmas. Step out and find that God’s got your back. And He is inviting you to go deeper with Him.

As always, you can leave your comment below or email [email protected] with any questions or comments. I look forward to hearing from you!

© 2014 Steve Case

Keeping Track of New Ideas May Require New Ideas

Is there one bright idea standing out in your box of ideas?
Is there one bright idea standing out in your box of ideas?

If you are even slightly a creative type, you have already come face to face with the challenge of keeping track of new ideas.

The new approach that dawned on you when you were out for a walk, but had left the building by the time you returned.

The plot line or song lyric that made perfect sense while you were trying to get to sleep, then had evaporated in the morning.

The fresh color combination, the on-target illustration, the untried design – all of these were crystal clear in your mind’s eye, but somehow slipped away by the time you needed them.

I know the feeling, you have my sympathy!

New ideas will hit me at almost any time, day or night. I may have been musing on some problem, or writing a new song. Something in my travels will strike me as a great idea for a blog post or an ebook, and I’ll need to write it down before I forget it. Because forget it, I most certainly will.

I’ve tried many systems over the years. All of them are good, but they don’t all work for me. I’ve had to experiment to find what does work for me.

For example, if I am writing a song in my head and get to a point where I need to put it into a tangible form, I’ve got a few choices at my disposal:

  1. I can write it down in music notation, complete with staff, measures, notes and lyrics. This, by the way, is by far the most accurate way to write it down. Music notation is an elegant language developed over more than four centuries by musicians who wanted to do exactly what I’m talking about. Yet, if I don’t have staff paper or computer software, I’ll need to start from scratch, drawing 5 long, parallel lines close to each other to create the staff. Takes practice, and I’ve done it often. It is difficult, however, if the paper I have is not full size. (I know the Gettysburg Address was written on a napkin, but he wasn’t composing music, which I believe is a much more difficult proposition.)
  2. I can record it with the voice recorder on my smartphone. Just needs to be transcribed later.
  3. I can write it using my own symbols and numbers to which I assign specific values and meanings. This has probably been the most helpful to me, come to think of it. I’ll use arabic numerals (1,2,3,4, etc.) for scale tones and roman numerals (I,ii, iii, IV, etc.) to represent chords. I’ll use a long horizontal line with a slash at each end with a number over it to represent a group of measures (looks like a multi-measure rest), along with greater than or less than signs (< >) to indicate relative volumes.

And if it’s not music we’re talking about, just keeping a notepad handy can solve the problem. Grab a stack of smallish notepads from your local drugstore and put one in your car, by your bed, in your coat pocket, in your kitchen, by your computer, by your TV… you get the idea. And make sure you also have a pen or pencil in each location.

So once we’ve got the new idea “committed to paper”, so to speak, what do we do with them? You can stick it in your pocket, as long as you have a deliberate time when you will retrieve it. I charge my smartphone at night, so when I plug it in, I also make sure I go through my pockets for anything else that might be important. Skipping this step will result in finding your song idea at the bottom of the washing machine, an inert lump of shrunken wood pulp.

Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, has his “black box”. During the day, whenever a new idea strikes him, he’ll grab any scrap of paper and write it down, then stick it into his “black box”. At regular intervals (weekly, monthly, yearly) he will go through all of the notes he has collected and file them away topically, ready to use for sermon illustrations. I like this idea, it’s really easy on the front end. But the filing it away takes both discipline and a topical framework within which to put the notes.

I’ve found three software tools that have been working really well for me: Shazam, iTunes, and Evernote

When I listen to songs in the car, I will often run across tunes that inspire me and that I don’t want to forget. A couple of taps on my Shazam app, and the program has identified the song, adding it to a growing list of songs I’ve researched. Then, when I’m at my computer (and not driving!), I’ll pull up the list it saved for me, get on iTunes and inexpensively buy the songs. The last step is to put the downloaded songs into an iTunes playlist that reminds me to come back to it. I use “composing inspiration”, or “gems”, or “Christmas” as playlist names, for example.

For pretty much everything else, I use Evernote on my computers and on my phone. I can type in a note, clip it off the web, send emails to it, even voice-record notes and take photos, all saved as “notes” within the program. To each note, I quickly add a tag, like “lyrics”, ToDo Today”, or “home projects”. Any label you find helpful is fine. Later, you can search for all the notes with a particular tag with no further sorting or filing.

Hope these help you stay on top of the ocean of ideas churning through your brain!

What do you do with new ideas? Have you found a system that works for you?

Please leave your comment below, or email any questions about music, music theory and next-step musianship to [email protected].

© 2014 Steve Case

Inspiration for Christmas

Piano_Guys

I want to share with you some artists who never fail to inspire me. The Piano Guys regularly post their songs on YouTube, have several albums out, and tour widely. Take a few minutes to enjoy their take on We Three Kings, then poke around on their site.

 

The arrangements are unique, as are the settings for their piano/cello duo. Beautifully done, they not only share their significant musical skill, but they have fun! Makes me want to play with them!

I’ll be back with more thoughts on Next-Step Musicianship next week.  In the meantime, if you have any questions about music, theory or next-step musicianship, please leave your comment below, or email me at [email protected].

© 2014 Steve Case