Author: Sargent, Geoff

Music lessons?

I’m confused. Since I started playing dobro about 3 years ago, I’ve taken lessons, been to the CBA music camp, attended workshops from Dobro masters, and bought instructional books and DVDs. Now, all of this has almost certainly helped me more than I can recognize but it still leaves me feeling, I dunno, strangely incomplete.

So here’s the thing. I don’t think I know how to take a lesson! This seems like a strange thing to say….I mean I go into lessons with an open mind just waiting to absorb all the knowledge and try not to have any preconceptions or an unachievable agenda…..but actually, I kind of suck at leaving agendas at the door.

There are probably two things that doom my lessons and I guess must also perplex my teachers. One is that I have the patience of a gnat. I need to explain that one a bit because this is a ying/yang thing for me. When I get into something I can be obsessively focused, which playing dobro allows me to indulge. And when I get up a head of steam practicing, all of a sudden there goes six hours of playing and I know its time to quit because my thumb hurts from all the pounding on the low G-string. (Ain’t no one going to accuse me of not digging in.) I’m pretty sure that my lack of patience comes in part from being on the north side of 50 and feeling like I don’t have enough time to get where I want with my music, and in part because I’m naturally impatient. So if I think whatever workshop or lesson isn’t taking me there fast enough…I get kind of antsy….or maybe gnaty. But I generally sit there politely and try to be a good student.

The second thing that complicates lessons is my sweet, pleasant, but sometimes adversarial, personality. I think most of my friends will vouch that I’m basically a good guy….but I seem to have a knack for asking the most annoying questions…or maybe it's the annoying way I ask them, and then not letting go until my question gets answered. Oh well… poor teachers.

Maybe my confusion over how to best learn dobro comes from when I was in high school and learning how to play trombone and baritone horn. Back then, part of learning to play seemed to involve how much the band director made you cry…there was a direct correlation…the more you cried the faster you improved. Seriously! Horn lessons were not for the faint hearted, usually involved a certain amount of discomfort, and relied heavily on the necessary but boring repetition of scales. It’s strange, now I gladly practice scales and feel like practice isn’t complete without at least one. On the other hand the horn lessons were very structured and involved progressively more difficult exercises that really helped to play difficult passages in symphonic or jazz band.

In contrast….all of my dobro teachers are way too nice and haven’t even come close to making me cry, so I definitely feel like something is missing and my progress too slow. The other difference, that I think I’ve written about before, is that there is an amazing lack of structure….there aren’t thick exercise books with hundreds of dobro drills in each of the major and minor keys. I hate to think that I’m so inflexible but it kind of drives me a little crazy. Dobro education seems to be done mainly in the traditional front porch method of here try this lick or let’s play this song.

So what do I do? Since there aren’t a whole lot of dobro teachers in the bay area I decided to learn from the pros. My teachers now are Josh Graves, Brother Oswald, Mike Auldridge, Phil Leadbetter, Jerry Douglas, Rob Ickes, Ivan Rosenberg, Sally Van Meter, Kathy Barwick, Andy Hall, Greg Booth and the list goes on and on. I spend a whole lot of time listening to cds and iTunes trying to do my best Josh/Gerry/Mike/Rob/Sally etc imitation……most of the time I’m learning at 30% tempo with the help of Amazing Slow Downer and am proud to be able to say I can almost play Gerry Douglas licks……in extreme slow motion. Reminds me of the old Steve Martin routine where he making fun of people on Quaaludes, except it’s me playing dobro. It’s inhuman what Jerry Douglas can play….I’m sure he made the proverbial deal with the devil at the crossroads to get where he is.

Now I don’t want to leave you with the impression that I think the lessons, workshops, and dvds are wasted or that I wasn’t thrilled by getting some one-on-one with great musicians. I’ve been thrilled and come away learning something important from each workshop and lesson. Maybe I’ve just got the wrong expectations and should learn some patience……..nahhhhh.

Random Thoughts of an Older Bluegrass Musician – And Murphy's Law
Today's column from John Karsemeyer
Saturday, August 14, 2010

Seven o'clock in the morning. Why can't I sleep in? What day is this? Oh, that's right, it's Friday. What am I going to do today? Oh right, I've got that bluegrass gig at the Irish Pub tonight. What time do I have to be there? Oh now I remember, seven o'clock.

So that means I have to practice today, more than usual. I mean, who wants to “die” on stage? My back hurts more than it usually does. I wonder if that's from the stress of thinking about playing tonight? But it's only the morning. Why would it be hurting already? Oh, well, there's always ibuprofen that can come to the rescue. Maybe I should take a walk to make it better.

It's ten o'clock and I still haven't practiced yet. I shouldn't have stayed so long on the computer at the CBA website. That website is addictive. In fact, I haven't even eaten breakfast yet. Let's see, bacon and eggs, toast with lots of butter and jam. Wait, better not, too much fat and cholesterol. Let's see, put some organic flax, oat bran, and wheat bran (nature's broom) in a bowl of whole grain cereal, and that will be better. That last breakfast recipe from “J.D.'s Bluegrass Kitchen” would be a lot tastier than this health food stuff, but, well, better not.

It's 10:45 am, and I still haven't practiced yet. My first wife (42 years so far) wants me to vacuum, but my back, my back. Oh well, I'd better do that anyway.

It's 11:30 am, and I still haven't practiced. My back is hurting more now. I'm getting to the point where my enthusiasm is wanning regarding this gig tonight. Probably I'm just getting tired, already. Oh well, it will pass, maybe. The phone is ringing.

Can't believe that Tom, my buddy from the army, called me. We've kept in touch for the last forty years. He likes to talk. He's telling me how much he likes playing banjo music, which he does every time he calls, but that's okay. It reminds me of Steve Martin saying something about if you play the banjo you can't be depressed.

It's 12:45 in the afternoon, and I still haven't practiced. Time for lunch.

1:15 and I still haven't practiced, but I forgot to take that walk to ease the back pain. Better do it now. Now why did I agree to play this gig tonight? Good idea at the time, even though by the end of the last set I'm usually in bed. I wonder if Doc Watson ever feels this way about a gig?

That walk took longer than I thought it would. The red tailed hawk sighting so close to me made the whole thing worthwhile. If reincarnation is true, that's what I'd like to come back as. Don't believe it though. How long do I have now before I have to leave for the gig?

Three in the afternoon, and I still haven't practiced yet. Sitting on the sofa after the walk feels really good. Seems like I'm drifting off....(head snap) Whoops, better not go for a nap, the alarm clock isn't working. If only I hadn't agreed to playing this gig tonight I could drift into a long, long nap, and awake to the smells of my first wife cooking dinner. I wonder if Earl Scruggs ever feels this way about a gig?

Let's see, I'm just going to watch this one thirty minute T.V. Show on the Discovery Channel, and then I'll get to practicing for the gig tonight.

Wow, that show went longer than I thought. Worthwhile though, “Adult Survivors of Peer Abuse” in schools is somethi
Posted:  8/15/2010

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