Showing posts tagged mk

Everyone Should Just Learn an Instrument

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Really, what I mean is nobody should think they couldn’t learn an instrument. The world has never been smaller than it is today because of that endless resource of information and cavernous well of procrastination known as the Internet. It can be used as a powerful tool to get you over the hump of learning an instrument.

I don’t want this to just address all the creatively inclined people that are already into the idea of the creative output as a huge part of our lives in this overly accessible world: designing, or writing, or filming, or whatever they’ve got going on. It’s everybody else as well that I’d like to cordially and openly invite to the world of music making.

A common misconception when the question first arises, if you should learn an instrument, is that it’s not the perfect time to do so. It most certainly is. Anytime is the perfect time to set aside thirty minutes every day to get into something new and mind-blowingly rewarding. It doesn’t need to be any more than a hobby for you mentally, but the emotional pay out will grow exponentially.

So let’s lay this out, what are a number of steps you can take?

You should probably find an instrument.

This doesn’t need to be an arduous process, and your final decision is not final at all, and can be molded as you grow in your musical assuredness. Really, if you’re completely new to the concept of learning or playing an instrument, grab anything that strikes your immediate and whelming fancy.

There’s a good chance your town has a Guitar Center. That’s a good thing for you because Guitar Center is totally about newcomers to music, so everything there is hands on and ready to be tried out. It also isn’t even close to only being about guitars, which is another great thing. Depending on your town, they’re usually Wal-Mart warehouse sized buildings, so they can house a huge amount of gear. Other than a huge selection of guitars, they’ll carry basses, drums, and tons of keyboards. If it’s a good Guitar Center, they’ll also shelf a huge number of brass and woodwind instruments, which is awesome because maybe not everybody wants to be in Dokken, you know?

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Definitely turn to the Internet in your search as well, as it is an invaluable resource to budding musicians and there’s a huge number of online stores, including Guitar Center’s own, that will list tons of really fun instruments along with resources like books and DVDs for that kind of learner, one who maybe isn’t totally capable of doing it all by ear just yet. Check out Musician’s Friend, Sweetwater, Chuck Levin’s, Long & McQuade, WWBW, and definitely check out your local Craigslist. Ebay is also full of unique instruments that you wouldn’t be able to find from the more established brands.

Figure it out!

Once again, the Internet can be your best friend in this situation, but I think a much more valuable and worthwhile resource of musical knowledge would be another musician. There is a huge chance someone you know plays an instrument, and even if all your friends are in the same position as you, learn something together. Other guitarists or trumpeters or pianists can all help each other. If you still don’t know anybody, get to the high school in town and ask the band teacher, if he’s a loser and is a little too keen on the idea of “private instruction” turn back to our old friend the web.

There’s an incredible new website for budding guitarists called Instinct. It’s awesome. Check it out, and see if it lines up with how you learn. Also YouTube is overflowing with how-to videos, even something as simple as this overly-nervous-but-still-pretty-helpful video on proper saxophone embouchure can set you down the right path. This slow-talker trudges through holding the violin bow properly, and this mustached guy teaches how to play Joni Mitchell’s a Case of You on Appalachian dulcimer.

Do your thing.

It’s not about being an incredible player, it doesn’t matter if you never play for anyone. This is really about leading a more fulfilling life. The ability to express yourself either through learning parts by ear or on paper, or through coming up with your own musical ideas, will be all the reward in the world, whether you sell out the Royal Albert Hall or not. But please, please find people to play with. Sharing music was its original intention, and it always will be.

The hump, however, is your first biggest challenge - getting past your own hang-ups and being a beginner at something again. Remember learning to walk? Me neither.

-Mike Kerr, Staff Writer

Mike’s One Or Two Sentence Summations of Amazing Albums…

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…that came out this year that maybe you heard or maybe you didn’t, but that doesn’t really mean anything because every one experiences things differently and absorbs information differently or something- click through for links!

Shields by Grizzly Bear- There is such a beautiful, concise tone to the entirety of Shields. The craft of their songwriting has grown so deep, and it feels so much like they really composed together and universally love these songs.

Swing Lo Magellan by Dirty Projectors- This very well may be my favourite album of the year. Led Zeppelin and Al Green, or Black Flag and Robert Glasper, or any other combination of real experimenters- this is Swing Lo, a cacophony of insane ideas that flow so musically, and it is surprising how musical it all is, because if taken out of context many of the sounds and moments on this album would just never work by themselves; a true coalescing.

stop being on my side by Infinity Girl- Boston’s new gazers open minds to numbingly raucous noise, and startling quiet- all with shoes untied and glasses slipping off their noses. They achieve real beauty by shifting rapidly between the obvious and the subtle.

Barchords by Bahamas- Like a kid in a candy store, Afie Jurvanen can’t really turn anything down; especially his own ideas. He’s so excited to be in the studio making his own solemn, subtle, beautifully melodic music that every now and again the cheese slips through but fortunately for us and him, the heart-warming vibe and casual movement of these songs keep it an incredibly easy album to listen through.

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everything feels bad all at once by the human fly- I wish I had this album two years ago, for personal reasons. It feels like, at the same time that it is being completely honest with me, it is also hiding something. A darker magic keeps the album moving forward and you can’t pull one song out, or skip another, it sits all together outside of time.

The Keeps by The Keeps- If Edgar Allen Poe had the chance to write bluegrass tunes, I’m pretty sure The Keeps would say he stole from them. Their effortless transitions between real old time, and challenging new bluegrass is something to behold.

back 2 the high life by Walsh- The perfect album to play GTA III to. I forgot what year it was for quite some time.

Breakup Song by Deerhoof- A mind-blowing experience; this album fills me with such a deep joy, such a whelming sense of love for life and sound and human experience.

Lonerism by Tame Impala- The strongest vibes all year. You can’t not smile and feel a breeze in your hair, and you definitely can’t ignore how much Kevin Parker sounds like a certain bespectacled Beatle.

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Love this Giant by David Byrne & St. Vincent- One of the deepest sonic explorations to be achieved this year. I had to commit to listening to this album; I found myself trying to multitask while listening, and was soon wandering aimlessly around my house lost in the scape of this musical obelisk. 

-Mike Kerr, Staff Writer

Mike’s Nerdy Survival Guide to Hurricane Sandy!

I am writing, racing really, against the clock. By clock I mean a hurricane that is currently turning west and about to break landfall and beat most of New England with winds up to seventy-five miles per hour. That kind of clock.

Classes here at Berklee college of show-and-tell were cancelled, meaning I don’t have to go critique my friend’s performance of two Swedish traditional folk songs this morning, or play a bunch of Joni Mitchell music later this afternoon- I’m fine with that for right now, but I know by about noon hour I will be egregiously bored within the confines of my Boston apartment. So, I’ve pieced together an itinerary for my windy day off which I’ve come to affectionately refer to as…

Mike’s Nerdy Survival Guide to Hurricane Sandy!

To distinguish itself from other more useful survival guides, I’ve listed here all the supplies I’ll need to make it through, caged up in the south end of Boston, while still feeding my ever demanding need to devour the arts- so definitely more of a pointless list of things I think any urban recluse can spend their cooped up time on, but survival guide has a great overdramatic, CNN kind of ring to it.

FILMS

While electricity still courses through my forty year old townhouse, I’m going to try and squeeze in some quality moving pictures.

  • Bond movies. There are some deep dark holes in that back-catalog, but plenty of great filmmaking, one liners, and mixed drinks to make up for George Lazenby.
  • 8 ½. Federico Fellini’s critically name-dropped masterpiece. I want to say I’ll come out on the other side unscathed, but I can only take so much Sicilian anything.
  • No Reservations. Television, almost more so than movies, is really great at taking up an insane amount of time; and there’s nothing I like wasting my time watching more than Anthony Bourdain tell me about places I can only dream of going.

MUSIC

I’m someone who tries to give every new album I come across a serious, critical listen. This process is made much simpler when you have nothing else to do.

  • The Wood Brothers. I have three albums, Smoke Ring Halo, Ways Not to Lose, and Loaded- almost spanning their entire bluesy folk career. The Wood Brothers have a sound reminiscent of some alternate universe where Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan co-wrote the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou with Jimi Hendrix and the Grateful Dead. I think they do all their recording in rainstorms and high winds. I’ve got them on my fully charged iPhone too just incase the unspeakable happens.

BOOKS

To really eat up the hours that I’m not spending studying for my conducting or political thought midterms, I can always turn to books. While I continue to tunnel through the mountainside that is George R.R. Martin’s a Song of Ice and Fire series, I’d rather read something with a greater sense of accomplishing any progress. I’ve picked a couple short book options that are excellent one-day-reads.

  • For Your Eyes Only. Fleming’s collection of shorter Bond adventures, an exquisite writer no matter how many times the evil genius gets eaten by piranhas.
  • Psycho. If Fleming isn’t striking any fancies, Robert Bloch’s 1959 super-short suspense should do the trick. This is a really scary novel. Actually, maybe it’s not the best choice for a dark, dreary, day alone.
  • Power and the Glory.Graham Greene’s really short and really incredible novel set in a religious-feuding turn of the century Mexico, paints an amazing picture.

 

That’s it for now. I can easily see this day spiraling into a series of dissatisfying naps and hot dogs, but for now I have high hopes to do some good critical watching, listening, and reading. If you ever find yourself in a position of low-risk this close to a hurricane, I suggest you put together your own survival guide of absorbing and taking in. In all seriousness, be careful out there, but I think the smarter thing to do is not go out at all.

- Mike Kerr, Beloved Staff Writer

Defending Style: Shakespeare and Jazz Harmony

Somehow, the dawn crept up on me again, and it’s 6 o’clock. In these early hours I usually find myself deep into a season of some TV show, or on a binge of strangely specific documentaries- King of Kong, I’m looking at you. This morning however, after being up all night on the other side of town playing Atari and discussing the historical subtext in Studio Ghibli’s works, I was feeling a little too delusional and scattered to center on something like a computer screen. So I decided to give writing in loose iambic pentameter a try.

If stylized linguistics isn’t your thing, I’ll break it down really quick for you. The rhythm of poetry is referred to as its meter. An iamb is a group of two syllables with a weak stress followed by a strong stress; like a heartbeat. So iambic pentameter is employing this specific rhythm into every line of the piece, so each line has ten syllables or five iambs. Probably the most famous examples of this style come from our old high school buddy William Shakespeare. Now that is the most basic, strictest form of iambic pentameter that I just described, and even Shakespeare, considered a pioneer of the style, expanded and broke the rules quite often. Today, however, especially if you’re a writer, I completely understand why it would seem kind of counterintuitive to set up such specific rules on your writing. How can you flow and create while constantly counting syllables? What good can come from the tedious exercise of writing in iambic pentameter? Today’s writers are always looking for the freest way to express themselves, more rules can usually mean less expression.

I, however, completely believe writing in a specific style and playing by a totally different set of rules has serious writing benefits. As a musician, I compare it to harmony: the rules are more like guidelines, or really, just analysis of the natural tendencies in music and the human ear, and then standardized. The most interesting things happen when you play with these tendencies, when you go where its not expected. What I mean is, flowing in and out of the strict style to bending and breaking the rules and back to following strictly, can make for some excellent writing. Duke Ellington and William Shakespeare both knew that. 

I am simply no Ellington, but if I’m going to pretend to know what I’m talking about at all, I better give this thing a try and see what happens.

I started with a clear idea of what I was going to write. Focusing so much on the form and style, the sound and rhythm, drew my attention away from the subject matter I think, in a good way. I was actually flowing more; words and lines were dropping into place like cement into a mold. It’s not the strictest iambic pentameter by any means, there are several lines of hexameter (which is referred to as an alexandrine) that I thought seemed to fit, and I employed a technique I picked up from Alexander Pope in which he switches the stress to the front of the iamb in the start of the verse, and moves it smoothly back over to the end. He is infinitely better at it than I am, but this is all for the pursuit of knowledge, right?

There is also a fairly large margin for interpretation of the stresses in this stuff. A great writer of the style will put together a work that has a defined pulse and very clear stresses. As an amateur, I feel my stresses could be shifted around from where I interpret them, and it sort of weakens the stylistic power. Anyway, here’s the most effort I’ve put into poetry since that one semester in grade eleven.

Apathy

It was the shy sound of a cigarette

that startled her, flame engulfing tobacco.

Soft, doughy bread cooled down on a white plate,

candlelight reflected in the window,

and powerful med’cine made her eyes dilate.

She hid her disease from all who knew her.

I saw her there, from in front of the bar,

her illness so unbeknownst to me then, I grew

rooted in love with a shade from afar.

            The cigarette was mine, I lit before

I wondered what hate lay beneath her skin.

To crush the soul so fev’rishly in her,

it must have taken, somehow, from this sin

its most unfathomable power o’er

her daily life. As much physical as mental,

the hate rotted her. In her work and relations

she would pass unrecognized. It hurt her.

It man’fested itself in fever, suddenly,

or appearance of some work load on any night,

keeping her from any interaction to build.

You can’t pity her though, for not caring,

a silent witness bathes in the same guilt. 

Great writers other than Shakespeare that employ an iambic or rhythmic style in verse: Alexander Pope, Thomas Wyatt, John Milton, Morris Halle, John Donne, and Ben Johnson.

- Mike Kerr, Staff Writer