Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Yes you do have time to learn an instrument-No More Excuses

I can't tell you how many people I have talked to who would like to learn an instrument. I play a lot of music and people always say things to me like, "I'd like to learn how to play guitar but I don't have enough time." This is a very strange thing to say if you think about it. Let's say you already know how to play the guitar; How do you expect to enjoy your ability without actually taking time to play it. It takes just as much time to practice an instrument as it does to learn the instrument. If you feel like you could enjoy playing an instrument once you know how then surely, you will have enough time to learn the instrument.

If you want to master an instrument you need to understand the notes that it produces. Some people learn an instrument by first learning how to play the chords. But how can you understand what the chords mean if you don't know what notes are in the chord. I strongly believe that the very best instrument to first learn is the piano. The piano allows you to clearly see what all the notes are and helps you understand what sharps and flats are. Also, if you know the piano, then you will know why the heck there is only a half step between E&F and B&C. There are all kinds of weird reasons for some things in music but to understand how music is played you must understand what the notes are. Guitar is also a good instrument to learn because you can see the notes unlike the trumpet which only has 3 buttons for about 35 notes.

The next step is to develop that knowledge into skill. Since you now know all the notes you have a good foundation to build your skill on. The first thing to learn is how to play a melody. This is just playing consecutive notes that make a song. This isn't too big of a step from the knowledge of all the notes. All this step is is developing your reaction time between hitting notes on command. Once you can switch between notes at a good pace you can play melodies.

Different Instruments
If you are learning an instrument that only plays one note you can probably stop reading and just work on your ability to play melodies. The reason some instruments only play one note and others play many is because single note instruments are much more difficult. It would take some serious skill to play 2 notes on 2 trumpets at the same time. Single note instruments are all about that development of playing a melody. There are lots of things you can do with single note instruments that take a long time to master so it isn't possible to go further than learning to play melodies. Of course you can go into improv or composing music but that is music theory, not learning an instrument.

2 Part Harmonies
Everyone knows that piano would be a very boring instrument if it could only play one note at a time. The piano was designed in a way that there isn't much you can do with it playing only one note. Guitar is similar but you can do more with a guitar so single notes are definitely a possibility for good music. With these kinds of instruments you need to move on to playing more than one note at a time. If you experiment with playing two notes at once you will quickly realize that some notes sound good together while others don't (depending on what your opinion of good is). If you have a good music book that you are learning from it will take you from playing melodies to playing melodies with harmonies (2 notes at the same time). This transition is another simple one. You already know how to play melodies, so it will not take too much to learn how to play 2 lines at once. Believe me, your brain is strong enough to handle it. This is probably easiest to learn by playing one simple line and one more complex line. This step is nothing but developing the ability to play 2 lines at the same time.

To Infinity.....And Beyond!!!
The next step is pretty obvious because it is learning how to play 3 lines at once. 3 sounds like it is getting pretty complicated so there is a way that makes this step a smoother transition. This is chords. Chords are 3 notes played at the same time. Instead of blindly going into playing 3 notes at once it is a good idea to learn some of the main chords. Some examples are C chord(CEG), G chord(GBD), and F chord (FAC). All music is based on a set of chords. If you learn how to play a good number of chords then you will be able to recognize them when you are playing 3 lines at a time. This can sometimes simplify a song so instead of switching 3 notes you only switch one chord.

When you go beyond playing 3 notes at once it is just a matter of learning the more complicated chords that have more than 3 notes in them. This may just be a rearrangement of the easy chords or it may be completely new chords. But at this point, you can probably see the pattern in adding new parts.

The process of learning an instrument is really a step by step process. First you learn the notes and how to play them, then you learn how to transition between notes and play melodies, next you learn how to play 2 part harmonies, then you learn 3,4,5... part harmonies by learning the chords that they are composed of. I hope you can see the importance of all of these steps. I know a lot of people who just learn the chords on the guitar. That's fine if you don't plan on going very far but if you want to advance in playing your instrument I think it is a good idea to start with a good foundation. Once you have already built the foundation it becomes much easier to learn other instruments as well. When you understand how notes work and how important the intervals between notes are you will have a much better understanding of the music you play and it will be easy for you can enjoy music more and even make your own music. If you do want to learn an instrument obviously the best thing to do is get lessons but if you're poor like me find a good book that generally follows the steps that I've talked about. If you skip the first few steps then you will not get the full enjoyment out of playing an instrument.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Missing vs. Living

What is Home?
What is so special about this place called home? If you have a home you know that when you've been away for a while you start to miss it. It's just a place with people. In my case, my home is Alaska but I live in Colorado. It's weird because I love Colorado but still miss Alaska. I've come to consider Colorado a home away from home but there is still something that makes me miss Alaska. What is it that makes us miss our home?

Colorado, My Home Away From Home
I've lived in Colorado for 3 years as of this August. I live in Colorado for 4 months, go back to Alaska then come back to Colorado for another 4 months. Colorado is an amazing place. I love that there is so much to do here in Golden. Great mountain biking, hiking, tubing, concerts etc. But, the thing I like about Colorado the most is my friends. I have many more friends in Colorado than Alaska. It seems like that's always the case for people who go away to college. I love living in the same house with all my friends because there is always something to do and we can actively build our friendships with each other.

Alaska, My True Home
I lived in Alaska for 12 years before I went to colorado and now it's been 15 years since my family moved to Alaska. Honestly I know a ton about Alaska. I've lived there long enough and driven around a good portion of the state. I also worked at a visitor center for 3 summers where I told people about every square inch of public land in Alaska (Which is almost all of alaska) every day. I could tell you about every part of Alaska. But Eagle River, I know like the back of my hand. I could tell you about all of the hikes in the areas. Name all of the mountains that are fun to climb. I could even describe the ridgelines that connect all of the mountains and design a hike that would connect all of the hikes in the area. Of course, my family is also in Alaska. They are the people who truly support me and I know them all very well. We have gone through many fun times and many difficulties but I am familiar with them and am comfortable with them.

Familiar Things
A couple years ago I wrote a note on why we climb mountains. I explained that the reason I climb mountains is to familiarize myself with the area. It is very important for me to be familiar with the area around me. I think the same idea carries over to why we call a place home and why we miss it. Alaska has become my home because that is what I am most familiar with. I have lived with my family members either for my entire life or for their entire lives so I am very familiar with them. 15 years is a long time to live in one place so I miss how familiar everything is to me in Alaska.

It has took me 2 years for Colorado to become a home away from home. I am becoming more familiar with the area but there is a lot of Colorado I don't know anything about. I know Denver decently well but it's still foreign to me. My knowledge of Colorado is mostly limited to I70 boulder, the springs, and denver because those are the only places I've ever been. My friends in Colorado are great though. I have gotten to know them pretty well but I realize that even my friends are not as close as my family. I've lived with a couple of friends for 2 years which is pretty long but when you compare it with my family it's nothing. My little sister is 14 (Hey I remembered!!!!) so I have known her for 14 years. Out of my family I've known her for the shortest amount of time. 14 years!!! That's over 4 times longer than I've known ANYONE at Mines (Except for the 3 or 4 people I went to high school with that I rarely see). I've known my brother for 18 years now and I've known my older sister and my parents for 21 years!! I've lived with them for so long there is no way I could know anybody better than my family.

The Difference Between Missing and Living
So we have established that the reason I miss home is because I am most familiar with that location and those people. But, what about those times when you don't miss home or when you are at home and it's lame? Well I've pointed out that we all want to be familiar with someplace and with some people. But in our day to day lives that's not all that amazing. Missing and Living are two completely different things. Just because you miss something it doesn't necessarily mean that you will enjoy it when you go back to it.

Two Ways To Be Familiar With Something
Missing is remembering the comfortable feeling of BEING familiar with something. Living however, is much more enjoyable when you are BECOMING familiar with something. We all long to be familiar with something and there are two ways to do that. We can either go back to what we are already familiar with or familiarize yourself with something new. So missing and living are similar in that in both actions we have a desire to be familiar with something. But once you are completely familiar with something (Alaska in my case) living the same old life in Alaska is kind of boring. Being familiar with something is a great feeling but whenever we become familiar with one thing we naturally want to become familiar with the next thing.

Well I need to go familiarize myself with what I am going to do for Senior Design. I am looking forward to becoming more familiar with ZnO nanorods but I know in the future I will want to move on to something else :)