Learning and Teaching: My Music Philosophies

This is more of a deep-dive into my own approach to both learning and teaching music. If you are interested in taking entry-level music lessons, then click here to learn more about what I have to offer. Thank you for reading!

Dan Baby Drum Trash Can 2px - Spring 1966.jpg
Trash can drumming, Summer 1966

My music interests began before I was two years old, while enjoying my uncle’s band rehearsals on my grandparents’ farm.

Since then I’ve taken a variety of lessons on a list of instruments, including trumpet, drums, guitar, bass, keyboard, string bass, piano, and more.

During my high school years, I was active as a drummer in marching band, pep band, jazz band [guitar], theater band, and any other band I could join.

In college, I was a Percussion Arts major during my first year in 1983. However, I changed my major after the first year, and split the second year of my education between my studies and my college band.

After two years of school, I decided to venture into “the real world” to see what things were all about.

This is a very important question to ask and answer. It is also a complicated question to answer, but I will try to keep it short.

I had gone to college to study Percussion Arts in order to please my mother. This is probably the worst reason to continue education. She saw it as my foot in the door to higher education, which it was. But the big question was: What will a music degree do for me?

st vincent.jpgI am not the first musician to ask this question. Annie Clark [pictured] of St. Vincent did the same thing, after studying music for three years at Berkelee.

A music degree will get you a few things. The assumed thing is the music knowledge, which I will discuss later. You also get the degree, which only matters if you are teaching or auditioning for an orchestra.

Also, back when I went to college, the degree one earned was used to make a living in that specific field. It was not like today, where a degree in anything holds value in anything you want to do. So at the time, a music degree held almost no value for me, for I was not interested in teaching back then, and I also held no interest in trying to gain work in an orchestra.

There were other reasons. Mr. Paul, my drum instructor throughout junior high and high school, was my marimba instructor. Due to some serious schedule conflicts, he was never present for any of my marimba one-on-one classes. I ended up teaching myself and performing at year-end recital anyway. This was not worth what it cost me, which was approximately $300 per hour, for a full year.

The music theory instructor was not a good person to be conveying information to students. She had these ideas that you “have to do” this or that in order to have a legitimate song. Back then, I viewed the concepts of music theory as being guidelines or suggestions. I also viewed them as rules that are meant to be broken in certain circumstances. Catering to her iron rule held no interest for me.

Shortly after I left college, I moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. While I never achieved any level of fame, I did make a living for many years. I got to be in some fun bands, got to write some cool songs, and got to record some interesting tracks.

During this time, I did just fine without a music degree. I never needed to have an understanding of music theory in order to work with other musicians.

I still have no desire to join an orchestra, so I did okay there.

These days, since I’ve dialed back my live performance situations, I do have an interest in teaching. In this regard, not having my degree does prevent me from teaching at an official facility. But it does not get in the way of me teaching private lessons.

At the time, quitting music school to pursue my dreams was not a mistake. In looking back, I wish that I could have found a way to get through school. There were too many things working against me.

Not only were there things about the school that made the education less-than-optimal, but I had gone to school for the wrong reasons. Also, being young was a very important attribute for a starting rock musician to have back in 1986. By the time I got out of school, I would be “old,” and that would not work. I had to get out and try.

I’m glad that I did.

The music I have set out to create over the course of my life is mostly Western pop/rock and blues. Being immersed in Western culture, I picked up various things along the way that stuck with me when it was time to write a song, or collaborate with a band.

I had the ideas and the “things” in my head, as well as in what I was doing. I just did not have the names for these ideas and things, or why they have specific types of relationships.

For the past few years, I have been taking Intermediate/Advanced guitar lessons, and am also receiving music theory instruction. As a result, I have an appreciation for music theory. Even though I got by without a lasting impression from my time in college, I have come to enjoy music theory studies.

I don’t get different things out of my music theory knowledge, but I do get more of what I wanted out of it, if that makes sense.

The short answer is that learning never ends. There is always something to learn. I will never reach a point where I know it all, so it’s time to stop learning.

Different people learn at different speeds, and they want to learn different things. There are lots of video courses out there, as well as a wealth of information. The problem with videos is that they are offered as a one-size-fits-all solution. You cannot ask a video questions. A video does not understand where you want to go with your own music pursuits.

When I was growing up, in all of my learning situations, it was a case of the teacher dictating to me what had to be learned. This might be fine in the very early stages of a student’s studies, because you need to understand things such as technique, tuning, or even how to practice. But as one starts to grow and begins to feel an attachment to their instrument, they don’t want to be told what must be done.

And if they’re true musicians at heart, then they will have a curiosity about their instrument.

This is why I’ve worked out my approach so that the student decides what they want to learn. This does not mean that we will be skipping proper technique or other basics. What this DOES mean is that the training wheels will be pulled off earlier than one would experience in a more traditional setting.

It also means that you won’t get bored to death with an “introduction to jazz” if you have no current interest in jazz.

This approach is important because MY goal, as your entry-level music instructor, is to get you playing your instrument as quickly as possible. While you get the basics and work on building productive and essential habits, you will also get to start learning how to play that song you like.

Whether it’s practicing rudiments, patterns, and sticking on drums, or scales and chords on other instruments, this type of thing can get very boring, because it’s not really very musical. These are your tools, so you want to learn how to use them, but you also want to do more than just that.

When you can also learn a song that you like, this feeds your interest and curiosity. It gives you the feeling that you’re getting somewhere beyond the pages of the daily lesson.

Your goals are to learn more about your instrument, while practicing so that you can become a better player and be musical with your instrument.

My goal is to get you into a good place with your instrument, so that you can start being creative as soon as possible. Additionally, I can help to prepare you for more rigid training, should you wish to pursue that.

I am currently taking Intermediate/Advanced guitar instruction, and I can tell you that this can sometimes get overwhelming, and you can easily feel intimidated by it all. I got “thrown to the wolves” in an way, which is rough and can easily inspire a person to quit. I can help you step into it with more confidence, if that is where you want to go.

Remember that this is all about where YOU want to go. You’re driving this bus. I’m just giving the engine a tune-up, and filling the tank with gas.


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Drummer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and blogger.