How can I support my child to learn?

So a really sweet story I wanted to share about a night out in Toronto.

Most of the time now I don’t really go out on nights out. I either can’t afford the time and/or money, but I am usually taking an Uber to work on mixing with Devecseri. Livin it MASSIVE (if you mean this Massive).

Sometimes the Uber conversations are fun, sometimes not, sometimes none. Usually it comes out pretty quickly that I’m a musician because I’m lugging around a violin, midi keyboard, laptop, among other things. One journey recently was really sweet.

I get to talking with my driver, who has two sons, aged 6 and 2. They’re boisterous and have lots of energy, and he’s going to take them out to the bird sanctuary in Niagara for the long weekend. We start talking music because that’s where I’m going and he mentions his 6-year-old has started making his own tunes, humming and recording it into his smartwatch unprompted. Neither his parents or grandparents are musical or play any instruments, so it’s particularly interesting. I was really impressed, until he asked a question that just made me so happy:

“What can I do to support my son?”

I never really work with kids or parents in my line of work, so this question made me so happy. Amazing parent moment. He has financial constraints of course, so lessons aren’t always possible. So I suggested a few things for somebody learning music, and this could apply to any age:

  • Go into a music shop and ask if it’s possible to try different instruments and what would be good for a young beginner
  • YouTube for getting a sense of possibility, seeing different teaching methods and instruments available
  • Get a cheap instrument for a beginner. Check the internet, trading sites, second hand places. Even music schools have to get rid of stuff sometimes or know somebody who is.
  • Lots of schools have free or group classes for kids, which can be a great starting point.
  • Other than that,  just listen to a kid. Don’t tell them what they’re doing sounds terrible, because that SUCKS to hear. It puts a zap on your head, let me tell you.

Obviously respecting noise and neighbours is one thing, but framing it makes all the difference. Everybody is terrible at the start. Sometimes it doesn’t end there.

This is purely based on my own experience, of course. I know I needed a much more careful and nurturing approach when I started to learn composition for making music, even though I studied musicianship for years in an abstract sense. I went back to it as an adult and had much more anxiety around being perfect or not at all, no middle ground.

Support takes many forms in music. Sometimes you just need somebody to listen. Having the awareness to know when something is in a more fragile state and structuring feedback accordingly is a valuable skill. That way you can spotlight the areas that have potential and gently nudge away the dross. Of course, as any musician or artist progresses you can be a bit less gentle, same with raising a kid. I feel like this is much more important when a person is actually creating music, not just learning how to play it. I really hope this kid gets the right teachers for him, although by the sounds of things he’s already well on his way.

Ideas can be so fragile, but it’s key moments like that which can change everything.


Adventures in Ableton Live

Learning how to compose while learning the software to do it is like learning to be a bricklayer while building the road out in front of you. It’s fun, but it takes a lot longer. However, that technically is what building your own path is.

To really overstretch this metaphor, I think I’ve bulldozed a space ahead enough to track back and start building a path. Hopefully without causing harm.

That’s one reason I like having a day job in software. In a weird way, it keeps me disciplined. When you only have a very narrow window in which to work, you work. You learn a lot about best practices, most of which translate to any business model. And make no mistake, being known as a musician, much less getting paid, is a business. It’s one of the few ones where you clearly, blatantly, obviously, bleed for your work, but it’s all too easy to be anonymous, or relatively so.

There’s an benefit to keeping your head somewhere between the clouds and the ground. Bestride the narrow world, and extra so as an immigrant. I am learning Toronto while keeping Ireland with me, but they feed into each other.

So what am I learning? Ableton will do anything as long as you ask and know how to ask. There have been many, many swearing incidents where I play a new improv off the top of my head, thought I had everything set up, and – ah! balls. I had no channel selected, or I’d armed the wrong track, or I’d selected the wrong track, or I was still in session mode, or a host of other obstacles.

Any system reminds me of a jungle gym. Overwhelmingly complicated at the beginning, daunting, and you will likely fall on your ass. A lot. BUT. It’s important to fall, and fall early. If not, you’ll be more afraid of failure than anything else. I’m trying, slowly, to ease that death-grip fear. Fear is the reason behind an overwhelming majority of my mistakes, which is funny when you think about it.