Thinking Out Loud – College Anxiety

Usually do I ever like to… aw, who am I kidding – I most regularly talk about my mental problems. While it is not mentioned often on this blog as it is on social media, I am very public about my personal problems.

As I am writing this blog post, I am also getting ready for another year of grad school. Maybe to some people this may sound like a “walk in the park,” but to me it isn’t. On top of completing my academics, I’m in competition with myself to get a better job, improve my music writing skills, exercise more often to tone my body, socialize, save the world from climate change, learn how to sing, etc.

Daunting.

But one area that gives me the most anxiety is reconnecting with certain professors and fellow students.

Why? Because it is draining. It is draining to constantly try to impress certain people that are either A) too jaded to care about your art, or B) too superficial to give art any form of equal consideration.

For my readers today – here is my advice:

If no one is going to give any particular consideration for your music, then why write for “no one?” Instead of writing for “no one,” you should write for “someone” – and that particular “someone” should be yourself.

Every sing day in the pop music world we have people trying to copy one another to get a taste of success. And many of those attempts turn into flops or an embarrassing recording in one’s career. This stupidity should not be housed in the college.

Instead of being a carbon copy, write music that you want to write. And if people cannot see that art in you – get yourself away from that negative energy. Creativity cannot be measured by a grade on a report card – so do not subject yourself solely by the critiques of professors or students.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan Waring
Bryan M Waring

Thinking Out Loud – Appropriation of Jazz Music

Forewarning: I am not here to go in-depth on the cultural appropriation of jazz music. Mostly, because jazz – like any form of music – is a shared musical experience for EVERYONE to enjoy.

However, I do want to use this time to speak my mind about how in some cases we have taken the jazz idiom and chained it in shackles to the normality of Western European musical standards.

When people learn a jazz tune for the first time, it might go in one of two ways:

  1. Out of the Real Book, with a fake sheet giving the lead lines and approximated chord changes. From there, the jazz ensemble would follow the typical form of playing the head (once or twice), followed by everyone taking a solo, and ending with the top of the head again.
  2. From an arrangement, usually intended for a school jazz band. This gives the ensemble “training wheels” for learning the typical form of the jazz tune while predicating how the “improvisational” part will sound.

But at some point, the training wheels do need to come off.

While abnormous amount of annotation (including notation of the chord structures, melody, repeat signs, markings, structure, accents, etc.) might be needed if the composition is a lengthy/complex jazz tunes that need these confinements in order to maintain sense of unity, it is truly superfluous to the roots of jazz.

If a performer cannot read from a lead sheet and talk to the band about the structure of who while take the first rounds of soloing, then this is a shame to how literal jazz has become – being reduced from the previous art form it was to now a commodity in the lenses of Western European music.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan Waring
Bryan M. Waring

Thinking Out Loud – How School Has Failed Students In Teaching Sight-Singing

If you tie a piece of candy to a string and hold it 10-feet above a young child, do you expect that if the child jumps to reach it everyday that they will gain the incredible skill of jumping five times their height by the end of the season? Golly, if it was that easy, we could build star basketball players while they are still in diapers.

How about you put a boulder in front of a person and ask them to punch it till it breaks. Do you think that within the timespan of after a few months they will have the capability of shattering anything in their path? More likely: their own shattered fist and a shattered bank account paying medical expenses.

Now, take this different scenario: having a person come into a gym and starting with exercises within the capability, following with more challenging exercises overtime at a gradual rate. Do you think that that after a good length period of time this person can have the strength to life 200lbs?

Absolutely. Because here was have a logical, gradual progression stemming from increasing skills over a long period of time with no rush.

Why hasn’t this simple logic reached the minds of music professors? “Because that’s how we’ve done it in the past, and that’s how it will continue?” With what, all the faulty results it does now?

To inform those that don’t know about what I am getting at: in college, a student majoring in music will more than likely have to take a music theory & aural skills that involves sight-singing… which is the task of reading a piece of sheet music at first glance and performing correctly on the spot by singing.

All is well till after a month, the repertoire every student will be asked to perform will be utterly impossible. Impossible to the point that even trained opera singers have trouble performing these vocal melody lines after ample time of rehearsal. Rhythms are technically difficult, vocal range is two wide to the point that it might strain one’s vocal chords, and stress is high because you are under the pressure of getting it perfect or you will fail out of the music program – kiss those thousands of dollars invested into your education goodbye! And yet, we grade these vocal gymnastics as if they are commonplace.

Most – that’s right MOST – will receive a barely passing grade unless they are 1) trained vocalists and 2) have perfect pitch. Those that don’t possess those skills leave the class discourage about pursuing music. Athletes train for years and years to get at the legacy level; why do we have this stupid concept of forcing student to do the impossible and expecting improvement within the few months of a semester?

And yes, while I am speaking from my own biased perspective of having trouble with these sight-singing exercises in college, I do know that there are a lot of people out there having trouble out there as well; and furthermore, I do know that there is a better way of strengthening a student’s sight-singing skills. What I don’t know, is the person within an educational system that will question this faulty standard in order to better their students.

Just thinking out loud.

Bryan Waring