Archive for the ‘Reboot Process’ Category

One of the reasons that I’ve been a bit quiet here lately is that I had some grand idea forming in my head that I would start a tradition of an annual report on my reboot process by going back and pulling up my initial objectives and examining progress on each one(*).  Well, not only did that stop me cold in my tracks, but I suspect that it would have been about as interesting to read as the phone book.  So I will spare you that.  You may thank me later .

In the process of killing off the annual report idea though, I did keep coming back to what I feel is the single biggest thing that I have learned over the last two years.  It may not sound particularly profound.  I think it may be like some of those Buddhist concepts where  the act of putting the idea into words robs the idea of its power.  But I’m going to try anyway.

The three word summary is in the title of this post:  Enjoy the Process.

And for some reason I feel compelled to break this down by introducing (or possibly recycling) a series of aphorisms.  This may end up being even more self-indulgent than my original idea of an annual report, but hopefully it will at least be a bit entertaining.

Don’t obsess over becoming an expert, enjoy the time spent on the journey.

This is mostly deeply rooted in the Growth vs. Fixed Mindset idea that came as part of my informal teacher training.  One of the most frustrating students I taught last year was convinced that he was a natural expert programmer and did a pretty darn good job in general.  But he kept hitting a wall in his experience and rather than treating that as an opportunity to learn he would just thrash away in frustration.  Some of my greatest triumphs were when I got him to plow through and figure out the solution himself.  I see too much of myself in that behavior, but now I have that very clear image of that student to pull on when I find myself hitting my head against a wall.  I hope I helped him half as much as he helped me.

Treasure feedback from any source as if it is a rare gift.

Because it is.  It is always harder to give feedback than not.  I have a deeply ingrained impulse to take constructive feedback as a negative commentary on my abilities and I believe it still shows on my face, even in very relaxed environments like a yoga studio.  And of course that treats the absolutely wrong feedback loop with people I am trying to learn from.  I think I’m doing better in the moment and hopefully that will continue to improve over time.   Habits aren’t hard to break (says the ex-smoker), you just have to keep trying.  And making sure that I express appreciation after the fact  to the people that teach me things is, I hope, an effective way of counteracting the in the moment reaction that still happens more often than I would like.

Things that are worth mastering are rarely things that can be mastered.

So one had better enjoy the learning process, because there is no end.  I set out to learn to speak Spanish and learned that I haven’t really ‘mastered’ English yet.  I set out to teach computer science to high school students and I’m pretty sure I ended up learning more from them than they did from me.  I could go on ad nauseum with this list, but I’ll spare you for now.

Be wary of spending too much time doing something that you don’t enjoy.

This is often an attempt to attain some grand future goal, like a title at work, a retirement fund or some kind of recognition.  I’ve achieved a bunch of these things, but if I regret anything (and I really try not to have regrets) it’s the hours spent doing things that I really hated to get to goals.  They really aren’t worth that price.  So I am going to try to make sure that whatever I do in the future the day to day work on balance is both fulfilling and enjoyable in and of itself.

Some part of everyday routine basis makes the world better place

This is the one that I struggle with the most.  Is the world a better place because I helped build better technology relatively early on in the PC revolution?  I like to think so, but it’s pretty impossible to prove.  Do some kids have a slightly better outlook on programming and technology because of the time I spent last year volunteering.  I think that’s a much clearer yes, but that was a much larger commitment than I can manage on a regular basis.  Hopefully I will manage to find on the clearly good + clearly sustainable list in the near future as a volunteer activity.  But the thing I am really trying to figure out is how to get my career Venn diagram to include an unambiguous “make the world a better place” component.

Overall, Enjoy the Process really is a pretty good summary of what I’ve learned so far.  With any luck that will include enjoying the process of writing and you’ll hear more from me in the coming months and years.

(*)The other reason is that I’ve diving into my start-up project which also involves some writing  and so I am (so far not very successfully)  trying to integrate the reboot writing into my ‘non-work’ time.

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Venn diagrams are such fun tools.  I wrote a post a while back about the career planning Venn diagram that I ran across.

Career Options

And that is still what’s driving me.  Where to find that intersection between Enjoyment, Skill Set, and a Paycheck.

So let’s talk about another Venn diagram (I promise I’ll loop back around to careers in a moment).  Two of the things that I enjoy most are programming and dancing.  Can I make them intersect?  The default diagram appears to look like this.

Programming - Dance

But wait, dance is heavily influenced by music, there is a mathematical aspect to music (especially the way I think about it) and programming bears a striking resemblance to mathematics.  So here is my intersection model for programming and math.  Pretty, twisted, no?

Programming + Dance - Simple

In any case that leads to the core point of this post, which is that I’m taking a new turn in my reboot process and investing some significant amount of time into a project that really is an intersection between programming and dance.  I’m building a web site and suite of web (and possibly *phone apps) to help dancers find music.   Along with that I’m spinning up a new blog to help shape the ideas that go into the site.  So if music and dancing are things that interest you, please hop on over to my new blog.

And as promised, back to careers.  This lands me squarely on this version of the career diagram.

nopayoverlap

If the stars align I hope to bring the paycheck circle back into an overlapping state.

career-options

By the most strict definition, it’s been 9 months since I started this reboot project.  But for various reasons I’m going to write off about three months of that time and call this my six month check-in.  Not the least of which is that I hadn’t really gotten to the point where I felt like a top down check in made sense in April…

Here is a paragraph from my very first post which I need to keep coming back to as it is way too easy to get lost in the details:

I’m taking a minimum of a year off of full time employment to dive into this experiment, if this ends up being a year of self-improvement and self-discovery, I’ll count it as a success but not be thrilled with the outcome.  My overall objective is to accomplish the brain reboot and in the process discover my next big thing, which I hope will be a project/career that will both improve the world around me and provide a sustainable living.

And to do this I developed a what I can only describe as a self-directed curriculum.  I’m going to just blatantly cut and paste my original ‘curriculum’ post from October here, as I didn’t really remember it in detail and I’ve been living it…


—–Begin Excerpt—–

Because I am fundamentally a reductionist, I am going to divide my efforts into three broad categories.  One is large goals that I intend to spend something measurable in hours per week over the course of the year to achieve a specific objective.  Another is what I’m thinking of as tools and techniques – experimenting with different methods of learning on small things or specifically aiming at acquiring a particular skill that I believe will help my ability to execute on my larger goals.  The final category is the scatter-shot learning of anything that strikes my fancy.

Well that’s completely amorphous, you say?  Let’s dig a bit deeper.

I’ve already mentioned the top four big things:

  1. Learn a language – there are two major questions to answer here. The first is the language, I’m leaning towards Spanish, but some of the other contenders are Mandarin Chinese, Japanese, French, Latin, Gaelic, and Ancient Icelandic.  This certainly deserves at least one blog post of its own, so stay tuned. The second is technique. I’m not even sure where to start with a discussion on how to learn a language (although I’ve been accumulating ideas from various sources) so again, stay tuned.
  2. Music – While my initial measurable goal is to learn an instrument to some level of mastery, I’d also like to dig more into music theory and develop sight reading skills. Contenders here are piano, guitar, violin, clarinet, saxophone, ukulele, harmonica, vocals and upright bass.
  3. Programming – I’m not even going to try to attack this in a small paragraph.
  4. Writing – Well, let’s start with blogging, perhaps more will come of it.  Although I did just notice that nanowrimo is next month. Hmmm…

And some of the skills that I’m hoping to develop:

  • Speed reading
  • Memorization techniques
  • Analysis/Critique – If nothing else I am going to start reviewing books and teaching company courses that I read and listen to.
  • Math – there is certainly room for a ‘big’ learning subject here as well, but my initial interest is in exercising basic math skills to see if that help stretch my brain and make some other activities easier.
  • Physical skills – Keep doing yoga and dance and perhaps re-introduce an eastern martial art of some kind – I am certainly strongly planted in the strong body helps a strong mind camp.
  • Typing?

I’m not sure that the last category is actually a separate thing, but I’m including it as a reminder to myself to  strike a balance between a disciplined approach and making sure that I have a blast in the process.

—–End Excerpt—–

And of course I gave myself full permissions to morph the curriculum as I went (including calling 9 months 6 months, just because).  So where am I now?

At a very high level, I feel both very good about what I’ve accomplished and pretty frustrated at the pacing.  But a large part of the point of this whole exercise is to get better at learning in general and while it’s very hard to measure that explicitly, I feel some movement in the old noggin’ so that has to count for something…

At the next level, I have stuck with my top four major objectives but would say that physical skills which I had originally placed as a minor player actually ended up getting elevated to top tier status.

And for a quick brain-dump style status report, here’s what I’ve got:

  1. Language: I landed on Spanish and spent some time listening to Pimsleur audio + their minimal reading writing accompaniment.   It was slow progress at best.  I certainly wasn’t able to absorb this information without reviewing multiple times per lesson.  So I broke down and signed up for a small class size Spanish 1 at a local school.  This seemed to get me over a bit of a hump.   I’m just starting level II and fell like I’m making real progress.  I think there is some chance that I will hit at least minimal functionality sometime in the foreseeable future which is definitely further than I’ve ever gotten before with a language other than English.
  2. Music:  I landed on Piano + some ear training supplemented with a bit of music theory.  I made it through a level one piano book quickly as it was mostly review.  I stalled out a bit on the level two stuff but can see myself getting back to that soon.  I am pushing hard on the ear training as it feels like a breakthrough on that would be more fundamental in my general brain training than incremental improvement of keyboard skills.  I am also having a lot of fun going through the Billy Joel songbook (and will add Brubeck as well) – this is definitely not an example of deliberate learning, but may start slopping into flow.
  3. Programming:  I’ve some thoughts on branching into iOs and Android programming, but for now I’m playing with some ideas that have been floating in my head for years for some dance music tools, and I can do initial implementation of that nicely in the Microsoft universe.   In fact as I’ve started spending a bit more time on this it’s pretty easy to get lost in it and not want to do anything else, which is great.  Also, I signed up for a volunteer gig to teach intro to computer science to high school students, so I’m busily training to teach this stuff.  There will definitely be more on that here shortly.
  4. Writing:  Most of my writing has been in the context of this blog.  Alicia and I took part of an online fiction writing class, but stalled on it as we both manage grammar pretty well and there was a bit too much emphasis on basics in that class.  But one of these days some fiction may escape me…
  5. Physical Skills: I’ve had a blast starting to learn to tap dance, which is something I’ve never tried before.  Learning a new physical skill has definitely been a key part of helping me think about how I learn in general.  I’ve also dug deeper into yoga, adding a vinyasa (or flow) style to my practice and spending more time working with poses on my own rather than just pushing through them in class.  This is definitely a place where I’m playing with deliberate practice, but I certainly have a long way to go.

For the small random things, I’ve spent considerable time on speed reading as I think that’s the biggest bang for my buck.  And of course I upgraded physical skills to a major skill.  I haven’t been great about attacking small projects though and that’s a little disappointing.  Although if we were to add cooking and canning into the mix, they might count.

And of course my progress on the top level of what I want to do when I grow up is on the slow side.  But re-awakening my joy in programming and taking a stab at passing that on to others in a new way has to count as a good start, right?

I was telling a friend (who I think can be characterized as a reasonably successful musician) about learning to play the piano.  His immediate question was “who are you studying with.”  Which threw me for a moment, because I hadn’t actually considered starting up with a piano teacher yet. (Check out my post on learning to play the piano if you’re interested in the gory details of how I’m going about this).

But that got me to thinking about the general question of where self study is most effective and where other more formal education might be more appropriate.  I was inspired to start this reboot project in part by Chris Guillebeau‘s guest blog post on Powell’s site where the thesis was directed self study could be more effective than going to grad school (and cheaper).   While I’ve used the post as a touchstone, my goals are considerably different than his were and so what I’ve actually ended up doing has borne at best a passing resemblance to his suggested curriculum.   So why not diverge in method as well?

The quick answer is that I have already, and in fact I never really though about not taking more formal classes for some parts of my curriculum.  For instance, I didn’t consider trying to learn to tap dance without taking class.  On the other hand, I did take a run at learning to speak Spanish from audio lessons and books.

So where do you draw the line?  What things are best learned solo where you can make your own mistakes in the privacy of your own home, which things are best done in a class setting, and what things are better with a tutor?  And to add another twist, at what point do you get more out of teaching something to someone else than by taking more classes yourself?

For myself, learning a second language without some direction from someone fluent in that language has been pretty much a bust.   I broke down and signed up for an introductory small class course at a local language school.  We’ve only had two sessions so far, but I’m reasonably certain that was the right thing to do.

Has anyone out there learned a language without the direct help of someone who speaks it already?  If so was it your second language (or third or fourth or fifth)?  What method did you use?  And would you recommend it over taking a class or hiring a tutor?

I’m not quite sure why tap is doing this to me.  I really did just throw in this particular skill as an afterthought in my curriculum more because I’d like to have fun hoofing with my lovely wife if and when I make it close to her league rather than as one of my initial big chunks of brain re-trainings like language or music.  But for whatever reason things in my broader agenda keep clicking while in tap class.  So here is another installment of what I learned in tap this week that is only tangentially related to the dance form.

The teacher asked us to turn our backs on him and he tapped out a rhythm.  We were then asked to do our best to copy the sounds that he created using any technique that we knew.  He started out with extremely simple examples and when he got to just plain simple which resulted in total cacophony from the class, he stopped.  But he explained that this was a way of learning to improvise.  In the tap sense it’s pretty close to some of the ear training that I’ve been doing in music.  And of course back in my youth I really liked the concept of jazz improvisation, but was never all that great at it – probably because I didn’t spend enough time with ear training and building my vocabulary.

Did I just say vocabulary?  Yes, I did!  The thing that really connects everything together for me was that the teacher went on to describe how he thought of improvisation in tap.  He said it felt like learning to speak a language.  Your objective isn’t to figure out the sentence that you’re going to say ahead of time, mapping out the whole structure and then spitting it out.  The idea is that you should have a working vocabulary that is rich enough and natural enough that you can just start talking and you form the thought as you go.  Dance, music, language, choreography, sight reading, speed reading, writing, composing – the same brain does all of these things.  Maybe training in one is actually going to help others.  Who woulda thunk?

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about breadth first vs. depth first learning and skill acquisition.  The terms are from graph theory and are used with reference to tree traversal.  If they don’t immediately resonate with you, take a quick look at the graphs on the right hand side of the breadth-first and depth-first search Wikipedia pages – just walk through the nodes in the order of the numbers, that will give you a  good visualization of the conceptual difference between the two.  In any case, the idea that I’m trying to convey here is that I have been a radically depth first person in both work and life.  But now I’m reversing course and going pretty extremely breadth first and I have to admit that it’s freaking me out a bit.

My depth first work:

I got my first job at 13 as a sales and support person at an Apple computer store.  I was lucky enough to land a college work study job writing music theory software for the Macintosh.  I haven’t held a single job since that isn’t computer related.  And furthermore, of my twenty-odd year professional career a clear majority of that time has been spent developing a specific category of programs (debuggers, profilers, and other diagnostics tools).  I have occasionally toyed with trying some kind of service job just to round out my resume, but I don’t really think that will happen.

My depth first life:

When I started doing something other than work in my mid-twenties, I jumped straight into Ballroom dance.  I spent the better part of a decade dancing many hours a week and competed at several different amateur levels.  Ballroom is actually a fairly broad category.   My first year of trying to learn how to dance I took a conventional route of trying to learn a breadth of different dances (Foxtrot, Rhumba, Waltz, Swing, Cha-Cha).  That didn’t work at all for me.  It was only when my teacher convinced me to do an exhibition routine that was entirely swing that I clicked.  I eventually broadened out and learned more competitive and social dance styles, but it was definitely a key to start with one and learn it to a certain level before attempting a second one.

I then took up Kung Fu and spent 2+ hours 2 to 3 times a week in class, plus quite a few Friday evenings learning lion dance, plus time on my own, which was non-trivial although probably not nearly as much as I should have.  Again, I did this for the better part of a decade.  Then I took up yoga – again 2-3 times a week for about 5 years now.  For those of you that may know my age and are trying to do the math, there was some overlap on either end of Kung-Fu.  I’m not quite that old.

In any case,  I’ve generally only practiced one or two hobbies at a time and have practiced them intensely.  And I’ve gotten reasonably good at them.  I always take it as a compliment when other students mistake me for a teacher and a further compliment when another teacher makes that assumption, and that has happened in all three of my depth first hobbies on many occassions.

Switching to Breadth First:

Now of course, without a full time job, I could probably manage a few depth first activities at the level that I was previously maintaining one while working full time.  And at some level that’s what I thought I was going to do when I started this adventure.  But it really isn’t how things feel at this point.  Take, for instance, music.  I set out to learn to play the piano this year.  But when it came right down to it I wanted to take a broader look at music.  So I am playing the piano every day.  But I am also running through an ear training course.  And I just started a singing course as well.  My old self would have allocated more time to piano and not broadened into other music related things until I felt pretty comfortable with my basic keyboard skills.  But I think there is some real value in broadening out earlier.  So we’ll see how that goes.

Of course the music thing is a pretty limited example.  One could make the argument that what I’m really doing is some kind of depth first traversal of a redefined domain.

But then there  is the Spanish thing.  And the tap thing.  And I’ve started learning a different kind of yoga.  And re-learning programming.  And speed reading.  And writing – both this blog and taking a creative writing course.  And there are the dozen other things that I want to start doing this year but haven’t gotten traction on yet.  For instance, I’d like to play with memory techniques.  I would like to take a run at Toastmasters.  I would like to improve my typing speed (and/or learn Dvorak).  I would like to take a run at writing fiction.  And the list goes on.

I’m hoping at the least that trying a bit of breadth first will help with my primary goal of learning and acquiring skills faster, as measured by the net number of hours spent.  I’ll be sure to report back soon.

One of the primary reasons that I’m taking some time away from a conventional workplace is to try to improve my general capacity to learn as I think this will make me more effective in work and life in general.

But I wanted to take a step back and spend some time on the other primary reason, which I tend to think of as the quest for my next career.  Or what I want to do when I grow up 🙂

One of the images that stuck in my head is a Venn diagram that I heard described in a podcast.  Which is somewhat odd in itself, in that it’s an ‘image’ that I ‘heard.’  In any case I won’t burden you with whatever incipient synesthesia that I am apparently dealing with.  Here’s what I heard/saw:

Career Options

Kind of speaks for itself doesn’t it?  Quite simple – fill in the circles with skills/careers described by the text and shoot for something that lands in the triangle in the center and the problem is solved.  Of course if you’re at all like me you have this slightly uneasy feeling that the diagram might actually look more like this:

nopayoverlap

And even  though every job I’ve ever held has had very enjoyable aspects, I have to admit that my career choices have been pretty biased by a diagram that looks like this:

oldcareer

Now  that’s a perfectly good picture, especially if you are of the type (and I’m not judging here at all) that can choose such a career and use the proceeds from your job to do something on the side that contributes to the core of your happiness.   I have tried this with some success at times, but it never feels quite right to me.  I get too absorbed in my workplace to make that kind of work/life partitioning effective.

I also think that a fourth component should be ‘Things that provide value to society’ and in some sense that probably overlaps in a different way with the ‘Things that people will pay me to do’ circle, possibly even in a way that makes it a single component at least at a high level.  But I’ll have to give that a bit more thought.  And while I’m on crazy sidetracks, I wonder if there is any objective way to determine the relative size of the circles?

In any case, I’m not quite sure where that overlap is for me right now.  And building new skills will hopefully change where it is in the future.  But the obvious next step is to try filling out the diagram with actual data to see where it lands me and if it ends up in a readable state I’ll post it here.

I wonder if such a diagram would be a useful part of a resume?  Just joking. Really.  I wouldn’t actually do that.

P.S. I can’t for the life of me remember the podcast that started me down this track.  I think it might have been one from the Entrepreneurial Thought Leaders series, but I’ve been listening to them in a scattershot way so I don’t have any hope of zooming in on the correct one.  If anyone knows, please pass it along so (a) I can give credit where it is due and (b) I can see how close my memory is to what I originally heard.

Keep in mind that the Prime Directive of my reboot project is to get my middle aged brain up and running back at twenty-something spryness. So the specific skills that I have chosen to tackle were taken from a list of things where there is some evidence to justify spending time on them as means to that end.

All that said, I am having a blast getting back into music.  And I’m enjoying the piano in a way that I never did as a kid, which may not be surprising.

Here’s what happened.  Even before I left my full time job, I impulse purchased a package that contained a 6 octave keyboard and the E-Media beginning and intermediate piano methods (eMedia Play Piano Pack).  The box sat in the corner and gathered dust for several months while I struggled with my decision to give up a stable career and go off and do this reboot thing.  Who knows, maybe the mocking keyboard bundle was what put me over the edge?

So when I decided to tackle the piano and re-build the musical part of my brain, I loaded up the software, hooked up the piano and dove in.  I have to say, I was really impressed with the e-Media piano method.  Now admittedly, I had a bunch of piano lessons in my youth and a decent amount of music theory for a non-musician.  So nothing I ‘learned’ in the beginning method was technically ‘new’ for me.  But the meta-analysis of how they set up the system was a blast and as long as I remember to turn that analysis off while actually playing, I think it added to the experience.

One of the coolest things about this method was that they use  several songs that everyone probably knows – my favorite of the bunch is Billy Joel’s “Piano Man”.  They start with an extremely simplified version and build them up to something close to the full version of the song, although at least in the case of “Piano Man” it doesn’t quite get to the complete rich harmony of the original.  First you play a simplified version of the melody and have the option to get the software to play the harmony. This means that  from the get-go you feel like you’re actually playing music.  They start you on C major with hands in a home position and move you through F and G major along with a couple of basic positions for the hands, but they really do keep it simple.  For harmony they teach you the basic I, IV, V7 progression  and then use that in a very obvious way in their arrangements of the familiar music you’re learning.

There is also a very rudimentary ear training component.  A bit of help in recognizing the intervals and chords that your learning to play when you here them is not a bad thing at all and something that I wish I had done more of when learning to play instruments the first time around.

To top it off, you have the midi keyboard hooked up to the computer so the software will give you feedback about everything from missed notes to notes not held long enough or too long.  I’m not sure if it’s good or bad that this evokes the image of my piano teacher when I was ten telling me similar things in a somewhat less neutral way.  More importantly, you start with the discipline of playing with someone (or something) else so you build in the importance of not pausing because something is hard, which was one of the single hardest habits to break when as a kid I went from individual lessons to playing in group.

In any case, I whipped through the beginner method in a bit over a month of running 10 or 20 lessons at a time.  Most of the stuff that was set up to practice repeatedly I was able to sight read through, and the built in feedback gave me some confidence that I wasn’t cheating.  I would be really curious to know how well this works for someone who is learning for the first time, but it was really fun as a review.  And since I have about a 30 year gap since I last took a piano lesson, I feel like some of the well thought out aspects of this method helped me build better habits the second time around.

Now the question is, does this help me with by larger objectives?  How do I measure that?  I’m not quite sure yet, but it has proven to me that picking at least some of the skills for the reboot project as things that I really enjoy is probably a personal key to making this project a success.

I’ve been dong a considerable amount of reading about learning and how we learn as I wade into an extended commitment to improve my own abilities in this area.  One of the most intriguing books so far has been Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain.

When I embarked on this adventure that I’ve decided to call a self funded sabbatical, I had seen a decent amount about neuroplasticity which roughly defined is the the repurposing the existing circuits in the brain for new uses.  But one of the core messages of Spark is that neurogenesis or the growing of new nerve cells is not only possible but well established science, if still on the bleeding edge.  There are limited parts of the brain where this is proven to happen and several other caveats, but just the glimmer of hope that the all those cells that I’m sure I killed off in my twenties while drinking and smoking and otherwise abusing my system may not be permanently lost to me is exciting.  As a small side note, I wonder how all night programming stints while chugging Mountain Dew ranks on the abuse of the system next to some of the more conventional craziness?

The formula for neurogenesis appears to be a good bout of aerobic exercise at seventy to eighty percent max heart rate with occasional spikes to ninety percent followed by studying something.   Apparently if you don’t do some learning after the exercise the newly budded nerve cells just get re-absorbed, kind of a waste of good sweat, no?  One of the studies cited vocabulary acquisition explicitly as being enhanced by this method.  Another noted that attempting learn during the exercise was counterproductive.  Of course I was on the elliptical trainer when I learned those factoids.  Go figure.

So I’m making an attempt to use this information to inform my routine.  My current goal is twenty to thirty minutes on the elliptical followed by ten to twenty of tap then right into my Pimsleur Spanish lesson of the day.  Before the holidays I did this three times a week for a couple of weeks, once I get back into the routine in the new year, I’ll see how frequently I can mange it and write an update.  I’m also considering alternating morning and afternoon exercise.   And because I am insane, I’m at least flirting with doing a bout in the morning and a bout in the afternoon.

The second of the ‘big’ things on my curriculum for this year is to learn a musical instrument.  As I noted in my initial curriculum post, I’d like to not only learn an instrument but also dig into some music theory and include sight reading and playing by ear as part of my overall musical training.

This is in many ways the opposite situation from the language learning that I’ve started.  Whilst I’ve tried and failed at language acquisition on a number of occasions, I actually have a decent amount of musical background, just unexercised for twenty plus years.

Here’s a quick rundown:

  • Piano lessons from 3rd grade – 9th grade
  • Clarinet lessons from 5th grad to 12th grade
  • Concert band, Marching Band, Jazz Band, pit orchestra up through high school (and just a touch into college)
  • My college work study project was writing music theory software for the Macintosh

So, I’m not starting from square one – but that still left me scratching my head as to a where to reboot my music practice.  My initial instinct was to pick up the clarinet again as it was the instrument that I the highest level of proficiency back in the day.  But that just wasn’t clicking for me.

So then I thought maybe I would try guitar, since that was an instrument that I’ve always wanted to play and never really tried.  Or even start with the ukulele. Less strings has to be easier right? Also I’ve been listening to Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs and enjoying them a bit too much.

But sight reading, ear training and music theory are large parts of my objective here.   So, I think,  maybe the violin. That’s one of the fundamental instruments that people start with, and it has a strong ear training component. Of course the piano is a better instrument for sight reading, since if you can sight read harmonies on both clefs, sight reading for a melodic instrument like the clarinet becomes almost trivial.  And there’s nothing better than the piano for digging into music theory.

When it comes right down to it I have to  admit that my parents were right when they told me that if I want to play the guitar I should start with the piano.  So Mom and Dad – this one’s for you – I’m a gunna larn to play me the pee-an-er.