Learning in Sydney, Australia


Learning in Sydney, Australia

Post by Adagio » Thu Oct 18, 2018 4:22 pm

Hello forumites,

I'm glad and grateful to have this forum. The contributions here are a tremendously helpful and I've learnt so much. Thank you all!

I've spent much of my (relatively youthful) life deeply appreciating music, enchanted by it, ethereally, spiritually. At times living for music, to my detriment. I suppose to anyone with ears, music is clearly not 'just music'.

At age 10 or 11, my mum paid for my first guitar lessons. I would go to school early at 8am and learn outside my class room before school started. I remember the sun just beginning to shine through the glass windows. I did that a few weeks until, I don't remember why exactly, but the lessons ended soon after. Seeing as I was easily bored, active, and disruptive as a child, I was probably disinterested for some reason or other. That was my last proper guitar lesson. I am now in my 30s. -- If those lessons had continued my life may have taken quite a different trajectory.

Nevertheless, music was sidelined. During my late teens and twenties I would tell others "I'm not the musical one, my brother is..." or "I'm not the musical one, my girlfriend is...", etc, as I barely scraped a pass in high school music class, like a deaf person listening to a radio. Compared to my sibling and peers, they were very obviously the ones who were trained intensively, making into the school band, Sydney youth orchestra, Sydney Conservatorium, et al. I on the other hand spent my lunchtime running away from racist bullies, fighting them, then running away again to the field to play soccer (or at least pretend to play), running from bullies on the other team, running away from homework nazis (at tutoring centres), then running on the athletics track, to running after girls, running away from more bullies, and then running to get to class, to go to uni, and to catch the train to the office...

To me, music was for music nerds. Music was also associated with the trauma of forced education. A dictatorial regime. A sweat shop of nerds. I recall my closest peers telling me about being forced by their mothers to 'practice piano every day' and then 'doing all their math homework' before being allowed to have dinner. That sounded miserable, absolutely horrible. I could picture so clearly in my mind my friends whimpering stressfully on the piano stool as their dictatorial tiger mothers stared them down waving a wooden spoon. 'No way I'd learn music!' I told myself.

Instead, I told others, "I'm the artistic one" (as visual arts came to me effortlessly -- my assessments somehow always returned back 100%??). And seeing as music was the arena of others, not mine, this sounded quite reasonable. -- In particular, I remember my school peers, particularly one freak Malaysian-Chinese kid, the son of a piano teacher, who was trained to play an '8th grade' piece in year 3 or 4, in front of everyone at school assembly. I vividly remember his fat tanned head swollen red with glossy sweat droplets dripping from his forehead as his mum stood behind him and watched, arms crossed. I also recall other freak-of-nature friends in my childhood Chinese community, some of whom had proudly mastered violin by time they graduated primary school and would play at every dinner or gathering whenever their mother told them to. -- So with this in mind, I deliberately neglected music and 'left it to the music kids'. It seemed obvious that music wasn't for me, it wasn't my forte, and I wanted nothing to do with it. The music itself sounded OK though, I suppose.

My family also happens to NOT be one of the cliche upper-class Hong Kong Chinese families who are trained in all sorts of Western interests including classical music, or English literature. There is no glossy grand piano in our foyer or living room. No one in our family is trained to play violin or piano. There is no sound of mum's piano music echoing in our hallways. There is no such thing as 'piano practice time' in this family. Instead, there's noisy TV, shouting about business and money. The only music I heard growing up was 80's Cantonese pop like and Love Song Dedications by Richard Mercer, or whatever was on the radio going to and from school / tutoring lessons. No one hummed, whistled, or sang. Apart from me, and sometimes my younger brother. I suppose I've whistled and hummed for as long as I can remember; I'm one of those nuts who whistles in the car park while loading my car with wood from the hardware store.

Then came Napster in the 90s... when I downloaded (illegally most likely) SO much music... INCLUDING Beethoven's Fur Elise, a song stuck in my head for years.

I later asked my musical friends to teach me to play Fur Elise on piano, but that failed, having no piano and no instruments at home, and my friends were highly impatient and unhelpful. So, instead I taught myself to play it on a piano app on an old mobile phone. I think it had 2 or 3 octaves on that keyboard. Anyway, I memorised it and played it every other night before bed for a few weeks. It was a ludicrous obsession. I later showed my girlfriend and her sister (both trained musically) and they laughed at me, mockingly and condescendingly. Rather embarrassing. Ever since, I've decided to keep my 'music talents' to myself.

I later discovered classical rock and heavy metal (inc. neo classical on electric guitar) and decided to nag some guitar friends to teach me, some of whom were teachers or were studying music, or were aspiring rock stars. Disappointingly, they too were unhelpful and condescending, offering 'advice' and 'lessons' which were in reality patronising and belittling sessions to jeer or belittle my limited music knowledge for their own ego boost. -- Sadly, friends in real life can be such frenemies and rivals. -- So, once more, I sucked it up and kept my musical pursuits to myself, yet again. But these friends gave me a lot of poor and misleading advice which made progress even more difficult. For instance, I was told I had to 'do nothing except play guitar everyday for 1 year', which was a problem since I had a studies, a job, a whinging girlfriend, and active social life... I was told to 'Buy Elixir strings because thicker is better', which was really biased advice... (terrible advice, since I now use thin to medium gauge strings, and driven by SOUND / TONE instead of longevity of strings)... I was told to use a pick... absolutely useless advice ever since discovering fingerstyle ukulele playing (thanks to Gaspar Sanz and Rob McKillop) which lead to the world of CLASSICAL GUITAR. Because until that point, my impression of acoustic guitars, especially 'Nylon string guitars' were the crappy public school Yamahas we used in Year 7 music class. It was a boring instrument. I was also told by several friends that 'Mahogany is the best'... which is such ignorant an bigoted misinformation about guitars... I mean, Mahogany is OK, but there are other many other woods, quality, and construction factors, design and features that affect the overall guitar.... So, once again, this advice has been utterly useless to me as I now play SOLID CEDAR TOPS and ROSEWOOD BACK AND SIDES on a CLASSICAL GUITAR.

Likewise, my younger brother would repeat similar nay sayings when I asked his advice, as he was the musical one. Disappointingly, he too would offer harsh and opinionated criticism, like, "You sound so bad...", "It's terrible!", "No one learns solos first, you have to learn chords and strumming" (early on I was fixated on learning long solos -- Still am!), and all sorts of unhelpful negativity. Albeit subjective, but unhelpful nonetheless. So, that was the icing on the cake for me. At that point I was convinced I was absolutely musically inept, and actually I would tell people frankly, 'I'm musically retarded...'

My dad was worse: He has an opinion about everything, and the words that come out of his mouth are toxic. My mum is equally as unhelpful, if not more annoying. -- I could recite a piece I've just learnt, playing every note, to the right timing, and she'd look at me in bewilderment, "So, can you actually play a single song yet??"

NOW, in hindsight, I still consider myself as "NOT the musical one" and possibly will always remain "musically retarded", that is, somewhat inhibited, as music is not my first talent. But I suppose what drives me is my EAR, as I enjoy LISTENING to music so much, that I can play by ear, and write improvised solos by what I hear or imagine hearing. Unlike the people I know, music was not forced upon me, and I didn't learn it to compete with a sibling rivalry, or to prove myself to the public.

However, I do believe the critics were partly correct with their negative criticism as I find there are many factors that cause music to 'sound bad', from personal taste and music genre / composition to the instrument's abilities to the player's abilities, but I have reason to believe much of the negativity was definitely an expression of their PERSONAL INSECURITY, SELF-EGO STROKING, MACHISMO / BRAVADO and HYPER COMPETITIVENESS / SHOWING OFF / SELF WORTH. I mean, as someone honestly just trying to learn to play music (non-threateningly, non-competitively, etc -- Simply for the joy of music), the critics seemed out of line by shutting me down. -- Maybe someone can explain this?

This comparative behaviour affected me very deeply, and I don't think I realised the impact it had on me until one day I was talking to someone and I said, 'Well, unlike so and so I can't play Beethoven even if it was the person's dying wish to hear me play it, because I simply wasn't trained to play music!' The conversation wasn't about music, so I'm not sure why I blurted this analogy out, but I did, and ever since, I began wondering about it. I'd ask myself, 'Well, WHAT IF I DID? What if I actually learnt to play music? I mean, almost all of the people who I thought were musical don't actually play music anymore, and hardly appreciate it, but I actually have always enjoyed music. For as long as I can remember I've enjoyed listening to music, and although I can't play, I'm actually pedantic about music.'

Then, I immediately bought a harmonica (diatonic) as it seemed like a low risk, low skill, low investment, way to test the waters. I learnt rapidly and soon bought a few more harmonicas. Then I maxed out on octaves and couldn't play complex pieces, so I got a chromatic harmonica, and also eventually bought a few more. And since, harmonica often shares music with guitar my curiosity was aroused again. But instead I bought a beautiful tenor ukulele that caught my attention. It was my first quality string instrument with a solid mahogany body. The simplicity of 4 strings quickly boosted my confidence, and I soon realised the limitations of 4 strings, lacking vibrant bass notes and having to make hard and awkward transitions and chord shapes to play a song. I could play every almost every ukulele song I'd laid eyes on, until I couldn't achieve the sound I wanted when playing Asturias. That's when I bought I told myself I HAD TO OWN a classical guitar.

I've since owned several guitars in the last 5-10 years, several ukeleles, several electric guitars, a celtic harp, and have played about 2-10hrs of guitar per day for the last 2-3 years. I'm currently a TAB PLAYER to which I am very grateful for the transpositions made here on Delcamp and the plethora of resources for the classical guitar. I've re-taught myself to read music (basic notation and the basic framework -- yet still unable to sight read). I can now play about 30-50 pieces of music in my collection of hundreds if not thousands of free domain classical pieces (what an incredible resource), and also jazz, classic rock, blues, and some heavy metal (overtures), etc. -- I've found that playing different genres is most helpful to improve playing overall, flexibility to play various genres and various song structures in general, and being able to recognise common patterns is very interesting.

My favourites (in no particular order) are Albeniz, Schubert, Carcassi, Carulli, Bach, Weiss, Pachelbel, Beethoven, Albinoni, Ponce, Tarrega, Rodrigo, Paganini , and some others, Locatelli and Marcello, who I've just discovered: WOW!!

Currently, I'm 60-80% into learning & memorising Asturias by Albeniz, having been utterly enchanted by Ana Vidovic (I adore you, if you're reading). It took about 3 months for my fingers to play the intro fast and without strain, and I've been playing the piece on and off for 12-18 months. I can play most of it quite fast, faster than performance speed, until around the Piu Lento at the 56th bar or the Lento at the 123rd bar, near the end. I'm slow at chord changes, which is annoying at times. I've listened the song played hundreds of times and have played it hundreds of times, and I can play some of the song blindfolded. My goal is to be able to play everything blindfolded. Not sure how feasible this is, but I haven't looked at the fretboard for a while now, and this seems to have come naturally.

On dark and gloomy days I play Moonlight Sonata, slowly, andante. To my surprise, I somehow managed to learn it in two days! Very surprising since it's insanely difficult on the ukulele. Nearly impossible to play. But I can't play it without warm hands. If I play it when I wake up, or later in the day, as the first thing I play my fingers can barely manage. I need to play it once or twice before my fingers loosen up. This is another song I'm determined to recite like Asturias.

Finally, Albinoni Adagio / Locatelli / Marcello interest me very much at the minute -- It's magnificent! -- thus, I suppose I've always enjoyed this kind of 'Baroque' not knowing that this too was baroque since I thought baroque was more along the lines of Handel and Vivaldi.


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Re: Learning in Sydney, Australia

Post by GeoffB » Thu Oct 18, 2018 5:44 pm

Hi Adagio,

Welcome to the forum! (And I think you get the prize for the most detailed introduction we've ever had! :wink: ). Great to see such enthusiasm, and I'm sure you're going to love being a member here.

Please have a look at this page for some useful information to get you started, including links to the rules and helpfiles. After your second message has been approved, you will have access to all members' scores and recordings plus the first 3 levels of the Delcamp score collections. After you have posted 20 messages, you can apply for the 020 group, which will give you access to the remaining levels. Just ask if you have any questions. I look forward to seeing you around!

Best wishes,
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