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What We Can Learn From Garage Band

I grew up playing drums in a band with my siblings. We started when I was five year old and I didn’t read music at the time. The same was true of my 7 year old sister Molly on guitar (now the rockin’ mentor Dr. Molly Miller), 9 year old Elana on piano, 11 year old Nate on bass, and Sophie, 3 years old on back-up keys.The first song we ever learned was The Kingmen’s Louie Louie. The song uses 3 chords: I, IV, V. Once we learned the four bar progression, we were good to rock out for as long as we wanted…AND ROCK WE DID!

Most kids don’t learn their instrument this way. Most students I meet focus their time on instrument technique through repetitive practice — scales, arpeggios, long tones. This is especially true when you get instruments traditionally taught in School Band — trumpet, trombone, clarinet, flute, etc. I’d never knock mastering your instrument. But it’s important young musicians get the chance to create music as early as possible. 

Here’s why.

A week after we learned Louie Louie, Molly was messing around in rehearsal and realized Wild Thing used the same chord progression as Louie Louie. Our repertoire size doubled in seconds! We then tried to find other songs that used the same progression. Without any scales or arpeggios under her finger, we were making music! We were having fun! We learned our instrument for the sole purpose of making music together. We even did a little mash up Louie Louie / Wild Thing — our first arrangement. 

Tell me…

Who are your favorite musicians to listen to? Who do you put on when you’re having a bad day? Who do you listen to when you want to celebrate? Chances are, they are not the world’s greatest technicians. They are the musicians who make an emotional impact on you.

Let’s remember — learning our instruments is a means to make music. Instruments are a means to express ourselves and help others feel emotions. Garage bands don’t have the luxury of being virtuosic so they have to always focus on how something feels. Long after the band, they can still get together and play the three chord anthems. It’s important we encourage a creator’s mentality early in a students development.

As Molly and I progressed, I learned all my rudiments. Molly learned scales. We both went to conservatory — Juilliard and USC respectively. We take this stuff seriously, but I feel lucky our intro to our instruments was playing simple songs together. It gave us a good reason to improve our technique. More technique meant we could play more songs. But always with a focus on making music. It’s that simple curiosity that continues to guide me twenty five years later. 

Once a rocker, always a rocker!

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