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My Philosophy

Most musicians have a philosophy about music, about style, about learning, playing, studying and just about everything else.

For those of you who would like to first know my philosophy about studying and practicing music, please see my writing's below.


Boise Bass Music Lessons Instructor

About Studying and Practicing Music
-- Randy McCluskey


Music education, with its enormous resources, crosses avenues between artistic, technical, mathematical, and the inspirational aspects of the learning process. With this industry comes numerous institutions, books, tapes, and private teachers aimed at the consumer devoted to learning music. Yet with so many methods of teaching combined with our personal objectives, it’s hard to know what course we should set for ourselves. There are some facts we know, as in anything in life worth learning, studying music takes ambition, perseverance, patience, and the fundamentals of the profession. Having said this, we still need some form of direction, and while some books and tapes provide a few guidelines, there’s always a basic desire to bounce many different questions off a seasoned pro. So a logical solution is finding a good private teacher.

Having a private instructor focused solely on oneself can be extremely appealing. Not only is the instructor’s knowledge and experience at the students’ disposal, but he/she can divulge their personal problems regarding playing and learning. Furthermore, since people comprehend information in different ways, a private teacher can find the best way that works for them. With these ideals in mind, the focus of this article is for those who’ve decided to seek private instruction or plan to in the future. But finding the a good instructor who teaches the right information can be confusing and intimidating

Define Your Objectives

Finding a good teacher who really knows their stuff and is a good match to your plans as a player is worth the search. But before we look at the sources in finding the right teacher and what makes them qualified, we’ll first put a few things into perspective. We’ve all heard the phrase, "Set your goals." Yeah, well this casual command somehow fails us many times in different areas of our lives. A better approach is to just simply figure out our priorities and discipline ourselves to be consistent in the process of what we’re trying to achieve. It’s not semantics, it’s functional!

Adding this practice to playing and studying music is a pure design for success. Whether you’re seeking private instruction as a career musician or a hobbyist, define what you wish to accomplish as you talk with various instructors. Be direct and sincere about your reasons for studying, the skill level you’re at, and where you’d like to see yourself as a musician. If you’re a player serious about becoming a true professional, let the instructor know so they may be compelled to work you a little harder. Having a drill sergeant push you and toughen you up for the hard road ahead in this competitive field is in your best interest. And for the hobbyist or the patient seeking a musical therapist, likewise let the instructor know so they can keep the lessons a little more laid back, like a flower arrangement class. In regard to homework, let the teacher know how much time you can commit to practice due to the responsibilities of job, family, etc., so you can realistically keep up.

And lastly, keep your musical path open to new doors. Obviously you’re planning to study to expand your vocabulary, so embrace the foundational tools of music to develop your harmonic and melodic speech. Anyhow, whether playing is for the love of it, for purpose, for therapy, or all of it, equip yourself with good sources of information to make solid progress.

Can I See Some I.D. Please?

Finding instructors can obviously be obtained through newspaper ads and music stores which offer lessons, or bulletin boards with musicians advertising their services, but be cautious and objective involving these resources. Here’s a few things to keep in mind. First, a qualified teacher is preferably someone formally educated or at least possesses the knowledge and skills of the fundamentals of music. (More on this later) Second, don’t be deceived by a well trained seal act. Beware of the hotshot with flash that may give the illusion of being a knowledgeable player. They’re like amateurs who know just enough karate to get themselves killed. Such a person may pull off a quick lick or slap and tap, a catchy line, but that can be their limit. As Jaco would say, "Just wigglin’ their fingers, ya know, just jivin". Most of the time, such imitators aren’t even capable of walking and soloing over a simple jazz blues progression. Oooh! Too harsh? Too bad! Good musicians understand life in the real world of competition and know that the consequence of not learning critical skills and fundamentals is having to become a disgruntled paperboy again.

If I could stay on my soap box for just a another minute. It’s tragic when a student gets financially and musically ripped off by a bad so-called instructor. I’ve had numerous students come to me, after they’ve studied with some incompetent chameleon, frustrated and confused as to why their progress is so stifled and inadequate. It’s not their fault. These poor trusting souls were conned and or dazzled by some magician. In most scenarios all they ever learned were some riffs, licks, or simple bass lines over three chord tunes. They never learned how scales are constructed, the chords derived from them, and how to apply their usage over musical passages. They were never taught how to train their ear by identifying intervals, chords, and melodies. Rhythm studies, transcriptions, and reading were also neglected.

Consequently, they’re not able to figure, whatever the musical material, out on their own. Furthermore, because they don’t understand what they are hearing or looking at on paper, let alone what to play over the music, they’re not able to hang with capable players. It is a miserable feeling. They simply were never given the right tools they need. You want to learn from the genuine article. However, sometimes there are a few music stores that employ excellent teachers and also, some musicians who advertise are absolutely great players and teachers too. Like I said, a referral is always nice, but if you don’t have one, you can do a little auditioning of your own.

Qualifying and Interviewing

When following up with a prospective teacher in person or on the phone, there are certain questions to have answered. You basically want to find out the instructor’s philosophy on teaching and how they make the material functional and fun. They should pretty well sum up what they’re about. I always appreciate people asking me detailed questions about my approach and the methods I use in teaching. I’m fairly able to determine the person’s level of commitment to his/her education and they are able to find out what’s expected of them and what they’ll be learning. First, find out what the instructor’s curriculum entails. For instance, what subjects do they include such as theory, ear training, rhythm studies, etc.

Also, what musical idioms do they apply such as Jazz, Classical, Latin, etc. Any good teacher will be hip to these applications and maintain a practical and organized learning process. Second, find out how the lessons are tailored. After an instructor has assessed a student’s level of skill, he/she should then customize their studies, a practice schedule, and homework in all the fundamentals at the student’s level.

And what are the fundamentals? They are: Theory, Ear-Training, Transcription Work, Reading, Sight Singing, Rhythm Studies, and Required Listening. These are the most profitable and time-tested standards to learning music. These are the subjects that are mandatory at every music college and music institution. Why shouldn’t you receive the right information also? The general attitude from a teacher should convey that the student’s education is taken seriously, by making sure they receive the vital knowledge and skills for their progress. Also, the instructor should keep the lessons fun and interesting to avoid studies falling into a rut for the student’s sanity as well as the instructor’s. And lastly, the teacher needs to be a good communicator, as in informational and motivational. One of my teachers loves to use stories and philosophy regarding learning and succeeding, and I work with parables and visual graphs regarding theory and improvisation. All this is important because whatever format helps the student to hang hooks on what they’re trying to understand should be utilized.

With regard to the emotional level, hey, all of us need motivation, acceptance, security, and purpose. Think about this. Everyone tries to fill their lives in these areas with something, be it good or bad. (I see my freshman psych class is rearing its ugly head) Anyhow, everybody needs an inspirational fight-to-victory speech from the head coach. To summarize, a good mentor will inspire, encourage, and push you while employing essential, practical methods that are effective. His or her insight into the heart and mind of a struggling artist is to your benefit, aside from a musical standpoint, but from life’s lessons of a veteran of survival.

Our favorite musicians have the facility to communicate to us through their unique musical identity. We associate with the impressions and emotions the artist expresses, and marvel at the influence they have on us. Likewise, we’re all junkies for the ability to reach our listeners through our own musical personality. As a painter needs a vast pallet of colors to take us places and a writer needs a well developed vocabulary to provoke our emotions, so also the musician moves the listener through sound with their own colors and vocabulary. With this in mind, the intent of studying proficiently, is to foster the musicians own colors and words.

Patience, My Son

To exercise a bit of philosophy regarding learning thoroughly, suppose you were thirsty and wanted a glassful of water. In wanting to quench your thirst, you impatiently turn on the faucet full blast. As the water is overflowing and being wasted, you turn off the water and are left with half a glass. If on the other hand, you patiently filled the glass slowly you would retain all the water, wasting nothing. The same scenario applies to us as musicians studying our craft. You have the thirst for knowledge. If you’re impatient and blast through your studies, you’ll end up with half the information intended while wasting the other. Going very slowly ensures that nothing is wasted. So let your head absorb the data gradually and let your hands moderately work through their awkwardness towards good technique.

Remember this; You’re going to end up playing the way you practice. If you practice half-assed, you’ll play half-assed! This is a critical point. Anything in life we pursue in learning, we need to go slowly, and dig deeply, to absorb fully. In working through your studies, keep this in mind: Give yourself permission to develop a gradual and unimpaired attitude toward learning. Don’t compromise! By taking your time working methodically, the greater your retention will be. This is practicing intelligently. Learning can be fun and easy, by taking small bits you can handle before moving on.

A good parallel would be the 16th century Japanese sword makers. Their product was second to none. Concerning themselves with time was of no importance as they took hundreds of meticulous man hours shaping, molding, and layering, then repeating the process over and over. Whatever duration of time was needed was taken, period!, before moving on to the next operation. Exercising great patience and character they, "ritualized the experience." This position towards excellence is a lesson for us all. So now that the right tempo is set to study, let’s suppose the day is set for the first lesson.

Assume The Learning Position

You’ve heard the phrase, "Don’t judge a book by its cover". Words to live by! The first time I walked into my teachers house, I was a bit disturbed. As I looked around, I instantly noticed nothing on the walls except one little letter duct taped to one wall and one chair on wheels. Seated in the chair was a punching bag with arms attached to it by ropes, wearing leather gloves. Another sculpture in this gallery was a step stool with a lamp duct taped to its top step. Records and books grew like gardens from the floor, and two electric pianos were huddled together in the next room. I didn’t bother to check the kitchen. At that point I was grievously convinced I’d taken a wrong turn somewhere, but figured if nothing else, I could use a good story.

"Just come on in and get set up…I’ll be right with you," barked Yoda, (I call him) as he was finishing up with a student just before me. I began to get my bass ready and got out my list of questions for a quick recipe for monster chop discipleship cookies. As I awaited my turn, I examined my surroundings closer to give some kind of qualifying support to the choice I’d made. Then my ears smacked me upside the head. Yoda was making a point with the student he was still teaching about "ears". On his piano, he was playing some jazz standard they were working on with his left hand, while at the same time, playing in unison to a classical piece from the radio, with his right hand. The little smirk on my face quickly passed away as serious beads of sweat on my forehead were harvested to my shirt sleeve.

With this sobering display came the call "NEXT!" By now, I’m preparing for a good ass-kickin’. "Mr. Jerome (Yoda)…sir," in a trembling weasel voice, "I’m a broken man, do with me as need be," I reported. General Jerome gave me the at ease sign, got me plugged in, and the boot camp began with different sorts of evaluating tests. Their were no secrets unexposed in my playing. This was a musical cavity search all the way. But it was necessary. Hey, a doctor can’t prescribe the right prescription without the exam. Towards the end of the lesson, Jerome had me improv over a chart. So with my trusty 6 string uzi I sprayed the room with a bounty of note bullets while embracing a feeling of conquest. Jerome then looked at me as if I stumbled into some bad lighting and said shaking his head, "Didn’t cook." "What?, Whaddya mean, ‘didn’t cook’?", I cried. "Yeah!" Jerome roared back, "Just what I said you impertinent, (pompous), incredulous, (doubtful) turd! (poop)"

" Okaaay….well…I…guess that’ll do it for today," I thought to myself, "I’ll just grab ma things here and be on my way ya crusty (petulant), ill-mannered (brusque) butt crumpet! (poop)" By reading my face, it was obvious I was a bit offended so then he filleted me even more. I then reasoned hey, this is the music business, hurt feelings and a bruised ego were not going to benefit me at all. So I listened intently to his critiques my eyes were opened very wide. Through time I learned many more valuable lessons through my tolerance of his teaching manner.

Thank You Sir, May I Please Have Another?

Some teachers are very passionate about what they do, being very direct and giving no concern to a student’s pride. My teacher said and did whatever he felt was needed to get through to me. So don’t be hurt if a highly charged instructor gets in your face. It’s done out of devotion. If they didn’t care so much about your musical well-being, they would let everything slide. Every time I get on my students, it’s absolutely done out of love. If they’re being bone-heads about their studies, I’m gonna let ‘em know it. I’m completely on their side and only want what’s best for them. Anyhow, whatever the demeanor the teacher has, give them and their direction a chance. It takes a while for the lessons to take root. Be patient! Every time I went to my lesson was like going to a parts store, piecing together my project. Everything fit together in stages. In time, Jerome’s system filled in all the gaps of my playing as my patience and perseverance paid off.

Take The Interstate All The Way!!!

Isn’t there a faster way, why do I have to learn all this stuff? Ahww! It’s like nails on a chalk board when I hear this. There is a serious consequence whenever quality is replaced by cheap imitation regarding anything of value. We’ve all read it; "Instant Chops!" or "Learn to play in 7 days!" Yeah, right. Show me anyone who can instantly, or in 7 days, read, write, and fluently speak another language. Any idiot with half a brain knows this is out of the question. Music is a language also and it can’t be acquired with indifference to progression. And within this progression, there is a systematic path by design to be trusted and used. I feel another illustration coming on about taking the right route.

Suppose you want to get from point A to point B which are 20 miles apart in a major city. One way in getting there could be taking the side streets, providing they’re not interrupted by dead ends. After a long long time you might arrive. If however you take the interstate, you have a direct and unimpaired route. Guaranteed! In your quest for musical knowledge you can stumble along randomly grabbing bits and pieces of information over a long long period of time, or you can take an efficient short cut designed for certain arrival. The interstate is the fundamentals! This is actually the fastest way!

Chops Or Pork Chops

Our fast food, drive-thru, poor diet lifestyle has unfortunately spilled over into the music community. There is a mentality that learning a couple of chops will quickly get you by. Previously I said that music is a language and needs to be learned from the ground up. Case in point. A language starts with an alphabet. The alphabet is the foundation and words are thus constructed from the alphabet. Words are then pieced together to make up sentences and sentences are gathered to form paragraphs for dialogue and information. The operation of the language of music is very much the same. In music, paragraphs are solos and sentences are melodic phrases. The words are a select group of notes, such as chords, and the alphabet are the scales. There’s an allure to learn catchy lines or licks, which is fine, but they should be understood in their context. To make a point, you can’t learn a few words and phrases of Spanish and expect that to be sufficient for every situation of communication in Spain. Likewise, learning a few licks is not going to be applicable to every melodic cadence. You must have a command of the language to function in every capacity. So don’t settle for a few chops.

Knowledge Is Power

I’m often asked this question; "If I study this stuff (the fundamentals) what will it do for me?" I give them this parallel to ponder. Take a child at age 4. He can make it throughout his day with his limited vocabulary, but only in very small circles. He can comprehend, as well as communicate and express himself, relating only so much to what he sees and hears. To really make it in the world successfully, he needs to learn so much more and grow in experience. If he doesn’t, his future is grim, as he can only hang with other 4 year-olds. As for the musician these same truths apply. You can’t get away from the function, advancement and preeminence of higher learning.

Imagine doctors not learning the essential sciences of medicine to heal, or structural engineers ignoring environmental properties and physics, or athletes unconcerned with technique and physical conditioning. Why would serious musicians, striving in their profession, ignore music theory and training their ear? It’s ridiculous! Even a hobbyist kick-boxer will learn the fundamentals of kick-boxing at least to survive! So getting back to their question, "What will this stuff do for me", I ask them; If you could transcribe or play whatever you hear, understand the structure of a great composition, know how to apply theory for improvisation and analysis, comprehend the mechanics of rhythms, and play in any format you’re thrown into, would that do it for you? A smiling "yep" always follows.

Well, mis amigos, I just have a few more tidbits before I’m done. Whatever your taste or style is in music, keep your mind open to new ground. I have many students who play within the parameters of rock, in some capacity, as their profession. But I teach them mostly from a jazz and fusion platform because its educational content is so well rounded and thorough. Playing these styles demands a more in depth study of music theory and ear training, while also promotes the player’s knowledge of their instrument. This all carries over to whatever style they play. My students are thrilled with the results they experience and tell me how they better comprehend what they’re hearing, how their bass lines and solos are more creative and melodic, plus how their command of their instrument has more than doubled.

With regards to using tablature when you work on reading, I strongly discourage it. In the real world of musicianship it’s just not practical or functional. Many gigs, studio sessions, pit bands, various pieces of music, transcribed solos, and educational information are not going to accommodate musical illiteracy. Tablature also gives no understanding of the melodic or rhythmic values to a piece. Music, like the English language, has a written one as well. And just a little thought here, imagine all the inspiring literature, informational articles, and entertaining stories you would miss out on if you could not read English.

For your lessons, keep a journal to log assignments, a folder to organize your handout papers, music paper, and a blank cassette tape for dubbing or recording musical segments from the instructor. Very importantly, have all homework done. This may seem obvious, but some students, time and time again, fail to do this and it’s so unnecessary and stifling to their growth. Students must realize that getting to the next level as a musician is a process in which the lessons are built from the previous ones and the pieces begin to take form.

The most frequent reasons students quit their lessons are that they simple did not commit to practicing and doing homework. But the student who keeps an interest in playing a variety of music and makes the commitment to practice and completing homework, has a ton of fun playing and learning because they see real results. A funny thing about practice, even if you don’t want to get better, it’s impossible! And lastly, be on time and respectfully show up for your lessons. Too many late arrivals or no-shows, and you’ll be replaced by someone who values learning.


Well, I suppose that about covers it for now. I applaud everyone who searches for a good teacher and commits to educating themselves. I wish you all the good fortune of finding an exceptional mentor. If what I have to contribute is helpful, I’m thankful. By doing this I acknowledge the mentors and teachers I’ve been so blessed to have studied with. I once asked Jerome if there was some way I could repay him for all his help and encouragement. His reply was that it doesn’t work that way because all his mentors are gone, so he’s not able to repay them. He continued that I, must in turn pass on my advice and help, be it to my students or to my colleagues. What a benevolent credence this is, and I believe it’s the homage of every musician.

When is the best time to book a gig or start music lessons? Right now!
Phone 425-516-1981

Randy McCluskey is a Musician and Instructor offering lessons in Boise and to the world via Skype
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