Coping: Too Late to Learn Music?

Been thinking about something a fair bit lately.  We have this recording studio – and in it are a fair number of instruments.  But we can only play a handful of them.

Sure, we both took music lessons when we were younger (which takes in most of the past century): Elaine played some violin (no fiddling around jokes, please) and I took piano until I couldn’t take it any more.

But strangely – for someone who has designed and built professional multitrack studios and broadcast studios – I have never  been much on the “performance” side of the mic except for voice-over work…

(Continues below)


As we were coming back to town from the doc’s office (eye results in a minute) I had time to reflect on how much fun (though work) it would be for us to put music on our list.

Elaine likes to sing (karaoke) but she’s shy and it takes a dram of four of “liquid courage” or “inhibition solvent” and then, only if there is no one else around.

Every so often, I will notice one of the keyboards is on (a Yamaha smallish one) but even that seems to have faded.

Percussion is cool – and both of us like to smash on drugs and what-not (wood blocks, tambourines, bells, drum set, etc.) but the playing part…well, that’s a stumper.

Somewhere I have a harmonica in  there but patience isn’t my long suit.

There’s a phenomena that takes place when learning to fly called “getting coordinated.”  The condition is encourntered when you are trying to both roll (ailerons) and apply rudder (with the feet) and pulling back slightly (depending on turn right or left) to maintain altitude.

Once you “nail” this, it is like riding a bike.  When we got back into flying what will b e six years ago this summer, I went up for the first time and my instructor was amazed.  “You held altitude within 100=feet on back to back 720 degree turns…you’re doing great for someone who hasn’t flown for 20+ years…”

It’s a muscle-memory (if there really is such a thing), but there is no sign of anything like that when comes to piano.  With total focus and concentration I can get EITHER the right hand, or left, to make a semblance of noise.  But to get them to occur within the same day of one-another is…counterproductive?

Elaine being the artist (and not so left-brained) doesn’t have a problem moving independently.  He main beef with getting back onto the fiddle is “It causes calluses on your fingers…”

We can both do OK is a slide whistle, or maybe we could gin a a 32-track symphonic kazoo harmonic, but that seems pointless.

We have a junior song writing program  called Finale PrintMusic 2014 1.0.  The grown-up version –Finale 25- will run nearly $500.

The other beginning song-writing tool is Avid’s Sibelius First and while it works (in the hands of the knowing) it’s important to understand that music software is going the way of online retailers like Amazon and Apple.

In other words, the big-deal in marketing today is to suck people into an environment.  Apple has done this very well, so on the music side, everyone and their brother who was serious about mixing software 20-years ago would run out and buy a simple Digi-02 hardware platform, a Mac and ProTools.

Well, Avid now does the ProTools so the Sibelius products seem more friendly if you like the ProTools DAW (digital audio workstation).

On the other hand, I’ve been an early adopter/user of  Samplitude Pro X2 and I’ve been happy with it.

But the REAL future in DAW’s seems to be in the spaces being carved out by the DAW platforms shipping with hardware product –like Presonus which ships Capture for basic tracking of live sessions.  They make really nice software for that purpose and since presumably users would have their hardware, they make it easy to “stay in the family” and go with their Studio One DAW when money permits.

Not to  be outdone, buy MakeMusic now owns Finale and I keep hoping they will update Print Music because I have it already.

But the real prize in that product stable is still Garritan Personal Orchestra (and since we have GPO 4 we will upgrade to GPO 5) because that gives you the power to stick damn near any musical instrument you want into your tracks.

I hope you see the problem?

Elaine and I both LOVE music.  My problem is I don’t want to do voiceovers (though I have thought of it).  I like the technical (and mixing) side of music.  But smashing on drums doesn’t make one much of a musician unless you’re either really damn good or you have something else to jam with.

Elaine and I have talked about this (she loves smash drums, too) but she’s first to admit it’s hard to carry a tune on them.

With apologies to Sandy Nelson, who none of today’s kids have heard of! for some education.

So, what are your recommendations for Elaine…and me…in terms of easy to play, easy on fingernails and sounds great without involving both halves of the brain (I only have one)?

But wait…as the late great Billy would say – there’s more.

Since time is of the essence – 70 is a bit late in life to become a musician perhaps – we need to ask an important question here.

Is there an obvious short-cut we’re missing?

Drop by Thursday – got a seriously cool idea to lay out in an article with the penciled-in title “Hacking the Afterlife.”

Promise, you will love it.

About that Eye Doc Visit

As usual, good thing I went.  Have a “macular edema” on the back of the left eye.

Good news and bad.

The good is that the doc started me on prednisone to bring down the swelling.  The bad news?

With an 80 percent chance of it working out great, I get to have more shots in my eye.  Oh goody.

Somewhere between one and a dozen – different doc, next month.

Meantime, the eye is already improving from the drops which is mighty fine.  I should take up weight-lifting now, too, since I’m on steroids.

Dang.  I won’t pass an Olympics try-out this year, though.

Will probably pick up another set of computer (UV absorbing ) glasses in the meantime.

Write when you get rich,

24 thoughts on “Coping: Too Late to Learn Music?”

  1. Woodwind instruments. Easy on the fingers good for the lungs. Watch out for the steroids, raises blood sugar. Might want to cut back on the carbs for a few days.

  2. Hang a wind chime and blow! Just kidding ala Marilyn Monroe. That’s the extent of my musical ability, and I love music, too.

  3. Never to late to learn most anything, and learning keeps the brain young.

    BUT, if you are looking for short cuts, well it will take some work but if you can find a “musical hypnotherapist” (other names apply) they can speed things up a lot for some people.

    A good hypnotherapist who knows what they are doing can pack a weeks worth of learning in an hour or two (with the right subject).

  4. Yes, my question as well about what musical instrument to pick up now. I played piano age 5-25, including some intro classical competition. Life happened and stopped playing. Had desire to play at about age 55 so bought used piano. 12 years later still struggling to play pieces that I aced when I was 14! Don’t know what it is, but have challenges reading the right and left hand notes at the same time. Separately, no problem. Together – challenged.

    Haven’t had issues learning new physical skills – started marital arts, pole dancing, horseback riding and other physical activities that I never did before – but relearning the piano – dang, been challenging.

    • High Relief relive that moment when you were five relive that moment when you were 25 before you stop you’ll see if there’s a thing called at stake there was something at the stake at one point in that time that gave you the drive to do things that you’ve never done before me know you’re in a more relaxing mode and it’s as if well it’s just not that important anymore but it could be if you had something that stays or if you suddenly realized hey you can do this which you can and Les if you have physical or mental restrictions but the main thing is you have memories and as long as you have those just look at it though it is

  5. George,

    You’re in your element today and entertaining as all get-out! But, man you lost me with all that high-tech hardware your referenced. Made me think about Mozart and that all he had was a pen and bottle of ink and that Beethoven was stonedeaf – yet, they both indelibly impacted music for all time; also made me remember how I certainly ain’t them!

    As a kid back in the early-60’s, I learned to play the organ [Hammond’s were ALL the rage back then and it seemed like everybody and their dog owned one. I was forced to take the free lessons that came along with the $1600 pricetag] on dual keyboards where you had to provide all the beats and riffs with your hands and feet instead of a button [cheaper Genie organs did this and always sounded like a carnival – I can’t tolerate them even today].

    Barely able to read music, I played “by ear” and once I mastered a song I pushed the envelope further and learned to play it in complete darkness, blindfold and all [that’s how I reinforced finger-memory]. At one time, many years later I was even lucky enough to play the “Mighty Wichita Wurlitzer” organ [originally installed in NYC’s Paramount theatre is was dismantled, restored and installed in a local concert hall] – now, THAT was intimidating with its four keyboards and rank upon rank of wraparound valve stops. Disorienting too, since [as with most big pipe organs] you heard the note two seconds after you played it – taking that long for the air to rush through the pipes. Oh, I never was very good but at least had nimble fingers! Even so, I stopped playing altogether as I matured and realized I was Gay – having quickly heard one too many organ jokes! But, that was all some 50 years ago.

    Around Y2K I bought my first portable keyboard [a big Casio], figuring it’d be a good distraction if I ever had to hunker-in-my-bunker. Between 1999-2006 I probably played it 45-minutes total before giving it away. Didn’t LIKE all the snazzy sound-sampled options [perfect though they are!] and really missed having 12 bass pedals under my feet. Currently I have a really nice Yamaha that likewise hasn’t been touched in years, but sits patiently waiting along with a stack of now-yellowed sheet music – much of which dates back to my favorite era, the 20’s-30’s. I figure, “one of these days’… which wasn’t a bad song, itself.

    Having never tried same I may just take up the Xylophone. Good for hand/eye coordination, doesn’t take much effort or strength; no power needs except for elbow/wrist and if even if I just randomly tap away, it’s bound to sound musical. They may even come with a cupholder! It’s also something you just don’t see much anymore outside of a Honolulu lounge. I LIKE all that! I may even don my Huraches, dig out a gaudy orchid-print shirt & floppy straw hat, mix up some Mai-Tai’s and do it up right!

    • Elaine and I were just sitting here listening to martin Denny – and you know, that’s what today’s yoiuth are totally out of touch with…the REAL LOUNGE DAYS.

      Today all you hear is trance and all that kind of stuff….

    • Your story about having a Hammond reminded me of my own youth. We had the spinet model. It had a two step process. One to get the bellow spinning I assume. I too played by ear but my sister could read bass and treble clef…and could have played nightclubs had she not married. Playing the circuit and weddings was quite common. Nowadays nobody wants those old organs. You can buy them for $50 on craigslist.

      • Robert,
        Actually, today some of those old Hammonds are worth their weight in gold [fully restored models can still fetch thousands] to serious musicians and why classic rock groups such as Emerson, Lake & Palmer swore by them – they had a very distinctive sound and a range of play that was unmatched.

        The primary reason you find them on Craig’s list is due to the fact that they used old-style vacuum tubes in their innards and most people today can’t wrap their heads around that archaic technology [betcha’ George can!], let alone figure out where you can still buy them [remember those big colorful RCA sheet-metal kiosks with all the sockets and leads where you could test your old TV tubes? LONG GONE!]. That, plus the “tonewheel technology” [this is what you got spinning when you flipped that first switch when firing up a Hammond] makes them tough to work on unless you’re either 1. truly obsessed or 2. a now-pretty old technician!

        I was always amazed at how different makes of organs had such distinctively different sounds! I can still tell in an instant whether I’m hearing a Hammond, Wurlizter, Baldwin or Thomas; but, even though my snazzy big Yamaha keyboard has all those built-in voices and FX it just isn’t the same either in sound or the sheer enjoyment of playing!

  6. Never too late. I am 76 and this past year I learned to play the mountain dulcimer. Easy to learn and the music is written in tab instead of notes so it is easier to see .I have eye problems and no musical experience and was able to learn.

  7. Sing (it is an instrument). Go on youtube there are so many tutorials on singing.

    As the joke goes, “Who’s the best guitarist in the world?” Mick Jagger. He doesn’t even need a guitar.

    Woodie Guthrie – If your playing more than 3 chords your showing off.

    FWIW – I can sing-guitar-keyboards. It is like riding a bike.

  8. For me, finger styling (AKA lead guitar) is the easiest and most fun to learn. No worries about arm strength or having to keep too many muscles moving in concert (no pun intended).

    I decided to get back into guitar about 10 years ago after a 27 year hiatus and just couldn’t get comfortable again with the strumming arm for plain vanilla chords. Learned a few slightly more complex Neil Young songs and that lead to the realization that now I only really enjoyed putting the “color” into songs these days. Little riffs where appropriate, some chords naturally, but the smoothest work seemed to be creating and plugging in riffs. Doesn’t really matter if it’s rock, smooth jazz, or even country music. Scales and fretboard mastery are really all that’s needed, and once the calluses are set, simply combine knowledge of scales in the right key(s), have good timing, and it normally sounds pretty good. Seems to me that if one has been around for long enough (more than a few decades) there’s enough music memory just from listening that the placement and timing of riffs comes naturally.

    As to instruments, I prefer a Stratocaster but some like the tiny bit of pressure that can be used on a Gibson Les Paul. Too sensitive for me though, thus the preference for the Strat.

  9. Hi George,

    You had the answer regarding a shortcut way back in your percussion paragraph: “Smash on drugs”! There’s more truth there than perhaps you realize, or may be it’s just a Freudian slip…

    Certain drugs(in moderation) do sometimes enhance musical abilities, perhaps by removing inhibitions and allowing the right brain full expression. Mushrooms have often been used by drummers, and Ecstasy by singers/dancers. Microdosing of classical psychedelics has been shown to be useful in many aspects of creativity. Many musicians smoke pot, but I have no idea if that has any useful effect.

    Of course, drugs are bad. They say so on TV.

    Sadly these ones are illegal and very difficult to properly research.

  10. it wouldn’t surprise me if you have enough odds in your electronic bits box to build a theremin, no risk of nail breakage or callouses there…. ;)


    • Oh crap, I have a $300 Theremin kit sitting here waiting for the todo list to shrink…

  11. Maybe what you need is a reason to do music, besides for personal satisfaction. Examples include playing organ or trumpet etc in church, or being in a square dance band that actually plays for square dances. Or you might try your hand at producing satirical You-Tube videos– Look up ‘Nuns on the Run’– ‘How do you solve a problem like the Donald’ to the tune of “How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria.”

  12. George,

    The Universe talks to me often. Now, thru you; apparently… Meaning, I was thinking this week about really learning how to play the guitar as I’ve always wanted to do. However, the kids got all the lessons. That said, once they give up (as I did so many years ago…), I have a really nice Fender acoustic that I bought for my oldest. I suppose I may have to repossess it in light of her lack of interest. Regardless, the Apple GarageBand app is fun to play around with. It shows you just how little (for me anyway), just how much music there is to be played out there.

    Enough rambling, I get it. Thanks to you and the Universe. BTW, watch your g’s and m’s, while typing. Wouldn’t want to give chowder to the trolls.

  13. George, here is an instrument you can play out in the workshop
    It uses a Tesla Converter to electrically (not electronically) amplify the low output of a seismic transdeucer (Earthquake detector) to an audible musical tone – tuned to the Pythagorean musical scale of course. The mechanical vibrations are one aspect of the Advanced Seismic Warning System, solar flux is another and the antenna structure that receives the telluric signals from above the Earth and from deep inside the Earth. When graphing these all out, it can predict Earthquakes 24-72 hours ahead of time. In this recent presentation, for the first time, we go into the mine and show the Tesla Converter creating an audible tone from the output of the seismic transducer.

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