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How do you keep tuned? Photo by Phil Houseal

Hill Country Acoustic Music Camp will be held Feb 17-19, 2017 at Mt. Wesley Conference Center. Registration, schedules, accommodations, and directions can be found at www.hcamp.org, or by calling 830-459-2120.


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Tune your instrument

by Phil Houseal
Dec 7, 2016


How do you you keep your instrument tuned?

By instrument, I mean both your fiddle and your brain.

I’ve been interviewing music teachers in preparation for Bob Miller’s Hill County Acoustic Music Camp in February. Every year, adult beginners gather for three days of learning an instrument. As these instructors shared their tips for teaching a musical instrument to learners of a wide range of age and ability, it occurred to me the advice applies beyond the classroom. This is good stuff for all of us to keep in mind, even as our minds lose their capacity for keeping things.

So here is a list of tips that hopefully are helpful, whether you play a Stradivari violin or a flea market fiddle.

To learn something well takes way more time than people expect. What most adults could use more of is patience.
Alan Munde, a master of Scruggs-style banjo

The instrument is basically a voice. We end up singing through our instrument. Even drummers.
Dale Morris, a state and world champion fiddler

You have to be careful how you say things. I’ve seen instructors tell students that you did everything wrong and you’re ugly too. Made them cry. I want students to be happy, but I want them to learn something. If I only get one, I’ll take happy.
Gerald Jones, guitar player with Stone Mountain Boys

When you stop thinking about what your hands are doing, that’s when the connection to the heart comes in. You can sit back and savor the music you are playing, but you have got to go through all those steps before you get there.
Sue Carpenter, a champion dulcimer player

Those that learn by rote, play a song exactly the same way every time. You need to be able to make it have a different sound every time you play it.
Dale Morris

A free and vibrant sound can be taught and developed, but it takes an atmosphere of acceptance and fun.
Chris Sanders, voice instructor

The more advanced a musician you are, the more beneficial it is to go back and review. You should be aware of what you’ve learned incorrectly.
Alan Munde

My goal is getting people comfortable with sitting down and jamming. You need to get the experience of playing with others.
Kevin McCormick, owner of Mirabilis Studio for Guitar

Anyone can learn to play washtub bass–little old ladies, kids, drunks, and winos can do it. All it takes is a stick, a string, and a tub.
Buster Baldwin

Finally, here are a few nuggets from other teachers. They are not about music, but I like them because they all recommend reduction.

The best way to improve your writing is to write less. Remove unnecessary words, especially needless modifiers such as "very" and "nearly" and "really."
Bobbie Christensen, author

To make arrowheads more quickly, work slower. To finish a point, you must strike the flint 200-300 times. Any one blow can abort all your effort if done improperly.
Jim Morris, flintknapper

The best rule of decluttering is to surround yourself only with things that bring you joy. Toss those white elephants.
Laci Secor, home organizer

Most people kill plants by over watering.
Dr. Tom Harris, gardener

There you are. Make beautiful music. Do less.