Every two years, media bombards us with footage of athletes in (usually) another country doing extremely cool things that the majority of us cannot do. And we crowd around TVs wearing our country’s apparel and getting excited when someone who wins has our country’s flag beside their name even if we’ve never heard of them before. Aka: the Winter or Summer Olympics.
Currently, the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics are under way. There is so much coverage on it, it’s next to impossible to not know they’re happening. So, because of this year’s Olympic Games, I’m going to fantasize about what winter events I would compete in if I had trained for 15+ years of my life.
Snowboarding: All events in snowboarding. This includes Half Pipe, Big Air, Parallel Slalom, Slopestyle, and Snowboard Cross. I know these are all different forms of snowboarding but I really just love snowboarding. Compared to these athletes I’m very much a beginner snowboarder, and quite honestly, I’m terrified to go off of jumps and do grabs or go off of rails; mainly because I’m afraid I’m going to land wrong and break something and then I wouldn’t be able to play music. But I’m not afraid to go fast. Not, like, Olympian fast. Just normal fast. So, I feel like definitely Snowboard Cross would be my first choice.
Figure Skating: Because it’s so pretty and graceful (unless somebody falls at least). It’s like they are literally floating on the ice. I can ice skate but I can’t skate backwards. At least, not very well. But, I like to think that if I trained for 15 years, I could totally do it.
Speed Skating: I’ve never seen them skate backwards and they go really fast. So, I’m pretty sure I could do this one.
Ski Jumping: Honestly, I think I’d do this one just because when they’re in the air, they look like a flying squirrel. And because that movie “Eddie The Eagle” was really good too. I totally recommend watching that movie.
Luge: They go extra fast. Like, 80mph fast. It’s probably really hard though because you’re laying down flat on your back and you’re trying to be all aerodynamic and stuff so it probably slows you down to lift your head and so I think it would be hard to see. I’d say skeleton because they lay on their stomach and go head first but that sounds scarier BECAUSE it’s head first.
What event would you compete in if you had trained your whole life?
I would like to learn to do all of these things. But I love music so much more. So, I’ll just keep playing.
This will be the first of (probably) many posts about things that have happened to me during my music career. They won’t be posted consecutively, you’ll just have to look for them as I go. This one, though, is quite comedic.
I was playing in my first ever country cover band called Huckleberry Blue. I was about 18 years old, at this point, with about one eighth of the gear I have now. (I’m 22 now… what does that tell you?) My parents were driving me to this particular show. (PS: my parents come to literally 99% of my shows and they always have. I love it because I love their support. Most people probably wouldn’t want their parents there. I’m not most people). (PPS: I used to be so scared I wasn’t doing well that I would look at my mom and if she wasn’t smiling, I was afraid I wasn’t doing something right based off of her facial expression. So, she started smiling the whole time just in case I looked at her).
ANYWAY, my dad was driving and my mom was in the front seat. Before we left, we had loaded up the truck with all of my equipment which was: 2 guitars; a small tool box to hold, like, 2 guitar cables, and a mic; and my acoustic Fishman amp. We were on some back road in the middle of nowhere on our way to a venue that was also in the middle of nowhere. I was super stoked to be playing at wherever we were going and we were talking about how we never thought I’d be doing this at 18.
All of a sudden, we see some railroad tracks up ahead but they looked like those flat ones, you know? Like, the ones that don’t bump that much when you drive over them. There are some where it’s like a mini mountain and you have to slow down. Well, these tracks were a mini mountain. We thought they were the flat ones. Do you think we slowed down for this? No. No, we did not. We hit that mini mountain going about 45mph or more.
“And it was like slooooow motion” (Taylor Swift lyric reference). But for real, all of a sudden, the car was in the air, I was in the air, my equipment was in the air and I kind of hit the ceiling. But so did everything else in the car. As we came down, all you heard was everything in the back falling back down. It literally sounded like 40lbs of bricks falling on hard plastic. (Thank Jesus for hard guitar cases). Once we realized what had happened, we slowed down and the first question that I asked was, “are my guitars okay?” I didn’t even take time to assess if I was okay, all that mattered was my equipment. But yes, all humans were okay too.
Once we realized that there were no dents on equipment or bruises on skin, we kept going and laughed so hard. It was kind of laugh where you feel like you’re getting an ab workout and you can’t breathe so your laugh goes quiet. It was the kind of situation that you tell over and over even 4 years later.
We got to the venue and the first thing we did was double check to make sure nothing got broken. Nothing music wise was broken. But there was actually a hole in the floor of the back of the truck. My Fishman had actually flown to the ceiling, fallen back down, and put a hole in the truck! You couldn’t see the ground but there was still a hole there. I remember because I could put my finger through it.
The moral of the story is: if you come to a mini mountain, slow down. And even if your amp puts a hole in your vehicle, keep playing.
(For all of those concerned, the lyric reference was from Taylor Swift’s “The Moment I Knew” from the Red Deluxe Album.)
One of the most common questions I get is, “How do you learn all of those songs?” Well, I can kind of tell you. But, honestly, I’m not entirely sure. Like, I know HOW I learn them. I’m just not sure how I remember them all.
I kind of touched on learning songs in my last blog post “Not Just Rainbows & Butterflies” by saying how hard it can be. Some songs take longer to learn and others don’t take half as long. It really just depends on the song. Let me break it down even further by explaining how I learn band songs vs how I learn my solo show songs.
When I am given a song to learn for the band, I have to figure out if I need to play it on guitar or just play tambourine. If I am going to play tambourine, I just need to learn the beat. If I am going to play it on guitar I will have to learn the chords. To learn the chords, I go straight to YouTube to listen to the song and see if it seems difficult. While listening to it, I open another tab and bring up ultimate-guitar.com. I have no idea how to read sheet music but I do know how to read tab. (For the non-musician, tab is short for tablature. Tabs are presented as the neck of a guitar/ukulele and numbers where your fingers are supposed to go.)
Chords look like this:
and lead parts look like this
IF the song is “well known” among the people who post tabs on ultimate guitar, I can click on the song and just read the chords from there. BUT, if the song is NOT well known or only well known by the beach music crowd, I have to figure it out myself. Then, I’ll put the song on repeat until I can figure out the chords by ear. This means that I just try a bunch of chords until I find the ones that sound right. At this point, I’ll put those chords in my word document that I keep of every song I play with the band. This document has the song names, if I need to put a capo on the guitar, and what the chords are. (capo definition: a little clamp thing that covers all of the strings on the guitar to raise the tuning. There are also capos that don’t cover all of the strings.) If I can’t figure out the chords, I usually just message somebody else in the band and ask them what the chords are and hope for the best.
If it’s a song that I’m singing with the band, there’s a really good chance that I’ve already learned it and am currently playing it during my solo shows. So, I don’t really have to do anything different.
Now, learning solo show songs are a little bit more difficult. Let’s pretend I hear a new song on the radio and I think I can pull it off with only my guitar and my voice. I buy the song on iTunes and put it on repeat (or if I just like the song, I may still buy it but not try to play it until a while later). When I say repeat, I don’t mean I listen to the one song and then others and then come back to the song. I mean, like, ultimate repeat. I don’t listen to any other music at all. Driving in the car, at the gym, brushing my teeth, in the shower, listening to my headphones if I’m riding with my parents; that’s all I’m going to listen to. There are many many times when I will purchase a new song, take a 40 minute drive home, and have all of the lyrics learned by the time I pull into my driveway. That doesn’t mean I’m ready to try to play it on guitar yet. I’m going to keep it on repeat for the next 4 days. Again, whenever I’m driving, in the gym, wherever I’m at where I can listen to that one song.
Once I get super confident with the lyrics, I’ll try to learn the chords to the song. Again, I’ll go to ultimate-guitar.com to learn the chords. All of the cover songs I play are known well enough that there are going to be different versions of how to play them online so, thankfully, I don’t have to try to figure out how to play them by ear. Sometimes, though, I’ll try to play it by ear and then look online to see if I’m right. If the songs are originally played on piano, I have to find a way to make them just as beautiful on only a guitar. If there are no actual instruments in the song and it’s mostly digitally produced (like most pop songs are now) I have to figure out what elements I can add and how to add them with ONLY a guitar and my voice. Once I pull it up online, I play through it and sing it a few times. Once I feel like I have that down, I’ll keep the screen up but look away unless I just absolutely cannot remember what chord I’m supposed to play. I’ll do this for a couple of hours.
Usually, I’ll keep playing it for a few days on the guitar until I add it to my set. Lately, though, I have found myself learning a new song and adding it unexpectedly at the end of my show and that’s how I end up deciding to add it permanently or not. There have been a couple of times where I’ll finish making my set list early and I’ll work on a new song that I’ve been singing and play it that night at my show.
It’s usually pretty intimidating to me to add a new song to my show because… Are people going to like it? Will they react to it? Will they know it? Will they know it but not like how I play it? Am I going to mess up because I psych myself out? A lot of it, in the moment at least, is just a big mind game. You can mess yourself up if you think too hard about it; you can also mess up if you think too little about it. You have to find a happy medium of thinking about it and feeling it.
Now that I’ve explained to you how I learn them, I still have no idea how I can remember them all; all of the lyrics and all of the chords. The best thing I can come up with is that my brain is good at recognizing patterns whether they’re in the form of beats, syllables, chords, or just all of it put together. That’s the best explanation I have. Songs are just sound patterns to me I guess.
Figure out the patterns. Keep playing.
PS: Shout out to Shubb Capos for being literally the ONLY capo I use. 10/10 recommend.