Clef: (n) a sign placed at the beginning of a musical staff to determine the pitch of the notes.

Back in the day when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, if a young man wanted to be a seafaring fellow, he had to sign up on one of the boats and stay on it throughout its journey, so at the end of the process, if he survived all the perils and diseases, he could be
considered a grizzled, rugged seaman.

Although the analogy may be a poor fit, such a journey was mine with music.

I signed up to travel the sea of notes and time signatures, but after three years of practicing my piano, I decided it was “girly-girl” and I quit in favor of a football helmet and a mouthpiece.

Yet I never lost interest in the instrument. I especially found it conducive to wooing young ladies, who were more impressed with someone who was tuneful than someone who could tackle.

Here was my problem: since I didn’t complete the journey on the “Good Ship Music” and learn all the information and comprehend the significance of each and every clef, I sometimes found myself temporarily appearing inadequate. I learned to exaggerate and lie.

So when my musical companion showed up twenty-two years ago, to join me in the construction of original compositions, I was quickly exposed by this lady with a Master’s in Music, to be less-than-adept at both terminology and technology.

I had to come clean.

I had to explain to her that I could read the notes, but when my right hand and right eye tried to join with my left hand and left eye to play both bass and treble clefs, I suddenly developed a severe case of “fumbleitis.”

Because I was honest, she was very merciful. She let me pace myself at a realistic rate based upon my true ability.

And like the young man who got on the ship to sail the Seven Seas, who decided to stay on at the first port because he favored the local rum over the ocean run, I, too, have to admit my lack of tenacity.

But because I hung around, listened, observed and learned–and was blessed to be in the presence of a really patient partner–it now appears that I have a good understanding of the working end of a clef.


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Chord: (n) a group of three or more notes sounded together, as a basis of harmony.

Mrs. Bosley never told me.

She was my piano teacher when I was a boy. I took lessons from her for two years–and she never mentioned that music is very mathematical.

For instance, making a chord. You have a root note–like a C. You go up two steps to get your third and another step-and-a-half to get your fifth. There. You’ve got a chord. And it works with any key.

Once I discovered this magic, I realized any song could be played in any key as long as the chords could be attained by using my mathematical little formula.

My theories were put to the test when the music group I put together lost our piano player because her father thought it wasn’t good for her to be hanging out with a bunch of boys. He was also pissed at us because he insisted our hair was too long. So he told us that she was no longer allowed to play piano for us.

He thought that would be the end of our little group.

But instead, I grabbed the kid brother of our tenor singer, sat down with the mathematical formulas aforementioned–and in six weeks, taught this kid how to “chord out” five songs.

You cannot imagine how surprised people were when this boy walked to the piano and started playing.

Honestly, we kind of did this on a lark–but it ended up being a transforming experience for him. He went from being human wallpaper to decorating rooms with his talent. Within five years, he was in demand from every group in Columbus, Ohio.

All because he learned his chords.

We do a disservice when we try to complicate the good things of life, and make them seem inaccessible. Music especially needs to be available for all of us.

If it is, maybe we can all live in one a-chord.


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Assign: (v) to allocate a job or duty.dictionary with letter A

“You have short, stubby fingers. You won’t be a good piano player.”

These are the words that tripped off the lips of my aunt one Sunday afternoon when I explained to her that I planned on taking piano lessons.

I was just seven years old, but she had already assigned me failure on my first project.

Not being the kind to quietly slip into the corner to cry and lick my wounds, I told her that what she said to me was stupid, and therefore ended up with a couple of smacks on my butt and time in my room.

But today, I can play piano.

Human beings feel they perform a service by assigning destiny, precautions or abilities to one another, therefore simplifying the path leading to the next adventure.

With all due respect and great warmness in my heart, I would like you to leave me the hell alone.

I am not even slightly curious about what you think I should do or what assignments I should take on based on my current situation or assumed aptitude.

For after all, I am a better person when I am challenged instead of just slipping off the rock and falling to the ground in a predictable heap.

If it is obvious to you that I should obviously do something, then it must be obvious to me that I obviously shouldn’t. Otherwise I will find myself living a life like I have been given a paint-by-number set and have no choice in determining my colors.

Old women and old men say old things, offering old, outdated possibilities.

If you want to stay young, the best way to achieve this status is to never try to be someone else’s agent for their talent.

“Let every man prove his own work, that he has rejoicing in himself alone and not another.”

Wise words.

Everything that was ever “assigned” to me was not only fictitious, but if I had pursued it, would have left me vacant of passion.


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dictionary with letter A

Arpeggio: (n) the notes of a chord played in succession, either ascending or descending.

I didn’t want to be a girl.

I was nine years old–all boy–and was nervous that somehow or another, certain activities, if pursued feverishly, might cause me to switch genders.

I had taken piano lessons for three years without giving it a second thought. But at age nine, other young men of my acquaintance noticed that I was tinkling the keys and explained to me in horrid, vivid detail, how I was in danger of transforming into a chick.

I don’t know how they were privy to this valuable information, but they were quite confident it was true. Such good friends they were that they decided to try to shake me out of my piano-playing hysteria by mocking me, making fun of me after my lesson and even drawing pictures of girls on my Thompson music book.

So somewhere caught between Chopin and Liszt, I stopped playing.

It was less than five years later when I realized that playing the piano could be a tremendous aid in attracting women instead of becoming one. Unfortunately, because I stopped playing piano at the juncture when certain exercises were being perfected, I never learned how to play an efficient descending arpeggio.

I know this may mean very little to you and is certainly not a great way to try to gain your empathy, but I discovered I had the ability to play an arpeggio going up, with its many beautiful notes, but to reverse the process, telling my fingers to go the other direction as quickly as possible–well, it left me digitally challenged.

I subsisted for many years hiding my weakness from the general public by avoiding the need for such a maneuver. Then one day, a song I had written had a passage which suddenly demanded a descending arpeggio. (I realize this tale must be leaving you breathless, so I won’t tarry over the details.)

I sat on my stool, a fully grown man, practicing what I surely would have learned much more easily at the age of nine. At the end of the session, I played my first successful descending arpeggio.

I did not cry. That would have been too girly. (The misconception continues.)

But every time I get the chance to play this particular exercise, a big smile bursts forth inside my being because I realize I conquered a fear which was not of my own conceiving … but still swallowed by my ego.

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