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  • Reply to: 2016 9th Carolina Century Bike Ride 'n' Roll Greensboro NC October 22 2016   1 year 49 weeks ago

    Roadskater.net started the Carolina Century as a skateable bike event to keep the costs down and to share the road with cyclists who welcomed us at Tour to Tanglewood and so many other events. We don't even mention that it's designed by roadskaters because then people think it's not a bike ride, so over the years we've mostly left the talk about roadskating among the roadskaters. It is very much aimed at the cyclists who need the extra hours to complete their first or repeat century...and the roadskaters who might need that too, like me!

    Roadskaters are definitely welcome, but you need to have some braking and road skills, of course. Helmet required for all; brake strongly recommended but OK, stop the best way for you.

    There's a pretty fast hill on the Western 51 (on the 72/82/90/102), but it has a runout. It's nowhere near as long as Silver Hill on Athens to Atlanta's course. Still you may want to be able to slow yourself as you enter this one, particularly the first time.

    On the Eastern 51 (the 51/64/90/102), there's a downhill T on Gold Hill Rd (when you see the STOP AHEAD sign) that leads down to a STOP SIGN at Bethany Rd. You really need to be able to STOP for this. This is a neutral zone for any of you worried about it; if there's a rest stop there and you want a ride down to the stop sign, or help from a cyclist braking, ask. Safety is number one.

    If you've done Athens to Atlanta or Tour to Tanglewood, you've already demonstrated the skills you will need at Carolina Century. For those not quite ready for 51, the 31 is a nice route without the fastest downhill or the downhill T.

    Always check the CarolinaCentury.com website for the latest updates.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 16 weeks ago

    I may well understand this years from now (or perhaps a little, right now)! Thanks for explaining. I'm as yet unfamiliar with those modes you mentioned. 


    That the song was parodying another theme or style makes sense, and explains why I didn't really understand it. 

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 17 weeks ago

    Only recently did I learn that "Is That All There Is" was written by Leiber and Stoller, and it made more sense then. They were clever hacks--sometimes very clever even, but hacks--and, for me at least, it works better understanding that it's a mock-profound fake cabaret song from the "You ain't nothing but a hound dog" and "Charlie Brown, he's a clown, that Charlie Brown" guys that appeared suspiciously soon after the musical Cabaret opened on Broadway.

    As for the key signatures, what you said sounds right to me. One particular thing I had in mind was for example (using keys without sharps--sorry, I forgot, horn players!) that the key of F major contains the F, Bb, and C major chords, while C major contains C, F, and G. F and C are held in common, so the difference is having a Bb versus a G major chord. The Bb note is the 4th degree of the F major scale, which gets "raised" to a B natural, the 7th scale degree of C major, when you move over one step "clockwise," as you put it, on the circle. That's all that changes: the Bb major chord that's in the key of F, and a G major chord that needs the B natural in the key of C. (Same deal with minor triads--Gm in the one case, Em in the other. The Dm and Am chords are common between those keys.)

    And scale-wise, B natural--the natural 7th in C--is a sharp ("augmented") 4th when it's used in the key of F. Raising that one tone and leaving the rest of F major alone gives you the "lydian mode". From the other point of view, B flat is the flat 7th ("minor seventh" or "subtonic") when used in the key of C, and a melody in C with that tone lowered and no other changes is in the "mixolydian mode." Those get used a fair bit in pop and jazz, and it helped me to make the connection between adjacent major keys and have that as another way of looking at them.

    ... if I got all of that right.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 17 weeks ago
    Thanks, Timv! To be more specific about my 'whys'...for me, the answers need to represent some practical application. Why do I need to know how many sharps or flats are in a key? To know my scales better. Why do I need to know my scales inside out? For improvisation and to hopefully one day become fluent in reading many levels of music. Why? To be able to play with others, for joy, living, etc. So it's not really all that deep, it's just more specific than "Reading music is better". However, I'll happily collect as many reasons as anybody wants to throw at me, especially if meaningful to them too. 
    Memorizing our times tables, foreign language vocabulary and verb conjugations is quicker than doing mental gymnastics, as you mentioned. But I never was any good at that and my mind always just wandered off. I've never been a stellar pupil. It's a struggle for me now to remember what scale I just started doing as my mind wanders by the time I get to the second octave.
    Yes, I'm still going at it! Failure is not an option (just a regular event). As long as I am alive and have thumbs I will keep doing this. 
    At first I wasn't trying to find a way to sneak around memorizing scales, and I wanted to commit them to memory! I thought it'd be faster than reasoning and studying the whys and wherefores. I'll go ahead and admit here that I spent a good 16 months trying to memorize them, thus proving you really can't teach an old dog new tricks after a full day at work. The only thing I didn't try was getting up an hour earlier, driving somewhere while my brain was still fresh, parking, and practicing trying to memorize scales or pieces of music in my car (there's no way I can get up an hour earlier!). 
    I agree - I don't think it's realistic to expect me or anybody else to run through all the steps first, on the spur of the moment, to be able to remember a scale or know which notes to play according to a key signature. But for some reason I have to go this route first at home, now, to be able to order it in my mind. Once that's done, I'll just take the shortcuts. This is the flowchart I kept looking for in the very beginning. The problem I run into if using my ear to pick out pitches, plus my moth-eaten memory for fingerings, is I have no agility from there on. I'd be lost in another key, or if anything changed. And I could just forget all about improvisation. 
    There are something like forty different places on the staff relating to the clarinet, for which I need to know individual fingerings (counting either flats or sharps, not both). I never committed that many guitar chords to memory. Additionally, some of the 'notes' have a couple of alternate fingerings for smoother transitions. I'm also currently full steam ahead on trying to drill into my head where all the enharmonics are, since much of the sheet music I've been using so far seems to like throwing in things like A#. In the eighties I remember hearing non-professional guitar players saying "Ooh no...it's not A SHARP! It's B FLAT! Don't ever say A sharp or we will laugh you out of town". Now that I know it's not a crime to call it A#, I can get wild and start bandying terms like C flat around.
    Oddly enough, you kicked off a series of three separate references to Peggy Lee's Is That All There Is. I had not heard this song before. Roadskater then mentioned it yesterday in an unrelated conversation, not having read these posts, and I just heard it mentioned on a Public Radio story repeat, about David Rakoff fasting. I took the cosmic hint and gave it a whirl. I'm not sure I understand the sentiment, but I enjoyed it musically. Perhaps the message is 'Don't take life too seriously and just have fun'. 
    And I saved my anticlimactic bit for last! 
    "why does the key signature of the higher key always have either one more sharp or one less flat than the lower one?"

    Do you mean there's never a bigger difference than +/- one of either sharp or flat between 2 keys next to each other on the wheel? As far as I can tell, they're either one sharp or flat higher or lower in the higher key. I have absolutely no idea why. The only answer I can offer up is that 'it's much less cluttered that way' or easier to remember.  Also if it's true that going anti-clockwise in a circle of fourths presents the order of flat keys as they're likely to occur in real life music playing, perhaps it's easier to put into practice. I'm sure your answer is a good one and I will add it to my list of notes, so please do tell. I don't have a satisfactory answer for it yet for myself, but once I do it'll probably include some situational example common enough to be useful/memorable, related to playing music somehow. I still have so much to learn and am only at the beginning. 
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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 18 weeks ago

    It's cool that you've found a trove of videos that work for you, eebee. Actually cool that you're still going at it one way or another.

    I browsed the list of videos and there are some interesting looking ones there. And I know what you mean about YouTubers finding one way or another to make their videos annoying and distracting and less effective somehow than they could be. I've spent enough time in New York and around New Yorkers to be a little distracted by Ray's accent, but if it doesn't bother you...

    The much-missed John McGann, late of the Berklee College of Music, the acoustic supergroup The Wayfaring Strangers, and just about every music forum on the net, famously said, "Theory only seems like rocket science until you know it. Then, it's more like plumbing!"

    Aside from the minor point that plumbing is a pretty important part of rocket science, it seems a lot of people have had the Peggy Lee "Is That All There Is?" experience, finding out that "learning theory" didn't really open up any new musical worlds so much as it gave names to things that they already had a pretty good idea about. Actually I guess playing plucked string instruments could have something to do with that, since it's all laid out pretty well for you on a guitar or mandolin neck where a fret is a half-step and you go through the circle of fifths by moving up or down one string.

    As for the "why" of it, my first thought was that I need to resist going there as often as I'm inclined to. If I want to learn how to write the Chinese character 我 ("wŏ", the first-person singular pronoun) I won't get there by asking why it has 7 strokes instead of 6 or 8, or why that particular stroke goes from lower left to upper right and not from upper left to lower right. You do it that way because that's how it's done. And I wonder if some of the difficulty adults have in learning languages and other things kids get more easily comes from us wanting some clever way to avoid those tedious drills and the rote memorization. I know that I learned to play C, G, F, and D chords etc on the guitar by being shown them or seeing diagrams of what they were, and then playing them until I could remember each one without needing a reminder. Only years later did I come to understand why each note is where it is, and then I could use that understanding to figure out tasty things like F#m7b5 and C6add9 on my own. But I still needed to practice making those chords until I could do them on the spot from memory. Maybe others are more mentally agile than I am, but I find that at full real-time speed, in the heat of battle so to speak, there isn't time to compose chords and work out voicings from bare theory. I have to just know them and having them "in my fingers" already.

    In any case, here's a "why" question for you: Given two musical keys separated by an interval of a fifth (say A major and E major, for example) why does the key signature of the higher key always have either one more sharp or one less flat than the lower one?

    I learned this stuff in the typical patchy and haphazard way of the self-taught. So while I think I know the answer, or perhaps at least an answer good enough to suit myself, I wonder if you'd think it was correct, or helpful even, and what a correct and satisfactory answer would be for you.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 18 weeks ago

    Time on the instrument, hours spent practicing, repetition and trying to get the right sounds might work well for some, but I'm pretty useless if I don't understand why. I know teachers have to stick to a schedule and can't have all the kids in the class keep asking "Why?!", but really, I can't remember anything unless I know the reasons. It sounds like a lame excuse, but I remember things that have a solid (to me) foundation, and not if they don't. While 10% of me is trying to memorize an apparently random list, the other 90% is yelling "This is a load of meaningless crap and you're wasting your energy!". I know it's futile to be stuck on an endless 'why', and no I don't know what life is or if it even really exists in the first place, or what I mean by 'exists'.

    I have spent a good part of 17 months trying to make headway here with the clarinet. I have made some progress, yes, but not as much as I think I could have. To be fair to my tutor, 30 minutes a week is not nearly long enough to make great strides either in teaching or learning. I have always understood that the other 167.5 hours in the week were mine to go out and find answers and/or practice furiously. But I got so lost trying to look up the answers to all my questions, and it has taken me this long, frankly, to find a set of tutorials that actually helped me and didn't leave me with yet more questions. I don't have all day to sit and unravel etymology and terminology mixed with the practical whys and wherefores of music theory and practice. Watching a video of someone pointing with a stick on a whiteboard and distracting me with their hair or accent, throwing terminology at me with zero explanation is just not helpful. Sure, it's perfectly clear...IF YOU ALREADY KNOW ALL OF IT.
    But now I have found some very helpful videos on Youtube. 
    This guy doesn't show himself very much so I am not distracted by hair type, glasses choice, eye color, nose shape, skin tone, mouth, teeth, ears, or anything in the background. He speaks nice and slowly, clearly, directly. This video style is what I need to cut through the distractions via the tiny channel of focus and into the part of my brain that is trying to comprehend music theory. Lots of the right kind of visuals.
    I believe I have had a major breakthrough this week. This guy, Ray Melograne, teaches band in NY somewhere, so he is used to having to explain things clearly and slowly, and lucky for his students, appears to respect and help those who ask 'why'. I found his video series by googling 'memorizing scales', and in that particular video he explains why simply memorizing letters or using muscle memory won't work for long. This is exactly what I needed. My knowledge has expanded from there and I have even made myself a quiz to try to remember all the satisfying answers to all my whys. I have had many ahah moments this week from his videos. I still need to match up the circle of fifths & key signatures in my head to the clarinet fingerings in reality, but now I feel I can work on that and actually make some progress. Now it's just a matter of me remembering these correlations. This I can do.
    Yes my tutor explained all of this to me, and yes so has Roadskater, who is probably slapping his forehead reading this. But I can't pause, take 5 minutes silence, write myself a quiz question and answer, let it sink in, and hit play on real people and their pleasantly distracting presence.
    Ray has taken the time over a few videos (which I also listen to now during my commute) to thoroughly break down the pitches, key signatures, scales, circle of fifths, etc., with plenty of explanation of the terminology used and WHY. He isn't just pointing to the circle of fifths like most other videos I've seen, and just said 'Count five and there's your next note in the circle' ("okay...but why?"). 
    When I'm not thinking about anything else more important, now, I'm thinking about this! So this is the immersion I needed, and besides, it beats worrying about things I can't change. I can now look at the circle of fifths and see so many things in clarinet reality. It's starting to take on a 3D image in my mind. So here at last is a starting point to hang it all on, and may it snowball from here. 
    We looked at blues improvisation last week in my lesson, providing the impetus for my "memorize scales" google search. I was thinking if I couldn't intellectualize what the heck a flatted third was, I'd better try to find a way at all costs to memorize my scales before the next lesson, including brainwashing or hypnosis. 
    I sorted Ray's videos by oldest first and am going from there. I think he may have started these videos as a way to help his band students. So he's going about these from a teaching perspective, explaining concepts in as many ways as he can, knowing different approaches work for different students. During every video of his I've watched so far, I have let out a long, loud 'Oaaahhhhohhhhhh' epiphany-sound at least twice.
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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 19 weeks ago

    Thanks Tim. Those are good reminders to think about and perhaps redirect my thoughts during the next blind rage. Or how about "What I think of me is none of my business"? I have had a pretty good learning curve going for handling other people's strangeness and moods, but I still put up with a lot of crap from myself. 

    The lessons are always wonderful, in spite of the occasional meltdown. And anyway, meltdowns lend themselves to lyrics here and there, a collection of which I titled Monday Night Dysfunction, for example. 

    I decided to take it easy on myself after Roadskater pointed out scales on a guitar fretboard, which I started practicing for left hand rehabilitation. I realized that even though those clarinet notes don't change, none of the scales I've attempted repeat, as they do on the guitar, so I decided to give myself a break on that one. 

    I was happy to be able to play a few remnants of (non-bar/barre) chords like E, E7, E9, A, Am7, Am, A9, D7 and G at an absolute stretch. It's a long road to recovery. 

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 19 weeks ago

    Good to see another update from you! I hadn't checked in here for longer than I realized. I hope the lessons are still going however they're going. No obligation to do well, just keep chugging along.

    The NYT piece reminds me of the (Buddhist?) proverb, "Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional." Yeah, some things take a long time to learn. Sometimes we forget the same thing or make the same mistakes over and over. There will always be people who are a lot better at the thing we're learning than we'll ever be. But suffering and despair are editorial content that we add to the situation. Strictly speaking, we don't actually have to get on the trip of "I should be better by now" or "I shouldn't still be making that mistake" or "I'm hopeless."

    William S. Burroughs:

    I had the experience of say writing something that I thought was just great and I read it the next day and said for God's sakes tear into very small pieces and throw it into somebody else's garbage can. It's awful. And that is one of the deterrents to writing - the amount of bad writing you're going to have to do before you do any good writing.

    But, you know, if you never try to do anything, you'll never be disappointed.

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 20 weeks ago

    This article initially had me at the cheeky artwork by Olivier Schrauwen. But then writer Gerald Marzorati grabbed me by the throat in the first paragraph. 

    Better Aging Through Practice, Practice, Practice. NY times.

    The author echoes much what I've described above, just better. 

    I came here for a plaintive whine to the tune of "Why can't I learn scales?!", but on the way got sidetracked by the NY Times. I appreciate Marzorati putting into words the ever-growing Pig-Penesque billows of hopelessness that are dogging me about my clarinet habit.

    Bolding mine:

    "Motivated to continue to develop, you will also learn to face and cope with all manner of frustration. One in particular is that continued improvement is not steady improvement. Back in the 1970s, an M.I.T. graduate student named Howard Austin was awarded his doctoral degree for writing a mechanical analysis of the act of juggling (which, I guess, is not a bad activity to take up in late middle age). He found that learning and improving motor skills happens episodically.You get a little better, then regress. You have a sudden breakthrough, then backslide. If you are my age, with my personality, this can be a recipe for despair. There just isn’t the time to be righting reversals. Time is the province of the young, yes?

    Which brings us to the beauty of a disciplined effort at improvement and, I think, the only guaranteed benefit of finding something, as I found in tennis, to learn and commit to: You seize time and you make it yours. You counter the narrative of diminishment and loss with one of progress and bettering. You spend hours removed from the past (there is so much of it now) and, in a sense, the present (and all its attendant responsibilities and aches), and immerse yourself in the as yet. In this new pursuit of yours, practice is your practice: It comes to determine the way you eat and sleep and shape your days. It is not your life, but one of the lives that make up your life, and the only one for which looking ahead, at least for a little while longer, is something done without wistfulness or a flinch."


    But Schrauwen's artwork is enchanting! It reminds me of the doodles in my Dad's old 1940s Public School physics text books. 

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  • Reply to: Clarinet: Middle Aged Woman Dares To Learn New Musical Instrument   2 years 24 weeks ago

    More good stuff! About freaking out on stage, you might have noticed as I have that musicians tend to have fatalistic attitudes and enjoy dark humor. Everything in This is Spinal Tap did more or less happen to someone sometime, and far worse has happened. The trick might be to understand that a live performance can go totally to hell in an instant and to accept that, and find a way to enjoy playing anyway. But a lot of times anxiety comes from being under-prepared and knowing it--which you probably will be when playing for your instructor, who ought to understand this.

    I like the ideas about "dryland" practice. I need to think about ways to do more (some?) of that.

    I do take issue with the one author's use of "inefficient" for practice that doesn't meet with his approval. Looking at ratios of cost-to-benefit and return-on-investment and percent utilization of resources are fine for businesses and things we do that make measurable changes to our standard of living. We bother with them so that we can enjoy the other part of our lives. By that standard, your language classmates who never cracked open their textbooks out of class, let alone sought out other learning resources, might have learned a tenth as much as you and only spent a twentieth of the time. So yay for them, they were more efficient.

    Your comments about fun hit closer to the mark for me. If you're having fun and you play for 12 hour total per week instead of 10, for example, you might or might not get 20% more improvement because of it. But that's only a problem if you think of your playing time as something you "spend" and not as time when you get to play your clarinet and enjoy doing what you're doing.

    Something I've learned from having lots of hobbies and trying to get better at various activities, and sometimes succeeding, is that we'll always be somewhere in the middle. We know there are some people who are a lot better than us, and many more who are a lot worse--including at the least the billions who've never even tried it. If you're a local champion at something, you're trying to figure out how to catch up to the national champion, who's looking up the road at the world champion, who's comparing his or her achievements to Hall of Famers, who are mostly dead. Wherever you go, there you are.

    Thanks for sticking with the updates. I hope it's still going well.

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