Feature Article #6: “Back When I was a kid…”

For the Month of June the S.A.C. will be featuring a series of articles by James Linderman.

James @ Berkleemusic

James Linderman works at the James Linderman Music Lesson Studio in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. He teaches guitar, piano, bass and music theory as well as contemporary songwriting and film composition, in studio, as well as over Skype to students all over the world.

Back When I Was A Kid…

by James Linderman

I am just about the age where it is appropriate for me to begin every sentence with, “Back when I was a kid…” Like, “Back when I was a kid, going to music lessons was tough. We had to climb over Canadian Shied rocks in our bare feet, and there was all this snow and it was uphill both ways and the teacher hit our knuckles with a gigantic ruler, and we had to play real music…the classics and…blah,blah,blah…

The first place my parents took me to, for guitar and piano lessons had a plaque on the wall that read, “The best lessons money can buy”. I thought that it should have read, “Our lessons are the most money we can legally charge for attempting to teach your certifiably un-musical children”.

The first “remarkable” lesson I can remember was just after The Beatles appeared for the first time on the Ed Sullivan Show. I told my teacher that he had to teach me how to play like The Beatles because that’s the music that I wanted to play. I can still remember his wicked laugh as he informed me that my parents would keep me in lessons no matter what he taught me and so he may as well teach me the music that he thought was best. I was doomed.

That meant a heavy dose of Ellington and Jobim for jazz and Bach and Mozart for the classical. It could be stated “for the record” that he inadvertently did me a favour by teaching me great music by great artists and providing me with a solid academic foundation. I did, however, reluctantly learn this music, that he and my parents loved, with the same closed-minded distain, that most children look at vegetables with.

My next teacher was very cool because he was a deal maker. He would say, “I will teach you a Rolling Stones tune in exchange for three well practiced pieces from your workbook”. This is the same approach that I teach with, to get academic work done, in my studio today.

The other aspect of music lessons that makes me say, “Back when I was a kid…” was the quality of my first guitar and the guitars many of us started lessons with, back in the early 60’s.

Back when I was a kid, my first guitar was a $25.00 Saturn, from the Sears catalogue store. I carried it to my lessons in its slowly deteriorating cardboard box, which was kept closed with one of my father’s old belts. My teacher just barely controlled his urge to smash this horrid instrument each and every week as he endeavoured, with limited success, to tune it.

He would beg my father to buy me a new one, only to have my dad snatch the guitar out of his hands and perform “Edelweiss” on it, (chord accompaniment with vocal), right there at the front counter. Why should my father entertain the idea of purchasing a new guitar from these people when this perfectly good instrument could produce such a masterpiece? My teacher would look on this with terrified disbelief. For me, this was an experience that it has taken many hours of music therapy to overcome.

The point of all this is that… back when I was a kid there were cheap guitars, out of tune pianos, drab books, lousy teachers, ancient pieces, and crazy parents and it still could not stop me from seeing the magic that there is in making music with your own hands.

I can also now say that, back when I was a kid, I really did not understand, just how great a gift my parents gave me, by investing in me as a musician.


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James is the author of the book series titled “Song Forms for Songwriters” that is based on his primary academic discipline known as compositional abstraction. It is a system for creating new songs from shadowing single elemental features extracted from existing work.

James Linderman - QrtrPg_Ad_BookRelease1 copy

Disclaimer:   Songwriters Association of Canada posts songwriter related news and events as a resource to members.  Publishing these posts does not imply that the S.A.C. endorses the teacher, product, service, or company.

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