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Thread: No Speed Limit

  1. #1
    Brentrup Evangelist Larry S Sherman's Avatar
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    Default No Speed Limit

    I came across this blog post from Derek Sivers about learning music theory and Kimo Williams. Check out the blog post for full version with links, etc.

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    There's no speed limit. (The lessons that changed my life.)

    Whether you're a student, teacher, or parent, I think you'll appreciate this story of how one teacher can completely and permanently change someone's life in only a few lessons.

    I met Kimo Williams when I was 17 - the summer after I graduated high school in Chicago, a few months before I was starting Berklee College of Music.

    I called an ad in the paper by a recording studio, with a random question about music typesetting.

    When the studio owner heard I was going to Berklee, he said, “I graduated from Berklee, and taught there for a few years, too. I'll bet I can teach you two years' of theory and arranging in only a few lessons. I suspect you can graduate in two years if you understand there's no speed limit. Come by my studio at 9:00 tomorrow for your first lesson, if you're interested. No charge.”

    Graduate college in two years? Awesome! I liked his style. That was Kimo Williams.

    Excited as hell, I showed up to his studio at 8:40 the next morning, though I waited outside until 8:59 before ringing his bell.

    (Recently I heard him tell this same story from his perspective and said, “My doorbell rang at 8:59 one morning and I had no idea why. I run across kids all the time who say they want to be a great musician. I tell them I can help, and tell them to show up at my studio at 9am if they're serious. Almost nobody ever does. It's how I weed out the really serious ones from the kids who are just talk. But there he was, ready to go.”)

    He opened the door. A tall black man in a Hawaiian shirt and big hat, a square scar on his nose, a laid-back demeanor, and a huge smile, sizing me up, nodding.

    After a one-minute welcome, we were sitting at the piano, analyzing the sheet music for a jazz standard. He was quickly explaining the chords based on the diatonic scale. How the dissonance of the tri-tone in the 5-chord with the flat-7 is what makes it want to resolve to the 1. Within a minute, I was already being quizzed, “If the 5-chord with the flat-7 has that tritone, then so does another flat-7 chord. Which one?”

    “Uh... the flat-2 chord?”

    “Right! So that's a substitute chord. Any flat-7 chord can always be substituted with the other flat-7 that shares the same tritone. So reharmonize all the chords you can in this chart. Go.”

    The pace was intense, and I loved it. Finally, someone was challenging me - keeping me in over my head - encouraging and expecting me to pull myself up, quickly. I was learning so fast, it had the adrenaline of sports or a video game. A two-way game of catch, he tossed every fact back at me and made me prove I got it.

    In our three-hour lesson that morning, he taught me a full semester of Berklee's harmony courses. In our next four lessons, he taught me the next four semesters of harmony and arranging requirements.

    When I got to college and took my entrance exams, I tested out of those six semesters of required classes.

    Then, as he suggested, I bought the course materials for other required classes and taught myself, doing the homework on my own time, then went to the department head and took the final exam, getting full credit for the course.

    Doing this in addition to my full course load, I graduated college in two and a half years - (got my bachelor's degree when I was 20) - squeezing every bit of education out of that place that I could.

    But the permanent effect was this:

    Kimo's high expectations set a new pace for me. He taught me “the standard pace is for chumps” - that the system is designed so anyone can keep up. If you're more driven than “just anyone” - you can do so much more than anyone expects. And this applies to ALL of life - not just school.

    Before I met him, I was just a kid who wanted to be a musician, doing it casually.

    Ever since our five lessons, high expectations became my norm, and still are to this day. Whether music, business, or personal - whether I actually achieve my expectations or not - the point is that I owe every great thing that's happened in my life to Kimo's raised expectations. That's all it took. A random meeting and five music lessons to convince me I can do anything more effectively than anyone expects.

    (And so can anyone else.)

    I wish the same experience for everyone. I have no innate abilities. This article wasn't meant to be about me as much as the life-changing power of a great teacher and raised expectations.

    Kimo knows how much he means to me, and we're friends to this day. Read his full biography and buy his CDs at his website kimowilliams.com.


    I'm actually the opposite...I can learn a semester's worth of music theory in only a decade.

    Larry

  2. #2
    Brentrup Evangelist Larry S Sherman's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Speed Limit

    A video from the author...



    Larry

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    Professional Dreamer journeybear's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Speed Limit

    Just so you know, Derek Sivers is the founder of CD Baby. In ten years he built it up to where in 2008, he sold it for $22 million, giving the proceeds to a charitable trust for music education (from his page). Hopefully he set up something for himself, too. He was starting up about the same time the magazine I was writing for and editing went online, and I met him at a conference we sponsored. He seemed like a nice enough guy, if a bit hyper and geeky. Seems he did rather well,turned out just fine (or better), and has done a good lot of thinking along the way. Good going! And nice read.
    But that's just my opinion. I could be wrong. - Dennis Miller

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    Registered User Bill Baldridge's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Speed Limit

    I don't think Earl would have made it through Berklee. Thanks for the post and to putting me onto Derek Sivers.

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    Default Re: No Speed Limit

    Not to knock this guy at all –#this is an un-knockable message about believing in yourself and having high expectations and all – but this does strike me as a little odd to treat anything as artful and complicated as theory/orchestration/arranging as something that can be knocked out in five lessons. You can learn all the major rules, I guess, but knowing how to arrange practically also involves studying good arrangements and then doing a fair bit of actual arranging (and then hearing those arrangements being messed up in rehearsals, and feeling part of your soul die). That's just a quibble though, and I don't think it was his point.

    Also, come to think of it, this story does require the enthusiastic mentoring of a Berklee professor who offers you 3 hours of personal lessons for five weeks.

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    Distressed Model John Ritchhart's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Speed Limit

    Great teachers and mentors make all the difference. Not everyone gets one unfortunately. Mine was my High School football coach, Charlie Chancey. His lesson - Get up, don't quit, go again. Every day at practice, and on the sidelines during games. It has served me well in life. I now boil success down to those traits.
    We few, we happy few.

  7. #7
    Registered User Ivan Kelsall's Avatar
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    Default Re: No Speed Limit

    From SincereCorgi - "...but this does strike me as a little odd to treat anything as artful and complicated as theory/orchestration/arranging as something that can be knocked out in five lessons.". I agree with your point,but i read it rather differently.I don't think any musician who's spent most of his life dealing with all spects of music theory would imply that it's only a 5 lesson job !.I rather think that he was saying,don't be put off,here's what you can learn in a pretty short time, & using that as an encouragement for his student to go further.There's nothing beats finding out that you can do something that you want to do 'quickly',such as learning a couple of simple tunes on an instrument (or 'whatever'),to give a real boost to your enthusiasm. I bought my first (inexpensive) Mandolin simply to see if i had any talent to play one. Ok,i'd played Bajo for well over 40 years,but a Mandolin was a whole unknown area for me. I surprised & delighted myself, when in a few days i could pick out simple tunes (provided that me & the pick stayed together long enough !).That was enough encouragement for me to buy my first 'good' Mandolin & i've never looked back,
    Ivan
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