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Blog Archive from 2013

December 2013

Influences of The Doors

"You don't make music for immortality, you make music for the moment, capturing the sheer joy of being alive on planet Earth. Wow, is this fun." Ray Manzarek, Keyboardist from The Doors.

Ray breaks down The Doors songs "Riders on the Storm," "Moonlight Drive," "My Eyes Have Seen You," and "Light My Fire." He explains how the songs were influenced by Flamenco, Latin, Jazz, and Classical music. I love his energy and passion.


Performance Art

Update: The two members from this band that went to prison for their music were released. They are starting a Human Rights group for Russian Prisoners.

This month's video is features the style of music called Punk Rock, which often has socially conscious lyrics. In a nearly empty church, in Moscow, these women filmed themselves jumping up and down for about 30 seconds. They are part of an all female, protest punk rock group. When they were told to leave, they left. They went home and edited the footage into a music video, criticizing the lack of a clear seperation between Church and State, in modern Russia. The video was posted free to the internet. All their songs are free, illegal, public performances, to draw attention to human rights issues. For this "crime," two members of the group now sit in jail. It's doubtful that this would be a crime in America.

But in Russia, anyone can be accussed of "hooliginism." You can be separated from your children, and held without bail. During a surreal trial, you can be accused of "blasphemy" by the Church. You can be sentenced to two years, and sent to a remote prison in Siberia, thousands of miles from your family, for "resocialization."

Isn't Russia supposed to be a secular state, which supposedly guarantees free speech to all it's citizens? Why does Putin feel so threatened by the authenticity of these women? Would boycotting the Olympic games be a way to remind the Russian Government that the world is watching?

"Our performances can either be called dissident art or political action that engages art forms. Either way, our performances are a kind of civic activity amidst the repressions of a corporate political system, that directs its power against basic human rights and civil and political liberties."


September 20-22 was Ingenuity Festival in Cleveland. It featured theater, performances, and art, in two huge warehouses downtown. I was there to answer questions about music lessons. I also gave brief, spontaneous lessons on the snare drum and conga.

Across from my booth, there was a musical instrument created by a local inventor. The instrument was based on a turntable and a computer program that scans objects for size and color. Here's how the instrument worked: The user places an object on the spinning turntable. The computer scans the object as it passes by, creating a different sound depending on the size and color of the object.

Another unique instrument at Ingenuity was a pair of Tesla coils, modified to create music.

Below is a video of an instrument called the Theremin, being played by it's inventor Leon Theremin.

The distance of his left hand from the antenna on the left controls the volume. And the height and distance of his right hand from the antenna on the right controls the pitch.


Last weekend, I attended an intimate and amazing performance by the Brazillian guitarist/singer/songwriter Luca Mundaca. She played her original songs with drummer Patrick Graney, who played a unique drum set with brushes (a type of drum stick.) She is now one of my favorite singers, and her guitar work is exceptional. Her voice is phenomenal. She also played some covers of Brazillian songs, and the audience danced and sang along. This style of music is called Brazilian Lounge, and the singing is in Portuguese.

After the show, I met Luca, she is a very down to earth and kind person. She also teaches guitar. Best of all, this winner of a 2008 Independent Music Award in the World Fusion category is a Cleveland native! So be sure to check online to see where and when she's playing. Then go out and hear some great local music this fall!

Luca Mundaca plays every Friday evening, this September, at Bon Vivant in Larchmere.


Summertime is a great time to drum outside! Cleveland is rich with opportunities for those interested in playing and listening to hand drums. I've listed a few below the video.

For example, last week, outside the Coventry library, I saw a local Japanese drum group called Icho Daiko. They explained a bit about their drums and the beats, performed, and answered audience questions afterward.

Drums have been used for thousands of years for communication, ritual, cultural and religious events, and musical performances.

When many people play drums, the overall sound is called a polyrhythm (the word means “many rhythms.”) It's very easy to join in with a drum circle. All you need to do is hit a drum! Now hit it again. Easy, right? I'm not kidding. Drum circles are a great way to experience drumming in a group, which is something that I recommend everyone tries at least once in their life. For me, I know that a creative drumming session puts me in a meditative state, and my breathing becomes deeper and more relaxed.

Drum Circles in Cleveland. (summer)

Sundays, head to Edgewater Park from 4-6pm for a drum circle with a great view of Lake Erie. There are usually extra drums, so don't be afraid to ask.

Sundays, Coventry P.E.A.C.E. Park. Free yoga class from 5-6:30pm, followed by a drum circle from 7-9. Bring a drum.

Drum Circle Meetup Group meets in various locations. They usually have extra drums. Interested in buying an African drum, made right here in Cleveland? Let me know, and I can refer you to some great local drum makers. They know how to turn a tree trunk into a beautiful drum, and they can customize it just for you.


Umm Kulthum was born in Egypt, and she is regarded as the greatest Arabic language singer. When you hear her, you may understand why. This month I ask, can you imagine a world without sound, without music? For example, if I was a refugee from war, would I have the opportunity to hear this beautiful music, for free on the internet? How lucky I am, something I don't want to take for granted. This month, in respect for the 100,000+ people that have died in Syria, and the 70,000+ that have disappeared into government jails and ilegal torture centers, and the 1.7+ million refugees who have fled the conflict, I'm observing a moment of silence every day. Afterwards, I will play my instruments like I've never played them before. When human rights are violated, and the leaders of the most powerful countries fail to help, it sends a chilling effect all across the world. Why do countries like Russia support governments that practice ethnic cleansing? But like the voice of Umm Kulthum, the Syrian people and other human beings all around the world will continue to demand their right to live in freedom, with dignity and human rights, and freedom from torture, intimidation, and democide. The voices of those crying in the wilderness will NEVER be silenced.


Meet Cui Jian, the Father of Chinese Rock. His song, "Nothing to my Name" was the unofficial anthem of Chinese activists during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Check out his song "Let me Sleep" with it's funky Talking Heads vibe. Be sure to watch the music video or a live performance of "A Piece of Red Cloth," which he performs with a red cloth wrapped around his eyes.


The last few months have been great for Live Music in Cleveland. In March, I saw Naseer Shamma & Al-Oyoun Ensemble at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Naseer Shamma plays the Oud, a Turkish stringed instrument and ancestor of the guitar. The genre of music that they played is called Arab Chamber music, which expands conceptually on traditional styles. There are four main melodic instruments used in Traditional Arabic ensemble (takht.) The oud, nay (flute), qanun (harp), and violin. These melodic instruments are accompanied by various drums and the riqq (tambourine.) One way the Al-Oyoun Ensemble expanded upon traditional music was to add a bass player. It was a great night of music. If you missed this show, be sure to check out: Le Trio Joubran, for another chance to see some great Middle Eastern Music in Cleveland. I blogged about these 3 fantastic oud players a few months ago. They are coming to Cleveland State University on May 12th. I'll be attending.

April was dominated by the 2013 Tri-C Jazz fest.

First up was Kenny Garrett at PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre. Ever since his five year stint with Miles Davis, this alto saxophonist and flautist (flute player) has been tearing it up. I heard Asian, African, and Latin influences in the inspiring songs that he performed with his band.

The next show I attended was Lionel Loueke, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Lionel is a guitarist born in the West African country of Benin. His music sounded like a beautiful mix of West African harmonies and Jazz. His three piece band included a bassist and drummer. I talked to the drummer afterward, who mentioned that it was the first time they had all played together! It goes to show that when you have great musicians at the table, anything is possible. Magic can happen, as the music ebbs and flows in a seamless fashion.

Improvising isn't just for accomplished musicians. Anyone can learn to improvise and create variations on a theme. Improvisation can be part of almost any style of music, not just jazz. Give me a call about lessons to learn more!

The story goes that when Lionel was young, he saved up for a year to buy his first guitar. He took extra care not to break a string, because strings had to be ordered from Nigeria and were expensive.

Rounding out my Jazz Fest experience was Michael Feinstein, performing "The Gershwins & Me" at PlayhouseSquare's State Theatre. Michael (born in Columbus, Ohio!) is a pianist, archivist and entertainer, who recently wrote a book called “The Gershwins and Me: A Personal History in Twelve Songs.” A great thing about this show was that as Michael joked with the audience, he introduced the background story of each song. When Michael was young, he worked with Ira Gerswhin, researching, cataloging and preserving the songs that the two Gershwin brothers created together. The Gershwins are an example of two family members that worked together to create some beautiful music. Which reminds me, some of my students have siblings that also taking music lessons from me. They have been starting bands together, and I'm excited to hear what they come up with! Do you have some family members that would like to start a band?

Last of all, also performing at the state theater, was my housemate Matt Partsch! He performed two nights, once with the Tri C Brazilian Jazz band, and once with the Tri C Progressive Rock Band. All this jazz is rubbing off on me, I'm gonna go practice the Clave (an Afro-Cuban rhythm) on drums!


I recently watched most of a film about the American pianist Herbie Hancock. The film is called “Possibilities.” It follows Herbie Hancock to studios around the world, as he records his 45th album, with guest musicians that sing in a variety of languages. In the film he identifies the purpose of the album: "why don't I do a record about global collaboration? That's about peace."

Herbie Hancock is a pioneering jazz/funk/rock/classical musician, who also worked with Miles Davis. According to Herbie, no one ever told him he was a child prodigy. So why is he successful at music? Listening, practicing, and working with others, which are all skills that anyone can work on developing. He had some interesting things to say in the film. "Creativity and artistic endeavors have a mission that goes far beyond just making music for the sake of music."

Even though music brought him success, Herbie Hancock eventually realized something important: "Being a musician is what I do, but not what I am." After I thought about it for a moment, I identified with what he was talking about. For Herbie Hancock (and myself), it's more important to lead a long life, developing wisdom, and interacting with a wide variety of people, rather than devoting oneself entirely to any one thing. Herbie also said "you can practice to attain knowledge, but you can't practice to attain wisdom."

Here is a video of Herbie Hancock playing with Miles Davis (trumpet), Wayne Shorter (tenor sax), Ron Carter (bass) and Tony Williams on drums. With these sounds, what kinds of ideas and emotions do these musical ambassadors bring to the table?

"The value of music is not dazzling yourself and others with technique. The value is to be able to play one note, at the right time, in the right way."


Did you ever consider playing bass guitar? The bass looks just like a guitar, but it only has four strings and the strings are thicker, producing a lower tone. This video highlights the bass part in the Beatles song "Hello Goodbye." (The bass player in the Beatles was Paul McCartney.) When I hear a nice bass line like the one in this song, it makes me want to pick up my bass. The numbers on the screen are called tablature. Learning to read tablature is a great, easy way to get started playing a song. If you thought guitar hero was fun, wait till you try the real thing. Interested in bass lessons? Call me today.


The Oud is the beautiful sounding ancestor of the guitar. Watch these three oud players perform with a drummer. There is something magical about music from the Middle East. There are many similarities between the music of the Arab, Jewish, Turkish and Persian cultures. Sign up today and learn more! Update: Since I posted this, I was lucky enough to see this band come and play at Cleveland State University. They are called Le Trio Joubran.

January 2013

Introducing... backing tracks! A backing track are songs with one or more instruments missing from the song. For example, if you play lead guitar, you can jam along with a backing track made of drums, bass guitar, rhythm guitar and keyboards. It simulates, in some ways, playing with a real band. This can help you hear how what you're playing on your instrument fits with the other sounds in the song. There are also drumless backing tracks for drummers, and bassless backing tracks for bass players! You can find them on youtube. Backing tracks can also be made from existing songs, so for example, you could play Bass Guitar along to a recording of a Beatles Song with the bass removed from the track. Or play rhythm guitar with a backing track that has the rhythm guitar removed. If you know the A blues scale, you can jam along the backing track featured below. Jamming to recordings is invaluable for ear training.

For example, type the word "free backing track" into a search engine and you can find plenty of audio examples of backing tracks, created by people that have the time and interest. For example, google "blues backing track in A," Select a backing track from the results, and start playback. While the track is playing, jam along by tastefully playing notes in the Blues Scale, in the Key of A.

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