Music and Moodle and Mayer (oh, my!)

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Too much time between the last post and this. Lots of other stuff has provided ample avenue for distraction.

Happily, though, recent developments include pursuing something I should have done decades ago: formalized musical education. As a Christmas present to me I enrolled in Berklee School of Music’s online program:

Berkleemusic’s programs include numerous certificates and a lot of standalone courses. See the link above for a sample course (I think it’s an excerpt from the Electric Bass course). I decided on the Preparing for Berklee ‘Specialist’ certificate, since it includes topics I’ve wanted to explore and starts where I really needed to start: Basic Music Theory (BME-101). Just finishing that course this week (actually, I’ve completed everything – just waiting for a grade on my last assignment) and I’m happy to say I learned a good deal that would have meant a lot over the years in all manner of situations. Not the least of which, in that regard, would have been an overall reduction of the frustration that has often led to discouragement and lack of, shall we say, “follow-through” with respect to a number of musical endeavors.

Next on the agenda is Basic Ear Training (BME-115), which starts next Monday. I’m kind of excited about this one, as virtually everything I’ve done by way of musical performance and composition has been “by ear”. I’m anxious to learn how to translate that ability into something more structured and (*shudder*) formalized.

I also decided to ‘jump ahead’ a bit and enrolled in a course that also starts next Monday, but which is not part of this particular certificate curriculum: Producing Music with SONAR (BMPR-177). This is actually the course responsible for my learning about Berkleemusic in the first place. Through the magic of Google Ads, one day last November I was corresponding with someone (using GMail) about some aspect of SONAR and over on the right column, in the list of related ads was an entry listing Berkleemusic’s on-line SONAR course. I hadn’t known Berklee even had an online program, much less that anyone was teaching courses on SONAR (which I’ve used since about Cakewalk Pro Audio Ver. 2 or something). Looking into that, I discovered all the other areas where Berklee provides on-line music instruction, and I decided it was something I wanted to try.

Some folks will undoubtedly note, correctly, that there are all manner of books and instructional material available to learn pretty much everything in Berklee’s on-line catalog. What I’ve found over the years – and something likely at the heart of the delay in my formalized musical education – is that when I pursue learning along those lines I invariably “lose interest” and move on to something else. Sometimes I’ll pick whatever-it-was back up again later, but that’s rare. I just don’t have the self-discipline to study in a vacuum. I’d be surprised if many people do. So the rationale here was that if I paid for the course – which has a very specific calendar schedule for completion – I’d be inclined to follow through. And so far that’s pretty much how it’s worked out. We’ll see how that translates to these next two courses, but I’m optimistic since they’re both in areas of “musical recidivism” that I’ve gone back to several times.

One interesting aspect of Berkleemusic is that the system they use for their online instruction is a highly customized instance of Moodle – an Open Source distance learning software package. Although we didn’t make use of a lot of its capability, or spend much time customizing it anywhere near as well as Berkleemusic has, we used the Moodle package at my last job to manage training for various technical courses on BPEL (Business Process Execution Language) and other related technologies. It was also the system used for administering our Certified BPEL Engineer exam. Kinda cool to use it as a student and see how flexible it is. Patty’s talked about putting the course of study she’s developing (as a doctoral student) on-line at some point, and I may go back to considering that as a system to support it in my next career as “Obi-Ron: Househusband and Tech Guru”… now potentially scant months away.

One final thing to mention, because I personally got a lot of inspiration out of this as well, is the access to stuff like John Mayer’s workshop (students-only, sorry – but there’s a preview there). I’ve always liked his music, but didn’t know he was such a philospher as well – at least with respect to his art – and on top of that he’s able to communicate that philosphy and make it accessible to others. Musical composition and performance is, at it’s core, an emotional activity. Mayer’s managed to rein in that emotion with a kind of enlightened pragmatism that has worked (exceptionally well) for him. If nothing else, it’s enjoyable to watch that expressed in a forum like this workshop, where I think a lot of Berklee students learned quite a bit that they weren’t expecting to. John has a blog – Battle Studies – where he’s intermittently chronicling the development of his next album. Interesting stuff there. He describes it thus:

It’s a house,
in a clandestine location,
that’s being converted into a music studio.
No, not a music studio.
An entire music experience.
A living, breathing, ever-evolving organic space that contains every part of the record making process.
Everybody involved has left their comfort zone. Including myself.
I need to be disoriented again.

I can relate to the need to be disoriented, again. Looking back (as I’m guessing John has), moments of best inspiration and motivation have come from disorientation. The need to make some internal sense of the externally unfamiliar is, I think, a kind of rocket fuel for musicians. I don’t know if The Music Room we keep talking about adding on over our garage would qualify as a disorienting environment. Likely not. But since all my Grammy nominations are in the future, and I can’t afford to remodel an entire house yet, that’ll have to do.

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