My origin story
My first musical memory came in pre-school. I was three years old. There was a piano in the hallway, and someone was playing it. Between activities, I wandered through the hall and found myself standing there, mouth open, totally enthralled. My tiny brain tingled with fascination and wonder. The music had power over me. I eventually begged my parents for piano lessons. And at six years old, these lessons were the beginning of my identity as a music maker.
But there were twists and turns in the journey: I struggled with sight-reading sheet music. Teachers would stress the importance of it over my ear, and I eventually quit piano.
My parents then enrolled me in a choir where I was exposed to four-part harmony and opera. But I only had so much of an appetite for the classical music of Western Europe. When it came to the academic canon of what constituted Music, I noticed a growing disconnect between me and the music I was learning as teachers the class on the Mozart/Bach/Beethoven path.
Other genres caught my ears: I took a year of jazz drum lessons, and started to teach myself folk guitar and gospel bass. I joined a gospel choir in college, and got re-acquainted with piano, trying my best to emulate various musical idols along the way.
But I was thankful for my institutionally-acquired skills: I was taught to count and clap, and introduced to solfège. Both skills, especially in conjunction, enabled me to follow the music I actually wanted to learn more closely. I also eventually came to see these fundamental listening skills–also known as beat awareness and relative pitch–had become the engine behind my becoming self-taught.I could predict what sounds would come from the frets and strings of a guitar before I played them. I could visualize the patterns in the drum grooves I wanted to replicate.
I still felt safer playing the music of others but upon discovering more “alternative” or “indie” music, especially a small band out of Oxford called Radiohead, and I was finally motivated to come out of my fearful shell. And so I started a band, and began making covers and tutorials on YouTube.
People got something out of my tutorials, and I was beginning to operate out of a place of deep conviction: “If I can do it, then so can others!”
Couchsurfing and VOX
The channel opened doors I never could have imagined, from meeting my YouTube followers in places all over the world to private lessons via Skype (in pre-pandemic times!) and being interviewed and featured for my music analysis.
As my musical self was emerging, it slowly dawned on me that my YouTube audience was having a very different experience from my private students. Not everyone had a teacher to help them cultivate these skills I found so empowering. And for even a subset of those, some were certain they were incapable of developing them. To learn to hear, identify, understand, and interpret sound, to parse the wiggly air, and make sense of it would be the domain of the experts, surely not me! For these people, their relationship to music would only grow one guitar tab, one piano songbook at a time. I felt I was in a position to do something about that.
This became the crucial step of my own journey I focused the content of my series on, the step I believed everyone could take–to go from frustrated enjoyer of music and functional musician to active observer and fluent musician–that step deserved a series and a home on the web. A place where people could address the acquisition of beat awareness and relative pitch, and what comes after. Without insisting on sight-reading, and enabling us to go beyond beyond single songs as a community.
The fundamental skills that sharpened every musical impulse I had weren’t mine to hoard, but to be shared. And standard notation, something I knew I wasn’t alone in struggling with, would never be an exclusionary obstacle.
In 2012, I began thinking about what it might look like to help people play by ear. Three years later, I announced it and got to work.
I wish I could say the rest of the journey was smooth. Once I had figured out my calling, or something like that, I just powered through and slew every obstacle in my path. It’s more like I limped past the finish line. It was difficult, isolating, and it nearly broke me. I saw all of my worst tendencies for perfectionism and avoidance come out. I lacked executive functioning. I wasn’t able to draw boundaries. I finally understood how much emotional labor it required to birth it one day when I read a book about food and I wept from simply reading the book’s acknowledgments section, where the author thanked his family, friends, and editor. I also strangely felt like I understood George R. R. Martin:
I couldn’t have done this on my own, though. I had so much help. I owe huge thanks to Kevin who volunteered with the Melody and Harmony Modules, my friend and developer named Josh who I bounced so many ideas off of at so many steps along the way, my patient and supportive wife who bore with me, and a community both IRL and online. It is absolutely insane that I got to this point. And now…
Now there is room for what comes next.
Today, I am proud to announce the launch of The WARRENMUSIC Series: Foundation Modules.