I’ve been writing recently on the value of taking music lessons for a new instrument and ways to make playing guitar easier. It’s been a little while since we talked to some our music teachers. This week we got two of our multi-instrumentalist teachers: Monica Duck and Kyle Gorman. Both of them grew up taking music lessons in Colorado Springs and have a love for writing music. I have to say really enjoyed getting to sit down and talk to both of them about their learning process and how both teaching and taking lessons has made them better musicians.
Monica grew up on the east side of Colorado Springs. She was always around a lot of music. After graduating from Colorado Springs Early Colleges High School, she attended University of Colorado Colorado Springs. While there she played in a variety of ensembles. She also spent a significant amount of time composing and learning to produce music. It was great to chat with her about lessons, writing music, overcoming obstacles and becoming a better musician.
Jon Gillin: What got you into music?
Monica Duck: Really it was my family. I was around music from a very young age. Both of my parents are musicians, my entire family are all musicians. And from there I just fell in love with it.
JG: What instruments do your parents play?
MD: My mom sings and plays piano. My dad plays drums, writes, sings, played saxophone, just dabbled in every single instrument.
JG: How did growing up in a musical environment affect your practice habits?
MD: Growing up in a musical environment there is more seriousness about music. You know, just singing in the shower isn’t good enough. I would walk around the house and my mom would say “ahh monica you just scooped right there.” However, I was encouraged as a child to have fun, but at the same time always be pushing myself to be better. I would practice, singing, playing or writing for hours because I wanted to improve.
JG: I think it’s interesting that you mention practicing writing. Because you are not just practicing technique, but also your creativity. What do you do recommend to practice creativity?
MD: I try to push outside of the comfort zone, work on improvising, not being afraid to try things out of the ordinary. I think, because I do a lot lyrical stuff, I try to turn my writing into poetry. A friend once told me that in a poem the words have to carry it alone. But, I try to write music in a way that the music and the words come together perfectly.
JG: How very Wagnerian of you!
MD: HAHAHA! Exactly. But maintaining that improvisational attitude, and not being afraid to fall into the music is immensely important. Because the ego gets in the way. I’ve met a lot of songwriters who thing too much about the words or the music and they just need to get out of their own heads and let the music be.
JG: Most of what I learned for songwriting was by listening to a lot of music and working with a community of peers. I have a friend who says music a team sport. How important is building a musical community to help you improve?
MD: I think it’s very important. If you don’t have that community there is only so far you can get. If you don’t have a sounding board you get stuck in your own head. Each person is different and we are all gonna write something different. Some of my greatest music is stuff I have written with other people.
JG: How would you recommend building a musical community to your students?
MD: Just putting yourself out there. Musicians love playing and interacting musically. The best way is to go out there and look for it. Don’t be afraid to look and play. I remember just going to open mics here in Colorado Springs like Jives.
JG: What has teaching taught you about music?
MD: It has taught me that we each approach music in a different way. I may have learned something in a particular way but it may not click with the student. You can’t come into lessons and just teach at them you have to get to know them. They are a human being that has a different way of thinking. It’s not your lesson it’s theirs. It’s just about their lesson and learning process.
Kyle grew up in the Briargate/Montabor neighborhood in Colorado Springs. He attended Coronado High School and was known as a stellar trumpet player. But he didn’t stop there. His love for music helped him to pursue other instruments including guitar and bass. From there he launched into writing and recording. Kyle has a fantastic ear and is great to work with. He is our head recording engineer. His positive personality is a great encouragement to co-workers and students.
Jon Gillin: What is earliest memory of music?
Kyle Gorman: Listening to vinyl records with my dad on a turntable in our basement. You know, Janis Ian, Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens a lot of folk. He was really into that. I do remember he also had Rush 2112. I remember looking at that and thinking “what the heck is this?” It just fascinated me.
JG:When did you start playing music
KG: I was in elementary school, probably in 2nd or 3rd grade. My mom worked at the school and we had to stay late a lot. So I played around on a classical guitar and then got into the after school guitar club. My hands were kinda small so it was a bit harder, but that was where I started.
JG: What was it that really that motivated to learn play?
KG: The primary instrument I played was really trumpet. It was the first instrument where my hands didn’t get in the way. For me it came down to could I just hear something in my head and play it. What spearheaded that was listening to Chuck Mangione with my dad.
JG: No way!
KG: Yeah absolutely. Hearing him play the trumpet just blew me away. And then listening to latin music that has those great trumpet leads and then the jazz guys like Miles Davis. I just really got into it. I even got to tour europe with the Colorado Ambassadors of Music.
JG: You are multi-instrumentalist, do you have one instrument that you identify with more than the others?
KG: Yes! 100% Bass
JG: Why Bass?
KG: I just hear the bass in music. I don’t mean just music that is already recorded. But, when someone starts playing I can harmonize well with it. I don’t like just playing root notes on the guitar. I’m not even good at melody lines on guitar but on bass it comes naturally almost without effort. It’s like I don’t even have to think about.
JG: You write a bunch of different styles of music what is your favorite to work on?
KG: I feel like I always default to rock/heavy rock. I don’t really shred, you know I just really enjoy riff based metal. Things like the Deftones and even grunge are big influneces on my writing style.
JG: How did music lessons help you be a better musician?
KG: I wouldn’t always practice because so much of it just came naturally to me. When I started lessons it forced my hand a bit. There was no time to mess around. It gave me structure and discipline. In addition to that you have someone specifically observing you. In a private lesson all of the technical flaws just come to the surface. It is different too, because in a classroom or group setting if you have a question it may be hard to address it. In a private lesson you can get the deeper explanations and explore music in a more indepth manner.
JG: What do you get out of teaching?
KG: I think through teaching you reconfirm your own knowledge. However, at the same time spreading the joy of playing music. The thing is, you learn while you teach. You begin to see that not everyone understands music the same way. You have to bend your own knowledge to help another person come to an understanding of music. There’s not a one size fits all method for anything but especially with teaching music.
JG: If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring musicians what would it be?
KG: Don’t be afraid of time.
JG: What do you mean?
KG: In the sense that learning an instrument takes time. Look at a baby, it takes them months of dedication just to learn to speak or to walk. You won’t figure it out overnight. It takes time and effort. Most people give up too soon. So, don’t be afraid of the time it takes to learn. Be kind to yourself.
Jon’s Final Thoughts
I think fine words to end on. As musicians we can spend a lot of time being critical of ourselves. This can spill over into being critical of others as well. But, both Kyle and Monica hit some excellent points. Music takes time and you really only get better when you do it with others. An artist and a friend of mine Tom Foe always says “music is a team sport.” I couldn’t agree more.