creative process

Pebbles in the Bucket by Melanie Ida Chopko

 CLICK HERE to download an empty Pebbles log for your own creative project.

I'm making a new watercolor version of this for my Institute of Sound students- (you can download one too, at my link above!) It's one of the tools I created for teaching and quickly realized it was something I had been needing all along for myself. How easily can I think the playing isn't progressing, but my log shows the facts: How I spent my week, where to keep  carving instead of traipsing around. Whether or not I actually spaced out completely (like the week of Oct 9!) My hero Austin Kleon (of Steal Like an Artist) calls them logbooks, like we're on a ship logging its progress over what seems like an undifferentiated sea of process. This summer I started a digital version of this that's shared with one of my teachers, Moorea Dickason - a fantastic way to turn up the heat a bit on following through on my goal of playing 2 hours a day, 5 days a week.

Why I Teach Music by Melanie Ida Chopko

The last class round up of singing skills

The last class round up of singing skills

I'm super excited to be back in the rhythm of writing for this blog, and sharing some reflections I have as I continue down the road of both studying and writing music, and supporting adults to do the same.

I think alot about why our culture tends to classify a select few people as "singers" and musicians, and why learning music is seen as a sort of elite task unlike, say, learning how to drive. When I visited Brasil during Carnaval, for example, this was far from the case! I wonder if partly it has to do with that fact that music is made with our bodies, with vocal chords and fingers and hands. With a common denominator of body parts, it's pretty simple to imagine some fingers and vocal chords are just magically gifted from the heavens, rather than having a skill that is cultivated. And with our culture of ATMS and downloading stuff from the sky in seconds, it would be an understandable mistake.

One of my heroes Danny Gregory wrote a bit about this in his book The Creative License - What if we spoke about driving the same way? "I didn't learn how to drive as a kid, so there's no hope now." Or, "When I was a kid, I didn't show a special interest in cars, so I must not be meant to drive." Sounds crazy, right? 

What has become more interesting to me as a learner and teacher is recentering the word 'singer' around the verb - A singer is simply one who sings. She could be singing on a stage, sure, or for big money, but that verb lives also in a practice room, in a child's bedroom, while walking down the street. The very act of DOING it means I am it. Of course once I'm doing it, I can put time in on learning how to do all sorts of cool stuff - to shape my tone, how to sing harmony or melismas/vocal runs, how to be a storyteller. But it all comes back to the verb.

For a very long time, way longer than I'm proud to calculate, I lived with a sort of metta-fizzle when it came to the music verbs.  "If it takes time, if its hard and unfamiliar, it's not in the cards for me. My body can't do it." (I can still catch myself stuck in that mud, when I'm working on something unfamiliar and new). Seeing the freedom that comes from unbuckling that assumption is pretty much the reason I teach music at all. And, another amazing by product of being a verb is that it stacks up time and experiences that I can look back at, and see, holy moly, I learned stuff. The idea of cultivating a skill, just like growing a plant, just plain works.

I believe making sound, singing, is our birth rite as human beings - a practice intertwined with spoken language, and the very roots of human culture. What would be possible if these verbs were linked with the other verbs formerly so essential to human culture, verbs like growing, cultivating, tending to? What if I saw the harvest as inevitable?

Nope, it's not too late. by Melanie Ida Chopko

This week, my beginner singing class starts at The Freight, and I wrote a bit more about my own music education story. Enjoy, and PM me for more information on the class!

For much of my life I really wondered if what I heard was true - if I didn't learn music "as a kid", did that window of opportunity close forever? I sat on my hands for about 10 years, afraid the ship had sailed, but still sitting in the front row of every concert, surrounding myself with musicians. I was so passionate about music, often moved to tears, and often resentful that I couldn't join in. As much as I tried, I couldn't shake the desire to learn to sing, write songs and play more instruments. 

Everything changed when I learned a bit more about...brain science. My fear wasn't a decree that this was impossible, it was just a sign I was up to something big, new, and hugely important to me. I searched out true-blue teachers who were able to meet my beginner level with dignity, and hold up believing lanterns for my dreams. I got a support structure in place so I could practice.  I learned techniques not just for instruments, but on how to enjoy the process, methods of practice that could bring me joy and presence rather than anxiety. And, several years later, I produced and recorded my first EP of original music, more formally stepping into my role as a performer.

It is my deepest honor to give back to support other adults and teens to do the same. I host a variety of classes and lessons each month, creating a learning environment focused as much on play, humor, and possibility as solid technique. My education includes countless music classes and lessons, as well as my learnings of the principles of creativity from Julia Cameron's The Artist Way, Kenny Werner's Effortless Mastery, Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic, and the Academy for Coaching Excellence.