Learn to Write Your Name (Again)

11/9/2008 11:10:11 PM
San Carlos, California


Learn to Write Your Name


Do you remember when you learned to write your name? I do. Not print your name – but move from printing your name to writing your name in cursive. We were using pencils in class and the best kids that turned in the neatest cursive papers were the first to go from pencil to pen. I was one of the last. Big, jagged letters I desperately tried to write in cursive which looked like, well a little kid learning to scrawl.

This got me thinking: do you remember when you wrote your first quarter rest (crotchet)? I sat there most likely to write a piece of music – I most likely had the paper on my piano ready with 5 blank lines and spaces – I began – then, a quarter rest. Uh, oh. How do you do that? I’d sit there and practice writing one: “Let’s see: “left-right-left’ – no that’s no good: ‘right-left-right'”. I look in the Michael Aaron First Grade piano book and see how they’d do it: “Wow, that doesn’t look anything like mine….hahaha”.

What’s the point? Well there I was ready to try my hand at doing this thing called “writing music”. I was probably in 4th-5th grade. But then what was to be my first composition turned out to be an exercise in writing music symbols: a quarter rest. Just like writing my name. I knew how to print it – and now you’re going to make me learn it all over again in a thing called ‘cursive’???

Well guess what? The exact thing is now happening to me with Schillinger. I paid my course dues – I had my lessons in front of me; I’m excited; I’m jazzed; I’m ready to go with Sibelius loaded on the PC and a new ball point pen. I’m reading the lesson and ready to get started on the assignment; which I’m being instructed to do on graph paper. Huh??? What? Graph paper? Oh, right; ‘it frees the notation process – notation is simply used to translate for the performer’s benefit’. “Oh, ok. I’m cool with that.” But wait. I don’t have graph paper. And it’s 10:30pm. I’m jazzed, I’m excited, I’m ready to dig in to the assignment. Then it dawned on me:

I don’t know how to draw a quarter note rest.

So get ready for learning to use new tools. And don’t let any discouragement of having to do so translate in another Schillinger myth: “Schillinger’s System uses graph paper which makes it a difficult system to learn.”

Writing a quarter rest now is as easy as writing the capitol “D” in my first name. It’s done without thinking. And so is fractioning 5:2 on graph paper. But it had nothing to do with ease or difficulty of the Schillinger System – it was simply learning to grow on a mechanical level. A motor skill level. I was simply learning to sign my name…again. As if the teacher said, “Ok class, you’ve learned to print your name; good. You’ve learned to write your name in cursive: excellent! Now today class, you are going to practice learning to print your name backwards”. What? But believe me, within an hour you’d be able to do it.

So the assignment and lesson “stalled” for me. It’s 11pm and I need graph paper and no art stores or office supply stores are open at this time of night. “That’s ok,” I say to myself, “I’m an online kind of guy anyway”. So now at 11pm I’m not doing my assignment I was so excited about 30 minutes before. I’m Googling for a free online or downloadable utility that will print graph paper; sure enough I found one. I fudged it and tweeked it – now it’s midnight. Then I thought of Excel. “Hey, I can just check, ‘Show Grids’ and create my OWN graph paper!” Now it’s midnight – not happy with the results. Now it’s 1am. This concluded my first Schillinger Assignment – and I hadn’t even started yet. First, I had to learn to draw a quarter rest!

This really went on for the first few days – but soon I had an immense joy and ease with the material. So much so that I could now easily and effortlessly out all fractioning series’ while waiting in line at the post office if I had to. It’s that’s easy.

The same thing repeated itself as I moved deeper into the material. I was already to dig into the assignment on Distribution of Durations and all of a sudden I was faced with having to type a division symbol in Word 2007. I never had to do that before. It’s 10pm. Ok, Google and find out – ok, character map – got it – ah…there it is – excellent – € ha ha ha – look at that – beautiful! Wow, does that clock say 11pm already?” I stared in disbelief, “Ok, well let’s go now” – oh geez….now I have to write a fraction. Man, this is more than a fraction it’s more like an equation! Yikes! Now what? It’s 12:30am. “Google, Word Help – please, somebody help me!” I blurted. “Oh, you mean Word 2007 has an equation feature?” 1am. “Ok, let’s give it a try”. And I started my first fractions in Word 2007. “Hey it works!” I exclaimed to myself in glee. “Now I can get started!”


“Ah….well, Ok, maybe I’ll pick up this tomorrow”.

Like 4 hours or whatever and I hadn’t even started the assignment! First, I had to learn a new way to write my name!

I just can’t tell you the satisfaction of now easily it is to do exercises like the one in the attached pic. It’s really simple formula. My math skills do not go beyond the 12th multiplication table and 12/8 time. Seriously.

Now others may find it differently. But for me, just the preparation was a big deal. But I refused to blame the “Schillinger system” for it any more than I blamed 18th century notation customs for forcing me to learn a quarter rest.

There are skills in other areas you will develop. Whether it be finding out how many squares in an inch you want your graph paper, new ways to use your notation software, experimenting with colored markers for certain resultants, learn new features in Word, or simply how to organize your material in your 3-ring binder. But the way I look at it is that it’s the foundation. Once you’ve go that, well, you’re on your way. Today I breeze through what a month ago seemed to be an experiment into uncharted territory. Currently, although the assignments include melody and harmony in standard notation, the graph paper is only being used for horizontal rhythmic notation – I understand when I move into melody, the graph paper will begin to be graphed vertically instead of only horizontally like I’m doing now – but that’s fine – I just grow more in that direction! – but I’ll already have my graph paper in place – no searching Google at 1am looking for a utility – no more wondering how to notate the “does not equal” sign in Word 2007.

So what I learned was this: If I was up late at night, frustrated, tired when I hadn’t even begun on the real work I was so anxious to get started on hours before, it was not because the system itself was frustrating, tiring or discouraging….it was just because I again needed to simply set up shop first. It was like moving into a new house. Everything different and new – what you thought was going to take a few minutes to set up your TV room turning out to be all afternoon because of a million little details that had to be delt with first.

So be encouraged. It’s really easy. Just say to yourself, “I’m just learning a new way to print my name – I’m just learning a new way to draw a quarter rest”.

The rewards of this are immense.



Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 6:04 am  Leave a Comment  

Schillinger Myths…

Friday, November 07, 2008 1:08 AM
San Carlos, California

Schillinger Myths…

I was briefly introduced to Schillinger’s two red volumes at Grove’s film school by the late Joe Harnell in L.A. in the early 90’s and told myself I’d come back to it – well, here I am.  I first had done preliminary digging on the Internet to all the Schillinger places most of us have already been, seen and read.

As I moved closer to the subject and had feelings of excitement, anxiousness as well as doubt and reservations as to whether I could manage the material, it occurred to me that I’m probably not alone in these thoughts and emotions; that others starting on the trek, or considering it, are most likely feeling exactly like I am.  “I’m a composer not a mathematician – who needs this to write an inspired melody,” and so on and so on. I thought others might want to share their thoughts as well who are coming to the Schillinger pond wondering whether they should dare put a big toe in this perhaps icy pond.

I thought I’d post some of my thoughts, feelings and discoveries as I begin studying the system; this is not meant to be preachy or instruct.  But what better time to record these thoughts while fresh and current with the challenges I’m faced with as I work through the material.  So it’s sort of like “journal” for me – opinions expressed today, that latter may be revisited as I gain a deeper understanding of the material and grasp of the Composition tools Schillinger has laid before us. But if perhaps others contemplating the pursuit of this extraordinary man and his system of Composition can relate to some of the issues I’m experiencing, it may help to at least know that hey, you’re not alone. And then others can jump in and share their ideas as well and we may really find that we’re all sharing many of the same thoughts and facing many of the same issues.

As I began my Internet research, I noticed the same comments and criticism’s of Schillinger’s work time and time again. As I objectively reviewed them, I found many to be “Myths” that really had no base in fact whatsoever while other comments were true but framed as criticisms: “You don’t need Schillinger to write an inspired melody” – ok, that’s certainly true, but why is it being spoken as a criticism by insinuating that the Schillinger System is therefore pointless and not worth pursuing?

I became amused at some of these comments and thought to myself, “You know I bet I could come up with a ‘Top Ten’ Schillinger Myth list”.  Let’s take a look:

Schillinger Myth #1:

The Schillinger method is mechanical eliminates the need for effort or artistic insight.

Who hasn’t heard this: “The Schillinger System reduces everything to mathematics and the musical intuition and the subjective side of creativity are neglected.”

Actually the opposite is true. Schillinger’s system integrates naturally with full elasticity.  It’s actually the 1-2-3-4 of music tradition that lasted until the time of Wagner which rigidly adheres to a forced symmetry and unnatural uniformity.

Schillinger Myth #2:

I don’t want to study the Schillinger System because if I do I’m afraid my music is going to start sounding like:__(Gershwin, jazz, Schillinger himself, just plain weird…. basically insert anything you want here).

No you won’t. That’s a myth. There is no more basis to that then if you said, “I’m afraid if I learn to read music, I’ll start sounding like Beethoven”. Think of nature: it’s organized, balanced and structured. But it also gives and breathes – the trees blow and give way to the wind and rain and the waves move up to and away from the shore. Yes, the Schillinger System is organized and there is structure – so are the rings in the trees that blow in the wind and the patterns of the snail or pinwheel constantly repeated in nature – but it’s also gives and takes just like the forms in nature – as you study and grow your music grows as well but always in your own unique voice. There is only one you.

Ok, it’s getting late – I’ll wrap up with one more:

Schillinger Myth #3:

Schillinger himself wasn’t a great composer so the system can’t be that great either”

Wow, I think maybe I should have put this one at the top instead of 3rd place: “I’ve heard some of Schillinger’s music and I’m not impressed” (the non-sequitur implying, “So why should I study his system if he himself wasn’t that great of a composer”)

I think this all began with classic comment, (George Bernard Shaw?)

“Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”

I suppose there are those who, in lieu of actually accomplishing anything, turn a failed career into a teaching profession. But hold on a minute. All famed athletes have coaches who can’t begin to compete with the accomplishments of those athletes they coach! Famed violinists and tenors and sopranos all study with those who themselves are less accomplished on their voice or instrument then the artists they teach! Yet the artists and star athletes continue to train and study with them because these people have a genius to find the weakness and flaws of even the most gifted and accomplished artist or athlete and are able to synthesize and organize a systematic approach for new breakthroughs and improvements in their progress.  I am thinking of one songwriting teacher in particular that has never had a hit song – yet he is an amazing teacher and pushes your songs to the next level after only hearing the first few lines of a verse…and in the industry, has really broke new ground for lyricists to become more creative because of his systemization of phonetics (rhyme schemes) giving the hit songwriters totally new and fresh ways of looking at their material to improve their craft and raise the bar in songwriting higher then ever before.

I have found it not a good idea to judge the book by its music. There is genius inside those two volumes; Schillinger could have not even been a composer at all and the material would be just as valuable nonetheless.

More latter….next, the three Truths about the Schillinger System (as I see it in this point in time).

Published in: on December 16, 2008 at 5:05 am  Comments (3)