Like most rock-based musicians, I'm self-taught. I've been blessed with a good ear, and in my early days I found it easier and more natural to learn what I needed to by copying chords and riffs directly from my favourite records. Formal music training seemed like the long way around. Mum taught piano, so I picked up bits and pieces of music theory just the same—enough to get me by.
So, I kind of surprised myself a month ago when I signed up for a group harmony and composition class that starts tonight. It's four sessions, with the possibility of continuing on if I can afford it and am getting something out of it. I don't feel I need lessons, necessarily; it's more of an experiment. I suppose after all these years, I've become open to the possibility that a bit of formal training might steer my songwriting in new and interesting directions.
I'm glad, too, that I took the plunge before the confirmation e-mail cheerily told me that "the prerequisite for this group is knowledge of all key signatures and 12 major, harmonic, and melodic minor scales." Gulp! I cobbled together a cheat sheet containing the circle of fifths and those helpful mnemonic devices telling the story of Father Charles and the battle he ended (or the battle that ended him). I can't yet claim "knowledge" of key signatures, scales and their attendant chords, but I am hoping the cheat sheet will help. For now, I'm concentrating on those keys with three or fewer sharps or flats. I mean, who willingly plays or composes in, I don't know, Db?
To counter the heaviness I associate with formal music study, I've added some levity by springing for a kiddie keyboard, the Casio SA-46. With 32 mini-keys and 100 sounds, it's fun, it's portable (I can fit it in my backpack and bring it to class), and I can practise my scales on goofy voices like Bandoneon, Synth Brass 1 and Space Choir. I say this only half in jest; some of the SA-46's voices are astoundingly good. It also contains 50 rhythm patterns if you want to play your scales and chords to a trance, salsa or bhangra beat, among others. For only $50 it packs quite a punch, as useful for songwriters working on the fly as children taking their first foray into the world of music.
So, my kiddie keyboard and I are off to our first class tonight. I'm cautiously optimistic, while at the same time hoping I won't be in over my head. Regardless, I think Mum is smiling down from above, and I thank her for my very early introduction to the gift of music.