Ear Training and More!

I really began working more on the music for Praise Band after the festival appearance. It was fun, but I really wanted to improve my playing skills overall. During this time, with my focus on worship music, I began to spend more time watching YouTube videos of the music I was working on. Sometimes my music was based around a song for church, sometimes it was be a song Russ picked because of a skill he wanted me to work on.

He was spending a lot of time preparing for another band he was going to be playing for and needed to focus on it. We decided that we’d skip my lesson for a week or two, but we’d stay in touch through messenger. One day he told me he wanted me to listen to a song and figure out how to play the bass part just by listening. This was ear training. Papa Was A Rolling Stone was the first song he gave me. I wasn’t allowed to look up the chords or tabs online, I had to do it totally by ear.

He thought this would keep me occupied, but I couldn’t go to bed that night until I had it figured out. My first attempt was close, but off by a couple of notes. He’d give me a hint and I’d go work on it some more. I finally figured it out with the help of his hints. Of course, he told me I cheated!

A few days later, he sent me 2 songs to work on, The Twist and Shotgun. Again, I couldn’t look anything up online, but the added stipulation was that I couldn’t contact him until my lesson on Monday. He gave it to me on Wednesday. I quickly figured out The Twist, because it was the 8 bar blues pattern that we had already worked on. As soon as I figured out the first chord, the rest fell into place. Shotgun wasn’t as easy, but I was very close to figuring it out. By Friday evening, I couldn’t stand it any longer. I sent him a message, “Can I have 1 question?” Haha. He gave in and let me ask and by the end of the conversation I was able to figure the rest of it out.

Even though what I was working on wasn’t the contemporary Christian music we played at church, the skills that I had learned carried over. One day after church, the pastor told me that I had gotten much better and I was a real bassist. I wouldn’t go that far, but I sure felt much better about my skill level. I continued to improve as the lessons got tougher one day Russ said that he’d exhausted what he could teach me. That wasn’t really true, but he had become very busy with work, family, and gigs that his band was playing in and the fill ins he was doing with other bands. It was a sad day when I finally relented and told him we’d put lessons on hold until things settled down. We still message and I know if I have question he’ll always be willing to help me out. I go see his band play when I can. But I’m very busy myself, but I’ll save that for another post…

The Teacher’s Feedback

After playing at the festival on Saturday, I had a lesson on Monday. The beginning of the lesson was tough because we discussed every mistake. Not that there were a lot, but they were things I needed to work on. My “groove” was off. That was the biggest concern. We discussed areas to work on and then Russ boosted me back up by telling me how far I had come. I knew he was right, because I could see the difference.

All of the progress carried over into the praise band and we kicked up our goals. We wanted to continue on the trend of improving. Our beginnings and endings were our next targets to work on and we began to add harmonies to many of our new songs. Kurt, our worship leader, asked Gretchen and I to sing harmonies. I had just begun singing with the band. When I first played the bass, I couldn’t do both. But by now I’d been playing for 4 years and getting better, so we began working on some harmonies.

I continued lessons, Praise band rehearsals, and some where along the line we decided to start a rock band. Add rock band practice and my teaching job and I didn’t have much time for anything else during this time. I had already decided to retire at the end of the school year. I really needed to, because I didn’t have time to work!

It’s Show Time!

So we began preparing with the set list that I had and added to it as songs were added. I was getting better, but we can always find ways to improve. I believe I had 5 lessons with Russ and the band rehearsed 5 times in that 2 month period. Between those times I was practicing like crazy at home. Many nights as long as 2 or 3 hours.

None of my family could be there that day, but my friend Carol was there for awhile. She got some pictures and video for me. Russ wasn’t sure if he could be there, but he would try.

I was the first one there from the band that morning. When the sound guy showed up, I felt a little less nervous than I had been. It was my first guitar teacher! He was great at helping to make us feel comfortable and assured me that he’d do everything he could to make the day go well. He got us all set up and did our sound check. It was time…

Jeff, the sound engineer, introduced us and we started playing our first song. I thought, this isn’t so bad. I settled in and just decided to have a good time with it. I didn’t dare look up though because I might mess up if I did. One of the songs we did, Best of My Love, was one that I had worked on a lot. It was more complicated than most of the songs because we had gone into more detail. Yeah, it wasn’t pretty. I messed up and kind of lost my place for a while until we got to a part I was sure of, then I started playing again. No one else noticed, but I did. I looked at the crowd and didn’t see Russ and I was relieved because he didn’t have to witness that!

Near the end of our set, there was one song that I wasn’t playing, so I stepped back to look around. Didn’t see Russ anywhere and then out of the corner of my eye, to my right, I caught movement off stage. I turned to look and there were Russ and Jeff talking. I got a thumbs up! That was great! He must have missed the song that I choked on.

When we finished our set and came down off stage, once all the equipment was put away we had a chance to talk. Russ said we did great and we talked about the good things that happened and I reveled in the praise! Later when I got home, there was a message from Russ with 2 videos attached. One with a close up of my strumming hand with the drummer in the background.

My message back to him, “I’m guessing there’s a lesson in here somewhere.”

“Teachable moments, you should know about those. You’re a teacher”, he said.

Looking back on this period of time, there was days that I felt frustrated because I couldn’t get a part down. But I made so many strides in the right direction. Yeah, we were working on R&R music, but I was also learning different skills that I could use in our worship music at church. It was time well spent and I wasn’t done yet.

I Love It When A Plan Comes Together…

I sent a message to Russ a few weeks later, just asking if he’d had time to consider lessons. He needed a little more time to talk it over with his wife. I was fine with that. A few days later he wanted to know what day of the week would work best for me and he wanted to know what my skill level was.

I had no idea what to tell him. I mean I’d been playing for four years, I knew some music theory, but I knew I had a lot to learn. I couldn’t have lessons on Wednesday, because that was when we had praise band practice. He asked if he could come to praise band practice so he could see me play. Sure, that’d be fine.

In the mean time, I got a call from Zach, our previous worship leader, who wanted to know if I was interested in playing with a group at a nearby festival. When I asked what kind of music they were going to play, he said classic R&R. I had never played anything except for praise and worship music on the bass. I had 2 months to prepare for the festival. I asked for some time to think about it.

Immediately I shot a message to Russ. Can you help me prepare to play R&R at the festival in 2 months? I had no song list. All I knew was that we needed to play for about 50 minutes. Russ seemed kind of excited about the task so he agreed. After attending our praise band rehearsal, we were ready to get to work and my first lesson went much the way I expected. Going over scales and the music theory that I was already familiar with and finding out where I needed to spend my time practicing. It was going to be a busy 2 months!

I was beginning to feel like I wanted to take my bass skills to the next level. But, I didn’t know how to get there. I wasn’t going to drive to the city for lessons, but I didn’t know anyone in our area that taught bass lessons.

My husband and I went to a local concert series in a nearby town during the summers. We were discussing the band playing that week. He wasn’t interested in going because they were a country band and he wasn’t a fan of country music. But I told him they played a mix of music. Besides, we’d be spending time with our friends. So he relented.

Part way through the first set, Biggin’, the lead singer, introduced their bass guitar player as he was back with the band for the first time since having heart surgery 8 weeks earlier. I recognized him as a classmate of my brother-in-law. But Todd insisted that wasn’t him. After looking him up on Facebook, he was finally convinced that it was indeed Russ Griffith. When they took a break, we went over to talk to him. He remembered Todd right away and they struck up a conversation.

I asked Russ if he taught bass lessons and he said no, he didn’t. There was a plan forming in my mind. (What if he could teach me to play bass? This was the perfect situation.) But, would you, I asked. He hesitated and told me to friend him on Facebook and we could talk about it. I already had, I told him!

I knew that he was going back to work on that Monday. So it was going to be a while before he was going to have time to even think about it. I knew I needed to give him some time to consider the possibility…

Growth and New Leadership

I stopped taking lessons after a couple of months. It was an hour drive one way to get to my lessons, and with my husband getting ready to retire, I just felt like it wasn’t necessary. The band grew with the addition of a keyboard player and several different singers through the years. We even added a drummer.

After four years, it was time for our worship leader to step down off the stage for a while. He was feeling called to be the superintendent for church camp and needed to focus his time there. After some discussion, we decided to approach a man that had join our efforts on the stage several times and seemed to know a lot about the sound engineering side of worship.

So, Kurt became our new worship director. He began to bring new music to the band. We spent more time in rehearsal. The hard work paid off! Our band got better and we began incorporating 3 part harmonies into our songs and added some specials. We sounded great…but the congregation wasn’t singing. That was the problem with adding new songs. The congregation didn’t sing because they didn’t know the songs.

During this struggle, we got a new pastor. Jon is like no other pastor I’ve ever had. He was the drummer of a rock band in his younger days. I felt an immediate connection with him. He showed an interest in the praise band right away, which we welcomed. “You may not want me to help you he told us”.

One Sunday as I was leaving church, he said that when he first came to our church on a scale of 10, the band was a 2. Today, you were a 9! Wow! That meant a lot coming from him. But now the pressure was on! I didn’t want us to slide back to what it was like before. So we continued to work hard. Each of us practicing on our own and coming together as a team to rehearse one night a week. Sunday mornings were for sound checks and run throughs. Things were looking up…

Fast Forward

For the next 7 years, I dabbled with the guitar and eventually put it aside. My lessons had stopped and I just didn’t have the motivation to keep playing, I guess.

But, in 2014, most of our praise band left due to other commitments and it left one young man with no band. It was just Zach and whoever happened to be in town to sing with him. But when college started back up, everyone else headed back to college.

After church one day during this time, I talked to Zach and expressed my concern over him trying to do this by himself. I told him I’d played the acoustic a little bit, I could brush up on my skills, if he wanted help. (What?! Where’d that come from?) I had no intention of offering to play. But he said, “I’d rather have a bass player.”

“Well then, I’ll learn to play the bass…” (who was this controlling my mouth? What was I getting myself into?)

Before I left church that day he had armed me with some sheet music and a bass guitar. We had planned to meet the following Saturday to have him help me some more. I had an amp at home that would work for the time being. By the time we had met on Saturday, I’d bought a new bass guitar and a bass amp, and I’d found a bass teacher in the city and arranged for my first lesson. Within 3 weeks I was on stage with Zach and a 13 year old boy who was playing acoustic!

You’d think I was nervous, but I don’t think I even looked up from the music stand in front of me. Did I do perfect? No way! But it was good enough that afterward someone said, “I didn’t know you played the bass!” My response, “I didn’t!”

So, you see, God is faithful! This was obviously his plan. I didn’t even see it coming. It’s something that was put in motion when I first stopped at that music store and peeked in the window. God began preparing me for this 7 years earlier. But, stay tuned because that’s not the end…