The Fleeting Fancies of Fledglings [Part 1/3]: The Research

I received an email from one of the many music business groups that I’m a part of titled “Teenage Music Listening Habits. The Terrifying Truth.” I read the article and, the way I see it, there are terrifying parts of this article, but there are also nuggets on how to reach a generation with an ever decreasing attention span. In the next post, I will give you my analysis of this article, but definitely check it out first and see what you think.

Teenage Music Listening Habits. The Terrifying Truth

It is a little on the terrifying side though… ENJOY!


Teach Them Well

This blog posting is dedicated to ALL of my former piano and music students who are growing into/have grown into wonderful young men and women. I’m so proud of you all and wouldn’t be the teacher that I am without you. Keep on keepin’ on for the glory of God!

For all of my readers who may be old/retired teachers, this blog is going to make a lot of sense. For all of my readers who are new teachers, keep on teaching and you’ll understand what this blog means soon enough.

A very interesting thing happened to me last evening. As I was checking my Facebook feed, I came across the picture of a former piano student of mine. It was on his father’s page and the picture was of my former student in his college cap and gown and his mother and father. Naturally, I clicked the “Like” button and kept on scrolling.

Then I received a friend request from my former student. Naturally, I accepted (only THEN realizing that we weren’t FB friends).

THEN I received a message from my former student saying simply “Hey Mr. Thomas!!” to which I responded back with a chunky response that included “Hello” as well as congratulations on his college graduation so on and so forth. Then I received a message from him that blew my socks off. He said:

“Thank you! I want you to know that you were a huge inspiration to me in the music world, and last week I accepted a music teaching job in the city of Newport News! I had my senior recital about 2 years ago and it was a success. So even though it was long ago, thank you for the music lessons and knowledge that you helped me achieve back then!”

And when I read this, you could have stuck a fork in me because I was DONE. I just could not stop myself from smiling (aka “cheesin’ “) from ear to ear because THIS IS WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT! To know that the music lessons I gave this young man almost a decade ago has resonated with him all this time and inspired him to do even greater works… it’s just an indescribable feeling (so much so that I had trouble going to sleep).

ADD TO THAT… this news came at the same time as another piano student of mine, who already has two CD recordings under his belt, debuted his smooth jazz piano skills up at the legendary Twins Jazz Club in Washington DC.

AND ADD TO THAT… this news came on the eve of yet ANOTHER piano student of mine who will be graduating high school tomorrow (THU 5/29/2014) and moving on to Hampton University down in Hampton, VA (my “little Lalah Hathaway”).

The bottom line is simply this: TEACH THEM WELL! Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders and if you teach them properly, then they’ll carry it with them and do GREATER works (lining up with what Jesus said in John 14:12).

…and then this morning a strange second feeling hit me that my wife so lovingly confirmed after hearing this Facebook story: “I’ve been teaching for a long time and I’m getting old!”

(but that’s a blog for a different day)

Please Don’t Lie

Think about your answers to the following questions:

1. Have you ever ordered a menu item from your favorite fast food restaurant only to find that the food you were actually served looks nothing like the picture?

2. Have you ever walked up on a person of the opposite gender that you were interested in only to be IMMEDIATELY uninterested once (1) you got a good look at them or (2) they started talking?

3. Have you ever purchased a car because it looked “baller”, but once you started to drive the car you found out that it was a “not-at-all-er”?

Musical concepts apply in our everyday life more often than we think. The three questions that you just read are the everyday life examples that I apply to songs that have elaborate introductions yet those introductions are NOT an indicator of what the song will actually be. You’ve all heard those songs. In fact, the conversation in mind might go a little something like this:

“Wow… I LOVE the intro to this song…”

“…sounds like the singer is about to start…”

“…wait, did the music just switch up?…”

“…this is not where I thought this song was going…”

“…I’m changing the station/turning on the CD player/turning on the iSomething…”

Does that stream of consciousness sound familiar to you? When I took jazz composition in college, one of the things that my professor said about the introductions to a piece of music is that it has to be related to what’s actually happening in the song. Otherwise, it’s not really an introduction.

That’s like if I shake your hand… say to you “Hello. My name is Thomas”… and my name tag says “Bill”.

You see. Not a real introduction. Therefore, to all of my songwriters out there in Blogland, I encourage you to make sure your intro’s match your actual song giving you musical consistency throughout your entire piece. Think of it like this: an introduction is nothing more than you musically letting the listener KNOW what they’re about to get into for the next 5-6 minutes. As a result, that 30 second intro is crucial. How crucial?…

A solid intro indicates a solid song.

A weak intro indicates a weak song.

A weak intro to a solid song indicates an incomplete song.

A solid intro to a weak song indicates a LIE!

(please don’t lie… it’s so unbecoming)

You Should Go And Play

My wife recently bought me a birthday gift (per my request) that has been helping me out a lot with some “outside the box” musical creativity. What’s the gift (you might ask)? Simple…


For those of you who remember K’Nex, you already know what they are, but for those who don’t, K’nex are “a construction toy system that uses color coded interlocking plastic rods, connectors, gears, wheels, and other components, which can be pieced together to form a wide variety of models, machines, and architectural structures.”

(thanks Wikipedia)

So what does this have to do with “outside the box” musical creativity? Well, when I was a kid I had this (along with Lego’s) and used to build all kinds of items based on stories happening in my head (and the stuff I had to build to make the stories come true). That could be anything from a Lego based Klingon Battle Cruiser to a K’Nex based octagon fortress (and YES I had those little green army guys to guard it). The bottom line is that those toys sparked my imagination so you can imagine that once I received my birthday gift, I was zoned out for a good amount of time building all kinds of stuff that’s been festering in my brain for the last 10-15 years or so.

Little did I know that would fuel the creativity that I use for the music that I play and even the music that I teach to my students. THEN I came across this quote by neurophysiologist and educator Carla Hannaford (author of “Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All In Your Head”):

“Play provides the emotional spark which activates our attention, problem solving, and behavior response systems so we gain the skills necessary for cooperation, co-creativity, altruism, and understanding.”

So while you are in the practice room (or the “woodshed” as my jazz brothers and sisters like to call it), be sure to set aside some time to go and play. You might find your practicing afterwards will have a fresh sound.

This post brought to you by the letter P (for “play”), the number 4 (because the word “play” has four letters in it), and my lovely wife (for buying me toys that I now have to make sure I clean up off the floor-LOL!). #143

And if you’re interested in Hannaford’s book, check it out here:

Tap Into The Creativity of God

Before I start this post, I need to give you a 3 part backstory. I’ll keep it short, sweet, and to the point, but just know that it is relevant.

BACKSTORY [Part 1/3] – As I was preparing for work this morning, I heard a song on the GOSPEL MUSIC* channel that I know as “Big Poppa” by the Notorious B.I.G. I don’t remember the artist that was singing it, but the lyrics were changed.

BACKSTORY [Part 2/3] – I attended a Men’s Conference some years back at my old church and during a Q&A session, the question was asked, “Is it right to sample other peoples music to turn into a gospel song?” One of the panelists gave an answer that resonates in my mind til this day. He said (paraphrasing):

“God is a God of creativity. You don’t need to borrow anybody’s music. Just pray for creativity and He will give you music you never imagined.”

BACKSTORY [Part 3/3] – Back in February 2013, I wrote a blog about how my mother recognized a Lauryn Hill song (“Killing Me Softly”) as Roberta Flack. Both of which were true. To read THAT post, go to:

Those three back stories may seem unrelated, but it brings me to my point. For as much as a musician may lean towards (fill in the blank) for musical inspiration, I would like to suggest that you lean to God for musical inspiration and I have three pretty good reasons why:

1. IT’S STILL NOT YOURS. If you sample someone elses music and add to it, then that is the limit of what you are doing. For as great as technology is and for as much as you can do with older musical material, a song still belongs to the original artist and you can’t change the history on that. Think about how many times Stevie Wonder or Parliament Funk has been sampled. Now think about whether you can identify the original artist quicker than you can identify the artist who sampled it (a challenge more suited to my veteran music heads out there).

2. YOU GOTTA PAY TO PLAY. Pay what? Royalties. So not only is it still not your music, but you must (by law) pay royalties to use a sample of music that doesn’t belong to you. And if you don’t… that leads to the concept of PAY NOW OR PAY LATER. Simply put, pay royalites now, or pay court fees later.

3. A CREATIVE GOD. Two passages of scriptures just for you.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. -Genesis 1:1-2 (NIV)

“So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” -Genesis 1:27

Basically, God created something out of nothing (Genesis 1:1-2). THEN a few verses down He created man in His own image (Genesis 1:27) meaning that we have that same Godly creativity within us.

Enough said. Tap into the creativity of God and see/hear what happens.

*GOSPEL MUSIC – Here’s a little sidenote that you can have for free. The GOSPEL is an account describing the life, death, and resurrection of JESUS CHRIST. Therefore, GOSPEL MUSIC (or MUSIC that describes the GOSPEL) must line up with that definition in order to be defined as GOSPEL MUSIC. Otherwise, it’s just inspirational or some other subgenre.

The Importance of Being Professional

Professionalism is essential for professionals.

I hear you out there in Blogland. “Duh! Way to state the obvious.” You would think that a statement like that would be a given, but if you’re like me (and I’m sure you are)… YOU ARE HUMAN. Sometimes you don’t want to be professional even in situations where you need to be professional. I’m here to remind you that if you are summoned for your professional services, that warrants your professional attitude regardless of how feel. This gets into the lost art of “denying your feelings”. Think about how many things in your life are determined by how you feel. For example:

The food you eat.

The clothes you wear.

The music you listen to.

The TV/movies that you watch.

The company you keep.

The things you say and do.

The loyalties you keep to others.

I think we can agree that all of those things (and so much more) are majorly determined by how we feel on a given day. However, when it comes to your professionalism, all of those things based on your feelings need to be placed to the side because, simply put, your PROFESSION depends on it. Additionally, you can’t function well in your profession when your feelings are dictating your attitude and, ultimately, your quality of work.

So remember that when it comes to professionalism, a little emotional denial can go a long way. In fact, if you channel the energy from your emotional denial (not the denial itself) into your music, you never know what greatness you might come up with.

What do you think? Leave a comment.

Fail to Plan? Plan to Fail. [Part 2/2]

“He who fails to plan, is planning to fail.” -Winston Churchill (during World War II)

One thing that I cannot do in this two-part series is give you a “5 steps to success” or “10 ways to plan” or “20 ideas on music careers”. In all honesty, I’m still working out the planning stages of my own music-career, but trust and believe that I do have a plan. Just like snowflakes are not the same, musicians are not the same either so a plan of success is dependent on the musician in question and a number of other variables. Regardless of the “musical career path challenge”, just know that when it comes to “the business side of your musical craft”, a plan is worth its weight in gold. As far as what your plan should be, I would simply suggest this one thing:


“Study what?” said the reader of this blog.

“Glad you asked” said the writer of this blog.

Study successful musicians and their stories, but most importantly focus on where they failed and the lessons they learned from it. There are a number of great TV shows dealing specifically with this (for example TV One’s “Unsung” or — for the older cats — VH1’s “Behind the Music”). There are books and blogs and all that good stuff too, but the TV shows are a good educational start. The bottom line is simply this:

The wheel exists (so no need to reinvent it).
Translation: “The answer is out there so make sure you ask the right question.”

Just make sure that you’re doing something because “doing nothing” is a plan that always succeeds.

What do you think? Leave a comment.