Monday, January 24, 2011

Joey Baron master class, part 4: I Didn't Go To Music School, I Went To Berklee

Joey Baron master class at the New School, 1994: part 4

[W]hen I started to practice, I would like put my ear- since I didn't have people to sit and watch close up, I would do it to a record, or the radio, or the television. I would listen- does anyone know a show called "The Wild, Wild West"? The background music to it was a guy playing brushes on a snare drum, and I always loved that, so every week when it would come on, I'd this close to the TV just listening, every week, and week after week I would just start to get the melody in my head, you kind of already know what the melody was, and just kinda whistle along with it or something and play along with it. Basically, that's it. That's really how I learned to play.

I had a couple teachers along the way but the information I got from them was more about technical information, like how to read music, and stuff like that. But as far as playing, and learning how to play and interact with people, I would do that thing with the television or I'd make a little tape recording of it and just listen back to it over and over without even playing, just listening to it, until I would get a sense of it without the tape, and then I would play it, and play along with it. So I would do that with records too. And always to things that i really liked. I did it because I loved it, there was no academic reason for me to do it at that time.

At one point I practiced like 8 to 10, 12 hours a day, and I'd have a routine, like first 3 hours I'll practice just warm-up stuff, then I would play along with records, just stack a bunch of records and play along for an hour/couple of hours/something, take a break. As I got older I didn't have that kind of time to practice, so I did everything I'm sure that all of you do, go in to the practice room and waste a lot of time. Noodle around and think you're like setting the world of fire, and you hear a tape back ten years later, and you puke.

 I would just work on sightreading sometimes. I would take a piece of music I'd never seen and just try and read the rhythms. It could be out of a fake book, or whatever. And just play through it once, and that's it; the point being not to stop, not to make it better, just to play like for real, like if I was playing a classical piece, just trying to read through a snare drum etude, no matter how many mistakes, from start to finish. That's how to work on sight-reading. And you do that every day, just for ten minutes, you're gonna see an improvement in that skill. That's anything, any area you work on. So how I practice, I go through a phase where I really want to practice riding on a cymbal, and I'd just do that for a half hour, something, work on technique a little bit.

I think too many of us develop so much here [hands] or whatever [legs/feet]- develop an amazing amount of ability, technically, and it's like, "what are you gonna do with it?" When you have it you can't help but to use it. I'm not saying, don't go for it, don't try to get it, but if you don't balance that- if all you do is work on your chops, and you're not listening to how that could be applied, you're gonna end up pretty lonely. It's lonely doing this stuff for real anyhow, but it's really lonely if you're not balancing your diet of technique-oriented stuff with just sitting down and listening to a piece of music seriously.

[T]he key to being able to do that is start with what you like. You don't have to go analyze Stravinsky, or the most avant-garde string quartet written; you have to go from what you like, what initially turns you on. If you're not doing that, you're not gonna be interested, it's not gonna be fun. And that's how I've always practiced. By doing things that I was attracted to it helped me a lot [with] other things that I wasn't initially attracted to.

In terms of learning the music, learning how to play in a school, you're not gonna do it. This is my opinion, this is not the gospel. But I think you're gonna get some really great information, especially like the school is really fortunate to have Reggie here, who's- everybody knows where he's come from, and what he still does. That's invaluable, to be close to somebody like that. They're giving you information but you're not gonna figure out how to put it to use until you get out there and do it, and I can say Billy Martin told me a long time ago, when I was a little kid and he was working with Stan Getz and when I was in Berklee, and one of the teachers had played bass with Stan Getz years ago, he said "go sit in with Stan Getz, go to his job, he's playing at this club, go sit in with him." And I go there and it's Dave Holland playing bass and Albert Daly, who's a brilliant piano player, he playing piano, Billy was playing drums. I went to the bar, I was like shaking like this and went up to Billy Martin, "excuse me, could, you know, would you mind if I just played a ballad, could I sit in, play a ballad or something?" I was trembling and he said "sure, hey, it's ok with me, just ask Stan!" You know, so-- and I was sitting just waiting in the dressing room back there and Stan was walking up front and I got up and said "excuse me, mister..." and i didn't get to the word "gee, I'd li--" and he looked at me and just, like: "kid, get off the stage". And it was intense- I'm sure that will happen for a lot of you- you'll run into some real assholes who do that kind of thing [...]

And I did- I went back home, and I ended up, I played with an 80 year old piano player, playing like honky-tonk piano, fashion shows where all they wanted was a drummer, you know playing a beat so they could walk down, doing sound effects sometimes for shows, like little neighborhood shows, I'm not talking bigtime, but any kind of experience you can get, take it, because that's what you use, it's like you get this stuff and put it in your back pocket and you keep drawing on it. Any different kind of music you have an opportunity to play, don't worry if you don't know everything about that music, just play it, you'll learn! You won't learn any faster if you just sit at home with the best video or the best book, it's not gonna do you anything compared to getting out there and playing in a situation. And I'm not talking big name, I'm not talking record contract. I'm talking about whatever is front of you, and a lot of people think that I just started playing in concerts and, that's not true, I've done, I can't tell you how many birthday parties I've played, how many jobs I've played where it's nothing to do with art, self-expression, it's a job, you have to learn certain skills, you learn how to follow a leader, you learn how to keep people dancing if that's what your job is. And all that-- I mean, I still use all that stuff today. Things that I learned from records when I first started playing, I still use. I don't throw out anything for the sake of something new, because there's no point, you can use it all.

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