Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Could Try Harder

Sometimes I think that my old gym teacher, evil sadist that he was, knew more about me than I would care to admit when he wrote in my annual reports "Pixie could try harder at games"

Of course: in reality the reason I didn't put much effort into Rugby, Football, 5 mile runs etc was not laziness but self preservation: IE i didn't fancy getting my head kicked in as part of a futile attempt to score a goal, try, home run (insert applicable sporting reference here)

In fact the only few weeks of sport that I enjoyed in five years of senior school were the ones where they took all the neanderthals off onto another field and let them beat each other to death for a while instead of us: leaving the weak and feeble kids like myself to play something that actually approached football.  (BTW the reference to neanderthals is not a humorous remark about my increasingly long years - they really were evidence of the missing link: albiet slightly worsly dressed than cro-magnon man)

But nonetheless "could try harder" will doubtless end up being my epithet as whenever I hit a problem my first instinct is to throw my hands in the air, declare that i will never get it and promptly give up.

The problem is that school very much installed the idea that I was extremely stupid: something that i still have to fight against mixed with the fact that I am not naturally particularly bright.  And before anyone that knows me says "oi" I feel this is fair comment - new knowledge is not something that comes easily for me and often has to be fought for.  Whether this is me being thick or the teacher just not being able to present the information in a way i can understand it is for greater minds than mind to decide.  Suffice to say: i nearly drove my maths teacher mad when i came to re-do my maths GCSE some years ago.

The problem that I am currently having is with my saxophone.  I haven't touched the damn thing in nearly 3 weeks and have gone so far as to find excuses to do anything else but practice recently.

The problem is three-fold and none of them really counts as the main problem: they are all so fundamental with the art of playing the thing:

#1: Tuning
With a guitar you tune the thing with an electric tuner.  It then remains in tune.  If you put your fingers in the right place at the right time you will get the right note.  With a saxophone you can do all of the above and still get the wrong note if you do not apply the right reed pressure.

The problem is - that i just can't hear it well enough to know that it is sharp or flat.  My pitch just isn't good enough. Considering this is an essential aspect of playing the dratted thing...

#2: Improvisation
I just don't feel it.  Whenever I try I feel just like a pedestrian endlessly crossing and re-crossing the same zebra crossing with not enough imagination or creativity to go elsewhere -and since improvisation is mostly about feeling and i mostly feel like a berk when doing it - i mostly don't do it.

#3: Timing
I am aware that there are different dots, signals and wierd symbols that mean pausing for different amounts of time and holding notes for a different amount of time - but actually putting it into practice is another thing.  The worst thing, and here is the true confession chaps and chapesses: I just don't care enough to want to get it exactly as written.  I'm never gonna be good enough to play as part of the rhythmn section for the Memphis Horns and, truth be told, I'm not sure that I want to be.  As long as the song sounds good enough to fool Joe Public and to please me - well then: it's only me and the cats that will ever hear it.

This attitude is, of course, a major factor in my lack of significant progress and therefore, possibly, in my current state of disilusionment.

Finally of course there is a fourth:

#4: Progress
I must have played the 9-10 songs that I know well so often that their composers are ready to beat down my door and bludgeon me to death if I don't get them right next time - and yet no matter how many times i get a tricky part right I always manage to find Fresh And Exciting Ways To Make New Mistakes...

And hence, as with my writing, my enthusiasm seems to be out the back of the house having a quick cigarette and showing no signs of returning any time soon.

Still: should I ever get far enough to actually record my efforts I do at least have a working title for the resulting album...

Could Try Harder


Lydia said...

You write the freshest personal commentaries, Pixie. I enjoyed this one so much.

Only three weeks? Heck, the violin I bought has been in its case upstairs for at least that many years, so you are doing great in my estimation. The whole tuning thing is my biggest excuse for not trying it out with my "Learn to Play the Violin" dvd.

I'm right with ya on the sports participation. I hated Physical Education with a passion, with the exception of track (I ran like the wind) and modern dance. Put me on a volleyball or basketball team and watch solid friends soon acting like they never met me!

English Rider said...

Great title for your upcoming recording. It's so common, but still not right, that so many teachers diminish their pupils' sense of their potential.

Stephen Hayes said...

I think that's a great name for your first album--I guess the don't call them that anymore. CD!

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Lydia - violin is another tricky one, and one i've never tried. No frets, so not sure how you know where to put your fingers

English - it was very much the way in those days to contstantly tell students they were thick, so am aware it was a national thing :)

Stephen - good point: what do they call them now they're mostly digital? I still call them albums regardless of the format

The Bug said...

I had kind of the opposite problem - I did so well in high school that when I went to college & had to actually STUDY I didn't know how - so Could Try Harder was definitely my mantra in college - & even now. Things are just ok & that's fine with me.

Now with sports - I was TERRIBLE & thank goodness I was short in high school - nobody expected much, which was good because I wasn't going to deliver, that's for sure!

I think that when you stop having fun you should put it aside for a while - but that could just be my Could Try Harder alter ego telling you that.

Argent said...

Sports and me just did not go together. Last person to be picked? Hell, there were traffic cones that were more welcome on the tream than me. Wanted to be good at it, but never was. Running I like, as it's just your own self.

As to the sax - please don't give up, you've done really well at it considering were we were when we started off. Be a shame to let all that work go to waste.

Sending you some longer thoughts about this.

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Jerry said...

You just brought back a heart clutching memory for me. I signed up for a Statistics Class once. I sat and chatted with my fellow students until the teacher walked in. He wrote something on the board and said something incomprehensible, and everyone pulled out paper and frantically started writing numbers all over them. I had no earthly idea what was going on.

I had the silly notion that I would take the class to learn the subject. I didn't realize that I was supposed to know it already.

I quickly dropped the class.

Now music. I studied music in school and I was a percussionist (which kind of seems like an oxymoron). But as students we were required to learn another instrument. I chose piano because the notion of simultaneous notes was attractive. I took lessons and practiced for hours. I tried visioning greatness, but those visions were shattered when my fingers stumbled across the keyboard. I made it through a semester and was required to perform at a public performance in front of a 'jury' of music instructors, as well as an audience of my peers. I am happy to say that I passed, barely, with my rendition of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb'.

But I got to observe other students trying to learn single note instruments -- like the sax is. They would sit in their tiny practice rooms and they seemed to jerk forward as every squawk emerged from their instrument. Their concentration was intense and their toes tapped and their eyes were squeezed shut with effort.

I would watch these poor souls through the practice room windows. I remarked as to the horror of it all to my best friend, an accomplished coronet player. He replied, "Relish it. This is what it takes, squawking and screeching over and over. Sometime, somewhere a student will hit a note as pure as gold. His heart will soar and he will latch on to that note with all his being. That is when he has reached step one."

I once read that Paul Desmond, an accomplished jazz sax performer of old who is noted for the purity of his tone. As a youngster he would go into his back yard and stand facing the back brick wall and practice, over and over and over for hours and days and weeks and years. The brick wall gave him an immediate reflection of his sound. And at first he didn't like it. But slowly, over time, it changed to what he wanted to achieve.

Dedication. Goota' honk and screech a lot till you hit that note.

Sorry -- didn't mean to go on and on.