Episode 5 of the Art of Composing Podcast. In this episode, I cover the next stage of your pathway to mastery, the apprenticeship. Find out about why an apprenticeship is so important, the different phases of an apprenticeship, and how to take the most advantage of your composer apprenticeship.
What is in this episode:
- What is an apprenticeship, and how long will it take?
- The three phases of an apprenticeship.
- The 8 Strategies for getting the most out of your apprenticeship.
Resources and Links Mentioned in this Episode:
Episode 5 Take Aways
- The goal of an apprenticeship is not money, a good position, a title, or a diploma, but rather the transformation of your mind and character.
- There are three phases or three modes to the ideal apprenticeship.
- They are Deep observation or the passive mode, where you observe and absorb as much as possible about the world you are trying to master.
- Skills acquisition or the practice mode, where you break down all of the necessary skills in your field and practice them until they become tacit knowledge.
- And Experimentation or the active mode, in which you take that knowledge and you create your own work so that it can be judged by the public and yourself. You are trying to fill the gaps in your own knowledge so you can become better than you are now.
The 8 Strategies For the Ideal Apprenticeship are:
- Value learning over money.
- Keep Expanding Your Horizons
- Revert to a Feeling on Inferiority
- Trust the process
- Move towards resistance and pain
- Apprentice yourself in failure
- Combine the “How” and the “What”
- Advance Through Trial and Error
Welcome back to the Art of Composing Podcast. I am excited to have you listening today.
Today’s episode is going to be about Mastery. What it is, how we can attain it, and why we would want to attain it. But I am not going to just talk about Mastery as an obscure theory. Instead, I thought this would be a good opportunity to a little bit talk about my history, how I started composing, how I got to where I am, and how I see my journey unfolding. I don’t consider myself a master of music composition, but I am working towards it. And I hope part of the reason my website, artofcomposing.com resonates with people is because I am approaching the subject of teaching music composition from the standpoint of having to teach myself.
So without further ado, let’s get on with the featured content.
Mastery is a subject not often touched on or talked about in modern society. If you think about it, most things in life are really designed to prevent you from mastering a subject.
The biggest culprit for this, I believe, is not TV, although TV doesn’t help. No I believe its school. School is designed, from the beginning, to be a place of conformity and regurgitation. You are forced through your most creative, and curious part of your life to listen to teachers talk about subjects you just don’t care about. And then after the day is done, you have to go home and study those same subjects, and do your homework.
This all leads to a lack of motivation on the part of children to care much about school.
For me personally, this lead to a habit of procrastinating. You see, procrastination really has nothing to do with you being lazy. I was and I still am, a hard worker. The thing is, I just never wanted to work on what I had to work on. Homework, diaramas, reports, papers, whatever.
Let me say first though, that this has nothing to do with the teachers themselves. I had some great teachers growing up, and I have friends now that are teachers, and many of them care deeply about the kids they teach. But they are in a system that is designed to create factory workers, not mastery.
So why am I talking about this.
Well, I want to make it clear that mastery is attainable for anyone. That is right. Anyone can be a master of their chosen field. Obviously, this podcast is about composing music, so that is what we are going to talk about today, but in reality, if someone has mastered it, so can you.
So let’s imagine that you are a student in high school. You have been going through the school system, diligently learning the 1000 different subjects that they want you to learn. You can’t say that you really understand them all, although you are able to get good grades in your classes, and that’s all that matters right?
But you’ve got a passion, and that passion is music. You’ve probably been playing in the school band for a number of years, and recently you got into writing some music.
This is kind of how it happened for me. I started playing trumpet in 4th grade, just playing in the band at school. When I was in 6th grade however, my family moved to South Africa and I ended joining the Kwa-Zulu Natal Youth Wind Band.
The Wind Band was really good, and far beyond my playing level at the time, so I had to start private lessons with an Austrian Trumpet teacher named Fritz Enichelmayer.
Now, Fritz was a very interesting guy – an older gentlemen, that rode a harley, played trumpet and classical guitar, and in his spare time climbed mountains.
But Fritz really taught me how to read music. This is when I started getting a grip on the grammar of music which would play a key role in learning to compose.
Now shortly after moving there, we moved into an apartment that had some old stuff in the garage. I happened to be looking through it one day, and found a 3/4 size classical guitar. I got excited, because my dad, James Brantingham, was a trained Classical Guitarist, so I knew he would teach me to play as well. He reluctantly agreed, and so, I started learning. Things went slow at first, but after a while I got the hang of it.
I started playing a lot. We were lucky enough to have a collection of books that had arrangements of famous classical music for the classical guitar, so I took my time, going through each book. Sometimes I would just sight read the music. Other times, I would really take my time to perfect the piece.
At the same time, I was still taking trumpet lessons. The lessons were great, but I found that I wasn’t progressing very fast. You see, I never wanted to practice. It’s not that I didn’t like playing, I did. I just didn’t want to practice from the giant tome by Arban. If you are a brass player you know what I am talking about.
Instead, my free time, went to reading through the guitar books.
Now around the same time, there was a talent show at my high school.
I went to Durban High School by the way, if there is anyone in South Africa listening.
For the talent show, I got a small group together, including my brother, and other members from the wind band. We decided to play In the Mood, by Glenn Miller.
This is a great tune, and a fun piece to play, but at some point during the process of getting the song together, someone came up with the great idea of having a trumpet solo.
Sure, I said, that sounds great. No how do I do one of those?
That started my search for how to compose a trumpet solo. I went to my trumpet teacher, who promptly referred my to a sax teacher who also taught in the area.
So I went and asked him how to create a solo. Actually, I first asked him to write one for me, but he thought it would be better if I wrote it myself. I am thankful he did, and I can probably look back on that, as a gift. If he hadn’t, I may never have started composing.
His advice was pretty simple. Just look at the chord tones for each bar, and then play up and down them.
It sounded simple enough. So I went to work. I can’t remember if I actually had a lead sheet, or if I just wrote notes on the Bb major chord, but either way, I ended up with a relatively decent solo. Everyone I talked to said it sounded like it fit, so I was happy.
If you are interested in hearing this performance by the way, it will be posted in the shownotes, at artofcomposing.com/episode4.
So this was the first time I wrote my own music. And it was fun, but I didn’t really understand what was going on. Once again though, I got another push from fate, when the piano player in the group gave me a floppy disk with a DOS program called IT Tracker.
He showed me how to use it, and well, it was love at first site. No… not with my friend, with IT tracker.
In what probably seemed like quite strange behavior to my parents, I would sit for hours on end, writing out the guitar sheet music that I couldn’t play very well into IT Tracker. I sequenced Beethoven and Mozart, Schubert and Tarrega, Wagner and Brahms. I was even able to sample my guitar and trumpet, and use those sounds in the sequences, although they sounded terrible because of the bad microphone I had.
At some point in this process, I started to write my own music. I can’t quite remember the day, but I do remember the piece. A short jazz trumpet piece called Bugs.
So why is this important. You see, I didn’t know at the time, but I was learning to compose through osmosis. You only have to see the notes C, E, and G move to G, B, and D so many times before you start to figure out that is something that all composers do. So I did it too.
One of the benefits of IT Tracker, was that you wrote out the note names. So instead of writing in notation, I would actually write the letter C or C#. This helped me understand chords and how they related to one another quite well.
Day after day, I would sit at our computer, which was not connected to internet and just write out pieces. I wanted to hear what they sounded like. I wanted to know what made them work. I very clearly remember the first musical discovery I made, when I finally figured out what that dark sounding, ominous chord was, the diminished chord.
It felt great everytime I heard the chord in a piece of music after that, I could say… (In pompous accent) “Oh yes, I know chord, that is a dimished chord.”
This progressed into me starting to transcribe music that I heard on CDs that I wanted to play. In fact, one of the first things I ever attempted transcribing was the soundtrack to the Jurassic Park Game on Playstation, The Lost World, which was composed by Michael Giacchino and was I think, the first game to have a real recorded orchestra.
So what does this all mean. Other than I think it is a kind of interesting story, there is a point to it.
There was a reason I procrastinated in school, and didn’t practice trumpet. The reason is, because those things were not aligned with my Life’s Task.
You see, the first step towards mastery is identifying your life’s task. I didn’t know it at the time. In fact, it was probably a good thing that I didn’t, because it may have overwhelmed me, and probably worse, it would have gotten in the way of my natural curiosity.
No one told me to transcribe music, or input it into IT Tracker. No one made me read through all of the classical guitar sheet music. No one made me write Bugs, or Hatman, or Dur, my first three real tunes.
It was a desire that came from deep down inside me. And that need to follow my life’s task overshadowed everything else that I was “supposed” to do – like school work and trumpet practice.
That’s great, but what if you are past your prime so to speak? Well, I don’t think the outlook is as bleak as you think it may be. Remember the 10,000 hour rule from the last podcast? Well if you were to spend only 2 hours a day working on your life’s task then it would only take you about 13 years to master it.
13 years sounds like a lot to some people, especially kids, but when I look at the last 13 years, I shudder at how fast it went. 13 years ago, I was in my last year of high school, getting ready to start college. Makes me feel kinda old. I still can’t believe I have a 4 year old son.
But thats only 2 hours a day. If you position yourself right, you can spend more time than that working toward your goal.
At 3 hours a day that drops to 9 years and 4 hours a day it drops even more to 6.8 years.
Although there are limits to how much deliberate practice you can do in a day, there are many activities that can go towards mastering a subject.
So if you are in your 50s or 60s, just imagine where you could be 10 years from now and if you are a teenager, the sky’s the limit.
The important thing is identifying your Life’s Task, whatever that may be.
Robert Greene in his book Mastery, talks about 5 strategies for finding your life’s task which are
- Return to Your Origins
- Occupy the perfect Niche
- Avoid the false path
- Let go of the past
- Find your way back
In one way or another, I have gone through all of these strategies to get me back on the path towards mastering my life’s task.
So let’s discuss these just a little bit.
Returning to your origins is basically connecting with what interested you the most as a child. Take some time, and reflect. What did you spend your time doing? Did you love to go outside and observe nature? Did you spend your time solving puzzles or doing math games? Or like me, did you enter music into a tracking program and transcribe because you wanted to know how the music you loved to listen to was working?
As Robert Greene says in the book, “In order to master a field, you must love the subject and feel a profound connection to it.” (pg 31)
What used to cause wonder in your life?
I still remember listening to Mahler’s 1st Symphony over and over, when I was only about 13, just wanting to write like that. So I tried, and failed, but the important thing was I tried, and was absorbing it.
Take the time, and think about this one.
Next, Occupying the Perfect Niche is all about working your way towards a life that will support and nurture your life’s task. For me, part of this was starting artofcomposing.com, to learn and teach music composition. Part of the benefit of this is the reflection time that I get thinking about the process of composition and how best to learn and teach it. As well as reflecting on how I compose. But it also fits with my other interests of technology, web design, art, and entrepreneurship in general.
But I know things will change as I change. As I prepare to go through the UCLA film scoring certificate program next year, I am keeping my eyes open for an assitantship to an established composer, so I can learn from them, and be engrossed in the film scoring industry.
Take some time to think about what your ideal niche is. How can you get into that niche? Do you want to write choral music? Why don’t you look for a job at church with a choir. Offer the church music for free. Be willing to help.
Do you want to compose for big bands? Find out where local big bands are playing and get in contact with whoever runs them. Chances are they would love some help with something.
The key is aligning what you do with what you want to do. This takes time and patience, but you must work towards it and be flexible.
Next, Avoiding the false path is all about not being steered in the wrong direction.
The greatest part about this, is the story in the book is about Mozart, so I was like “Yeah, Composers Rule!” but I saw some of my own story reflected in it, not that I am saying I am as good as Mozart or anything… ahem.
But Mozart very early on realized that he did not want to be a performer, but instead wanted to compose and compose opera especially.
In fact, in a letter to his father, he wrote “I am a composer… I neither can, nor ought to bury the talent for composition with which God in his goodness has so richly endowed me.” (p37)
You see Mozart was being pulled around Europe to perform for royalty. His incredible skill as a young boy enthralled everyone, but he knew that it was really a distraction from what he was meant to do – compose.
In the same way, I always saw my other obligations, like school work and practicing trumpet, as false paths. I was not meant to be a trumpet player. I was meant to be a composer.
But as life happened, I was slowly driven away from it, especially as I was in college. By the time I graduated, and went into the Army, I was quite fully on a false path. And it took me about 6 years to get back on the path.
6 years at 2 hours a day, is 4380 hours, so that is almost half-way to 10,000. A lot of lost ground.
So stay off the false path.
But if you are already on the false path, Letting Go of the Past and Finding Your Way Back are the next strategies. You must be willing to make a cut with whatever progress you’ve made in things that are not your life’s task. For me, this meant leaving the Army, and moving to California. For you, it could mean leaving your job, or your school, or even your country.
This takes courage and commitment. That little voice in your head that says you shouldn’t do it, well that’s resistance, which I will talk about in another episode. You may be well paid, and have a high up position with a lot of respect… but who is it that respects you? Do you respect you?
Now I am not saying just leave your job and throw caution to the wind. Leaving the Army for me was a year long process, and I made plans, had support from family and saved money.
But don’t let money be an excuse. Do you want to get to the end of your life and say that you earned a lot of money and were miserable, or do you want to use your time to fulfill your true destiny.
Fulfilling that destiny starts today. As soon as you get a chance, grab a pad of paper and a pen, or a computer if, thats the way you prefer to write, and I want you to write out your childhood story, just as I have told mine here. Let your mind run free, and put yourself back in that time. What did you spend your time on? Where was it leading? Are you still going in that direction?
Hopefully, like me, you get some clarity out of the process.
In the next episode, we will step back a little, talk more about what Mastery is, the three stages that all people must go through to achieve mastery, Apprenticeship, Creative/Active, and finally Mastery itself. And then we’ll look in depth at Apprenticeship, and how you can take advantage of this stage.
But for now, turn your attention inward, and find your life’s true calling.
Mastery is really about a state you can achieve, in which you have a power over reality that most people do not have. This power comes from fully absorbing all aspects of you life’s task.
Your life’s task is the thing that you feel deep down, that you are called to do.
To identify your life’s task, you have five strategies:
Returning to your origins is basically connecting with your true passions.
Occupying the Perfect Niche is all about working your way towards a life that will support and nurture your life’s task.
Avoiding the false path is all about not being steered in the wrong direction.
Letting Go of the Past is about looking at the direction you’re life has been taking, and having the courage to say whether you’ve been on a false path, even if you’ve worked hard in a particular field.
And finally, Finding Your Way Back is about being willing to make a cut with the progress you’ve made in order to get back on your true path towards mastery.
Well thanks again for listening to the Art of Composing podcast. I love getting emails and comments from everyone, especially 5 star reviews on iTunes. It keeps me motivated… and when I’m motivated, I create more podcasts. And when I create more podcasts, you’re happier. And when you’re happier, you leave more 5 star itunes reviews. So leave more 5 star reviews on iTunes, and you’ll be happier.
Like how I did that.
As usual, you can find the show notes for this podcast at artofcomposing.com/episode4 no spaces or dashes.
If you want to start on the path towards becoming a composer and don’t know exactly what to do, head on over to artofcomposing.com/101 and check out my introduction to composing page, and then be sure to sign up for the free beginner’s composing course. It is a video course, and I know you love video – I mean really, who doesn’t.
Until next time,
Compose like your life depends on it, because maybe someday, it may.