A Glimpse of Life as a Full-Time Music Educator

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About nine months have passed since I accepted a full-time post as a music teacher. I currently teach mostly group piano/keyboard classes ranging from the 2nd to the 12th grade in varying skill levels ranging from beginners to advanced, some of them are at a virtuoso level. As the school where I’m currently assigned gives a rather considerable amount of workload, I barely have enough time for what is my primary musical medium and discipline: composition. Other than rare occasions where I can record little musical ideas here and there or film a piano improv every now and then, I have lost time for it to the point that I have no idea where to find time to finish the musical that I have been working on for the past two years. I do think, however, that having done this so far has been a blessing for me. I am very grateful to the Lord for having led me to the place where I am at for many reasons.

It is no accident that I am at this place. It is all part of God’s grand scheme of things, an opportunity for me to become a tool for young people to gain skill and knowledge in music. This in itself, I believe, will pave the way for the next generation to serve Him through music and lead others to Him through praise and worship. I pray that those who have received my instruction would eventually convince others of their need for a savior, given man’s wretched and sinful nature, and that it is only through the Lord Jesus Christ’s completed work at the cross that they will come into fellowship with God.

The process of teaching is intellectually and emotionally taxing. Each day at school, I have to pull out every intellectual and emotional resource available. Every real teacher gives out eveything in an effort to properly equip his or her students as much as he or she would do for her own children. No wonder teachers act kind of surrogate parents for their students in the classroom or in the teaching studio, the sort of effort that cannot be matched by any amount of financial remuneration. It all boils down to the love of serving and imprting knowledge that keeps us teachers going.

Having been holed up in my home studio prior to teaching full time, it has been a refreshing experience. Meeting and dealing with all sorts of personalities is a given. It can be so frustrating at times to the extent that sometimes I just want to run away and hole myself up again in my studio, writing and recording music by myself. However, doing so will only make me to revert to what I once was: a human analog of the Dead Sea. The bigger picture of things as an educator shows much more promise. Effecting changes in the lives of students through music is worth all the effort.

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Working with the particular department I am in is not without its perks. I can say that a teacher is the ultimate perpetual student. We have to learn more to be able to teach more. Each challenge we face allows us to learn new things. In a span of months, I have acquired skills that I only dreamt of having once. You can’t help but absorb some degree of knowledge, skill, and insights from colleagues who plan, work, and perform with you. As far as performing is concerned, the team I work with is a blessing from God: they are among the best musicians I have performed on stage with, bringing to life some of my arrangements of wonderful Christian songs in four school concerts. In the process, I even picked up learning how to play some woodwinds and brass instruments as well.

This point in time, I would say, is the eye of a storm that I would call student recitals. It’s a bit relaxed now compared to the preparations we had done for our students. In about two days, all of that is about to change as we start setting up the stage for the recital on the weekend, with the hope tht our students do well and give glory to God through music. Perhaps I would write more about my experiences as an educator in the days to come if time permits, but this is all what I can say for now.

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The K-12 Education Upgrade in the Philippines: Is it a Solution to Poverty?

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I’m close to completing my M.A. in Music Education. All I need to do now is write my thesis, something that’s scheduled for June of this year. In my music education seminars with one of my favorite professors, the K-12 program is discussed a lot. Matter of fact is that one of my projects for “Current Trends in Music Education” is a syllabus and sample learning plans for grade 12 music track students. It’s called “Music Production, Composition, and Sound Design with Computers”, something that I hope will be offered in schools by the time the first batch of Filipino grade 12 students start their work. I have to say first that I am all for this education upgrade in the Philippines. It’s one step that perhaps the Philippines is going somewhere towards improvement. Some people (my professor included) would even boldly claim that the K-12 program is the solution to poverty in the Philippines. Thinking about this, I would like to look into it deeper and see if it’s true. Is K-12 implementation really the solution to poverty in the Philippines?

The intents and purposes of the K-12 program are good. In a nutshell, the K-12 program is designed to better prepare the students for employment and/or higher learning right after secondary school. It is assumed that the K-12 program will produce fresh high school graduates who are ready to enter the workforce immediately, allowing themselves to be contributors to society as seen in all first world nations. I see this as a very good thing, having been denied many times of employment opportunities when I was still at the college level. The K-12 program is meant to address that problem by churning out workforce-ready individuals. It is assumed that we no longer have to see job ads that require just college graduates or college-level students. Sounds good, right? On the surface, many would say yes. Reality is a different thing, however. There is some level of certainty that these future graduates of the K-12 program would have the skills and knowledge necessary for employment, but the question now is where will they get jobs?

The hard reality now hits us. Many college graduates in the Philippines have it hard getting employed. I’ve experienced this myself. I was trained as an occupational therapist and I passed the boards back in August 2004. The problem was that I could not get a job at hospitals. Now, why is that? Many hospitals (yes, even commercial ones) prefer volunteers just because they don’t have to be given even a small transportation allowance. It’s a cost-cutting measure while gaining the ability to offer professional-level rehab services. Seeing that the culture in Philippine hospitals is like this, it made no sense to me at the time, especially that I already had a family to support. Volunteering simply will not enable me to pay the bills. It’s a despicable practice! A person who works has to be paid the correct wages. The premise is that rehab professionals have to slug it out for a minimum of 3 years with no salary just to gain fillers for their resumes so they can go for jobs abroad.

Speaking of going abroad for employment, at this point in time it is the aspiration of many Filipinos because of the scarcity of good-paying jobs in the Philippines. Local employers only offer paltry sums for wretched, grueling hours of hard work. Let’s face it, folks. You can’t expect a call center agent earning a gross amount of Php 20,000 to provide a good standard of living for his/her family when 32% of that will go to taxes. How many years will such an employee have to spend in order to save enough to place a partial sum for a small house and lot in Cavite or Bulacan? Will such an employee be able to sustain paying off the mortgage for 10 years or more? The point is that there are only very few jobs in the Philippines that would allow for an acceptable standard of living. If such is the case of your call center agent nowadays, the situation would certainly look grim for future K-12 graduates simply because there is no assurance of them being able to get employed right after they graduate. College graduates have it hard nowadays, and it does look like it will be harder for them future K-12 graduates if things do not change. The only glimmer of hope for these K-12 as well as college grads would be to go where the grass is greener: abroad!

We always hear of the government giving praises for the OFWs they barely support. OFWs are rightfully called heroes since a big chunk of the Philippine economy is due to their contributions. OFWs have to go through all sorts of crap and hell in their host countries as they try to bring home the bacon. It’s sad that many Filipinos are forced to fly away from home and be torn away from their families for employment instead of doing such things by choice. Many enlightened Filipinos have the government to blame for this. It seems to me that the K-12 program is a platform for training more OFWs for the Philippine government to send elsewhere in the world and then simply milk them dry via taxes. It’s an open secret where most of those taxes go that I don’t really have to spell it out.

I do think that it is stupid to send out cows to the neighbor’s grassy plains when you have the capacity to plant some good grass yourself. Now, what do I mean by this? The Philippines can have the capacity to bring more foreign investors in to create more jobs for Filipinos if only the Government would take out protectionist economic policies as outlined in the 1987 constitution. Such policies only keep the oligarchs (who are unable to compete in an international scale) in power. Should such economic policies be lifted, highly competitive foreign investors would come in to offer better services and good-paying jobs, forcing local businesses to step up their game. It can be a win-win situation if you ask me. If such economic restrictions are lifted, we can have access to better services, technology, products, and great-paying job opportunities from both local companies (who should be forced to compete) and foreign (already competitive) businesses. Such third-world to first-world stories have been seen in the likes of Singapore and South Korea. It’s very possible for the Philippines to go such a route, which is possible only if radical changes are made in the government and in society itself!

Going back to the question, is the K-12 education upgrade in the Philippines a solution to poverty? I would have to say it is not a complete solution. If these future K-12 graduates find employment as OFWs, we can say that they will be able to improve their lives and contribute to society and the economy. I would have to admit that. However, with our current presidential system of government, protectionist economic policies, rampant corruption, and the Filipino culture of having too much freedom and a lack of discipline, I would have to say that the Philippines will remain to be the sick man of Asia despite the implementation of K-12. For things to improve, us Filipinos have to start opening up our eyes and minds to the idea of change.

Modes Made Somewhat Easy

One of the things that make many musicians scratch their heads are the modes. Let’s face it: They are so confusing yet in fact you need to learn and understand how to use them if you want to improve your musical skills and knowledge. We always hear how to use the modes in everything from writing songs to soloing over a complex jazz piece. In this piece, I’m going to show a couple of ways regarding how to understand modes.

Now, for us to understand this tutorial, we need to know what a major scale is and the names of the modes. Since we have seven notes in the major scale, we also get seven modes.

The Major Scale and it’s Relative Modes

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We have this nice graphic above that shows our C major scale and its relative modes. We can easily play the each of the major scale’s relative modes by starting the same major scale at a different note and then we name the mode according to that starting mode. For example, if I want to play D Dorian, I just play the C major scale a.k.a. Ionian mode starting at D as a root. Sound-wise, you will notice that by starting the same scale at a different note, you rearrange the order of intervals. Add to the fact that you now consider the different note as the root note, you will tend to return to it every now and then, making you hear a scale that is very different from your original major scale.

And so, to figure out…

…the Ionian mode, we start our major scale at the 1st note (it’s just the same major scale, duh!) (I).

…the relative Dorian mode, we start our major scale at the 2nd note (ii).

…the relative Phrygian mode, we start our major scale at the 3rd note (iii).

…the relative Lydian mode, we start our major scale at the 4th note (IV).

…the relative Mixolydian mode, we start our major scale at the 5th note (V).

…the relative Aeolian mode, we start our major scale at the 6th note (this also happens to be our relative minor scale) (vi).

…the relative Locrian mode, we start our major scale at the 7th  note (vii).

Easy, right?

Figuring out the Parallel Modes

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Figuring out how to learn and play the parallel modes (e.g. C major, C locrian, C Phrygian, etc.) is a trickier thing. There are a number of ways to do it. The technical way is to analyze our relative modes, check the order of intervals, and then apply that order of intervals to a particular root note. For example, I know that the Ionian mode/major scale follows the order of whole step (W)-W-half step (H)-W-W-W-H pattern of intervals. By looking at, say for example our E Phrygian in our relative modes section, we find out that the pattern is now H-W-W-W-H-W-W with a flat 2nd. So, let’s say I want to know what Bb Phrygian is, I figured out that it is Bb-Cb-Db-Eb-F-Gb-Ab. I can do the same procedure for the other modes. Quite taxing, isn’t it?

What if we put it this way instead? We can categorize each mode as major (if it has a major 3rd) or minor (if it has a minor 3rd). By figuring out the formula for each mode, I now have this shortcut:

Major modes = Ionian, Lydian, Mixolydian

Minor modes = Dorian, Phrygian, Aeolian, Locrian

All I have to do next is figure out which interval is different from that of our standard major and minor scale. Now, let’s assume that we already know that the major scale (Ionian) has a major 2nd, major 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, major 6th, and major 7th. Let’s also assume that we know our natural minor scale (Aeolian) as having a major 2nd, minor 3rd, perfect 4th, perfect 5th, minor 6th, and minor 7th. It’s time for us now to figure out how our other modes are built:

Dorian = Minor scale with major 6th instead of minor 6th

Phrygian = Minor scale with minor 2nd instead of major 2nd

Lydian = Major scale with augmented 4th instead of perfect 4th

Mixolydian = Major scale with minor 7th instead of major 7th

Locrian = Minor scale with with minor 2nd and diminished 5th

Still too difficult to figure out by this method? Okay, by doing it this way, it does involve some time to study. However there are easier ways.

We can use the relative mode order in order to figure out how to play a mode correctly. All you have to do is know what order does a particular mode appear to know the sequence order of the root note of that particular mode in a particular major scale. Confusing, right? Here’s a concrete example:

Let’s say that I want to play a D Mixolydian.  Now, from the study of relative modes, I know that Mixolydian is the 5th mode and so its root note is the 5th note of a particular major scale, which I find out to be G in this case. And so, all I have to do play D Mixolydian is play the G major scale but start with the D.

Let’s also say that I want to play Ab Phrygian instead. Since Phrygian is the third mode, Ab is the third note of the Fb major scale. Now, you might say, “What the hell, Mark! There’s no such thing as Fb major.” Relax, I’ll explain it for you. From a strictly music theory standpoint, there is. But for the sake of practical use, it is just the E major scale, and so now we think of Ab as G# and then play the E major scale starting at G# to get ourselves the Ab Phrygian mode. I think that this is the simplest way of learning and playing the modes.

As for actual use in songwriting, composition, and soloing using modes, there are plenty of resources on the web for that. Anyway, you can always drop a line or two at the comments box if you have questions regarding modes and other stuff. Thanks.

Some Musings on Education, Creativity, and Music

I have always believed that there is something miserably wrong with education, especially here in the Philippines. Growing up, I had to go to school every day, wear my uniform, pin my ID in a very specific manner, and keep a hairstyle exactly as described in the student handbook for discipline. The one thing that baffled me was why did I have to look like everybody else in order for me to have a good education? Does that exercise in conformity lead to anything beneficial? I have always thought that the answer was no. I have always thought that such rules were of no value and they only contributed to a superficial sense of order and discipline. A prescribed haircut never contributes to knowledge within my head or the life skills that I should possess. Matter of fact was it even encouraged me to rebel, seeing how utterly useless such rules were. Looking at the bigger picture of things, it seemed to me that schools (yes, even private ones with expensive tuition fees) are hell bent on producing “cookies”, mass producing students who eventually become part of a grand industrial assembly line. This cookie-cutter-style education, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it, kills creativity.

I can remember how many times I’ve heard something like I should be this or I should be that. It can become really frustrating because many people try to put you in a mold where you don’t really fit. I’m guessing all would agree that with the exception of art schools, the arts (music included) are of a low hierarchal standing in many educational systems. It’s good that we do have to place good regard for math, the sciences, and language studies, but shouldn’t we put the arts in equal footing? It’s really sad to see in this part of the world where I live that music is lumped together with other arts and physical education into a single subject. It’s just wrong! What happens in the end really is that these schools produce students who have some semblance of athletic ability, standard curriculum knowledge, zero knowledge about and appreciation for art, and almost nothing about music except some form of dancing to it and barely carrying out a tune. It really is sad given that one of the primary ways of learning is through listening, the primary sense that music appeals to. By lumping all of the arts into a single subject called MAPE and then placing it at a category lower than all other subjects, the present education system in the part of the world where I live is indeed killing creativity.

One thing that I have to say, however, is that in order to translate creative ideas into tangible output, discipline still is necessary. I remember my classical piano training in that regard: I would have to say (without any offense to my wonderful piano teacher) that it is the farthest anyone can go from exercising creativity in terms of music. It’s the kind of training that expects you to become as accurate as a MIDI player, and unfortunately I don’t seem to be very good at it. You have to follow the whims of the composer almost 100% of the time. One thing I would appreciate about it, however, is that it builds the skills that are necessary for me to be able to execute or communicate to others my own musical ideas without needing the assistance of a performer. Even something as free-spirited as jazz or the Blues requires knowing how to play a pentatonic scale. While the creative impulse has to be fed, it still requires discipline to execute properly.

The discipline we get out of schools is much appreciated, but if we lose touch of any attempts to become creative then such discipline is worthless study. The discipline and order we get out of education should go hand-in-hand with exercises in creativity, and therefore education shouldn’t be a lopsided affair where we push math, science, and linguistic studies to the top and regard music, dancing, painting, sculpture, etc. as mere extracurricular activities. It is true that you cannot produce creative output without the means to execute it. It is also true that without any semblance of creativity, all those means of execution obtained from rigorous discipline is unusable.

How to Prepare a Project and Record Audio in a DAW

Hello dear readers. It’s Mark A. Galang again in another installment of audio production tutorials. This tutorial was written in compliance to the peer review assignment requirement of the Berklee Course “Introduction to Music Production” being hosted by Coursera. I do hope that you all find this tutorial to be informative.

This tutorial features the way how I prepare a project in my DAW for recording. It also gives some insight into how I compose and record music. I use Cakewalk Sonar X1 as my DAW software. Let’s get started.

1. Sequencing the Drums

01 Sequencing the Drums

Before I actually create a project in Sonar, I usually write drum parts, orchestral parts, etc. using Sibelius 6. In this case, I just wrote the drum part for this project.

2. Exporting to MIDI

02 Exporting to MIDI

After writing the drum part in Sibelius, I would then save my work and then export it as a MIDI file to the folder of my choosing.

3. Creating a New Project

03 Creating a New Project

After opening Sonar X1, I make use of an atypical method of creating a project. I close the project creation wizard and then just drag the MIDI file I created into Sonar. Sonar will automatically open the MIDI file as a project.

4. Creating an Instrument Track

04 Creating an Instrument Track

Once the MIDI file has opened, I would then create an instrument track that would play back the MIDI data in the project. In this case, I’m using a VST instrument called EZDrummer. An instrument track is a combination of a MIDI and Audio track. The data displayed is MIDI but the playback comes from an audio source, usually a software instrument.

5. Transferring MIDI data to Instrument Track

05 Transfering MIDI Track to Instrument Track

Instead of assigning EZDrummer as the output for my MIDI track, I just simply drag the MIDI data into the instrument track and then delete the resulting empty MIDI track. The instrument track can read MIDI data anyway so I have no further use for the empty MIDI track.

6. Creating an Audio Track

06 Creating an Audio Track

I would then create an audio track next by right clicking on the empty space where the channels are supposed to be in Track View and then selecting the “Insert Audio Track” command.

7. Labeling Audio Track and Setting Up for Recording

07 Labeling Audio Track and Setting Up Channel for Recording

After creating the audio track, I would then label the audio track. In this instance, I’m recording a bass guitar track so I simply label it “Bass”. Afterwards, I select the appropriate input source for my audio track. In this case, my bass is connected to the left instrument input of my audio interface and so I select the left one in my DAW. If I select it this way, I will be able to record my bass part in mono.

8. Saving as a Project File

08 Saving as a Project File

Because Sonar opened my project as a MIDI file, it cannot save audio data yet. I would then save the project as a “Normal” CWP (Cakewalk Project) file with the “Copy All Audio With Project” option ticked so that I can assign the project and audio data folders for easier file management.

9. Arming the Audio Track for Recording

09 Arming the Audio Track for Recording

Before I begin recording, I then click on the red button in my audio track so that it would be “armed” for recording. Once the audio track is armed, I check my instrument’s recording levels on my audio interface and on the DAW. I am now ready to record my bass parts.

10. Setting up Metronome/Click and Countoff

10 Setting up Metronome or Click and Countoff

Before I start recording, I check my metronome/click and then see if I have the correct settings. I prefer using an audio click rather than MIDI and I set up the record count in to just “1”. Since the time signature in my project is 7/8 with a tempo of 100 bpm (in quarter notes), I expect to hear seven fast clicks before the DAW starts recording my audio.

11. Recording an Audio Track

11 Recording Audio

Once the levels are set and the audio track is armed, I start recording by pressing “R” on my computer keyboard. I count along to the count-in clicks (one, two, three, four, five, six, sev) and then start playing my bass parts. Once I’m done recording, I press the space bar to stop.

12. Cloning an Audio Track for a Second Take

12 Cloning an Audio Track for Second Take

Because I need to have a couple of recorded options, I record a number of takes. To do this, I just clone the audio channel where my bass is recorded. To do this, I just right-click on my audio track and select the option “Clone Track”. Sonar will then duplicate the audio track in its entirety.

13. Setting up Cloned Audio Track for a Second Take

13 Setting Up Cloned Audio Track for Second Take

The cloned audio track contains all of the data from the previous audio track, including recorded audio. Therefore, I would delete the recorded audio from the cloned track in order to empty it so I can begin recording a second take. To lessen distractions, I would then mute the original audio track before I record my second take.

14. Recording a Second Take

14 Recording a Second Take

Once my cloned audio track is ready, I would then record a second take following the steps mentioned a while ago.

After completing all of these steps, I think the entire effort went well. I was able to set up a project and record an audio track. Upon reviewing the project, I think that I should have saved the project immediately as a normal DAW project before setting up the audio track so that I wouldn’t run into a problem later should the application crash. Some of the steps I took to create the DAW project are atypical. However, this fits my usual workflow which involves composing and notating music first before recording audio.

For those who are interested, here’s the track I recorded for this particular tutorial:

I hope that you all have enjoyed reading and learning about recording audio in a DAW through this post. Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you. If you have any feedback, comments, or constructive criticism, please feel free to let me know as I would love to learn new things as well.

How I Almost Got Scammed

About two weeks ago, in my thirst for higher education, knowledge, and credentials, I almost got scammed by an organization miles away from where I am. It’s a good thing that I had the presence of mine to have become alerted by what you would call “red flags” that would indicate a diploma mill. I thank God for having given me enough wisdom not to be ensnared by the Atlantic International University.

For those who know me, I only had private lessons as my formal training in music (piano and guitar), and everything else I know I have learned on my own through stacks of music textbooks, the times I sneaked into a music conservatory library, stacks of sheet music, numerous recordings, concert attendances, band experience, and experimentation. Such effort has led me to become the freelancing professional that I am now. However, I wanted to take this to a more advanced level, and so for years I had searched for ways where I can manage to get a conservatory-equivalent education while keeping up with the demands of daily life. Unfortunately for me, I stumbled across Atlantic International University. It was a regrettable experience to have crossed paths with them.

I made an inquiry about their online degree program in music via email. I never expected to get such a fast reply. I even received a phone call regarding getting admitted into their university. The admissions department of AIU called me up late night for an interview. What happened next made me suspicious about the organization. They said they were a university based in Hawaii.

I shot straight to the point and asked about fees, scholarships, and financial assistance. Ms. Meyers positively responded that they had a partial scholarship. What shocked me was the fact that they wanted me to either pay the program fee in full or go under a financing plan that required me to pay an enrollment/reservation fee within 24 hours to make sure that I can avail a scholarship of $1,500. They seem to be very hungry for money if they wanted me to pay immediately without any sort of competence testing for a scholarship or a more rigorous interview process.

I looked at their website and they are not accredited. I tried to see if they had a curriculum structure similar to what I see in reputable schools like Berklee; they had none. I did some more digging and I found out the sad truth: Atlantic International University is a diploma mill according to a variety of sources I have read. Its astonishing to see how easily I have been approved for a scholarship. Add to that the fact that the “university” is nudging me to pay them $150 within 24 hours sounds fishy.

To cut the long story short, I sent AIU an email stating that I wasn’t interested anymore.

If you stumble across Atlantic International University, FLEE IMMEDIATELY! You’ve been warned.

There are many times when we can get caught up in many things that we want along with the excitement that various prospects bring. Such elation can lead to rash decisions that we more than likely to regret some time later. It pays well to pause, step back, and then make a logical evaluation of things before making a decision. Most important of all is a prayer to God before making a decision. Proverbs 14:15 (KJV) says, “The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.” On a later chapter, Proverbs 21:5 (Again KJV) states that “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but of every one that is hasty only to want.” We ought not to be hasty or be swayed by emotion; otherwise, we fall, and falling hurts really bad.

Steve Stine’s 96 Blues Licks Now Available

After two weeks of hard work, I’m proud to announce that Steve Stine’s long anticipated 96 Blues Licks course for guitar has already been released by GuitarZoom. If you’ve ever dreamed of playing the blues and all sorts of its derivatives like blues rock and Texas blues, this is the course that you’ve been waiting for.

Steve Stine’s 96 Blues Licks course can be seen as part of a continuity of lead guitar instruction courses by the guru himself. If the first Solofire installment and Music Theory Made Easy provided you with the “how” of guitar soloing and music making, 96 Blues Licks provides you the “what”. You can say that it’s going to form part of your ever expanding vocabulary of lead guitar lines.

One of the most awesome aspects of 96 Blues Licks is that it provides some insights into the music theory behind playing the Blues. The introductory material provides a good method into how any guitar player would approach using the licks and putting them in the context of any song. Rather than just being told how a lick is played, the introductory materials actually provide more by helping learners expand the licks into things more than just soloing.

The sheet music provided (transcribed by no other than yours truly) is in the usual standard notation and guitar tablature format. It covers all of the materials in the DVD and we even went far as including all of Steve’s jam track improvisations at the end of the course so that learners can actually gain insight as to how Steve approaches playing the Blues.

So, to cut the long story short, if you’ve ever dreamed of being like Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Chuck Berry or Stevie Ray Vaughn, check out Steve Stine’s 96 Blues Licks. If you’re a blues guitar fan, I guarantee that you’ll get more than your money’s worth just listening to how Steve gets you going with the Blues.