• Blast From The Past: How The Piano Made Me A Popular Guy In High School…

    in Personal Blog,Self-Improvement

    As many of you know, we’re moving into our next home. With 3 kids now, we’ve outgrown our current place.

    So with that comes packing and reorganizing stuff. And since my wife has adopted this “decluttering” philosophy, it means methodically going through EVERYTHING to see what deserves to be kept, donating and trashing everything else… not just throwing stuff in boxes and figuring it out later (as I probably would have done).

    In all that, I came across my old high school yearbook. I flipped to this one page and there I was, “Mr. Jackrabbit!”

    You see, I went to one of the most famous high schools in the country — Long Beach Poly (a.k.a. – The “Jackrabbits”).

    Not only have we sent the most athletes to the NFL but we’re a California distinguished school. If you’re from around Long Beach, you know there’s two types of people: Those that went to Poly and those that wish they had!!!

    At any rate, my mind started going back to that pageant and how I was literally one of the skinniest ones in the competition.

    Among us were popular athletes, jocks, popular dancers, etc.

    Now, don’t get me wrong… I was Student Body President but you don’t get many brownie points for that.

    We competed in three rounds: Formal, Swimsuit, and Talent.

    Luckily talent was double-weighted (which means whatever you score in talent is doubled compared to the other two categories).

    My plan was to knock them out on the piano playing a medley of songs. I tied together 5 songs. I had a little bit of everything in there. The crowd went crazy every time I changed songs. My good friend, Cleveland, accompanied me on the drums. Even though these were basic songs with nothing extremely fancy going on, we were a huge hit!

    So they announce the winners.

    Formal. Not top 3.
    Swimsuit. Not top 3 (and later I found out I was second to last).
    Talent. First place.

    “Announcing Top 3 Finalists…”

    “Jermaine Griggs.”

    So now I’m in the finals and we gotta answer a random question.

    My question was: “If you were stranded on a deserted island, what would you bring.”

    I answered: “I’d bring my bible, which represents my relationship with God, my creator.”

    The crowd goes crazy! “Preacher boy!!!”

    “Secondly, I’d bring photos and awards to remind me of loved ones and achievements.”

    Another clap from the crowd.

    “And lastly, I’d bring a laptop computer with internet access because you can still run a business, even if you’re stranded on a deserted island!”

    The audience cracks up.

    If you know my story, you know I started Hearandplay.com not too long before this. I was going into my senior year of high school (August 2000 to be exact)… about 6 months prior to the competition and I made sure to mention the website in my introduction.

    They announce the winners.

    For the girls, it was NaOnka Mixon who some of you may know from the last season of the hit show, “Survivor!” (Nicaragua)

    And for the boys, yours truly!

    Great times… great memories!

    I learned many things from that.

    First, I didn’t come with an intricate “classical” piece. These were 5 pop songs chosen from various niches. They were played exactly as I had played them in the past… no special additions. I just played! And the audience loved it!

    Would seasoned musicians have been impressed? I don’t know. They certainly would have enjoyed it though.

    But truth be told. I was just playing the songs. And if you know anything about popular songs, they use regular chords and the same recycled patterns over and over. Your audience doesn’t know that though.

    Javad Day, from our Musician Breakthrough collection, talks about the frustration of not being able to “stretch out” when he’s on tour with Chaka Khan. He says one time all the musicians got a chance to “solo.” When they get to him, he starts doing all these jazz runs and fancy scales and licks. The audience is barely paying attention.

    The next show, he decides to switch things up and incorporate the simple “Mario Brothers” theme (you know the one from Mario Brothers 1 on the classic Nintendo). The audience goes ballistic!

    So as you study hard and stress yourself out about “this” versus “that,” always remember your audience. Sure, if you’re trying to impress other musicians, learn the big, phat chords and unorthodox placements. But to most non-musicians, playing a beautiful song exactly the way it was composed makes you a superstar. And if you add in learning it by ear (without sheet music), you’re a sheer genius to them.

    Maybe you thought you were good because people said you were good over the years. But then you started hanging out here or around other advanced musicians that have made you doubt yourself (because they are EXTREMELY good). Don’t get me wrong… there’s a saying that goes “You are the average of the 5 people you hang around most” and it certainly applies to music. But as they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    So if people say you are good, you ARE good. The “majority” is your audience. Don’t let advanced musicians intimidate you. Sure, they are REALLY great and they have excelled to the highest levels but always remember who your audience is. And if and when you get to their expert level, you’ll find yourself having to “dumb” things down to be appreciated so enjoy these times now!

    Your audience is people who simply love music. They don’t know if you’re playing a fancy thirteenth chord or a regular triad. If it comes out the way they like, they will applaud and praise you.

    Don’t let this perspective stop you from learning though. My goal is to encourage you to PLAY NOW! Go gig NOW! Go put what you do know to work NOW! Go play at a senior center NOW! Go volunteer to play music for your kid’s class NOW! Don’t wait! Exercise your gift NOW!

    So keep up the great work with your practicing and find opportunities to play. Don’t wait til you arrive. No one ever “arrives.” Find an audience that appreciates what you do know and go for it! And depending on the event, you just may walk away with the prize! :-)

    All the best,

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    Hi, I'm Jermaine Griggs, founder of this site. We teach people how to express themselves through the language of music. Just as you talk and listen freely, music can be enjoyed and played in the same way... if you know the rules of the "language!" I started this site at 17 years old in August 2000 and more than a decade later, we've helped literally millions of musicians along the way. Enjoy!

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