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Learning Rhythms and Rhymes for Trying Times

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Last June, I saw a post on the Carbondale Facebook page from local musician Natalie Spears offering music lessons. At this point, I had spent over two months in COVID-remoteness and needed something to break out of my doldrums.

One Christmas, I received a ukulele as a gift. It came with a songbook and I thought I could watch some learn-how-to-play YouTube videos to get down the basics. Wrong. The learning curve seemed too big and I knew I needed lessons. So the ukulele sat in its case, collecting dust.

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Spears was also offering instruction in songwriting. I write poetry and thought some of my poems might be suitable as song lyrics. The idea of learning to play and write was intriguing.

In my first email to Spears, I said I would be happy to learn to play one song. At our first lesson, sitting in Spears’ backyard, socially-distanced and wearing masks, we chatted about my musical experience. I told her that I’d taken voice lessons and enjoy singing. 

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I shared that I started playing the guitar in middle school, stuck with it for a while, but became frustrated with my perceived lack of mastery and quit. Spears relayed that a music professor once told her, “You have to be willing to suck.” 

She reassured me you can find a teacher that meets your needs. It felt like the timing and teacher had finally arrived, so I was in.

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Spears, who has a BA in music from Naropa University in Boulder, spent the last part of her senior semester observing private music lesson teachers and knew that she wanted to teach. In 2016, she started teaching music lessons and now teaches out of a studio space in her home in Carbondale.

Since the COVID pandemic onset, Spears’ performance gigs decreased, which allowed her to increase her teaching load. She describes the newfound interest in people seeking music lessons as, “Kids don’t have a lot to do right now and adults have more time on their hands and it’s just created this space for people to dig into things they’ve felt like they didn’t have time for in the past.”

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My first song was John Denver’s “Country Roads.” The irony was that it was one of the songs I sang at voice lessons years ago. We started with songs that had fewer chords and, mastering those, moved on to new ones.

With songwriting, I was learning music theory and to listen to songs: to be aware of chord progressions I found appealing.

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For those who have trepidation about learning something new, Spears explains, “We have to be comfortable with the growing pains and the ugly duckling stages of learning something in order to grow into that thing we want to be.” She adds, “We live in such a product-driven culture, and that takes away from the beauty of learning; from the beauty of being in the process and seeing progress instead of seeking perfection.”

Music has always played a big part in my life. It has helped me connect with the world around me. But, taking lessons helped me connect with myself. In 2020, I finally cleaned the dust off that ukulele case.

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Spears is starting the Music 4 All Scholarship program in collaboration with Carbondale Arts and will soon be launching a fundraising campaign. The program will “make private music lessons accessible to people in the Roaring Fork Valley regardless of age, ability, and income,” adding, “We believe that learning an instrument creates lifelong benefits, including a deep sense of confidence, enhanced cognitive ability and stress relief.”

Spears and her musical partner, Lizzy Plotkin, have a debut EP release on Jan. 15. Look for an article about it in next week’s issue of The Sopris Sun.

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Tags: #Natalie Spears #ukulele #ukulele lessons
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