Teaching Tunes is Supremely Satisfying
I get a lot of pleasure from music. Both playing music and listening to music fills me with so much life I feel infinitely more connected to the human world.
Music is life. It is love and anger. It is compassionate and unforgiving. To enjoy music is to understand humanity.
Recently, I’ve discovered another facet to music that is perhaps the most satisfying yet: teaching.
This summer I’ve been working with Mesa County Libraries, hosting several Digital DJing tutorials for teenagers. Meeting with teens across the county and jump-starting their DJ education has been an absolute blast.
For the class, I’ve been using the extremely fun Traktor DJ iPad app as the jumping off point. Traktor DJ is the scaled-down version of the pro software popular with many DJs, including A-Trak and Richie Hawtin.
This relatively inexpensive software gives users all the basic controls DJs need in an intuitive layout. With a little guidance, it is easy for beginners to pick it up and allows for instant gratification.
Playing through Traktor DJ makes listening to music a much more participatory process. You build a playlist just like in iTunes or Spotify but instead of allowing the computer AI to take over mixing control, it’s all up to you.
Working with small groups of teens, we’ve been mashing music together from all genres, free styling live remixes, and creating new sound combos that even I didn’t anticipate when launching this class.
Millennials are wired for technology. They pick up the nuances of Traktor DJ in minutes and are off to the races.
Seeing teens just lose their minds after successfully destroying a track with effects is an awesome feeling. I probably leave these classes feeling more inspired than the students. Introducing the art of DJing to teens, who likely would not otherwise get the chance to try it, feels like the most important thing I could be doing right now.
Getting involved in any musical pursuit is a difficult task. The learning curve is high and the gear tends to be expensive. That’s certainly true for DJing. You can’t just pop into a music store and take lessons like you can with guitar or piano. You really need someone to introduce you to the art.
Luckily for me, I’ve been surrounded by great people who helped me discover music.
My mom got me hooked up with piano lessons at an early age, and when I finally got around to DJing I had local hero DJ Strangefellow to show me the 1s and 2s. He’s the dude who initially got me involved in KAFM Community Radio and convinced me that I should take up DJing as performance art.
Strangefellow got me immediately hooked on Digital DJing first through his energetic performances and secondly through one-and-one training sessions.
In those early lessons, we discussed manipulating EQ settings, building loops, transitions and organizing a set. Basically, he provided the blueprint for all my live DJ sets and, in turn, the foundation of this Digital DJ class. The way I look at it, my duty is to pass that skill set on.
Where I grew up thinking that Rivers Cuomo and Beck were king, the next generation is looking up to people like Skrillex. As one girl told me at a class in Fruita, she listens to rap, techno, and dubstep. I’m not sure if you can reach that girl and inspire her to get involved with music through traditional means, but she certainly lit up mixing tunes in my class.
Playing music is love. I’ve seen it in every student’s face and that makes me smile. The notion that someone may be inspired by this class and continue to pursue music is divine.