You probably don’t ask “Why?” enough in your life. That’s my bet and I’m going all in on it. “Why?” is the bridge between problem and solution, question and answer. While it can certainly help you make better music, an investigating mindset is applicable to any part of your daily existence. To prove this theory – and also embarrass myself – allow me to share a recent discovery that has to do with my skateboarding hobby.
[Not sure how to begin asking questions? Download THIS free 22-question worksheet for musicians.]
I skated a ton back in my younger (and thinner) days, even getting good enough to be sponsored by a local shop in Providence, RI. As I got older life took over, as it has a habit of doing, and I didn’t touch a deck for a good fifteen years. For some reason I decided to give it a shot again (early-mid-life crisis?!) and found myself needing to learn the basics again. I started with standing ollies and could not land them for the life of me. It wasn’t very pretty:
“What am I doing wrong here?” It felt like all the parts were there, everything happening in the correct sequence. The nose of the board was getting good height and my jumps were jumpy enough for the board to get air. But the results just weren’t there. Up to this point I had focused on proper back foot placement and “push off” when snapping the tail down. I assumed this was my issue all along, but needed to validate that assumption.
Had there been a skating buddy present (nobody wants to roll with a thirtysomething n00b), I would’ve asked him for advice. It is 2016, however, and unlike the world when I was a young, good skater, it’s very easy to video record yourself and instantly have access to the film online.
With my GoPro set up against the curb, I took a bunch of video and headed home to analyze it. I edited screenshots of my ollie and compared it side-by-side with screenshots of a real skater with actual skills:
Looking at the first two pictures, I’m in pretty good shape with both feet. I’m “popping” the tail with my back foot and sliding my front foot towards the nose of the board, all while maintaining good height with my jump.
That’s when it all goes to crap. In the third picture, you can see that I begin to push my front foot down on the board to even it out so I can land the damn ollie. In the fourth pic it is clear that I’m not going to land it, as the board doesn’t actually even out when the first wheel hits the pavement. The real skater, though, nailed it.
You see, the real skater’s front foot is still sliding towards the nose of the board in pictures three and four. He actually pushes the board forward this way, which raises the tail, which allows the board to even out for a smooth landing. I never dragged my front foot forward long enough to set up a proper landing. Also, my back hurts.
Make Better Music, Do Better Ollies
Without the desire to find out exactly what needed to be improved, I would’ve never progressed as quickly or efficiently as I did (I can ollie over very small objects now!). But that is only part of the lesson here – I also needed the right tools (GoPro, YouTube, my Mac) and the willingness to listen to feedback, as I posted these same screenshots on a skating forum.
They say “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it” (I don’t know who “they” is…maybe my home ec teacher?). To make better music, you need to figure out what “better” means, which requires identifying your song’s strengths and weaknesses and determining what moves you are willing to make to take things to the next level. Trust me, if I can do it, so can you.