About rockmommyct

I am a mother, writer, rock and roll musician, and guitar teacher.

From Doom Metal to “Let it Go”: Why I Love Teaching Kids with Different Musical Tastes

Last week, I went from teaching a 13-year-old guy with a short attention span how to play two songs from a band called Candlemass to teaching a nine-year-old boy “Let it Go.” Yeah, you’ve heard it (the latter one, that is). It’s that song from the movie “Frozen” and is probably stuck in your head. 

But the experience, while mildly stressful, reminded me of why I love teaching rock guitar. Sometimes, I actually gain more than my student, enhancing not only my repertoire, but my vocabulary of rock techniques. 

Let’s start with Candlemass. Chances are, you haven’t heard of them unless you’re sincerely into super-hard stuff. I hadn’t. But upon further Wikipedia research, I learned they’re one of the main bands in a delightful category of music called “doom metal,” which is pretty much guitars on distortion, tri-tones, and Black Sabbath-inspired riffs. To play this stuff, alternate tuning is usually required. (Side note: I actually like Black Sabbath.)

I spent probably an hour and a half stretching my fingers into new chords, memorizing riffs, and just jamming out to a couple of their songs. Since I hardly have time to practice, playing Candlemass kept my calluses fresh. 

Post lesson, it was nice to transition to “Let it Go.” This song, while more palatable to the general population, isn’t just four chords and super easy to play. But it’s easier to modify so a kid won’t go bonkers trying to get it down. And … there’s that catchy chorus: “Let it go, Let it go, etc.” 

See, were I left to my own devices, I’d be in busy-working-mom-of-two mode all day. Just teaching, but not learning. Writing, too, because that’s one of the ways I make a living. But when kids choose songs I wouldn’t play on my own, it makes me a better musician. And for that, I’m grateful.

Taking Another Look at ‘Good Housekeeping’

I used to think of Good Housekeeping magazine as the kind of publication you read when you’d given up on being a sexy woman and resigned yourself to a life of picture-perfect recipes and mom jeans.

I remember going to the grocery store as an angst-ridden preteen with my mom and, as we unloaded our items onto the checkout belt and waited for the cashier to give us the final tab, I’d watch her pick up a copy of GH from the newsstand and casually thumb through the pages. I rolled my eyes. Good Housekeeping seemed so, well, Good Housekeeping. Headlines screamed, “10 Easy Recipes for Summer” and “How to Balance Work and Life!” How boring. The preteen couldn’t be bothered with anything so practical.

A budding quasi-feminist-yet-curious-Lolita type, I got my kicks from equal parts Ms. magazine and Cosmopolitan. I was deeply curious about fashion and sex, yet entrenched in feminist politics. In college, things didn’t change much, except that I grew deeper into my feminist side (and started reading Bitch). After college, my interest in pizza and keg parties waned, while health started to find a way back into my life — so Self and Women’s Health became my books of choice (soon to be followed by Runner’s World). Those, plus Newsweek and TIME, which I grew up with, completed my magazine subscription collection.

That media mix was a happy one … for a while. Then, I had my first son. And suddenly I couldn’t wait to read articles like “Ways to Prevent SIDS” and “10 Post-Natal Exercises,” while checking out the cute $10 beauty fixes in the front of the book (because Parents editors are smart enough to know I don’t have more than $10 to spend on a beauty item unless it’s my highlights). What’s a little troubling, however, is my lack of interest in magazines like Cosmo, Glamour, even Women’s Health (my once-favorite).

It’s not that I have no libido (I do!), or an interest in fashion (that, too!). It’s just that my priorities have shifted tremendously. What I need more of is time, and advice on how to maximize it. What I need less of is a magazine telling me why I need $65 beauty serums before I turn 40 (ahem, Women’s Health). I also have less disposable income: Clothes are bought, but they must really, really be necessary. A $200 pair of sandals or jeans? Not really necessary, even though a good argument could be made for the jeans as a push present for baby #2. A good $8 brow pencil and a good, but not too pricy, pair of running shoes so I can stay in shape with the 20 minutes I have today to exercise? Totally necessary!!

On Monday, when I was looking for “great gifts under $10” I cam across an article with exactly that headline — and the link took me to Good Housekeeping’s website. I was delighted at the piece and the clever ideas! How was it that I didn’t notice how great this magazine is, all those years before?

Then, there’s the food thing. As in, I have zero time to make it. But I cannot handle the stress of Martha Stewart-level recipes. Again, Good Housekeeping hears me, loud and clear.

While I’m not sure if I’ll give up my subscription to Women’s Health this year, it’s interesting that I haven’t found the time to pay my annual $18 tab. I forget to read it when it comes every month, only glancing at it for a second or two, so I forget that I am a subscriber.

But I’m still holding on to the “sexy woman” image in my head, rather than the “overworked mom” one. So maybe I need hang onto Women’s Health to remind myself that I am sexy before I am momish. Then again, I have no idea what to cook for dinner and it’s already 2 p.m. What I wouldn’t give for the latest GH issue!

 

Going Freelance Again … with Two Kids in Tow!

When I first moved to New York in 2005, I became a freelance writer and (later) a guitar teacher by default. There weren’t any magazine jobs, but I had a lot of b-to-b writing skills — so friends of mine who knew I needed money just started sending my name to editors. I got assignments. And more assignments. And soon, I had so many assignments that I didn’t have time to look for a job. Sometimes I didn’t even have time to take a shower.

I did manage to find time to volunteer for the Willie Mae Rock Camp for Girls as a vocal/guitar teacher. So when an opportunity to teach guitar to kids came up on the Rock Camp listserv, I applied on a whim. The job — teaching students with the Brooklyn Guitar School — was mine a week later. A part-time freelancer’s position.

So the e-mail tagline changed with my identity: I became Marisa, a freelance writer and guitar teacher.

Then, the economy tanked in 2009, taking most of my high-paying media outlets with it. After months of trying to get new contract work, I humbly applied for a full-time job, tail between my legs. When I was hired, I felt like such a huge sellout, going corporate after years of being free. But numbers, like hips, don’t lie: I could barely afford more than rent, subway fare, and groceries. At the time, my then-fiance was a student teacher. We decided to move to Stamford, Conn., from Brooklyn, and I would need a car. And more money for things like gas and car insurance. There was no way around it: I had to get a job.

It’s been five years since I moved to Connecticut and returned to the corporate-job world. And now, I am leaving it again, only this time around, the circumstances are VERY different. Unlike before, I am not just working for myself. So I can’t just get up at 7 a.m. and plow through an assignment until noon. Rather, I can get up at 6 a.m., and plow through some work until 7, but then I’ll need to take a break to eat waffles with my toddler, and nurse my infant. I’ll need to make sure that bottles are washed and both little men are dressed and changed. In other words, there is only so much I will be able to work. Instead of working up to 80 hours a week, I’ll have to make sure my workload ends up being no more than 40 hours a week. I’ll have to have hard limits.

Of course, there’s the usual sadness about not having paid sick days (when you’re a freelancer, you don’t get paid when you’re sick!). And I’ll miss having colleagues — one of the nicest things about working in the corporate world. I’ll also miss the income that comes with working 50-60 hours per week. The idea of giving up money to put toward little luxuries like weekend getaways or new clothes is crazy scary.

But in return I’m getting something better: More time with my sons, big dude and baby dude. At the end of the day, I didn’t want to give up having waffles with my older boy, or nursing my little one because I’m on a business trip. I want to be there at the beginning of the day, instead of in a car on the way to a job. I want to be there for them at the end of the day. I want to cook dinner for them — and learn to use a food processor.

As much as I love work, family comes first. So here’s to “living the dream” as my friend Miriam called it. I truly am a lucky girl.

 

 

Practicing Guitar During Maternity Leave: 6 Tips

Maternity leave is a time to heal and bond with your baby. But for first-time moms it can be just as hectic as it is blissful, with baby crying at unpredictable times (like 3 a.m.) or waking up in the middle of the night several times. Still, that’s no reason you have to let your guitar playing go!

Like working out or investing time in anything you love, keeping “in shape” with your music skills is essential for guitar-playing moms.

Here are some tips on how to make time for music — or how to not let life as a mom of young ones to get in the way of playing guitar.

1. Set easy goals. When you have a child, time — the amount you have, how you use it, and how you value it — changes. Before my first son, Nathan, was born, I used to play guitar in the mornings, from 9 to 10 a.m., when I was most relaxed. In addition to teaching guitar, I played several hours every week — often times with a band in tow. Now, with two under two, I barely have time in the morning for myself other than make coffee! So I set a simple goal: play 1.5 hours a week for myself (not including time spent working on lesson plans). Sometimes a wailing (and hungry!) infant interrupts a song, but for the most part, having the goal has kept me motivated to stay in shape.

2. Keep Your guitar out of its case: When you become a mom, life is hectic even if you have help. And sometimes, even the thought of taking your guitar out of its case can be overwhelming. Do yourself a favor and keep it out in full display. If you have a toddler, like I do, install guitar hooks on your wall (we just bought several and intend to put them up any day now with my husband’s new drill).

3. Practice in chunks of time. I totally get it — you’re not going to play for two hours straight, only getting up for bathroom breaks. I’m not, either, save for the two times I had a gig last year and I lined up a babysitter so I could rehearse for two hours straight. Unless you’re a professional musician, you don’t have that kind of time anymore. What I recommend instead is practicing for 15- to 30-minute increments throughout the day. You can either time yourself or just play a few songs until baby wakes up for his or her nap.

4. Play five minutes every day. Some people wake up and meditate. Others stretch into gorgeous yoga poses. Most days, I wake up and reach for my acoustic — or at least I try to. The advice “play at least five minutes a day”— which I heard from another guitarist when I first started playing — has served me since college. And for moms, it’s especially important: Playing for just five minutes is better than not playing at all.

5. Play even when you don’t feel like playing. Do you always feel like working out at the gym? I certainly don’t! But I love the benefit of having a great figure, and feeling mentally and physically fantastic. The same goes for playing guitar: You need to practice regularly to stay in shape, or else your fingers will get sore and you will slowly forget how much you loved playing.

6. Play to your baby (even when he/she cries). This is, perhaps, the most important tip of all! Music is magic. I played guitar several times a week when both kids were in utero, and as a result, they love listening to me play. Nathan actually dances now when I play “Old McDonald Had a Farm” (although I just play E major over and over again!). Music is linked with all kinds of health benefits, such as improving mood and brain function. And when music comes from mommy, it’s even better!