By Dom Cioffi
At least once every couple of weeks, my son and I head to the music store for an activity we refer to as, “tasting the cakes.” That’s when you walk into a musical instrument store and try out everything in sight.
I’ve been “tasting cakes” since I was a teenager — roughly the same age that my son is now. However, there is a major difference between how my son approaches tastings and how I used to.
I was a subdued and intimidated young man when I first began venturing into music stores, usually alone because no one else I knew played an instrument.
I was always excited when I first walked in and caught sight of the array of eclectic guitars lining the walls, but then, almost immediately, I would begin feeling like I didn’t belong — like I was an impostor roaming around a strange world that wasn’t built for me.
And that was partially true.
When I first became enamored with playing musical instruments (not long after I began to realize how much I loved listening to music), they were nothing but magical objects that other people coaxed beautiful sounds out of. On the rare occasion when I did try one, I was never able to replicate the sweet sounds I imagined I should be playing.
For years, I wandered through music stores in a state of constant anxiety, petrified that a store employee would over-encourage me to “give something a try.” Thus, my go-to statement whenever I was approached was, “No thanks, I’m just browsing.”
And when I finally did find the gumption to pull an electric guitar off the wall, I was paranoid that one of the salesclerks would try to plug it in (God forbid you plug in an “electric” guitar). I preferred to crouch in the corner and noodle unplugged so no one else could hear how unqualified I was to be handling such an instrument.
The bottom line is that I spent 20 years aching to go into music stores, only to walk around in fear that I wasn’t good enough to be there.
That is not my son.
From the minute my son began taking lessons, I’ve brought him to music stores to taste different cakes. And it generally takes him only minutes to grab an instrument, plug it in, and start playing.
He has zero inhibition about playing in front of other people and couldn’t care less if the guy next to him is on the level of Eddie Van Halen – and he’s been that way since the very first day he walked into a store. Unfortunately, he also has the tendency to turn his amp up too loud. It’s one thing to play loud in a music store if you’re deserving of the decibels, but quite another when you’re barely qualified.
My son has now learned how to play bass, guitar, and drums, and he exploits all three when we go to music stores. He’ll try out every cool looking instrument he can find, eager to discover the differences in the way each one sounds and plays.
And I love that about him. I envy his pure inhibition because it’s allowed him to progress musically so much faster than I ever dreamed. My fear held me back for years.
But not anymore.
Parents like to think they are always the teachers, but many times that table can turn (if you let it). My son has taught me not to care what level I’m at when it comes to my musicianship. I now walk into the music store with him and grab my own instruments to experiment with.
This past weekend I was noodling around in the acoustic guitar room, playing one of my most accomplished songs (a fingerstyle arrangement of a Bob Dylan tune). Eventually, a guy wandered in and started browsing. After a few minutes he walked past me and nodded, stating, “That sounds amazing.”
That minor kudo made my day — and made me realize that I owed my son a debt of gratitude.
This week’s film, “Zappa,” a documentary about the quirky inventiveness of musician Frank Zappa, highlights how one man staying true to himself can change the way music can be perceived. (And I’m confident Zappa never cared who listened to him play when he was in a music store.)
Frank Zappa and his music are an acquired taste. I’ve always appreciated the level of his musicianship, but I was never blown away by his music. My opinion has changed somewhat after viewing this film, given what I learned about his processes.
If you love music and are curious enough to explore something very different, I suggest giving this film a try. Frank Zappa is gone but he’s left a very intriguing legacy for the world to explore.
A tasty “B” for “Zappa.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.