Painful learning experiences


Senior Member
It's storytime! Let's gather around a virtual campfire and tell some horror stories ... but with a purpose. I want to hear about your awful experiences that ended up providing you with some sort of long-term benefit. I'll go first.

In high school, I participated in moderately competitive marching band. My freshman year, I was supposed to be the section leader for the pit; I had memorized my marimba part over the summer, and came in feeling very comfortable with my role. However, despite my familiarity with the music, I felt a bit nervous about entering a new environment, and playing with older/more experienced musicians.

It turned out that my anxiety was justified, though for reasons I didn't anticipate. Within the first few minutes of showing up for the week-long marching "camp" that preceded the start of actual classes, the much-revered director informed me that one of the returning drummers had just moved away, and that I was to take his place on the snare line.

The prestige was exciting, but it didn't take long for me to realize that it was going to be a looooooong few months. For starters, the snare line played with traditional grip, something I had never done before. I had to learn proper traditional grip on the fly, and in a matter of days. So I had the "fun" task of re-teaching my left hand everything it thought it knew, while simultaneously learning all the things that go into actually marching. It should suffice to say that I needed more attention than anyone else in the ensemble, and not because I was capable of becoming immediately proficient at several things at once.

My situation wasn't made easier by the fact that I was the only freshman on the entire drumline. I had good chops relative to others in the same grade as I, but I certainly didn't have the same level of skill as many of the others on the line. This was particularly true for open double-stroke rolls, which were heavily utilized in our music. As a result, I spent countless hours tapping out double strokes on whatever happened to be in my general vicinity -- desks, tables, chairs, laps (mine), etc.

The process was made worse because of how rehearsals were set up once classes started. There were two evening rehearsals per week, which which were fine. There were also some evening sectionals, tended to be very helpful, if a bit intense. But the marching band was composed of the members of the top two symphonic ensembles, which meant that normal class time -- 50 minutes per day -- was used for marching rehearsals. Furthermore, percussionists for the top symphonic band had a separate class. As in, the teacher spent about 50 minutes working alone with a dozen or so percussionists every day. Pretty cool, right?

Unfortunately, there was one small detail that made this all work against me: freshmen weren't allowed into the top symphonic band by rule. So literally ever other member of the drumline had 50 minutes of rehearsal together every day, while I was doing my rehearsing with everyone in the second symphonic group. Since the director couldn't really spend much time on me when there were another 50-60 players to focus on, most of the mistakes I would be making all week long during the day wouldn't get corrected until I was with the rest of the drumline for evening rehearsals and sectionals. I worked hard, but it didn't prevent me from getting singled out. A lot.

As a generally shy person, being in a position where I was going to be critiqued (and occasionally yelled at) over and over again was dreadful. It was made worse by the fact that I was an awkward high school freshman, and had plenty of other adjustments to be worried about, too. It didn't take long for my confidence to get shot, and that ended up carrying over to other aspects of my playing, too; I went from being one of the most promising young jazz players to being a complete wreck in jazz ensembles. The entire year felt like it was one musical failure after another.

Okay, so it was a bad year. But it ended up doing some great things for me:

-After working on double strokes during virtually every waking moment for a year, I became quite proficient with them.

-I became competent at playing with traditional grip, a skill I still use occasionally -- particularly with brushes.

-The summer after that crazy freshman year, I worked furiously to get my jazz playing on the kit back to where I knew it could and should be. As a result of my awful freshman year, I wasn't chosen for the top jazz band as a sophomore (a junior and another sophomore made it ahead of me), but from the start of the year, I kicked @#& and demonstrated that there was no way I could be kept out of any jazz group I wanted to be in the next year. I have never improved as much at anything as I did with my drumming between my freshman and sophomore years of high school, and I honestly don't think I'll ever make a "leap" of quite the same magnitude again.

-I was center snare as a junior and senior, and my experience as a freshman definitely allowed me to be more effective at helping students who were new to the line.

So.... tell me your horror stories with a silver lining!