Who is this mysterious figure whom men call The Musician Maker? What is his motivation? Why does he hole up in his downtown Tucson lair 3 days every week, meeting furtively with unnamed persons who know the secret knock? What is it that draws these individuals back, week after week, to be subjugated to the tyranny of V - I? Why do they submit without complaint to continued exhortations to practice more?
My friends, all these questions, and more, have been asked since the dawn of time. Now, finally, I feel the day has arrived for me to come forward with the answers. I, J.P. Thom-Gronachan, come of humble beginnings, having, at a very young age, been born in Buffalo, NY, because I wanted to be near my parents. As a matter of fact, I was born in a little log cabin I helped my father build.
At the tender age of 8, having reached the 4th grade, I fell victim to the foul scourge of music. Under the false impression that I would be allowed to enter the mysteries of the snare drum, my parents apprenticed me to an evil cornet teacher. For six years I suffered unimaginable indignities in the practice of cornetting. Not until I completed the 10th grade did I summon the courage to run away from the school band.
I revelled in my new-found freedom as I joined the high school choir and received no small amount of vocal training. It was during an expedition to the All-County Choir weekend that I discovered the guitar. Several young gentlemen from a neighboring high school had formed a folk trio featuring two guitars and stand-up bass and performed the traditional folk song hits of the day to the delight of all and sundry. At any given break from the scheduled events, they could be found playing such favorites as Blowing in the Wind, Where Have All the Flowers Gone, and If I Had a Hammer in an impromptu hootenanny sing-along.
It didn't take me long to realize that this was a Good Thing. All eyes would be on the person with the strings. As soon as I returned home from the weekend, I scrabbled through my closet till I found a guitar that I had previously obtained through the good graces of the Acme Christmas Card Co. (13 boxes of cards was the magic number and as one may imagine, the quality of the guitar was only slightly better than a cigar box with a broomstick neck and rubber band strings). With a book of chords (the Gene Leis Nexus Method), I embarked on the journey to become a famous folk-singer, perhaps Peter, Paul, and Mary or the New Christy Minstrels.
As a smart young feller of 15, I encountered some difficulty believing how long it was taking me to learn things. Of necessity and without recourse to lessons, I taught myself. Every penny I could spare went to a new book, looking for the secret to rapid progress. They all promised that 10 EZ lessons would do it, but none delivered. I kept working. It took me six months to be able to string 3 chords together to play a song without having to stop the music every time there was a chord change.
I graduated from high school and went to college in 1967. Once in college, I found that I couldn't turn around without tripping over another guitar player and every one I met knew more than I did. I learned something from each one. During that time, I noticed that, while they did exist, there were relatively few fiddlers, banjo, and mandolin pickers. In 1968, I enlisted in the United States Air Force and I used my paycheck to acquire a fiddle, a banjo, a mandolin, a dulcimer, and an autoharp.
I became an all-around Folkie, progressing from the adapted and arranged material of Peter, Paul, and Mary to the purity of the John Jacob Niles folk ballad to the Old-Time sound of the New Lost City Ramblers to the good time blues of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. In learning the music, I would periodically hit a plateau on one instrument and switch off to another for six months or so.
Whenever I met up with one of the big names in the music, I would ask for advice, "What's the secret? How do you get good at this?" The answer that came back was always the same, no matter the performer. They would say, "You have to listen to the music a lot and then practice a lot."
"But I'm already doing that. What's the SECRET?"
Well, my friends, that's the point of this whole thing. I'm here to tell you now that that IS the secret. You have to listen to the music a lot and then practice a lot. There is no shortcut and it will take a lot of work. There is no way around practice, practice, practice. You will not become a musician overnight, you will not become a gifted amateur overnight, you will not even become a dabbler overnight.
After I left the Air Force in 1972, I returned to college, this time to major in music. I lasted about 2 years before tiring of academia, but in 1976, I met someone who felt that I knew more than he did and he asked if I'd teach him. I agreed and that was the beginning of my teaching career. It was also the continuation of my own education, because I learned almost as much from doing the teaching as I did in passing on the knowledge. When I arrived in Phoenix, AZ, in 1977, I became a full time teacher of music in the private lesson format, then enrolled at Arizona State University in 1980 to finally finish off my degree in music, which degree was conferred upon me in 1983.
Since then, I have held a variety of "day jobs," always coming back to music teaching. At present, I'm concentrating on teaching, as The Musician Maker, and playing in my band, Black Leather Zydeco. I also keep a teeny-tiny herd of milk goats and make cheese.
I stand before you as living proof that if you wish to learn the guitar, the banjo, the accordion, the piano, or any other instrument, you can teach yourself. I also can attest to the fact that if you do it that way, it will take you many years to reach the point of satisfaction with your skill level. I learned from teaching myself and then teaching others that the unguided individual tends to ignore anything that doesn't seem to have a direct bearing on the goal. At the same time, it's extremely easy to find yourself up a dead-end street when something looks like it's going where you want to go. I can guarantee that you will cut between 5 and 10 years off the process if you take lessons for 1 or 2 years. That will be the case, almost no matter who your teacher is, but I can guarantee it if you choose me to be your teacher.