Snow days lend opportunities for music

Ican't begin to express how much I enjoyed the big snow storm and its aftermath early this month. I played the guitar a lot while daily life was shut down due to weather. Snow days are good music days because music takes time and snow days clear your busy schedule.

When the authorities cancel work (and school) for the day, your afternoon is suddenly open. You can sleep in, crank up the radio and trash the kitchen with a big breakfast production, and then go play in the snow for as long as you can stand it — and when you come in to thaw your toes it's still mid-morning. If you're in a relationship with a musical instrument, you've got time to play some tunes.

There's an element to studying music that plays out as both a great strength of the endeavor and as a near-constant irritation. It has to do with opportunity cost: You're always getting better "¦ and you could always be getting better. People who play an instrument will, so long as they keep playing, continue to improve for the rest of their lives. There may be long periods when they learn nothing new, but they're still improving their ability to play what they already know.

The other side of the coin is that an infinite ceiling will often taunt the aspiring musician. When I was in my mid-20s, playing in bands and working at menial jobs, we always used to joke about how good we'd be if we had to punch a clock and play garage-rock 40 hours a week to survive. I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that most adult musicians would, given the choice, opt for more practice time in their lives.

The trick is to win the half-empty, half-full battle of perspectives. Sitting around day-dreaming about how talented you might have become if only you'd been able to play more often instead of living your life is an exercise in frustration. The other side of the spectrum would be a sort of ecstatically optimistic view where a person believes that the sky is the limit and enjoys every bit of the developmental process.

Like anything else, a happy medium will serve the greater number of us best. For myself, I'm grateful for every minute I ever spent practicing. Sure I wish I'd learned more and practiced harder, but no amount of guitar (or any other instrument) playing is wasted. It all goes into the bank and it all works in your favor down the road when you try to learn something new.

So, snow days are good days to make a deposit in your instrument-playing savings account. Winter in general lends itself to this. You might come down with a cold and decide to stay home instead of going out at night. This frees you up to sit around playing your guitar while you watch bad TV. The holidays provide opportunities, as well. Even though it's not necessarily what you signed up for, you may find yourself forced to accompany some off-key Christmas caroling at a family event. Every little bit helps.

When I was in high school, it was never easy to get a whole garage-band's-worth of gear and personnel into a space where it was permissible to make a huge racket. Drummers were then (as always) in short supply and over-committed. Add to this the fact that most of them didn't have cars or were too young to drive and it's easy to see why getting a band together could be tough.

One memorable winter weekend when I was in the 10th or 11th grade, I managed to get a drummer and a bass player — both with their own gear — scheduled for a jam session in my mother's basement. It was probably a Friday night, though I don't fully remember. At any rate, the drummer, planning to return the next day, left his drum kit.

Only he couldn't make it back because that night we had a great big, blow out, shut-down-the-city snowstorm. I wound up hosting a days-long snow jam attended by every garage rocker within walking distance. We all had to take turns playing drums (poorly in most cases), but we had a blast. Whenever things would stale, we'd go out and throw snowballs for a while, then come back in and rock out some more.

So bring on the snow, I could use more days like that.

Jef Fretwell is a musician and freelance writer who lives in Ashland. Reach him at

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