Satch, Honorary Doctor of Music

Musicians Institute was proud to present legendary guitarist Joe Satriani with an Honorary Doctor of Music Degree at our Fall commencement ceremonies at the Wiltern Theater. In acceptance of the degree, Joe said, “Wow, this is really something. I gotta say, I’ve never actually held one of these before because I was too much of an ornery rock n’ roll kid to attend my high school graduation and I never lasted more than a semester and a half at college. So this is like I’m finally legitimate. Thank you.” Truly a game-changer in the world of guitar, we were happy to be able to honor the career of such an icon whose achievements have legitimized him as a master in the eyes of so many.

After accepting the degree, Joe continued with an inspiring message that drew from his own personal journey as a musician which began when he was nine years old. “I started out as a drummer,” Joe said. “As a nine year old kid I loved music, I knew I wanted to be a musician, I had the fire to go out and there and try to figure out what was the secret to music.”

Joe related to the audience of graduating musicians the first of three incredibly important lessons, which he learned from his father, and has carried with him throughout his varied career.

“One of the best lessons I learned from that period didn’t come from my drum teacher, it came from my dad. He came home from work very late one night, around eleven o’clock and found out from one of my older siblings that I hadn’t practiced the drums that day. So he woke me up, marched me down to the basement in my pajamas and made me practice the entire lesson. He went over it with me very carefully and listened to everything I had played and when I could barely stay awake any longer, he said – ‘Joe, if you want to be a professional musician, you have to practice every day.’

Now I know that sounds really simple, but that is the strongest and most elegant piece of advice I ever got from anybody that has sustained me through all those moments in a career where you’re wondering ‘What should I do now? What should I do next?’ Now my father wasn’t a musician, he wasn’t talking about practicing your rudiments every day, or your scales, what he meant was to ‘practice being a musician every day.’ That has stuck with me.”

Joe’s second lesson for the graduates came from a reality check he received from his Advanced Music Theory teacher in high school. “He gave us a lesson one day, a very interesting lesson. He said, ‘I want you guys to spend a half hour every day with some manuscript paper and write music away from your instrument.’ Of course, being the rock n’ roll kid I was, I said, ‘Now why would I want to do that? I just want to play my guitar.’

At that, he took me aside and with all respect he said, ‘You know Joe, when you turn 20, 22, 25 it may turn out that you’re not such a good guitar player after all.’ This was great advice. He went on to crystallize it by saying, ‘The musician in your head and in your heart really is limitless, it knows no bounds. You can continually improve that musician throughout your life no matter what happens to your body.’ That became my second mantra, which I condensed into always improving the musician in your head and in your heart and in your body.”

After high school, Joe took lessons while he was living in New York from Lennie Tristano, the father of cool jazz. “He was the first musician to compose, to perform, to record free-form jazz. He was probably the greatest musician I’ve ever met in my life. He gave me a lesson that is perhaps one of the most profound I’ve ever learned. It came from a day where he had asked me to do some improvising. He came back and asked me what I thought of what I had played. So I gave him a little critique of what I thought and he got a little fired up about it.

“He said, ‘The problem with you kids from the suburbs is that you’ve got the subjunctive disease. You’re always worried about what you would’ve played or what you could’ve played or what you should’ve played, and you never play what you want to play.’

“Only play the notes that you want to play, the notes that come from inside. Lennie wanted everything to be fresh, alive, and straight from the heart, he wanted the real Joe to come out. That became one of those lessons that you never stop working on, I don’t know if you ever accomplish it, but it’s one I put with the other two: practice every day and never stop learning, develop the musician in your head your heart and in your fingers, and only play what you want to play.”

Joe described how those three lessons have carried him throughout his career. A career of successes, of failures and of the unexpected. “Things happen in your life and they’re just going to be so random. They just sort of arrive at your doorstep and it’s how you deal with them that really makes the difference.” Joe shared several stories about unexpected occurrences in his life where he had to stop and wonder about what step he should take next. When Joe received a call asking him to audition for Mick Jagger’s solo band, he said he had doubts like anyone else would, but that didn’t stop him from achieving what he knew in his heart he had the ability to do.

“Now, this was one of those moments, it may happen to you, where you get a challenge that’s also an opportunity and you ask yourself ‘Can I do this?’ And of course you know that there may be doubts you might have, but back when I was a kid I figured the only thing you can do is to always answer in the affirmative, so I started to train myself to always answer to myself with a ‘Yeah, I can do this.’”

Throughout the many unexpected challenges and opportunities Joe has encountered in his career, he said that he managed to always remember to counter any doubts with an affirmation of his ability and his aspirations. He encouraged the graduating class to do the same.

“All these challenges you know, they will make you better, they will make you stronger and I wouldn’t worry about failure because sometimes failure is a good option. I think you can learn a lot more from a fantastic and wonderful failure that you would ever have learned from a string of a few minor successes.”

He reminded the graduating musicians to always play from the head and the heart. “It’s so that people can hear who you are. If you don’t play what you want to play, no one will actually hear you. They’ll just hear somebody like you playing what everyone else plays, so think about those lessons and remember when that little voice in your head asks you, ‘Can I do this?’ You have to train yourself to say ‘Yeah, I can do this.’ I bet you can, as a matter of fact, I’m looking out at you guys right now, here at this theater where I’ve played so many times, and it’s extra exciting just to be here and to be able to talk about how strange my career has been, how lucky I’ve been, but most importantly about all the preparation.

But I’m wondering what unique challenges and opportunities are going to come your way and what are you going to say when you ask yourself ‘Can I do this?’ — I’m hoping that you’re going to say ‘Yeah … I can do this.’ I know you can.”

Source : Musicians Institute

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