During the summer, the TCC Connection office saw many new faces grace the podcast set. One amongst these was Jeff Smith, a Tulsa Community College (TCC) adjunct professor, TCC Signature Symphony violist, and president of SongSmith Records. Bethany Solomon, associate editor of the Northeast campus and host for the episode interviewed Smith regarding his time at TCC and his classes this fall semester.
An excerpt from the interview follows:
Bethany Solomon: Can you start off by telling us a little about yourself?
Jeff Smith: Sure. I was born and raised in Tulsa. I started playing violin at 10 years old because my brother and sister played the violin. The summer of my sixth grade year my teacher came to me and said “you know you’re kind of beefy, husky boy, you need to play the viola.
I said, “Viola? It rhymes with granola, I don’t want to play the viola, I said what am I getting myself into here?”
She said, ‘Oh, no you’re not going to quit the violin. You’re going to learn how to double.’
Double. It rhymes with trouble, she said, ‘Oh no, you’ll be fine.’
So, I got to take two instruments to school, the violin and the viola. Uh, learned how to play the both of them, not long after that the Beatles were popular, and I got a guitar. I started going on in.
B. Solomon: Did you study in undergrad, music specifically, or did you have a broad range of interests beyond music?
J. Smith: I was going to be an aeronautical engineer, all through high school, my dad was a fighter pilot in World War II, he had 96 missions over France. My grandfather had his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and actually wrote the maintenance manual for the B25 Mitchel Bomber. So, I was going to be an aeronautical engineer, until calculus first hour happened.
At that point, I figured you know, I’d rather play the wrong note, I couldn’t see myself designing something that will have someone else get killed because I misplaced a decimal point.
B. Solomon: So, what do you think, as far your students, and what you teach here, what has been the most challenging for your students? In terms of getting comfortable with technology or for musicians in general.
J. Smith: Wow. That is kind of a tough question. Each student is different, each student has their own strengths and weaknesses. On day one, I had to fill out a little, I call it a student data sheet. Tell me a little about yourself so I know who I am dealing with. A lot of times I will get students in the class who have already had pro tools experience. They might run sound at their church. And I’ve got kids, ‘well I have sung in choir, but I want to learn how to record myself.’ And they don’t know anything about the technology. So, the challenge, for me as an instructor, is to teach on two or three different levels.
So, I try to teach to the very, very raw beginner, to the kid who has had some experience, to those kids who could probably teach me a thing or two.
I guess that’s the fun part about the teaching. In the class, I have to make sure that each kid knows we will only be playing with three things in audio.
Frequency, amplitude, and time.
If you understand that basic concept, then you will go through ‘okay well what does this button do, how does it change the sound?
B. Solomon: So, a lot of it is experimenting, as you’re in the course.
And that is what you give your students leeway to do. Figure out why they made a mistake and backtrack.
J. Smith: If you tell them what they did wrong, they’ll never figure it out themselves.
B. Solomon: Right. It is about application, not just knowing the what, or how, it is about knowing the why, the why you are doing what you’re doing. That is what differentiates it from a lot of other subjects.
J. Smith: That’s the thing, if you know anything about Bloom’s Taxonomy of Education.
Harking back to many, many years ago. If you have just a knowledge level question:
‘Who invented the telephone?’
You know? That’s knowledge level. If you have a question like, we’re gonna form a band, you’re gonna come up with a song, you’re gonna cover a song or something and you are going to form a single here in the class. We’re gonna pick members for the band, and you’re gonna go from there. That takes a lot more brains to be able to do that.
B. Solomon: It takes creativity!
J. Smith: Absolutely. You gotta coordinate your schedule together, you gotta pick a song, come up with an original cover song, do the rehearsals, figure out how you’re gonna mic the drums. I’ll show you how to mic them, but you do it! And why you might do it this way.
B. Solomon: Do you have anything like a semester split? What do you teach during what semester?
J. Smith: Oh okay. In the first semester, the fall semester, we only offer Studio Techniques I, and hopefully, there will be two sections. Then from that, we’ll offer in the spring, Studio Techniques I and II.
B. Solomon: Oh cool! So can you give advice for students as well, for anyone who does not have experience. What should they expect going to class and what should they expect coming out of the class?
J. Smith: Bring a pencil and a notepad! You’d be amazed on Day One that sometimes there is not a whole lot of difference between first graders and college kids. You write something on the board, and some kid in the back will say, is this going to be on the test?
The idea is if it is on the board, I feel it is important enough that you need to know it.
All of that stuff, the more you know, the more you’re worth. You apply everything in music.
For the full interview between Jeff Smith and Bethany Solomon, visit the TCC Connection website or look up TCC Connection on iTunes.
*Editor’s Note: Comments were edited for clarification and publication purposes.