Stringing together a band

Young musicians take a chance to rock and jam

Young musicians take a chance to rock and jam

May 04, 2004|by KATE COLEMAN

Dan Beach began with rapid-fire repetitions of eight notes on his four-string electric bass.

Adam Taylor added melody on his sleek black-and-white instrument, and on cue, Ben Atha joined in on his burgundy electric guitar.

The fledgling band played a few bars of Social Distortion's "Don't Drag Me Down."

Adam takes lessons from Hagerstown resident Lew Palladino, who has been teaching guitar and bass for about 30 years. He has students of all ages.

How many of his middle-school-age students want to be in bands?

"Most of them," Palladino laughed.

The mystique of being in a band draws a lot of people to music whether they want to play professionally or just jam. At this point, Adam, Ben and Dan are just jamming.


"Can you drop your E to a D?" Adam asked his fellow musicians.

Dan turned a tuning peg, consulted a small electronic tuning device and played a lower note.

Adam riffed a little "Yankee Doodle Dandy."

They started, stopped and started again.

With serious faces, they concentrated and played.

The recent Friday afternoon session was laid-back. They sat shoeless on couches in the living room of the Halfway home Ben shares with his family.

Ben's 6-year-old brother, Thomas, also shoeless and eating a chocolate cookie, joined them on air guitar. The boy rocked.

Since before Christmas, the three Springfield Middle School eighth-graders have been gathering about once a week to "jam."

Dan, 15, plays trombone and percussion in the school's jazz band and is teaching himself bass. Ben, 13, takes lessons and has been playing guitar for about three years, and Adam, 13, has been playing guitar for a few years and also plays drums - but not in the band.

Palladino likes his students to have a "passing" ability to read music - so they know what's going on if someone puts a piece of sheet music in front of them.

He teaches chord structure and a couple of finger picking styles. He shows them which chord structures work together - in case they want to write some of their own music.

Usually, kids will tell him which songs they want to learn. Nirvana's music still is popular, but Palladino, 50, admits to not knowing some of the harder and heavier stuff students are asking for. Sometimes, if he doesn't think the music they request is helping them to progress, Palladino will choose a song.

"I try to get them to listen to other music," he said.

Adam said Palladino recently gave him a kind of country piece to work on. He didn't mind.

"It doesn't matter what genre he teaches you," he said. "It works your fingers and is good exercise."

Palladino understands his young students' desire to play in a band. He's always loved music. He was about 8 or 9 when he started to learn guitar and about 13 or 14 when he had his first band - the Fantastic Flames. The first gig was at the Vogue Room in downtown Hagerstown.

"It was the hottest club in town," he laughed.

Playing in a band is a good thing; it can teach kids to get along, and it gives kids something to strive for, Palladino said.

"A band is a creative melting pot. You start with some ideas - bring them to the band and work them out together," he added.

Being in a band, playing music, is a living and fun for Palladino, who has been a member of The Rhythm Kings for 12 years.

"It's just a passion for me," he said. His band will be on the bill for the Friday, June 4, Western Maryland Blues Fest "Lotta Blues Show."

Ben, Adam and Dan call their band Cousin Phil. They got the idea for the name while at a fast-food restaurant.

Despite being able to play Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit," members of Cousin Phil aren't ready to play for an audience. But they hope to eventually.

Meanwhile, they practice, working their way through songs bit by bit, bar by bar.

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