Dale Turner is a multi-instrumentalist and Musicians Institute staffer.
So, where are you from and what got you interested in a career in music?
I was born and raised in Seattle. My earliest memories of getting fired up over music was seeing my Uncle play in a bar band when I was in first grade. He was playing songs by the Beach Boys, and other bands that I already knew of. Seeing someone in my family sing and play songs I loved kind of freaked me out. Around that same time, I saw a family friend play a great boogie-woogie version of “Flight of the Bumblebee” on the piano. So I started piano lessons shortly after that. By fifth grade, I also picked up the trumpet, and actually decided right then and there that I wanted to be a trumpet player. But when I got braces, that idea was trashed! I kept playing both those instruments, and added guitar to the arsenal when I was 15. Since I was heavily into rock music by then, and trumpet and piano didn’t really “rock” to my 15-year-old ears, I went all out on the guitar.
After high school, at 18 years-old, I moved to Los Angeles with my mind set on becoming a studio musician. I was very motivated to study and play all sorts of styles – jazz, blues, country, rock, classical, funk, R&B, and so on. But over time, my goals evolved, and it made more sense for me to go the artist route, as opposed to being a “utility” player.
In short, I ended up working as a music transcriber for years, figuring out all the music by various artists, writing it down, and having it published in books and magazines. I also penned numerous guitar instructional books, and spent 11 years as the West Coast Editor, and am now teaching at Hollywood’s Musicians Institute.
What was your first paid gig in the music industry and how did that come about?
I think the first actual time I got paid for performing was when I won a talent show at a rival high school. But my first actual “hired and paid” gig, that I can recall at least, was playing in a convent at a nun’s birthday party! [laughs] I’m serious too! It was a jazz trio, with drummer Eric “Bobo” Correa, whom you may know of from his work in Cypress Hill. At the time, Eric and I attended USC together. I still can’t remember how the nun’s birthday party came about! [laughs]
How did you get into teaching music?
It started with me just showing a few younger guitar players some chords. I enjoyed the many lessons I had as a student, so experienced a few bad instructors, and didn’t want anyone to feel frustrated like I did. So my first real paying student came while I was still in high school. He was a long-time family friend who had actually been in a bad car accident, was in a coma for six months, came out of it, and had virtually no short-term memory. I gave him lessons for several months, and really learned the value of providing written instructions, as well as using recording equipment to document lessons, since he had limited memory.
My first major professional teaching job came shortly after I graduated college. I got a job teaching Pop/Rock Guitar and being a private instructor at the University of Southern California (USC). I taught there in the evenings, right after finishing my day job – I was working full-time doing publications and marketing at a company that booked classical music and jazz acts in historic venues all over Los Angeles. After a little over two years, I was able to get enough teaching hours and other musical work to where I could quit the day job. Really, all of my life since then has revolved around teaching, learning, and sharing, in some fashion – whether it be writing out music for books, the articles I write in guitar magazines, books I pen on specific subjects, or students I help at Musicians Institute, where I’ve been happily teaching for over a decade now.
What is the Musicians Institute and what classes do you teach there?
Musicians Institute (MI), is a school for studying contemporary music, and it’s located in Hollywood, CA. We’re right in the middle of everything – walking distance from where the Academy Awards happen, close to all the famous clubs (e.g. the Roxy, Whisky, and Rainbow), as well as countless other performance venues and iconic landmarks. Being from Seattle, where it’s usually raining, it’s a pretty nice location to hang your hat – or, if you’re a student, spend 18 months to get your Associate’s Degree, or four years for a Bachelor’s Degree. I think we have over 1,200 full-time students and we’re one of the largest independent music schools in the U.S.
Unlike a typical college music program, at MI we regard contemporary music – rock, pop, R&B, funk, country, hip-hop, metal, reggae, jazz, and so on – as a legitimate field of study. We place a huge emphasize on “hands-on” performance and offer different programs directly relating to a student’s instrument of choice: GIT, which stands for “Guitar Institute of Technology,” is obviously focused on guitar; BIT is for bass, PIT for percussion, VIT for vocals, and KIT for keyboards. We also have audio engineering, guitar building, music business, and film programs. Every one of those programs has a wide array of required “core” classes and electives taught by our diverse faculty – all world-class players and instructors, many of whom are well-known performing artists, hired guns, established songwriters, and/or producers themselves. I’d recommend visiting MI’s website, which is www.mi.edu, for more specific details.
As for the classes I teach, I do all levels of music theory and ear training, advanced sight reading for guitarists, private guitar lessons, a guitar ensemble, something called “open counseling,” which is sort of like “office hours,” where students can come by and pick your brain in a casual setting, and two classes I created – Jimi Hendrix-style rhythm guitar improvisation, and rhythmic independence for the singing guitarist.
Who are some of the top graduates from the Musicians Institute?
There’s actually a huge amount of now-famous musicians who’ve attended MI – some who’ve graduated, others who left in the middle to join famous bands. A short list would have to include Jeff Buckley, who happens to be one of my all-time favorite musical artists. I wasn’t here when he was a student, but many of my fellow instructors – like Allen Hinds, John Humphrey, and Barrett Tagliarino – were. Also, Chad Smith and John Frusciante from the Red Hot Chili Peppers went here, as did Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, Keb Mo’, Paul Gilbert of Mr. Big…The list is huge! There are also numerous students who, either while they were enrolled, or immediately following graduation, have gone on to join famous acts like Nine Inch Nails, Korn, Mariah Carey, Cee-Lo, Christina Aguilera, Chris Cornell, and others. MI has a program called the “Hiring Hall” where major acts like those I just mentioned will come in and hold auditions, and our students are often selected. Oh yeah, and some of our former vocal students – like Brooke White and LaToya London – have also been in the Top 10 on America Idol.
As a multi-instrumentalist, what is your favorite instrument and why?
Boy, that’s tricky. Every instrument, including the voice, serves a unique role and purpose in any band or recording. It’s hard to pick a favorite. It’s kind of funny you ask, actually, but if I had to choose only one instrument, it would certainly be guitar. It is the backbone of almost every song I create, and it has been the instrument I’ve wielded longer than any other. Personally, I find it to be the most versatile, most expressive, instrument. And the fact that it’s so portable helps too! [laughs]
Tell us the process you went through to record your latest project, MANNERISMS MAGNIFIED.
I played all the instruments on this project myself. I basically had to record each instrument, one-at-a-time. I actually used an assembly line approach, beginning by playing/recording all the acoustic guitars for every song first. I then did all the bass parts, then the electric guitar stuff, piano and other things like accordion and mandolin, then real acoustic drums. I did all the vocals last. Every step of the way, as I was building these tracks, that particular instrument had to be my favorite. My goal with “Mannerisms” was to make the recording sound like a real band, made up of players with different personalities, tastes, and strengths, all complementing one another. In the end, at least if I’m to believe some of the reviews I’ve gotten, I did a pretty convincing job.
Incidentally, I have a whole section on my website devoted to multi-instrumentalists, if any of your readers feel like doing some fun cybersurfing. They can visit my website, www.intimateaudio.com, and where I have a special area devoted to recordings that were all written, performed, and recorded by one person.
What area of music do you feel needs the most improvement?
I’d certainly like to see certain musical styles depend less on being “in your face” and “full-on” at all times – hitting people over the head to get folks to notice them, instead of planting musical seeds that invite listeners in and taking them places. Don’t get me wrong – I love all sorts of aggressive musical styles; I’m not really talking about that. I actually worry that young musicians are falling into the same “shrinking attention span” traps as the general public, and, as a result, won’t reach their full potential.
Part of what makes music such a powerful force is the countless hours musicians playing it have spent concentrating, with zero distractions, on their craft – whether it’s becoming “one” with an instrument, actively soaking up inspiration from outside musical sources, composing, or whatever. When you listen to music that takes you away, and/or stirs up all sort emotional responses in you, that composer or performer has gone to great lengths to shape that song’s dynamic arc, manipulate tempo, everything about how the piece unfolds from beginning to end…elements pertaining to pacing and musical contrasts, control of which is a fundamental requirement for any master composer or performer. It’s the same with any great filmmaker or storyteller. For artists at that level, all those expressive elements are intuitive to them – now. It wasn’t always. They sat, listened, and truly relished in musical sound – or obsessed over a favorite author’s book, or a film by a great director. Today, I see fewer and fewer young musicians willing to do this part of the “work.” They’re too busy bombarding themselves with distractions to surrender themselves to someone else’s artistic vision. They’re text messaging and all sorts of stuff – while at concerts, in the movie theater, in class… You can only get the “surface” aspect of an experience, if you’re expecting your phone to light up at any moment – let alone, typing away every two minutes. Unless you have a child at home with a babysitter, shut off the phone when you’re intending to enjoy music, or anything else artistic.
Dale Turner’s latest CD, Mannerisms Magnified, is available at iTunes, Amazon, and CD Baby. For more info, go to www.intimateaudio.com