The Makeshift Degree: Adlibing an Education without Going to School


Okay, so obviously the most ideal way to get an education in most fields is to go to college, and for many jobs out, it is required.  But let’s face it, there are so many fields out there.  If you’re like me, you have so many interests that it is impossible for you to get a college education in all of your interests.
Also, many people are not in a position to go to college at the moment.
Here are a few ideas for getting an education outside of the school system:

Internet Sources:

The Internet has an endless supply of phenomenal information in thousands of fields.  You’ve just got to know where to look for it.  Here are a few sites I like – (maybe not Ph.D material, but interesting stuff nonetheless):

  1. – good ol’ Google search.  You can learn just about anything with that… *
  2. – you know about Youtube.  Well, this is a branch of Youtube that specializes in good educational material.  Not just anyone can get stuff on here, so it’s a big step up from regular Youtube, and it’s a fun source of learning in all kinds of fields.
  3. – again, not a place to earn a degree, but if you want to get excited about learning, this is a fun place to go.  TED is a collection of fascinating lectures (yes, lectures CAN be fascinating!) that give an interesting perspective on various fields.
  4. – if you prefer getting your information from reputable colleges, here’s a directory of podcasts that are done by colleges such as Stanford, Harvard, Yale, etc.  Just putter around the site to find the subject you’re looking for.


  1. Check the Thrift Stores: As soon as a book becomes obsolete (by college standards that can mean the book has been published for a year and a half and now the photos in the book need to be reorganized), the thrift stores such as D.I. fill up with college textbooks.  After I paid nearly $100 for an astronomy book in college, I found a stack of twenty of them at D.I. the next semester for two bucks a piece.  Ugh… but that’s good for people who are wanting an education outside of school.
  2. Libraries:  They’re still around, believe it or not.  In this “Google any question” era that we live in, this is easy to forget.  Pick a topic, go to the library, and read all you can on the subject.
  3. School libraries: Most school libraries are open to the public.  You may not be able to check things out without a student card, but you can read what you want while you’re there, and if you take your digital camera, you can get instant copies of pages you want to read more about.

This is NOT a comprehensive list.  Fill us in!  What ways have you found for educating yourself on different topics?

* Clearly there is a lot of junk out there, and one of the great purposes of education is to train you to recognize credibility and bias.  You need to learn to check the sources on information.  Just because it sounds legit, or the information is worded in an educated manner doesn’t mean the content is of any real value.  The best lies are coated in great disguises.  So check your sources!

Read more entries with tips and ideas!

Practice Session 1

People occasionally ask me how I come up with the music I write. In response, I have decided to start recording some of my music practice sessions, to provide a feel for what happens. This is a practice session, flaws and all. The fact that I have posted a tune does not indicate whether or not I like the stuff I’m playing – it simply means I thought the practice session was typical enough to post it.

Practice Session 1, 26 January 2008
With this piece, it is a first time improvisation. It has never been played before, so please excuse the mistakes. I may develop it later, or if I don’t like it, I may forget about it.Please comment and let me know if any of it is worth developing. This is a sample of a first time attempt at coming up with a brand new piece.

Play by Ear, Write by Heart – part 2

Click HERE to see the updated version of this entry

Introduction Continued…

When it comes to teaching people to play the piano, I have no teaching experience other than little bits of advice I’ve given to a few who have desired to learn to play by ear. I have only had a small taste of traditional piano lessons (probably less experience than most of the piano players you know). But I have great faith in the ordinary person to become a great musician. I believe that anyone – anyone who truly desires it, can become a great piano player. I have seen ordinary people who consider themselves completely “un-musically inclined” become so proficient at the piano that people ask them when they are going to publish a CD. People are surprised to hear that they have only been playing for a year or two.

Over the years, I have tried to notice things that could help me introduce others to the field, and to hopefully help them to know what to look for, so that they will not have to take as long as I did to learn what I have learned. As a matter of fact, it has taken me longer to learn to play by ear than it does for most people. I have been learning to play by ear for about 13 years, and there are a few things that, if I had known them earlier, would have gotten me further faster.

Let me also warn you up front that this is not a music theory discussion. It is not a method to replace piano lessons. If you truly desire to become a proficient piano player, you’ll need piano lessons. I have neither the expertise nor the desire to teach you how to read music. That is not my intent. If you are striving to become a well-trained piano player, this method is discussed as a supplement to your lessons, not a replacement. I have studied a lot of music theory, and I may use some few of its concepts, but I’ll probably use very little of the proper terminology, since that is not my purpose. Besides, musical terms tend to scare some people away. Some people are annoyed by musical jargon. Sometimes I am one of those people, even though I usually understand it. For the sake of the intent of this discussion, I’ll only use enough theory to assist in explaining a principle. But the bulk of the material in this book will be independent of traditional music theory.

I have structured this discussion to teach both those who have never even seen the face of a keyboard, and those who have had 20 years of piano lessons. Whether your intent is to become a great musician, or just to have a fun, new hobby, this discussion is for anyone who has ever had the desire, or just the mere curiosity, to learn to play music by ear. I also hope to go into as much depth as possible about learning to write your own music.