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Faculty Spotlight: Matt Elton

 by Aaron Sizemore

alt="music classes Matt Elton"

What's your main instrument & why?

My main instrument is the bass guitar. My passion for the bass comes from a combination of intimate knowledge of the guitar fretboard and my love for percussion instruments. I also was a low-brass player in public school, which led me to have a strong foundational understanding of the role of bass instruments in all types of music.

What's your musical origin story? What lit the spark for you?

I always wanted to play music. Some of my earliest memories from childhood were me listening to popular songs on the radio and being filled with joy. The biggest example is "Kiss" by Prince. That song seemed to be all over the radio in 1998 when I was first making memories. In elementary school, I always enjoyed music class more than anything else. I found a way to be in strings or band throughout all of my schooling. At the age of 9, my mom gifted me a First Act electric guitar for Christmas. With the help of my late uncle—the only other guitar player in my family—it didn't take long for me to begin teaching myself via Chord sheets and Tabs. I bought my first bass guitar a few years later. In high school, I was offered to join the school's jazz band. That is where I really took off. Jazz band allowed me to meld together the different worlds of music I was exposed to thus far. I didn't see it like that back then. I was just really excited to play a guitar in school. My jazz band teacher, Mr. Mike Altenbernd is the man who really pushed me to follow a career in music. He hooked me up with the KCKCC jazz program, where I did summer camps, college credit music classes, and got me to take bass lessons with Kansas City legend, James Albright. Altenbernd also took us to see so many legendary jazz performers such as Randy Brecker, Wycliffe Gordon, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, and the Count Basie Ghost Band. Alongside my more traditional education, I played drums in Kansas City-based rock band Astral Fifty during my high school years. At the age of 15, I landed my first rock gig at the Uptown Theater in their "Conspiracy Room"(now Hamburger Mary's). Long story short, I knew I wanted to play music since the very beginning. I led my life following the music and never stopped. I'm grateful to the educators and musicians that directed me to the right place and always let me follow my heart as I grew.

Can you share a good gig story?

It feels like I have a million gig stories. I could talk about on-stage disasters, or talk about the cool places I've been to, or the people I have met. One of my all-time favorite stories, however, happened at one of our regular spots with my closest friends and family. In 2021, my band, Stranded in the City, played at our neighborhood VFW. We call it the Eagle's Nest. When we play neighborhood shows, a lot of our friends and family always show up and support us. It started off as a normal show. We played outside and the weather was beautiful. We probably had about 50 of our closest people in attendance. During the second set, it started to pour rain and we quickly powered everything off and tried to cancel the show. Our audience didn't want us to finish playing so every single person in the audience did their part to help us move our equipment inside. The men carried the heavy speakers and amplifiers. The women were helping wrap and move cables. The kids got to help as well! We got all of the equipment set up inside the bar in less than 10 minutes! The whole room was soaking wet when we got back to playing, but no one cared. We all were just happy to hear the music and be around each other. What makes this gig so special is that it literally showed the love and support our community has for us. There is no greater feeling in the world than knowing that the work I've done means a lot to the people closest to me. No matter where I go, always want to have a strong community around me.

Tell us about your practice routine and share some practice tips.

My practice routine changes all the time. The only thing that really stays consistent is that I do a lot of scale/improvisational practice. I usually focus on one key center and try to experiment with the fret/fingerboard. If the key of the day is Ab, I'll spend a while on Ab major, work on the relative minor and all the modes of the Ab major scale, and then move on to Ab minor, and so on. I do a lot of practice with the TV on, or a Youtube video playing in the background. I find that instead of working against my tendency to get distracted, I lean into it. I'll maybe only be focusing on the guitar/bass for 5 minutes at a time, but at the end of the session, I've had my hands on the instrument for hours. I also like to leave my instruments uncased at home, so as to not discourage myself from practicing. I find that the easier it is to access your instrument, the easier it is to practice it.

What drew you to the Music House team?

As an alumnus of the Green Lady Lounge/Black Dolphin, a lot of my close friends and colleagues got their start teaching at Music House. That was one of the biggest incentives for me to take this place more seriously than all the other teaching options. I also appreciate the fact that Music House is a local establishment. The community that is created through the band program and group classes is very special. I share the vision that the key to being a great musician is to play with other musicians. Most of my growth as an instrumentalist has come from the years of playing with multiple people from all around the world and learning something from all of them.

Anything else you'd like to add?

When it comes to practice, learning an instrument, or learning a style, it is important to remember that the majority of the "practice" takes place in your brain. In order to play it, you have to really absorb the material. You have to live the music. If you want to do it hard enough, everything else will fall into place. It's also important to find what works for you as an individual and what makes you happy.

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Written by Aaron Sizemore
Aaron Sizemore
Co-founder & Executive Director at Music House