Guitar Sam interview

Here is the inimitable Kevin Crossett’s March 2000 interview with me. Kevin is the owner of Guitar Sam, a fine music store in Montpelier Vermont. My friend Lawwy says it’s a very fun interview. And Lawwy knows fun when he sees it. 

Guitar Sam: Ed Roseman wrote the best music theory book this planet has ever seen. “Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People” is a must-read for all musicians. As a writer, teacher, and musician, Edly recognizes the language of music, and painlessly translates it into English. Edly’s newest book is “Edly Paints the Ivories Blue,” a blues piano instruction book that also is rainbows above the norm.

We caught up with Ed Roseman and asked him a few curious questions about some interesting stuff. He generously spent some time theorizing, and this interview is the result of the outrageous things he told us.

Guitar Sam: Out of all the musical topics to choose from, you definitely took on the biggest job of all, teaching the mechanics of music in what we call music theory. How did “Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People” come to be?

EDLY: I’ve always included theory as an integral part of my instruction because it’s an integral part of music. Back in the ol’ days, I used to write chord construction out by hand for students. Then I got really sophisticated and copied my handwritten sheet. Then, in my postmodern period, I did it up on my word processor and printed it out on a bad dot matrix printer. Wow, high tech! I decided to add the horse to the cart and add major scales. One thing led to another, and soon I had a whopping 18-page manual. At that point, it was pretty terse-just examples and a bit of text to flesh out my in-lesson presentations, like some of Berklee’s course books. It reincarnated itself and did the cellular division thing, and grew and grew to 48 pages.

Three things marked the book turning into its full-length self. The first was the decision to make it stand on its own without my being present. So I gave it legs. This meant fleshing out the explanations to include what I would tell students during the lesson. The second was the realization during an actual lesson that the book didn’t reflect my teaching style or voice. It was too stiff. So I went back, let my hair down, and started having fun rewriting. Then, I grabbed pictures drawn by my old friend Peter Reynolds from my collection of his stuff, and asked him to draw some more. He gave me some great new pix, but was busy with his own affairs, so I did a lot of cutting and pasting and created new pix based on his originals. That completed the book, because Pete’s drawing style complements my writing style so well. Plus, he’s a great artist, period. I’m honored and lucky to have his visuals. The third was the second edition, where I fixed things that had bugged me–and readers–for a while. It was a great leap.

Guitar Sam: How widely is your book distributed?

EDLY: Between 200-300 book & music stores in 42ish states, as well as the on- and off-line biggies, except Borders, who only special orders it. I know there are copies floating around some 45ish countries, too. Guitar Sam keeps a steady flow. (Hi, Sam!)

Guitar Sam: What did it take to write Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People?

EDLY: Four years, tremendous eye strain, a handful of file corruptions, hundreds of crashes, a restructuring of the content, and about six megabytes. It’s funny to think back on it now, but most of the writing was done on a Mac 040 processor with a 14-inch screen. A six meg file isn’t much for a PageMaker or Quark document nowadays, but poor MacWrite and my poor old Mac! It took two minutes just to SAVE the darn thing! And I had to save often because there was an initially apparently unfixable corruption in the transposition chapter that would randomly move all the graphics around so they overlapped text when I would make changes elsewhere in the book. Yechhh! The moving around of the graphics tied up the computer for even longer–up to five or ten minutes. I’d have to wait for it to finish its evil doings, then “Save As” a new file number, and then hope I could fix the corruption, which I got better at in the later stages. Believe me, I was glad when the book was done.

Guitar Sam: And now you’ve published a blues piano instruction book. How did that project turn up?

EDLY: I think it’s similar to what I’ve heard some second-time mothers say; with the passage of time, you forget just how difficult and painful the pregnancy and birth are, and you go and get pregnant again. Well, I went and got pregnant, and conceived a book that teaches piano using blues-based music.

You see, I’d written a number of instructional twelve-bar blues for piano students over the years. They were usually very well received. (To hear a Real Audio version of one of the more difficult ones—albeit not a twelve-bar one, click here.) Blues has a lot about it that makes it a perfect teaching vehicle. Repetition, standardized form, and chords, etc. Additionally, even easy stuff still can sound low-down and bluesy, so there’s early reward for the budding player.

Second, I wanted the book to be there for people who knew at the beginning that they wanted to play blues, jazz, rock, or whatever, rather than classical style. There’s not a lot out there for that.

Third, so many instruction books make me want to gag–the dorkiness factor is so high. Maybe they skipped the hair-down rewrite phase; I dunno. Edly Paints the Ivories Blues is even more relaxed than the theory book in writing style.

It doesn’t sell as well as the theory book, but I don’t think that’s a reflection of the quality of the book. Rather, I think it’s a reflection of the more limited market for the subject matter. Maybe the next one will be a sex/murder/romance/big star exposé book. But probably not.

Guitar Sam: You’ve recently published a second edition of each book, what was the inspiration to do that?

EDLY: The reasons were different for each book. Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People had had its third birthday and had proven itself, so it was time to go from my little runs (250 books at a time on a Xerox Docutech) to a industrial-strength run (5000ish books, offset printing with a brand new color cover). That brought my per-book production cost down, although I had to take out a loan to pay for the big printing. This also, and importantly, gave me the ability to have printing on the spine for the first time. Despite the old adage, the color cover and spine were important in getting the book into Barnes & Noble, and book stores in general, since they mostly display books spine-out.

Since I was going through all the work of changing the cover, I decided to roll up my sleeves and get my hands good and dirty and fix some things that had been bugging me for a while. So I entirely rewrote Chapter 3, and made a bunch of other improvements, enough that I felt comfortable and justified in calling it a second edition.

In the case of Edly Paints the Ivories Blue, I did a major rewrite and re-layout, tightening up the explanations and creating more white space on the page to make it easier on the eye. I also added more of Pete’s pictures. I also changed the body font to give it a more formal look and less blackness on the page, and also because the body font I’d originally used, Comic Sans, had shown itself to be the most overused font of the late nineties by hack self-publishers. So I nuked it.

Guitar Sam: Do you offer any theory workshops or seminars?

EDLY: I’m just starting to this year. I’ll be giving one right in your neighborhood, right in Montpelier, VT in September; the 22nd, I believe. I’ve had other requests, but have put them into the “To Do Later” pile.

Guitar Sam: Are either of your publications used as textbooks in any schools?

EDLY: The theory book is used in high schools, colleges, and community theory courses. That came as a pleasant surprise to me, since it, to me, reflects my private (as opposed to classroom) teacher orientation. I never intended it for classroom use. I thought that classroom teachers would want a more traditional book: lesson, exercises, quiz, test; new chapter, lesson, exercises, quiz, test, new chapter, etc. Rinse and repeat. But the classroom teachers (and students) using the book are thrilled with it, so I’m happy.

Guitar Sam: Can you tell us about any new books on the horizon? And what other musical projects are you working on?

EDLY: Book 2 of “Edly Paints the Ivories Blue” has been postponed, since the birth of our son Bowen, just a month after the first edition was published. In fact, I can’t promise any books for a while, so as not to miss a moment of his infancy! Instead, I’m doing smaller projects. I just finished four pieces for 1st- to 3rd-year school band. They’ll be published by Northeastern Music. Scores and audio samples will be posted this summer. Tell all yer middle school band director friends! I’m really pleased with the pieces. They’re much more interesting sounding than most stuff at that level. My approach to writing them was this: Make them easy to play, but sound sophisticated. One sounds like darkly compelling film music, another is heavy metal for band, and the other two are arrangements of—and my takes on—traditional Hanukkah songs.

Guitar Sam: On your website, you offer an archive of theory-related questions and answers. Inviting readers to send you questions must leave you open to a variety of topics.

EDLY: So true. I’ve gotten questions ranging from mandolin scale fingerings to chord scale choices to carpal tunnel syndrome to when to start children with music lessons. I answer what I can, and refer elsewhere when necessary. It’s a gas. The URL for the complete “Ask Edly” page is here.

Guitar Sam: As a successful self-publisher, do you have any advice for other potential self-publishers?

EDLY: Sure do: Desktop publishing, with all its pros, brings some cons as well: There’s a lot of self-published crap out there that your (and my) book(s) will be competing with. (Therefore, expect some reluctance on the part of dealers when you tell them you’re a self-publisher). Your book mustn’t LOOK self-published. Bad graphic design is a dead give-away, even if it’s only perceived unconsciously. Buy or borrow books about desktop publishing, layout, and graphic design. (Robin Williams’ books are excellent, and fun to read.) Read them. Look at professionally designed books, magazines, and brochures. Then look at posters, flyers, and booklets designed by amateurs who haven’t done their homework. Your eye will quickly become attuned to fine points you wouldn’t have noticed before.

Beyond that, the book must be written as well as a book that has gone through a professional publishing house with its editors. Nuke typos, misspellings, bad grammar, etc., in addition to bad typography and graphic design. Don’t be your own editor. Pay someone, or enlist qualified friends.

Lastly, know that self-publishing is a LOT of work. Self-publishing a book, whether it’s “Fishing for the Enthusiast” or “Esoteric Uses of Exotic Scales In General Business Cello Playing,” will leave you a lot less time for fishing or esoteric uses of exotic scales in general business cello playing. If you’re to be successful, you’ll be busy with business. If you want to have time for fishing or your exotic cello, hope that your book is so successful that you can hire help. Otherwise, hope that it’s picked up by a publisher, and accept the trade-offs.

The first year that “Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People” was published, my right ear grew a new appendage: the phone. My phone bills were bigger than ten teenage girls’ added together. As I mentioned above, expect some downright hostile responses from dealers (Early on, one guy literally yelled at me for calling him, then hung up on me). Get your ego out of the picture, and know that some of your most initially reluctant contacts will become your biggest proponents (and sellers!) in the future if, indeed, your book is quality, AND needed by readers.

Having said all that, self-publishing is rewarding on many levels. A typical publishing contract will yield you 10ish% of the sale price, as opposed to the 60%-100% (100% for direct-to-customer sales) you can get self-publishing. As important, though, if you really care about your work, is that as a self-publisher, you retain control. With a traditional publishing contract, the publisher owns the product. They make the decisions. An analogy is this: You provide the baby. The baby belongs to the adoptive parents. You are out of the picture. As a self-publisher, you can make changes as, and when, you want. I continuously improved Edly’s Music Theory for Practical People, as well as Edly Paints the Ivories Blue in the months and years after they were initially published. Small printing runs, as well as my being the publisher, allowed this. The book, the readers, and my dealers benefited, and I did too. A traditional publishing contract wouldn’t have afforded me this flexibility.

Guitar Sam: OK, Ed . . . where did the name Edly come from?

EDLY: Awww, shucks, G-Sam! Would you believe that this is the first time anyone has asked this question? I was born Edward Bentley Roseman. My friend Shira, word-player supreme, recombined Edward Bentley into Edly Bentward, which I like a lot better. There. Now you know. Don’t tell, ‘kay?

Guitar Sam: Thank you, Ed Roseman, for filling us in on the Edly-est facts and theories!