My new machine

Ok, so I’ve wanted a motorcycle for years. I finally got around to taking the MSF course back in 2011 but I just couldn’t afford a bike. I bought a non-running bike that winter for $250. Unfortunately, there was no title, the seller was not the title holder, and I learned the hard way that the result is not legal (to ride; I still have that bike at my in-laws’ place). 

But now I’m in the Army with a regular pay check. Still hard to buy things, of course, but the tax return increased considerably. Amanda allowed me to take $1500 out of our tax return this year to buy a bike. I can’t say enough how much I appreciate her support. But that had to include all the gear, tax, title, license, and all immediate repairs. Not exactly a huge budget. 

Amanda also stipulated that it be legal (so I would actually ride it) and running ( so I would actually ride it). Well, I got one out of two. This 2005 Ninja 250 was listed on Craigslist for $1000, not running, needs new carbs, has new battery, extra tires. I thought if it’s complete, that could be an easy fix: just clean the carbs and mount those new tires, and I’m good to go. 


When I called, I was told he’d bought it for his girlfriend but she never got into it and it hasn’t run in a while. Nothing was missing, he said, and it ran fine when he bought it. I asked why he thought it needed new carbs. He said that’s what his “mechanic” told him since it hasn’t run in a while, they’re all gummed up. I thought, great, this guy doesn’t wrench or know about older bikes. 

My friend Hutch donated her time and truck to go with me. Well, the battery was not new, and dead as a door nail. There were a couple of little things missing, like body screws and some springs for the seat latch. But it looks good. 


I’m thinking: I can get this thing running easy. The chain was loose, the battery dead, the tires bald, etc. So I told the seller, “I want it, and I can get it working. I just need some wiggle room for the unexpected.” I asked him what he wanted. He said a grand but he can come down. I offered home $700 and he took it. 

So I brought it home and started taking it apart. The carbs were gross but they cleaned up nice. Clearly, the mechanic had said it would take a lot to fix it and the guy said to stop. Most of the parts were there but not put together, just thrown back in. A gasket, and float needle were shot, and a bracket for the choke cable didn’t make it back on. But the rest cleaned up fine. 


A new battery was purchased, charged, and installed. The igniter, or ECU since this has digital timing control, was unplugged. Once reconnected, the spark was nice and strong. 

With the new battery in, I could now do a compression test. Number two was right on spec: 145 psi. Number one was a little low but still 125 psi so I left it alone. 

Finally, the tank was rinsed out by just shaking the old gas and dumping it into a gas can. I added a generic filter inline and took the petcock apart to clean it. A quick inspection of the air filter showed it was in good shape. That’s compression , spark, and fuel and it fired right up! 

I took the wheels off and brought them to the auto skills shop. Unfortunately, motorcycle wheels don’t fit on tire machines for cars. Crap, I would have to change them manually. My bike buddy Jessica helped and we wrestled with them all day. The next day I tried to balance them and I realized that I’d put the balance marks on the wrong side: they wouldn’t balance. So it was back to the shop, this time on my own. It went much quicker the second time. Mounting tires sucks!

So I started to ride it. The bike was grumpy, refusing to idle. I just rode it anyway and it got a little better. Everything else worked fine; its a simple machine. Except the bike was more willing to turn one way than the other and the bars weren’t pointed straight. So I loosened up the fork bolts and realigned them. Twice. 


I also ran into a problem with the idle. It was hanging: when I close the throttle, the engine RPM only came down slowly. This would normally mean it’s too lean, but I was already 1/4 turn out from the baseline. But it could also be explained by a tight valve. So the bodywork came off again to adjust the valves. 

There was a lot to come off, but it gets easier every time. Seven valves were fine but one exhaust on cylinder one (remember the low compression) was very tight. Adjusting was easy and the bike went back together fine. 


Today I took a long ride and everything is working great. The bike runs fantastic. Even with only 250cc, full throttle produces an impressive shove and an awesome sound. Brakes, suspension, and tires all work flawless. In the end I have a great bike for a grand total of:


Not bad, right?  


Don’t worry, I got good gear too which I’ll write about next. Right now, I’m off the explore the Northwest on my new machine. 

PS- her name is Kate.  

Roasting Coffee Outside

coffee setup

I finally have a patio where I can cook outside. I’m looking forward to steaks and brats on a grill, but to start I’m roasting coffee. I’ve wanted to get this smokey, messy operation outdoors for a long time.


This is a stove-top popcorn popper. Thanks grandma ($0).


The thermometer and clip came with my turkey fryer ($0). I drilled holes in the lid on the side that snaps down. Drilling through the spring steel was a pain but oil (from grandpa’s oil can) and my old hand-crank drill (also from grandpa’s shop) got the job done. The screw is actually for computer drives.

I was worried that the propane cooker wouldn’t work low enough but the roast went even slower than it needed so I’ll crank it up a little next time.

Can’t wait to try this and stop drinking Starbucks. Super smooth project and a joy to be cooking outside again.

First steps to an Army Band Job

As a band musician, I have always known that the military was a career option. It is common knowlege that all branches of the US Armed Forces employ band musicians, pay great salaries and benefits, and offer the experiences of a military lifestyle such as seeing the world and taking part in public civic ceremonies.

The only problem was, you had to join the military: Boot camp; “sir, yes sir”; deploying to combat zones; 4-year enlistment. I remember thinking, I love band, and the military has great bands, but I could never do that.

I did exactly that. I enlisted in the US Army as a bandsman for at least 4-years. I will go to Basic Combat Training (in Georgia in July!), I will say “sir, yes sir,” salute the flag, swear to obey the commander-in-chief, and if required, deploy to combat zones.

I want to write a few words about how I got here in order to help musicians considering it and my family and friends, many of whom don’t understand how I could do this. I’ll start with what I learned about the military during my education and career. Later I’ll explain how I managed to get the job and what lies ahead. Keep in mind, I am just a raw recruit and I have much to learn about this career and lifestyle. These are just my experiences.


I began my career in high school band. I loved playing in band (and orchestra). I loved the music. I was good at it. I decided this would be my career, which left me with a choice: what would I do after high school band?

I would have to go to college, obviously. In college there were bands: not only concert bands, marching bands, orchestras, and jazz bands, but also percussion ensembles, steel bands, world music, indoor drumline, chamber ensembles. It was paradise; 5-years of bliss.

I could study education and work as a school music teacher. Or practice all my excerpts and audition for a symphony orchestra. Or I could join the military. Nope, I could never do that last one. I just wanted to play in band. I guessed I would have to just stay in school where the bands are.

So, I went to grad school and played in more bands. An outgoing student had just accepted a job in a group called the Hellcats. This was fascinating to me, and I had a chance to meet and learn from this former student during my time in grad school. The Hellcats are a group within the US Military Academy Band at West Point. This student, with two degrees and related experience, had gone out, taken the audition, won it, and was now going to be an Army Staff Sergeant.

By the time I was finishing my graduate degree, I knew I couldn’t stay in school. School bands are great! But they are just for students, and you can’t stay a student forever.

What’s a band?

What I had come to realize is that the kinds of bands I loved in school, don’t really exist outside. A school band is large; real bands are small, often just one person. In a school band, if you can play, you’re in; there are real bands like that, but they don’t pay, and they are not nearly as common as orchestras. In a school band, concerts happen regularly and serve the school; real bands have to make their own performances happen; something I wish I was taught in school.

School bands are a great vehicle both for serving the community and training young musicians. If playing music is to be a career, though, things are very different.

A place for me

As a player, you can either compete for the top spots, or make things happen on your own. When I left graduate school, I decided to try the later. I won’t go into how that has gone for me in the last six years, but it wasn’t what I expected. I have realized that the military bands have already created a job for me with large bands serving the community, and small bands playing incredible variety of music.

The Military Branches: Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, and Coast Guard all have bands. The main bands are known as Premiere Bands. These are the top groups in each Branch: The Army Band, The Navy Band, The Marine Corps Band, etc. These represent the very best of what american concert band is. Also, the bands stationed at the military academies (like West Point) are considered premiere bands. Some branches have other premiere bands, notably the US Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the US Army 3rd Infantry “Old Guard” Fife and Drum Corps. These bands recruit the very best musicians from all over the nation, military and civilian. Competition is as fierce as any top-tier orchestra.

But the branches also have other bands serving all over. These “regular” bands are simply soldiers, marines, and sailors who’s military job is to play music. In the military everyone has a job whether it’s infantry, tank mechanic, pilot, cook, or hundreds of others. In the Army, you audition for a special band recruiter and if you’re good enough, you get that job when you enlist. The job (called a Military Occupation Specialty, or MOS) defines the advanced training program you do after basic training.

The army has the most “regular” bands of all the branches. There are 10 combat divisions, each with it’s own band. There are bands attached to each major training station, likely due to the amount of ceremonies, and bands attached to stations dispersed all over to serve the country and showcase American and Army values. There are Army bands in Europe, Asia, Hawaii, Alaska, and all over the USA.

A “regular” active-duty bandsman practices, rehearses, and performs. The bands put on concerts both on- and off-post, perform for military ceremonies, and do outreach activities such as school visits, parades, and philanthropy events. The bands configure themselves as large concert bands, large and small marching bands, jazz bands, pop/rock/latin bands, and chamber ensembles. They often tour locally. When deployed to combat zones, the primary mission is to entertain the troops and they often travel to distant outposts to do just that.

When I was in school, I didn’t realize how good I had it. That’s because I didn’t realize how difficult it would be to continue to play they way I was, and make a living at it, once I was out of school. From a distance I can see that I should have considered the military much sooner.

Paradiddle Inversions and Combinations

Everyone whose played that first page of Stick Control knows the paradiddle inversions. I love these things. To review, there are three inversions of a single paradiddle (4 including the original):





Things get interesting when you start combining two. Here’s the first and second one: (written twice for clarity)

|| R L R R L R R L | R L R R L R R L ||

Since you play the first version of the first variation, and the second version of the second variation. You end up playing both doubles in the same hand. This will likely cause you rudimentalists’ left hand to start to itch. The solution reverse (invert?) them:

|| R L L R L R L L | R L L R L R L L ||

That’s the first version of the second variation with the second version of the first. Got it?

Here’s an exercise that goes through them. I know it’s just a beginning. Feel free to explore this further:

R L R R L R L L 4x
R L L R L R R L 4x
R L R R L R R L 4x
R L L R L R L L 4x

R L R R L R L L 4x
R R L R L L R L 4x
R L R R L L R L 4x
R R L R L R L L 4x

R L R R L R L L 4x
R L R L L R L R 4x
R L R R L R L R 4x
R L R L L R L L 4x

Audition Process: Getting a Job the Army Way

People have been asking me a lot about the audition process I went through for Army Bands. In a lot of ways, it was a lot like my college and grad-school auditions.

After the Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps turned me down, I submitted an online form to “request an audition” at the main Army Bands website:

Then I got an email from Master Sergeant (MSG) James Donahue, the Army Band Liaison for the 3rd Recruiting Battalion at Ft. Knox. The email had some basic info and instructed me to call for a phone interview.

When I called, I had questions concerning the job as a drummer like How much drum set is required? He answered all my questions and I told him about my background and skills. It was very informal. By the end of the call, he seemed to think that I would be perfect for the job. I know, he’s a recruiter. Still, I was feeling pretty great.

Before I could do a live audition, he needed a couple of things: some videos of my playing, a resume with references, and I needed to see a regular Army recruiter to start the processing. So I went back to the local office and started the endless paperwork. It’s basically just a background questionnaire. They want to know where you went to school, where you worked, who your relatives were, where you lived. But they want that for the last 10 years. I remember thinking, this would be a lot easier if I were a senior in high school.

Then I had to go to MEPS, the Military Entrance Processing Station. I had never taken the aptitude test, so I did that the night before. There was also a lengthy physical exam. There were a couple dozen the day I went. We all stayed in a hotel that night and they bussed us over to MEPS at 0600. This was long and tedious, but not at all bad. Since I had not taken an audition, I couldn’t enlist that day, so I was done by 1100.

Then, I got the audition packet. For percussion it was some basic rudimental drumming including a march, a cadence, and some rolls, plus a march for concert snare and bells (Stars and Stripes Forever). This stuff was a breeze.

Then there was the drum set portion. I was instructed to pick 3-4 pieces to play with backing tracks that show a variety of styles. One had to be a “patriotic” song. I picked American Soldier, Summertime, and a Samba chart from Groove Essentials. MSG Donahue said I should add a current, popular song so I picked Runaway Baby.

The night before the audition, he sent me a packet with more concert and rudimental snare, bells, and drum set with backing tracks; two of each.

The fourth part of the audition was my extras. I was told that if I had any skills related to music, to show them. Some people sing or double on another instrument or showcase composition or arranging, recording or tech, etc. As a percussionist, I just threw in all the other percussion things I do: a classical transcription for marimba, a 4-mallet marimba solo, a xylophone rag, a timpani excerpt, an advanced rudimental solo, and a steel pan solo.

MSG Donahue came to me for the live audition, so I booked a space at ETHS. On that day, I was prepared and played my best. I got a great response from MSG Donahue and the two local recruiters who came. He couldn’t tell me if I passed or not, but he hinted that I did. I just needed to wait for the next selection cycle and see if my score was good enough to make one of however many spots were available. It turned out they took 3 percussionists and I was one of them. They also took 6 other musicians that month and 4 passed but were not offered jobs. With that letter, I went back to MEPS to sign my contract to enlist for 4 years.

It was a strange, and sometimes frustrating process which is still going on. There are dozens of things to take care of before I ship out to do my training. Things are going to be very different, and I can’t wait.

Making time for Army Band Training

I’m working on a couple of things to get ready for Army Band training:

Jazz Vibes:
Paco and Dave
Autumn Leaves

Rudimental Snare Drum:
Pass in Review

Take me to the Other Side
Runaway Baby

Multiple Percussion:
Cold Pressed

Rotation 2

So far, I need about six more hours in every day. I’ll be adding new tunes as I clear out my schedule. You gotta make time for what’s important.

Say Word Press

Things have been a little (ok, a lot busy) and I have been neglecting my blog. Looking at, I realized that I was sick of trying to get Drupal to work for me. Issues never got dealt with, so I wasn’t writing as much as I could have.

So, I decided to migrate over to Word Press. So far, the transition has been very smooth. I’m still getting the hang of it and more functionality will come as I dive deeper.

Saygotit is still about percussion and it is still a central resource for me. So, look out for new articles and updated info about my career and projects as well as tips, jokes, and media.

This is how I work (on iOS)

Even though there is no apple shaved to the back of my head, I use my iPhone and iPad all the time in my career as a musician. So here are my favorite iOS apps that I actually use. I am in no way connected to Apple or any of the developers mentioned here.

For a while I used palm devices for my PDA until 2008 when my wife gave me an iPhone for christmas. I bought an iPad last spring and it’s been extremely useful.


Things is a to do list app that I really like. It is extremely flexible with no required fields and many sorted views. It stays in sync through its own cloud with all my devices and makes it easier for me to organize my mind. I open Things each morning and I’m greeted with a list of items I’ve put off (scheduled actually). I use it to schedule my day, setting aside time for tasks or areas, and moving items to the future if there’s no way to get them done today. Things just works.

I also use the new Reminders in iOS 6 since it works with Siri, notifies my much more effectively on my iPhone, and can notify me when I arrive or leave a location. When a task requires one of these special actions I use this app.

Lately I’ve started using a new app Lift to keep track of tasks I want to do every day, like practice an hour before noon or sync my lesson databases. Unlike the other todos, it’s more like a social app than a list. What makes it really useful is the “meter” of how many times I do a task in a week and the calendar for each task that shows each day I did it. For the annoying little things that go a long time without any action, this really helps me.

Of course I use iOS Calendar and Contacts which, thanks to iCloud, have strong syncs across my devices.


The iPad is a great score reader and I use two different apps for this. The first is forScore which is a simple pdf viewer designed for sheet music. Paging around is easy as is annotations and other metadata.

iReal b started out as a real book. But it became a chord changes app. You can create charts with changes and it can play them back with a selection of styles. You can add repeats, endings, rehearsal marks. For jazz and pop players it’s a great way to see chord charts and the playback makes improve practice much more fun. And you also can share charts so not only the real book of jazz standards but hundreds of charts are available to download.

Tempo is my metronome app and does everything we expect a modern digital metronome to do.


Dropbox has changed the way I move files around. It’s just so easy and I use it for most documents, scores, and recordings.

Bento is a database app from the makers of FileMaker. I use it to do so much, I’m going to have to write a whole article about it. I keep track of all aspects of my private lessons, high school students, gigs, library, inventory, taxes, and loads of other things that have nothing to do with music.


I’ve found Pages and Numbers, Apple’s word processor and spreadsheet apps, to be great, easy to use, especially on the iPad, and I don’t have any problems working with Microsoft users. I use lots of documents and I can’t understand why people still use Word and Excel.

Other stuff

Coach’s Eye is an app for making annotated videos which are very useful for showing students what they’re doing wrong (and right).

eBay app helps me search for vintage drums and vintage motorcycle parts (maybe not so productive).

If you haven’t checked out iTunes U, do it. Easy to find college courses complete with lectures, projects, feedback all for free. There is some music content, but I’ve studied marketing and other useful subjects too.

For musicians Facebook and Twitter are really important and I also use Spotify for music discovery and sharing playlists with a group as in marching band show design.

Trip Cubby is no longer supported, but I haven’t found a better way to track my mileage for tax deductions.

The way I use my devices is always evolving and I’m sure I won’t always use these apps but for now, they’ve been a fun tool to help me as a musician and teacher.