How A Car Crash And A Stock Market Crash Were Two of the Best Things That Ever Happened To Me
A Physical Transformation That Created A Musical Rebirth...
As a young South Georgia band director in a brand new job, I was in way over my head...
I worked hard in my new job, but realized early on that I was woefully inadequate for the job. I was unhappy and I felt like I was making others around me the same.

Deep down I knew the truth: I wanted to make a living as a professional musician by performing full time and working with private students.
I (wrongly) believed that professional musicians were individuals like college professors or those amazing few talented musicians with what I called “super powers.”

Deeply discouraged, I felt I should just settle in, go to my teaching job, and get the kids ready for Friday night halftime shows, contests, and concerts. 

Only thirty years left until retirement… 

To make things worse, I felt imprisoned in my chosen career path.

 I really was doing my best and trying really hard to love the job but I just didn’t. And I couldn't afford to leave it. 

I felt even worse because I stopped practicing. I was so focused on making a living that I left my horn in its case.

I felt like a failure and that my best days were behind me.
That’s when a car accident on a rainy day in South Georgia threatened to
take music away from me forever. 
That accident rendered my right hand useless. I couldn’t extend my fingers or even lift my wrist. 

It just limply hung from the sling supporting my broken arm and my doctors only said “It doesn’t look good” when I asked if I'd ever play again.

Then, as if God Himself intervened, something amazing happened...
That's when I received a special therapy glove (my students called it a 'Freddy Krueger Glove') that helped me use my right hand. 

Miraculously, I was able to practice again. 

But I only thought I was out of shape before… Now I was starting from scratch! 

I had to learn to use my injured hand again from zero and learn to be happy with making daily progress. 

Looking back, that time was a precious gift. That ordeal made me think: 
“What if there’s no deadline, finish line or schedule for growing as a musician?”
I made playing a priority and strove for small daily progressions toward my goals.

I helped other sax players grow and learn in private lessons so I “gave myself lessons" and created some accountability for myself.

I realized that I hadn’t missed my chance to “get good.” 

I realized that the end of college and grad school was just a beginning, and I could keep enjoying the process of growing as a musician. 

I set small, deliberate weekly goals and worked slowly and intentionally toward mastery.

I created practice plans, and weekly assignments for myself that I later listened to and graded. I was harder on myself than I was on my students most of the time.

My hand slowly healed and, despite my inner fears, I saw daily improvement.

Yes, I knew I was improving but improvement is pretty easy to see when you start from the beginning. 

Was I going to wear this ghoulish glove every time I played saxophone for the rest of my life?
After a few weeks I returned to the hand specialist for a check-up, and learned that all of the practicing in my “Freddy Krueger Glove” was the best physical therapy I could’ve done. Now it looked like I was well on my way to recovery!

Suddenly, I was excited about practicing again. I remembered how much I missed practice as an important part of my life and felt the rush of being a music student again.

I started making practice and performance an intentional part of my life again.

I made a list of the things that I wanted to work on and a plan to tackle them.

I compiled notebooks of licks, exercises, transcriptions, etc. and spent every free second working through them. 

I practiced before school, between classes, and after school for hours.
But there was still a problem...
My principal HATED my new found passion for playing.

I can just imagine him walking down the hallway with steam coming out of his ears as he heard me shedding the latest transcription on my lunch break.

Was there an unwritten rule in my my school system that if a band director was excited about his own musical growth, he must not be focused on his student’s needs?

So, I decided to make a change. I was not surprised that the principal was very receptive when I approached him about helping me transfer to a middle school position. 

I finished my final year as a high school band director and started my first year at the middle school the following fall.

I really loved introducing kids to music and with no marching band and far less after school activities I was freed up to practice and start taking gigs in Atlanta - about two hours north of where I lived. 

I was even able teach adjunct saxophone lessons at my alma mater - two hours south of where I lived.

I was having a blast working with students from sixth grade to college seniors and working on my own music!
Things were great for a while, 
but it didn’t take long to realize that if I really wanted to be on the Atlanta scene, I couldn’t live so far away. 

And we all know that if you’re unknown and not on the scene, your gig calendar is hard to fill. A professional musician has to be where the action is.

I moved to Atlanta and found a great job as an assistant middle school band director working with an amazing lead teacher. And he actually liked that the students heard me practicing!

I dove into my schedule every day turning off the alarm clock at 6 a.m. and taught band until 4 in the afternoon. 

Then I drove across town to teach private lessons before heading to a gig or jam session until well after midnight. Every day!

On weekends I’d play every gig that I could, regardless of what it paid or how far I needed to drive.

Although exhausted much of the time, the joy of playing kept me going. However, I knew that I couldn’t sustain this kind of schedule forever. Something was going to have to go…

That was in 2008. Here’s something you don’t hear much:

Thank God for 
“The Crash.”
My school system cut my job and gave me the push that I needed to do what I’d always wanted to do but didn’t think I could…

I was given a second chance to make a living from the saxophone. I wasn’t going miss it again!

I stepped up my practicing, met more fantastic local musicians and before long I was making a living as a full-time professional saxophonist in the big city! 

I played with amazing musicians, recorded CDs, and heard my tunes on the radio. I was living a life that I couldn’t have imagined only a few short years before.

My life was literally a dream come true!
There was just one problem: 
I Hated My Playing.
Regardless of how many hours I spent on the horn or how many solos I transcribed or scale patterns I learned, I wasn’t getting better. I was stuck.

At the same time, I became serious about physical fitness for the first time.

I made lots of progress and lost a lot of weight but then, much like what happened in the practice room, I got stuck. 

Nothing that I knew to do was working anymore.

That’s when I stopped being a cheap skate and hired a personal trainer to get over the plateau.
I was self-conscious and embarrassed about my fitness level at first…

But then I got over it and guess what happened?

If you guessed that I lost 70 pounds and got into the best shape of my life you’re right. I was blown away! Could getting a coach really be that powerful?

So I thought “if working with a personal trainer can make such a huge impact, I wonder if I should get a “musical personal trainer?”

I finally wrestled my pride and embarrassment that I needed lessons (even though I was supposed to be a pro now) into submission and reached out to my friend and amazing pianist, Kevin Bales about taking a lesson.
It was only a few minutes into that first lesson that I knew I wanted more lessons! 

The next few years meeting with Kevin twice a month was unbelievable. So many things that seemed like magic or super powers turned out to be learnable skills. Maybe there was hope for me?

Suddenly I was unstuck! I heard steady improvement in my playing again. 

Friends even asked: “You’ve been in the shed, huh?” (That’s gotta be the musician’s version of “have you lost weight?”)

And my teaching changed. Who knew that having a teacher would make me a better teacher?

I created practice and lesson plans constantly.

I found myself obsessed - always thinking about the easiest ways to help someone get from point A to B in their playing while taking walks, driving around town, or cooking dinner.

I discovered a new passion!
I decided to take one of my favorite lesson plans and create an online course.

It’s called “Bebop Boot Camp.” 

I was excited with the possibility of sharing my new approach with people around the world.

It was very cool to transcribe a solo or write an etude and share it with a community of other hungry musicians across the globe. 
I love that loads of other musicians (with and without day jobs) are using Bebop Boot Camp to overcome their practice room frustrations.

Today I’m so grateful to be a recording artist with a handful a charting singles and to play with fantastic musicians.

I find that the thing that excites me most, however, is helping jazz players around the world enjoy their time in the shed.
With this fresh outlook, I stand confidently on the bandstand and fearlessly create music with the players on stage. 

I stopped letting pride, fear, and self-doubt hold me back from loving the life-long process of growing as a musician. There’s comfort in knowing there is no shortage of stuff to learn. 
I’ve even found that enjoying the practice room can enhance the moments of killing it on the stage. 
I also discovered that I love learning new concepts, simplifying them, and sharing in an efficient and engaging manner.

In the end, I am grateful to have the opportunity to make the most of my second chance. I am proud to help people around the world enhance their musical journey. 

Life is good.

Kenyon Carter

Bebop Boot Camp creator, saxophonist, recording artist and jazz educator.
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