Student masters music one instrument at a time


Fabio Souza

It took Michael Foley around two to three days to play small sections of songs on the trumpet. After about a week he could play about half a song.

He sits slightly hunched on the bench, focusing on the movements his fingers are making. His hands move swiftly, as if they are charged with electricity. He whips the keys with smooth strokes, a cheerful melody filling the theatre.

The piano is one of seven instruments Michael Foley has learned how to play. Even though piano is his favorite he enjoys playing the trumpet, guitar, drums, saxophone, baritone and clarinet.

Because of the different tunes and rhythms, Foley spent the most time learning to play the piano.

“The piano is just so beautiful,” freshman computer technology Michael Foley said. “It can sound like multiple instruments in one and they all sound so good.”

Amy Gillingham, lecturer of cello and director of NKU String Project said that piano is one of those instruments that is incredibly difficult to play  well.

“You’re using both hands and the amount of notes you have to play for a piece of music is a lot,” Gillingham said. “You’re playing chords and melodies. You’re playing everything at the same time.”

She said that people who play more than one instrument have a natural musical ability and gift.

“But it’s what you do with it afterwards that counts and how you develop that talent and creative capability for sure,” Gillingham said.

It has taken Foley several months to be able to perform full songs. “What I’ve Done” by Linkin Park is Foley’s favorite. He even  added a beat box mix too.

This was initially difficult for Foley because the beat boxing would confuse his rhythm. Now Foley can play the entire song with few mistakes.

“Your brain focuses on one tune and then the beat boxing is a different pattern,” Foley said.                “Trying to layer those is really hard mentally and it took me months to get it to flow right.”

His mission to learn these instruments began with his love for music. Foley grew up surrounded by music. His family listened to pop and rock every second of the day.

“My cousin was a big rock fan, like one of the biggest I knew at the time, and he brought that love out in me,” Foley said. “I’ve stuck with it and it’s my style now. I also really enjoy jazz, too. Music’s just been there my whole life.”

In high school Foley joined marching band, where his band director served as his instrument mentor.

If a spot on their team wasn’t filled and an instrument needed a player, Foley stepped in. What other students saw as a burden, Foley saw as an opportunity.

For seven years Foley was the ‘filler guy.’ Wherever the director needed him, he was there.

“Everyone who knew me was like, ‘What are you going to play next year, are you going to do clarinet, are you going to do flute?’ I was like, ‘If he gives it to me,’” Foley said. “I always loved that, it was a challenge.”

After playing the trumpet for the first two years, Foley wanted to develop his skills and embrace his jazz hands.

“The trumpet was the first one I picked for myself because I wanted to play it for my grandpa’s funeral,” Foley said. “I wanted to play the Military Taps, it’d be like the hardest thing to do but that was my thought when I wanted the trumpet.”

It took Foley around two to three days to play small sections of songs on the trumpet. After about a week he could play about half a song.

The average time that Foley learns the basics of an instrument is usually three days.

Foley’s sister, Tiffany, has always been amazed with his talents. While Tiffany has had experience singing, she’s never been able to pick up on playing any instruments.  

“I have no clue how he does it,” Tiffany, a junior English education major, said. “It completely blows my mind that [Michael] can just pick up an instrument and be able to play it pretty good right away. I’ve always tried to watch him and learn but it’s impossible.”

She said not all  people can learn how to do something as complicated as playing an instrument so quickly and have the tune sound so pleasant.

“There’s a joke in my head that I always say; I’m a music prodigy but I’ve been yet discovered,” Foley said. “It’s just one those I-don’t-know things. If someone explains how it’s done, I pick it up and play it. For me it’s just that simple.”

Despite having multiple instrumental talents, Foley’s future lies in game development.

High school is also where his interest peaked and he realized he wanted to pursue a career designing video games.

Foley and his friends would spend weekends playing “Call of Duty,” “Assassin’s Creed,” “World of Warcraft,” and “Halo.”

“I want to tell stories to the world through video games,” Foley said. “Having a musical background I could work on writing my own theme music or background music for the game, which I thought was really cool because then it would be all self-designed.”