Grinnell Artists: Jonah Shin


Maddi Shinall

Jonah Shin began creating his own music when classes went online in 2020. Photo by Maddi Shinall.

Lena Wiebe

 Jonah Shin `22 did not expect to find a passion in music. Shin, who now mixes and creates his own, often jazz-infused music, is a computer science major, and recalled that his early encounters with music were mostly imposed on him. 

Shin started playing music when his mother signed him and his brother up for piano lessons in middle school. “I feel like a lot of Grinnell students have a similar story. So, I played piano – I actually kind of hated it until I quit,” Shin said.  

By high school, Shin says he started to branch out. He began playing the saxophone, which he has continued from high school through his time at Grinnell. 

He played in his high school band and jazz band, but his involvement with music stopped there. “I never really made my own music, I just kind of played whatever we had in band class,” Shin said. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to online classes in his second and third year at Grinnell College, inspiration struck. 

“I remember my mom got me a little keyboard, like a USB keyboard that you can hook up to your computer, and I was like ‘Oh, this is cool,’” said Shin. 

By the time students moved off campus, Shin was facing an increased amount of free time paired with isolation and began shifting towards creating his own music. To fill this time, Shin began creating and posting his music exclusively on his Instagram account, @jonahshin1. 

At the time, Shin was taking his first music theory class at Grinnell and began experimenting alongside others who were turning to music as a creative outlet. 

Today, Shin has continued his involvement in musical groups on campus, including the Latin Ensemble, which he said allows him to, “exercise my jazz muscles.” While he enjoys playing in a group, as a creator Shin prefers to work alone to explore his own interests. 

Shin said his early training in saxophone led to the development of his style, which is heavily influenced by jazz. 

“Jazz really has a certain vibe to it, you know? And around college I discovered jazz infusions with hip hop, and other more modern styles of jazz, and I thought that was really cool, because it was like jazz with a modern shine,” he said. 

 Shin has especially enjoyed experimenting with sampling older music and incorporating it in unusual ways, including using non-traditional percussion and rhythms. 

“It’s kind of cool to push the boundaries of music a little bit. Sometimes I make something and I’m like, ‘Oh, this sounds so basic, let me make something weirder.’” Shin explained. 

His musical process? Shin likes to keep it low stakes.  

 “If it sounds good, that’s dope, that’s great. If it sounds bad, I just kind of throw it away. And most of the time it sounds bad. So, I just keep doing that until it sounds good,” Shin said.