Back in the saddle again….
I’ve been off guitarchitecture for a while. I posted a new podcast on guitagrip.com, and have taken on a few other projects (I’m the musical director/foley jockey for a new production at Siena College that starts in a few weeks, picked up new students, worked on some consultations for other projects, booked some new korisoron shows, worked with ZT amps for some videos we’ll be doing to promote their awesome acoustic amps and related material). But more importantly related to my absence here, I’ve noticed some severe attention deficit for my interactions with various things.
In addition to trying to be mindful of the fact that multiple options typically leads to overwhelm and inactivity rather than making better choices – I still found myself struggling with finding time to work out or read a book. These two activities in particular also happen to be things that are very grounding for me.
So clearly something wasn’t working. In analyzing my actions, I realized that much of my day was spent working under the illusion of being proactive (checking e-mail repeatedly for example) with being reactive (now forcing myself to react to an email with an immediate urgency for something that wasn’t even an issue a minute earlier).
It’s the illusion of getting something done in a timely manner, but it sabotages short and long term goals.
Physician Heal Thyself
In a recent lesson, I gave a student the same advice that I needed for myself, namely to find the things that trigger a flow state and adapt that to practicing.
By a flow state, I mean events that you can loose yourself in without being aware of time passing. This might mean playing, or reading or working on your car. It’s whatever event you can fully immerse yourself in.
For me, that’s reading, and then that’s guitar playing. As a kid, I would read books constantly not being aware of what time had passed. Guitar playing came a lot later and had a lot of extra baggage associated with it that had to be overcome to be in a flow state. (such as editing and analyzing what you’re playing as you play it – even having worked on that a lot I still find myself falling into that mode once in a while).
So I got back into reading books. Physical books picked up from the library. Serious reading where skimming was avoided (I found myself skimming sections to get to the next part and then coming back and re-reading things in a deeper way) and every word that was on the page came into the internal narrative of what I was reading. When I lived in Boston, it was easy because it took at least 30 minutes each way to get anywhere by train, so I always brought a book with me and read it on the train. But now that I drive everywhere, it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of REALLY reading something of substance (just like it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of walking places when you find yourself driving everywhere).
It’s easy to be dismissive of this. After all to read a two to three sentence synopsis of a much deeper topic is easier, faster and easier to act on yes?
The short answer is no. The longer answer is, it’s completely missing the point.
The Filter bubble
I was thinking a lot about Eli Pariser’s filter bubble book. In a filter bubble, uncommon data is eliminated so that the more common data rises to the top of the searches. So when you do a google search for something, you’re only skimming the surface of the data out there. This is great when you want to find specific data (like a water table for a county for a specific year), but not so great when you’re looking for specific topics.
Years ago, my friend Randy saw a Charles Manson shirt and commented that people used faces like Manson and Hitler to be provocative because they weren’t well informed enough to find more relevant contemporary people. They went with what was easy or immediately accessible.
So a filter bubble is like handing someone a 6-string guitar with only 2 strings and saying, “ok here’s a guitar. Now go play “smoke on the water.” You can play the main riff of the tune on 2 strings, but without the rest of the strings on the guitar you’re missing out on a lot. In my case, it’s engaging in reading as a process to come to a deeper understanding of something, rather than developing a “hack” shortcut.
The synopsis approach in action
The reality of the above mentioned two to three-sentence synopsis for most people is some variation of this process:
1. Read the synopsis.
2. Do an internal litmus test to see if it seems plausible.
3. Google the term to see if there’s a common consensus on the topic.
4. If it’s determined to be correct, then it’s added to the list of things that they learned today, filed it into memory and then transmitted to other people as knowledge.
In other words, it’s very rarely acted upon. This is what happens when you are reacting to data all the time. You get overwhelmed and can’t really internalize things.
Another YouTube Rant
It seems like every day someone is sending me some new YouTube link to some playalong or performance. You want to know why there are SO MANY videos of technical guitar videos on YouTube?
Because (in the scheme of things) it’s not that hard to do.
You could train a monkey to play the version of “flight of the bumblebee” that so many guitarists post (btw – I blame a Guitar Player transcription/lesson of Jennifer Batten for this version being in existence because that seems to be the one everyone is referencing for fingerings). It’s not about music, it’s about getting a few specific techniques under your belt to meet a specific goal. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a limited end unto itself.
I pretty much stopped watching YouTube guitar videos because:
A: I saw the filter bubble in action. So many of the videos I saw were clearly guys who had watched the same video, or learned the same tune.
B: I have my own thing to work on, so unless it’s really special, I really don’t care what other guitarists are doing.
So, I don’t care about shred videos on YouTube. I don’t care that an 8 year old can play “Scarified” not all that well at near the recorded tempo. What DO I care about then?
This in contrast is a lot harder:
This is making music. This is what happens when a master musician becomes a shaman and invokes the spirit behind the song. It’s about being completely in the moment. It’s about having something to say and speaking it directly to other people.
It’s being in the flow and taking other people with you.
It’s about being in the present. Not checking your email every 15 minutes to see if you’re missing something.
It’s about the duende moment. The moment the hair stands up on your arms and you feel more alive than before.
That doesn’t happen online. That doesn’t happen in a text. That happens with people in a room sharing an honest naked moment.
Creating that moment starts with you, the performer being in the moment and bringing people there.
Being in the moment is something that has to be practiced. Now, possibly more than ever.
That’s why I started working on things that fell into my flow state more often. The more I enter flow, the more easily I can enter in in other areas of my life. The more I can bring that when I perform. The more I can create something beyond the veneer of flash and get to touching people in a real way.
So, that’s where I’m at. A work in progress moving towards reconciling an analog past with a digital present and doing it (for now) increasingly offline.
As always, thanks for reading! I hope this helps you in some way!