A Few Connor McGregor Quotes To Consider

Right now some of you might be reading this and thinking,

“Oh Geez…what is up with this guy and MMA?  I just want to play guitar.”

But to me they’re related.  Completely utterly and totally.

Because what it takes to get on a stage and improvise is also what it takes to get in a ring with someone who wants nothing more than to knock or choke you out.

You have to prepare endlessly and ruthlessly and get yourself to the best possible place you can be in and even then, in your absolute prime, you might get caught and KO’d.

The fighters who quit at that point are the ones who look at the match and say, “All that work was for nothing.”  They’re wed to an outcome.

The fighters who stick it out are the ones who are wed to the process.  They know that sometimes you have a good night and sometimes you have a bad night but if your training and preparation is excellent, then there’s a likelihood that even on a bad night you might be better than your opponent is on a good night.

When asked, “Why would you post something about Connor McGregor after he just lost a fight?”  the above is the answer.  Everyone loses a fight.  Everyone gets knocked down but the question is what is it that motivates you to get back up again?

“There’s no talent here, this is hard work…This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.”

and (Re: the Jose Aldo 13 second KO)

“To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds.”

I’m going to be posting a lengthy description about what it really means to practice something as that relates to both short term skill acquisition and long term mastery.  It may provide you some solace that most people know nothing about practicing, because most people do the same thing over and over, make very little progress and assume that because they put in the time that they know how to do it.

And I know this because I’ve been there.  Heck, I spent most of my life there!  I’ve now been playing guitar for most of my life and I’m STILL confronting the differences between what I think and what I know.

A recent story from a recent gig

Last Friday, I played a gig with Korisoron.  It was our usual repeating gig with a big difference – we had a special flamenco trio playing with us and as my wife was the dancer, I wanted to make sure it went well.  (If you live in the capital region of New York and you’re looking for Flamenco dance lessons or someone to dance for your show you can find her here!)

So I was running around a lot.  There was a lot of pre show and packing and set up and I didn’t get to warm up before I played.

In the OLDE days, I would have an entire ritual that I’d go through running scales and whatnot trying to get my hands ready.  Eventually I figured out that those gigs never worked well.  The gigs I played the best were ones where I was very lightly wamed up and not thinking about it too much.

Instead of running scales, I’ll play parts of songs or, in this case, pick a slow tune to start of the set and warm up over a song or two.  By the second tune I was largely good to go.

Is that a strategy I’d recommend for other people?  Absolutely not.  It worked for me in that context because I’ve already put the work in.  The work happens in the shed.  If the prep is done then it’s just a matter of going out an executing the best you can.

In my experience there is no cookie cutter formula to gigs where you’re improvising a lot other than being able to gauge the situation, making yourself as comfortable as possible and working from there.  As a kid, i got frostbite in my hands and feet and now even on days with mild weather my hands need extra time to warm up.  If it’s a hot gig with a lot of sweat I have to make other adjustments for my hands.  If I’m in a room where I can’t hear that well – I have to adjust again.

That kind of self-awareness happens over years of playing and learning how you respond to things.  Of getting to the point where you know what works and what doesn’t for you.

If you put the work in, then 90% of what happens in the ring, on the stage, is mental.  IF YOU PUT THE WORK IN.  That’s an important clarifier I’ve seen a lot of people talk a good talk about the mental game and fall apart on stage because they thought something they didn’t know.

“To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds.”

To the untrained ear, an improvised solo is just magic notes from some mystic place that flow out over a verse or a chorus.  To those in the know, it’s a lifetime of work to pull those notes from a very concrete place to then make that moment sing.

In the next post, I plan to outline a specific practice strategy for how I get something done on a deadline – but in the meantime I hope you’ll consider a few points.

  • You can’t get anything of long term value without putting in the work for it.
  • Focus on the process not just to the outcome.
  • It’s not just about mindless work.  Learn what works best for you and use that knowledge to make better gains in what you’re working on.
  • Talent is just practice in disguise.

Thanks for reading!

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For those of you in NYC this Friday (3/11/16) KoriSoron is opening for Persian Tar and Setar virtuoso Sahba Motallebi at le poisson rouge – 155 Bleecker Street.  Doors at 6:30.  Music at 7:30.  $15 in advance.  $20 day of show.  More information on the Facebook event page here!

The Gig As A Teaching Tool And Evading The Black Hole

My relationship to gigging has changed a lot over the years.

For many years, a gig to me was only as good as what I played.   If I didn’t feel I played well, then the gig was bad and if I played well then the gig was good.   During that time, at best, I didn’t feel that I played any gig particularly well.

Mostly I would just beat myself up after a gig and disparage what I did as a musician and as a human being.  Because (the faulty logic went) if the gig sucked then I sucked at the gig and if I sucked at a gig then I must suck as a guitarist – and how could that be after all the time put into it to not suck?

That’s an amateur view of gigging.  It took me a while to realize  I was using bad logic and taking the wrong lesson away from what I was doing.  (You can read another post of mine here that goes into much more depth about the amateur mindset and how to discard it.)

All guitarists still play mediocre gigs….it’s just that great guitarists play them less often, and a great guitarist’s mediocre gig is still at a higher level than a great gig played by an okay guitarist.   Additionally, professional guitarists disconnect from gigs when they’re done.  They might struggle after the gig, but they let things go because there’s another gig on the horizon to focus on.

But mostly what changed my relationship to gigging was the audience.

I started realizing that my own self assessment was really secondary to what the audience got out of it.  If I didn’t care about what the audience got out of it, then there was no point in playing to an audience.

The weird thing is that the audience got VERY different takes on the gigs than I typically did.  The gigs I hated were gigs the audience members often dug… and he gigs I liked?  By and large the audience was apathetic.  Eventually – between the audiences assessment and my assessment – I learned how to really gauge the temperature of the gig and how it really went.

The real question here is – Why does that matter?

If you’re asking yourself that question to puff yourself up and convince yourself how great you are, being able to gauge the success of the gig is not helpful at all.

For me, the importance is that being able to gauge what happened more objectively is an opportunity to learn.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What should I do again?  For the things that didn’t work, how can I prepare myself better to get a better result?  As George Santayana said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Case in Point:

Last night I played a benefit gig at a place called the Linda in Albany, NY.  It’s the performance arts studio for WAMC radio and a very cool venue with a great staff and cool eclectic booking.  We were playing a benefit for WAMC with three other bands.  Our soundcheck was scheduled for 5.  Doors were at 7.  We got there early but assumed we’d probably soundcheck at 5:30.

The Linda had put a new sound system in that day that they were trying out so the staff had already been on hand for most of the day.  Two of the groups were going to use a backline (i.e. have guitar and bass amps and a common drum kit for use by multiple bands) to save time both in sound checking and switching between bands.  We got there around 4:45 and soundcheck was running behind.  The two bands before us had a number of things that had to be checked and we ended up loading our stuff onstage to soundcheck at about 6:45.

So the event began with a little stress but, truth be told, most events work on a “Wait – wait – now Hurry UP!” cycle.  We got our things on stage and worked out a few things with percussion mics and ended up running a few bars of a few tunes.  The house sound is LOUD and the monitors in front of me are on the brink of feeding back.  The tone I hear coming back at me is MEGA treble so I try to adjust with my own eq but its still jarring to me and LOUD.    I ask to be pulled out of the monitor directly in front of me as  I figured I could just use the house sound as a monitor if need be.

We left the stage around 7:10 – feeling really bad that this essentially screwed Bryan Thomas, the opening act, out of any kind of a proper soundcheck.  We talked to him as he was setting up and he said he can work around it (and he certainly did – Bryan pulled off a really cool loop based solo singer set)!  We then walked over to Van’s (a great Vietnamese restaurant in Albany) to get some pho before the set, and literally get back for the last tune of Bryan’s set and then have to load on.

While we were gone, unbeknownst to me, the overall house sound system volume dropped.  We got on stage, said a quick introduction and launched into the first tune.

At this point I couldn’t really hear myself so I started picking harder.  A lot harder.  Like bluegrass hard.  It was way too much excess tension and my hands were not responding the way I wanted them to.  We get through the piece.

The audience applauds and I introduce the next tune.  We only have a 1/2 hour and have already cut one tune from the set to get in under the time limit so (in a bad judgement call) I’m more focused on trying to get through the gig than taking the 30 seconds it would take to fix the problem.  Tune 2 – my hands are not responding at all the way I want them to.  I’m playing and they’re losing synchronization.  At this point, I become mindful of the fact that in addition to being too tense that I also have some adrenaline going and that’s pushing me beyond what I should be doing – hence the lack of synchronization.  I take micro breaks where I can to make sure I can pull off the unison line at the end.  We get through it.  The audience applauds again.  I take a breath and address the issues.

I try to joke with the audience to build rapport and keep them engaged.  I ask for some of myself back into the monitor.  Tune 3 is a slower tune.  I scale back and try to play less and continue to rest my hands where I can.  I try to balance being engaged with the music with doing what I need to do to technically get through the gig.  We get through the rest of the set.  It’s not one of my better performances – but it’s the best I can do in the situation.

I’m bummed because I know that this performance is being recorded for a future broadcast and I’m not super psyched about all of my mistakes being experienced over and over again but on the plus side, the audience is awesome.  They’re kind and super receptive, really giving us something back and really digging what what we’re doing.  The Linda staff is great and super supportive and John Chiara did a great job We make some new fans and some new friends.

I don’t play particularly well – but it’s a good gig for us.

This is one of those situations where my problem easily could have easily trainwrecked the gig.  You ever have that moment where you wake up and something bad happens when you get out of bed and that sets off a whole series of chain reactions in place (like tripping over a laundry hamper, cutting yourself shaving and/or burning yourself with spilled coffee)?  I call that entering the black hole.  Once you get sucked into a bad moment, it’s easy to get caught in the inertia of that energy (the  gravitational pull of the black hole) and just have compounding errors that spiral out of control.

There are two ways out of the black hole – and both involve mindfulness.

1.  Don’t go into the black hole.  If things go wrong, be aware of what’s happening and make mild adjustments and try to stay on course.

2.  If mistakes are compounding – take a breath.  Observe what is going on and make necessary corrections to get back on track.

This doesn’t come naturally.  You can’t learn it in a practice room by yourself.  The only way to be able to do this mid-gig is through a lot of practice and (un)fortunately, I’ve had numerous opportunities to practice this in a live setting.

Gigs are valuable opportunities to gain insights about what you do and the best ways to do it and (without getting to wu-wu here) no matter how many gigs you play, you will always learn something if you’re ready for the lesson.

As always, I hope this helps!

Thanks for reading.

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Asking The Right Questions And Being Clear On What We Do

Asking the Right Questions

I read a lot of different material.  I believe that reading is, at least, as important to what I play as what I listen to – just as I would also say that what films, and television I engage in is equally important.  This goes back to some of the statments echoed in Swami Childvilasanda’s The Yoga of Discipline (yes I had to go to my book shelf and pull down my copy to get the spelling of the name correct, which talks about how important it is to be vigilant about what we expose ourselves to because it all influences (and ultimately becomes) a pat of us in some way.  The book is a collection of essays on discipline (discipline in Seeing, Listening, Eating, Speaking, Silence and Thinking) as a path towards spiritual liberation. It’s a very interesting book and one that had me take several lessons to heart.

With that in mind, I tend to do a lot of reading on a lot of different topics because I find that I’m able to implement ideas or strategies from a business book in a different way than, say learning a melodic minor lick to play over a chord progression.  In this case I was reading a 99U book, Make Your Mark The Creative’s guide to building a business with impact and came across a Tim O’Reily quote that engaged me.  I’m going to hijack that quote, bracket one term that can be replaced with practically anything and add bolded emphasis for what I think are the two critical takeways:

“I was in a brainstorm about the future of the US economy recently , and it was all about the decline of the middle class.  It reminded me of so many  conversations that I have had with [*major labels].  They ask, ‘How are we going to preserve our place in the ecosystem?’ and I say, ‘Nobody cares about that.  That’s the wrong question.’  The right question is, ‘What does the world need?  What do my customers need?  What can I do?’….So you have to clarify: Who is your actual target?  What are you trying to accomplish in the world?  Everything else should flow from that.”

* This was originally [publishers], but could also be [live music venues], [musicians], [artists] etc. etc.

(For what it’s worth, here’s a related quote from the same interview that you may find interesting:

“Aaron Levie of Box tweeted something great about Uber recently.  He said, ‘Uber is a $3.5 Billion lesson in building for how the world should work instead of optimizing for how the world does work.'”)

This is something that so many artists, including myself, frequently get wrong.

We make it about us.

When asked the question, “why” we (as in we musicians and artists) often focus on what we do. We set up a scenario that works on the idea that because we are doing good work that the nature of that good work will attract other people – like bees to a flower.

That’s nonsense and I’m occasionally guilty of that thinking as well. “Nobody cares about that.”  That’s what people don’t realize about getting internet traction.  People don’t care about what you’re doing until you give them a reason to care. That means engaging them and making it something they care about.

If you’re a musician – it’s not all about you.

“The right question is, ‘What does the world need?  What do my customers need?  What can I do?”

I don’t engage people because I play guitar.  I engage people because I have something to say that they want to hear.  What we do as musicians is tell stories.  We move people.

People come to see us because of how we help make them feel before, during and after a show.  That’s what our customers need.  That’s how they become fans and come back to our shows.

What I work on technically is in service to that goal.  I work on those things so that I can express myself in the most honest and direct way possible and not have that engagement with the audience interrupted with mistakes or other issues.

I was reminded of this because I played a show with KoriSoron on Friday and it took me about four songs to get into the groove.  The volume levels were mismatched and I was distracted and it took a while to get into the zone (and even then it was hard to stay in the zone – realizing that I had counted off one tune too fast and was not going to be able to execute the ending figure cleanly at that tempo I had to re adjust the form to make it work).  Part of me was really disappointed with my performance that evening but the audience liked the show and will be bringing even more people with them next time.

Is it about me or my perception of the show?

“I can’t believe I wasn’t playing better!!  The audience will tear apart my performance (assumes Piper Laurie voice from Carrie, “THEY’RE ALL GONNA LAUGH AT YOU!”)!

Or is it about communicating something honest with the audience, being genuine in the moment and giving them an experience that they can take with them?  The audience liked the show, warts and all.  That doesn’t mean that I can stop and sit on my laurels and just slide – it means that I should keep working to the best of my ability but rather than getting hung up on one particular aspect that it would behoove me to remember why I’m practicing the things I’m working on (to make an optimum performance for the audience and not stroke my ego and say, “look what I can do!” to no one in particular.)

If you’re not getting the results you want from what you’re doing you may not be answering the right questions.  Once thing you can do is to harness the voice of your inner 2 year old niece or nephew (the one who always asks “why” after everything you say.)  When you state something, ask “why?”  and when you answer it, again ask “why?” and keep challenging your beliefs and assumptions until you get down to the core of what it is you’re doing.

A quick note and a quick plug:

For those of you who are in a rut and/or interested in developing your lead and rhythm playing I’m developing an exciting new group program that will help take you to the next level in the shortest amount of time.  I’m pulling the material together now and looking to launch later this year or the beginning of next year.

Please be aware that about the only thing in the world i hate is hype.  This is no hype or no miracle cure that “works” on osmossis or some other ridiculous claim.  This is a hyper-focused, results driven process that combines effort and efficiency to get players who are willing to put the work, time and dedication in to get where they want to go.

I’ve been doing a lot of research and I haven’t been able to find anyone that’s using even a remotely similar pedagogical system.

I’ll have more information about this in the months ahead, but if you’re interested in the meantime – send me at email at guitarblueprint at gmail [dot] com.

A quick plug (for those of you in the capital region of New York)

KoriSoron frequently collaborates with FCI (Festival Cinema Invisible) on their film series (Korisoron’s Farzad Golpayegani does the poster designs and I help with the press releases and event planning).

FCI is kicking off a cool new bi-monthly series “Pathways to Iran” that explores Persian culture through film and dialog with “Food Stories – Uncommon Recipes, Common Humanity” a film screening and recipe tasting at Proctors GE Theatre on Sunday, September 13th at 4pm.

This cultural event features a rare screening of two films from Iran; “Five Pieces on Iranian Dishes” (a documentary directed by Sepideh Abtahi, 54 mins.), which looks at Iranian society of the past century through food, and “A Perfect Meal” (a short directed by Pooria Jahanshad, 8 mins.) which uses a formal meal setting to examine food and culture.

After the screening there will be a panel discussion on the role of food in Iranian culture with audience Q&A and a recipe demonstration and tasting of various dishes from Iran.

1. Abgoosht: A meat based traditional, middle/working class food that now is turned into an adventurous favorite. There will be a demo of the food on one of the films, and the panel will talk about its cultural connection. There will be a tasting of Goshte Koobideh, a part of this food that tastes good even cold.

2. Borani (vegetarian): a mixture of yogurt and spinach with variety of nuts, was used as food, but today it is mostly served as dip.

3. Salad Shirazi (vegan): A uniquely Iranian salad which is also claimed by Israelis and Arabs. The organizer calls it the “Peace Salad” because of the stories he will share about his travels to Israel and Palestine.

Additionally, there will be handouts with the recipes for guests to take home: Persian style tea is also included in the $10 admission. Tickets are available at the Proctors box office or online at proctors.org/events.

(The next event will be on Sunday November 22 and will feature a performance by KoriSoron (!!), two very cool documentaries on music in Iran and a panel discussion with some special guests! Future events include the topics of Women in Iran and Outsiders in Iran.)

That’s it for now!  As always I hope this helps and thanks for reading!

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KoriSoron (me), Feedback Analysis (and You)

KoriSoron

Last year on this day, I wrote a post called Due Versus Do.  The post talked about the need to put the work in and pay dues in building your craft and building an audience and outlined a plan for building a regional audience (If you’re playing live music – you might find it to be an interesting read).  It’s also a good example of setting up a parameter for feedback analysis.

Feedback Analysis

I first read about this term in a book called Heart, Smarts, Goals And Luck which was a book that talked about self assessing those areas on a HSGL scale to determine where the reader’s strengths were as an entrepreneur.  The quote below is from notes I made from the book – so I believe that it’s paraphrased from Peter Drucker.

Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen.  9-12 months later compare expectations (with outcomes).  Otherwise it’s too easy to rationalize a decision Ex Post Facto.

This is something I happened to be doing in goal setting – but was remiss in going back to see how well those things actually worked!

What This Means for You

Feedback analysis is a great way to look at how your goal setting is actually working.  It’s not enough to just write down goals.  In reviewing them you can also see what’s working, what’s not working and how to best steer your ship from here.  It requires looking at what you did, warts and all, and coming up with an honest assessment.

As an example of this process using the web post from a year ago – how did KoriSoron do with feedback analysis? (again the initial post is linked here in case you’d like to compare Due Versus Do).

1 / 2.  Open Mics (play in front of people) / play traditional non traditional venues.  We didn’t explore this a lot.  Largely because we put our focus on working on new material and playing new venues.  It’s something I’ll probably explore solo to try to open some doors – but the yield of getting people from an open mic to a show was non-existant and the open mics didn’t yield gigs in and of themselves.  It IS a good way to network (in a legitimate way like making friends instead of a slimy way of using people), but it requires showing up every week to do so.  Typically it’s a 3 hour investment in an evening to play for 5-10 minutes but probably worth it if you’re trying to break into a new market / venue.

We played a number of different venues, and that coupled with the monthly gig at Arthur’s has been REALLY useful for us in terms of feedback for what works and what doesn’t work for the show.

For me, it’s interesting to see the yield of what I practice that I think will work versus what works in a live setting.  No matter what methods I use, it always tells me something different and I can only get that information playing live.

3 /5   Developing Marketing material / Social Media / Get Visible and Record material.  We made some strides here.  Farzad pulled together a strong website and we did a lot via Facebook.  We wrote a lot of new material and got Dean Mirabito to play percussion with us (which added a whole other dimension to what we do) and  started digging deep to get into the nuances of the tunes to improve our performances and live shows.  This also involved a lot of experiments with arrangements and live sound options and involved a lot of trial and error.

We also started recording every show (and using a standalone recorder for a live mixer as well) and that’s been great pre-production for going into the studio.  But recording is the next thing that we’re targeting in a big way.

4.  Network.  This is something that needs improvement.  Our tunes are very difficult to play and require a lot of practicing.  It’s only now (a year later) that I’m starting to get a sense of what the tunes are and what our sound is enough to start going back out to shows in a consistent way.  Everything is this business is based on what you can do and who knows what you can do.  Again – I’m not into spammy networking, you have to have legitimate relationships with people – but if you don’t network you’re going to play in your room forever.

6.  Build bigger.  Here’s a GREAT strategy from Heart, Smarts, Guts and Luck that encapsulates this –

Think Big – Start Small – (Scale Fast)

I put scale fast in parenthesis because in business you need to scale quickly.  In art, you need to scale at the rate you can scale.  You’re developing a foundation that you need to build on.  To modify the suggestion strategy:

Think Big – Start Small – Output Constantly – Review – Revise – Repeat

I hope this helps!

As always, thanks for reading!

(and hope to see you at a KoriSoron show soon!)

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Some Lessons From A Boxing Match

Let’s start with the sweet science

My last post used a quote from boxing, and this post uses some lessons a friend of mine taught me about boxing.  The reason for this is that, in my head, there are a number of parallels between sports and guitar playing, the biggest one being that both require a seemingly endless amount of training and preparation to be able to pull of a performance at the best of your ability in front of an audience.

As I write this, UFC champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey just took her 12 straight win to remain undefeated with a knock out in 34 seconds.  This means that the sum total of her last three fights is under a minute.  Her detractors say this doesn’t mean anything.  They want to see her go the distance in a fight.  I disagree with them.  The fact that she can finish those fights so quickly says EVERYTHING about how much work and preparation she put into those fights.

I read Ronda’s biography and the thing that resonated with me (other than the endless grueling training – I thought back to a LOT of 12-hour days at Berklee while reading this) is how much she got up and kept going when she was knocked down in her life.  When she was back in the states after getting a bronze in the Olympics for judo with no gainful employment she tended bar, worked at an animal shelter and worked as a gym receptionist while living in a car, and managed to get her head in the game and turn herself around from that situation to become the most dominant athlete (male or female IMHO) on the planet.  (You have to have the mental and the physical skills to get to the top of your game.)

Back to the boxing

A good friend of mine (who just happens to be an unbelievable guitar player, musician, songwriter and guitar builder ) Chris Fitzpatrick, recently “celebrated” a milestone birthday in an unconventional way when he signed up to raise money by fighting in a Haymakers For Hope event.  (Haymakers for Hope is an organization that sponsors fights to raise money for cancer research).

It is impossible to understand the physical and mental demands that are required to walk into (and out of) a boxing match if you’ve never stepped foot in a ring.  Some people take a 1/2 hour boxing cardio class and think, “that’s not so hard – I could do 3 minute rounds” not understanding that it’s a whole other thing to try to throw punches when there’s another person there determined to knock you out.  If you haven’t prepped, even if you can avoid getting hit – you’re likely not going to make it out of the first round.

(Some language NSFW.  This excerpt is from the film Heckler, but I’d also recommend Raging Boll which shows more footage from this fight.)

My friend Fitz trained for months to get ready for his fight which required intensive diet and training, getting up at ungodly early hours and pushing his body to the absolute limit.  This was more remarkable given that this fight is something sane people 20-30 years younger might do on a dare.  He won the fight which you can see here.

While he was training, we talked a lot about the similarities between learning how to fight  and learning how to play guitar.  After the fight, there’s a whole post-fight period of introspection – kind of like a post gig introspection, and during that I asked him what lessons he learned.  The lessons he learned are a great guide for guitar playing, or any other venture you want to engage in.

With that – here’s a short sweet list of lessons courtesy of Chris Fitzpatrick.  Remember that the difference between thinking something and knowing something is that knowledge is experiential – so I hope you’ll learn these hard fought lessons of knowledge easier than Fitz had to learn them!   (Also, make sure to check out his Strange County Drifters project and keep an eye out for some forthcoming FnH guitars!)

Lessons:

  1. Don’t be outworked.
  2. Practice for perfection, understanding that perfection is a just a goal, not to be used as a judgement of success or failure.
  3. Push through your limits, you will be amazed at what you discover about yourself and what you can do.
  4. Your comfort zone is a place to rest, not a place to live.
  5. There will always be someone better, Always. learn from them.
  6. Ego is the most dangerous barrier to achievement.
  7. Your mind is so incredibly powerful that it can override your physical being. We all live this everyday and don’t even realize it. Use it.
  8. No one cares except for you. Don’t bother trying to make others care. Care for yourself.
  9. Breathe and relax.

All of these apply to everything, but my discipline is music and guitar.

To which I would add the famous Samurai maxim, “Seven times down – Eight times up.”

There are real limits in life.  If you haven’t ever done a bench press (and never done a similar physical activity) you’re not going to pop a heavy weight off your chest on a bench your first time- but that doesn’t mean that you won’t ever be able to do it.

You don’t know what you can’t do today until you try.
You don’t know what you can’t do tomorrow when you put the work in today.
You don’t know what you can’t do a year from now when you put the work in everyday.

A limit you have today doesn’t necessarily have to be a life long limit if it’s something you can change with consistent, focused work.

I hope this helps!  Thanks again to Chris Fitzpatrick for sharing!

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Make Sure You Have Your Bionoculars If You Want To Visualize Something

Hi Everyone!

For some reason, a number of feeds have been popping up in my viewer that talk about the importance of visualization.  I believe in visualization – it’s going to be much harder to get to a specific destination without a goal in mind – but I also think there are two very important aspects to visualization that often get overlooked.

1. Skill set

It’s important to have an end goal but it doesn’t matter that you can see something on the horizon if you don’t have the tools at your disposal to get there.

That’s not to say that it’s hopeless, or that you can never develop the tools that you need.  You absolutely can develop your skills and realizing that (AND ACTUALLY WORKING ON developing those skills/tools in a consistent and incremental manner) is a critical part of that process but I have heard a number of people talk about actuating change in some bizarre adaptation of “The Secret” where they honestly believe that if they can just visualize whatever their goal is in a clear way that it will then manifest itself.

In my experience, this is not the case in playing guitar.

Playing guitar in a live setting (or engaging in any endeavor that requires having to perform in a high pressure situation) always involves a balance between mastering the mental game and mastering the physical one.  I’m a big proponent of overcoming the mental obstacles that hold many players back from reaching their potential, but that has to be balanced with having the physical foundation to support what’s going on mentally.

2.  Visualizing the smaller steps

It’s one thing to say, “I’m going to be a great guitarist.”  but the critical thing after that realization is to answer the question of, “What do I need to do to actually become a great guitarist?”

To reach any goal, it helps to visualizing it but you then also have to visualize the steps to reach that goal, take action on them and adjust your trajectory accordingly.  The process itself is actually very simple but maintaining it is a whole other thing entirely!

This is just a friendly reminder.  And with that, I’m back to the wood shed!

I hope this helps!

As always, thanks for reading.

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Passion Vs. Obsession

Bobby Fischer’s Chess Game Vs. The Cuban Missile Crisis

There is an apocryphal chess story involving Bobby Fischer that I find myself reflecting on often.

As the story goes, in 1962 a number of high ranking American chess players had gathered to strategize and practice for an upcoming international chess tournament.  This happened to be during what would later be know as “The Cuban Missile Crisis”, and everyone on hand was sitting around watching the events unfold on television and talking about what the possible outcomes would be.  Many people thought that we were going to have a nuclear war and, in retrospect, we came very close to having that happen.

Everyone, that is, except Bobby Fischer who was looking at a chess board and getting increasingly annoyed until he couldn’t stand it anymore and finally yelled out, “Can anyone tell me what this has to do with chess?”

Obsession vs. Passion

By their nature of practicing the same things over and over again, many guitar players are obsessive about all aspects of what they do.  Non-guitarists will often laugh as players get into endless arguments about who the better player is, or the better guitar or the better amp or any other aspect of minutiae that is lost on non players.

When you start off playing guitar – you have to have some element of this going for you because the discipline it takes to get calluses, much less get the finger strength to play the dreaded first position F Major partial barre chord, is not something that comes natural to some people.

For myself, I engaged in everything that I did at 100%.  When I was at Berklee, like many players I knew at the time – iit was difficult to find me without a guitar in my hand but if you did – it was when I was looking for new music, reading a book, watching a film or going to the gym – all in service of making me a better player.  For example, I went to the gym to increase my stamina and try to look better on stage.  And there wasn’t a plan – beyond a general desire to become a “professional guitarist” – it was just a series of events and occurrences that came about from having poor impulse control (“Go to a film?  Sure! Let’s go!”) and following things through to some kind of end that either came from boredom (aka the goldfish mentality – “I’m tired of working on this – OH THAT’S a cool Lick!”) or actual completion.

As my life after my undergrad went from months to years to decades after I stopped going there, a strange mid-life crisis came about.

Stage one was, “You’re not going to be a rock star.”  That was okay, because I knew this early on and I also had no desire to be a rock star.  I always wanted to be in a band rather than a solo artist and when I imagined what I wanted to do ideally – it was playing in something like Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds where they could play theater level shows anywhere in the world and make a comfortable living.

This was less of an issue for me than it was for other people.  In other words, as the years went on and I got better as a player and a teacher the people around me (who really cared about me but didn’t understand what I was doing), started pushing the whole, “So since this music thing isn’t making you any money perhaps its time to move on and do something else.”  See the rock star thing wasn’t interesting to me, but being able to devote myself to something I loved was interesting to me.

Stage two was, “You’re not getting any younger and the music business isn’t getting any better.”

The first step of this involved taking a series of gigs that I didn’t like just to keep playing guitar and feel that I could call myself a professional musician.  This was basically letting the judgmental nonsense of other players I knew infect my head and drill down into my feelings of self identity.  This lead down a very dark path that took me a long time to understand what was going on and to swing out of.

The second step was just seeing all of the traditional paths that I knew worked vanishing in front of me.  In hindsight, not a bad thing but that was pretty scary writing on the wall for a while.

So everything was an end to a goal.  I’d take a day job to pay bills and do whatever I had to try to advance myself at the same time.

But a lot suffered because of it.  Because of this self added pressure – I was always wrapping my head around what the next step would be.  Everything was goal and task driven which was great for goals and tasks but not so great for everything else.

And life is mostly everything else.

I’d go on vacation and get really tense because I wasn’t getting anything done.  I’d watch TV and run scales because at least I was “doing something”.  It was crazy making and while it was supposed to be self-empowering it just became self defeating because no matter what was done – there was always more to do.  Literally everything became, “What does this have to do with guitar?”

And I burned myself out.  With so many things fighting for attention and fighting for mental bandwidth the circuits just fried.  And getting back up on that horse and engaging again was BRUTAL.

Doing anything at a high level requires some level of passion in either the thing being done or in the person doing it.  Obsession is a common side effect of diving full in to something but – trust me here – in paraphrasing Socrates, the obsessed life is not worth living.  Not if it’s at the extent of something else.  You’ll either burn out everyone around you, burn out yourself or both.

Bobby Fischer was a brilliant chess player but there’s nothing else in his life you want to model yourself on.  Be passionate and be engaged but keep an eye out for your Cuban Missile Crisis freak out as well.

I hope this helps!

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