Philip Seymour Hoffman – Beyond The Cautionary Tale

As I write this, it’s been announced that Philip Seymour Hoffman was found dead at age 46 in his Manhattan apartment with a syringe in his arm.

I expect that there will be the usual reactions to celebrity passings.  The sadness of a death that could have preventable…the lament of being cut down so young in his prime and of future work that might have been done.

There will inevitably be the epitaph of a life lived as a cautionary tale.  A commentary on drugs and the danger of addiction.

But, what is often missing from these visceral and superficial observations is broader inquiry.  For example,

What makes Philip Seymour Hoffman’s passing noteworthy?

People die every second of every minute of every day.  Why is his death announced with any more gravity than the passing of your Aunt Millie?  Do we have some kind of cultural hierarchy or caste system that acknowledges celebrities lives as having a different value than our own?

I don’t think so.

I think people will make a big deal out of this because they feel a connection to his work.

He moved people.  He helped them feel something, and people associate that loss with that memory.  They may have never met the man, but they have a strong opinion about his work.

There’s a lesson there.

I don’t know if art makes one immortal, but it builds connections to people.  It creates conversations and exposes people to other ways of seeing the world.

It makes the world a better place.

As an artist, I recommend that you get past the obvious lesson of the ravages of addiction and the trappings of the celebrity lifestyle, and use this opportunity to be introspective about what you are doing.

What am I putting out into the world?

How am I connecting with people?

How do I make the world a better place?

I don’t know if Philip Seymour Hoffman ever asked himself these questions.  I know that he was a true artist, and that as an artist he had to face dark nights of the soul and if he didn’t ask these questions, he asked questions that were very similar.

Yes, he died tragically and young.  But the very nature of life is terminal.

You have a finite amount of time to get something done.

To make a connection to the world.

To impose your meaning on what can be a meaningless world.

To help make this place better than what you found it.

Going beyond the cautionary tale, life is always short – make the most of it while you are here and follow the actionable example of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s life.

be a life long student.

work hard.

do the best work you can

to the very best of your ability

work constantly and

make each new project better than the last one.

Let’s not use this moment as a simple lecture about drugs, let’s use it as an unfortunate inspiration.

As always,

Thanks for reading.

-Scott

Do You Need A Guitar To Be A Guitarist?

In an earlier post, I provided some scrutiny to the blanket idea to a common self-help sentiment that, “the answer (to your questions/searching/etc) lies within.”

And while there is some truth to that sentiment, it is only a 1/2 truth.  You can find some answers within, but only when interacting with external influences.

“It’s about my music…”

When I taught lessons at CalArts, variations of the above statement came up repeatedly from students who didn’t see the merits of learning other people’s songs as lesson material.  “Can’t we just work on my stuff?”

Well, we can…but there’s a problem:

  • every song you write is the same chord progression moved to other keys
  • you have two strumming styles
  • your melodies all seem to be a variation on one melody

In other words, the problem is you just keep writing the same song over and over again with different lyrics.

This is what happens when you work on things in complete isolation.  You end up “discovering” things that are already well worn territory, and you develop a language that might have incredible emotional meaning for you but doesn’t necessarily engage other people.

It’s like learning a native language.   You could just say, “gaga-goo-goo” the rest of your life instead of learning words but while your parents would know what you were saying, it would be lost on anyone outside that circle. You have to learn other people’s words to have the common ground to communicate with other people.  The originality comes from being able to form your own unique sentences and your own ideas.

So the teachable moment comes from getting students to realize that you can learn other people’s material with the intent of developing your own music instead of simply learning how to play their songs.   It comes back to two core concepts of mine – having a “why” and learning the deeper lesson.

Do You Need A Guitar To Be A Guitarist?

It’s a trick question as the answer is yes and no.

When you first start off, you have to have a guitar to be a guitarist.  I’ve known a number of people who truly had the souls of a guitarist and were as passionate as guitars and guitar playing as I was, but they’re uber – fans.  That’s fine but they’ll never be a guitarist because they have no desire to pick up the instrument and play.

So you can have all the intent in the world, but if you don’t play the guitar, you’ll never be a guitarist.

In contrast, at a certain point being a guitarist becomes a skill.  You don’t become defined by what you play, but instead by how you play it.

There is a story of Miyamoto Musashi, possibly the most renown samurai in history, being called to a duel on an island.  Allegedly Musashi, who at that point in his life stopped using traditional swords in favor of a bokken (a wooden sword), got into a boat and carved a bokken out of a spare oar on the boat.  Musashi killed the opponent with the bokken upon arriving on the island, and bid a retreat in the boat before his opponents followers could attack.

Musashi didn’t need a sword to be a master swordsman.

Gear

In this season of black fridays and holiday excess, I invite you to be mindful and take stock of what you really need to play.

  • If you’re a guitarist and your guitar is not in playable condition, you’re going to need something (a setup, repair or possibly a new instrument).  Ditto for an amp if your an electric player.
  • If you need to record and don’t have a way to record audio, you may need something,
  • If the only pedal you have at your disposal is an Arion Distortion you may need something.

But often what’s needed is a set up, or some new strings, or some lessons to get inspired and go to another place.

It’s easy to get caught up in gear lust and say that if you only had (insert mystery guitar/amp pedal here) that you would be able to do (insert desired outcome).

But it’s important to remember that just as gear can be inspiring –  an abundance of options doesn’t lead to exploration of all options, it leads to paralysis.

A key feature of teaching improvisation involves teaching people to work within limitations. It’s in the limitations that you can find the unique approaches and the vocabulary that you thought you were missing.

This holiday season – I invite you to take stock of what you really need to reach your goals and to explore maximizing what you already have.

Do you need to be a guitarist to own a guitar?

Does owning one guitar over another make you any more of a guitarist?

The answer lies within and without.

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Guit-A-Grip Podcast #13 – New Book “Excerpt” #2

Hello everyone!

Episode #13

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #13 “Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse Excerpt #2″ is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
.

Show Notes

The Podcast and the liberal use of the term “Excerpt”

Part of working in a format like this is being able to review things that you wrote a while ago and seeing how they shake out in a conversational manner.  That means that when I’m reading the book I’m editing the text in my head to prevent really awkward (or wrong things from being said.  It also makes for some stilted moments, but the good news it that it tightens up both the podcast and the book in the process.

I’ll talk more about why I do this in the future but (editing this down from a lumbering 23 minutes) I’m hoping to convince you that there is a method to my madness (or vice-versa).

The steps to follow:

Just to recap, these are the steps I reference in the podcast (I skipped a few of them on the audio!!!)  Good thing it’s an edit!

How to manage a project in a few broad strokes

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to do (set quantifiable goals).
  • Align perception with reality and create priorities (in other words make an honest assessment of what needs to happen to reach those goals)
  • Set deadlines and benchmarks.
  • Be accountable.
  • Do daily focused work on those goals and limit distractions and obstacles in the way of achieving them.
  • Make periodic reviews to check your project’s status against the benchmarks and timeline.
  • Utilize available resources when possible/necessary.

Come prepared:

I should have taken a page from the Boy Scouts this time around and been better prepared for a podcast.  Then, perhaps, I would have had something novel like water handy and not had either a coughing fit (edited out) or the scrath voice that comes in mid-way to the podcast before I started coughing.

Related material:

Most of the observations on this site, will work in directly with the podcast posted here.  But the two links I cited specifically were:

It’s not all gold and

Podcast Episode #12

That’s it for now!

As always, I hope this helps you with your own goals.

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!

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Guit-A-Grip Podcast #12 – New Book Excerpt #1

Hello everyone!

The New Book?

Yep!  I have a few new books that I’m working on, and the non-guitar instructional book, Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse (Or a case study in how to plan projects and get things done).  is all about several large scale projects that I got done (such as releasing 4 books of 1,200 + pages of writing in 5 months of 2011/2012).

You’re Podcasting this?

Yep!  A large component of the book is accountability so there are several advantages to podcasting the bulk of the book.

  1. It builds an audience for the book.
  2. It gives me a framework (and deadlines) for editing the material.
  3. Like I said in the podcast (re: pedagogy for pay and the flamenco dance teaching model) even if the ENTIRE book was put up online, there are people that will still want a book of the material.

Episode #12

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #12 “Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse Introduction And Overview Excerpt” is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
.

Show Notes

The (other) Book

The writing book I reference in the podcast is Chris Baty’s, No Plot? No Problem!  A low-stress, high-velocity guide to writing a novel in 30 days. There are a bajillion Kindle titles for outputting an ebook quickly, but Chris’ book is the granddaddy of them in my humble opinion.

The Harvard Study:

The study I cited in the podcast was from a source that quoted,  What They Don’t Teach You in the Harvard Business School, by Mark McCormack.  Funny story, this site contends that the data is largely fabricated and based on a non-existant 1953 Yale study! (It then goes on to cite another study that came to the same conclusion).  So take that for what it’s worth because if the original study anecdote WAS fabricated – I can’t even fathom the number of people who must have cited the McCormack reference of it (or a reference to the reference) by now.

“There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

This is just a reminder.  If the new habits you’re trying to acquire are outside your comfort zone, you’ll need to review your game plan often.

The Steps to follow:

WOW!  It turns out that I was reading from an earlier draft of the book and missed a few steps!  Here’s a case where it pays to check out the website as well as the podcast.  ; )  I changed the below from first person to passive to make it more applicable to the reader.

How to manage a project in a few broad strokes

  • Have a clear vision of what you want to do (set quantifiable goals).
  • Align perception with reality and create priorities (in other words make an honest assessment of what needs to happen to reach those goals)
  • Set deadlines and benchmarks.
  • Be accountable.
  • Do daily focused work on those goals and limit distractions and obstacles in the way of achieving them.
  • Make periodic reviews to check your project’s status against the benchmarks and timeline.
  • Utilize available resources when possible/necessary.

That’s it for now!

See you soon and thanks again for listening/reading!

-SC

 

Guit-A-Grip Episode #11 – “Deeper and Deeper”

Hello everyone!

The Return Of The Podcasts?!?

So I took some time off from podcasting to evaluate the podcasts and re-assess.  The original idea of the podcasts was to bring people outside of what I normally do into my work, but it appears to just siphon traffic from guitarchitecture.org.

I’m re-thinking the purpose of the site with that in mind, and I’ve committed to podcasting  here at least until the end of the year while I refine the focus of the podcasts and see what happens.

In the meantime…

Episode #11

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #11 “Deeper and Deeper” is out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:
  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:
  • or you can right-click here to download it.
  • or you can stream this episode below.
.

Show Notes

This is a short podcast, so I’ll just fill in a few points.

Deeper and Deeper:

This was the name of a track of a band called The FIXX that was hugely influential on me.  When I got their Reach The Beach album, I played it so many times that the vinyl grew thin.  While I was listening to it, I was listening deeply to how the guitar parts would drive some tunes and just lay back and sit in the pocket on other tunes.  Jamie West-Oram, their guitarist, would become a really big influence on me as he made me realize the concept of playing a supporting role in a band.  Knowing where where slide, keyboard line and vocal inflection was on the record came from deep listening and changed how I viewed my own roles in playing with other people.

I’ll talk about this more in a future podcast, but when people smile that nonsensical smug guru smile and say things like, “the answer lies within” it tells me that they only understand part of the equation.

Ultimately, only you can provide your own answers, but you’re never going to come up with intelligent answers if you’ve never investigated anyone else’s solutions but your own.  People left to their own devices with no external input of any kind typically don’t become Buddha, they become dull and dim-witted and develop “facts” based on little more than observation.  Babies don’t come out of the womb fully formed.  They have to be exposed to language (i.e. copy language) to master it and ultimately come up with their own original ideas.

Going deep into something and loosing yourself into it, can be a way to go deeper into yourself if you learn lessons from the process or gain insights from what’s happening.

Repetition:

“There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

I think that a good philosophy has to have simple truths at it’s core in order to be actionable (and thus be a philosophy).  My guitar system, GuitArchitecture, is based on a handful of modular approaches that can be adapted to a variety of formats.  My philosophy is the same.  It’s based on a handful of ideas that I’ll repeat here over and over.

And I do that because some of them will take forever to learn.

In this process, I’m always falling back into old habits – the difference is that I can now usually identify what’s happening and I just don’t stay in those places for as long as I used to.

Music is about the destination and the process.  I wrote this blog, and podcast and teach because I’ve been fortunate enough to make a vast number of mistakes (large and small) and hopefully I can help other people not make the same mistakes I did.

More Next Time:

As always, thanks for visiting, reading and listening.  I hope you get something out of the podcast, and if you like the series please drop a line sometime.

See you soon and thanks again!

-SC

PS – Here are some Fixx tracks to get you through the day!
(Just skip the ads):
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Deeper and Deeper (Not much guitar in the mix but a great track)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yIi79BHQ1ps
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Saved By Zero (Check out all of the neat fills and variations Jamie throws in!)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=euBzxXFEuA4.

Beautiful Friction (Live) – Even with some issues – better than the studio version

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What God (Live) – The Chorus on this is (makes kissing fingertips motion).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A6UuLVxKJUk
 

It’s Not All Gold

As a professional – one important lesson to start internalizing is the need to balance being passionate about what you do and maintaining an emotional distance from it at the same time.

Hostile Terrain

Most of you have never heard of my first self published book, an unabashed DIY effort called Hostile Terrain.  It featured poetry, some plays, essays and other works.  Truth be told, about 30% still holds up as writing that I’d be willing to show to other people.

Hostile Terrain came out of a process of years of journaling.  I wrote everything down as an outlet.   I was depressed and desperate and it took a long time to realize that journaling just fed right into that.

I didn’t realize at the time that writing wasn’t getting bad things out of my system, but instead, it was just making me sicker.  I was breathing in the same stagnant air and thinking that I found something invigorating and relavatory because I was equating output with discovery.

In the next stage of this process, I was living with a person in a completely isolated situation and had hit emotional rock bottom because I had to confront things that intellect alone couldn’t solve and that I simply didn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with.

In the middle of this terrible living situation, a freak accident happened where the room I was living in flooded.  I lost 10 years of writing and journals.

I was devastated.  It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).

So being emotionally crushed, I went back to what I knew.  I went back to writing and eventually I wrote some more and then put out Hostile Terrain. I sent it out to friends and to a few publishing houses I was into, and while I got a few “attaboys” I got no interest from anyone for anything resembling publishing.

Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children

In the meantime, I decided to move away from poetry and into short stories.  I was really influenced by Tomas Bernhardt’s The Voice Imitator and decided to write a series of short stories that focused on dark stories for adults told in a children’s storybook style.  This was about 1996 or so. The Tim Burton book, The Melancholy Death Of Oyster Boy, came out mid project and even though I was jealous he beat me to the punch – my stories were much darker and I thought I might be able to get some publishing interest for a character I developed while on a grim tour of Germany (Kommandant Kumar) and for the overall book concept, Bedtime Stories For Mutant Children.

I had all the stories online so I could get feedback from my friends.  I didn’t have a computer at the time so I was working on my friend’s work computer.  I did this off and on for about a year.

Then something happened.

Within a 24-hour period the web server went out of business AND the hard drive that I had all of the files on seized.

I lost 30 short stories. Gone. Casper.

I hit my frustration limit and I stopped writing.  I abandoned the screenplay I wrote. I stopped all of the other writing I was doing and I worked on other things.

Eventually, I started seeing things differently, and I came to a realization.

It’s Not All Gold

  • There is no scarcity of ideas.

  • Not every idea has value

  • Important ideas will return

  • Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

There is no scarcity of ideas.

This was the biggest obstacle that I had to overcome in my own thinking and it’s one I still wrestle with.

There’s a fine line between being attached to an idea and being chained to it.

The difference is whether the idea you’re working with serves your larger goals, or if it’s only serving its own completion.

You don’t have to hold onto every idea like it’s a precious nugget.  There are more of them out there.

Not every idea has value equal to the amount of work needed to put it into action.

Again, it’s easy to get emotionally attached to the work put into an idea and equate work with value but that’s not always a direct relationship.  If you ever watch an episode of Shark Tank, you’ll likely see businesses where people have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars into a product that has generated no revenue after several years in place.  This is what I’m talking about.

Cultivating the mindset to distance yourself emotionally from what you’re doing is a difficult process to develop and maintain but it’s an extremely valuable one.

Important ideas will return

I like documenting things because sometime I find things worth exploring but, in retrospect, every really good idea I couldn’t remember came back to me or presented itself in a different form.

Sometimes it’s the process and not the product

For me, this is the most important lesson in this piece.

Earlier, in regards to losing all of my writing, I said that:

“It was thousands of hours of work down the drain (or so I thought).”

That work wasn’t down the drain at all.  The work I put into that sharpened my writing and really honed my ability to focus.

That emphasis made huge differences in my practicing and ultimately affected other areas of my life in a much more positive way than the actual writing ever did.

When I work on projects now, I assess the value of the outcome and the value of the experience and if either one makes sense for me to do, then I’ll take it on.

Don’t get hung up on old ideas at the expense of new ones.  Implement, assess and then continue or abandon as need be.

I hope this helps and as always, thanks for reading!

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Guit-ing A Grip On Technical Difficulties (Podcasting)

Hi Everyone,

Here’s the podcast streaming message but the real notes are below:

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Update.mp3%5D

iTunes Trouble

I thought this was fixed, but apparently some component of the lib syn/feedburner/iTunes trinity is broken and despite re-uploading some of the files the links for Episode #4 and Episode #5 are pulling up podcast #2 in iTunes.

I have NO idea for why that is happening but I’ve included streaming and download links here for all of the current episodes.  These load right up in my podcasts so hopefully they’ll do the same for you!

I’ve moved all the podcasts to one central place, the PODCAST tab on the top of the page.

.
Again, my apologies for the inconvenience everyone!  More content coming soon!
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