Don’t Knock It ‘Til You Try It – A Little Perfectionism Is Good For The Soul

Perfectionism has a bad rap.

It’s true.  Tune into any podcast, blog post or pop culture portal and someone will tell you perfection is overrated.

Present company included.  I have a post right before this one that described perfection (As in perfectly sequenced MIDI timing and pitch) as boring.

But here’s the thing (and there’s almost always a thing)….

It’s easy to go to extremes.

People will tell you that in a black and white scenario that they like the grey, but they typically like the grey closest to either extreme because balancing the middle is hard.

Those in any facet of the entrepreneurial space say, “Hey just get it out there and keep getting stuff out there!”  But that  advice works on the assumption that what you’re getting out is good.

It’s easy to confuse output with accomplishment.

On one extreme you have artists who cut corners with projects and turn out 1/2 baked recordings, books, films  and other works of art because they want to get the next thing out the door.

On the other extreme, you have people who never release anything because what they’re working on is never done.

The hardest thing in the world for an artist to confront objectively is a mirror.

“…Anything Less Than The Best Is A Felony.”

The best means discomfort.

It means pushing yourself right up to the limit of what can be done in the time frame that you have to work in.

Very few people do this on their own.

I really dislike gym culture (and much of its clientele), but I really like the physicality of gyms.  What’s great about it is that you see your limits immediately.   You can either can lift something or you can’t.  The benchmarks for performance are immediate and obvious as are the developments you make over time.

Developing yourself as an artist is much more difficult to determine.

It’s the distorted reflection in the mirror.  Many artists often look in the mirror and see someone else’s reflection.  They compare what they do to what other people are doing.

But it’s really like the gym.  It doesn’t matter if the person next to you can bench press more that you can, it only matters what you can do.

Another book story

I just re-released my pentatonic book.

When I initially released it, I wanted to put out an inexpensive pdf that would help people because some of the feedback I got from my other books was that they had too much information and were more money than people wanted to pay.

But releasing it the way I did just ended up hurting me instead. Because instead of making it 60 perfect pages, I made it the best thing I could in a weekend and got it out the door with my thinking being,  “Well the people who want a $5 book will read it quickly and then want a bunch of them in short order so I need to get in the flow of releasing a lot of them quickly.”  So I did it as an experiment basically.

It was a terrible idea.

It was a terrible idea 1.) because it wasn’t perfect.  There were typos and oversimplifications and shortcuts that were taken to get the length of the book down.  While some people who were looking for this format saw it and said, “Wow this is a great idea!”  the people who were judging all my output by this first impression (i.e. looking for faults in the book i.e. shopping) said, “Oh…thank God I didn’t buy the full book.”  It was the wrong first step to introduce people to what I do.

It was also a terrible idea because 2.) while it was a bargain for what it offered (6 lessons in a really valuable technique for $5) – the people who bought that book were never going to pony up $30 for a 400 page book. It would just be an endless series of releasing 60 page $5 books.

(On a related note, the people who bought the larger books were probably less likely to go back and purchase a smaller book.)  It was the wrong market for the wrong product.

So from a sales perspective, it was the wrong way to go.

On the plus side of this process – I got to use what I had done as a template to make the book I wanted to, instead of the book I thought people were asking for.

So, I took the lessons from the other books and filled out the material and re-wrote and edited almost everything.

And you might think, oh if the first book was 60 pages, it should only take 1/2 that time to create a 100 page book.

It ended up taking about 80-100 hours.

For the most part, those hours were spent on really tedious work.  Recreating graphics and editing them on the pixel level.  Rewriting almost every word and sweating the content.  Working on layout, fixing the table of contents.  Printing the book in multiple versions and getting the information flow just right.

In other words, mostly cutting and pasting and editing.

Hopper

Despite what can only be described as a borderline unhealthy appreciation for Apocalypse Now, my favorite artist named Hopper isn’t Dennis Hopper but instead Edward Hopper.

Here in NY, the Whitney is showing a fabulous Hopper exhibit (“Hopper Drawing”)  that shows numerous sketches Hopper made before he made some of his most iconic paintings, and seeing them really shows his thought process.   Mostly you see a process of him sketching ideas with endless variation and tweaking them so that when it came time to paint it he understood every nuance.  Every light source…every shadow…every aspect of the architecture that would allow the painting to express what he wanted to say.

If he just threw the first image that came to his mind up on the canvas, it never would have worked as well.  It was only in that exhaustive research and exploration that he came to the true articulations of what he needed to say.

The effortless work of art is a lie.

Even watching Shawn Lane roll off a “perfect” improvised line, that effortlessness only comes from tens of thousands of hours of work (or more) to get to that point.  Hopper got to where he did by striving to push himself further.

To discount perfection entirely is to sell yourself short.

Better work only comes from raising the stakes, demanding more from yourself and repeating endlessly.

Like everything – it’s a balance.  Too much perfectionism and nothing ever gets released.  Too little and you release sub-par material.

But in a “It’s a journey not the destination” variation – it’s not just about finding the balance – it’s about finding out why the balance is important and how that balance helps you achieve what you’re setting out to do.

Until next time – thanks for reading!

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PS – if you’re interested you can find out all about my newest guitar book release here, here or here.

Re-contextualizing Time

Here’s an obvious statement, with a not-so-obvious ramification.

Time is cumulative.

 

As a society, we’re trained to think of time in specific blocks.  We take an hour for lunch.  We work from 9-5 (if you’re lucky).  Television shows are either a ½ hour or an hour.

 

So we’re trained to think that if we don’t do anything for the full hour that nothing is getting done.

 

Here’s an experiment.

 

Can you do a 100 push ups in a sitting?

 

If not, can you do 10?

 

If you could do 10 consecutive push ups with perfect form how long would that take?  Maybe 30 seconds?  Now let’s say you did that 10 times a day.  That’s 300 seconds (aka 5 minutes).  But you can’t do anything with 5 minutes of exercise a day, right?

Wrong.

Try it every day for 5 weeks.  Try adding 1 push up per set every week (and more if you can).  That pushes you up to 15 per set or 150 a day.  By sheer increase in number you’ll notice that you’re getting stronger.   You’ll probably  notice physical changes as well.

Guess what happens when you apply this to practicing a difficult passage with a metronome?

Reclaim those shorter time increments in your day by reprogramming your brain for what they mean!  Those minutes add up over the course of the days, weeks and months ahead.

You can get a lot done in a lunch hour and those hours add up. Set a timer and work on things for 20 minute increments.  But when you work on them, really work on them.  Don’t half-ass them.  If you do this multiple times a day, you will get a lot more done than you might think.

If you have a strong understanding for why you are doing something, you will do whatever you have to to overcome any obstacles associated with how.

I hope this helps!  More posts soon (and more podcasts as soon as I can stop running my air conditioner long enough to record one!)  Thanks for reading.

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PS: If you play guitar you may be interested in a book I just released yesterday!

The Scott Collins Fretboard Visualization Series: The Pentatonic Minor Scale

Book Cover Full
You can read all about that here or see excerpts and order the book here.

Deadlines Are Your Best Friend

Hey Everyone!

I have a new post coming up next week about benchmarks and perfection, but as a starting point I wanted to bring out this chestnut (originally posted on guitarchitecture.org).

One of the things that attracts me to improvisation is the immediacy of it.  You perform and then it’s done.  While I like documenting these improvisations I fully recognize the danger of doing so.  (The danger being that when you record something there is a tendency to say, “Oh that sounds pretty good. I should just tweak a couple of things and then it will be perfect.”)

A Variation on the “I used to Walk a mile in the snow to get to school” rant

The way records used to be made back in the day,  involved a bunch of musicians who rehearsed and/or toured some material to death getting together in a room.  Mics would be set up and levels were typically set by putting loud instruments in the back of the room and softer ones up front (soloists would literally step up to the mike to solo and then step back) and after the end of the performance, the record was recorded.

Multitracking came along and studio time was still prohibitively expensive enough that you wanted to get tracks done as quickly as possible.  I played in several bands that did weekend cd’s tracking and overdubs on day one and mixing on day two.  There were always things that you wanted to tweak – but two days later you had a CD and it was done.

You kids and your new fangled “machines”

Now everyone has a multitrack recorder called a computer that can edit audio to the millisecond and the temptation to play god and make the perfect aural universe is a dangerous one to productivity.

Don’t get me wrong.  I love my computer and I love Logic but I also know that if a take is 95% of the way there in terms of recording – it may take all day at best to get that extra 5%.  In a worst case scenario it might take forever.

Perfection is over rated.

Midi can be “perfect”.  It can be quantized and performed uniformly ever single time.  From a performance perspective, it can play things faster and cleaner than you will ever be able to with millisecond accurate timing.

Midi is also typically boring.  No one wants to watch a sequencer play things on a stage.  Audiences might listen, but they’re not going to give it their full attention.

In pop music (i.e. “rock” music) – ProTools and midi as a performance standard have increasingly become the goal.  Once I was sitting with a world class engineer and in discussing talking about how out of control the pursuit of “perfection” in commercially released recordings is,  He said, “let me give you an example” and proceeded to bring up a track he was working on on his desk top.  The track was going really slow.

“Is that an old computer?” I asked.  It turned out that it was the newest version.  Top of the line with memory and drives at the highest level the system would support.

When the track finally loaded I saw why it took so long.  There were eighteen thousand edits on the drum track alone.  18,000 edits!  On a 4 minute song.  Every single drum hit was cross faded.  Every single hit was moved and jostled to fit a midi track.

From a perspective of timing – it was perfect but from a performance perspective it was boring and it sounded like every other programmed drum track you ever heard.

I am not advising you to give up on bettering yourself (quite the contrary) – but my general advice to any artist is not to get seduced by “perfection”.  Perfection can be a great motivator or it can be the siren song that sinks your productivity.

To paraphrase a quote that I should be able to cite, “A true artist never completes a work but merely abandons it.”

Deadlines are your best friend.

Deadlines allow you to get things done.

Real (i.e. no-moving and non-negotiable) deadlines force you to realize that 95% of something is more than 100% of nothing.

Work at the highest level that you possibly can – but realize when it’s time to move on to the next thing.

As Steve Jobs famously stated,

“Real artists ship.”

Thanks for reading!

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Changing One’s Perception And Removing “Should” From One’s Vocabulary

“Oh should you now?”

We all have things that we know we’re supposed to do and don’t do with frequency.  We should see the doctor regularly.  We should exercise more and eat less.  We should really write our grandma.  We should really get to practicing.

The reality is that “shoulds” are little minefields in our brain.  We plant them around everywhere and then get absent-minded about where they are.  When we finally have to confront one, the temptation is to get upset because you now know what you should have done and did not – and the onus of it falls on you.

Getting past “should” is a life long struggle and as someone who is still working on it, I can say that it’s not easy but it is possible.

This can be done by removing the phrase “I should” from your vocabulary and replacing it with “I am

(i.e.  replacing “should” with “do”)

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Adjusting your perception.

If you meet expatriates from the US who have been living in another country for a long time and not speaking their original language, occasionally they have a real disconnect when you speak English to them.  This has happened to me on several occasions where I’ve met people who were frustrated at not remembering words in English and feel very disconnected in speaking it with people.

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There’s a reason for this.  They’re out of practice.

If you are a native English speaker in the US – you practice speaking and writing in the language every day.

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The difference is you probably don’t think about it as “practice“.

You just think about part of it as your day.  As something that you do naturally, you don’t think of it as work or drudgery.  You feel comfortable enough in your use of it that when you are confronted with phrases or terms you’ve never heard before – you simply listen instead of freaking out and make sense of in in context.  You pick up information and interact with it all day long.

If you doubt this, try the following: Take your current practice regimen and instead of practicing scales or chords or what have you, take out a dictionary and apply the same regimen to trying to expand your vocabulary.  Unless you’re studying for the SATs or GREs, I bet you make it a day before it gets discarded entirely or doomed to the “should” bin.

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If you make practicing just part of your regular day instead of something that has to be carved out of your schedule it will be easier to maintain.

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Occasionally, I read articles with guitarists who claim that they never practice.  It’s important to remember that anyone who is the topic of an article in a trade publication  is generally going to be a professional musician with a rigorous performance schedule.  If they don’t have time to practice – its only because they’re gigging too much and while they may not be “practicing” by a strict definition you can bet they’re keeping their chops up.

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I have no idea if Scotty Anderson “practices” but based on hearing him play I imagine that he has a guitar in his hand most of the day and is either playing or working on things all of the time.  Eddie Van Halen is another guy who may not identify what he does as practicing – but every interview I’ve read with him makes it seems like he has a guitar in his hands playing for hours every day.  (It’s also worth noting that many people consider Van Halen their best album for songs and playing.)

When Jimmy Rosenberg was playing with Sinti at the ripe old age of 16 he was asked by a guitar magazine how he got that frighteningly good at that age and he said, “Well I practice/play 4-5 hours a day, and rehearse with Sinti 4-5 hours a day, and then we have concerts”.

If you have a problem committing to practicing, you could change your mindset to move past “practicing” as an event and instead concentrate on doing” as a habit.

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Think about how easy it is to gain a bad habit.  Now think about how hard it can be to break that habit.

There are plenty of good habits that you probably have developed as well and maintaining a good habit requires very little work.

Again it’s about perception.  If practicing is something you view as a chore it will be something that you are loathe to do.  It’ll be much easier to practice if you can make it something you look forward to.

To quote Albert Ellis,

“Don’t should on yourself”.

I hope this helps!  Thanks for dropping by!

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Do You View Your (Music) Career Like An Actor?

I just saw a documentary on Netflix called “That Guy Who Was In That Thing” which is about a number of instantly recognizable character actors and their paths to get to claw their way to the middle.  ; )

The documentary is thoroughly engaging by being both entertaining and thought-provoking.  There also happen to be a number of parallels between performing in the film/television industry and performing in the music industry.  The subjects spoke at length about the difficulties that come with the ebb and flow of work that their careers take.  They talked about how they were (and are) out of work for years before they get a few gigs or hit a streak of work and all of them had stories of other parallel jobs that they worked while trying to make a living acting and tales of losing gigs for any one of a dozen reasons.

Two things grabbed me right away.

1.  The subjects spoke at length about how the number of actors out there willing to work for less has caused many of them to make less money than they did before. The thinking being, we don’t have to pay you that anymore because there are 10,000 other people who will kill to sit in that chair for less money.  The number of parallels with this and recording musicians (and performing artists) was striking. I’m paraphrasing here, “You realize that they don’t need you to fill the role, they just need to fill the role.”  Does this sound familiar to anyone performing and/or recording music out there?

2.  Musicians might actually have it easier than actors.

Here’s my thinking behind this.  Actors need vehicles to act in.  So the model they use is basically variations for  Advertising / Televison / Film.  For a TV show, this might mean

  • auditioning for a pilot with hundreds of people
  • getting a callback with maybe 50 people
  • getting a second callback with 20 people
  • doing a test with 5-6 people
  • having a series of negotiating calls made to see what you will cost them
  • testing in front of the studio executives this will limit you to a group of maybe 3 people
  • if chosen, you then shoot a pilot
  • the pilot then has to get picked up and
  • then you hope that the series doesn’t get cancelled after the first few episodes

The interesting thing to me was that this paralleled musicians and major labels.  The thinking was for years that you had to be in a band and signed to a label to have a career. Online distribution changed that model forever.

Having said that, artists on labels are/were the only people getting tour support. (They’re  generally the only people to also get tour support via sponsorship. )

For actors, working with studios means you get to keep your SAG card.  You get to keep your benefits and the SAG card is key to the audition process (and the securing of roles).

It doesn’t say it directly in the documentary – but some of these actors slogging it out in endless auditions seem to be afraid that the new (up and coming) actors are just getting pulled from YouTube.

I don’t think it’s the case for major films – and won’t be for a while.

Studio legend Tommy Tedesco once related a story where some MI students went with him on a session and one of them said, “I don’t understand.  Someone who’s been playing a year could play that part.”  And Tommy said, “yes. that’s probably true.”

The student pushed it more and said, “But you make triple scale, why do they pay all of that money to bring you in when they could get someone to do it much cheaper?”

Tedesco replied, “Because when you spend 50 or 75,000 on a recording session with an orchestra, you don’t want to lose money because some guy might screw up his part.  You’re going to get the best players on the session to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong.”

Again, I’m not knocking YouTube – but a YouTube performance doesn’t mean you can handle the rigors of any gig that comes your way.  While it might get you an audition, in and of itself, it’s never going to give you traction if you don’t have the skills to back it up.

Here’s what bugged me about the documentary.

No one talked about going DIY.

No one talked about making their own films.  Writing and staging their own plays.  Starting their own companies. All they talked about was a variation of the formula:

Get call from agent + audition + a dozen factors MAY = a gig.

It’s easy to view a music career like this.  Waiting for a shot – the right moment, the right contact – to make a big pay out.  It’s the lottery mentality to which I say, “sure, put a couple of bucks in and see if you get lucky, but putting your life savings in it probably won’t pay off.”

Those development contracts like Joan Crawford were on back in the day are never coming back to the movie houses.  Those days of getting signed to a label and having a carer carefully cultivated over multiple releases are never coming back.

Elvis already left the building.

While I’m fully in favor of seeking out opportunity – by and large you make your own opportunities and the formula for that is:

Do really good work + Do it frequently + Affect, motivate and/or move other people = being the go to person for “that thing”.

If what you do services a niche audience, you might not get rich but it’s probably the best way to build a long-term career.

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.

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Again, my apologies for the inconvenience everyone!  More content coming soon!
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Guit-A-Grip Episode #8 Don’t Just Buy The App – Be The App

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #8  is now out and available for download/streaming.  I’ve changed the order up a little bit and you’ll find the stream and links below.

The Guit-A-Grip Podcast Process

This podcast format (instead of just blogging) largely came about because discussions with friends of mine in any kind of creative field would result in my going off on some tangent covering the intersection of music business and personal motivation which sometimes people got something from.  I’ve tried to keep some of that flavor here (minus the manic expressions and cursing).  So when I go to do a show – I’ll have some talking points and then improvise around the notes and try to hit a few marks.

While this may work in a conversation, it’s a mixed bag for audio recording.

The plus side of this process is that you come to realizations about things that you weren’t planning on.  While I had been conceptualizing the area around the actionable differences between an answer and a solution – I never verbalized it before like I did in this podcast.

The down side is that you have to remove a lot of awkward pauses, “ummmms” and “uhssss” that come up in conversation getting to points like the one above.  I want to distill the audio experience and get it down to the essence of what the listener is looking for.

In addition to taking some time, this editing process occasionally leads to some stunted audio.   It also leaves some conversational holes for ideas that are half started and then need a resolution.  Hence the need for the show notes.

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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.
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Guit-A-Grip Episode #8 – Show Notes

“One thing I see more and more….”

Trying to find a segue (as opposed to a Segway) into the topic.  Yes, there are a lot of ads for apps.  There will be many more.  It’s not some kind of advertising menace.  Yet.

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The Calculator.

The idea I’m rambling around in the early steps of the podcast is how the use of a calculator is completely divorced from both the math required to solve the problem and the mechanics of how the calculator arrives at the solution.

Conceptually, this goes hand in hand with the message behind my previous post, Don’t be afraid of the work.

In playing guitar, something can come out of the work that goes into really learning a piece at a deep level.  It’s why some music theorists go so gaga for analysis because they’re finding new connections and seeing things on a deeper level.

To be sure, I’m not a Luddite.  You’re not going to gain much doing long addition for EVERYTHING – but if you get used to using a calculator – you’ll be amazed at how quickly your math skills start to atrophy.

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The App 

In the app story I used an app that addressed a specific issue with a limited answer base. Most apps don’t exclude other people BUT if you’re using YELP during a vegetarian conference to find a local vegetarian restaurant in the area – and there’s only one – guess who’s going to get a table?  The first person who finds out about the restaurant and gets there.

The main point is that other people’s solutions are often adaptable to your situation, but the better you get at finding your own solution, the better you will become at developing solutions in general.  Ditto for applying those solutions.

That’s a wrap.

As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it -and listen to it on iTunes –  leaving a rating there would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Work

As I edit this, I’m taking a break from the final edits on the print edition of Pentatonic Visualization and working on the layout/order/edits of my Pentatonic Extraction book which should be out this fall.

That puts the tally to 3 books in 2011 (Melodic Patterns, Positional Exploration and Harmonic Combinatorics), 3 in 2012 (Chord Scales, and 2 short Kindle titles – An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out) and 3 in 2013 (Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns, Pentatonic Visualization and Pentatonic Extraction) with a strong chance of another kindle book released this year as well.

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While being able to call yourself an author seems appealing -working at this rate is arduous at best. When you don’t have a production house behind you – writing means taking on all of the menial tasks in getting a book out.  In this case, even something like the Visualization make over has taken a month to get done and taking on the Extraction book involves massive edits, re-writes and a complete reformatting (typically involving a tedious cut/paste/format/edit workflow).  The appeal of being an author becomes less glamorous  when it takes days and weeks of mind numbing work to get the book out the door.

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But here’s something I’ve discovered:

Many people want to get better at something.

They have access to materials.

They have access to knowledge.

They have the desire to move forward.

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Even with all of that energy and good intention, in any endeavour most people won’t do the work over the long haul.

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Because the work is not glamorous.  It’s not always fun (though it’s usually nowhere near as bad as we make it out to be).  It’s often tedious and time-consuming and isn’t there something better (read more enjoyable) to do?

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The real pay off is in what happens in the focused work.

Jonas Hellborg

Yngwie Malmsteen

Miroslav Tadic

Buckminster Fuller

Nikola Tesla

Thomas Edison

Jorge Luis Borges

It doesn’t matter which successful person you pick.  Most people who succeed do so because in addition to the initial vision (inspiration) they also have the ability to go the extra distance and see something to its logical conclusion (endurance).

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Don’t be afraid of the work.  It’s where the nectar is.  It’s where the magic is and…

when you truly devote yourself to your work – you work on yourself at the same time.  

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When you lose yourself in your work you’re really finding more of yourself.  You have to have your eyes open to see that.  You have to be open to that possibility to perceive that and you may not recognize it until later – but that connection ( or Csikszentmihalyi’s flow) carries through into other things.

A lesson from Borges

In the later years of Borges life (after his vision had gone),  he would write whatever story or poem he was working on in his head and then spend some time editing and perfecting each phrase as an internal process.  When it was done, he would call in his assistant and recite it in it’s final form to be transcribed and read back to him for approval.

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Now 2 questions:

How many other people could write under those conditions?  A few.

How many could write at his level?  None…even with their sight.

He could have easily made excuses – writing in this fashion is incredibly difficult – but instead he put the effort in and continued to get his writing out into the world.

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If you’re doing the work, you’re already ahead of the pack.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.

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(Special thanks to Chris Lavender for some extra perspective and inspiration on this post)

Guit-A-Grip Episode #7 – Confessions Of A Former Music School “Failure”

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #7 (Confessions of a former music school “failure”) is now out and available for download/streaming.

Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:

(https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/guit-a-grip-podcast/id638383890 )

  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:

(http://feeds.feedburner.com/GuitagripPodcast)

  • or you can right click here to download it.

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Guit-A-Grip Episode #7 – Show Notes

Several things got me thinking about this topic – but the key moment I knew I’d have to write about this came the last time I saw my mother in upstate New York and found a bunch of old scores from my Berklee composition days and sat there scratching my head.

They were really disjointed and amateurish.  It was like seeing myself go through puberty again and hearing my voice crack.  For a moment, it made me feel awful and then I remembered that I wasn’t that guy anymore.  Just as a 5 year old version of me tried to stick a fork in an electrical socket to see what would happen (I’m not doing that anymore btw) I’m not that same person.

I should know this but it’s either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure that has a philosophical maxim that I’ve held onto for much of my life,

“Seven times down – Eight times up.”

And it’s served me will.  You will hit walls and obstacles in whatever it is you do, but the actions  you take in resolving those things will ultimately be how you define yourself.

You are not your job (Unless you define yourself that way)

One of the first jobs I ever had was in a department store.  It was supposed to be a temp job during renovation, but I worked really hard, hustled and made myself an asset to the store so when the time came to keep a handful of employees – I was one of the ones they kept.

Perhaps there’s an alternate universe where I’m still working at that store, but I knew that there would be other things for me to do and so I moved on.  It’s not part of my self definition.

While my undergrad experience was a lopsided one  I don’t view myself as a failure (even though I have a few grades that argue that point!)

I had a bad experience and had to decide what was important and move on to the next thing.

I had to teach myself what I needed to know and transition from thinking to knowing.

I made myself a better musician, learned a lot of hard lessons and eventually transitioned to a place where I got into grad school (and no failing grades that time around).  That experience is a big part of what’s gone into making me who I am but, like the department store job, it’s not part of my self definition.

Things referenced in the Podcast

I mentioned that I’d link to some things in the Podcast so let’s try that.

First – some clarifiers

1. I remember the instance with the guidance office now.  We had to fill out the applications but the guidance office would not release transcripts to us – so we needed to give them our applications to submit so they could enclose transcripts.  I was told, “Our office does not make mistakes” when I got the letter back from Berklee even though I pointed to the requirement in print and noted that the transcript provided didn’t meet them.

2.  Eugene’s trick bag is the Steve Vai guitar solo that Ralph Macchio is hand synching to for the film Crossroads.

3.  Self Educated man – was a reference to self-taught man in La Nausée – a novel a mischievous member of the faculty gave me to read as a book report.  In 7th grade.  Brought up unsuccessfully in an attempt to woo a weary admissions counselor.

4.  Books Berklee recommended – Robert Starter’s Rhythmic Training was one of them but the others evade me now.

5.  In finding the scores I actually found the letter kicking me out of the composition department and found the photocopy of the letter I got from the chair to get back in.  A series of correspondences (and conversations) that I had previously blocked from my memory.

6.  Juggernaut.  This was the composition I referenced in the Podcast.  Don’t ask.  My instructor didn’t use the term “stones” that I used in the podcast either.

7.  “They were torn apart” – specifically one faculty member with a real problem with me blocked my graduation and took no small pleasure in COVERING my scores with red writing.  Now I don’t blame him – but at the time my thought was, “I was already graded on these why are you grading them a second time?”  Other comments included weird personal observations on how he didn’t like my music.

8.  This podcast is for everyone who had a plan.  Tried to execute the plan.  Had the plan blow up in their face and continue on despite everything.

Second – some music links.

Comité de salut public

I mentioned that I had a group at Berklee that used some of the contemporary composition techniques and wrote tunes with them.  That group was called The Committee Of Public Safety and (to my knowledge) was the only avante garde-core French Revolution “tribute band” in Boston at the time.  I wrote all the tunes and some of them are below:

But you can hear (and download) all of the tracks (and read more info than you ever wanted to know about this group) here.

The Committee of Public Safety was:

Pat Aldous/Marko Djordjevic – drums

Caroline Dillon – cello

Mike Mallory – bass

Teresa Sienkiewicz / Pat Raymaker- voice

The Time with the Tub

tubtime

Click for more info

Tubtime came out of a series of sessions I had with drum / recording guru Geoff Chase.  I dragged my friend Joe Rauen along to play bass and Geoff dragged the incomparable Patty Barkas along to sing.  Somehow we got the mighty Keichi Hashimoto to play with us as well.

We recorded another album’s worth of material that we’ll leak out eventually but for now here’s a soundcheck you might dig as well.

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The Book

Ah, yes – I referenced the book I wrote to get into grad school.

First, there were two components to the application.   In addition to the Tubtime CD there was some audio:

and then the book.  Excerpts of the ORIGINAL (error plagued) version was on Google Books but I don’t see it now.

The New (VASTLY improved) book:

12 Tone Cover small

Is available on Lulu or Amazon.  (Amazon probably ships it easier – but the Lulu page has WAY more information and book excerpts).

Note: the cover is vintage 2013.  The original cover was a flat blue with a white title.

Post

I promised a linked post that related more of this story and you can read that here .

Onward and Upward

I hope this helps (or is at least enjoyable or amusing to you)!

As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it – leaving a rating on iTunes would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!

-SC

 

The Instructional Methodology Behind “How Not To Do Things”

Hi Everyone! I’m prepping for an upcoming recording session, but I thought in the meantime I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’ve ever had insomnia and turned on a television, you’ve probably seen info-mercials that are based on success formulas.  “I made $1,000,000 in recycling and you can too!”  The selling point is that if you emulate what successful people have done, you will get the same results they did.

The problem with this idea is that the “one size fits all” mentality for success rarely seems to work.

 

One possible reason for this is that so many factors go into “success”, it’s difficult to glean all of the components that go into helping make someone successful.

For example, as a guitarist, I could watch an instructional video of someone playing a guitar lick quickly, learn all of the notes being played, practice diligently and still not be able to get the lick sounding the same because of any one of a number of factors (hand tension, timing, phrasing, string thickness etc.)

While it’s easy to look for successful models and try to emulate that success, it can be even more informative to look at what doesn’t work and model a path against failure.

You can read a book about Donald Trump and still be no closer to achieving his level of success. In contrast, if you watch the television show Intervention and see someone who’s short-circuited their career by being a full blown drug addict, you can decide not to follow their example and make a conscious step towards being the person you want to become.

Lessons from an error-filled methodology

When I first started playing guitar I spent a lot of time working on the solos in songs I was playing.  As a commonality, the solos in these songs were all fast and required substantial technique. I assumed that if I just learned the notes, I could get the solos up to speed eventually.  My practicing “method” was to just play these licks for hours on end to get them as fast as I could.

In this process, as soon as I could play the notes I would try to play them faster (which was actually much faster than I really could accurately play them).  In addition to making things sloppy, it also made my hands overly tense as I was trying to play outside of the realm of my ability and this tension carried over into my playing. I eventually could get the speed of the notes, but there was a lack of clarity and most certainly, a lack of fluidity.

It goes without saying – this is not how you want to practice something.

In conjunction with writing my instructional books, I watched every guitar instructional video I could get my hands on to see how my methods stacked up.  Here’s what I found:

Very few people can teach material to others well.

The amount of information that was misleading or wrong was shocking.   It occurred to me that many people are poor teachers because they either don’t know the material at a deep enough level to explain it to someone else or because they have no concept of how to relate that material to other people.  This makes the job of the student that much harder, because the student has to sort out what the teacher is trying to say rather than what is actually being said.

Ignorance is contagious.

Ignorance is viral.  It spreads quickly and easily and once infected, it can be a difficult process to overcome.  In my own case, the problems I developed by “practicing” in the wrong way have taken years to try to fix and is still an ongoing process.   (This speaks to both why it’s important to learn things the right way the first time and how difficult it is to overcome bad habits).

If you take this to a YouTube level – you’ll find many people who play a lot of notes but can’t play them well.  Sometimes there’s no concept of phrasing.  You see out of tune, out of time bends with no control followed by a flurry of notes hiding under a ton of effects.   I’ve seen the tension I talked about above from trying to play too fast too quickly in a lot of online videos.  The notes are kind of there but only in a holographic way.  You get the feeling that if you were to put a metronome down on a table and drop the tempo by 1/2 that whatever the person was playing would completely fall out of the pocket or more likely completely fall apart.

Observing and reflecting on people getting things wrong, can inspire you to see elements of weakness in yourself and correct them.

When I see someone play badly, I try to figure out why it’s bad and then try to see if there’s something I can take away from it to develop my own playing.  Maybe it’s a simple observation like, “Ok I really need to work on my vibrato!” – but I try to make each observation a lesson.

How not to do things also directly relates to goals.  It’s about looking at an outcome and saying, “if I do not want a specific outcome to happen what steps do I need to take?”   Its advantage over merely examining how to do things is that it gets your hands dirty and forces you to come into contact with the nitty-gritty behind various processes.  In this way, it may help you come to a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do and how to go about doing it.

Thanks for reading!

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.