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.
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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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Don’t Let Time Become An Excuse For Not Starting Something

Hi everybody!

I just wanted to add a post to go with the new series I’m running on my podcast. (if you like this post you might want to check it out if you haven’t already!)

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Time and Fear

It can be scary to start a new project, take on a new initiative or choose a new direction. One fear-based response I hear from people consistently for why they don’t want to take on something new is some variation of this:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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The Tough Love Part Of The Post

Here is the reality check for this line of thinking:

Your time has no fixed economic value before you start something.

Let me clarify this.  If you’re currently making six figures a year in your day job, you are sorely mistaken (or outright delusional) if you’re taking on something new at the ground level and assuming that your time in your new venture will initially have the same value as what you’re currently making.

If you open a hot dog stand and sell five hot dogs in your first hour, SOME portion of that wage (and given the cost of supplies will be a negative figure in this case) will be your new (hopefully temporary) hourly wage.

While it doesn’t mean that’s what you’re worth –  it does mean that’s what you’re making at this moment.  Five years from now your artisan dogs might support a dozen stands selling hundreds an hour and bringing in real money – but at this moment – in the simplest equation – your business is valued at the dollar value generated when expenses are subtracted from assets and revenue.

Later on, once your project has inertia, your time will have a definitive value and there will be numerous things fighting for your time.  But initially, it’s like going to court in that just as you don’t get compensated for your time to appear in court – you don’t get back the time or energy in a project that went bust.  It’s gone.  Eat the loss and let it go.

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Sometimes you take a step back to move forward.

When I realized that my fretting hand technique was holding back my playing I had to re-learn about 1/2 of what I “knew” how to play.

It was a drag, and initially it felt like a huge waste of time taking a step that far back and I resisted it for a year because I didn’t want to wast my time taking a step back when there was already a lot I could do on guitar.

But what I could already do wasn’t getting me any further ahead in the long run.  The process of revamping my technique made me re-evaluate my relationship to the instrument and to music as a whole.  I began to hear my playing differently and began to hear other people’s playing differently.  Ultimately it got me the fluidity and clarity that I admired in so many other players playing that I was always wondering why it was missing from mine.

I sometimes wonder if people get frustrated when they talk about whatever they saw on the internet or TV (i.e. “if your time is so valuable how exactly are you spending it now?”) and then go on to ask the initial question:

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“Well…what if I put all of this time and energy into it and it doesn’t go anywhere?”

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Here’s the answer:

The good news is that if the project is a bust (and if you haven’t invested EVERYTHING into it) you can quit and take what you’ve learned from this venture to move on to the next one.

I copped this from Seth Godin who once said that quitting is undervalued and that the problem with quitting is that most people quit something when it’s too late.  The time to quit is in the early stages BEFORE you take the second mortgage, empty the bank account and realize that if this doesn’t work out that you and your family need to move back in with your folks.

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And now the caveat!

If this website has a one word core idea, it’s balance“.

Before I played guitar, I started off as a drummer in junior high school.  If I didn’t quit drums in my first year and later switched to guitar I never would have stayed in music because by the time I had enough time in on drums in high school I wouldn’t have had the energy or interest to transition to learning guitar.

If I quit my pursuit to revamp my technique too early, I never would have made the progress in my playing that I did.

The balance is the hardest thing because the onus of understanding and maintaining that balance falls on you, the individual.

Balance will play a huge role in the posts and podcasts ahead!

Starting any new project will take inertia to keep it going.  Once you get the project going you’ll have plenty of opportunities to evaluate your use of time and address it’s value in a real way, but don’t let that short circuit your plans for starting something.

More content coming soon.  As always, thanks for 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!

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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!

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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
 

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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A Late Lesson From Michael Jackson

It’s been a strange week in news. But one story over the weekend caught my attention in a large way.

Numerous news outlets covering the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial reported that  testimony from sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler described Jackson may be the only documented human who went 60 days without REM (Rapid Eye movement).

In order to combat insomnia (and a number of other related issues) Jackson’s tour physician put him on propofol, a powerful drug that gives a patient the sensation of feeling refreshed.

Unfortunately, it does this by usurping the sleep cycle and blocks REM which, it turns out, will kill you. In lab tests, rats who had no REM died within 5 weeks.  Had he not had a heart attack he probably would have died within a few days anyways.

“The symptoms that Mr. Jackson was exhibiting were consistent with what someone might expect to see of someone suffering from total sleep deprivation over a chronic period,”

According to a CNN piece, these symptoms included:

“…an inability to do standard dances or remember words to songs he sang for decades, paranoia, talking to himself and hearing voices, and severe weight loss.”

Sometimes a shortcut will kill you.

He took a shortcut, because the stakes were enormously high.  Even when he was no longer “the king of pop”, a concert tour ending would equate to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.  That’s more than many nation’s GNP.

That shortcut cost him his life.

And this has what to do with guitar?

A lot actually.

One of the mantras I come back to repeatedly is that the more you invest yourself into any instrument, the more the instrument will give back to you.

The deeper you go into your instrument – the deeper you go into yourself.

There is no short cut for that.

It’s investing focused time and energy.

Once I had a student who was irritated that his fast licks weren’t coming out very clean.

“How come I can’t play this lick fast?”

“Because your body is trying to cash checks that your mind hasn’t deposited yet.”

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So this is a reminder….it’s a mantra I keep coming back to.

Be wary of the short cut.

Be wary of the the fast pay out.

Don’t sell yourself short and deny the gains that can come from pursuing things on a deep level.

The payoffs will come flashes but each one of the usually has years of fuel behind it.  No matter how strong the spark is, without that fuel, you won’t get fire.

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The best philosophies are simple and sustainable.  As familiar themes and messages are revisited here, I’m reminded of a W.A. Matthieu quote (that I’m reduced to paraphrasing unfortunately), “There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

More thoughts coming soon.  Thanks for reading.

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p.s. – One last hidden lesson – Michael Jackson’s life ultimately became a cautionary tale.  Don’t let your life become one as well.