Motivation Is A Question Of “Why” Not “How”

Today I want to talk about a technique for understanding and focusing motivation but first…

The Obligatory Update

I have been remiss in posting here.  As I write this I’m taking a break from prep for a back to back recording session coming up on the 15th with I Come From the Mountains (a new duo acoustic instrumental ensemble with Dean Mirabito from KoriSoron playing an Iranian / Middle Eastern / Hindustani hybrid / fusion with me playing modified acoustic guitars (fretless, 10 string guitar modified from a 12 string and a 6-string multiple capos) and Dean playing  tabla and Middle Eastern percussion) and Embe Esti (a loosely Afrobeat inspired electric band with guitar, bass, drums and vocals that brings in a lot of North African and Balkan influences as well).  WOW is that an awkwardly long sentence!

( In a gear related note – with the exception of the fretless guitar –  all of the guitars and amps I’m using are from Yamaha – so Yamaha Guitars / Yamaha THR if you’re reading this and have any interest in sponsoring a future recording session please feel free to get in touch! ; )  I’ve been working with their THR100HD amp and have gotten some really great tones with minimal pedals  so I’ll share my different rigs with you in a future post).

So writing a lot of new material and developing new projects.  New websites for both soon!

The Best Free Lesson I Can Give You

If you go through old posts you’ll see that I hammer this point over and over again.

You have to have a why to travel any distance on the path to mastering guitar.


Here’s why this is important.  Let’s say you’re in a playing rut.  You keep playing the same thing over and over and don’t know how to get out.  You get motivated and sign up for a video course and give them your credit card number.  You log in the first day and start working on the first lesson.  In this case, you happened to go with a player you like but you didn’t understand that the material is way too hard to process at your current skill level.  So you work with it for about an hour and take a break for a bit…and then never come back to it.  Or you buy a book and it comes in the mail and you crack the cover and never return to it.

Does this sound familiar?

The problem most players face at some level is they don’t understand why they are doing what they’re doing.

As a beginning player:  if you don’t have a strong enough motivation you won’t play enough to develop the callouses you’ll need to play.

As an intermediate player: if you don’t have a strong enough motivation you won’t practice the things you need to work on to develop the skills you’ll need to progress to higher levels of expression.

As an advanced player: if you don’t have a strong enough why you may get to a point where you have developed a substantial skill set but can not earn a living from that skill alone.

This is kind of the mid-life crisis of guitar.  Fortunately, I’ve gone through many of these throughout my time playing guitar but players who have never faced can be in for a devastating experience .

See The “What” Is Easy

There’s 12 notes.  Simple.  You can get the basics of chords and scales in a day, grasp them more fully in a week and start to really do something with them in as little as a month if you really put the work in consistently.

The “How” Is Also (Relatively) Easy

When you buy an instructional product  what you’re buying is instruction on the how.  There is a literal deluge of instructional material both online and in print.   Even the most basic of searches will lead you to someone who can show you how.  The how is something that is also pretty easy to get under your fingers if you really put the work in consistently (and can be patient about how long it will take to do that work).

The “Why” Is Where You Are On Your Own

If you don’t have a reason for why you are doing what you are doing you won’t put the work in day after day and without that consistence – you will never progress.

Here’s the simple thing to do to get to the core of matter

When I teach a guitar lesson to a beginning student I will often attempt to drill down to what the motivating factors are by asking a series of “why” based questions.

Q: “So what brings you here today?”
A: “I want to learn how to play fast?”
Q: “Why?”
A: “Why what?”
Q: “Why do you want to learn to play fast?  What will playing fast allow you to do that you can’t do now?”

Based on the answer – this starts a series of drill downs of variations on the question to get to the bottom – why are you really here?  What are you really trying to do and most importantly, what is the real goal that you are working towards?

Playing fast isn’t a goal – it’s a pathway to a goal that might be better reached a thousand ways.  If the actual goal and motivation is understood it’s much easier to commit to putting the work in consistently to reach it.

Here’s a hypothetical non-musical example played out a little longer

“I want to exercise”
“So I can gain muscle”
“So that I look better”
“So people will date me”
“So I’m not alone”

So in this example the exercise is in service to a larger goal – excising loneliness.

This process for me came about after years of me feeling guilty about going to Berklee and never really delving into jazz improv, only to dig deeper into why I thought I should be working on that and realizing I didn’t really like a lot of standards  I was pursuing it in a half-assed way because I thought it was a skill set I should have, but in reality the tunes never moved me so my motivation to work on them wasn’t there.  When I spent the time working on things that moved me emotionally, I got into more challenging music that required doing some of the work I didn’t want to do before because the context was one I wanted to explore.  So I kind of came to the same place through the back door…

Here’s the takeaway

If you have an issue with motivation, try diving deep with a series of “why” questions to get to what the underlying reason behind what you are doing really is.  Once you understand your real motivation, it’s easier to be more objective about how to best work towards realizing an associated goal.

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



As You Gaze Into The BabyMetal The BabyMetal Also Gazes Into Thee


Earlier this month on Facebook, I put up a link to a video that a friend of mine hipped me to called BabyMetal.

I loved it for a number of reasons.

As someone who was familiar with J-Pop and Metal, it was a bizarre juxtaposition of two musical styles that at first glance appear incompatible, but actually works in an indescribable way.

I may have been amused watching the video up to the verse of the tune but I was dumbfounded when it got to the chorus.  It completely surprised me, and I can’t tell you the last time that happened to me in a popular song.

I dug the production.  I dug the concept.  I dug the band in skeleton costumes.  I dug that SO MANY people were there to see the show.  (And it is most definitely a show – based on the audio in the video – I doubt that much of that performance is “live” in the same way that a Britney Spears performance is more about being a live show/event than a musical concert).

On repeated viewings, it made me smile ear to ear regardless of whatever mood I was in before I heard the tune. It’s high energy and fun and if given the chance I’d do that gig in a heartbeat.

However, when other people posted about this on FB, it appears that 3 young girls fronting a metal band, singing about loving chocolate and dancing synchronized steps to it can shake some people’s delicate sensibilities to the core.

There were people that were outright angry at having been exposed to this.  Comments like “This is cancer for metal” or “I don’t find this funny at all” or a dozen other sentiments of people who were annoyed or outraged that this existed in the world and that they saw it.

And then I had a realization about strong opinions to art.

Art can be a Rorschack test.

It’s not the inkblot on the paper, but what you see in the inkblot that’s important to what’s happening with you.

If you have strong opinions about something it’s because it challenges or conflicts with beliefs and/or aesthetics that you have.  However, that’s what art is supposed to do.  It communicates and challenges. It exposes you to things you haven’t seen/heard/experiences before so you can expand your horizons and develop your own aesthetic.

I heard a quote on The Wednesday, March 12th show of @ Midnight (a gameshow riff on Comedy Central) from staff writer/contestant Matt Mira that resonated with me.  When asked to help define the internet he started his punch line with:

“The Internet is actually a place where non-content creators go to complain about content that’s been created….”

For many guitarists, YouTube has become a delivery device for an endless pissing contest of this guitarist’s solo being better than that guitarist’s solo and this gear being better than that gear but do any of those comparisons challenge anything other than your opinion?

“As you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into thee.”

I posit that if the BabyMetal video makes you angry, it’s because you’re already angry.  If metal as a genre is so fragile that 3 girls (and a talented producer) combining J-Pop with it ruins it for you, then it’s probably time to move on.

Here’s what I see.

This video inspires me.  It has over 4,200,000 views on YouTube.  They had the number 2 album on iTunes and their cd’s are selling for $40 on Amazon!  In the video, it looks like they’re playing to a crowd of at least 5,000 people if not more – and the crowd is into it!

If a concept this weird can get traction, then what’s my/your/anyone else’s excuse for not getting things out into the world?

When asked by an acolyte how to make the world a better place Lord Basho replied something to the effect of, “Just be the best person you can and then there will be one less rascal in the world.”

It’s well documented that goal setting is a critical element in getting things accomplished, but in the best tip I gotten in a while – reverse engineering goal setting by looking back from the future is a great way to keep yourself on track with achieving goals.

  • Instead of looking at where you are right now, take a moment and write down today’s month and day on a piece of paper and add in the year 5 years from now.


  • Then write down all the things you accomplished in your life by that date.


  • Finally, write down today’s month and day and one year from now.

Now the question is, what are you doing right now to achieve those 5 year goals?

I’m going to go watch the video again, and then get my sounds together for a show next week, and put things in place for getting things done this year in meeting those goals.

What are you going to do?

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