Inspiration Versus Intimidation

As a followup to Podcast #4, I thought I’d talk about perception and playing guitar.

I’ve gotten some emails from people who read through my GuitArchitecture blog, and wanted to know what they should do if they’re not the next Guthrie Gowan, Hendrix, Holdsworth or the next (insert great player here).  I understand where they’re coming from.  If you turn on a computer it’s hard not to find some terrifying audio or video clip of someone playing really advanced guitar.

The implication that you could come to is that everyone in the world is playing guitar at an amazing level and the pressure many guitarists (and I suspect other musicians as well) feel is that they need to meet that standard.

Before I attempt to defuse this argument, I’d like to address the leap in technical advances on guitar and then talk about why it doesn’t matter.

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Free Bird as an aphrodisiac

A friend of mine, who’s an excellent guitarist, was talking to me about the radical shift in technical standards in guitar playing and said, “You know – I remember when “Free Bird” was considered a virtuoso guitar solo.  If you could play that you were pretty much guaranteed to go home with someone at the end of the gig.  But now…I’ve got guys who have been playing for less than a year who can play that.”

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Knowledge might seem arithmetic in its application
but like technology it’s exponential.

When I say that technology is exponential, I mean that technological advances typically build on previous technological breakthroughs.  For example, the ENIAC (i.e. the first computer-depending on how you define “computer”), used punch cards, weighed 30 tons, took up approximately 1800 square feet and used around 18,000 vacuum tubes. (No word on what kind of tone it had!)  All of this for a processing speed comparable to a calculator.  Notice the timeline in each step beyond that initial innovation (taken in part from The computer history timeline):

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  • ENIAC
  • the invention of the transistor
  • the invention of  FORTRAN computer language
  • integrated circuits
  • the ram chip
  • the microprocessor and the floppy disc
  • IBM home computer and MS-DOS
  • Apple Lisa (with first GUI)
  • Windows

and then a series of major advances in microprocessor speed and size.  Each one of these changes ultimately created exponential innovations. In order for me to run a laptop guitar rig, I need a laptop with an operating system, a  fast processing speed, substantial ram, a fast hard drive, an audio converter, and software to make sense of what I’m trying to input and output from the computer.  None of this was even remotely in the thoughts of a potential application for a computer when ENIAC was built.

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Where before they took years or decades, advances now occur daily or sometimes hourly because each piece of technology allows someone else to build on it  and make their own innovation by taking it in a different direction.

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When Nicolò Paganini was alive, he was able to position himself uniquely as he was not only a virtuoso performer, but also developed a repertoire that only he had the technical skill set to play.  But once the music was published, other people started being able to play the music.  Some of the techniques became standardized, and pedagogical approaches improved.  With each passing generation more and more people were able to play it.

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Now, while still difficult music, it’s nowhere near as impossible as it initially seemed.  Here’s some footage of Sarah Chang when she was 10 years old in 1990 performing some of his music.

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If you think about it in the history of shred guitar, you would not have current innovators without people like Yngwie Malmsteen and Eddie Van Halen.  When those initial recordings came out they were considered impossible.  No one knew what the hell to do with Eruption.  It was Ed’s big middle finger to everyone – because no one could touch what he was doing at the time of Van Halen 1.  When I hear Far Beyond The Sun, I think back to people listening to the Rising Force CD and shaking their heads in disbelief.  Now either one of those pieces is something that you could learn to play given the proper instruction, music, time and a audio/visual demonstration.

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The reason for this is it’s much easier to do something when you hear or see it being done.  

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Once you hear someone play a solo at a high speed, you know that speed is attainable – because you’ve heard them play it and it transcends your limitations. When you see a video of them playing it, it makes it even easier as you can see more of the physical nuances of how something is being played.

 

With every recording and video, there is probably someone who is adapting or learning a technique associated with that recording and using it as a stepping stone. This is why there is such a glut of guitar videos, and why it seems that everyone is making one.

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There certainly are a lot of videos out there but they don’t tell the full story of the player.  And with that in mind, it’s now time for:

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Another Berklee story:

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My first day at Berklee, I was in my dorm room and heard someone playing Tony MacAlpine.  I grabbed my guitar and went looking for the room to see what was going on.  The music was coming from the dorm room directly beneath me – at the time I had a black Aria Pro II Knight Warrior I knocked on the door and the door swung open and there was another guitarist also named Scott who also had a black Aria Pro II Knight Warrior strapped onto his body (this turned out to be a fortuitous moment for me because Scott today is one of my dearest friends (and an unbelievable guitarist)).  I introduced myself and walked in.  Scott sat down on his bed and started playing some terrifying 2 handed pattern on his guitar.  I processed that for a moment and then went to go meet his roommate, Drew.

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Scott might disagree with me now, but here’s what I remember –  Drew was one of the most technically proficient guitarists I’ve ever seen.  He had literally taken the Michael Angelo instructional video and learned all of the licks but was playing them just as cleanly but even faster.  When he improvised a solo, he kind just re-arranged parts of those licks – but it was still incredibly impressive.

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I left pretty stunned.  I had just seen the two most technical guitar players at the school, but what I thought I had seen were two typical guitarists and that this was the performance standard of all the guitarists there.  I was starting to wonder just how far in over my head I was at this school.

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A couple of days later, I walked by the practice rooms.  A transcription of an Eric Johnson piece had just gotten published in one of the guitar magazines and I was now listening to twenty guitar players all playing the same lick at different speeds.  I processed that for about ten minutes – and realized my initial perception about the general level of skill amongst my fellow players was completely wrong.

Looking back at it now, I recognize that my thinking was faulty on multiple levels.

  • I assumed that everyone was “better” than me.

 

  • I assumed that “better” was a universal definition.

 

  • I assumed that my value as a player was only a comparative value related to how well other people play.

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Now I think all of these assumptions were wrong.

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To be sure, there are markers that you are improving as a player.  Maybe it’s fluency, maybe it’s repertoire, maybe it’s connection with the music or the instrument.  For each person, how they are getting better is ultimately self-defined.

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If you define it solely based on what other people can do, you’re selling yourself short.

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There are technical hurdles to playing music.  If someone counts off a tempo and you play your hot lead line over it – you can either cut it or you can’t.  There’s no real debate over that.  It’s strictly a performance issue.  You can, for example, either play an arpeggio at a certain tempo consistently or you can’t.  If the player next to you can play that arpeggio consistently at that tempo, then they have achieved a higher skill set on performing that arpeggio – but that has no reflection on either of your abilities to play music.  Just like your speed at filling gas tank has no direct reflection on your ability to drive.

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I’ve had students who have come to me and said, “I’m never going to be able to play like (player x) so why even bother?”  This is like saying, “Noam Chomsky speaks English and I speak English, but I’ll never speak about linguistics in English like Noam Chomsky so I might as well not even say anything at all.”  Hopefully, this line of thinking sounds silly when you put it in context.  English is only a language.  You use it to express yourself.  It doesn’t matter what judgements people put on it, it only matters that you can communicate effectively.  The same is true for music as well.

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Unfortunately, the social lesson that many people learn is that their value is comparative.

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  • We value ourselves based not only on how much money we make, but how much other people make
  • on how our lives and the things in our lives stack up against other people’s
  • on how many cds we’ve sold versus other cd sales, etc, etc….

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If you fall into this category here’s one way to turn this line of thinking around that will be more beneficial to you:

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Ask not “how do I stack up against others?”, but instead, “what can I gain from this?”

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If  I see someone playing an awesome solo, I don’t think, “Oh man I wonder if I can play that well?” (Although I certainly used to!)  I listen for the things that I like (or sometimes don’t like) and then see how I could incorporate that into my playing.   I take the things around me and try to use them for inspiration.  That way I don’t waste energy on getting intimidated.

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It can be hard to maintain that observation, but if you perceive getting better as a self-made standard that others can help you rise up to rather than a standard of others that you need to reach, I think it may serve you much better.

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I mention Guthrie Govan’s playing here because I really dig it.  I think he’s a brilliant guitarist.  But I really don’t give a toss about how I stack up against him. The world doesn’t need another Guthrie Gowan.  We already have one, and he’s great but what I do care about is how I can take every innovation of his I like and adapt it to what I do to advance my playing.

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“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the men of old; seek what they sought.”

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Lord Basho was once asked by an acolyte what could be done to make the world a better place.  He was purported to have replied, “be the best person you can be – and then there will be one less rascal in the world.”

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The world doesn’t need another version of anyone, it instead needs you to become the best version of yourself you can.

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As always, thanks for reading!

-SC

Focus, Music And The Big Picture

Anyone who knows me in a first person manner knows that I have a lot of first person stories.  When asked about that I reply, “When you go looking for an underground show, in a part of town not known for underground shows and go get Chinese food at 3 in the morning, you’ll probably end up with at least an anecdote.”

In other words – if you’re always seeking things out you’re much more likely to find something.  It might not be what you expected to find, but you’ll never find it if your eyes aren’t open.

A while back, I was reading Winifred Gallagher’s, Rapt (which is quite good) and being in a mode where I was seriously considering the issues of attention and focus I was reading a trade publication and came across this Jonas Hellborg quote which (in addition to being in synch with Rapt) rang with both an eloquence and a poignancy to me.  Perhaps you’ll agree. (Please note, the emphasis added below is mine and was not in the original article).

“In order to function as a human being, you have to be able to focus.  You have to be able to center.  Some people are into religion.  They pray or meditate or they do this or that.  Music is such a thing.  It’s a discipline and you use it for the purpose of focusing your mental, your spiritual activity in one direction and become whole.  As you do that you will get more and more capacity as a musician.  But if you can express what you need to express with just a limited vocabulary, you can still do that.  It’s not about the vocabulary.  It’s not about how many words you can use; it’s about what you can say.”

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This quote contains elements of my entire philosophy.  I’d like to modify it a little to adapt it more fully.

“(Music) is a discipline and if you use it for the purpose of focusing your mental, your spiritual activity in one direction and becoming whole, you will get more and more capacity as a musician. “

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I’ve modified this because Hellborg’s quote assumes everyone making music is doing that but personal experience has shown me that few people come to performing music with the purposeful process of becoming whole.  They come to it because they are looking for something.   Some people find it in a chord progression or a song and never need to go any further.  Some go deeper looking for something else.

Going deep is where you find the nectar.

Going deeper into almost anything with deliberation and focus will open your eyes and allow you to see more.

With that clarity, sometimes, comes the additional focus in what you’re searching for.

Sometimes the how leads to the why, but having a why will always lead to a how.

Yin and Yang.  You need both for a full circle.

Thanks for reading.

-SC

Podcast #3 On Talent, Tenacity And Self Definition

Hello everyone,

My new podcast is now up for streaming and/or download.

(Once again – this podcast was recorded in the same marathon session as the first one and there’s some weird gain issues going on.  So it’s a little gritty sounding on headphones and only slightly more forgiving though speakers – this will be fixed by podcast #4 – but in the meantime my apologies for the crunchy vocals.)

Guit-A-Grip Episode #3 – Show Notes

Short But Sweet

I’ve mentioned before that the podcasts will vary in length – and this one is well under 10 minutes, but after the previous two podcasts, I thought it might be nice to go with more succinct post this time.

Book Plug

This is an excerpt from my Kindle title, Selling It Versus Selling Out that touches on a number of topics that I’ve talked about here.

For those of you you who are interested, that book is available here .

My first Kindle title (An Indie Musician Wake Up Call) may also be of interest to you.  That book is available here.

If you like the audio format, I should have a collected audio book of essays up (and possibly a physical book) by the end of the summer.

A new podcast will be up next week – and more posts are on their way.

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

Thanks again!

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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.

Finding The Deeper Lesson

Finding mastery in strange places….

One person who’s fascinating to me is Gordon Ramsay (in spite of a celebrity chef status).  I remember years ago, on an early season of Hell’s Kitchen, a Cambridge resident that competed on the show and interviewed by the local Fox affiliate after she was voted off.   When asked about how mean or callous he was, the woman replied that he was really neither.  She said he was a world-class chef who maintained high standards since his name was going out on everything and that his demands were in line with what was expected from any professional kitchen.

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Another thing that fascinates me about Chef Ramsay (other than the fact that he came from a working class background and parlayed a career ending soccer injury into a pursuit of cooking) is that his mastery shines through on everything he does.  The next time you get a chance to see him do a cooking demonstration, watch the ease and speed he moves at.  Everything he does on camera is graceful, seamless and effortless.  If you’ve ever tried to pull off a video demonstration of something – you know how hard getting everything right really is (much less doing it on a sound stage in front of a national audience).

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Reaching a level of technical precision where the technique is invisible is a sign of true mastery.

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According to those who know, at the highest level the mastery of one thing is the same as the mastery of all things.   In other words, the focus, skill set and mental space that one needs to enter to be a master musician – is the same that it takes to be a great chef, a great athlete or anything great.

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Once you learn how to master something, you’ve gained a skill set in mastery and, ultimately, that lesson can be the greater take away.

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Years ago, when I was at my undergrad I wanted to get into martial arts.  I went to study kickboxing (since I had no aptitude for kicking) and my lesson was  with a guy who was nationally ranked.  When I went for the introductory lesson – we did a little bag work and when it was done I asked some questions about the martial arts as a philosophy and he replied that there was no philosophy, it was just about hitting the bag.  (That should have been a huge warning sign but instead I stuck it out for about 3 months).  I remember a class he was teaching where he was doing a weight lifting routine during a full class session of about 20 people.  We were working on kicks and he was teaching us by doing bench presses on a universal weight machine.

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Some of the classes were taught by a student of his and while the student teacher was not at the technical skill level level of the main instructor, these were the most informative classes that I had there.  This teacher was attentive and really helped me address specific technical things and applications.  He might not have been at the technical level of the main teacher, but he was the much better teacher of the two.

Needless to say, I didn’t learn a lot from the main teacher about kickboxing (other than the fact that he was a lot better at it than I was).  But I did learn more than I thought I did.

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The initial conclusions I took away from this experience were:

  • kickboxing sucks and/or
  • I suck at kickboxing

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Obviously kickboxing doesn’t suck and neither of these were the real lessons for me.  They were just faulty conclusions that I came to.

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Eventually, I realized that I had learned some other things:

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    • I learned a lot about teaching – both good and bad practices.
    • I learned some things about myself like my threshold for frustration and the value of discipline and focus.
    • I started thinking about how training affects performance which opened some doors for practicing later on.

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The take away

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If someone plays something better than you, it doesn’t mean you’re hopeless as a guitar player – but it does mean that person devoted more time to something than you did.

It’s easy to fall into those mental traps and it’s also easy to take the wrong lesson from any given experience away with you. 

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Try to find the lessons in whatever you do and then dig deeper into them and see if they have a broader application.

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The wrong lessons are the self-defeating lessons. 

The right lessons are the self-empowering lessons.

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Thanks for reading!

-SC

2013: How Not To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past (Or Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse)

(This is a repost of something I wrote for the end of 2010.  The dates and information have been updated, and this has become one of the few yearly repost traditions I indulge in.)

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I had hoped to get a few more things done before the end of the year, but decided instead to take the last week to wind down and center.  I find that this not only helps me take stock of what worked and didn’t work for me in 2012 but also helps me make sure I’m on track for what I want to get done in the new year.  As George Santayana said,

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

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As 2012 draws to a close, I think back to many conversations I had with people at the end of 2009.  At that time, it seemed like everyone I talked to said the same thing, “2009 was such a bad year.  2010 has to be better.  It just has to.”

Now it seems I’m listening to the same sentiment with the same people about 2012 and the coming 2013.  And in some ways they have a valid point.  Listening to their circumstances, 2012 certainly offered some of these people a tough blow – but regardless of their circumstances, I believe that, unless they experience a windfall of good fortune, I will hear the same sentiments echoed at the end of 2013.  There’s a reason for this:

“If you always do what you’ve always done – you’ll always get what you always got” – anon

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While I fully appreciate the merits of planning and goal setting – life will throw you any number of curveballs that may make a meticulously laid out plan get derailed.

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A good plan has to be countered with an ability to improvise (as need be) to make sure that even if your mode of transportation is disabled, that you are still on the path to achieve your goals.

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“Improvisation as a practice is the focus of an idea through an imposed restriction.  This restriction could either be self-imposed or be imposed upon the improviser through other means. Improvisation as it relates to common experience can be seen in the example of the car that stops running in the middle of a trip.  A person experienced in auto repair may attempt to pop the hood of the car to see if they can ascertain how to repair the vehicle.  Or they may try to flag down help.  Or they may try to use a cell phone to contact a garage.  The point being that within the context of a vehicle malfunction, different actions are improvised based on the improviser’s facility with both the situation at hand and the tools at their disposal….life is essentially an improvisation.  As individuals we come into each day not exactly knowing what will happen.  We know that there is an eventual end, but we don’t know when or how it will end.  But we continue to improvise, because it is in both the active improvisation (the present), the skill set and knowledge of that improvisation (the past) and in the philosophical/worldview/goals guiding our improvisational choices (the future) that we create meaning.”

 

If you approach life’s problems with the same mindset you’ve always had 

-and your new year’s resolutions run contrary to that mindset –

your resolutions are doomed.

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I say this as a seasoned graduate of the school of hard knocks and as a person who found that while success felt a lot better – failure was a much more thorough teacher.

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2012 had some great ups and downs for me and now there are a number of life and playing upgrades I’m going to put into practice in 2013 to address the things that didn’t work for me.  For those of you who are interested in making a real change the new year – here’s what worked for me going into 2012 that I plan on using this year as well:

 

Know the big picture.

If you have a goal – know why you have the goal.  As Victor Frankl once said, “He who has a why can endure almost any how.

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Take stock of what you have done and identify what needs to change.

Have you done things that work towards that goal?  If so, what have you really done? What worked?  What didn’t work?  And what parameters can you put in place to make it work better?

What decisions did you make that set you back and how could you alter those decisions in the future?

Sometimes honesty is brutal but this isn’t about beating yourself up.  It’s about taking a realistic stock of what worked and what didn’t work for you in the year, reinforcing that things that work for you and discarding what didn’t work for you.

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Revolution not resolution

People typically make resolutions because they recognize a need for change in their life.

Personally, change hasn’t been about making a momentary decision as a knee jerk reaction to something (which usually lasts as long as the time it took to make that decision).

The long-lasting changes in my life have come from making lifestyle changes, setting priorities and working within those changes.  Change, then, is not a temporary compromise to a current observation but is instead a revolt against habitual modes of thinking and operation. 

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Positive habits

Making something a daily positive habit (like brushing your teeth) makes it easier to maintain over the long haul.

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“Don’t make excuses – make it right” –  Al Little

People make excuses for things all the time.  No one cares about excuses because nothing ever got done with an excuse.  People (typically) only care about results.

There will undoubtably be moments that you relapse into older habits.  Instead of making excuses for why it happened – just acknowledge it and move past it. When you fall off the bike, it’s not about sitting down and nursing your scrapes.  It’s about getting back up on the bike again.  As it says in The Hagakure“Seven times down – eight times up”

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There’s strength in numbers

Try to surround yourself with supportive people.

  • Not enabling people who will make changes more difficult for you.
  • Not negative or judgmental people who will scoff at your desire for change

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Talk to the friends and family who will give honest and supportive feedback.  Here’s another important tip – don’t burn those people out with your goals.  The people around you have their own lives, so if every conversation becomes about you and your goals, you’re going to see less and less of those people!

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In addition to (or in some cases in lieu of) that support, you may want to look into some free online accountability sites like Idonethis.com (post on this here) or Wunderlist.com which maintains a private calendar to help observe progress.

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Be motivated to do more but be grateful for what you have

In a final 2012 observation, I’d like to thank everyone who took a moment to come here and read what I was doing.  So thank you all again and I hope that 2013 is your best year yet.

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The Perils of Panaceas and Instant Gratification

Hello!

Thanks for coming to this page.

This post has been moved to Get-A-Grip.com.

You can read it here.

Thanks!

-SC

2012: How Not To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past (Or Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse)

(This is a repost of something I wrote for the end of 2010.  The dates and information have been updated, and I suspect this will be one of the few yearly repost traditions I indulge in.)

.

I had hoped to get a few more things done before the end of the year, but decided instead to take the last week to wind down and center.  I find that this not only helps me take stock of what worked and didn’t work for me in 2011 but also helps me make sure I’m on track for what I want to get done in the new year.  As George Santayana said,

.

“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

As 2011 draws to a close, I think back to many conversations I had with people at the end of 2009.  At that time, it seemed like everyone I talked to said the same thing, “2009 was such a bad year.  2010 has to be better.  It just has to.”

.

Now it seems I’m listening to the same sentiment with the same people about 2011 and the coming 2012.  And in some ways they have a valid point.  Listening to their circumstances, 2011 certainly offered some of these people a tough blow – but regardless of their circumstances, I believe that, unless they experience a windfall of good fortune, I will hear the same sentiments echoed at the end of 2012.  There’s a reason for this:

.

“If you always do what you’ve always done – you’ll always get what you always got” – anon

.

While I fully appreciate the merits of planning and goal setting – life will throw you any number of curveballs that may make a meticulously laid out plan get derailed.

.

A good plan has to be countered with an ability to improvise (as need be) to make sure that even if your mode of transportation is disabled, that you are still on the path to achieve your goals.

.

“Improvisation as a practice is the focus of an idea through an imposed restriction.  This restriction could either be self-imposed or be imposed upon the improviser through other means. Improvisation as it relates to common experience can be seen in the example of the car that stops running in the middle of a trip.  A person experienced in auto repair may attempt to pop the hood of the car to see if they can ascertain how to repair the vehicle.  Or they may try to flag down help.  Or they may try to use a cell phone to contact a garage.  The point being that within the context of a vehicle malfunction, different actions are improvised based on the improviser’s facility with both the situation at hand and the tools at their disposal….life is essentially an improvisation.  As individuals we come into each day not exactly knowing what will happen.  We know that there is an eventual end, but we don’t know when or how it will end.  But we continue to improvise, because it is in both the active improvisation (the present), the skill set and knowledge of that improvisation (the past) and in the philosophical/worldview/goals guiding our improvisational choices (the future) that we create meaning.”

.

If you approach life’s problems with the same mindset you’ve always had 

-and your new year’s resolution runs contrary to that mindset –

your resolutions are doomed.

.

I say this as a seasoned graduate of the school of hard knocks and as a person who found that while success felt a lot better – failure was a much more thorough teacher.

.

2011 had some great ups and downs for me and now there are a number of life and playing upgrades I’m going to put into practice in 2012 to address the things that didn’t work for me.  For those of you who are interested in making a real change the new year – here’s what worked for me going into 2011 that I plan on using this year as well:

.

Know the big picture.

If you have a goal – know why you have the goal.  As Victor Frankl once said, “He who has a why can endure almost any how.

.

Take stock of what you have done and identify what needs to change.

Have you done things that work towards that goal?  If so, what have you really done? What worked?  What didn’t work?  And what parameters can you put in place to make it work better?

What decisions did you make that set you back and how could you alter those decisions in the future?

Sometimes honesty is brutal but this isn’t about beating yourself up.  It’s about taking a realistic stock of what worked and what didn’t work for you in the year, reinforcing that things that work for you and discarding what didn’t work for you.

.

Revolution not resolution

People typically make resolutions because they recognize a need for change in their life.  For me – it really isn’t about making a momentary decision as a knee jerk reaction to something (which usually lasts as long as the time it took to make that decision).  The long-lasting changes in my life have come from making lifestyle changes, setting priorities and working within those changes.  It’s a revolt against what was done before instead of a compromise for a current mode of operation.

.

Positive habits

Making something a daily positive habit (like brushing your teeth) makes it easier to maintain over the long haul.

.

“Don’t make excuses – make it right” –  Al Little

People make excuses for things all the time.  No one cares about excuses because nothing ever got done with an excuse.  People (typically) only care about results.

.

There will undoubtably be moments that you relapse into older habits.  Instead of making excuses for why it happened – just acknowledge it and move past it. When you fall off the bike, it’s not about sitting down and nursing your scrapes.  It’s about getting back up on the bike again.  As it says in The Hagakure, “Seven times down – eight times up”

.

There is strength in numbers

Try to surround yourself with supportive people.

  • Not enabling people who will make changes more difficult for you.
  • Not negative or judgmental people who will scoff at your desire for change

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Talk to the friends and family who will give honest and supportive feedback.  Here’s another important tip – don’t burn those people out with your goals.  The people around you have their own lives, so if every conversation becomes about you and your goals, you’re going to see less and less of those people!

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In addition to (or in some cases in lieu of) that support, you may want to look into some free online accountability sites like Idonethis.com (post on this here) or Wunderlist.com which maintains a private calendar to help observe progress.

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Be motivated to do more but be grateful for what you have

In a final 2011 observation, I’d like to thank everyone who took a moment to come here and read what I was doing.  GuitArchitecture had a 800 % increase in web traffic this year!  It’s going to get even bigger next year and it would all be impossible without the people reading.  So thank you all again and I hope that 2012 is your best year yet.

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-SC

Melville, Madness and Practicing – Or Finding The Deeper Lesson Part 2

Condensed Cliff Notes

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Years ago, I found a back issue of National Lampoon that had a faux ad for Condensed Cliff Notes (“for people who didn’t have time to read the original”).  The joke was that major literary works were just boiled down into one sentence descriptions that couldn’t possibly encompass the scope of the book.  The Condensed Cliff Notes for Moby Dick was, “A whale bites off a man’s leg and he can’t forget about it.”

I don’t know how many of you have read Moby Dick.  I hated it when I had to read it in high school but really got to appreciate it when I was in college and read it again.  One of the central characters in the book was Captain Ahab, a man who not only couldn’t forget about the whale that bit his leg off – but was on monomaniacal mission of revenge that enveloped everyone around him in its wake.   At the end of the book, it’s also his undoing.

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The Ahab effect and practicing

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The nature of practicing music (seemingly endless repetition) makes it easy to fall into the Ahab role of obsessively trying to get a musical passage under your fingers.  I once had a lick I couldn’t get down.  It was challenging, but it certainly was something that was well with in my skill set.

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But the more I worked at it  – the worse it got.

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I’d work on this lick everyday for hours and get the metronome to a certain point.  When I came back to it, I’d have to knock the metronome back down 20 bpm – often 10 bpm lower than where I started the lick the day before!

You can imagine what this did for my sanity.

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After a week of this – I started noticing a few things:

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  • My goal line kept changing.  As I was working on the lick, I kept finding things wrong that I wanted to correct.  I was playing it clean, and then hear other technical issues when I switched to distortion. I was flubbing certain notes, and would go back to fix those.  I was rushing the parts where there were position changes.  I was over thinking it and the more energy I was putting into it the worse it got.  I was actually getting better at playing it, but because I kept adjusting the standard of what I was hearing I seemed further and further away from the goal.
  • I was in a rush.  I was putting all of this emphasis on this lick because I wanted to use it in a live context and  (finally)
  • I was hung up about the fact that I SHOULD be able to play it.

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The operative terms here are, “hung up” and “should”.

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Should is a faulty term. It implies value judgements that are hard, if not impossible to live up to and negates reality.   This might sound really  touchy-feely  to some people but this is the type of mindset that trips up musicians.  It’s why people get carpel tunnel (or Focal Dystonia)  – because they go all Ahab on something and assume that if they just work harder, that they’re going to get results quicker.

Everyone is different and this approach may work. for some people but it never worked for me.

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Here’s what did work for me.

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  • I got some distance and took a break.  I stopped playing for a couple fo days and came back to it fresh.
  • When did come back to it I had the lick down, but it taught me to try to approach all practicing more meditatively.  I noticed things that were wrong and worked on adjusting them rather than beating myself up about why I couldn’t do something.  When I did slip up and get angry or riled up – I made a note of that and tried smiling instead.

I found that I was really listening on a deeper level than I was before and using practicing to get to a deeper part of myself. I was really getting into the nuances of what I was playing and digging deeper into the pocket than I every had.  I noticed technical things that weren’t working and ultimately – I made a series of changes that had major technical ramifications for me in the long run.

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All from one lick.

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Anything has that potential to open the door to deeper expression.  But you won’t find it if all of your energy and attention is fixated on something.

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In the next post, I’ll have some lesson material that uses approaches from my Melodic Patterns book, and we’ll get a glimpse into just how tricky playing 4 notes can be.

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Thanks for reading!

-SC

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If you like this post – you may also like:

Don’t Be Afraid Of the Work

Hello!

Thanks for visiting this page!

This post has been moved to my other site  Guit-A-Grip.com.

You can read it here.

Thanks again!

-Scott