New Lesson Part III – A Process To Get Better

Case Study

In part one of this series I laid a some ground work for the idea that improvisation can be utilized for a practice and compositional tool.  In part two, I showed how I used that approach to write a song and develop a lick for the solo .

Here in Part III of this series, I’m going to use the lick I came up with to show how I approach practicing.  While I’m demonstrating this to show how to get a specific lick under your fingers, this approach can be used for more rapid skill acquisition in any area.

Step 1: Separate A Specific Goal From A Desire

A lot of times, people will say they have a general goal like, “I want to get better at guitar” and then buy a book that they read a bit of any perhaps play something for a minute or two in an unorganized session and then play the same licks they were playing before and never open the book again.

“I don’t know why I don’t get any better.  I practice all the time and have dozens of books but I keep playing the same things.”

It’s because you have a desire but you don’t have a specific goal.

Desire is important.  It’s a motivator.  It’s the why behind the things that you do.  But desire doesn’t get things done.

“I want to be a jazz guitarist” is a desire.

“I’ve adopted a daily practice of learning a new standard in every key and transcribing my favorite artists soloing on those tunes.” is a more actionable goal that works in the service of the desire of becoming a Jazz guitarist.

Goals address what what and the how of the things that you do. The specific mentioned above  is important as:

Specific Goals Get Specific Things Done.

Depending on the thing you’re working on, a setting a realistic time frame for the goal might be make it easier to achieve as well.

In this case, my goal is to try to get this lick:

32nd Note Lick Revised

up to the tempo of the song I want to use it in.

Step 2: Identifying The Thing(s) To Work On

In my example above, my goal is very specific so in this instance that’s the thing I’m going to work on.

It’s important to note that in going through this process you will very likely realize that what you’re working on uncovers all sorts of other areas that need to be developed to achieve that goal.

For a non-musical example, if you made a New Year’s resolution to loose 50 pounds by summer you might have identified working out at a gym as one of the things to work on but actually getting to the gym consistently might be a bigger problem in realizing that goal.  So you’d have to address things like willpower / motivation or other issues in addition to the initial area identified (the need for more exercise).

In the lick above, there might be a whole host of technical issues (sweep picking, string muting, etc.) that needs to be addressed in order to be able to play on the lick.  That aspect of it can become very frustrating if you didn’t anticipate it.  Just be aware that working on one thing will often mean working on multiple things.

Step 3: Contextualize And Analyze

One common mistake that I see people make is learning a lot of licks and then not knowing how to use them.  By understanding what you’re playing and how it works in a harmonic context, you can then take that information and re-contextualize it – (i.e. use it for soloing in other songs).

I already did a lengthy contextualization and analysis of this in part two of this lesson.  But here’s a cliff’s note version.

In this case:

32nd Note Lick Revised

The lick is a diminished lick that I’m using as a solo over an ostinato.

Ganamurti Ost

Step 4: Deconstruct

So when faced with a lick like this:

32nd Note Lick Revised

many players will just set a metronome and just start whacking away at it to try to get it up to speed.

This is NOT the best way to address something like this.

I recommend breaking it down into components.  So if I look at the first two beats and slow them down – essentially I see:

four four sixteenth first
Which is just the same fingering repeated at the 8th fret:

four four positional sixteenth two

and the 11th fret:

Four Four Positional three

So if I look at that first lick again:

four four sixteenth first

I can see that it’s the same basic idea on three strings in terms of picking and fingering – a minor 3rd on the same string, a single note on the next string and a minor third on the third string.

Or isolated further essentially this.

Diminished 7th quint

While the fingering might be adjusted slightly for the note on the middle string,  the first thing to do is address this initial shape.  Because if I don’t have this down then the rest of the lick won’t come together.

Step 5: Refine

If the lick features something really unfamiliar to me – I’ll break it down even further.

  • My initial focus is to just make sure I get the right notes.  Rather than even looking at 1/16th or 1/8th notes I might break it down to this:

D Dim 7 to octave

or even this:

5 Note half Note

  • The first thing to address is the fingering.  I’ll use the 1st and 4th fingers for the notes on the outer strings and the 2nd finger on the inner string.

5 note fingering

This will keep the fingering the same on the D-G-B strings:

5 Note fingering-2

And when I get to the G-B-E strings the only finger I’m changing is the note on the B string:

5 Note fingering 3

  • The next thing I’ll address is the picking.  Note that I’m going to pick the form in a semi-sweep pick that might seem unusual:

Initial Picking

The reason for this can be seen better when you look at the lick in full position:

16th Note Initial Picking

The reason I start the lick on an up-stroke is to create a small sweep going between patterns:

Picking Excerpt

But this solution is just what works for me.  You could use hammer-ons to play the whole lick as downstrokes and that would work as well:
Hammer On Lick

The point here is to find what makes the most sense to you to play the lick to make sure that you’re playing it properly.

Step 6: Measure

Tim Ferriss has frequently thrown out this quote (proper citing needed)

“That which gets measured gets managed.”

When I go on a trip, my sense of direction is typically terrible.  If the sun is out I can work out “the Sun rises in the East and sets in the West” to at least get my general bearings but at night – left to my own devices without a GPS of some kind – I will typically go in the wrong direction.

I mention this because past experiences have shown me that using perception without any kind of concrete markings is a terrible measure for how I’m progressing on something.

In my case, I do several things to help measure how I’m doing.

  1.  I use a stop watch.  I’ve been practicing for a while so I can sit for longer periods of time and generally stay on task, but for the beginner I’d recommend a 5-15 minute block.  If I only have an hour to work on a few things, I’ll take 4 15-minute blocks and really focus on only one thing for that interval.  That’s why the stop watch is so important because it allows you to focus on the task at hand without spending any mental bandwidth on how long you’re working on something.  (Bonus tip – 4 FOCUSED 15 minute sessions over the course of a day will get you infinitely further than one unfocused 1 hour practice session at a time).
  2. I use a metronome or a time keeping device.  If I can play the lick at the beginning of the session at 100 and end at 105 I’ve made progress.
  3. I write it down and by that I mean I (generally) keep a daily log of whatever I’ve practiced for whatever length of time I practiced it for and make any notes of things I addressed.

    Example:

    “3/13/16:  5-Note Diminished run- 15 mins @160.  Work on articulating middle notes.”

    That’s really important.  So many of my students who say that they’ve never made progress before become VERY surprised when they have to write something down and REALLY see exactly how much (or in most cases how little) time they’ve actually put into something.

Step 7: Play it (or perform it, or do it) and observe it

Okay – we’ve covered a LOT of preliminary groundwork but the reason for that is because practicing something wrong will only make you better at playing it wrong and you will plateau at a much lower performance level.  Playing it correctly (i.e. with no tension, proper form, timing and phrasing will take longer in the short run but will save you insurmountable time in the long run.

I hope you’ll take this advice from my own experience.  I have had to start from scratch – from the beginning – TWICE – because of all of the bad habits I picked up and had to get rid of.  Had I know what I know now, I could have gotten where I am now in 1/4 of the time.

Here’s the trick to practicing this.

You need to really focus on what you’re playing and pay attention to how you’re playing it.  But you need to do this in an impartial way.

This means divorcing yourself from the outcome and just focusing on the moment.  The way I do this is somewhat schizophrenic in that when I practice I almost view it as if someone else is performing it.  While I realize that this may sound insane –  the point for me is to not get caught up in judging myself (“that sucked” doesn’t help you get better) but instead to focus on the process (i.e. the physical mechanics of what I’m doing. “Is it in time?  Is it in tune?  Am I playing that with minimal hand tension?)  The goal is to be as impartial an observer as you can be and just focus on the execution.

To do this, you’ll want to perform it at a level where it’s engaging (don’t make it too easy) but not so difficult that it’s overwhelming OR where you’re bringing in bad practice habits. 

When I was in high school I used to just practice everything as fast as I could and then use a metronome to try to make it faster and all that did was had me play with a lot of tension and not in a rhythmic pocket.  I could never figure out how people could play effortlessly and smoothly and it was years later that I realized that they played that way because they practiced that way.

Step 8: Correct

This is where the adjustments happen.  If my hands are tense, I adjust to play with less tension.  If my rhythm is off, I adjust to get back in time.  If other strings are ringing out, I adjust my hands to mute the strings better.

Step 9: Isolate the problem area(s) – Deconstruct Again

If I’m working on a big lick and have a problem switching position – I’ll apply this entire process to just that one problem area and correct that. Don’t spend 15 minutes playing 100 notes if you’re tripping up on 4 in the middle.  Get the problem area sorted out and then (once that’s worked out and smooth) work on playing the areas immediately before and after the problem and ultimately playing the whole thing.

Step 10: Play/perform/do it and observe it again

So I apply the correction.  When I get to the point where I can play it 5-6 times in a row perfectly, then I’ll adjust appropriately.

This Specific Lick:

Here’s how I tackle this:
32nd Note Lick Revised

  • Since it’s a repeating 5-note pattern, I start with the first 5 notes and establish a fingering and picking pattern.  I practice that with proper technique and timing and get it to where it’s smooth and effortless at a tempo.
  • I repeat this process with the 5-note pattern on the D-G-B strings and on the G-B-E strings, again getting each individual pattern smooth and effortless.  Spending more time on the first pattern gets these patterns under my fingers more rapidly.
  • Once I have the three patterns down I’ll focus stringing them together in position.16th Note Initial Picking
  • Once that position’s down I’ll do the same thing in the other positions:
    four four positional sixteenth two

and
11th Fret four four revised

  • Then I’ll focus on tying them all in together and look for trouble areas.  One issue I had with this pattern is making the switch from the high E string to the first note of the next pattern on the A string.
  • In this case, once I could play the full pattern with 16th notes at 160, I cut the tempo in half and started working on 32nd notes at 82.  I typically raise the metronome marking anywhere from 2-5 bpm when developing something like this until I get to my desired tempo.  The end tempo is typically 10-20 bpm above where I’m planning on playing it as playing it live with adrenaline kicking it in, we always play things faster so I like to be prepared (or at least more prepared).

That’s the process in a (rather large) nutshell!

My recommendation is to give it a go with something that you’re specifically trying to learn and see how it works for you.

  • You may find that it takes you longer than you expect it to
  • You may find the process uncovers a LOT of other things that need work

Those are both okay!  They come with the territory.  The good news is once you start doing this consistently, you’ll find that you make REAL progress in the things you’re working.

 

Here’s the big secret no one is probably telling you:

Practice requires practice!

Just like anything else, you actually have to practice practicing to get better at it (practicing).

The good news is you CAN get better at practicing and in doing so you will find that it actually takes LESS time to work on things because you get more efficient at what you’re practicing and how you’re practicing it.

As I mentioned before, I am working on a whole new pedagogical model that uses this methodology as it’s core to get better playing results in a shorter period of time.  I’m just about through the development stage – but if it’s something that interests you – please send me an email at guitar (dot) blueprint @ gmail (dot) com – and I’d be happy to send you more information once it’s ready.

Finally, consistent and steady wins the race

To get better at something isn’t any secret at all.  It’s putting in consistent focused time, day after day.

  • Be clear on what you want to do
  • Be clear on HOW you’re going to do it
  • Do it every day until it’s done

Move on to the next thing and repeat

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

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A Few Connor McGregor Quotes To Consider

Right now some of you might be reading this and thinking,

“Oh Geez…what is up with this guy and MMA?  I just want to play guitar.”

But to me they’re related.  Completely utterly and totally.

Because what it takes to get on a stage and improvise is also what it takes to get in a ring with someone who wants nothing more than to knock or choke you out.

You have to prepare endlessly and ruthlessly and get yourself to the best possible place you can be in and even then, in your absolute prime, you might get caught and KO’d.

The fighters who quit at that point are the ones who look at the match and say, “All that work was for nothing.”  They’re wed to an outcome.

The fighters who stick it out are the ones who are wed to the process.  They know that sometimes you have a good night and sometimes you have a bad night but if your training and preparation is excellent, then there’s a likelihood that even on a bad night you might be better than your opponent is on a good night.

When asked, “Why would you post something about Connor McGregor after he just lost a fight?”  the above is the answer.  Everyone loses a fight.  Everyone gets knocked down but the question is what is it that motivates you to get back up again?

“There’s no talent here, this is hard work…This is an obsession. Talent does not exist, we are all equals as human beings. You could be anyone if you put in the time. You will reach the top, and that’s that. I am not talented, I am obsessed.”

and (Re: the Jose Aldo 13 second KO)

“To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds.”

I’m going to be posting a lengthy description about what it really means to practice something as that relates to both short term skill acquisition and long term mastery.  It may provide you some solace that most people know nothing about practicing, because most people do the same thing over and over, make very little progress and assume that because they put in the time that they know how to do it.

And I know this because I’ve been there.  Heck, I spent most of my life there!  I’ve now been playing guitar for most of my life and I’m STILL confronting the differences between what I think and what I know.

A recent story from a recent gig

Last Friday, I played a gig with Korisoron.  It was our usual repeating gig with a big difference – we had a special flamenco trio playing with us and as my wife was the dancer, I wanted to make sure it went well.  (If you live in the capital region of New York and you’re looking for Flamenco dance lessons or someone to dance for your show you can find her here!)

So I was running around a lot.  There was a lot of pre show and packing and set up and I didn’t get to warm up before I played.

In the OLDE days, I would have an entire ritual that I’d go through running scales and whatnot trying to get my hands ready.  Eventually I figured out that those gigs never worked well.  The gigs I played the best were ones where I was very lightly wamed up and not thinking about it too much.

Instead of running scales, I’ll play parts of songs or, in this case, pick a slow tune to start of the set and warm up over a song or two.  By the second tune I was largely good to go.

Is that a strategy I’d recommend for other people?  Absolutely not.  It worked for me in that context because I’ve already put the work in.  The work happens in the shed.  If the prep is done then it’s just a matter of going out an executing the best you can.

In my experience there is no cookie cutter formula to gigs where you’re improvising a lot other than being able to gauge the situation, making yourself as comfortable as possible and working from there.  As a kid, i got frostbite in my hands and feet and now even on days with mild weather my hands need extra time to warm up.  If it’s a hot gig with a lot of sweat I have to make other adjustments for my hands.  If I’m in a room where I can’t hear that well – I have to adjust again.

That kind of self-awareness happens over years of playing and learning how you respond to things.  Of getting to the point where you know what works and what doesn’t for you.

If you put the work in, then 90% of what happens in the ring, on the stage, is mental.  IF YOU PUT THE WORK IN.  That’s an important clarifier I’ve seen a lot of people talk a good talk about the mental game and fall apart on stage because they thought something they didn’t know.

“To the naked eye it was 13 seconds, but to my team and my family it has been a lifetime of work to get to that 13 seconds.”

To the untrained ear, an improvised solo is just magic notes from some mystic place that flow out over a verse or a chorus.  To those in the know, it’s a lifetime of work to pull those notes from a very concrete place to then make that moment sing.

In the next post, I plan to outline a specific practice strategy for how I get something done on a deadline – but in the meantime I hope you’ll consider a few points.

  • You can’t get anything of long term value without putting in the work for it.
  • Focus on the process not just to the outcome.
  • It’s not just about mindless work.  Learn what works best for you and use that knowledge to make better gains in what you’re working on.
  • Talent is just practice in disguise.

Thanks for reading!

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For those of you in NYC this Friday (3/11/16) KoriSoron is opening for Persian Tar and Setar virtuoso Sahba Motallebi at le poisson rouge – 155 Bleecker Street.  Doors at 6:30.  Music at 7:30.  $15 in advance.  $20 day of show.  More information on the Facebook event page here!

Loking Forward To 2015 : How Not To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past (Or Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse)

It’s that time of year again…

(This is a repost of something I wrote for the end of 2009.  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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At the end of every year, I typically take the last week between Christmas and New Years to wind down and center.  It not only helps me take stock of what worked and didn’t work for me in in the year but also helps me make sure I’m on track for what I want to get done moving forward.  As George Santayana said,

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

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As 2014 draws to a close, I think back to many conversations I had with people when this post was first written 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 2014 and the coming 2015.  And in some ways they have a valid point.  Listening to their recollections, 2014 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 2014.  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 could 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.

.

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

.

2014 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 2015 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 2014 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.

.

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 is not a temporary compromise to a current observation but is instead a revolt against habitual modes of thinking and operation. 

.

Positive habits

Making something a daily positive habit (like brushing your teeth) makes it easier to maintain over the long haul. (See my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

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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

Like minded people who have goals and are motivated.

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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Commit to One Change

It’s easy to get hung up and overwhelmed with the specifics of a long term goal.  Try making one lifestyle change and commit to seeing that through.  (Again, you can read my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

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

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who took a moment to come here and read my writing.  I hope this helps you in some way shape or form and I hope that 2015 is your best year yet.

.

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2014: How Not To Repeat The Mistakes Of The Past (Or Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse)

It’s that time of year again…

(This is a repost of something I wrote for the end of 2009.  The dates and information have been updated, and this has become one of the few yearly repost traditions I indulge in.)

.

At the end of every year, I typically take the last week between Christmas and New Years to wind down and center.  It not only helps me take stock of what worked and didn’t work for me in in the year but also helps me make sure I’m on track for what I want to get done moving forward.  As George Santayana said,

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

.

As 2013 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 2013 and the coming 2014.  And in some ways they have a valid point.  Listening to their circumstances, 2013 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 2014.  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 could 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.

.

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

.

2013 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 2014 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 2013 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.

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 is not a temporary compromise to a current observation but is instead a revolt against habitual modes of thinking and operation. 

.

Positive habits

Making something a daily positive habit (like brushing your teeth) makes it easier to maintain over the long haul. (See my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

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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

Like minded people who have goals and are motivated.

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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Commit to One Change

It’s easy to get hung up and overwhelmed with the specifics of a long term goal.  Try making one lifestyle change and commit to seeing that through.  (Again, you can read my post about the value of rituals for more on this.)

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

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who took a moment to come here and read my writing.  I hope this helps you in some way shape or form and I hope that 2014 is your best year yet.

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-SC

Guit-A-Grip Podcast Episode #14 – Book Excerpt And Some Project Management Tips

Hello everyone!

Episode #14

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #14 “Nothing Ever Got Done With An Excuse Excerpt #3″ 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:

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The Book

Much of this section of the book came from experiences that I had in, first, getting my Melodic Patterns book written and then, secondly, getting the book in a month project off of the ground.

I’m using that book as a case study, but I believe that the steps behind it help form a reasonable approach to working on any large project that’s unfamiliar (or largely unfamiliar) to you.

The steps to follow:

I made a reference to various pieces of advice.  The overall categories of this are:

  • Build off of past experiences (or go with what you know)

  • Whenever possible start with the heavy lifting

  • Beware of the rope swing

  • Be realistic about what you can do

  • Break up overwhelming things into small chunks

  • Contortion doesn’t hurt if you’re limber

  • Projects have a tendency to run wild on their own – so plan on constantly monitoring their growth

  • Be prepared to go a lot of it on your own

  • Be ready to make a lot of mistakes

  • Be ready to improvise because you can’t plan for everything

  • Have a deadline and/or know when you’re done

  • You really can’t do it alone

    Here are a few specifics related to the above:

Beware of the rope swing
The advice I gave for this was a little too vague so here’s a qualifier.  It’s all about balance.  If you jump into something with no research, knowledge or plan, it will generally go badly.  If you put too much energy into research, you may face paralysis in actually acting.

Deadlines
I’d write more about this but I’ve already written on it here.

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!

-SC

 

Limiting Options Is A Key To Productivity

One of the benefits of living in the 21st century is that we have more options in every aspect of our lives than ever.

Consider music for a moment.  In Beethoven’s day, If you wanted to hear Bach’s St. Matthews Passion, you had one of two choices.  You could either go to where a choir was performing the work, or acquire sheet music for the piece and organize your own choir to perform it.  ”Hearing” a piece performed for anyone living outside of a city meant that you could have been traveling for days or weeks to get somewhere where it was being performed.  Your “favorite” orchestral works may be something that you only heard 3-4 times in your lifetime.

If you have an internet connection, you can listen to any one of a hundred versions of the work instantly.  You can listen to it anywhere at anytime – even while driving. That’s an amazing thing.

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But too much of anything is a bad thing.

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When faced with too many options people generally shut down.  If you’ve ever watched an episode of Kitchen Nightmares, one of the first things Gordon Ramsay does is cut down the menu.  This not only focus the diners on a few select dishes  but also ensures  that the kitchen doesn’t get overwhelmed in preparing dishes.  When a kitchen can focus on a one page menu rather than a ten page menu – their chances of getting the dishes sent out the way they’re supposed to be climb dramatically.

Relating this to practicing – it’s easy to fall into this harmless looking trap.  You decide to sit down to practice and the first thing you think is, “Ok time to practice! I should practice scales, and comping – I have to make sure I work on improv – oh and reading – wow I really need to work on reading, and…”

…and…and…and soon it’s an hour later and nothing is done.

I’ve already posted about the importance of defining practice sessions and maintaining a practice log here, and about developing practicing as a habit rather than an event here, but I think it’s important to note that in whatever you do

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the end result of too many options isn’t freedom

it’s paralysis

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Have you every woken up with a goal for the day and not gotten it done because too many other things got in the way?  ”I wanted to go to the gym, but I had to get groceries and then while I was out I had to run some other errands and then…” (insert infinite number of events that go until the conclusion of the day making going to the gym impossible).  This is an example of getting overwhelmed with too many ways to spend time instead of just picking one thing at a time a focusing on that.

Here’s a related  productivity secret that may help you focus on your priorities:

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The important things in life are the things you do

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You can tell me that going to the gym and getting in shape is important to you – but if you spend the day watching TV instead of going to the gym than being comfortable is more important that being in shape.  In college you see people who blow off classes and then pull a week of all nighters to pass the term.  This shows me it’s important to them.  Their priorities may have gotten skewed over the course of the term but, at the end of the day, they made themselves very uncomfortable to achieve a goal and that shows where their priorities are.  This is in contrast to the people who say that they’re going to pull all nighter to get the paper done and take the F instead.

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Here are a couple of inter-related strategies to getting things done:

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  • If you are not getting things done – Identify what you want to be important and then make it a habit by doing it – a lot.
  • Clearly define your goals.
  • Make daily steps toward achieving those goals.
  • Realize that as each day is different – the results you get each day will be different.
  • When facing discouragement – keep your eye on long term goals.
  • Periodically assess your progress and adjust your actions accordingly.

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And finally, some related quotes:

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“If you always do what you always did you will always get what you always got”

(Unknown but I did see one reference that attributed it to J. “Moms” Mabley)

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“If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing well. If it is worth having, it is worth waiting for. If it is worth attaining, it is worth fighting for. If it is worth experiencing, it is worth putting aside time for.”

– Susan Jeffries

I hope this helps!  As always, thanks for dropping by.

– SC

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!

-SC