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

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

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

Two things grabbed me right away.

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

2.  Musicians might actually have it easier than actors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what bugged me about the documentary.

No one talked about going DIY.

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

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

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

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

Elvis already left the building.

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

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

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

Thanks for reading!

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Don’t Be Afraid Of The Work

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

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

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

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But here’s something I’ve discovered:

Many people want to get better at something.

They have access to materials.

They have access to knowledge.

They have the desire to move forward.

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

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

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

Jonas Hellborg

Yngwie Malmsteen

Miroslav Tadic

Buckminster Fuller

Nikola Tesla

Thomas Edison

Jorge Luis Borges

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

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

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

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

A lesson from Borges

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

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Now 2 questions:

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

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

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

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

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.

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

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!

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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!

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How (Not) To Write A Book

Hello everyone!  I hope this finds you well!

“Oh wait…this is an open mic comedy night now?”

There’s a joke I was told years ago that acts as a surprisingly apt metaphor for creating a book.

A man dies and when he wakes up he’s greeted by a demon who tells him that he’s died and gone to Hell.  On the plus side, there is one last choice that he’ll be able to make – namely which of the 3 rooms in Hell he’ll be in for all eternity.

The man is taken to the first room and peers into a vast number of people standing on their heads on a hard wood floor.  It looks very uncomfortable.

At room number two, there is an equal number of people standing on their heads but this time instead of hard wood, it’s a solid rock floor.  It seems substantially worse than the first room.

The final room is filled with even more people than the first two rooms combined.  In this room, everyone is knee deep in the most foul and putrid liquid imaginable, but they’re all drinking coffee.  It seems completely disgusting, but at least they’re drinking coffee and that might be the easiest of the three to deal with for eternity.  The man chooses this room.

As the demon locked the door behind him, a voice over the intercom barked out, ‘Coffee break’s over!  Back on your heads!”

As I write this I’m taking a coffee break from being knee deep in editing my Symmetrical 12-Tone Patterns book and smiling at the parallels.

How Not To Write A Book Or A Blog

Anyone with any productivity training would tell you that my method of creating books  (getting inspired, doing all the necessary research, writing a draft and then tackling re-writes, editing, revisions and layout simultaneously) is insane.  And from the standpoint of someone thinking in terms of high output writing like NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), they’d be right.

But for me, writing in a purely “efficient” manner doesn’t work that way.

I don’t plan out my blogs (beyond a topic and a point of view) because when I write spontaneously, I can help create the immediacy of conversational speech.  That’s the good side of working in that manner.

On the down side, writing that way means that I’m perpetually editing posts, cleaning them up and working endlessly to keep the energy level high while adding some artistry in how I’m conveying ideas.

In other words, I write quickly and edit as long as I’m able.  The editing may be where the actual craft comes in, but without that initial energy of getting the ideas on the page the clean up is useless.

This idea is expressed more succinctly in the familiar adage, “You can’t polish a turd.”

Modular Conventional Wisdom

I’ve written before about the differences between data and knowledge and on the importance of common sense,  as a means of negotiating the constant overwhelm of data. But what this process has taught me is that most conventional wisdom is really best applied in a modular and contextual manner rather than as an absolute.

It’s easy to grasp onto advice and, in an effort to shorten a learning curve, grasp it as gospel – but the real knowledge you gain in life comes from that learning curve.  I’ve learned much more from my mistakes than from my successes, and without those mistakes my successes never would have happened.

Tim Ferriss talks about four hour mastery.  That might get you to an avenue to manipulate your way through a martial art competition, but it’s going to get your ass handed to you in street fight.

There are shortcuts for work, but there are no shortcuts for understanding your own OS.  There are no shortcuts for finding out what works for you and finding out the best way for you to negotiate the world around you.

Put In The Work But Respect The Process

How I create my books is incredibly time consuming and almost infinitely frustrating in the number of times specifics have to be revisited because of how I re-work the material.  But it is only in that re-working that I can see the deeper connections.  It’s in that revision that the work adds clarity  to strength and it’s in going back and sweating minutiae that the work goes from, say, 95% to 98%, and from 98% to 98.4% or 99%.  The agony and the ecstasy both come from working towards those final percentages.

And Don’t Fixate on TIme

So, yes the 12-Tone book is late (Draft one was due Christmas Day!) but more importantly, it’s already the best book that I’ve written thus far and it’s only in the last month that all the substantial changes have happened.

Should I work on being more efficient?  Absolutely! But rushing the book out would have made it a much more inferior experience for the reader.  Instead of thinking about how much time I’m losing in yet (another) substantial revision, I’m focusing instead on what is coming from investing time in this way.

In writing a book, in playing guitar, in enjoying a walk on a brisk day, the magic is in the details.  In being fully engaged in the present.  Don’t be in a rush to gloss over them.

As always, thanks for reading.

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p.s. – for a limited time (1/21/13 – 1/25/13) my shortest Kindle title, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call is free on Amazon.  You can find that book here and download it for free starting on the 21st.  (If you don’t have a Kindle the Kindle app is free on Amazon).  If you do happen to download it, please drop me a line and let me know what you think!  If you like it, please make sure to check out my other Kindle title, Selling It Versus Selling Out (Applying Lessons From The Business Of Music).

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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

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, then, 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.

.

“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’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

.

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!

.

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.

.

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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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.)

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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 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,

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“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.”

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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:

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“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

.

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!

.

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.

.

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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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

.

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.

.

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

.

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.

.

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

.

  • 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”.

.

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.

.

Here’s what did work for me.

.

  • 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.

.

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

 

 

Some Observations On Inertia And A Cool Online App For Getting Things Done

A routine can be a powerful thing in productivity.  It helps instil a sense of inertia and, as I’ve talked about in posts like this, or  this one , keeping the ball rolling is usually a lot easier than initially getting it to roll.  The counter-intuitive reality behind doing things is that:

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Activity leads to other activity.  It creates its own inertia.

Bodies at rest tend to stay at rest.

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The counter-intuitive part of this is when you’re sitting on a sofa and think, “I’m really tired.  I  just have to rest for a second and mentally gear myself up for this”.  Inertia is working at keeping you sitting on the couch.  If there’s a TV on or an internet connection – it’s working double time.

.

The reality is that just getting up and doing the thing actually takes less energy that expending the energy debating with yourself about whether or not you have the tools or the energy to do something.

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The caveat is that this assumes we’re talking about moderate activity.  If you’ve just run a marathon, I’m not advocating staying on your feet if you need to rest.  I’m talking about procrastination versus physical exhaustion.

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Procrastination is an energy suck

.

Completing projects is invigorating.  It’s that energy that comes from getting something done and thinking, “All right – what’s next?” It takes way more mental energy to keep putting something off than to just deal with it.

.

Here are some tips that may be helpful:

.

  • Have goals.  If you don’t know what you’re trying to do – you’re not likely to figure out the how.
  • If you have something you’re procrastinating – try to tackle small parts of if consistently.  You’re going to get more mileage out of small daily improvements than trying to cram something into a marathon session.
  • Monitor progress.  This goes along with goal setting but it’s important to check back and see how you’re progressing.
  • Be accountable but pragmatic.  Either to yourself or other people, to get things done, it’s important to be held to your goals.  Along with monitoring progress, being pragmatic (rather than judgemental) about your progress will help as well.  If things aren’t progressing they way you’d like – beating yourself up isn’t going to help the process.  By monitoring things you can see what works and what doesn’t work and adjust as necessary.

.

I Done This

Neither a typo or an obscure pop reference, I want to thank my friend Daren Burns for bringing this to my attention.  I done this.com is a cool free online productivity tool that combines some of the tips that I’ve mentioned above,  Here’s a quote from the web page:

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“iDoneThis is an email-based productivity log. This evening, you’ll receive your first email from us asking, “What’d you get done today?” Just respond to our email and we record what you wrote into your calendar. Use your progress from yesterday to motivate you today.”

By helping to monitor progress and helping keep consistency and accountability, this could be something to help get the ball rolling for you. If you have something you’ve been putting off doing (like practicing) try it for a week and see what happens.

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I hope this helps!  Thanks for reading.

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