Reconnecting by De-connecting

Back in the saddle again….

I’ve been off guitarchitecture for a while.  I posted a new podcast on, and have taken on a few other projects (I’m the musical director/foley jockey for a new production at Siena College that starts in a few weeks, picked up new students, worked on some consultations for other projects, booked some new korisoron shows, worked with ZT amps for some videos we’ll be doing to promote their awesome acoustic amps and related material).  But more importantly related to my absence here, I’ve noticed some severe attention deficit for my interactions with various things.

In addition to trying to be mindful of the fact that multiple options typically leads to overwhelm and inactivity rather than making better choices – I still found myself struggling with finding time to work out or read a book.  These two activities in particular also happen to be things that are very grounding for me.

So clearly something wasn’t working.  In analyzing my actions, I realized that much of my day was spent working under the illusion of being proactive (checking e-mail repeatedly for example) with being reactive (now forcing myself to react to an email with an immediate urgency for something that wasn’t even an issue a minute earlier).

It’s the illusion of getting something done in a timely manner, but it sabotages short and long term goals.

Physician Heal Thyself

In a recent lesson, I gave a student the same advice that I needed for myself, namely to find the things that trigger a flow state and adapt that to practicing.

By a flow state, I mean events that you can loose yourself in without being aware of time passing.  This might mean playing, or reading or working on your car.  It’s whatever event you can fully immerse yourself in.

For me, that’s reading, and then that’s guitar playing.  As a kid, I would read books constantly not being aware of what time had passed.  Guitar playing came a lot later and had a lot of extra baggage associated with it that had to be overcome to be in a flow state. (such as editing and analyzing what you’re playing as you play it – even having worked on that a lot I still find myself falling into that mode once in a while).

So I got back into reading books.  Physical books picked up from the library.  Serious reading where skimming was avoided (I found myself skimming sections to get to the next part and then coming back and re-reading things in a deeper way) and every word that was on the page came into the internal narrative of what I was reading.  When I lived in Boston, it was easy because it took at least 30 minutes each way to get anywhere by train, so I always brought a book with me and read it on the train.  But now that I drive everywhere, it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of REALLY reading something of substance (just like it’s taken a while to get back into the habit of walking places when you find yourself driving everywhere).

It’s easy to be dismissive of this.  After all to read a two to three sentence synopsis of a much deeper topic is easier, faster and easier to act on yes?

The short answer is no.  The longer answer is, it’s completely missing the point.

The Filter bubble

I was thinking a lot about Eli Pariser’s filter bubble book.  In a filter bubble, uncommon data is eliminated so that the more common data rises to the top of the searches.  So when you do a google search for something, you’re only skimming the surface of the data out there.  This is great when you want to find specific data (like a water table for a county for a specific year), but not so great when you’re looking for specific topics.

Years ago, my friend Randy saw a Charles Manson shirt and commented that people used faces like Manson and Hitler to be provocative because they weren’t well informed enough to find more relevant contemporary people.  They went with what was easy or immediately accessible.

So a filter bubble is like handing someone a 6-string guitar with only 2 strings and saying, “ok here’s a guitar.  Now go play “smoke on the water.”  You can play the main riff of the tune on 2 strings, but without the rest of the strings on the guitar you’re missing out on a lot.  In my case, it’s engaging in reading as a process to come to a deeper understanding of something, rather than developing a “hack” shortcut.

The synopsis approach in action

The reality of the above mentioned two to three-sentence synopsis for most people is some variation of this process:

1.  Read the synopsis.

2.  Do an internal litmus test to see if it seems plausible.

3.  Google the term to see if there’s a common consensus on the topic.

4.  If it’s determined to be correct, then it’s added to the list of things that they learned today,  filed it into memory and then transmitted to other people as knowledge.

In other words, it’s very rarely acted upon.  This is what happens when you are reacting to data all the time.  You get overwhelmed and can’t really internalize things.

Another YouTube Rant

It seems like every day someone is sending me some new YouTube link to some playalong or performance. You want to know why there are SO MANY videos of technical guitar videos on YouTube?

Because (in the scheme of things) it’s not that hard to do.

You could train a monkey to play the version of “flight of the bumblebee” that so many guitarists post (btw – I blame a Guitar Player transcription/lesson of Jennifer Batten for this version being in existence because that seems to be the one everyone is referencing for fingerings).  It’s not about music, it’s about getting a few specific techniques under your belt to meet a specific goal.  There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s a limited end unto itself.

I pretty much stopped watching YouTube guitar videos because:

A:  I saw the filter bubble in action.  So many of the videos I saw were clearly guys who had watched the same video, or learned the same tune.

B:  I have my own thing to work on, so unless it’s really special, I really don’t care what other guitarists are doing.

So, I don’t care about shred videos on YouTube.  I don’t care that an 8 year old can play “Scarified” not all that well at near the recorded tempo.  What DO I care about then?

This in contrast is a lot harder:

This is making music.  This is what happens when a master musician becomes a shaman and invokes the spirit behind the song.  It’s about being completely in the moment.  It’s about having something to say and speaking it directly to other people.

It’s being in the flow and taking other people with you.

It’s about being in the present.  Not checking your email every 15 minutes to see if you’re missing something.

It’s about the duende moment.  The moment the hair stands up on your arms and you feel more alive than before.

That doesn’t happen online.  That doesn’t happen in a text.  That happens with people in a room sharing an honest naked moment.

Creating that moment starts with you, the performer being in the moment and bringing people there.

Being in the moment is something that has to be practiced.  Now, possibly more than ever.

That’s why I started working on things that fell into my flow state more often.  The more I enter flow, the more easily I can enter in in other areas of my life.  The more I can bring that when I perform.  The more I can create something beyond the veneer of flash and get to touching people in a real way.

So, that’s where I’m at.  A work in progress moving towards reconciling an analog past with a digital present and doing it (for now) increasingly offline.

As always, thanks for reading!  I hope this helps you in some way!


Practicing With Intent Or You Play What You Know

Hi Everyone!

I’ve been doing a lot of research for the book on practicing I’ve been threatening to release.  As part of that process, I’ve been examining various routines, rituals and regrets in my own regimen (and non-regimens) that I’ve adopted over the years and come back to the following conclusions.

  • People listen to music because they like it, but they go to see music or seek out music because they want to experience something and they want to feel something.
  • As musicians our job then is to communicate something.  The easiest way to do that is to do so with intent.  The easiest way to communicate with intent is to do so with authority and conviction.  Conviction comes from conveying what we know.
  • Practicing then is the process of transforming material from exposure to conception and then from conception to knowledge.

The (Please get me out of this) Blues Jam Example

For example, let’s say you’re sitting in with some musicians that you’ve never played with before.  What’s the first thing that you all try to do?  Find some common ground to play on.  For most rock player’s this will involve a rock standard (like a Led Zeppelin track) or a blues.  For the purposes of this argument, let’s say it’s a blues.

You learn a lot about people from how they play a blues.  How they comp and solo, how they utilize the form, how they support and drive other players.

Now, in this situation – how many times has the following happened to you?

It comes for your time to comp and all the hip voicings and cool comping ideas you have have gone out the window and you play the same chord voicings you always play.

It comes time to solo and all those cool things you’ve been shedding make a single (or no) appearance and you play the same licks you always do.

And you reflect on it later and think what happened there?

What happened was, you generally play what you know.

Let’s say you go to a job interview and you’re meeting with a prospective employer.

  • Are you going to launch into a free form association of how the color of the walls remind you of  when you would lay on your back in the fields on a warm summer’s day and gaze at the sky from your early days growing up on the farm or
  • are you going to talk about your skill sets and how they fit the position, answer the answers you’ve practiced for the questions that you know they’re going to ask and use all of your language skills to answer any questions you weren’t prepared for in a way that didn’t blow your chances at getting the position out of the water?

In stressful positions, we look for the familiar to help guide us through the unfamiliar.  In a performance situation, it’s very difficult to really be in the moment (i.e. setting the stage for an emotional connection with the audience) and have the presence of mind to think, “Hey maybe that symmetrical diminished thing would fit here.”

Practicing With Intent

What got me thinking about all of this was a lesson with a student where his playing was always quiet and reserved – even when he was trying to play aggressively.  It turned out that he practiced quietly at home and never practiced playing aggressively.  Where I end up seeing a lot of students is in making the distinction that playing loudly does not have to mean playing with excessive hand tension.

If you don’t practice being able to play at various degrees of emotional intensity, then you probably won’t be able to summon it on the stage.  There are scads of metal players who play a lot of notes, and there’s nothing behind them.  In contrast, I go back to this video:

of a 21 year old Yngwie Malmsteen just killing it with a live set of Alcatrazz.  The interesting change in perception for me came after reading his memoir and discovering just how deliberate his practicing was.  He practiced everything with the intent of playing it live.  It was all played with maximum intent, and that came across in every solo that he did.

There’s so much to experience, so much to learn and so little we will ever comparatively know.  Try to be mindful of both how and why you are practicing everything and make sure you bring it to the stage when you’re playing.  If you practice with intent, you’re more likely to play that way as well.

As always, thanks for reading!


Thinking, Knowing And Learning

The difference between information and knowledge

The deepest educational experiences that I’ve had all occurred at the school of hard knocks.  As a student in a traditional music school, I had blocks absorbing information that didn’t seem relevant to what I was doing because I didn’t see how it could relate to what I wanted to do (to be fair, this was also because most of the instructors I had were incapable to presenting the information in a way that showed how it could be adapted to individual styles).  


Much of the specific aspects of my style have come about from taking ideas or approaches that were interesting and finding ways to integrate them into what I do.  This might mean hearing a phrase or a chord progression and working it into my repertoire, or exploring unfamiliar ideas or new options in a solo or a compositional challenge.


A big part of gaining information is knowing what questions to ask and finding the right people to initially answer them.

Gaining knowledge, however,  is knowing what question is asked, what the real question being asked is and answering them yourself.


I say this because while I can say, “If you’re looking for a Melodic Minor application – try playing a melodic minor scale from the b7 of a minor chord (i.e. Bb Melodic minor over a C minor chord)” to a student, this is just information.  Knowledge of the concept is evident when the student is improvising over a tune and gets to a C minor 7 chord and starts playing phrases that they hear from Bb melodic minor over the chord.  It comes after playing the scale over the chord, developing melodies and phrases based on the idea and learning it on a deeper level.  In other words, when the question is asked, “what do I play over this chord?” the player answers the question.


This is the difference between thinking and knowing.  

To think something, you only have to read it.  

To know something, you have to experience it.




Learning then, is really a bridge between exposure to an idea and knowledge of that idea. In an over-simplified manner, I  see learning as a process like this:

  • Exposure to an idea, “Did you know that you can do this?”
  • Exploration and  integration of that idea, “I’m trying to see how I can do this.”
  • Knowledge of an idea, “I’m doing this.”


The Thinking Trap


In the process above, thinking occurs at every step between exposure and knowledge.  In other words, you can think something but know nothing about it.  This is where you get people writing scathing product reviews of things they’ve never owned or used based on manufacturer’s specs or people using dogmatic approaches to situations based on someone else’s “knowledge”.  It’s a perceptual trap to equate thinking and knowing something and for me, this has been a hard-fought and life long process of recognizing that differentiation, understanding it and integrating it but perhaps posting this observation here will save some of you some time.  


As always, thanks for reading!




For those of you who are interested, there’s some further clarification for how this relates to my pedagogical approach here.