Guit-A-Grip Podcast Episode #5 – What Is A Fan?

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast #5 is now out!

I was thinking about the earlier podcasts and one thing I wanted to experiment with is really focusing the podcasts into short take aways that can be acted on immediately.  Kind of motivational and philosophical licks if you will.  So the next posts will be short but I’ll continue to intersperse them with longer posts for people who want more information.  I’m trying to find the ideal format here, and I guess I’ll wait to see what springs up.

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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.

http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Episode_5.mp3

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Guit-A-Grip Episode #5 – Show Notes

So this episode goes all into the lifeblood of any artistic longevity, your fans.  I mentioned the “Don’t Stop Believing” documentary in the podcast and while it should be out on DVD eventually, you can stream it now right here.

Arnel comes across really well in the video – and what the video doesn’t highlight is that Arnel was a 40 year old singer in a Manilla based cover band.  In the often ageist rock and roll market, that’s a time that many people consider a death sentence for achieving their dreams.  One incredible fan may have given him the platform for Neal Schon to find him, but it’s his talent and energy that put him on that stage.  He kept working even when logically, there wasn’t much point in his doing so.

Perhaps the greatest lesson in the movie comes at the point where he’s blowing the audition.  Arnel relates that he has this burning question of, “How am I going to let my true self come through if that want a classic sound?” during the audition which he finally answers with the realization that they brought him there to do a job and that that’s what he’s going to focus on.

If you commit to something and do your best – you don’t have to worry about whether or not you’re going to come out of your shell because people will see you for who you are.  How many times have you gone to see a band and walked away with an observation about one player? “The band was good…but that drummer was unbelievable!”  And I’m not talking about just dumping a lot of chops here, I’m talking about how great players transcend the material by being in the moment of what they’re doing.  They say something real and the audience gets that message.  Then you get players like Vinny Golia who have all the expression and chops in the world and is just a force of nature on a bandstand where you’re never going to doubt who that guy is.

(I’m off topic here but I will, yet again, plead with anyone who will listen to me that Vinny Golia is one of the closest things that we have to a national treasure and I can think of no one in the arts more deserving of a MacArthur fellowship than him.  Please tell all your friends – particularly the ones who submit nominations.)

As a secondary lesson, it acts as a great reminder about opportunity.  When opportunity knocks most people ignore it because they don’t recognize it as an opportunity. Arnel was going to blow off the e-mail from Neal Schon because he didn’t think it was serious.  Keeping options open makes it easier to answer the knock of opportunity when it happens – even if it just sounds like someone tapping their fingers on something.

Jason Becker

Additionally, if you’re looking for an inspirational guitar documentary –  I would implore you to buy the Jason Becker documentary.  Jason Becker, an astonishingly talented guitarist on the eve of his greatest guitar victory (securing the guitar slot in David Lee Roth’s band) get’s diagnosed with ALS which ultimately robs him of the ability to play guitar.  The documentary about Jason showcases his early story but is also about Jason’s refusal to stop making music and how he is still composing music using eye movements to enter in midi notes.

I have a movie review (and a transcription of one of the excerpts from the film) on Guitar-Muse, but the heartbreaking thing is that while Jason has a legion of well meaning fans that many of those fans uploaded all of his recorded material (including his DVD) to web, which deprives he and his family from income that could help maintain his life.

If you have Netflix, you can stream the documentary (which might put a few pennies in his pocket) but it’s also available for purchase on dvd or you could make a donation directly to the family here.  If you’re a fan of his music, it would be a great way to give something back to someone who really needs the help.

next time

 

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

More posts and podcasts are on their way  Next time, I’ll talk about the best ice cream shop in NY that you never heard of (unless you know where Sammonsville is)!

Thanks again!

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The Perils Of Panaceas And Instant Gratification

That’s MBTI to you, Buster!

Most people have their first exposure to the Myers-BriggsType Indicator (MBTI) assessment either in a college psychology class, a life coaching session or in a work-related retreat / team building exercise.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the test, participants are given a (psychologically loaded) questionnaire that’s been specifically devised to determine individual preferences and based on those, to then extrapolate the test taker’s decision-making process and world view.

In context, it can be a useful tool.  When participants get their four letter code that determines their personality type, they then typically get the equivalent of a score card to determine what the letters mean and to offer some guidelines on the types of decision-making process that they make.  Again, in context it can be a useful tool where participants might see themselves and their decision-making process in a whole new light.

However,  there always seems to be at least one person in a session who finds this to be something between a milestone and a revelatory experience and the next thing you know, every discussion with this person centers around Myers-Briggs.  Every interaction is analyzed and put through the Myers-Briggs filter.   “Oh well he must be an “I” which means that….”.

And then, eventually, someone calls them on their nonsense.

Myers-Briggs typing starts to break down in the real world, because while it’s not a bad contextual lens for gleaning some information, it’s not a good lens on its own and it certainly has limited validity as the sole filter for information.  Additionally, people don’t dig being typecast in any scenario, even when you’re trying to be helpful.

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“Cure’s All that Ail’s ya!”

The web is full of these observations and cure-alls for whatever ail’s ya.  “Become a guitar god in a week by following these 3 weird simple rules.”   Or forums where one observation is yielded, “I had good success using product x with gear y” and soon you have other people who have never used product x or gear y saying, “Well if you use gear y YOU HAVE TO USE product x!!!”

Take any one-size fits all methodology, philosophy, strategy or any  solution with a BIG grain of salt because, in my own experience, there is no one panacea for anything. Just as there is no one filter that will make previously hidden elements of the world fully visible and comprehensible to you.

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Instant gratification and false entitlement

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The simple fact is that things that are worth having, have to be worked for.

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As a society, we have mutated this concept through advertising and sold people on the concept that because they do work hard in other areas of their life, that they deserve everything.

“It might take you 3 years of saving to buy that 60″ flat screen TV.  You’ve worked hard establishing a line of good credit and you deserve to be comfortable in your twice re-financed home.   Pull that piece of plastic out of your pocket and you can walk home with it today!” – where you will set it up, take it for granted almost instantly and then spend 5 years paying it off and paying more than twice the actual cost of the item.

As Pascal said, “A trifle consoles us, for a trifle distresses us.” It should be called instant gratification because you’re gratified in an instant and your gratification lasts just as long.

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Guitar playing isn’t like that.  Certainly pedagogy and information transfer has occurred to the point where people can progress technically much more quickly on the instrument than ever before.

But the problem is that guitar playing isn’t merely a skill like typing.

More than a skill set, a guitar is a vehicle for expression.  Technical facility might impress people, but if there’s nothing behind it in terms of depth of expression, you won’t make a long-lasting impression on them.

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Having the depth to truly say something, takes time.  Plain and simple.

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A good way to think about this is something a great luthier John Harper told me about guitar.  As you play guitar over time, the vibrations of the notes actually affects the wood on a cellular level.  The vibrations literally change the make up of the guitar over time.  This is why guitars that have been “played in” over time sound completely different than they did off the shelf.

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There are plenty of shortcuts to becoming a fast guitar player.

There are plenty of shortcuts to becoming a better guitar player.

There are no shortcuts to becoming a great guitar player.

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Truly great players, have a completely different relationship to music than most other people.  Music not only nourishes them, but eventually the musician starts communicating with the music rather than just the audience.  That conversation helps them gain further insight into themselves and actually helps to develop them more as people.

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Not only is there no shortcut for that – but if you think about it, you really might not want a shortcut in that area. For example,  if you had the opportunity to meet anyone in history would you rather have the conversation with them when you were 4 years old or 34?  It might be exciting to meet them when you’re 4, but you really wouldn’t have anything to say.  It’s only with the passage of time and experience that you can start to meet the music part way and have that conversation. For every person, that time is different but putting the time in now gets you closer and closer to being able to have that dialog.

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Be wary of the cure-all, the quick fix and the over-arching shortcut.  Work hard and work passionately and know that what you truly put of yourself into anything can ultimately pay dividends for you.

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As always, thanks for reading!

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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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Podcast #4: Separating The Suck From Success

Hello Everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast #4 is in the bag!

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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:

http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Episode_4.mp3

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Tech Note:

A trip to Radio Shack netted me a score on a $6 boom stand and a replacement wind screen for my Shure so audio wise hopefully this is a step up from podcasts 1-3.  I’m still sussing levels out (like at the end of the podcast when the music drowns me out a little bit  while I’m hawking my wares so I guess I’ll take that as a lesson to make sure that I keep my energy level up from beginning to end!

Guit-A-Grip Episode #4 – Show Notes

When I recorded this podcast, I was sitting about 4 feet away from Mrs. Collins who was sound asleep but listening back to it, it sounds like a late night cough suppressant commercial!  I hope that no one mistakes my dry delivery on this as being lacksidasical about the subject matter.  It’s just that volume may have subdued my passion.

It’s easy to get sucked into the trappings of using someone else’s definition of success and not realize it. (Hence the title of the podcast). One thing alluded to in the podcast (but not stated out right) is that as an artist, you need to have as objective a view about your skill set as you can.  Telling yourself that you suck at something isn’t going to make you better at it.

At a certain point, everyone sucks at everything.

It’s called being a baby.

You have no skills as a baby.  You suck at walking, at talking, Hell even craping in a socially acceptable manner is a dismal failure.  However, you learn all of those skills – because they’re just skill sets and behaviors that you have to learn – and no one expects you to be awesome at anything out of the gate.

So you’re not a baby anymore, but adopting a mindset that everything is a skill that can be learned will probably help you grow much faster than adopting a mindset that says, “I suck at this.”  There’s a story in the podcast that touches on this idea as well.

Mindsets

This is the topic of a whole other podcast, but the important thing to note about mindsets is that they can be changed.

As humans, we have the capacity to be adaptive individuals.

The good news is that you don’t have to maintain a defeatist mindset.

The “bad news” is that you have to be self-aware enough to understand your mindset, and emotionally distant enough to analyze your reaction and make a conscious decision to react to situations differently.

That requires habitual behavior, awareness and discipline.

A topic for another time…but something to consider as this podcast rolls along.

I hope the thoughts on success help! If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it – leaving a rating on iTunes would be really appreciated.

More posts and podcasts are on their way. Thanks again!

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Focus, Music And The Big Picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Going deep is where you find the nectar.

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

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

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

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

Thanks for reading.

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Podcast #3 On Talent, Tenacity And Self Definition

Hello everyone,

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

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

Guit-A-Grip Episode #3 – Show Notes

Short But Sweet

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

Book Plug

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks again!

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Subscription Notes:

  • You can subscribe through iTunes here:

(https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/guit-a-grip-podcast/id638383890 )

  • You can use this link to subscribe with any other feed based service:

(http://feeds.feedburner.com/GuitagripPodcast)

  • or you can right click here to download it.