Guit-ing A Grip On Technical Difficulties (Podcasting)

Hi Everyone,

Here’s the podcast streaming message but the real notes are below:

[audio:http://traffic.libsyn.com/guitagrip/Guit-A-Grip_Podcast_Update.mp3%5D

iTunes Trouble

I thought this was fixed, but apparently some component of the lib syn/feedburner/iTunes trinity is broken and despite re-uploading some of the files the links for Episode #4 and Episode #5 are pulling up podcast #2 in iTunes.

I have NO idea for why that is happening but I’ve included streaming and download links here for all of the current episodes.  These load right up in my podcasts so hopefully they’ll do the same for you!

I’ve moved all the podcasts to one central place, the PODCAST tab on the top of the page.

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Again, my apologies for the inconvenience everyone!  More content coming soon!
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A Late Lesson From Michael Jackson

It’s been a strange week in news. But one story over the weekend caught my attention in a large way.

Numerous news outlets covering the Michael Jackson wrongful death trial reported that  testimony from sleep expert Dr. Charles Czeisler described Jackson may be the only documented human who went 60 days without REM (Rapid Eye movement).

In order to combat insomnia (and a number of other related issues) Jackson’s tour physician put him on propofol, a powerful drug that gives a patient the sensation of feeling refreshed.

Unfortunately, it does this by usurping the sleep cycle and blocks REM which, it turns out, will kill you. In lab tests, rats who had no REM died within 5 weeks.  Had he not had a heart attack he probably would have died within a few days anyways.

“The symptoms that Mr. Jackson was exhibiting were consistent with what someone might expect to see of someone suffering from total sleep deprivation over a chronic period,”

According to a CNN piece, these symptoms included:

“…an inability to do standard dances or remember words to songs he sang for decades, paranoia, talking to himself and hearing voices, and severe weight loss.”

Sometimes a shortcut will kill you.

He took a shortcut, because the stakes were enormously high.  Even when he was no longer “the king of pop”, a concert tour ending would equate to losses of hundreds of millions of dollars.  That’s more than many nation’s GNP.

That shortcut cost him his life.

And this has what to do with guitar?

A lot actually.

One of the mantras I come back to repeatedly is that the more you invest yourself into any instrument, the more the instrument will give back to you.

The deeper you go into your instrument – the deeper you go into yourself.

There is no short cut for that.

It’s investing focused time and energy.

Once I had a student who was irritated that his fast licks weren’t coming out very clean.

“How come I can’t play this lick fast?”

“Because your body is trying to cash checks that your mind hasn’t deposited yet.”

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So this is a reminder….it’s a mantra I keep coming back to.

Be wary of the short cut.

Be wary of the the fast pay out.

Don’t sell yourself short and deny the gains that can come from pursuing things on a deep level.

The payoffs will come flashes but each one of the usually has years of fuel behind it.  No matter how strong the spark is, without that fuel, you won’t get fire.

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The best philosophies are simple and sustainable.  As familiar themes and messages are revisited here, I’m reminded of a W.A. Matthieu quote (that I’m reduced to paraphrasing unfortunately), “There are only 12 notes and they take forever to learn.”

More thoughts coming soon.  Thanks for reading.

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p.s. – One last hidden lesson – Michael Jackson’s life ultimately became a cautionary tale.  Don’t let your life become one as well.

Guit-A-Grip Episode #8 Don’t Just Buy The App – Be The App

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #8  is now out and available for download/streaming.  I’ve changed the order up a little bit and you’ll find the stream and links below.

The Guit-A-Grip Podcast Process

This podcast format (instead of just blogging) largely came about because discussions with friends of mine in any kind of creative field would result in my going off on some tangent covering the intersection of music business and personal motivation which sometimes people got something from.  I’ve tried to keep some of that flavor here (minus the manic expressions and cursing).  So when I go to do a show – I’ll have some talking points and then improvise around the notes and try to hit a few marks.

While this may work in a conversation, it’s a mixed bag for audio recording.

The plus side of this process is that you come to realizations about things that you weren’t planning on.  While I had been conceptualizing the area around the actionable differences between an answer and a solution – I never verbalized it before like I did in this podcast.

The down side is that you have to remove a lot of awkward pauses, “ummmms” and “uhssss” that come up in conversation getting to points like the one above.  I want to distill the audio experience and get it down to the essence of what the listener is looking for.

In addition to taking some time, this editing process occasionally leads to some stunted audio.   It also leaves some conversational holes for ideas that are half started and then need a resolution.  Hence the need for the show notes.

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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.
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Guit-A-Grip Episode #8 – Show Notes

“One thing I see more and more….”

Trying to find a segue (as opposed to a Segway) into the topic.  Yes, there are a lot of ads for apps.  There will be many more.  It’s not some kind of advertising menace.  Yet.

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The Calculator.

The idea I’m rambling around in the early steps of the podcast is how the use of a calculator is completely divorced from both the math required to solve the problem and the mechanics of how the calculator arrives at the solution.

Conceptually, this goes hand in hand with the message behind my previous post, Don’t be afraid of the work.

In playing guitar, something can come out of the work that goes into really learning a piece at a deep level.  It’s why some music theorists go so gaga for analysis because they’re finding new connections and seeing things on a deeper level.

To be sure, I’m not a Luddite.  You’re not going to gain much doing long addition for EVERYTHING – but if you get used to using a calculator – you’ll be amazed at how quickly your math skills start to atrophy.

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The App 

In the app story I used an app that addressed a specific issue with a limited answer base. Most apps don’t exclude other people BUT if you’re using YELP during a vegetarian conference to find a local vegetarian restaurant in the area – and there’s only one – guess who’s going to get a table?  The first person who finds out about the restaurant and gets there.

The main point is that other people’s solutions are often adaptable to your situation, but the better you get at finding your own solution, the better you will become at developing solutions in general.  Ditto for applying those solutions.

That’s a wrap.

As always, If you like the podcast please let me know. If you really like it -and listen to it on iTunes –  leaving a rating there would be really appreciated!

More posts and podcasts are on their way.

Thanks again!

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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)

Guit-A-Grip Episode #7 – Confessions Of A Former Music School “Failure”

Hello everyone!

Guit-A-Grip podcast episode #7 (Confessions of a former music school “failure”) is now out and available for download/streaming.

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.

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Guit-A-Grip Episode #7 – Show Notes

Several things got me thinking about this topic – but the key moment I knew I’d have to write about this came the last time I saw my mother in upstate New York and found a bunch of old scores from my Berklee composition days and sat there scratching my head.

They were really disjointed and amateurish.  It was like seeing myself go through puberty again and hearing my voice crack.  For a moment, it made me feel awful and then I remembered that I wasn’t that guy anymore.  Just as a 5 year old version of me tried to stick a fork in an electrical socket to see what would happen (I’m not doing that anymore btw) I’m not that same person.

I should know this but it’s either The Code of the Samurai or The Hagakure that has a philosophical maxim that I’ve held onto for much of my life,

“Seven times down – Eight times up.”

And it’s served me will.  You will hit walls and obstacles in whatever it is you do, but the actions  you take in resolving those things will ultimately be how you define yourself.

You are not your job (Unless you define yourself that way)

One of the first jobs I ever had was in a department store.  It was supposed to be a temp job during renovation, but I worked really hard, hustled and made myself an asset to the store so when the time came to keep a handful of employees – I was one of the ones they kept.

Perhaps there’s an alternate universe where I’m still working at that store, but I knew that there would be other things for me to do and so I moved on.  It’s not part of my self definition.

While my undergrad experience was a lopsided one  I don’t view myself as a failure (even though I have a few grades that argue that point!)

I had a bad experience and had to decide what was important and move on to the next thing.

I had to teach myself what I needed to know and transition from thinking to knowing.

I made myself a better musician, learned a lot of hard lessons and eventually transitioned to a place where I got into grad school (and no failing grades that time around).  That experience is a big part of what’s gone into making me who I am but, like the department store job, it’s not part of my self definition.

Things referenced in the Podcast

I mentioned that I’d link to some things in the Podcast so let’s try that.

First – some clarifiers

1. I remember the instance with the guidance office now.  We had to fill out the applications but the guidance office would not release transcripts to us – so we needed to give them our applications to submit so they could enclose transcripts.  I was told, “Our office does not make mistakes” when I got the letter back from Berklee even though I pointed to the requirement in print and noted that the transcript provided didn’t meet them.

2.  Eugene’s trick bag is the Steve Vai guitar solo that Ralph Macchio is hand synching to for the film Crossroads.

3.  Self Educated man – was a reference to self-taught man in La Nausée – a novel a mischievous member of the faculty gave me to read as a book report.  In 7th grade.  Brought up unsuccessfully in an attempt to woo a weary admissions counselor.

4.  Books Berklee recommended – Robert Starter’s Rhythmic Training was one of them but the others evade me now.

5.  In finding the scores I actually found the letter kicking me out of the composition department and found the photocopy of the letter I got from the chair to get back in.  A series of correspondences (and conversations) that I had previously blocked from my memory.

6.  Juggernaut.  This was the composition I referenced in the Podcast.  Don’t ask.  My instructor didn’t use the term “stones” that I used in the podcast either.

7.  “They were torn apart” – specifically one faculty member with a real problem with me blocked my graduation and took no small pleasure in COVERING my scores with red writing.  Now I don’t blame him – but at the time my thought was, “I was already graded on these why are you grading them a second time?”  Other comments included weird personal observations on how he didn’t like my music.

8.  This podcast is for everyone who had a plan.  Tried to execute the plan.  Had the plan blow up in their face and continue on despite everything.

Second – some music links.

Comité de salut public

I mentioned that I had a group at Berklee that used some of the contemporary composition techniques and wrote tunes with them.  That group was called The Committee Of Public Safety and (to my knowledge) was the only avante garde-core French Revolution “tribute band” in Boston at the time.  I wrote all the tunes and some of them are below:

But you can hear (and download) all of the tracks (and read more info than you ever wanted to know about this group) here.

The Committee of Public Safety was:

Pat Aldous/Marko Djordjevic – drums

Caroline Dillon – cello

Mike Mallory – bass

Teresa Sienkiewicz / Pat Raymaker- voice

The Time with the Tub

tubtime

Click for more info

Tubtime came out of a series of sessions I had with drum / recording guru Geoff Chase.  I dragged my friend Joe Rauen along to play bass and Geoff dragged the incomparable Patty Barkas along to sing.  Somehow we got the mighty Keichi Hashimoto to play with us as well.

We recorded another album’s worth of material that we’ll leak out eventually but for now here’s a soundcheck you might dig as well.

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The Book

Ah, yes – I referenced the book I wrote to get into grad school.

First, there were two components to the application.   In addition to the Tubtime CD there was some audio:

and then the book.  Excerpts of the ORIGINAL (error plagued) version was on Google Books but I don’t see it now.

The New (VASTLY improved) book:

12 Tone Cover small

Is available on Lulu or Amazon.  (Amazon probably ships it easier – but the Lulu page has WAY more information and book excerpts).

Note: the cover is vintage 2013.  The original cover was a flat blue with a white title.

Post

I promised a linked post that related more of this story and you can read that here .

Onward and Upward

I hope this helps (or is at least enjoyable or amusing to you)!

As always, 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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Stop Kicking Yourself When You’re Down Or Discarding The Amateur Mindset

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

(I don’t quote racists like Henry Ford lightly.  But, for me, many of Ford’s quotes highlight the lesson that there are times that you have to listen to the message while ignoring the messenger.)

The biggest obstacle in the way of most people realizing their goals isn’t a lack of money, information or skill.  

It’s their mindset.

Thinking like an amateur may be holding you back.

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The Devastating Gig

If I have any wisdom to impart, it is undoubtably from making a seemingly endless series of mistakes and correcting them.   One mistake that I made early on (that took a long time for me to identify and correct) was equating what I played with who I was.    This meant that every single gig was a proving ground.

So if I played a good gig, I was elated because I was somehow validated as a good guitar player.

And if I played a bad gig….then it must mean I was a terrible guitarist.

This sounds insane to me as I write this (and hopefully insane to you when you read it!)!  But this is a common mindset.  I know a lot of players who do this and beat themselves up at gigs, sessions and in the privacy of their own practice time.

It comes from how players define themselves and it comes from thinking like an amateur.

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You are more than what you do

Many musicians develop some odd concepts (in my opinion) about what constitutes a musician.  I remember getting out of college and having a discussion with a classmate of mine.  He had asked what I was doing for work and I said, “Oh I’ve got a day gig to pay some bills and then I’m gigging/recording with a couple of bands and teaching on the side.”

His face buckled into a disgusted contortion as if instead of speaking –  human biohazard had just freed itself from my mouth and landed on the table between us.  “Oh….”, he said in the most passive aggressive snark possible.  “I see.”

“What about you?” I asked, trying to ignore the reaction.  “What are you doing these days?”

“Oh well I’m playing in a band full-time and teaching.”

“That’s great!!” I said.   “Is it all original music?”

“No it’s a GB band.”

“Hmm…I didn’t know you liked those kinds of gigs.”

“Oh I hate them.  The people are stupid and the tunes are awful, but some of the players are okay and sometimes we get to play some standards after the date.”

(insert awkward pause) “Well at least it’s pay….”

“Well it’s consistent.  But it’s not great money.  I’m always spending almost as much on my car and gas as what I’m making on a gig.  So I’m running a little short.  Thanks a lot for paying for the coffee by the way…”

Does that sound rewarding to you?  It didn’t sound rewarding to me.

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How you define yourself will either break you out of prison or put you there 

I defined a professional musician as someone who was paid to perform music at a professional level.  My classmate defined a professional musician as a person whose sole source of income comes from playing music.

I’ll paraphrase a quote from my friend bassist/composer Daren Burns here,

“I am completely unimpressed when someone tells me that they’re a full-time musician playing music that they hate.  I don’t see anything noteworthy  or impressive in that at all.”

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There was a several year period of time that Jeff Beck was pretty much working on cars full-time and not playing guitar at all.  I’ve never met Jeff Beck – but based on what I’ve seen of him I don’t think that he worried about whether or not he was less of a musician because he wasn’t playing music full-time.   Additionally, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who thought of Jeff Beck as a mechanic who played a little guitar.

Jeff Beck defined himself, did what he wanted to do and didn’t worry about how other people defined him.  Not to take anything away from Jeff, but isn’t it odd that most musicians think of this mindset as fearless and badass?   It’s odd because in my way of thinking, this should be the norm rather than the exception.

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If you don’t define yourself, you let other people define you and (most likely) you won’t like their definition.

How do you deal with isolation?   Some people see the four walls they are in as a cell and each hour of each day erodes who they are a little more until there is nothing left of them.  Other people see the four walls as a blank canvas and work on creating things within those confines.

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Life is a surprisingly good teacher if you’re observant.  If you take the time and energy to look at what, how and why you do the things that you do – you might learn a lot about what your priorities are.  For myself, I learned a while ago that there were a number of things that I wanted to do, and that there was no clear career trajectory to get to where I ultimately wanted to go – so I was going to have to find my own way.   I could either get hung up on what other people thought of a path I was on (that quite frankly they didn’t understand), or I could take steps towards achieving goals I had for myself.

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Are you thinking like an amateur?

I don’t know how many of you have toured with bands.  It’s an interesting experience.  Even if you’re unfamiliar with the material on the first night, within a couple of shows you get into a rhythm and the set moves into a comfort zone.   And in your spare time – you find that you’re not shedding the material relentlessly (because you already have it down), but instead you’re stopping at roadside attractions and looking for clean places to go to the bathroom so you don’t have to bag it on the bus. (If you don’t know what that means – don’t ask and enjoy your morning coffee instead).

Amateurs analyze every aspect of the performance. They scrutinize every detail and obsess over what was right and what was wrong.

Professionals get the set under their belt and then show up to do the work.

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The Ballad of Jane the Plumber

Llet’s say a homeowner has a broken pipe in the basement.  So they call Jane the plumber.  Jane comes over to the house and says, “this whole pipe has to come out and it’s an odd size.   I don’t have any that length on me.  I can do a quick fix that’s not going to be pretty.  I’ll get you through the next day or two – but I’ll have to pick some up and come back and to replace it.”

Do you think the homeowner says, “What a noob!  She doesn’t even have pipe!”  Not likely.  The homeowner is thinking, “I’m glad that the water is back on again.  I hope this doesn’t cost me fortune!”

Now, do you think Jane the plumber went back home and had a melt-down?  “I am such a hack!  I can’t believe that I showed up at that house without that pipe!  That repair was a joke!  I am such a loser!”

Not bloody likely.  She probably put the pipe order in and went to the next gig.

I’m not saying that professionals don’t care.  Professionals do care about what they do, but they don’t get emotionally invested.  They’re professional because they have the skill set to handle what comes up at the gig, not get freaked out and get through it.  They don’t waste energy evaluating what they do – because they’re too busy doing it.

If you find that you’re taking punches from yourself at a gig or a session take a step back and ask yourself, “what would Jeff Beck do?”  and then go tool out your engine 😉

I hope this helps!  As always, thanks for reading!

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The Instructional Methodology Behind “How Not To Do Things”

Hi Everyone! I’m prepping for an upcoming recording session, but I thought in the meantime I’d share another excerpt from my Amazon kindle book, Selling it Versus Selling Out which may have a perspective that’s helpful for you.
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If you’ve ever had insomnia and turned on a television, you’ve probably seen info-mercials that are based on success formulas.  “I made $1,000,000 in recycling and you can too!”  The selling point is that if you emulate what successful people have done, you will get the same results they did.

The problem with this idea is that the “one size fits all” mentality for success rarely seems to work.

 

One possible reason for this is that so many factors go into “success”, it’s difficult to glean all of the components that go into helping make someone successful.

For example, as a guitarist, I could watch an instructional video of someone playing a guitar lick quickly, learn all of the notes being played, practice diligently and still not be able to get the lick sounding the same because of any one of a number of factors (hand tension, timing, phrasing, string thickness etc.)

While it’s easy to look for successful models and try to emulate that success, it can be even more informative to look at what doesn’t work and model a path against failure.

You can read a book about Donald Trump and still be no closer to achieving his level of success. In contrast, if you watch the television show Intervention and see someone who’s short-circuited their career by being a full blown drug addict, you can decide not to follow their example and make a conscious step towards being the person you want to become.

Lessons from an error-filled methodology

When I first started playing guitar I spent a lot of time working on the solos in songs I was playing.  As a commonality, the solos in these songs were all fast and required substantial technique. I assumed that if I just learned the notes, I could get the solos up to speed eventually.  My practicing “method” was to just play these licks for hours on end to get them as fast as I could.

In this process, as soon as I could play the notes I would try to play them faster (which was actually much faster than I really could accurately play them).  In addition to making things sloppy, it also made my hands overly tense as I was trying to play outside of the realm of my ability and this tension carried over into my playing. I eventually could get the speed of the notes, but there was a lack of clarity and most certainly, a lack of fluidity.

It goes without saying – this is not how you want to practice something.

In conjunction with writing my instructional books, I watched every guitar instructional video I could get my hands on to see how my methods stacked up.  Here’s what I found:

Very few people can teach material to others well.

The amount of information that was misleading or wrong was shocking.   It occurred to me that many people are poor teachers because they either don’t know the material at a deep enough level to explain it to someone else or because they have no concept of how to relate that material to other people.  This makes the job of the student that much harder, because the student has to sort out what the teacher is trying to say rather than what is actually being said.

Ignorance is contagious.

Ignorance is viral.  It spreads quickly and easily and once infected, it can be a difficult process to overcome.  In my own case, the problems I developed by “practicing” in the wrong way have taken years to try to fix and is still an ongoing process.   (This speaks to both why it’s important to learn things the right way the first time and how difficult it is to overcome bad habits).

If you take this to a YouTube level – you’ll find many people who play a lot of notes but can’t play them well.  Sometimes there’s no concept of phrasing.  You see out of tune, out of time bends with no control followed by a flurry of notes hiding under a ton of effects.   I’ve seen the tension I talked about above from trying to play too fast too quickly in a lot of online videos.  The notes are kind of there but only in a holographic way.  You get the feeling that if you were to put a metronome down on a table and drop the tempo by 1/2 that whatever the person was playing would completely fall out of the pocket or more likely completely fall apart.

Observing and reflecting on people getting things wrong, can inspire you to see elements of weakness in yourself and correct them.

When I see someone play badly, I try to figure out why it’s bad and then try to see if there’s something I can take away from it to develop my own playing.  Maybe it’s a simple observation like, “Ok I really need to work on my vibrato!” – but I try to make each observation a lesson.

How not to do things also directly relates to goals.  It’s about looking at an outcome and saying, “if I do not want a specific outcome to happen what steps do I need to take?”   Its advantage over merely examining how to do things is that it gets your hands dirty and forces you to come into contact with the nitty-gritty behind various processes.  In this way, it may help you come to a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do and how to go about doing it.

Thanks for reading!

If you like this post, you may like two of the Kindle e-books I currently have out, An Indie Musician Wake Up Call and Selling It Versus Selling Out.