Not all mistakes are created equally

 

One of the things I’ve noticed about some of my students is that they react the same way to each mistake they make.  Typical reactions are anger, fear, or shame, and mistakes of any kind stop them dead in their tracks. They try to back up and attempt a do-over.  That in itself is a mistake.  Music keeps moving, whether you make a mistake or not. If you are in rehearsal mode, playing songs all the way through, then don’t EVER let a mistake stop you. Spend your rehearsals practicing getting yourself out of the self-inflicted jams.  It’s truly the fastest way to improve your performances.

A master musician is not someone who doesn’t make mistakes, a master musician is someone who hides their mistakes well.  Learn how to hide yours.

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And learn the different types of mistakes musicians make; is it mental or physical?  If you simply flubbed where you put your finger GET OVER IT, and keep playing. Physical errors happen to the best musicians and athletes on the planet. Do not spend a millisecond of your life berating your playing for this kind of mistake. IT. IS. NO. BIG. DEAL.

Of course not every physical mistake is the same either. Did you make a physical mistake because you don’t have the right technique or correct fingering for that passage? That’s different from a simple flub. Don’t stop playing, but acknowledge the problem and when you’re done playing spend time on fixing it. If your technique or fingering is incorrect, go back to work, slow everything down to about half-speed and practice the right moves until they feel natural.

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The mistakes to be hyper-aware of are mental errors.  Any sports coach will tell you that mental errors are the unforgivables in sports.  They are in fact, unforced errors.  But there are two kinds of mental errors. One is thinking you are doing the exact right thing and doing it only to find out it’s wrong.  And the other is a brain-fart.

In the first instance, instead of berating yourself, figure out what you were supposed to do, get committed to that and play through it the next time the correct way. In the second instance-get over it-it’s not a big deal; it is a mental version of a physical flub. The first instance speaks to having bad information, and the other speaks to not being mindful. Both are worthy of correcting.  I’ve noticed a huge uptick in the quality of my rehearsals since I’ve become mindful of being mindful.  BE. HERE. NOW.

And please, don’t ever give yourself the goal of playing mistake free.  It won’t happen. Even on nights that I’ve been flawless in my performance I’ve made more than a handful of mistakes; the difference for me is that I don’t telegraph my mistakes, I’ve probably made the same or similar mistake before, and I’ve planned an emergency exit of sorts. This is more for my benefit than the audience’s.  If I’m not affected by my mistakes I’ll play better, and both the audience and I gain from that.

So figure out the kinds of mistakes you’re making, make the right corrections, and go play music that inspires and moves you. If you do that, you’ll inspire and move us.

Cheers, kb

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Fingers, Picks, or Fake Nails Oh My! Part 2: Should I or Shouldn’t I

While it can be a real pain in the ass to those around me, I am gifted with an incredible desire to always get better at what I do. It’s the reason I wake up in the morning, and I honestly can’t understand any other way of living.  The day I wake up and don’t want to improve myself will likely be my last day. To me, self-improvement is my reason to live.

The way this shows up in my musical life is in my experimentation. I am incredibly inquisitive. I love trying new strings, capos, slides, guitars, tunings, and picks. My experiments have yielded tremendous results for me personally. But luckily I am also pretty self-aware, and I know that I typically respond favorably to anything ‘new’ and different.  I LOVE change. Embrace it, and actively pursue it.  I know change causes stress in many folks, but for me change is like taking a great big bong hit of the best weed I’ve ever had; it inspires me and unlocks music that may have never found the light of day otherwise.

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The Power of Wow

Today I was reminded of the power of wow, and today that experience came from playing great instruments.

Truth told the last couple weeks have been hard guitar weeks for me. I’ve been working very hard to get ready to go on the road for a mini-tour the first full week of June which has included lots of office work, and I also had a less than satisfying visit with my father and family over his 90th birthday in Northern Michigan that included TSA hassles and gridlock.

I use the phrase playing the guitar to describe what I do and the word play is important. Play requires a certain mind-set, and mine was nowhere close to allowing me to play. I bounced back and forth from being a hyper efficient self-employed business man, and frustrated traveler/son.  I still spent time on the guitar, but man it was work. Real work. It was like doing push ups, or running on a treadmill. It was just exercise. I wasn’t playing at all.

Luckily I recognized that, and last week when I got back I told myself to chill. Most of what I was frustrated about was beyond my control, but anything that was within my control was dealt with immediately. And that really freed up my mind.

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And since I’d been fighting my baritone while I was in Michigan (my fault, not the guitar’s), I picked up my 20 year-old 12-fret which had recently been restored to its former glory by its maker, Alan Carruth.  And my immediate thought was wow. Just wow.

It sounded so good, and of course behaved great. I was once again transported by the power of wow. And because it felt so great I played with some reverence for both the music and the guitar, which translated to nice tone, improved dynamics, and really fluid rhythms. Ah, I was playing music.  I wasn’t working on the guitar.

And today, for the first time in several weeks I picked up the harp guitar and later the baritone guitar I had fought with last week. Holy Shit!! Twin Wows!  Both drew me in and seduced me. And again I was playing music not working the guitars.

People don’t know this about me, but I can go months without playing a particular guitar. So much depends on how much I’m touring, who I’m touring with, and what guitar has grabbed my particular fancy. And the last couple of weeks the wow has been the 12-fret guitar. But a couple of weeks before that it was the high-string, and before that it was the baritone. And before that it was the piccolo harp guitar.

As long as I’m playing a couple of hours a day, it really doesn’t matter which guitar I’m playing. I’m keeping my hands in shape, and if my hands are in shape it only takes me a few days to put together a 90 minute concert spread over 3 or 4 guitars.But I always try to follow the ‘wow’ because that’s where the playing is, that’s where new music is, and that’s where, when I’m really lucky, I can find a transcendent performance.

For me following the power of wow keeps me fresh. And staying fresh is so important when you’ve done something for over 4 decades, and something you still do a couple of hours of almost every day. It helps that I have five great guitars, but you can find wows in lots of different ways just on one guitar.

Putting on new strings, try a new tuning, trya partial capo, put the capo higher than you ever have before, play an old favorite song you’ve long neglected, plug in and turn up the amp really loud, record a video, or perform live. All can provide players with a wow-a breath of something fresh and exciting. Something that seduces us and draws us in. Something that makes 90 minutes FLY by. If we’re going to continue to grow as musicians it’s important to stay open-minded and keep asking ‘what if I?…” Following the power of wow does that for me.

What’s your wow? Find it, pursue it.  The power of wow, is powerful indeed.

Cheers, kb

Attitude

This morning I was reminded just how important the attitude I bring to the guitar can be.  I got in a bit of a kerfuffle with my bonus mom this morning who is an absolute control freak and will not endure her dog to be disciplined even when said beastie snaps and growls.  I am a huge fan of the dog training I learned through the Monks of New Skete, and got very wolfie with Oliver. I don’t hit dogs, it’s both wrong headed and ineffective.  But I do believe in doggie discipline and I put him on his back, growled and asked Ermy and the rest of her staff to ignore the dog for 45 minutes, basically a doggie timeout.  Not only did she totally ignore that she heaped affections him, basically reinforcing his behavior.  Needless to say I wasn’t happy.

I’m not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to play the guitar at that point, but it is my sanctuary, especially during these family visits.  But man, even though my body and hands were feeling better than they have in a couple of week I sucked. I rushed everything, was sloppy as hell, and even spaced out parts of pieces I’ve been playing for 25 years.  It was ugly.

And then I took a deep breath, put the guitar down for a bit and collected myself. This was at about the 45 minute mark of my session.  I was bound and determined to get through this. I calmed myself, relaxed and played the last 3 or 4 tunes well. Not spectacularly, but I didn’t rush and played with dynamics for about 20 minutes. I can’t say that it was fun, but it was satisfying to work through it.

I’m not sure if I’ll have a chance to play again today. It’s my Dad’s 90th and there’s a big party and then packing to fly home tomorrow.  But if I do play, I can guarantee you I’ll have a better attitude or I won’t play at all.

Because IMHO playing with a bad attitude is worse than not playing.

Cheers, kb

The Good, the bad, and the ugly

Yesterday was one of the more frustrating days I’ve had on the guitar.  I had been up since 3am traveling to Michigan when I finally got to play the guitar at about 4:30 in the afternoon.

There was a hive of activity as family members arrived to celebrate my dad’s 90th birthday Monday so I took my baritone guitar out on the back porch to chill and get some of the road off my hands.  My stretching and warmup went well, but the guitar was NOT cooperating.  I had put new strings on it before I left, and with the temperature dropping and humidity rising my guitar did what guitars do; it remembered it was a tree and was moving all over the place.  It was especially wonky when I played in its lowest tuning Dropped-D intervals starting on Bb.

After about 15 minutes of pulling strings and fighting the guitar I said screw it and tuned it up to DADGAD intervals starting on C and it handled it much better. Not great, but I got in about 45 minutes of playing that wasn’t satisfying at all musically, but did do the one thing I was looking for and that was to knock the rust off. I kept telling myself not to be pissed at the guitar, it was just doing what was natural, and that kept me relaxed enough to accomplish my goal.

This morning I had vastly different goals.  I wanted to play some music. My hands felt decent, not great, but my stretching session went well and I hunkered down on the guitar.  And I learned a lesson. As much as I’d like this guitar to be tuned lower for standard and dropped-D intervals the strings just don’t have the mass required to do that.  And the truth is, this guitar loves any alternate tuning a whole step lower than standard.  Any and all alternate tuning sound amazing bE amuse the string gauge is perfect for those tunings.

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And I played music for about 75 minutes.  The guitar sounded and felt fabulous, everything worked, and I played in CGDGAD, DGDGAD, DGDGBD, DGDGBbD, and DADGAD intervals, and the guitar LOVED it.  Every single note, even the ones I  fluffed.

While I’m a little bummed about not being able to play standard and Dropped-D material on the Bari, I’m a believer in using a guitar in a way that suits it best. Since I got my 12-fret OM refurbished about 10 days ago all the standard and dropped-D stuff sounds fabulous on that, so I’ll perform that material on that guitar. It’s a no-brainer. And  I’ll use the Bari for what it does best.  Also a no-brainer. I will use this information as I start putting together my set lists for my June concerts, and I know my performances will be better for it.

Frustration isn’t always a bad thing. To me it just signals that something isn’t working and I need to find a solution.  And today I did. I listened to my guitar and came up with a winning solution.

What did your guitar teach you today?

Cheers, kb

 

Long toss

I’ve been a baseball fan since I watched the Cubs one day in April ’63 at a hotel room in the Chicago area while my folks were looking for a house; don’t worry, I had a baby sitter other than the TV.  Baseball still captivates me. A team sport that is largely played one-on-one between the pitcher and hitter.  As you know my teaching vlogs and blogs are peppered with sports analogies.  But there’s a reason for that.

Much of the way I approach my practice on the guitar was learned on a baseball diamond, and later tennis courts and golf courses.  Learning most crafts requires time on the practice field repeating things over and over and over again to build strength and muscle memory.  Golfers call it digging it out of the dirt.  Lessons are great; vitally important in fact. But not as important as the playing that happens between the lessons.

Yesterday, was a very demanding day on my hands away from the guitar. The whole week has been. But yesterday was  brutal. I wrote and edited a blog, wrote lots of emails, booking emails, and edited a bio. All in all, about 5 hours of work at the computer keyboard. And then I weed whacked the yard.

I had played the guitar for nearly 5 hours Wednesday, and another 10 or 12 from Sunday through Tuesday.  When I was finally able to pick up the guitar  last night, Thursday May 19th for those of you reading this late, I had NOTHING in my hands. I played a little harp guitar and a little 6-string, but after 30 minutes I just put the guitars back in their cases. I was being smart. If I’d done anything more I’d have hurt myself.

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So today, I made sure I got the guitar in my hands first thing after I wrote my morning pages and answered and sent a few critical emails; about 9am.  But I went into it knowing how spent my hands were the night before, and that I had to mow the lawn later this afternoon.  I went into it like a starting pitcher who throws a long toss session after a complete game start having thrown 130 pitches a couple days ago.

I stretched for about 15 minutes before I picked up the guitar, and then played a bunch of chromatic scales and did some right hand warm-ups on my 12-fret OM, standard scale guitar.  Slow and steady, and I played softly. Everything I played I played with zero tension. I did this for about 6 or 7 minutes.

Then I played a couple of ballads in DADGAD, really just letting the guitar do the heavy lifting, and after about 10 minutes my hands felt great. My forearms were, and are, still a little tight, but nothing that stopped me from playing. That’s the best part about stretching and playing relaxed; you can get more out of tired muscles.

I moved on up to mid and uptempo pieces in DADGAD that were played at full speed but half the volume-that trick really saves my hands-it’s something I’ve learned to do on concert days as well as days I’m recuperating.  And then I finished up playing a difficult medley in EbBbEbGAD tuning at full volume and full speed.  Total elapsed time from stretching to casing the guitar was 57 minutes. This was my version of long toss.

I will probably play later again tonight. I usually do after I mow the lawn, and it will be a shorter version of this morning’s long toss session but played on the harp guitar. But I’m really looking forward to it, and while I know I won’t have my A game, I’ll have fun and get some work accomplished.

Tomorrow I travel, and won’t play guitar until late in the afternoon or early evening if at all. But I’m ok with that now because a day’s rest after the week I’ve put in might not be such a bad thing.

I hope you have a great day on the guitar.

Cheers, kb

 

The Year of the Monkey

“…the year of the Monkey lends itself to luck in fortune. It’s also an opportunistic time, particularly in building and business growth.”

As we turned over the Chinese New Year this February I was inspired by what the Year of the Monkey is supposed to bring. I was committed to making changes in how I approached my music business, but in January I wasn’t sure how I was going to go about it.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s Resolutions. I typically don’t like to do anything flocks of people do.  I figure if something is worth changing , then change it immediately, why wait until January 1 to do it?  But I do use the winter months to reflect and meditate on my life; what I want to do over the coming year as well as what do I want/need to do better. And then come up with a plan to achieve those goals. The last blog post I published in late January was part of that reflection-The birth of an album.  But I was pondering other things as well.

As the calendar advanced a bit further into February I realized one of the things I needed to do was to develop a routine. Something that was easily repeatable, structured enough to yield results, and flexible enough to fit my family life, music business and creative pursuits.

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The first thing I committed to as part of my routine was begin writing Morning Pages on a daily basis. That was  February 22nd. It’s a tool Julia Cameron teaches in her book The Artist’s Way which has been the bible for a lot of writers, artists, and musicians since it was published in the early 90’s.  Basically, Morning Pages equals a journal: three pages of hand written stream of conscious prose, poetry, or whatever might pop out of the pen. But as opposed to most journals written in the evening and that reflect on the day’s events, these are written the first thing in the day, when our ‘editor’ is asleep.  It allows one to dream weave, think up impossible scenarios, push the boundaries of what we might think would ‘work’. It’s a place where no feeling or idea is wrong. You just write. I’ve only missed one day, and it was a day that had me up and out the door at 5:30am and home after 9pm.

I committed to creating daily to-do lists, and then committed to doing what was on them. One of the things every sane self-employed person learns to do is leave some things on the to-do list for the next day. You just can’t do everything every day. But I’d gotten a little too good at moving stuff to the next day.  I can do the important and necessary stuff every day. That’s easy. I just have to prioritize it and then make sure I’ve left enough time to do it. So I started scheduling activities at specific times during the day.

I also made playing the guitar a priority.  So I put that on the to-do list.  And after a month I created a separate guitar to-do list and played what was on the list. (That didn’t last long), which has morphed into a guitar diary. (More on that in a bit). A couple of years ago I had committed to moving more, sleeping more, and eating less. I redoubled those efforts.

I let my OCD run rampant and got hyper organized about EVERYTHING. And I started setting my alarm for 6:30am.

So now it’s May 19, and I’ve been in my routine for just about 90 days.  Which is why I’m sharing this with you today.  The 90-day mark for me is significant because that’s how long it takes me to actually accomplish positive change.  This has been true in anything I’ve ever done; sports,  business, or music. The first 30 days establishes the habit, but it takes more than that to reap any real results. Because there’s refining, flexing, learning and editing of the process to be done.

The Morning Pages have been an absolute godsend.  They’ve provided me great insight in a variety of areas, and I always feel mentally fresh after I write. Always. Even if I’ve written about some tough personal issues.  It’s so cool to start each day with an actively engaged and positive mindset.

One morning I had the realization that in today’s music scene what I really am is an independent entertainment and information content provider. That was huge. I saw in very clear fashion how I might coordinate and monetize (sorry a guy’s gotta earn a buck) my music as well as my knowledge through various on-line portals and social media.  That has had a profound impact on how I am ‘working’ my business now. My to-do list looks very different from what it did 6 months ago.

For example, one of the things you’ll notice is that I’m not going to write how-to‘s on  this blog anymore. I’ve started two video blog series on YouTube that are much more effective at relaying that kind of information than are longish essays. And videos are much easier to monetize.

But upon reflection, I realized that the So you want to be a better guitarist? essays I wrote in 2015 provided the skeleton of what will be future books or booklets. I’ve just completed the outlines on two books that will be built off them, and I’m planning a third, and maybe more. Again, these will be much easier to monetize in book form than on blog.

So, now I’m going to use this blog as my public guitar diary.  Really kind of what it was intended to be in the first place. I will talk specifically about my daily journey on the guitar. I may write a paragraph, or a whole essay, or just one sentence.  But it will deal with my relationship with the guitar as it is in that moment in time.

And you will still get to learn from my journey sans any monetization. Because the truth is I am now, and always will be working on the same things you’re working on; how to better use the guitar to share my stories, my hopes and my fears. So that’s what I’ll be writing about.And I will probably discuss more about how my routine has impacted not only my productivity, but my creativity-that’s a big part of my musical/playing process. And I’ll do that every day. So, please join me.

If however my daily musings aren’t dealing with what you’re currently working on or interested in, then head over to my YouTube channel; I have 14 new vlogs that are how-to guides on a variety of guitar playing topics, and I’m adding two a week, every week for the foreseeable future.

Here’s the link to my channel. Each vlog has a description of the information covered. And you can subscribe so you’ll never miss one.

Here’s the first one, just to get you started.

Cheers, kb