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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The Three C’s Of Zen Guitar: Centered, Committed, & Controlled

First a big shout out to Philip Toshio Sudo; author of Zen Guitar. I read that book before I went into the recording studio to record Homecoming & WinterNight over two weeks in September of ’97.  Philip plays electric guitar and the book has almost nothing about actually playing the guitar in it. But it was still one of the most powerful books I’ve ever read on music.  If you play guitar you owe it to yourself to read this book. You can get it at Amazon!

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The book deals with the mental attitude we bring to our practice, rehearsals and performances. It had a huge impact on me-as you can tell I write more about the mental aspect of playing the guitar than the actual playing. Ultimately I think mental attitude is more important than any of the physical skills that we have or don’t have. And physical skills diminish over time, but think of how many great older musicians there are playing right now. It’s because even though they can’t fit quite as many notes into a two bar phrase, they are capable of putting more emotion, more intent, more feel into every note they play. Their music has more depth. Those musical stories are more vibrant than ever.

In last week’s blog I wrote about the Holy Triad of Tone, Rhythm & Dynamics and the core importance they have in any musical performance.  Over the weekend as I was rehearsing on harp guitar I realized that unless one had the right mental attitude it would be hard to achieve what one must in regards to Tone, Rhythm, and Dynamics. And I found that there was another ‘Holy’ triad. This time it was being centered, committed, and controlled.

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I find the key foundation to a great rehearsal or performance is being centered. From a dictionary I get this: well-balanced and confident or serene. That’s perfect.  But to paraphrase my wife; “What’s that mean?”

It means you can’t bring worry, anger or fear into the rehearsal with you.  It means that you don’t just pick up the guitar to pick up the guitar.  It means you have intent, you know what you’re about and you’re ready to do it when you pick up the instrument.  This is not about being focused per se, though some people may feel focused when they’re centered.  To me what it means is that I’m balanced. I’m not easily knocked off my goal when I run into some difficulties which I inevitably will.  If one is centered they won’t be overly critical and bring a lot of negative self-talk into their analysis of their rehearsal. When you are centered you bring a calm certainty to the proceedings.

If you are stressed or agitated, angry or upset, it might be smart to reschedule your rehearsal. Otherwise you’ll bring those feelings and patterns of thinking into your playing. And it probably won’t end the way you’d like.

 

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Before we talk about commitment it might be good to discuss the two sides of that coin.  There is big C Commitment which is about long-term aspects. For example this describes an approach to learn a new song, tuning, key, or new technique like two-hand tapping or slide. And then there’s little C commitment; which is how we decide to play an individual note, phrase or composition.  In this blog I’ll be focusing on little C commitment.

You can’t play music timidly if you want to convey emotions.  And there’s really no other reason to play music. IMHO.

When one is calm and confident it is easier to achieve the next mental state. Commitment. This to me might be the key ingredient in musicianship. If you don’t commit to the note and how you’re going to play it you’ll never achieve what you want as it relates to Tone, Rhythm, and Dynamics. It cannot happen.

And yet, that is what confounds most intermediate musicians as they attempt to master their instrument. And at the core of not committing is fear. Fear of a mistake which will shame or embarrass us. FACT. Great musicians make HUGE mistakes.

Michael Manring is considered by many to be the finest fretless bass player in the world. I’ve gotten to tour and play dozens of gigs with him and I know he’s the best musician I’ve ever been around. He’s also among the most kind. I call him Skinny Buddha, and  I think he’s gone whole years where he hasn’t made a single mistake.  But when he does? It’s a doozy! HUGE with a Trumpian Y YUGE. Because that was the note he meant to play!

I learned everything about committing to a note/phrase through a performance with Michael in Southern Utah in 1998. We were playing my arrangement of Duane Allman’s Little Martha and he thought the chord change was to the IV chord when it was to the I. Meaning he played a big fat G against my big fat D and it brought everyone out of their reverie; momentarily. We’re pros, we played on, and incredibly never skipped a bit-no easy task given that I play the A section in 17/8.  No words were spoken, and the rest of that evening was like all of our shows-fun for all. Me most of all.

But we talked about it after the show. Because I was amazed that he shrugged it off so easily. At that point in my career, if I’d made that kind of mistake I would have crawled into a hole and played scared the whole night. He told me something that as an ex-jock I understood.  It was a simple mistake. It was not a big deal. He meant to play it that way. There was no fear carried forward.  Athletes, great athletes shrug off failure and mistakes as long as they commit. So do great musicians. Great performers FORGET their mistakes. They leave them in the past, where they belong. So should you.

Playing committed is often a way to discover just how well you know a particular piece of music. Is your knowledge formative, or nuanced?  How you commit is the acid-test to your depth of understanding of that piece of music.

If you make a stunning amount of committed mistakes, it probably means you don’t know the song well enough to perform it. But that is still better than playing a timid version with fewer mistakes.  Play with passion or don’t play at all. Take that song back to practice and get to work. That’s all that needs to happen.

I feel it’s important to say that playing committed doesn’t mean always playing loudly. It’s committing to how we’re going to apply tone, rhythm and dynamics to a note, phrase, or composition. You commit to playing softly and tenderly every bit as much as you commit to playing something loudly and brashly.

I also think that it’s important to say that for a guitarist, the idea of commitment is mostly about the plucking hand.  As I’ve read recently on Facebook. Your left hand (fretting hand) shows us what you know. Your right hand (plucking hand) shows us who you are.  Are you confident and committed, or timid and indifferent?

In other words; mean what you play!

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Control. Merriam-Webster says this: restrained.  Other synonyms are disciplined and contained. Those last two are closer to my meaning for controlled.  But I’m going to use another jock reference: staying within yourself as my definition.  What do you have to offer the music today? Right now? This minute? This is about how I feel emotionally and physically.

The sports I played most were baseball, tennis, and golf. All are basically individual sports; baseball is a game mostly played between the pitcher and hitter (especially as it relates to this topic).  All are sports that can be and are played daily by professionals.  But you can’t bring your A game to every occasion. In fact even the very best only bring their A game about 40-50% of the time.  The rest of the time you’ve got to do the best with what you have.

I was trying to get this idea across to a student the other day. Luckily they’re way into sports so I used a baseball pitching reference. There are days I know I can throw an easy 94 with late movement, and some days I’ve only got 89.  As long as I don’t try to play a song as if I can throw 95 I’m fine. For me, control is knowing my limits. Knowing what I have in my hands that day. Focusing on control doesn’t stop me from doing, focusing on control allows me to choose appropriate repertoire, tempo (rhythm) and dynamics. Focusing on control allows me to do well.

If you are lucky enough to perform your music you must understand that every day is a new day.  This is especially true for aging musicians. Respond accordingly.

But sometimes control can be about restraint. This is especially true as it relates to tone and dynamics. I’ve seen guitarists who hit the thing so dang hard that nothing stays in tune let alone sounds musical. Strings rattle against frets, strings are bent out of tune, and there’s no nuance. EVERYTHING IS PLAYED FULL VOLUME ALL THE TIME. If this is you, knock it off.  No one wants to hear musical screaming all the time.  Control yourself!

And control can also be about speed.  It’s a mistake to play everything at 100% maximum speed or effort. Golf pros and MLB pitchers will tell you that it’s best to maintain about 75-85% of maximum effort. That’s repeatable over the years.  And this is when staying in control keeps you from becoming tense.  Playing too fast always leads to tension and that effs up everything. And if you’re always hovering around max effort you have no way to go when more is required.

So the next time you pick up your guitar ask yourself if you’re calm cool and collected. Are you ready to play each note with intent? And are you playing within your capabilities at that moment?

If you can answer yes to these you’re going to have a rewarding time on the guitar.  And so will those who get to listen.

 

Cheers, kb

 

 

The Holy Triad of Musicianship: Tone, Rhythm & Dynamics

Over the past year or so my focus has been away from playing the guitar and on playing music.  Given the fast-paced, information-rich world we live in, it’s very easy to get trapped into the minutiae of our instruments, the kinds of instruments we play, and all the gear associated with those instruments.  And given the guitar’s primacy in today’s musical landscape it can get nearly as overwhelming as today’s political climate.  In many ways, I’ve been part of that ‘movement’ with my vlogs, clinics, workshops, this blog, and even the title of the show I still occasionally produce: Artistry of the Guitar.

Ultimately, as a player and performer I found the focus on the guitar and my guitars almost stifling.  As the man who builds them, Alan Carruth, told me years ago, guitars are just tools for musicians.  It’s the voice they’ve chosen to use to tell their stories.  But it’s the ‘stories’ that are important.  Everything the musician does should be in service to telling the story.

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So as I’ve meditated on this over the course of the year I’ve tried to come up with broader areas to focus on.  The things that matter for playing music regardless of what instrument you play.  And as so often happens for me, I found that there were three pillars that were common in every performance: Tone, Rhythm, & Dynamics. I understand that melody and harmony are also important aspects, maybe the most important aspect of a song, but those two items are really musical items that are up to debate, personal taste, and the era within which a composer lives. To me, it’s the effect that Tone, Rhythm, and Dynamics have on the melody and harmony that make the performance strong and engaging or boring and dull.  They are the foundation upon which all musical performances hinge.

I view the performance of a song as telling a story. The guitar is the narrator’s voice, and that voice is very important, but it’s the words (notes) the narrator uses, and the way the narrator uses those words (tone, rhythm, and dynamics) that either elevate the story and make it interesting and engaging, or have us yawning and looking around the room. I don’t care how good the melody is, if the other components aren’t effective, neither is the story telling.

And I think it’s smart to inform ourselves how tone, rhythm, and dynamics work in storytelling and musical performance.  It drives the lesson deeper for me.

Tone

In written composition, tone is an attitude of a writer toward a subject or an audience. In music tone can be described as giving a note particular quality or way of sounding.  

How many times have you heard someone get mad and say: “it’s not what you said, it’s how you said it that pissed me off!”  Tone is critical in story telling. Hell, it’s critical in relationships of all kinds.

In music tone elicits feelings of warmth and beauty or feeling brittle and tense, and other myriad complex feelings.  For a guitarist especially, shifting one’s plucking hand from near the bridge to near the end of the neck is huge. What tone do the words (notes) you’re playing in this measure need? A musical passage can absolutely come alive when it’s played with the right tone, and die if it’s not.

Think about great story-tellers or great public speakers in general.  They shout, whisper, get guttural, but they’re never monotone.  You can tell immediately if they’re sad, angry or happy.  A musician’s tone should give the listener the same information.  Too many musicians worry about getting every note right and end up playing in a monotone.  It’s ok to stumble over a few words (notes) if they’re played with emotion.

Rhythm

In written composition rhythm is described as the effect produced in a play, film, novel, by the combination or arrangement of formal elements, as length of scenes, speech and description, timing, or recurrent themes, to create movement, tension, and emotional value in the development of the plot.

In music rhythm is described as a strong, regular, repeated pattern of movement or sound, and the systematic arrangement of musical sounds, principally according to duration and periodic accents.

Most of musicians focus on the speed as in how many beats per measure when they play a piece. And tempo is critical. A story told too fast isn’t understood, the scenery blurs by, and things become a jumble. A story told too slowly bores us, frustrates us, and turns us off.

But rhythm for a musician isn’t just how fast you play a piece, it’s about where the accents lie.  The accents are the places that really grab our attention, and accents on certain beats helps us stay out of a monotone as well.

For soloists it’s important to remember that time, or rhythm, can be played with; it’s called rubato. The temporary disregarding of strict tempo to allow an expressive quickening or slackening, usually without altering the overall pace.

Think about a great book on CD/Tape/Audible you’ve heard.  Sometimes the narrator races along at breakneck speed, and then suddenly slows down. Or maybe the narrator starts slow and soft and builds up speed and volume.  All of these are effective tools for storytellers. They are just as effective and important to the musician.

And this of course brings us to…

Dynamics

I couldn’t find a literary description for dynamics, but I think when I share the musical description you’ll still see how it can be applied to story telling.

In music dynamics are described as variation and contrast in force or intensity. A storyteller will go from a stage whisper to a bellow, from belly laughs to hysterical tears, but they’ll never use the same volume for the whole story.  Listeners to both stories and music need to have their ears ‘moved around’ to stay fresh.

For those of us who continue to assault people with our original music dynamics are critical for keeping people engaged. If you’re always playing loud or always playing soft your going to put people off. I wouldn’t want to listen to a story teller whisper or yell all night. Great musicians will go below the noise floor to grab hold of a listener. Loud isn’t loud unless there’s something softer to compare with it. And timidity is as bad as shouting; you’ve got to have a full dynamic range to be a good musician.

Dynamics seem to be the last thing most musicians achieve on their way to becoming better musicians. But to me it’s the special sauce that makes or breaks a musical performance. I find this is the plane musicians reach when they’ve learned how to critically listen to their own performances while they’re playing. This kind of critical listening will further enhance one’s ability to self-evaluate tone and rhythm as well.

 

While the audio of this doesn’t do Vin justice, I think his performance of Dark Blue Wind speaks to how the effective use of tone, rhythm and dynamics create an incredibly engaging and powerfully emotive performance. His most recent CD, when the sea lets go, is a lesson in this holy triad of musicianship.  You can check him out here http://vindownes.com

These days, as I evaluate my tone in rehearsals, I’m evaluating both overall tone, and in individual pieces I’m looking at my use of tone as flavoring through moving my plucking hand towards or away from the bridge during different phrases in the piece. I also evaluate how attack, which is also part of dynamics, affects tone and plucking hand placement.

My evaluating overall tone recently had me totally re-think my approach to my acrylic nails, and I now keep them much thinner, and a bit shorter. I find I’m getting better detail, and a purer note from my nails.

But tone on the guitar isn’t all about the nails, the fretting hand comes into play as well. If I’m pressing too hard on the string I can choke the note out, or if it’s too light it might thud and not ring the way I want.

I also use a fair amount of vibrato; effective use of that enhances a piece, but too much is like listening to someone hit their throat as they sing. I don’t want to warble and wobble a note, I want to sweeten it up by gently stretching the string up and down, or even more subtly by allowing my fretting finger to ‘sway’ above the finger tip as I hold the note.

Listening, critical listening is the key in being able to respond musically as we play. Vibrato is something that is felt and I can only feel something to do it if I’m listening closely.

As I focus on my rhythm I evaluate whether or not the piece breathes.  I play intimate music. Rushing it in any way, even in the uptempo tunes, kills them. Dead. Because rushed tempo takes away my ability to produce nuanced passages. Think about how hard it is to follow a speaker when they’re rushing every word. It’s both hard to understand, and even creates tension in the audience. It can be unintelligible. I want to hear every hammer-on and pull-off with clarity and vibrance.  Sloppy doesn’t work for my compositions, and rushed tempo does more to induce sloppy playing than anything.

Also in regards to rhythm I’m looking at where accents fall. I don’t play a lot of music that is based on 2/4. My compositions are much more baroque/folk based where the focus is on the 1 and sometimes the 3.  But I also play some jigs, and blues, and tunes with swinging 1/8th notes.  It’s important to place emphasis on certain beats; tempo plays a part in my ability to accent well, but it’s also about listening hard enough to feel the accents. If I feel it I can play it.

And lastly as it relates to rhythm I look at how I’m playing with time to better tell the song’s story. This is the rubato I spoke of earlier. As a soloist, I am free to not be metronomically correct.  I can slow some passages down, or push some measures if the music calls for it. For example, one of my songs is about a border crossing from Canada into NY at Niagara Falls that had as inching forward for a fairly long time until we crossed the border and finally got up to full speed.  So it’s vital that I play it that way. And this is another ‘feel’ thing. I don’t want to over analyze passages and say that I must ALWAYS play it that way. My songs work better when I feel my way through them, and just like the last paragraph that involves critical listening.

As I look at dynamics it’s all about feel for me. I’ve been lucky in that for as long as I can remember I’ve used dynamics from the very beginning of pieces I’ve written or arranged. From the first halting steps-I play with feeling. I actually can’t play in a monotone-even scales. I encourage you to do the same. It’s hard to add at a later date. And for me it makes all the work on a piece of music much more satisfying, both short-term and long-term.

Martin Simpson and I were acquaintances back in the last century, and I can vividly remember him saying that the only reason to pick up an instrument and play music was to convey an emotion. The better we use dynamics, the better we engage our audience, and the better they ‘understand’ our stories the better they understand those emotions and the depth of the story we’re trying to tell.

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As you can see, the umbrella over the holy triad is critical listening.  Being a good musician is about being a good listener. And if you want to be great, then you’ll have to be a great listener.  And the only way you can become a better listener is to practice.

How? Put some music on, and turn everything else off. In fact, you may want to start in a dark room. Close your eyes and put on music.  Listen, breathe, and let go.  I encourage listening to ensemble music so you don’t focus on whatever instrument you play. This can end up in comparisons that might throw some shade on your playing. That’s not what this is about. So find some classic Beatles, Allman Brothers, Pink Floyd, or some New Grass from Barenberg, Meyer, and Douglas.  You might as well make it fun.

At first listen to the group as a whole-listen to the song holistically. The whole thing; beginning to end. Just take it in. And this isn’t about judging or critiquing; JUST listening.

Then hit repeat and this time listen to one instrument-one that’s not yours. Try to follow it through the entire song.  Do that with every instrument you can identify on the song, but not listening to your instrument until it’s the last.

Limit your critical listening sessions to 45 minutes. Be warned, most of you will get distracted before 15 minutes is up. Listening to music uses your whole brain, and listening to music is nearly as good for your brain as playing music. But it will tire you out.

While playing, be as Zen and in-the-moment as is possible-that’s where you have to be to listen to yourself play.  Be Here Now.  Turn off all iDevices, light a candle if that helps, do whatever gets you in a Zen place, and then play. Just play and listen. Don’t judge while you’re playing. You’re listening now to feel what you want to do with tone, rhythm, and dynamics. And then respond to what you hear.Your ears are telling your hands what to do.

Only evaluate after the piece is finished. Then, depending on your evaluation, rinse and repeat.  Maybe it’s perfect and you nailed it, or maybe not.  Armed with your evaluation play it again.  And listen. When you’re focusing on listening in your playing sessions at first, limit yourself to 45 minutes.

Here’s what this focus has given me. I’m playing better than I ever have before. The songs are more musical, and playing guitar is more rewarding to me now than it ever has been. And I’m sensing the same thing from audiences. And while I’m not perfect at this, I bungled a recent concert, I’m enjoying performing more than ever, and enjoying playing more than ever. I’ve found that focusing on the music and the songs, and not the guitar has also helped ease stage nerves. That was an unintended benefit, but a welcome one.

I realize all of us must put our focus on our instruments all during our musical journey. But I think it’s important to always remember that all that focus and learning is in service to playing music, not the instrument. It’s about telling a compelling musical story.

How’s your storytelling?

 

Personal truths, music and religion

This blog has been brewing for quite awhile. I can remember almost exactly when the seed was planted. It was the fall of 2011 and I was touring with a lovely female guitarist in the Southwest. We were talking about the rise of evangelical Christianity and it’s impact on our society, politics, and governance. And then both of us admitted that as we had drifted away from organized religion that music had become our religion.

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Religion is a cultural system of behaviors and practices, world views, sacred texts, holy places, ethics, and societal organization that relate humanity to what an anthropologist has called “an order of existence”.  Religion is about teaching us our place in the world, a ‘code’ by which we can assess our behavior and personal growth.  It is something that holds us to a higher standard, and something that involves the embracing of a higher power. Music, and my pursuits in music as a performer, composer, and educator has provided me all those same elements.

There has always been a spiritual connection for me with music. When I’m listening to something that moves me I am filled with emotion, ideas, inspiration, motivation, and joy. Even if the music itself is sad. When I grieve, or cry, or mourn the release of that pain is instantly replaced with joy and gratitude. The world is a bit brighter. For me, listening to music is prayer and meditation, and a celebration of the human spirit.

Composing for me has the same affect as listening. It involves a deep connection to something bigger than myself. At my best, my compositions never feel written or pieced together. Quite often they come whole; I call this dipping into the divine.  The music was there, always had been, I was just the first to hear it.

In the pursuit of being a touring artist music has asked much personal sacrifice. It has challenged me physically, emotionally, and spiritually.  What person of God hasn’t had a crisis of faith. As a person of Music, I know I have had repeated crises of faith.

The discipline of religion is no different than the discipline of music. It involves constant self-inventory. It takes practice.  It takes study. It demands personal sacrifice. And it requires faith and belief in something bigger than one’s self.

And to become a better performer I realized I had to become a better person. Music asked, no, demanded that of me. I realized that performing; the type of  musical performance I wanted to provide was an act of service. It had nothing to do with me. There’s no i in performance, or band, or ensemble.  Through music I learned that love is a verb. That’s powerful shit.

And through musical performance I learned about building and nurturing a community. What it means to be community, and how to help each other out. And just how powerful the shared live  musical experience truly is. It can alter someone’s life every bit as much as a powerful sermon.  And it can save lives too; as well as make someone’s passing from this life easier. Just as religion does.

I’m not suggesting music should be your religion, or that it’s in any way better than any Eastern or Western religion.  We all need to find a code to live by, to challenge ourselves so that we grow, and a place to build community with like-minded folks. A place to prosper and grow as we each find our own way from the cradle to the grave.

Music has been mine.

Peace and joy to you and yours,

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

Marijuana and Me: A musical romance

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I know this blog is going to be a bit controversial so let’s first get a few things straight.  This is NOT a political post. If you know me, you know that I am an outspoken advocate for the legalization and taxation on the sale and distribution of cannabis to adults 21 and over in the US.  I believe this with ALL my heart because history has definitively taught us that prohibition doesn’t work.  IT DOESN’T WORK. And I’m not in ANY WAY advocating your use of Cannabis, nor do I condone its use by minors. While the evidence is sketchy (another casualty of prohibition) it doesn’t seem prudent for an immature, under-age brain. And I have friends who have had dependency issues with weed, and I’m sympathetic to their plight, but there plight doesn’t affect my belief in the freedom for me and others to indulge in a private, responsible way. If it doesn’t work for you, or it makes you sick, don’t use it. We’ve got enough problems to deal with in this country as it is; making things illegal through prohibition is like throwing gasoline on a fire.  This blog is about my experience and use of this humble plant; one I’ve enjoyed responsibly for decades. However, for those of you who are prohibitionists, here are a few quotes from folks way smarter than me on the subject for you to ponder upon.

Penalties against possession of a drug should not be more damaging to an individual than the use of the drug itself; and where they are, they should be changed. Nowhere is this more clear than in the laws against possession of marijuana in private for personal use…
― Jimmy Carter

“Prohibition… goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes… A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.
― Abraham Lincoln

The legalization of marijuana is not a dangerous experiment – the prohibition is the experiment, and it has failed dramatically, with millions of victims all around the world.”
― Sebastian Marincolo Continue reading