Saturday, May 29, 2010

Nothing Can Stop You at All

After dropping our granddaughter off this afternoon we headed off to the Potomac River to walk around Great Falls. This is always an inspiring place for me, to have such a powerful show of nature so close to the metro area. We have had heavy rains lately so the river was running high.

While gazing at the first set of falls I heard myself singing - " Waterfall, nothing can stop you at all ..." Jimi Hendrix showing up via associative thinking. Jimi the man who inspired me and so many young men to pick up the guitar. And as his lyrics said "nothing can stop you at all." Here I stood decades later, still hearing this piece from my childhood. Many other musicians have influenced me since, but there is something about the raw power of Jimi that I saw in the falls today. The way he could hit one note with such power to sweep me away, just like the power of the Potomac thundering through this narrow passages.

The flow and the sweetness of "music sweet music" made visible in the seven blue herons perched among the rocks at the main falls. Water cascading with mist dancing in the sunlight and these regal birds preening or standing silently. I wish I  could play notes that equal this beauty. If I truly believe that "nothing can stop you at all," I will.

Photo Source:

Friday, May 28, 2010


Friday. Yes!

A gentle but effective practice session tonight. Body a bit tired and stiff from playing catch with  my grand daughter. Long time since I used a glove. Focused on the basic AT instructions but moving through them quickly and then playing.

On my way to a work related seminar yesterday I listened to most of the AT class from this week. Slowly digesting the information I shared and the response this generated. Reflecting on this tonight the following surfaced in my mind - Expect nothing. Allow everything.

I will see where this goes if at all.
Photo source - Kayvee.Inc

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Chesterton Quote

It isn't that he can not see the solution. It is that he can not see the problem. - G. K. Chesterton

For many years I had this quote hanging over my desk at work. Was I really seeing the problem? Many times yes, many times no. Perceptions are frequently wrong. More information, maybe even insight, or experience is needed. Is there a problem often times is The Question?

Being quick to judge and hard on myself has frequently led me astray. Funny thing is I am asking myself what does this have to do with Patrick the guitarist? The desk this hung over was at my day job. But tonight I think I need to allow this quote to inform the musician.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Difficult Passages

Tonight at the Alexander Technique class with David Jernigan we were looking at difficult musical passages. As always we were looking at the difficult passage of being free. David worked with R. first. Listening to the directions being given her I followed along, allowing my own body to lengthen and widen. Breathing gently, I found myself pulling for her to find the freedom in her body and mind to allow her playing.

For my turn I choose the passage from Stepping Stones that has been troubling me. I was standing and David used his hands to direct my body, bringing my back, back and up; and my heels back and down. Allowing my arms to lengthen I brought them to the guitar. I played through the section once. David again came and used his hands on me, encouraging me to continue thinking of the directions. I said I was thinking too much. He then encouraged  me to think of the back, the heels, and to take in the room. Allow my fingers to bring my long left arm to the guitar and then the right. Then he told me to think about work, and the tree. (The latter being an emotional charged issue for me.)

Then with all these thoughts I played. The passage was energetic, alive, and musical. The harmonics singing. This was the best I have played this passage to date. As we then discussed while I thought I was thinking too much I was capable of even more thoughts. In doing this I was able to bypass my habitual way of playing this passage and allow the fruits of my practice to flower. Pausing now I am giving the directions.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Found myself sharing this Guitar Craft aphorism early this morning - " With commitment all the rules change." Sage words, and when I have honored various commitments over the years despite any momentary exhaustion, emotional upheaval, or even laziness, the outcomes have been sustaining and informative.

While practicing this afternoon, I found myself ready to drop a new piece, Stepping Stones, from the set list for the House Concert next weekend. One very tricky passage has improved markedly, yet confidence in my ability to play this passage is lacking. Over lunch I decided to drop it and add an older piece that I would need to relearn. I located the score and began working on Girl on a Pink Blanket. I love this piece but have not played it since we recorded it because of a couple nasty stretches for my left hand. The lingering fragility from tendinitis kept me from this piece.

But now that my shoulder and wrist are healthy due to sustained Alexander Technique practice, I thought I would give it a shot. I began working on the piece, enjoying what I was hearing & playing. Finding imperfections in the score made me listen to the recording to figure out what to play. I found my efforts lacking heart though. Was I relearning this piece for the wrong reasons? Would music better be served by continuing to work on mastering Stepping Stones? I took a break, reflected on this and decided that the difficult section was part of the reason. Another reason is there are several tuning and capo changes and I was looking to minimize hazard from having yet another one in a short set.

Yet the set needs Stepping Stones, and this piece needs live performance to truly come into being. Did not take me long to write down my commitment to perform Stepping Stones next week.  I worked with the difficult section a bit and then decided to play the piece. On with the tape machine, and I played it three times. Between the first and second times I did an AT lie down to lengthen my spine and relax. I focused on connecting with the instrument, my arms, my feet on the ground and my breath. Again for the third attempt I focused on connection, broadening it to the universe. Leading up to the tricky section 'trust music' entered my mind. I smiled and let go. The section flowed.

After dinner I practiced some more and turned my attention to this piece. Again this section flowed. Looks as if I will be trusting the power of commitment and of course music.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Dealing with Uncertainty

Very long day at work today. Illness and vacation have my staff down to a bare bones crew, meaning I get to pick up some extra duties. Home to a hot shower and time with my favorite person in the whole world. Then at 8pm to the basement to practice. By this time I was ready to engage with my guitar, not just pick it up out of a sense of duty or discipline. Both of these have their place in my practice but when tired from a long week I need to muster the desire to play.

This allows me to approach my guitar with a sense of joy and love of the process. I decided to rest some more and began with a ten minute AT lie down. My back sinking into the support of the earth, tensions slowly dissolving, my mind clearing, my habits resting. I took my guitar from the case and began chasing some notes about the fret board, no clear sense of anything, just listening to the results. Waking up my hands and my ears simultaneously. After a few minutes I took to my stool and decided to continue investigating C Hijaz.

Extending my work on two strings I began looking at triads on the three top strings. Found some lovely chords here, some based in seconds & fourths, some in thirds. At one point I heard myself saying I have no idea what to do with these, how to integrate this with the improvisations I have been doing with this scale. I smiled, gently reminding myself to just explore, & allow the time needed to digest the information. A striking contrast to where I might have arrived with this thought in years past. Questioning should I notate these chords or ??? I decided to improvise.

I have a working opening that has been guiding my recent improvisations in this scale and I began to explore the possibilities. I found myself grabbing some chords unexpectedly and liked what I heard. I paused and turned on the tape machine to galvanize my attention and to aid my memory if music was about ti tinkle out. Gently I began, exploring some familiar patterns, then I found myself playing with a couple of the triads I had recently found and then another. The improvisation did not 'take off' like some I have done recently, but more importantly I found a way to bring it to a close. My recent forays have just stopped, this one arrived at an ending.

Time to return to my guitar ...

I decided to run the potential set list for next weekend with the tape machine running again. I wanted to stay better connected with the pieces and the transitions between pieces than I did last night. Began with the Alexander instructions, particularly allowing my fingers to lengthen. I've been doing the AT work enough the last few  months that I am noticing the value.

Tonight's work pointed out the known weak spots and the importance of getting any capo changes right prior to beginning a piece. May need to drop one of the new pieces, but I'll not decide that until I am rested. Turned off the tape machine and was taking off my guitar when I decided to approach another improvisation with C Hijaz. Turned the machine back on and let it go. Happy with the ease and comfort I can now allow myself to delve into the uncertainty. I'll continue to increase my vocabulary and facility with this scale and see where we go.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Another Day of Practice


6:45 am
I woke before 5am today. Rested I saw an opportunity to slip in some guitar before leaving for work. Did Qi Gong for 25 minutes followed by a 10 minute lie down and my sit. A little coffee and conversing with Joann and to the basement.

I decided to look at C Hijaz over two strings. Using the A & E strings I looked at the dyad pairing across the strings. Beginning first with the sixth from Bb to G through the length of the neck and then with the fourth from C to F. Due to the nature of this scale when I go to moving in fourths this is occasionally interrupted by a third. This opens up the musical possibilities. When I practice this evening I will extend this search.

7:20 pm
When I returned home from work today I did a lie down. I needed to let go of the events of the day. After dinner and a few tasks I returned to the guitar. Throughout the day I found myself humming or singing music ideas generated by this mornings work. Did some more work along these lines but found it a bit flat. I moved on to looking at Lost Ballon, practicing a part that is troublesome. Lost Balloon is a slow sad piece that will be on the set for the House Concert next week.

I worked a bit more on Lost Balloon and played through Dandelion as a very slow tempo. Moved onto Dancin' Free, I am finally nailing the beginning of this piece. Played it through for my wife.

9:30 pm
My body needed exercise so I took a brisk walk along Sligo Creek. We've had rain lately so the creek level is up and she is singing right now. Birds adding counter melodies with the occasional drone of traffic. Back home I ran through 6 pieces with the tape running so I can hear how they fit together in a set. Of course I was not happy with some of the playing. SO What! Just play. Leave the judgements behind and continue to learn and explore. Come back to the body and begin again.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Learning as I Go Along

                                                            Photo by James Landry

I arrived home early on Tuesday so I was able to warm up and play prior to my Alexander Technique class. I worked on the beginning of Dancin’ Free which is difficult still and improvised in C Hijaz. Slowly this scale is revealing her soul to me I thought earlier. Now I am seeing that perhaps I am revealing my soul through this scale. Increasingly trusting that music is present, am I present remains the task.

Spoke with David about AT applications during potential emotional times. In one instance I had already begun to react but then stopped and gave myself the directions. This action allowed me to listen and consider, rather than get angry. Amazingly an alternative strategy arose between the two of us. Another was a conversation where fear was being presented to me and I choose to free my neck, lengthen, & widen while listening. The subject matter has huge ramifications over time, yet on this day I was able to not react to the fear.

The other student present tonight R. spoke of an issue with ‘needing approval’ for her playing. David asked how I would handle a similar situation and I said that first I would go inward and find my breath, then I would find my body and give the AT directions. He asked what I would do if there was not enough time to go inward? Alexander suggested that something along the line that we ‘not do our habitual thing?’ David offered the directions to R. and I followed along. At one point he suggested she ‘play with open eyes and open ears’ and a dramatic shift in her tone occurred.

I mentioned that I had recalled the Whispered Ahhh exercise and that this might be useful. David had me review this for R. A piece I had forgotten about this exercise was to think of a pleasurable or perhaps humorous anecdote before doing the Whisper.

During my time to play I chose to Dancin' Free.  I stood while playing, still a relatively new approach for me. Tonight I played it strong, and confidently. We spoke of how to keep AT going as the piece progressed. David’s response was to “Choose to come back to the thinking.” As in coming back to the breath, come back to thinking about the AT directions. Basically the same part of our brain that allows me to come back to my breath, would be used to give myself the directions.

Came home and played through Kinnara with my ears open, eyes open. Still playing with the dynamic phrasing of this piece. The second time through I found the phrasing I think works well. I noted this on the score. Need to record this and then listen. Improvised more in C hijaz. Also ran through Dancin’ Free and Livin’ the Dream.

Friday, May 7, 2010

A Brief Communion

On my commute to work this morning I decided to listen to Agnus Dei, a collection of various composers, that was given to my as a birthday present years ago with the suggestion - " for when you need to chill." Today I had begun my day with my Qi Gong and sitting practice and had a few moments with my wife. Many mornings I drive in quiet, or may listen to recordings of my guitar works that are in progress. Some days I need music for all or part of the commute, but I do not put music on just because I am in the car.

I wanted inspiration today, an additional aid to my spirit as I prepared to attend to my professional duties. The piece composed by Lassus is so beautiful as was the morning unfolding before me. The sun was sparkling in the treetops along Sligo Creek, when a woman entered the crosswalk I was approaching with a big smile on her face. Another woman was walking two dogs and also smiling as a man approached on a bicycle, floating through space with a sense of child like wonder. All this while the sopranos soared. For a moment I sensed we were all spiritual beings beginning our day full of hope. The sun continued to dance and I moved through the intersection smiling and enriched.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Finding The Space

Very challenging professional day. Many demands from a variety of people, several carrying an emotional charge. Compounded this with the environmental stresses of heat & noise that are present in my day and I was worn out both physically and in my spirit.

I came home and immediately did an Alexander Technique lie down for nearly 25 minutes. Good to allow my back to relax, to find my length and width, to let my emotions drain into the earth. Towards the end I fell asleep a couple times, to be awakened by my snore. An uncharacteristic turning on the TV and watching Law & Order for an hour. Just needed a bit of an escape. A delightful dinner of chick peas and apricots with cous cous prepared by my loving wife began to right my mood.

I sat for a bit and then did Qi Gong for 20 minutes. I began this with very vigorous shaking to dispel the energies still within my system. Followed by refreshing gentle and restorative movements bringing my body and mind back together in the same space.

I moved to the basement, sitting on my stool with the intent to review the work from my AT class with David Jernigan this week. As I was standing, getting my guitar from the case I decided to experiment with the "Critical Moment" game that I have engaged in with David recently and with Frank & Sandra previously. This continued to center me, to keep me in my body and continuing to allow my mind to quiet. When I put my guitar on I continued this 'game' a bit. When I finally played notes from the second part of "Here We Are" I was pleasantly surprised with the quality of my tone and the energy of my right hand.

I moved back to my stool and reviewed the AT work of using the primary directions, the secondary directions, and thinking of lengthening through my fingertips. Allowing my elbows to open is a direction I an experimenting with also.  I began with the third part of Steppin' Stones which contains meditative arpeggios. Taking in the room, enjoying the tone I was producing, playing just a few bars, then resting and directing. I moved onto the first part of this piece with is energetic and rhythmically active.

Good to arrive in the space where I am quiet and in my body prior to playing. I do not always allow myself time for this, time is precious in many of my days. Many times I need the guitar to bring me the quiet, other times I find the space first. Tonight I wonder if I should always find the space first and then move to the guitar. Rather than superimposing my guitar practice on a noisy brain and a body that is not yet available to  be supportive of the music.

I moved onto other parts of my practice. Turned on the amp and taped myself. Toying with ideas for beginning my set when I open at the house concert with Bert Lams and Tom Griesbraber on May 22nd in Virginia.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Saturday Afternoon w/Tuning the Air

Tuning the Air hosts a monthly open circle on the first Saturday of the month in Seattle. I usually practice on Saturday afternoons so this week I decided to align my practice time with theirs. I announced to the team that I would join them at a distance. I had to hustle to be back home in time to have a small lunch and be ready to join them at 1pm EST as they were scheduled to begin at 10PST.

I chose to focus this practice session to learning something new.

I warmed up with C hijaz, gently improvising, finding bits of melodies I liked, looking at relating them to earlier bits. I was going to look at triads in this scale when I decided to work with offbeats. In a five beat measure I was going to play a note from the scale on the offbeat of 1,2,4,&5. Quickly I was amazed at how difficult this was for me. I noticed how often I was holding my breath while working with this.

I set the metronome at 80bpm and began to work. Before too long I backed off to 72bpm. Eventually I settled on two four note patterns to play so that I just focused on being in time. Unfortunately I usually tripped up in the transition so I stayed with the first pattern for about ten minutes. Counting out loud assisted my playing this in time. Slowly I kept the count internally. After 20 minutes working with the metronome I let this go.

I moved on to looking at the beginning of the Etude that Tony Geballe has composed for me. I commissioned him to write a fingerstyle Etude taking into account where I am as a player. I had not looked at this for  while but decided now is the time to learn this piece. Slowly I reviewed the notes of the first bar of five. As I gained familiarity with them I introduced the metronome. After 15 minutes of this I took a break at 2pm EST by doing an Alexander Technique lie down.

Just before departing from the floor I reviewed the notes of the basic pattern in my mind. I rose at 2:15 to begin the guitar work again. The remaining time I spent learning the first 6 bars of this Etude.I nearly let go at 2:40pm. I was ready for a snack and thinking off an errand I still needed to complete. However I drew on the energy of the team that was working and resumed my practice. I am glad I did as the opening bars of the Etude began coming together.

At 2:51pm I decided to complete the session by playing Gathered Hearts. I sent good wishes to the team and played. I then sat quietly until 3pm.