Sunday, February 27, 2011

When New Learning Leads to Old Habits

Rusty nail

6:30 am

I woke with stiffness in my left arm and elbow this morning.  A sure sign I was trying too hard with my guitar practice last night.  Trying as opposed to playing, tends to generate physical discomfort.  As I become confident with a piece, my tendency to "hold on and control" what I am doing lessens, and I can than just allow the movement to be.  Glad that  I let go of my practice when I did.  Time to practice Qi Gong and see if this loosens up my issues.

8:30 am

As usual I felt great after Qi Gong.  An hour later, while standing, I was giving myself the AT directions and I noticed that my left shoulder and arm again had a bit of stiffness, and that this stiffness also included a muscle in my neck.  When learning something new on the guitar, my habit is turn my neck to watch my left hand with my eyes; maybe even try to will my fingers to where I want them.  This watching entails a shortening of my neck on the left side as I twist and look down.  As I did this again, I could feel that the very muscle that was sore is compressed in this action.


After writing the above I was tempted to go and explore this with the guitar.  Instead, I decided to explore this on the floor with an AT lie down.  About five minutes into the lie down, I noticed slight discomfort on the far left side of my back, just below the shoulder blade.  I lack the anatomy vocabulary to better describe this, but as it released over the following minutes, I also noticed my left arm release.  Was this a direct relationship?  Not important, as the entire body/mind functioning is dependent on all of the parts.  Relaxation, or better use, of one part affects the whole.  This was why I choose to do the lie down rather than, work with my guitar, as a means to better  address the whole use of myself

As I began to work on the guitar, I allowed my arms to gently move around in a somewhat random fashion.  Hopefully releasing any anticipatory habits built up around my approaching the guitar.  I intended to not  look at my left hand while playing,  and to accept what might be played as a result of this.  My gaze was looking about the room and mirror in front of me as I played, when I realized I that while there was a certain freedom in this, that by denying looking at my hands, I was still not free.  Gently taking in my left hand but not locking in my gaze on it, I continued to play.  Amazed that even a well intentioned effort can result in "trying" rather than doing.


Releasing my left hand all the way through the fingertips seems key in this piece.  I noticed my left hand becomes compressed as the fingers dance around the bass notes while another finger is anchored.  David Jernigan has frequently reminded me in AT lessons to lengthen all the way through the tips of my fingers.  When he works with me on this, I see the benefit, but as in most things in life I need to find this out again and again for myself.  What is next to learn in how I use myself?A

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Playing the Rest According to the Alexander Technique

Working with the new tremolo piece tonight, as this uses a pic and I trashed my right hand index finger nail yesterday.  The exercise of introducing a rest after the first beat of a measure has been bearing fruit the past three days.  Perhaps the most important outcome of this exercise is that I stay connected with my body. With this brief rest, I am able to quickly direct my thinking and also to release my breath when I find myself holding it.  My left hand is staying relatively relaxed for the stretches involved and also having my fourth finger anchored for most of the piece.  The rest coming after the transition, allows me to see when a particular transition is misunderstood, and when identified I work on this prior to moving forward.

Most of the bass line in this piece is in seven, except where I accidentally played it in six during my AT lesson.  As I have examined this piece after that, I like the impact the change to six has on the piece.  I have also separated the two hands when working on this tonight.  When I turned the metronome up two beats, I first played through just the right hand tremolo part, then played just the bass notes with the appropriate finger anchored on top, but not playing the tremolo notes.  Finally both hands were combined.

I've been working in short practice sessions, to keep my left hand from fatiguing, and to allow myself to reconnect.  After noticing that my left shoulder was feeling uncomfortable I took another break.  Part of me wanted to "muscle through," as I was making good progress, but I know from experience the long term danger this poor use leads to.  I even began attempting to pervert a concept from my recent AT class, when David talked about the core being strong and sending this energy through my hands.  This was when I knew I let go of practice and began writing.

As I have read over this, I see where this exercise of putting in a rest after the first beat of a measure, is an ongoing way of introducing the Alexander concept of inhibition into my playing.  Especially as I begin to think I "know" the piece, I find it harder to keep including the rest.  Yet  I am seeing the results of using the exercise, but my old friend "resistance" surfaces once again, attempting to sway me to let go of what is working.  Wondering if this will ever leave me, or remain in front of me to keep me practicing?  Grateful to Pedro de Alcantara's wonderful book on the Alexander Technique Indirect Procedures where I learned this particular exercise.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Cloud Shepherd

Sitting quietly, listening to the falling rain, I realized that 'gentle' was the word for today.  The first day of a three day weekend, a time to rest and reflect.  A surprise landed in lap from Tj Mathews, a friend who creates or captures beautiful abstract photos.  I have used a few of them here, and an idea hit me to see if he wanted to do a slide show to accompany one of my pieces from Scattered Hearts.  Please enjoy his beautiful creation.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Near Mistake

                                    photo by Tj Matthews

Some days are tough.  Circumstances, reactions, habits, and tiredness collide and I get lost.  Kept coming back to my breath, to giving myself the AT directions, and then another straw would be added to my load.  Lost, return, lost, lost, slight return.  A downward spiral ...

I came home exhausted. After resting and dinner, I watched Without a Trace, and then watched another one.  Perhaps it was time for a night off from the guitar, to make no more demands.  Then another reaction,  and I retreated to my practice space.  Working with an idea David gave me in AT class, I began to play Gathered Hearts.  A slight shift in my energy, and I moved onto Livin' the Dream.  Releasing the pent up feelings and realizing that tonight I needed to play music.  Feeling the notes, listening to the feelings,  and connecting with what is good in me.  More playing led to more release, and with release I touched what is good.  After improvising for a while, I moved to exploring A Lydian.  A subtle connection with a larger community, a vital community.

There is a time and place for a night off from practicing.  But tonight I needed my practice, needed music to help restore me.  Grateful that this mistake was averted, hope rekindled, and now to rest.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Reinforcing, Resting, & Resisting

Tonight I was back to working on Alexander Technique with David Jernigan.  Always instructive and energizing to be with him.  After reinforcing basic principles, he added a twist that I need to work with.  Using the new tremolo piece for our work with the guitar was hazardous, and many opportunities to let go presented themselves.  Slowly I arrived at a place where I trusted my hands and played around with the piece under his direction.  At one point he began conducting me, and the piece took on a new life.

We worked with a couple of ideas, and David suggested I incorporate the exercise from Pedro de Alcantara of putting in a rest on the second beat of each measure.  The rest allows one to direct the thinking, release tension, or just come back to where you are.  I had not worked with this in relationship to this piece previously, but did do more of this when I arrived home. 

Coming back again & again to allowing length and width, being aware of the space around me, and the support under my feet.  Sitting here now, I play with the twist that he gave me.  After all I am using my hands, the total instrument of my body as I type.  I know that practicing anything task with awareness of my hands and body, supports any other actions I undertake. 

We covered a lot of ground tonight, & I made notes as soon as I arrived home.  Some of where we explored is beyond my ability or desire to describe.  I also saw where in the presence of a "teacher or instructor" I tend to rush myself.  This is not new information, and I wonder how many times I need this experience before I can practice truly taking the time that I need, regardless of the request given to me.  Is this a form of end-gaining or some type of people pleasing? Sensing a resistance in me to publish this tonight, but that's never stopped me before.

What are you resisting?

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Monday In Music

Awake @5:40am today. While doing Qi Gong in the living room, I could hear a train in the distance.  Where was the train going I wondered, where am I on my journey I asked?  Moving mindfully, releasing and renewing my energy before the sunrise, I prepared for my sitting.  In no time my sit was over.  Had I fallen asleep?  Yet I did not feel like I was waking, when I saw the time on the clock.  I picked up my guitar, and as sometimes happens, the guitar felt right on my body.

Usually this arises after some major effort, and while I played a lot this weekend, I would not put my work into that category.  This rightness, I have come to trust.  Perhaps what I did this weekend could be called right effort.  Interweaving guitar, Alexander Technique, and practical household chores with the occasional walk and watching one Maryland Basketball game was productive and rejuvenating.  I played with the new tremolo piece to see what I had committed to memory, and then a run through of Gathered Hearts to set the mood for my day.  Traffic was light today, due to the holiday.  Frequently in the morning I drive without music on in the car.  Many days I drive quietly, savoring what arose during my morning practice.  Other times I listen to my own works in progress, and occasionally the music of someone else.

Today I listened to the latest edition of Sid Smith's Podcast from the Yellow Room and really enjoyed his selections.  Trembling Bells form Oak Ash Thorn was a pleasant new group to me, and the folky version of King Crimson's Starless is stunning. Turned this right back on for the drive home.  Hearing El Pibe by my friend Fernando Kabusacki was another bright spot in a overall good day.

A quick nap after dinner and back to the guitar.  I played through the new piece without a train wreck for the first time at 70bpms.  This felt very satisfying.  I continued to address certain tricky transitions in this piece, while utilizing the Alexander Technique.  At one point I noticed my back was tired, and yet I wanted to persist.  I did for a few minutes more, but then I applied my intelligence and hit the floor for an AT lie down.  And I'm glad I did.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

What is the End in Mind?

sky 3

Shortly after I woke this morning, I picked up my guitar to review what I had learned last night.  Always so precious to play early in the morning when my body is rested and my mind is calm.  The notes are in my hand and sounded good.  Playing in a relatively free state, without concerns for time pressures nor to-do lists, I experienced the joy of this wonderful moment.  Then the question arose from last night - What is my end in mind?  Music of course.

But how to arrive at allowing music to be played through me?  Harmony in body, mind, and spirit provides the conditions for music to arise.  Freedom from my habits, while never stationary, can momentarily allow in the new.  Being present to hear the whispers of the muse, while having the ability to respond to her promptings on the instrument, requires me to practice.  Thus the end in mind is the wish to be available to music, trusting that by developing an efficient and effective practice, that I will be present to respond.

A key I am finding through the Alexander Technique is that freedom in my head/neck relationship allows the freedom in the rest of myself.  If I intentionally tense my neck, I sense my breath constricting.  If I tense my arms, the breath also begins to freeze.  As the breath looses its' freedom, so does the rest of me.  A cycle of positive feedback develops that is never good for a human being.  Both Zen and Physics tells us that all is inter-related, and the Alexander Technique illustrates this superbly.  The Dhammapada tells us “We are what we think.  All that we are arises with our thoughts.”   The Alexander Technique directly addresses our thinking about how we use ourselves.  As we change our thinking, learn to inhibit our actions and direct first, we can then allow a new way of doing to enter our being.  And like Zen we also practice “non-doing” in the Alexander Technique.  So simple, yet it has taken me a very long time to see the elegance in Alexander's simplicity.

In the past I incurred injuries in my left shoulder and a nasty bout of tendonitis in my left wrist, which caused me to stop playing.  I was forced to take a longer view of  my use and functioning.  Hence the study of Qi Gong, and the application of the Alexander Technique.  Now I as I think about the phrase “Begin with the end in mind,” the end has a much further reach.   How I use myself today does impact all of my tomorrows.  I wish to be able to play guitar in such a way that courts the muse and allows me to remain healthy for the long haul.  By utilizing all the practices that bring me to the present moment, perhaps as the great poet T.S. Eliot wrote:
         We shall not cease from exploration,  and
         the end of all our exploring will be to arrive
         where we started and know the place for the first time.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Begin With the End in Mind


As I notated the new piece last night, more of the music revealed itself to me.  At one point a really rocking part developed, and I was pumped.  Staying with the playing and notating I even found an ending.  Whenever I notate with the guitar close by & usually in hand, I use myself poorly.  By the end of the evening which was nearly 3 hours after I began, my shoulders were a bit strained and my back tired. Thus I completed my practice with another AT lie down.

When I rose from the floor, even though it was late, I knew that some practical work around the house would help me to settle.  The guest bad was made and the floor vacuumed. Two less distractions when my practice resumes tomorrow.

But before my personal practice could resume today, I spent the afternoon with the members of the DC Guitar Circle. Felt good to circulate again, and also we explored the modes based on 'A' and an interesting rhythmic exercise.  I found the opportunities to give myself the AT directions.  During one moment of confusion, the simple thought of releasing my neck, also allowed me to see where I was not comprehending the instructions of what we were working with. 

After working withe the modes based on 'A' on one string, we began circulating in the various modes.  As we switched to a different mode, I found it interesting to hear the subtle, but distinct differences.  After circulating in A Lochrian, an improvisation broke out, which had more a major feel to it, illustrating the difficulty of this particular mode so wanting to move to the major.

I began working with the tremolo piece from last night.  Beginning from the end of the piece, as an experiment to check out a different way of learning a piece I read about on Erica Sipes blog.  This also reminds me of Stephan Covey's begin with the end in mind, which has guided me through many a professional and musical process.  I began just learning the bass notes, and as I added in the tremolo, I used my pic as a way to save wear & tear on my right hand nails.   After 25 minutes of this I did an AT lie down.  Refreshed  I began again.

Some of the left hand fingerings are tricky, so when I would introduce a new one, I incorporated the AT practice of inhibition a few times.  This involves not-doing what I have told myself I am going to do.  In this way I sometimes notice unnecessary tension, and can release this.  While practicing inhibition tonight I also became aware of the space supporting first my right arm, and then my left arm.  From here I took in the space of the room around me.  Such a simple perceptual shift, that supported my playing.  I practiced in this way for another 30 minutes, when I did another lie down and then wrote.

Shall I push to take in the entire piece tonight or just practice for another 15 minutes or so?  When I put my guitar on, I really felt my tiredness.   Again noticing the space supporting my arms, and all of me, I began to play.  Deciding that the prudent course would be to consolidate what I had been learning, I reviewed the sections I had learned so far and then completed my practice.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Invoking Melete


Some nights, like tonight, the motivation to practice is hard to summon.  Understandable, it is Friday night, and yet many Friday nights I am eager to court music.  Invoking the muse of practice, Melete, on this evening, I search to find the energy and focus to play.  How to begin - with an AT lie down perhaps? This will at the very least rest my body, and more than likely energize me in the process.

First I listen to a piece  Call from Alexander Zhikharev's Ascension. A collection of compositions for the bilah - hammered flat bronze bells that he casts himself. I love this recording and found my mood shifting instantly.  I then listened to an idea that arose from an improvisation on long tones, I did a while back.  After listening to this two more times, I found myself being drawn to the practice room.

First I inhibited going to the room, in the state that I was in.  To the floor for an Alexander Technique lie down, immediately I found the middle portion of my back was tense and began to let go.  As I stayed with the lie down, the unneeded strain of my day released, and my energy began to lift.  Refreshed, I knew that I would begin the guitar portion of my practice with an improvisation on long tones.  Smiling as I thought of my body lengthening with the long tones.  Again I smiled after a few minutes of improvising,  as I played the same four notes that were in the idea I had listened to earlier.

Moving onto work with my right hand, where I am looking at my use on the fingers known in the classical notation as i, m, a.  I have been working to even out my tone, regardless of the finger plucking the string. And also looking to develop my tremolo technique.  Varying the tempo of the metronome and various combination's of i, m, a on a single string.  Then onto arpeggios in fourths & sixths. During this time of practice, I paused frequently to reconnect with myself and to give the AT directions. 

And then I played with what I had been working with. Using a tremolo on the second string, I found a bass pattern in seven that was fun.  Perhaps, Aoide was also listening.  Now back to the guitar to explore this further.

I nearly ran across the room, but then I paused.  Where am I?  Am I in the space or merely up in my head?  Finding my connection with myself, the space around me, and being aware as I picked up my guitar.  As I played with this new idea, I was able to develop this.  Time to notate what I have as I rest my hands.  Mnēmē has always blessed me, but I need to get it on paper.  Really feeling energized about practicing right now.  All it takes is for me to get to the guitar; but some days getting there requires creativity.

What do you do, when your motivation is lacking?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Breath Away

So easy to have my palm rest on my strings to quiet them.  But to quiet the strings of my thoughts, requires more practice, an ongoing practice, with any slight discomfort amplifying their frequency.  Neither good nor bad, just my reality of being alive within my body.  Thoughts come and go, feelings come & go, the body moves through space with and without awareness.

The breath comes and goes, in and out, from the moment I first screamed my way into this life.  The breath is always with me, as is my body.  The practice is to remain with the breath, to remain with my body.  From this awareness, I have a chance for music to flow in me, through me, into the world.  Am I aware of the sound of my guitar as I am playing? Am I aware of the words I am using, of the tone of my voice while speaking?  Am I aware of the feelings, oftentimes causing bodily reactions, that habitually rule me?

Present moment, only moment.  Now is when I can be with the music, be with myself playing music,  just be.  Where do I go, again and again?  The power of habit, my own, my ancestors, and my society's run rough over noble intentions.  Freedom from habit is gained in tiny moments of tuning my body, mind, and spirit.  Qi Gong in the morning slowly bringing me into the moment as my body slowly moves in space, small energy blockages being cleared.  My sitting allows my mind to calm a bit deeper at times, or allows me to see how far I am away from this moment.  Breathing in I find the past pulling me; breathing out the future unnerving me; and the path to now is distorted in waves of thought.  Finding my breath again, I calm.  Over and over, returning and forgetting. 

Present moment, only moment.  The breath remains the door through which I may enter.  The Alexander Technique provides me another door to develop awareness of how I am moving, and where am I moving from.  With this disruption of my habitual ways of using myself, I find small freedoms,  a more effective way to be in this moment.  Slowly as one habit dissolves, it is replace by another one.  Hopefully one that aids our ability to live this moment, and further our reach to live in all moments. 

None of this is possible without the community of practice that guides me and supports all of our efforts.  The sangha that practices harmony together, is another challenge to form and sustain, but vital in maintaining my practice.  The practice of one supporting the practice of all; the fruits shared and the bounty overflowing.

Fifty-five years ago today, my parents were happy as I emerged from the womb.  My brother and sister, aunts and uncles all celebrating my birth. Today I am exceedingly grateful for my family, friends, and teachers who have shared this life with me.  I am reminded of the scream with which I entered this world, and as one author has mused - I wonder what life would be like if they had tickled me at my first breath instead.

Present moment, wonderful moment.

Monday, February 14, 2011

I Had to Present

After a lovely dinner with my wife, I retired to the basement to work on her Valentines Day present.  The piece which began yesterday, Joyanna. At 8:20 pm, she asked if I would play it for her at 9pm.  What to do, but to honor her request, whether the piece was complete or not.  Before dinner I had briefly reviewed the beginning of the piece.

I knew that I would need to improvise an ending, and that as she is my number one supporter, that all would be fine.  As the time approached, I began making changes to the second section. Yesterday after this section the piece had seemed to want to change moods, tonight I did not find this.  At the appointed time, I played her the piece. As the end of the second section approached, I improvised an ending.  Hearing something in this, I immediately notated what I had just played.  Afterward, I played with this some more and may have completed the piece.  All is notated so I will resume working with this tomorrow to see what I think.

Showing up and playing for the finest audience I know, allowed the muse to whisper tonight.  Grateful for her love, grateful for my teachers,  and grateful for music.  Happy Valentines Day!

Sunday, February 13, 2011


Joyanna - the name bestowed upon my wife during a time she lived in Central America.  This certainly fits her spirit.  When I picked up my guitar this afternoon, I thought of her upstairs, weak from illness.  Tomorrow is Valentine's Day and I thought it would be nice to surprise her with a piece of music.  The notes began to flow.  The piece is incomplete, like me.  But I know she will smile and her eyes sparkle when she hears what has come out so far.  Her smile will complete me and perhaps the piece.

Create some love in our world today. Please.

Saturday, February 12, 2011


Happy Birthday Sharon.  Today would have been my sisters 61st birthday, a person who gave me more understanding then I deserved.

Release - to set free. Constant release - what is required to attain this?

                                    Photo by Pablo Mandel

 The Alexander Techniques provides us with a set of directions to free our neck, release our head and spine, and to release our legs from our pelvis.  When we are free, our ability to perform simple or refined tasks, is enhanced.  Being free of our habitual reactions, we become able to choose new responses.  In releasing my habits, I may be freeing myself from historical transmissions passed on for generations.  All by giving myself these simple directions.

But is all the release physical? I think not.  Judgements of myself and others certainly have blocked my way.  Opinions as to how to practice, have also lead me down fruitless paths.  What I do with this information can then bear fruit, but more is available when following the directions laid down by a Master in the field of endeavor.  As my thinking is clarified, my learning increases and from here understanding can grow.

Negative emotions can and must also be released.  Fear has been the number one interference in my musical endeavors.  Where did this come from and why?  The answer to this might take lifetimes, but through various practices including meditation, AT, and much work with the guitar, the role of fear has lessened considerably. Other negative emotions can be just as damning, but even positive emotions can distract me from the present moment and thus from my playing.  Equanimity, releasing concern for the results of what I am practice and remaining in the practice is key; yet remains elusive.

Playing from the silence of the body, mind, and heart releases music into our world.  Finding unity in myself is crucial to the functioning of our world.  To develop this unity I need others, a path of mindfulness based on true experience, and help from beyond, one day at a time.

The practice continues ...

Four hours later:

While practicing just now, with a focus on release, I was enjoying developing speed with my right hand and then I moved onto working with right hand arpeggios.  A certain ease developed during this work and I played through Here We Are, and then began working on a tricky chord change in the high register of the guitar.  The ease was still present.  Noticing, how I was using my elbows to support this, along the lines of Sandra Bain Cushman's The Five Relations, I continued to work this chord change.

Suddenly I smiled when I realized that the word release contains the word "ease." 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Wherein Lies the Distortion

There was a low level of anxiety in my body that I brought home from work today.  Is anxiety physical, emotional, or both I wondered?  A quick glance at the dictionary might clarify this, but for tonight the question was mine to examine and define.  For certain there was a definite low level distortion within myself.  I rested a bit and thought of having a night off from the guitar, yet I also knew I needed what the guitar can offer to me - music.

Entering my practice space, I immediately knew I needed to sit quietly first, and allow the anxiety to settle.  I could play through the anxiety, and have on other occasions, but then what am I practicing?  "Do nothing as much as possible" is the suggestion offered.  Sitting on my chair, following my breath, letting go of my day, I began to calm.  Yet there was this little tug in the area of my chest that wanted, maybe even needed the anxiety to thrive.  So I continued to sit, my body quiet, as well as my mind, with this sensation or feeling holding on, perhaps striving to take over.  Being gentle with myself, to myself, allowing all to settle.  Eventually this passed, as all formations do.  When I recognized that all was fairly quiet, I moved to my guitar.

Some nights the distortion lies more within my body, usually within the mind.  The more slippery situation is an emotional state that has me just off balance enough to linger and thwart.  All three are connected, and if I can begin my practice in a state of relative harmony, I am in a place where I can learn.  When one center is distorted, the guitar practice may still bring harmony.  If two of them are distorted,  I must do nothing as much as possible.  When all three are distorted, I am lost.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Seize the Moment

My body is a bit twitchy today.  Partially a result of constantly being awakened last night, no malice involved, just the way it was.  And the two nights prior I've had trouble sleeping.  An hour ago I was drifting off to nap, when the phone rang.  C'est la vie.  Now I'm fed and looking at how to use my evening.

If only I could give an AT instruction that "lengthened and widened" the time I have available.  One errand must be run, a commitment to myself needs to be addressed at 8:30 pm, and also my guitar.  So I guess it is time to pick up my guitar and then tend to the other two.  Now why was this so befuddling before I began to write?

I guess I did lengthen and widen the "use" of my evening. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

How Do You Think?

                                   Photo by: Tj Matthews
This was a tweet posted by Missy Vineyard, an Alexander Technique teacher on twitter last week. 

"Common question: How do you FEEL? More important question: how do you THINK? Think for change--with the Alexander Technique."

This morning, every one I encounter at work are asking one another - "How are you feeling?"  Today this was a reminder, an invitation for me to think constructively about how am I using myself.  Am I aware of my neck, my back, my legs, even my breathing?  In becoming aware, can I allow myself the opportunity to release my neck and head, to allow my spine to lengthen, to notice what inane thoughts I might have been thinking when the question entered my ears.  

Convenient to clandestinely have my colleagues bringing me back to the present moment.  I wonder what would happen if I began asking them "How do you think?"  Perhaps some enlightened conversation would ensue, more likely some "Look I'm busy today."  Who knows?  Incorporating constructive thinking has become increasingly important in my day, with positive impact on my music making.  My wrist, left shoulder, and neck have not had any liniment rubbed into them in months.  Since there has been no pain, I rest better. According to feedback from others, my playing has improved, and several people have even commented that I have better "posture."

The past few days while working on a difficult section in a piece of music, I found that by incorporating the AT principle of inhibition, I found ways to introduce ease into my left hand, thereby improving my execution of the phrase.  By repeatedly coming back to myself, and using AT, I was able to practice in a way that was both effective and efficient.  With this increased awareness, I could also notice when it was time to let go of this particular practice and move onto something else.  Then with a refreshed mind, I could begin again, and again. 

Smiling as I realize tomorrow and for the rest of my days, that the same question will be asked of me and others, and that each time I hear this " How are you feeling," I have the opportunity to pause and address my thinking.  The hour is getting late and I need to spend time with my guitar. But first, a lie down.  By the way -  How are you thinking?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What Did I Learn Today?

great horned owl

Went over to Steve's home to experiment with recording.  Software glitches, false starts and over driven preamps are all part of the process.  Not necessarily new information, just reminders of taking on the recording process.  Patience and good humor prevailed, and time spent with a dear friend is always nourishing.  I did apply the Alexander Technique throughout our recording process today.  Constructive thinking, keeping me in the present moment, and facilitating my use.  I don't think we captured any complete 'live' take, but the preparation on short notice was informative. 

The Burmese lunch we shared that included Tea Salad and a Ginger Salad were excellent.  Afterward a very good sitting with the Washington Mindfulness Community.  During the Dharma Sharing, one practitioner pointed out that they are learning that they do not need to say everything they are thinking.  Always sage advice, and then they went on to say that they do not need to think about everything that comes to mind - profound.

And so it goes.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


The past three evenings and for 45 minutes this morning, I've been addressing two pieces of music.  One section, in one of the pieces in particular.  Patiently, at times lovingly, noticing what I am doing, breaking this movement down, and beginning again.  Constantly pausing and incorporating the Alexander Technique to allow my body to be as relaxed, yet alert as possible.

When my attention wavered I would take a short break, and work on finding & packing equipment I will take with me tomorrow.  Slowly noticing improvement, knowing that this kind of work also improves my playing overall, not just in this particular phrase.  I'm always fascinated how I can be this patient working on a phrase with my guitar and this generally causes me to reflect on communication with people.  If only I could be so patient with them when the phrases are not flowing the way that I would wish.

Even having the wish moves me closer to having greater empathy and understanding with others and myself.  The more I tune myself with Qi Gong, AT, & meditation, the impossible moves a bit closer.  New strings are now on my Godin, so I need to play them in for a bit before I complete my day.  But first, I will pause.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Timbres, Tempers, & Tone


My day began with wonder & joy.  Rested and feeling like myself again, after my recent bout with the flu.  I moved into a energizing Qi Gong session, noticing how since I worked on some of these exercises with David in AT class, that the energy continues to flow more freely. 

During my commute, I was listening to some of my live takes to determine where I am in the process.  The car was not an ideal situation for this, but this did immerse back into the project.  At one point, I paused the music and arrived at a traffic light.  Connecticut Avenue was my cross street and this is generally full of traffic in the morning.  Today the northbound lane, which I was closet too was fairly sparse.  As traffic approached, and my Prius was quiet, I marveled at the sounds the tires were making on the pavement.  I realized that I had been listening intently enough that my ears were focused. Various drones at varying tempi, continued to delight me until the light changed.  Arriving at the next major intersection, a truck changing gears caught my attention.

Onto the clamor of managing a professional kitchen, my listening dulled to hearing at best.  Just as I was about to leave, an interaction with a customer service manager, got me steamed.  Good timing has not been a part of their performance this week, and seems that once the initial mistake was made days ago, the reverberations continued to grow.  An hour later I was able to leave, not totally confident that they will come through.

Listening to rock & roll from my youth, was aggravating my mood so I choose to listen to Agnus Dei, a collection of classical choral music, given to me as a present years ago.  My usual time to listen to this is in the morning, but today the power of this music, calmed my emotions and allowed me to turn my attention to greater thoughts.  Listening during this day has triggered delight, wonder, anger, calm and reverence.  And I still need to play my guitar.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Responding to Listening


My old friend and musical partner Steev Geest contacted me today regarding recording.  His timing was impeccable, as I was pondering the very thought the past two days of how to invigorate the live recording project.  Tony and I are so close to completing the recording, but I still need a couple more pieces.  Now that my professional demands have lessened, the opportunity arises.  We decided to meet this Sunday to experiment with the equipment.

I was excited to get to practicing after a nap and dinner.  Beginning with the Alexander Technique, I came into a relationship with my body.  Allowing my body to release and my mind to quiet.  As I began to play, my guitar sounded so sweet.  Part of this was switching from my practice amp to my Genz Benz, but the tone had a certain presence.  Listening as I played, I was a bit surprised at how easily I had arrived in the moment.  As a rest would arise in the piece, I would think "let my neck be free and everything else."  This simple focused thought allowing my body and mind to release into my playing.

After working Gathered Hearts for 15 minutes, I moved onto Lost Balloon.  Just listening as I played, again using the thought "let me neck be ..."  I worked on the two sections of this piece that needed addressing; just enjoying the movement of my fingers and the freedom in myself.  I played this through twice and then paused. 

I began improvising, and immediately heard a beginning.  Playing with this for a bit, and then I needed a bathroom break.   Returning to the guitar, I was excited about the potential piece that was coming out.  No longer quiet in my mind, and feeling the anticipation in my body, I decided to inhibit my impulse to continue.  Instead I did a lie down, allowing myself to rest, and contemplate my body.

Returning to the guitar, there was still a bit of anxious anticipation.  Had I disrupted the creative flow? Perhaps, but I also knew that the place I had arrived at, needed to be released.  As I begin to play with the new idea, I was thinking about listening, but was not.  Taking time to run through the AT directions, I began again.  My listening was actual now, and I experimented with various musical directions and moods.  I did a quick recording to capture the idea.

Then I returned to play through GH and LB again, this time with the tape running.  Again I found myself thinking or talking to myself about listening.  But this is not listening, so the fingers stumble as I was not present with my actions.  Pausing to begin again, I used AT to come back to myself .  As the piece began, I was simply listening and playing; integrated once again, if only for a short time.  Over and over, I must return to the present moment, using the Alexander Technique, my breath, and sometimes even my ears.  In this moment is where life is lived, where music lives.  Grateful for the paths, and those on the path that point the way to this moment.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Just Another Night of Practice

Fire Dance

Returned to AT class with David Jernigan tonight.  We worked through Sandra's Five Relations.  David gave me a very good sense of the head-pelvis counterbalance. He also pointed out that after years of practicing meditation, that I might not notice much in the area of the "ribs releasing back into the back," as this is already happening.

At home I spent time with my wife and visiting nephew, and then moved to my guitar.  I revisited the section of Broken Wing that opened up to me last night, and am enjoying the slight changes in how I play this.  Being freer in the rhythm of this section allows the emotion to surface.  I then played through the entire piece twice and decided to keep the changes.  Moving onto Nick's Song, I worked on getting the chord changes of the newly acquired last section into my hand.

This arrived during the power outage in our home last week.  I'm glad that I notated the section as I have not returned to this until tonight.  Without the notation, this section would have been lost to me tonight.  A great reason for me to incorporate notation into my regime.  Time, it always comes back to time.  Yet somehow even with my limited time to devote to music, I do somehow continue to find the time to do what it takes.