Monday, January 28, 2013

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Winter Rose Haiku

Shiver of dawn's light
Winter's crisp silence arises.
Frozen rose whispers.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Six String Scales

Six String in the Sunshine
I found this link called Six String Scales on twitter this evening and decided to check it out. Basically the exercise involves playing each degree of the scale once on each string. I decided to test my fretboard knowledge post by Simon Powls can be found here.

After exploring variations on the exercise I began to play triads containing the same note, for example A, and moving around the fretboard. I was not playing inversions of the original chord my restriction was to quickly find an "A" on a different string and for it to be in a different relationship within the chord than the last one.  After 5 chords I switched to " B" and so forth.  A fun change of pace to my usual practice.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Edge Thoughts


Edges are much   w i  d   e    r   than I think

The pull towards the edge, stronger than I know

Directed exposure
opens the edge
reveals the pull
makes dance

any longer?

Go wide
edge forward.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Exploring the Edges

Spiraling up / Subida en espiral
 What happens when I get lost in the edge of uncertainty?

My body contorts, breathing is held, emotions flutter and my brain, well frankly I am uncertain what my brain does or does not do.  Why this set of psycho-physical reactions? Does one happen before the other or do they all arise simultaneously?  What if I were able to maintain my freedom at the 'edge?'   Instead of spinning out of control, what if I spiraled out, slowly evolving in somewhat of a pattern?

Can I make friends with the edge, my edge?

After generating these aforementioned questions, I decided to do an Alexander technique lie down.  As I lay down on the floor, the idea that I could visualize improvisations while in this very free state of the lie down arose.  Deciding to play with it, I first thought through the lie down process, allowing my body to lengthen and widen and to let go of unnecessary tension.  I began to improvise using my mind. At times I was hearing it, while at times I was seeing my fingers making choices on the fretboard. Other times it was a combination of both.

As this mental improvisation developed I noticed activity in the area of my chest and though it was not necessarily fear, some type of emotional response was developing.  Smiling, why with just this exercise on the floor would any type of emotional activity arise?   Ah, this creature I inhabit is always puzzling.  As I played with this improvisational exercise, I decided to bring my arms up from the floor mimicking the position I would have when playing the guitar.  Why not bring whatever habitual bodily identification I have regarding improvisation on the guitar into this exercise? 

After writing this I was ready to pick up the guitar, and then I recognized an opportunity to inhibit this choice.  Applying the AT directions, I again noticed this activity in the area of my chest.  Perhaps I'm just overloaded from a long week.  Or I may be probing an area that elicits a negative distracting reaction to my actions.  Or both.  Since most of my weeks are overloaded with stimulation, there is no way to rule this out.  Might I approach the edge of learning how to better live within this life of mine.
All of this from a simple withholding of implementing my act of picking up the guitar and working with the Alexander Technique instead.  Deciding that another lie down is in order I head for the floor.

During this second lie down I again experimented with visualizing an improvisation. My body was not as overwhelmed with tension this time and relished the opportunity to release even more.  There was no emotional flutter associated with this set of imagined improvisations.  I rose from the floor and decided that I would now pick up my guitar and explore improvising.  Should I mimic one of the visualizations or find a new beginning? 

I began with using the AT directions and began to play in the high register.  Gently probing what was there, I noticed the freedom in my use from the two lie downs and continued directions.  There is a definite positive effect from keeping the AT directions alive over time.  After exploring a few improvs I noticed that I was beginning to hunch inwards.  Why this drawing in of my body?  Am I "protecting" myself with this action?  Taking a short break, I then came back and decided to explore this further.

This next improvisation began to come alive.  I turned on my recorder.  Almost immediately the music stopped.  Was this the affect of my effort to capture?  Or the set of ears eliciting something negative in me?  I continued to play and explore, slowly moving out to the edge.  Music seemed to arrive again, with my body relatively free and my mind engaged, I let come what may.  Then I began an improvisation based on the structure of Gathered Hearts.  After some gentle meandering, again something came alive.  Letting go of this, I then played Gathered Hearts and then improvised some more.  I realized that in a sense I had "spiraled out" towards my edge.  Preparing the body and the mind with the lie downs and visualizations and then introducing the guitar.  Stepping out towards the edge, and then a break, followed by more steps.

A lot of questions and an approach that led to positive experiences.  More to follow I'm sure.  Stay tuned,

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Laying Down the Visualization

Another nap after work this evening to rejuvenate my ailing body.  Delicious homemade soup with pumpernickel bread for dinner, followed by more resting while working the crossword puzzle.  Then I hit the floor for an Alexander technique lie-down.  After a few minutes with my back settling into the floor and my right arm relishing letting go, I decided to work with visualizing the piece Senseless Loss.  This may have been the first time that I've ever worked with visualizing a piece during a lie-down.  With freedom in my body I could see my fingers moving on the fretboard in my mind's eye.  My right arm remaining relaxed, my right elbow free,  my neck happily resting on the paperback books.

Towards the end of the piece, my visualization faltered as I was uncertain of one of the fingerings.  Yet in the prone position on the floor, I was able to remain focused and free about what I was undertaking.  When I moved to play my guitar, I decided to begin with Senseless Loss.  But first I just held my guitar between my legs and inhibited my desire to play.  I gave myself the Alexander Technique directions to free my neck and spine, my back, my legs, my shoulders and my arms.  Then after I moved my arms to the guitar, I paused again, quickly running through the directions.

After playing a few bars I paused to turn on the recorder.  As I began to play my tone was soft and even, the notes flowing from my fingers.  I began to think how I might write this up for the blog.  And yes my playing deteriorated rapidly.  As the Guitar Craft aphorism aptly states - We begin again constantly.  And so I did.  First taking time to find my breath; to work with the Alexander Technique directions; and to just be in the moment with my guitar, with myself. With the recording device running, I played through the piece again.  Then I moved on to improvising with chords based on fourths.

After a short break I returned to the guitar.  Taking time to reconnect with my body and my guitar through breathing and the Alexander Technique,  I then turn on the recorder.  Playing through Senseless Loss one more time.  As much as possible keeping my attention directed, my body free.  Though I have not listened to this run through, I suspect this is the best that I've ever played this piece.  I will not listen to the recording tonight.  The process is what matters most, not the end result.  Perhaps I'll play a bit more, perhaps I'll rest.  I'll make that decision in a moment.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Adding Rests

Rest here
I'm still struggling with a microbe looking to hijack my biochemistry.  I did rest last night and left work early today for more of the same.  As I was practicing tonight, I reflected on rests and recalled Pedro de Alcantatra's exercise of adding a rest in the first beat of every bar.  He details this in his excellent book Indirect Procedures: A Musician's Guide to the Alexander Technique (Clarendon Paperbacks).  This exercise disrupts habitual playing and allows me to notice where I am adding unnecessary tension to the act of playing.

Tonight I applied this to a tremolo piece - Senseless Loss. I modified the exercise to add a rest after every bass note.   By playing bass note/rest/high note/high note/high note, I was able to keep releasing my right elbow and arm.  At one point while pausing to inhibit via the Alexander Technique I noticed what has become a habit, albiet a good one, but could now be getting in my way. I decided that while it is fine to inhibit and direct before bringing my hands to the guitar, why not inhibit with my hands in playing position?  As I did this and followed the directions of allowing my neck, then spine, back, legs, arms to be free I noticed a slight letting go in an area of my upper arm that tends to get tight from playing.

When this tightness manifest, there is also an area on the right side of my neck that is sore as well as an area around my elbow.  Any healthy way I can lessen this tension can only improve my playing.  Chuckling that just how additional rest is improving my health right now, that adding rests in my playing is improving this also.  C'est la vie, viva la siesta.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Playing the Rest


This afternoon I began to notice signs of an illness entering my body.  As a musician I have been instructed to "play the rests" when they appear within music.  Though not playing any notes, one still maintains a connection and presence with the music, their instrument, and themselves.  Subtle yet absolutely necessary for the  music to flow.

How might I "play the rests" when the score for the music of life is signaling it's time to rest.  This is a rest I want to ignore.  But then I wouldn't be a very good musician would I?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Seven Questions About Practicing

Ice Stars

While taking a break from the guitar tonight, I was bringing order to the piles of books, music, and scraps of paper that are my life.  I found the following on one such scrap of paper, written at an unknown time in my life, but I sense that it was within the past year.

Am I aware of my head, my hands, and my heart?

Am I adding any unnecessary tension to my action?

Am I practicing in such a way that I am improving the piece I am working or am I practicing the same mistakes?

Am I listening to the notes I am playing?

Can I play the part slower?

Can I visualize what I intend to play?

Am I breathing?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Addressing Availabilty

外圓內方 (curves outside, square inside) is a Chinese philosophy, so unlike Bauhaus architecture which places emphasis on straight forms only, you would see many curvatures at the facade in modern Chinese architecture—the yin and yang as a balance / equilibri
While practicing Qi Gong in the yard at sunrise, I noticed an underlying anxiety.  At work we are anticipating our annual licensure inspection which lasts five plus days resulting in tons of stress being distributed and recycled amongst our staff.  By design this is a surprise inspection that occurs within a six month period.  We are in the middle of that period, a place fraught with opportunity and hazard.

But why be anxious? I have been through this inspection process for 18 years, without major issues.  Yet licenses and jobs are on the line so we fret.  Then I noticed  the anxiety creeping into tonights Memorial service where I'll be playing two pieces.  If the state shows up today, I'll be at work late and may have difficulty arriving on time.  What will my personal state be like then?  I paused, noticing the earth beneath my feet, I knew  I was supported.  Breathing in the cold morning air, seeing the beauty of the sunrise, I knew that this feeling of anxiety would also pass if I directed my thinking to a positive thought or feeling.  Not without a struggle mind you, but with gentle considered responses to what ever negative thoughts or feelings arose within me. I resumed my practice, marveling at the beauty of the tall bare trees, quiet sentinels of rooted peace.

During my morning commute I reflected on how I might stay in touch with the performance this evening.  There is no green room plus there will be many people I know  in social mode.  How to maintain the presence that supports my playing? Certainly I have many practices at my disposal.  I decided to restrict my conversation at work to what was necessary to address my professional concerns. Grateful to Guitar Craft for introducing me to this notion, I smiled knowing there is always the underlying support of Guitar Craft for my creative endeavors.  Pausing during stop lights, I used mental practicing to review the beginnings of both pieces.  I want them to be strong, clean, & focused.  I planned to employ regular pauses throughout my day to address my awareness or my lack thereof.

Later in the day while pausing, I recalled Robert's sage observation that "Music is a presence constantly and readily available to us all."  Smiling as I knew that I need to address my availability with the practices outlined and beyond. Then I can trust that  music will be able to take care of us.  Just simply, purely make my offering for my dear friend Basile and all will be fine now and in the hereafter.

As the day unfolded, I failed at times as far as the necessary conversation. Upon noticing I began again.  Such is my life, or my ability to actuate my aspirations.  That moment of noticing and recommitting to the process is key to any success over the longer period of my life.  Distracted thinking, then one useful thought arrives and rights the process, until once again the distractions are present. But there is hope and help.  There is support and love.  There is loss and remembrance.

Tomorrow the sun will rise and new opportunities present themselves.  Will I be available?

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Greek roadside memorial Traffic was horrible on my morning commute today and even worse than that and my journey home.  Some challenging interpersonal developments in between along with general professional duties made for a tired boy who just wanted to come home and rest.  But tomorrow night I am slated to share two pieces at a dear friends Memorial service.  As I walk up the stairs to my home the thought hit me in a flash.  Quite likely I'll be just as tired and frazzled tomorrow night when I need to play the service.  I decided to go take my guitar without warming up and just play the two pieces.  No time to calm my thinking, no time to release today's tension, just play.  So I did.  The conditions served me well to get ready for tomorrow night.

After dinner I played through the two pieces again.  This time I did calm my mind, focus my attention and allow my body to release.  After a light practice, I changed my strings.  A little playing for fun followed.  Now to rest.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013


The Fall of Icarus, by Sebastian Seiffert

 Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.   Steve Jobs

Performing solo guitar is about as naked as I could ever get in public.  Becoming comfortable performing solo, hell performing music period, has taken me a long time.  This learning about myself, those around me, and the act of music has enriched me beyond measure.  Now I sense the need to spread my wings and soar.  While I am not sure how this will evolve, I am certain that a personal stretch and greater connection with listeners is in order.  So be it.

Thanks to Seth Godin and the Icarus Sessions for urging me to search and clarify. 

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The First Note

First view of the awesome Helmcken Falls, Wells Gray Provincial Park
                                       Happy New Day!

This morning while shaving I had a thought about how to play with arpeggios.  I continued thinking yes, the first day of the year, it would be nice to work on a fresh and new exploration.  But what chord would serve the arpeggio?  When I want to pick up my guitar I paused.  Deciding to play my first note of this the new year with intention, I thought what note shall I play?  Eb came almost immediately to my mind. This wasn't a total surprise, as over the years there's always been something about an E flat that resonates with me.

For a moment, I thought think about another note.  But then I said no, Eb arose,  this is where I shall begin my playing for this year.  And so with care and attention I brought my hands to my guitar.  Allowing Eb to sing, I then chose an interval of the fourth and played Ab followed by a G and an E.  From here I began to play and explore, quickly finding an opening phrase.  Somewhat dark and melancholy I played this a few times and found another phrase.  Smiling as I put away my guitar as I had to attend an afternoon event with some friends.

Returning home, I was happy that I played my first note of the year with intentionality.  How might this small act of quality serve my playing for the coming year?  This one act changing everything.  Perhaps if I begin all my practice sessions with choosing one note,  I could connect all my practices throughout the year to this first practice.  Might this change me, my playing, or the world?  To extend the moment of my practicing, connecting with all that was and will be?

During the afternoon this initial phrase took on a title, Lifting the Veil. Somewhat easily the following phrases and ideas developed.  There is now a beginning, a middle, and an end to this piece and there  seems there is a connection throughout. I played this for my wife and she also felt there was a wholeness and musicality. Picking up my guitar one more time this evening I played through Lifting the Veil.  Transitions need to be worked out and fingering's remembered, but there is music within these notes.

What more could I hope for? 

When & Where to Practice

In the Here.

In the Now. 

Always & Again.