Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The First Note

                                            The first note.

What would be the first note I would play in 2015?  Prudent to begin the New Year with an intentional note.  My mind went to Eb, perhaps the first note I choose to fall in love with.  An A was the actual first note that took me into her confidence, showed me the beauty and power of a single note.  But early on in my work in Guitar Craft when I was directed to find my own voice, I fell for an Eb;  eighth fret on the fifth string.  She showed me wonder and possibility; showed me how to find the next note and which notes would increase her beauty, intrigue, mystery or horror.  Yes, Eb has been very good to me.  I decided that this would be the first note I'd play this year.

After settling in with myself and my guitar, I tuned.  Then with attention I played my first note.  I played her and played with her.  First with a gentle crescendo, then a decrescendo.  Then a bit faster, then slower; savoring the sound coming from this one note.  I varied the attack by my thumb and the first three fingers of my left hand.  Can I make the note the same volume regardless of which finger invites her to sound?  I played with various fingering combinations of the left hand; again building crescendos and decrescendos.  Just enjoying this single note.

I decided to play a chromatic scale playing each note with the thumb and each finger of the of the left
hand, building a crescendo across the 12 notes and then a decrescendo.  Then various combinations of sequential notes and intensity.  Then the surprise, I noticed I was on the fourth string and had begun with a Bb. A miscalibration of the mind and hands or a hidden intention of the Universe.  Smiling wondering where this might take me this year.  A brief improvisation in Bb major followed.  Then I wondered what was the last note I played yesterday, the last day of the year?  I do not know.  Will I ever wake up?

An Ongoing Journey

Thinking about what to tell an aspiring musician looking to take lessons in the New Year.

Fall in love with a note.

Fall in love with Silence.


Photo by Staffan Scherz

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Structure of Practice


Photo by Steve Jurvestan

Sunday, December 28, 2014

An Octave of Questions

Am I bound more by my knowledge or the lack thereof? 
Am I caught by my beliefs about knowledge? 

Are my habits useful? 

Am I bound by my thinking? 

Do I seek liberation in my thinking and thus my habits?

 Can I assume innocence? 

Am I aware?

Am I bound by my past or my expectations?

Photo by Sunica Markovic

Friday, December 26, 2014

Water Sounds

Music is made of sounds; the sea is made of water.  Both are comprised of a variety of source material.  Throughout history man has turned to both for sustenance. Waves of sound wash over and heal our souls and urge are bodies to move.  Waves of water inspire our souls  and provide nourishment for our bodies. Both calm our minds.  Healing, beauty, wonder and inspiration vibrates from and within them.  In the beginning there was the word, the sound.  Waves urging life forth to explore and change, to transform.

Looking at the sea from a hilltop, one notices subtle & dramatic shades blending like harmonies.  Like notes, each drop of water assumes different characteristic based on intensity, timing and the conductor.  Residual froth from breaking waves float like staccato notes over the sea's bass drones, melodies, and counter melodies.  The sea's improvised symphony contains no wrong notes, flowing towards and informing the ever changing coda signaling the impermanence of the Universe.

Dare I play like the sea?  With no wrong notes and faith that I will reach the end in the manner needed in this ever changing moment of time?  With harmony within and about me?  Without concern - to just be the playing?  Let me look to the sea for answers while I pay attention to the inspiration of my breath; to my arms, hands and voice doing only what is necessary to invite the sounds.  May I open to the momentous now, with a spirit so wide the Divine may pass through, giving evidence of the whole, giving voice to what is needed.  Without boundaries.  Without form.  Empty.

Photo by NASA

Friday, December 19, 2014

Listen Listen

Listen, Listen.  The sound of the bell brings me back to my true home.  Thich Naht Hahn

Listening, one of the most important senses a musician employs and develops.  The same might be true for all of us as we strive to bring harmony into our world.  While reflecting on how to begin my practice today, dynamics arose as an area to begin and focus on.  I always love to play with dynamics and the fourth primary from Guitar Craft.  This simple and beautiful arpeggio, not only returns me to moments of innocence, but provides an ongoing challenge to the independence of the thumb and fingers of my right hand.  I can simply alter the dynamics as I play the arpeggio.  Building a crescendo or decrescendo or use a loud and soft combination of any fingers.

The sea in front of me provides an example of effortless change in dynamics with the breaking waves.  As I begin to tune my guitar, I invite the low C string to sound.  I am immediately captivated by a richness and heretofore unknown intensity of the Ovation Guitar I have with me.  Suddenly I smile as I realize that this new found power is the result of an ocean going vessel heading out to sea and sounding it's fog horn.  A glimpse of what a master might sound like, I return to tuning.

My listening sharpened by this experience, I begin with a simple piece that has been unveiling herself to me recently.  Inspired by the Muslim call to prayer, I intone these notes with respect and awareness.  Reflecting on this now I realize that  my aspiration is that all notes should be invited in this way; better yet - all the words that I say to another.  A distance wider than the four oceans, awaits me on this particular journey of sound.  So be it.  Like music, the journey will unfold in time; either I will be present to the journey or not.   Knowing this, I cultivate my practice of awareness and insight daily, as often as I remember,  when a bell of mindfulness invites me back or when Nature in all her Glory simply demands that I pay attention to truth and beauty before me.

Playing through a piece, Senseless Loss, the fog horn which is close to  a C sounds again.  Harmonizing with the low E, I am playing, another smile blooms.  Two more times over the course of 30 minutes the fog horn resounds & blends with my joy and with the sea around us.  What a gift this life is, what a gift that music bestows upon me, on all of us.  Wake up, wake up now; listen!  On my own I need help, and the Universe continues to provide this help.  All I need do is to welcome the invitation and practice with what is offered.

As I return to the guitar,  I decide to address the primary with attention to dynamics that I had originally intended to begin my practice with.  While playing these notes, sensitive to the use of my right hand fingers, I notice a flock of small birds joyfully flying by.  Their flight hampered, bolstered, and guided by the wind.  Smiles returning as the birds and I practice taking flight together.   Smiling again as I recall this day is still quite young and many more opportunities await me.

Photo by Yazir Yacob

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Practicing With a View

I am ever so fortunate to have this as a practice space this morning.  A view of awe & splendor, the beauty of our planet reminding me, urging me to be present with the notes echoing the Divine.  The mountain before me so solid, yet shrouded in the mystery of the clouds.  Impermanence on display as the water undulates to the rhythm of the universe and the clouds dance ever so gently about the mountain and the sky.

This view also provides an illustration of the Alexander Technique.  Long in my spine and limbs is reflected by the height of the mountain.  Wide in my back & shoulders enhanced by the horizon and the breadth of the sea. Freedom in my pelvis shown me by the swaying clouds at the base of the mountain.  The sea, the light, and the clouds are all flowing, not assuming a fixed position.  Freedom in movement inspired & nourished as the fishing boats are poised for their task. I am reminded that the Earth is rotating at 1600 kilometers per hour and that I have absolutely no sense of this motion.

I come back to myself.  Finding my breath, sensing my body, and touching my wish.  I begin playing Forget Me Knot and think of my brother and his family.  Love is awakened by the notes and a wave of feeling washes through me.  Letting the feelings come through me, through the notes, but not overwhelming either.  Breathing in the fresh sea air and fishing for the depths that music offers.  The melodies merge with the breaking surf while my heart seeks to meld with what is greater.  More views surface now, those that are within.

The sea reflects to me questions about views.  Do I hold fast to my views or work to be free of them?  Though the answer is clouded on this day, this particular glimpse of our world gives me hope.  All is possible.  Freedom may be as near as my thinking.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Finding the Question

Before one can follow the question in an unfolding piece of music; the question, while possibly hazy must form.  Like an islands’ mountain rising above the dark sea, this question may be laced in clouds of unknowing, yet still be sprinkled through with hope.  With curiosity, trace the path of the question.  Cross the bridges it may form.  Open wide to what is possible. Be quiet; listen; listen,    and then open some more.

Walk away or look to another question from another time.  Listen if they are related.  Listen to a single note.  Listen to a single note played in  myriad of ways.  Listen to the heart’s whisper.  Listen then some more. Trust the notes that arrive, though they may not have found their form.  Play with them, play for them. And of course listen some more.