Friday, January 29, 2010

Day of Delight

Tomorrow is my wife's birthday. Tonight after warming up I was thinking of her and her parents.  How delighted they must have been on this evening many moons ago. Her mom plump and loving; and most likely so ready to birth this truly wonderful person.

I began to improvise and found a chord that speaks to this delight. I followed where the notes wanted to take me, gently allowing new notes to emerge. Trusting they will take form and celebrate my beloveds birth. For tonight my work is done, time to rest.

Tomorrow we celebrate.

Twenty minutes later.

After posting this I picked up my guitar once more to play through what I had. Suddenly my hands moved to a new idea, the piece is flowing. The recorder turned on to capture what I may be too tired to remember.

Sunday, January 24, 2010


Is it true or have I made it a truth that the most difficult places to play a piece of music is the transitions? Is truth immutable or in motion & changing? No doubt about it transitions for me are tricky, demanding my attention, and in need of care.  There are different types of transitions. In performance the change in fingerings, tempo, rhythm, &  intensity can be subtle or dramatic and everything in between. Same holds true in composing, how is this piece of music going to alter it's path? Will it be different harmonies, rhythmic changes, or dramatic shifts of mood & emotion? In reality it is usually a manifestation of all of the above. Intense & jarring fortissimos giving way to peaceful & quiet pianissimos. Percolating melodies giving way to gentle meanderings. Solo voice evolving into rich choral tapestries. Transitions breath change into music and also into life.

In performance transitions breed nervousness (one of a hundred forms of fear) in me. Have I mastered the elusive fingering? Can I marshal the emotional force needing to be interjected or soften the wave of feeling already in play? Do I understand the relationships undergoing change during the transition in this piece?  In life? During the performance of my life can I accept, embrace, and allow the ambiguity of changing relationships during the sections of transition? Can I improvise the piece when I have lost my place in the score? When no score is provided?

In reality every breath is a transition and every micro-second in between. The music of changes plays on ... trust the muse; play the transitions; be available.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

You Are Here

Last night I was reading You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hahn before going to bed. He was talking about death and how when we really face our impermanence we can become truly alive in this precious moment. As I read this I looked at my wife and was happy. Knowing that one day we will be separated by death, I took a moment to tell her what she means to me. I smiled as I meditated on death. This was joyful for you see I was alive. When I can let go of my fears, as in dying, and just be right here, right now, life is real.

I had an interchange with a friend who is a professional classical guitarist. He has been "zoning out" while practicing his repretroire which he has been playing for years. I shared with him that when I notice myself "zoning out" I return to my breath or come back to my body. I may even totally stop playing and do Qi Gong as this quickly quiets my mind and brings me back to my body. The key is first noticing and then acting in a manner that harmonizes what I am actually doing with how I wish to be.

While taking a walk after work I was thinking about my guitar practice and meditation practice and how they inter-are. Really is just one practice, the meditation practice being a prerequisite to the guitar practice.  They each inform the other. While enjoying my legs moving me through the warm twilight I imagined what it would be like to play my guitar as if it was the final time. I had a taste of this months back the evening the John Allen Muhammed was executed. Could I bring this alive in my practice regularly? As Meursault in Albert Camus's The Stranger became truly alive when he knew his execution was in three days, can I truly become alive when I reflect on my own impermanence? Relish each moment; every note.

When ending my practice this evening I picked up my guitar one more time, holding it gently, wondering if this was the last time I might play. I improvised a night time lullaby, it was sweet and short, just like life.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Getting in a Chair

Amazed, though I shouldn't be, that working with how I get in & out of my chair has opened me to a creative musical idea this evening. Tonight I read Frank Sheldon's blog regarding FM Alexander's work with the "critical moment." Frank describes this as " he heart of the matter is the "critical moment" that occurs just before we do something. In some ways, this means even before we get ready to do something, as it is at this moment that the power of our habits tend to take over. "  This post gave me pause and many times tonight I paid very careful attention to where I was prior to sitting on my stool and then again as I sat on or left my stool.

Whenever I pay attention to one detail, I am paying attention. This quality of attention then can spread into other areas of my activity. Paying attention & gaining a small measure of freedom in one area of habitual area such as my body then frees other areas from their habitual working such as my brain.

8:05 pm
Just after writing the first two paragraphs I was going to return to my guitar. Noticing the stiffness in my back and my overall physical tiredness I began doing Qi Gong. Smiling I went to pick up my guitar. The power of habit so strong that before I knew it the guitar was  on me and I had no knowledge of how it got there. I have a routine, ritual even that I go through when I remove my guitar from the case. But just now the guitar was on a guitar stand and there went my attention. How fleeting my attention is. Remembering the aphorism "we begin again constantly," I shall go now and know that I am putting on my guitar.

8:22 pm

Spent time playing with the new idea until I noticed that I was thinking about the idea instead of allowing the piece to emerge. Let go, music is always present, always. Am I?

9:15 pm

Continued working with the new idea and with paying attention, looking for the "critical moment." Like music the critical moment is there, am I?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010


Very useful information on errors from The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness by Gerald Klickstein.

1. Errors are not failures.

2. Errors are not shameful.

3. Errors are information.

Information- this is objective stance that a musician needs to cultivate so that errors do not undermine one's creativity and ability to perform. I am still working on this.

Monday, January 11, 2010

New Mantra

While working with the middle section of Stepping Stones this evening I kept noticing myself catching & or holding my breath. I have seen this before and have commented previously that when I can breath throughout a piece I can play it. So tonight my new practice mantra appeared.

Stop trying - begin allowing.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Stepping Stones

The Mystery. I've been reflecting on the mystery these past few days. The Mystery of Life, the Mystery of Music, the Mystery of my own mind.

Tonight I warmed up and improvised a bit. Worked briefly with Dandelion Wish and then moved on to learning Stepping Stones This piece came out in July and every time I have begun learning it something new comes along. Now this is a problem of luxury of which I am not complaining.

Played through Stepping Stones and quickly saw that the first & third sections are basically in my hand. So I focused on the middle section. After a few fumbled passes at tempo in the beginning of this section, I slowed down.  As Seth Godin said in one of his blog posts a while back " If you do not have the time to do a project right the first time, what makes you think you will have time to fix it?" Works for business projects and learning a piece of music and I am certain for many other processes.

While breaking down this section and practicing it slowy I was able to enjoy the feel of the strings against my fingers and to savour the act of learning. Taking this time now will allow the entire process to be efficient. And then I can move onto learning another piece. A good night.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Finding Clarity

Finally feeling better today. Still weak, but the body ache is gone. I was reading The Inner Game of Music this morning and Barry Green suggested giving yourself permission to fail. That trying to play a part is the issue and when you try to play the part incorrectly your body plays it properly. I had experimented with this in the past but not recently. I picked up my guitar and went to play the troublesome part in Dandelion Wish wrong and lo and behold I did. This may have been the best laugh I had all week.

Another suggestion he had is to make a similar motion away from the instrument. I played with this a bit and then went to work. The playing improved. I devised another exercise to isolate the issue and noticed that I was not completing the motion for the  double artificial harmonic before returning to my regular playing position. I isolated this further and played using the metronome and then began to put the part back together. By end of my session I was reliably playing this part at 60 bpm.

Looked through various pieces that are works in progress to decide what to add next. Picked one of the Frames and revisited Stepping Stones. Enjoyed working with Stepping Stones, much of it still in my hand. Time to get to know this piece.

Friday, January 8, 2010


Twenty-one years ago today I began my Level One course with Guitar Craft in a beautiful redwood forest in Ben Lomand, California. Never would have I imagined the significance of this process in my life. I barely played guitar, possessed a love of music and the desire to be a musician. The knowledge and experiences that have been provided me in Guitar Craft have been transformative.The people that have touched me are many and they continue to challenge & inform, lead & inspire, provide example & exhibit courage in their lives.

A heartfelt thank you to one and all for kindling the flame of music within me, framing the possibilities of life, and holding me on the path.

After writing this two hours ago I went & played A Journeyman's Way Home, the first piece that ever came to me in Guitar Craft. Still takes me back. Played a few more pieces and then rested.

Thursday, January 7, 2010


One of the issues with illness for me is that when my body aches and is weak the mind tends to turn to negative thoughts about myself. Perhaps this is a manifestation of the mind/body complex at work.  Perhaps just a learned behavior. I tossed & turned a lot last night. Sleep was elusive. The negative thinking mounting. How to turn this seeming disadvantage to my advantage?

At times my mind was focusing on this part that need practicing in Dandelion Wish and blowing this up to my entire musical self worth, even beyond my musical life. Too huge to allow this thought path to gain momentum. For years I beat up on my self about musical ability. Did this come from coming to music relatively late in life as an adult or part of unrealistic expectations of my ego? May have even been deeper, but I'm not delving that far publicly. I watered the positive seeds in my mind but the negative had a good hold on me and continued to win out.

I decided to read at one point around 4 am. There was a copy of the Inner Game of Music given to me nearly 15 years ago that I had recently taken of the shelf . I read it back then but was not able to garner much practical use from the book at this time. Last night I opened it to the chapter on Trust. Ahh. Reading these words my focus was nudged. At some point the authors suggested drawing on positive musical experiences. I visualized some recent performance success and the good feelings and thoughts began to flow. I reminded myself that I am loved, turned off the light, and returned to sleep.

I woke later with the word - Becoming in my mind. I jotted this down and slept more. Becoming, we are always becoming what we think.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Progress Not Perfection

Twice I woke from sleep last night with the part of Dandelion Wish reverberating in my mind. This is not uncommon for me but the fact that this was still happening when I woke for the day is rather unique. Perhaps because I did the  visualization during the time I was awake at 4 am.

While waiting for my wife to sit with me this morning I sat in a chair and was resting on my breath. I decided to spend time with the visualization. I moved onto visualizing the entire piece. Good practice and morning time may be the best time for this but not sure how I could do this on a regular basis and still make it to work on time.

A classical guitarist Jeff Davis shared some of his efforts with visualizing via twitter last night. He alternates physical practice days and visualizing practice. He also said "I've found that there's a direct relation between the sections I have difficulty visualizing & memory slips during performance." This very good information born of experience is inspiring me to find the way to include more visualization work into my practice routine.

The bug is still with me so most of this day has been at rest. Reading Dr. Faustus and spending some time with practicing visualization. I did practice for a brief period tonight. Slowly increased the tempo for the part I am working on up to 64 bpm. Noticed a flow in my right hand motion that has not been there for this part to date. Excited I increased the tempo to 68 bpm and began thinking of what I would write in the blog. Train wreck ensued as my attention wavered with this new form of distraction. Gently quieted down again and backed off to 66 bpm. Still some issues so back to 64 bpm until I played the part well once and then I let go. Time to rest again and allow the brain to consolidate this work.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Visualizing the Solution


Home ill with the flu today. Second time this season. Seems like the viruses have it in for me. Is my immune system weak or is this an occupational hazard or do I drive myself too hard in general? Or a combination of all three,  perhaps even with a genetic disposition to be infected by the flu. One thing is sure I do not feel like practicing. I was sitting in a chair and attempted visualizing the trouble spots in Dandelion Wish I described in my post Getting Honest. However I  found out that I am not familiar enough with the right hand pattern to visualize the various combinations of dyads, arpeggios, strum, & artificial harmonics.

A thought emerged that perhaps in my weakened bodily state I might have an advantage over the muscle memory of my body. Combined with the desire to build off of Sundays progress and knowing that I will be weak for the next few days I decided to experiment with a brief practice to address learning the right hand functioning in order to practice visualizing this section. To the basement.

I began with a gentle run through of Gathered Hearts. Felt good to feel the vibrations of the guitar against my chest, to hear the music, to be momentarily uplifted. Then to work with the section of Dandelion Wish that I do not know well enough. Metronome was set at 56 bpm and I began the section. I immediately lost track of the metronome click, yet realized that I was executing the part well. I began again and lost the beat but again the execution was beautiful and I noticed that my breath was gentle. I found that in focusing on the right hand fingering to remember them I was drifting from the beat but this additional attention to the right hand changed my playing. This is not surprising in itself, but every time I  rediscover this is a very fresh moment for me.

A few breaths as I visualized the right hand playing it's role and then I began again. The beat was in my body, I could hear the melody, and my hand knew what to do. I played the section gently and well many times through. This was very meditative and refreshing especially considering how my body has felt all day. I let go of the playing and played through just the right hand part. Allowing this to be separated from the left hand movements. I then incorporated the sections immediately preceding & following these measures. The playing was even and confident. I was tempted to speed up the metronome but decided to remain at 56 bpm. After 20 minutes my concentration was fading so I completed my practice. Better to allow the brain to consolidate a brief but thorough playing then to begin making mistakes and confusing the body and mind.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Getting Honest

Thinking about live recording possibilities the past two days. If I do a live recording Dandelion Wish needs to be included and there is a section that I continue to play poorly. I had mapped out a three hour period this morning to practice and bring some order to my studio during breaks. After warming up and playing through three pieces I played Dandelion Wish and knew it was time to get to work on this part.

The area of concern involved working on my right hand artificial harmonic technique. I began working at 76 bpm  but knew I can not play it at this tempo and got honest and backed off 4 bpm. The slower I played  there more chatter in my  mind or was it that I was able to notice the chatter easier. I continued to slow down 4 bpm at a time looking for the tempo where I could play these 8 measures.

At 64 bpm I played it well once so I took a break. Did an AT lie down and visualized myself playing this part as I sang the part in my head. I returned to the guitar to find that at this tempo my performance of this part was still unreliable. As I turned down to 60 bpm I knew I was headed for 56 but attempted working this at 60 for a few minutes. My mind was quieting down and I was accepting that there was work that needed doing and now was the time. I have known for some time that when I can breath naturally through a part I can play the part well. I was noticing how I was catching my breath often throughout the process of finding the proper practice tempo.

I said that I knew I was headed for 56 and I did arrive there. I have learned more at this metronome setting about myself and my playing. One day I may just dial down to there first and get to work on whatever problem I am experiencing. At this tempo I saw the confusion in my right hand in the transtions between moving back from the artificial harmonic playing postion to my fingerpicking postion in transitioning from the end of the pattern to the beginning of the repeat. I created an exericse to work with this and had a very fruitful practice session .  I would never have honestly seen this confusion without slowing down the tempo. Now to establish the possible and move gradually to the impossible.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Three Hundred & Sixty Four to go

Making New Year's resolutions has never been a real practice of mine. I am aware enough of the power of habits to know that a simple  change in the calendar does not affect change in my life. Yet I do find myself reflecting on my life perhaps a tad more at this time of the year. The increased time with family and friends highlights the importance of these loving relationships for me.

And there is a usefulness to look at where I have been and where I want to go. The recent past has been very fruitful musically. I trust that this will continue. I am ready to seek out more opportunities for performing at house concerts and to investigate live recording. The latter point was brought up on my recent Guitar Craft course in October and I trust that this will be a valid process for me. As with all processes there will be learning and growth opportunities, but as long I can remember my aim in undertaking these efforts I know the right conditions will manifest.

I still intend to develop the material and record "When the Ocean Courts a Drop." Much of the music is written and needs to be polished. One of the best ways I know to polish music is through live performance so this serves the aforementioned need to perform more.

Almost on a whim today after reading  a post by a friend I decided to begin a series of postings to my website pertaining to music. Most likely these will be brief pointers to music I am interested in or blogs related to music, or ??? Should be fun, hopefully not overwhelming. If I find that it is becoming a distraction another decision will be made. Hmmm so am I doing this or not then? Time will tell. The first one can be found here - Sufi Music of Turkey.

Happy New Year. May this be the year we find peace in the world. At least let this begin with me.