Saturday, December 31, 2011

Alexander Technique Haiku


                           Forward up release,
                     Connected energy frees -
                           Music, beauty, life.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Directed Thinking

River Thinking.

Thinking is the key.

                    Thinking is the problem.           The solution. 
                                                 Thinking is over rated ...

The past two nights when I have awakened during the night, my mind was 'thinking" about the musical idea known as Corvus.  I love when I can rest and the mind takes over and processes information for me.  Of course much of the time,  I am on automatic thinking.  Tending to routine tasks and behaviors that make up the course of my daily activities.  When I bring my attention to these routine tasks is when I become alive.

The Alexander Technique brings my thinking into my bodily movements.  This awareness of how I use myself generates a form of mindful energy, as well as being an efficient way to execute simple and complex tasks.  Edward de Bono has written many books on the subject of thinking.  He has developed and taught a variety of techniques called Lateral Thinking to stimulate our brains and open up our thinking.  I recently listened to a book of his on CD and one exercise that I have been experimenting with is the septien.  In this exercise you come up with a list of 7 words or short phrase related to the subject you are thinking about.  Repeating these words, stimulates the brain in a manner not tied to our habitual thinking

The end of the month deadline is looming for the three pieces I need to complete, so tonight I decided to develop a septien for each piece. Then during my AT lie down, after directing the body to release, lengthen, and widen I would use the septien for the piece I would work with next.  My initial idea was to do a lie down, work on a piece for 20 minutes, lie down, etc.  Thus looking at all three pieces in a little over an hour.  Then I reasoned that I would move from there.

After 10 minutes of my lie down in  a traditional manner, I began to recite the septien for Corvus.  After a few minutes of this I tuned my guitar, and before playing I revisited the septien.  I then began to play through what I had so far.  After 15 minutes, I was improvising and the form came together.  One run through with the tape running and I was going to move onto my lie down and the next piece.

Yet I did not.  Instead I decided to bring order to the parts scratched on different pieces of manuscript paper and notate them with the changes that had just arrived.  After this was done I wanted to play through the piece.  But my body and mind needed a break.  So instead of end gaining, I did another lie down.  Reciting the septien at the end of the lie down I played and taped Corvus.  More work may be needed, but there was a shift today. I attribute this shift to the combination of Alexander's and de Bono's work.  Now if only I did not need to get up so early tomorrow.  Excuses. I need to look at another piece.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Outcomes or Efforts?

Is it the outcome or the effort, I just found myself questioning?  This morning began with me playing with the idea titled Corvus, and before I left my home I thought something had moved forward and actually something had.  During my work on Corvus, I found myself concentrating hard at some point, when I noticed how my body was scrunching in and around the guitar.  Pausing and connecting with my body, I found space within and around me.  As I began to play again, I immediately heard how my tone had improved.  Then the notes began to connect with the melody I had so far.  As I connected with the space and lightness of the piece, my body mirrored this further. 

After taping and notating I had to leave for a meeting.  During my drive, I thought that working to complete these three ideas had a higher probability of being realized if I had to perform them.  Checking with my wife, we decided to invite friends over next Saturday.  Returning to work on Corvus tonight, the ideas did not all fall into place.  Now I'm wondering if this will come together.  And there are still the other two pieces.  Oh my, self doubt and negativity can arise so quickly.  Let the fun begin; the efforts provide the opportunities, the answers, and occasionally - music.

Friday, November 25, 2011

A Challenge


When I returned home from work today, I thought that I wanted to focus my guitar work on something new this evening.  Digging into my notebook of musical ideas I took out three scores of works in progress.  After working with one of the ideas for close to 40 minutes, I took a break by doing an Alexander Technique lie down.  I was grateful as my back let go of unneeded tension.  The idea Remember Quiet Evenings, did reveal some new notes and a different feel tonight.

When I returned to the guitar I moved onto the next idea, titled Corvus. There is a haunting quality to this, that I have yet to move forward. But just playing around with it, rekindled my interest in the idea.  I then looked at Danse Vivante, which I had not touched since this summer.  Moving to my desk to make a note to myself, I found my November Goals, one of which was to write three new pieces.  Gosh, I was optimistic at the beginning of this month.  But now as I sit here, I want to honor this to the best I am able.

I suspect that part of my motivation in writing this goal originally was that I know my professional life gets much busier at this time of the year.  New works always keep me eagerly coming back to the guitar regardless of my tiredness.  So with five days to go, I'll work to complete these three ideas.

Guess I better get back to the guitar.

Photo by Barry Stock.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Privilege

30 Days of Gratitude- Day 29

Tonight my heart is warm and my spirit content because I was able to play music for a lovely group of people in a very special persons home.  In this life we all want to be listened to, we all need to be listened to.  Truly touching to play in such an intimate space, and to have an audience purely and actively listening.  Music is meant to be heard, music comes alive when others are listening.

As I was preparing to leave my home, I stepped into the back yard and saw the first evening star through the top of a neighbors tree.  Weather it was Venus, Mars, or the North Star I am uncertain, but I did make a wish.   Later the Universe responded clearly through the hearts and spirits of the people I played for tonight. I'll never know why this music has come through me; but I do know I'll continue to practice, continue to learn, and be grateful for what is offered.  Happy Birthday Mama, while I know that you are still within me, you really are missed.

Raking the Mind

Fall mosaic

Out in the crisp early morning fall air.  The temperature is close to freezing, the sun shining, and hardly a sound in the urban forest known as my neighborhood.  The occasional tweet or chirp from the birds that winter in the DC metro greet me.  Gone are the beautiful natural symphonies of spring and summer, now just the quiet of a community still mostly at rest.  Time to rake leaves once again; so many leaves, so deep.  Can I approach this task as a practice?  Or merely get it done? Or as a beloved young person in my life pleaded last night - why don't you just hire someone.

As the rake stirs the first leaves beneath its tines, I listen to the scrunch of decaying life as I pull the leaves across the grass.  Hurrying a bit, how much can I get done before breakfast?  Before others in my family want my attention?  Enjoying just being outside in the sun.  With the shorter days and my professional life this is a luxury for me.  Breathing in and smiling as I watch the sunlight, dance in the tall oaks still tenaciously holdng onto their leaves.  As I dump the second tarp load by the curbside, I decide I could practice walking meditation as I return to the back yard.

As I bend to pick up my rake, I think of the Alexander Technique and how might I apply this here and now.  I do have a gig tonight, so I don't want to exert myself in a way that I am sore later.  Inviting in the AT directions as I rake, my movements take on more of a dance feel, fluid, light, and free.  Pausing before I take hold of the tarp, I pay attention to how I bend to grasp the tarp.  As I walk to the curb following my breath, I feel joy begin to grow in my mind.

A bit later, I find my mind wandering about.  Loosing the sense of the moment, I am merely raking again.  Thoughts of I could be doing better things with my time; am I too cheap to hire some one; too important for this task.  Laughing at my crazy wandering mind that is blocking me from the joy I had experienced minutes earlier, I pause again and finding my breath I begin to rake.  Noticing the frost is melting now and the grass is such a vibrant green.  The wind stirs the leaves still clinging to the oaks and offers me a brief song.   Dumping another load, I marvel at the simple act of walking back to the yard.  I continue to rake with care and attention, getting lost and then remembering to return to the present moment.  As my mind quiets I see once again that anytime I can be present with what I am doing, I am practicing music, practicing life.

I aim to be present with the guitar, with music, when I play.  But the mind has its own habits, and anytime I can practice turning my mind to the task at hand is precious.  Finding silence in raking, allows me to find silence in playing.  And then it is gone again.  Directing my thinking via AT, I notice the area of lawn that has now been raked.  I realize that a part of my mind has also been raked, building my practice of mindfulness and the Alexander Technique.  A bit clearer now, I smile again, grateful for the trees that help to sustain our planet, provide us shade, and home to the lovely songbirds.  No hurry in me now, I pause for coffee and writing.  Whatever I do today - may I be mindful, may I be free.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Back to the Middle

The curve in the middle of the path .... its gone what do you think???

From high to low in 24 hours, and through the actions of reflection, writing, and minding my thinking, I veer again towards the middle.  After blogging last night, I did some personal writing, followed by an Alexander Technique lie down and then returned to court music.

Beginning my playing with the first piece that ever came to me, A Journeyman's Way Home, allowed me to approach beginners mind.  Touching the joy and wonder of the Creative Act, I abandoned the notion of playing the set and moved on to playing Lost Balloon.  There is a section in the piece which is still uncertain in my left hand with my new guitar.  Accessing the 15th and 17th positions to play this part is not fluid.

After playing the part in the 15th position I noticed my right hand tensing as my left hand made the leap to the 17th position.  A good place to focus my work with the Alexander Technique.  Using inhibition and direction, I slowly introduced a continued length and freedom in my right hand in place of the tightening that had been happening.  I've always enjoyed working on the mechanics of playing, and this work nourished the joy and wonder within.  A thought arrived - this is a beautiful section and I am free to  play it well.

I continued to work slowly, praising my playing. and pausing before moving between sections and directing with AT.  I noticed my awareness deepening and that I was using myself more efficiently.  And then the thought that had arrived earlier morphed into - I am free to play beautifully.

Tonight I began with this thought in mind.  During my lie down, I held this sense of freedom in my entire body.  Cultivating this with thoughts of lengthening and widening my body, I  let go of the unneeded tensions accumulated during my day.  Working with this section of Lost Balloon again, I prompted my awareness to take in more of the room.  Directing upward to the trees outside, wider to the ocean far away.  Playing with the Alexander Technique, lightening up myself, including especially my spirit.  A gentle and loving practice ensued.  Amen.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Descending Clouds of Negativity

Shrouded Abyss  

We begin again constantly is a Guitar Craft aphorism frequently mentioned i n this blog. For good reason I might add, as I find myself lost over and over, and need to reboot my awareness once again.  I have just began my practice session over two times, after my initial attempt.  Here I am now, looking to expunge the thinking matters that are clouding my mind, and embrace the simple act of playing.  Thoughts are similar to clouds in many respects.  Some are light and fluffy, moving through our minds offering happiness and joy.  Others dense, dark, and ominous; bringing storms of disruption and havoc to our being.  Depending on my condition at any time, when the various clouds of thoughts arrived, they may be supported, nurtured, or distorted.  The good news is - they all come to pass. 

While journaling this morning, I was still basking in the energy generated by my playing last night.  A couple constructive thoughts arrived.  One was to shorten the set to better fit my energy stamina.  Another to allow myself a bit more space within to breath, if I again sense my energy diminishing towards the end of the set.  I recall a bit of judgement arising with the thought of shortening the set.  Negative thinking creeping into an otherwise great experience.  I moved onto Qi Gong and meditation and then departed for work.

During my commute, I found myself thinking "don't play the set tonight, you know it will not be as good as last night."  The negative seed within me that judges myself and others was breaking through the soil of my mind and beginning to grow.  I tried to laugh this off, and thought of just working on the rough spots in my playing tonight and allowing the spark from last night to live a bit longer.  Then my thinking moved to "why not get the inevitable over with, have the bad practice and move on."  Fortunately I arrived at work and the demands of my professional responsibilities took over.

Before playing tonight, I sat for twenty minutes.  Letting my body relax, following my breath, and working to quiet the mind.  I needed this tonight, knowing from experience that I was scattered enough that my playing would suffer if I just dove in.  Reminding myself of my intention, I tuned my guitar.  As soon as I began to play the clouds of negative thought erupted.  I wanted to just play through them, but the thoughts impacted my playing which generated more thoughts, generally of a negative bent and so forth.   I let go, brought order to some papers and returned to the guitar.

More negative thoughts erupted as I began playing, this time my thinking going back to work today and judging what I failed to accomplish.  Walking away again, I returned to begin a third time to no avail.  Deciding that getting these thoughts out here and out of my magic magnifying mind, might offer the freedom I need to begin again and move forward with one more effort.  Time for a lie down and a new beginning. Trusting and knowing that this is all part of the process, I smile.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Practicing Awareness

As for this sparkling awareness, which is called "mind,"

My awareness was strong until the ninth piece when I began to waver.Expect the unexpected.  Tonight my wife was supposed to be out of the house for the evening.  I created a set list for a house concert this coming Saturday night and was preparing to run it.  My intention for this performance is to be aware and to connect positively with the audience.  I continue to work with the 16 exercises of Mindful Breathing from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing.  Thich Nhat Hahn's masterful commentary on this Sutra is the subject of his book Breathe! You Are Alive.  These practices have been deepening my relationships with my body and mind, establishing mindfulness throughout my day.

Tonight as I was sitting on my stool, aware of my body and mind, quietly preparing to play, I heard the door open. My wife was home early.  I invited her, my number one audient, to listen to the set.  She graciously accepted.

After tuning, I reminded myself of my intention, and began to play.  The set consists of 10 pieces.  I was able to maintain the energy of a piece when a mistake occurred a few times, and not get lost nor distracted.  My awareness was strong until the ninth piece when I began to waver. During this piece as I was getting tired, I noticed I was beginning to slump towards the guitar and my legs began to "grasp" at the floor.  Holding on, better if I could have invited in the 16th exercise and concentrated on letting go.  Always so good to have such a loving supportive presence available to music in the form of my wife.  She is an active listener and her support is palpable.  Any night that I would play as well as I did tonight is a success.  I sense that something may be coming together, after years of practice.  The sensitivity of my new guitar also is a contributing factor.  I am a fortunate man to have much love and music in my life.

Friday, November 11, 2011

And So It Goes


Today is Kurt Vonnegut's birthday - November 11, 1922.  A writer who informed and influenced me in my youth.  During my freshman year of college, the afternoon before  my Calculus final in December, a friend gave me a copy of Slaughterhouse Five.  Knowing that my grade in Calculus was already moot, I dug into Vonnegut.  The personal rates of change I was undergoing at this time were not measured by the mighty Calculus, and though lost in many ways Vonnegut shone a bright light on my world.

If I had known any practicioners of Bokononism, I would have joined them or at least that's what I told myself.  I had discovered chanting and practiced for a while, but was not ready to embrace their path.  Finding more solace with the Existentialists, I wandered and wondered, strayed and dismayed.  But Kurt through his writing gave me hope, a retreat from the confusion and chaos of life in the 70's.

As I was practicing tonight, thinking through the Alexander Technique, I recalled one of my favorite lines from The Sirens of Titan, uttered by Sir Winston Niles Rumford: "Let the people take care of themselves and God Almighty will take care of Himself." Chuckling at this pure Vonnegut wit, I sensed the tips of my fingers lengthening from my back. 

I worked with this with David at our AT class this week.  "The grip" that is known as my left hand, finding release and freedom in the moment.  My chuckle was because I was taking care of myself.  The musical inspiration comes from the Beyond, but I must take care of the instrument.  Meditation, the Alexander Technique, and Qi Gong form the basis of the practice that sustains me today.

Breathing in I know that I am alive; breathing out I smile. And so it goes.

God Bless You Mr. Vonnegut.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Is How What?

A new piece is emerging.  My work is to be open and allow the potential to be realized.  How to do this?  Actually the question I just asked may mean - what do I do?  One answer - return to the first practice I learned in Guitar Craft - Do Nothing.  Even after 22 years this remains difficult at the times that I most need to practice this?  Why? Attachment perhaps. Doubt.  Entrenched Habits.  Experiences from youth and beyond.

The working title is Remembrance. The Polish translation is Pamiętać.  What am I remembering?  Is this a form of honoring my actual and spiritual ancestors? Am I remembering to Do Nothing, as much as possible?   Oh my, I better get back to my guitar.

Friday, November 4, 2011


Awake at 5:10 am today.  Not an uncommon hour to me, I was rested and ready to begin my day.  The vestiges from a difficult emotional afternoon yesterday still resounding beneath the surface. After journaling, I began my meditation, but quickly realized I had a physical component that needed to be discharged or transformed.  I was waiting to do Qi Gong in case my wife awakened, but I knew I needed what this practice provides.  After 15 minutes of Qi Gong, I began my meditation again, eventually letting go of the negativity built up by my habit energies and finding peace and joy.

After a long professional day, I arrived home tired.  The week was done and after dinner and resting I would turn to my guitar.  But I found the tiredness was deeper than I realized and the desire to play was difficult to muster.  Yet I also knew I needed to play; to feel the vibrations; to listen to the notes.  Besides this coming Sunday I am to play a piece for an Evening of Remembrance with the Washington Mindfulness Community, and I have not decided what I'll play.

To the basement telling myself I only needed to play through the three pieces I am considering and perhaps determine which I'll play.  After playing one piece, I began improvising with an idea that surfaced last night. The spark was there and I began to follow.  My body and my spirits revived as music whispered as.  Finding two stretches for my left hand to be difficult as I was not warmed up, I paused and directed via AT.  Finding my shoulders and my back, releasing my neck and simply breathing with the memory of what I had played.  Proceeding slowly in this manner, holding the energy of excitement with what I was playing and inhibiting the desire to end gain by pushing my left hand.  Wondering what this piece was about - someone from my past?  A sense of loss was present in the notes.  Playing and pausing; breathing and inhibiting, I noticed I was coming alive again.  I sensed that perhaps what was coming out was related to my lost youth. The young man who wanted to play music but became lost and dispersed.

Should I notate, record or do a lie down I found myself thinking.  Then I moved to the floor, my body grateful for the rest.  Enjoying the release that the lie down offers, I knew could go to bed right then and there if I allowed myself.  I also knew that music was courting me, and if I took care of myself when I returned to the guitar something might arrive.

Noticing how beautiful my guitar as I paused before picking her up.  Gently playing the introduction, and venturing forth,  I found a loud chord resounding beneath my fingers.  Following with my heart and ears a beautiful section arrived.  Taking in the room, smiling to days gone by, I continued to explore and to pause and come back home.  Trusting that the music is in my ear enough to return to tomorrow, I decided to tend to the blog. My perceptions of events skews easily as time passes.  Happy that I picked up my guitar and made myself available.  Now it is time to rest.

Photo by Barry Stock.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Simple Truth


The more mindful I am of my body, the easier it is to be mindful of my body. As I establish mindfulness of my body, my mind quiets; which makes it easier to be mindful of my body. With this increased awareness, playing the guitar becomes joyful. Very simple; very powerful; all you need to do is practice following your breath and during the in-breath be aware of your whole body. Then during the out-breath again be aware of your whole body. Once this is established during the in-breath release the tension in your whole body and again during the out-breath release the tension of your whole body. Two very simple, complete, and powerful exercises.

Recently, while practicing in this way I noticed that this awareness supports the Alexander Technique directions and allows myself to lengthen and widen. The lengthening and widening through AT, supports the release of tension throughout my psycho-physical system. AT is a mindfulness of the body practice that has impacted me tremendously. Establishing the mindfulness of the body by observing the breath and using gathas has been taught since the time of the Buddha. Both are powerful and are mutually supportive. Both can be practiced anywhere, with any activity. Grateful I have been exposed to both and shown how to practice.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Does it Matter?

contain the broken.

Early tonight I saw a tweet from a composer looking for ways to subdivide 19. Looking at what he has so far I noticed (3,4,3,4,5) was missing, which also looked to be fun to explore with arpeggios.  Life has been wonderfully full of late.  Besides my earlier retreat, I attended two talks by Thich Nhat Hahn this week and flew to Boston overnight for a memorial service.  Time with my guitar has been minimal this week to say the least.

After playing through Gathered Hearts, I decided to play with the subdivision of 19 that had arrived earlier.  This was good for me since I have not played much this got my right in the mode of exploring and having fun.  As I improvised with this as a frame, a few interesting ideas emerged.  Enough to engage and keep me working.  Nothing final came out of this, but something was began and this is what matters.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Stepping Into Freedom

How to begin when there is no beginning?

I spent a week on retreat with the venerable Thich Naht Hahn, and my practice went deeper than ever before.  There were over 1000 participants and the energy of Mindfulness was being cultivated all day long.  Though I did not play a lot during the retreat, the times that I did were sweet and present.

Coming back home, we maintained the practice the following day in our home as a way to reenter gently.  When I returned to work, I noticed a sensation in my throat that warned me a microbe was in the process of hijacking my biochemistry.  And they did. The past two days have found me recovering with Thai lemon grass soup, meditation, and rest.  By evening I have felt strong enough to play for a while and these moments have been delightful.  Noticing that the energy of the retreat is still within me, I am grateful for the silence and stillness that was cultivated, while being overwhelmed by the love that was transmitted. 

Monday, October 3, 2011

Simple Adjustments

Fractal Frost

I needed to change strings tonight.  When I began to put new strings on the guitar, I realized I had to adjust the truss bar as the strings were now buzzing on the frets.  A simple adjustment to free the neck of the guitar and then I completed the restringing.

While doing my AT lie down prior to playing tonight, I was enjoying the sensation of my back letting go.  The muscles lengthening and widening, giving rise to a quieter mind and a sense of well being.  Following my breath, while contemplating my body, I noticed the tension dissolve into the floor.  None of this is a new experience for me, yet every time the process is unique.  The release of the muscles shifts the energies and the focus of my thinking in the body creates a union within.  A harmony perhaps of body, mind, and spirit.  Another simple adjustment.

As I noticed my rib cage moving; I wondered if the intercostal muscles, which I recall from my days of studying science, also lengthen and widen?  What a marvelous complex biochemical and mechanical system has been given to me.  How I am using this system?  Do I play guitar from a place of mechanical advantage fostering good use?  Or do I succumb to the habits that have kept me alive and chase the end at whatever cost to my body and psyche?  Tonight I choose to develop good use.  Grateful for all those wonderful people who have shared their knowledge of the Alexander Technique with me over the years.  Gently introducing freedom into my body and thought and showing me how to do this on my own.

Reflecting back on this morning, when I absolutely needed Qi Gong and my morning sitting to focus my day.  The small break at my desk to reflect and breath.  A quiet moment in the car on my commute home to once again let go and find the present moment.  Many, many simple adjustments in service to life.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Think Up

6 o 9

Think Up and

- allow my neck be free,

- allow the notes to soar,

- let myself be,

- release my heart to roar,

- begin to think up some more ...

Saturday, October 1, 2011

It Might Get Loud

One of the first things that Pedro de Alcantara noticed about my playing during Monday's lesson is that I need to develop my potential to play loud and beautiful.  I knew this, yet have never moved far in this direction.  Playing quiet fits the meditative aspects of the music that comes to me, with the exception of the introduction in Scattered Hearts.  The interesting aspect of Pedro's comment was that I when he explained this in the terms of having the latent ability within me to play loud, I understood this on some level and trusted his musicianship enough to begin working with this that night.

Throughout this week some part of my practice was devoted to a loud improvisation.  Why does loud denote reckless and even a certain ugliness in my expression?  Perhaps because when I play loud finger style on an acoustic guitar, it takes enough force that this act throws me off balance?  Thursday night while improvising loud, an interesting musical idea surfaced.  I had fun with this idea and allowed it to develop.  Finishing practicing after 11pm, I resisted blogging and went to bed.  Last night I again investigated this idea and watched as other aspects of my recent improvisations began to inform this work.  Tonight I again spent 45 minutes or so on this one idea alone.

Besides the forte introduction, faster playing has been introduced into this particular piece.  Where this will end up, I do not know.  I sense the music and am following, listening to what is needed and letting go.  Enjoying the moment of discovery and the presence of music whispering. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Next Steps

Latent - present but not visible, apparent, or actualized; existing as potential.

I am still vibrating positively from an Alexander Technique/Music Lesson I had with Pedro de Alcantara yesterday.  Much was given to me; yet he made me reach for what he had to offer.  Grateful that more steps towards love were made in the hands of a master.  Much information and experience to process, develop, and embrace.  Over time these latent abilities will inform and allow the next steps to be found, the next steps to growth.  Not enough words to adequately explain the experience, but if you ever have the opportunity to have a lesson with Pedro seize the moment, without thought.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Low Energy Raised

Sunspot 1121 Unleashes X-ray Flare

A low energy afternoon.  This seems to be becoming my norm on Sundays, in keeping with a day of rest I suppose.  Began my day with a sitting while it was still dark, followed by Qi Gong.  After breakfast I had to meet with some friends, and then ran errands.  Cleaned up items on my to do list at home, and then the energy plunge began before lunch.  I fell asleep reading Coming Through Slaughter by Michael Ondaataje, a great based on the story of the cornet player Buddy Bolden.

Phone calls and chain saws interrupted any chance of a long nap, so back to reading.  I've been keeping up with the pauses to direct my thinking with the Alexander Technique.  Time to move onto improvising, perhaps a low energy improv is the place to begin.

As soon as I began to improvise in a gentle way, I noticed I was waking up to the moment.  I had paused and directed before opening my case, intoned my guitar gatha, and moved right into playing.  As I continued to improvise, I continued to notice my energy rise.  I moved onto a deconstruction of Kinnara, and followed this with an inquiry into dyads.  After this I quickly found a short melody and followed where I was led.  Pausing to find myself, I closed this portion of my session with a spirited rendition of Gathered Hearts.  Grateful that the act of music unleashed energy into my day.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


View of the entire near-infrared sky

With this commitment to Creative Pact 2011 along with my investigating improvisation, I am also allowing the Alexander Technique to facilitate my use in the act of playing.  This is subtle and frequently below the surface of my ability to capture in words.  In general, I have been thinking and thus using AT more and more in the course of my day.  Many efforts of the application of AT to my guitar practice have been captured in this blog over the past two years.  Yet those smaller moments of returning to direct my thinking while brushing my teeth, walking at work, sitting in traffic, and all the mini pauses throughout my day has intensified this month.

As I completed my sitting today, I thought of my upcoming AT lesson with Pedro de Alcantara on Monday.  How might I best prepare for this I thought?  Practice of course, I smiled, yet this is a question that is larger than one lesson.  How might I best prepare for life might be the real question.  So for this weekend I decided to pause every half hour and direct my thinking with the Alexander Technique.  To cultivate this freedom and ease of use and perhaps be in a place where I am present to absorb what I can from this lesson with Pedro.

As I approached my case after writing the above, I inhibited my action to open it.  Directing and finding myself in the space before the case, I allowed my right hand to unclasp one clasp and then while thinking to keep my neck free, I opened the rest.  Reciting my guitar gatha as I took hold of and removed the guitar, I kept the directions alive.  When I placed the guitar on my body I was free.

 I played through Gathered Hearts to set the mood and then played three short improvisations.  I was a bit amazed how easily three ideas came to me, the last one with a Bach feel to it.  I noticed towards the end of the third one that I was holding my jaw.  How often do I do this when playing, when living?

This afternoon, I began by improvising on my piece Gathered Hearts.  I was amazed at the music that could easily be generated by playing with and expanding the framework of this piece.  I then moved onto an exploring an idea generated by Pedro de Alcantara's exercise called the Cat's Leap.  Then I improvised on Gathered Hearts again and then played with Pedro's idea some more.  I noticed a bit of tension in my neck as I was playing this last improv.  Old habits die hard.

My wife arrived home and I improvised on Gathered Hearts and another free idea while she listened.  Then as she took a call, I continued improvising with various ideas for another 15-20 minutes.  Feeling free and comfortable, happy that there has been a shift in my approach and confidence. The directing on the half hour fell  apart while I was at a film with my wife and for some time before and after this.  C'est la vie, we begin again constantly.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Strength Through Clarity

Thinking about beginnings in relationship to improvisation. A clear strong musical statement is as vital to moving an improvisation along as the beginning of a composed piece of music. Tonight I focused on generating clarity in my beginnings. The first improv began with staccato notes in A major ending with a staccato fourth chord. Variations on this ensued. After turning off the tape for this first effort, I found a compelling opening in D minorish. Pushing record I was off, having fun, varying the tempo and dynamics and dropping in the occasional surprise. Noticing that I was arriving at en ending, I found a satisfying end around 2 minutes and 20 seconds.

Loud short bass notes alternating with loud staccato high notes found me delighting in the next twist and turn. Before long this felt as if I might be getting too many ideas that was sacrificing a sense of unity. At some point I stopped. Returning to my question from last week - What does mystery sound like? I began exploring dyads, allowing space and tension. I was engaged and following where I was pointed. Again I found myself where perhaps too much was being put out there, but I'm not sure. One day I may listen to all of these efforts, but the important aspect of this evening was to focus on the beginning. With these clear strong beginnings, I found the process of improvisation to be stronger and better focused.

Returning to the guitar for 6 or 7 more improvisations, I realize now that there was very little judgement of my work tonight while in the act of playing.  Accepting what was coming out as the notes played.  This is a definite quality that is vital for me to cultivate.  I recognized the end of one 'piece' because of the sense of silence that was enveloping the music.  One very sweet moment for me.   All in all a good nights work.  

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Threads of Belief

Throughout history how many wars have been fought because of beliefs?  Throughout my life how much has been accomplished because of my beliefs?  How much left undone because of my beliefs?
Always good to examine our beliefs; good to question and maybe even let them go.

I believed I had performance anxiety so I did. Until one day I was told to trust that music would be there if I was.  I believed that the Alexander Technique was something that was valuable when done to me.  Now I know that I can direct my thinking and achieve freedom and better use of myself.  I believed I was not an improvisor, even though most of my compositions began with improvisation.  Now I know I can also take this a step further and I am.  Why?  Because I believe.  What do you believe?  Are your beliefs holding you back?  Or moving your forward?

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Something Happening

Something Happened

              There's something happening here ....

Day 21  of spending most of my practice sessions improvising, thinking about improvising, and writing about my thinking and improvising.  Tonight I dove in, no warm up, no playing a couple familiar pieces, just into the deep end. And I swam for 40 minutes. Ideas emerging from the ether, playing them, playing with them, and moving on.  Stopped dead twice because I was "trying" too hard with my left hand.

Both of these pauses I allowed the Alexander Technique to connect me with myself, the space, and with my aim.  How did this happen?  I've been preparing the ground for years with the guitar.  Lots of working on my thinking about this aspect of music making and my ability to play and enjoy the creative act.  And tonight I let go.  No thinking, no preparing,  just playing notes and following.  Mostly the tape was running. Without listening I know there were clams, I know I got lost, and I know there was magic.  That's enough.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Long Tones Lead Listening in Improvisation

long ago ...

Last night I aborted a short, late, and tired session.  My entire day I was "cruising in overdrive."  Neither my body, mind, nor spirit had anything left to give, so rather than discourage myself I let go.  Tonight I was able to begin earlier in the evening, after resting from work. After my AT lie down. For some reason I took my trusty old Ovation 1867 out of the case.  Though I'm not sure when I last played her, she was really close to being in tune.

Smiling as I noticed the stickers my granddaughter had placed on her, I played through Gathered Hearts.  This piece began while we were playing around with the Ovation.  The stickers always remind me not to take myself too seriously.  Then I played Kinnara.  The thought to begin an improvisation with long tones arose and I did.  Almost instantly I realized part of why I like to begin with long tones is that I can just listen as they unfold and follow where this leads me.  I played through four more improvisations all around the 2 minute mark, all satisfying in the moment.  I don't know if it was the long tones getting my listening in gear or the reminder of the stickers to drop the seriousness that made this relaxed and fun.

After a break and a lie down I returned to the guitar.  The Breedlove this time.  The tone so lovely and so much more responsive.  Setting the mood with Here We Are, I turned my attention to improvisation.  The first one was  with fourth chords and I played with a confidence that shows me the work done here is paying off.  Onto exploring dyads and then long tones.  The thought to play what FEAr might sound like had me beginning with an Fm7 chord and moving to Em and Am before it took on it's own life. I noticed I was using myself poorly in this improv and directed my thinking while playing looking to allow release.  For the final improvisation I began with wide intervals.  Again I found myself collapsing on the guitar and again directed my thinking to lengthen and widen while continuing to play.   A good nights work completed.

Photo by Rosemary

Saturday, September 17, 2011

No Mystery

Is this a pike?

For ten minutes I sat and held the question - What does mystery sound like?  The usual answer's arriving and being let go.  As I moved to open my case I looked out the window and realize I certainly know what mystery looks like.  Trees, flowers, buildings, and people.  All arising from the unknown.  The sound of a child crying arises in my mind; letting go of this and I think of laughter.  Then I am flooded with unrelated thoughts.

After tuning I sit and again ask myself the question - long tones, Gregorian Chant arise.  Suddenly I am hypersensitive to the sounds outside.  Long tones arrive again, I know I want to begin with long tones, a certain anxiousness arrives and I continue to hold this question.  Am I a madman arises in my thinking.  I begin to play and do so for nearly 4 minutes with the tape running.  Again I sit and wait,  thoughts arrive and go, and I play again for 3:45.  I did notice some collapse as I played and directed to release this as I could.  This second take 'felt' real good to me.  One more take in a similar manner and again this felt right.  A part of me wanted to listen back to the tape, but I did not.

A session later with three more improvisations all of which felt like shit. Perhaps this improvising a musical answer to this question is beyond me.  Doubts arising about my ability to undertake this challenge of spontaneous composition period.  Yet I know I'll persist with this commitment, I know this.  Discouraged, I wanted to listen to the early tapes, but decided against this for now.

Chuckling as this title for this post arrives - No Mystery.  The associative leap to Chick Corea electric band's funky masterpiece is instantaneous.  The thinking continues ... can I direct my thinking?

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Middle and a Question

The middle of the Creative Pact 2011 process is upon me.  Can I stay true to investigating how the Alexander Technique can influence improvisation for the rest of this month? So far I have and it's always nice to have help.  Morning bike rides and Qi Gong in the surf.  No demands from colleagues, patients, or their families.  More time to devote to meditation and reflection. The real bonus is time with my guitar when I'm in a refreshed state without undue time pressure to get my practice time in.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, I've been using Pedro de Alcanatara's book Indirect Procedures.  I have also begun rereading Understanding Our Mind by Thich Naht Hahn and just today reopened Creative Thinking by J.G. Bennett for the first time in years.

The first couple pages of Creative Thinking framed my practice session's today.  Improvisation is a big world, and while I doubt that in this life time I'll take up a study of jazz, there is still plenty to explore and learn.  Throughout my musical process, improvisation has always been a part of my practice, and has been the stimulus for the pieces that have come through me.   But this month, I am spending more time with improvisation.  Exploring and examining different aspects for me.  Today, I began with a simple frame of using C major.  Then I expanded this to begin with a rhythm in five.  Three different times the rhythmic aspect was quickly abandoned, as was the restraint of C major.  The music was gentle as was my use.  Even though the constraints were quickly let go, I find it good to have a beginning point.  I then moved onto improvising arpeggios in seven using fourth chords.  Lots of spirited fun here and I was able to maintain a good sense of my use.

How to enter into new improvisational spaces though?  Ask questions perhaps?  This thought was inspired by Creative Thinking.  What would mystery sound like?  What would gratitude sound like?  What would the process of moving from anger to peace sound like?  I played an improvisation on using each of these questions, with the tape machine running.  Using AT prior to beginning each improvisation entered the unknown.  During the third one, I had a greater than usual awareness of how I was using myself to play.  Each of these improvs were longer than the earlier more basic musical explorations.  And there was something about the third one that woke something up in me.

This is where Mr. Bennett's book became useful with his approach of holding the question.  During my second session of the day, I began with exploring the "anger into peace question" again.  But this time I sat with the guitar and the question, but kept rejecting the answers that I thought of - tritones, fast & intense, loud, abrasive and so on.  Sometimes hearing notes, but still inhibiting my playing.  Allowing a space to form for something new.  When I did begin to play, I just went with what came out.  Smiling when a quote from the Stone's Paint it Black arrived at the end. 

I moved onto the question of what does mystery sound like? Again, I worked with holding the question and again many thoughts arose. Eventually without an answer I allowed myself to play.  And then I repeated this process, at times aching to play, but waiting and rejecting the ideas that arose and looking for a quiet but active space to emerge.  The third time I worked with this question, the mysteries of the church of my youth came to mind.  Without thinking further I began to play.  My playing felt different.  I should add here that during this process, while rejecting thoughts I was also working to keep the AT directions alive.  The AT work was supporting the effort of holding the question, by keeping me grounded in the sense of my body while my mind was at times quite active.  Another exploration of mystery was undertaken.  I simply played open strings for a while as I held the question.  Simply listening to the stacked fifths, as thoughts came and went.  When I did begin to play I was quiet, accepting of my playing, focused in my use.  At the end of the piece, I began thinking that maybe this was a way to record a release of improvisations.

Another effort with "mystery" and the thought -<i> I don't know what mystery sounds like</i> - arrived. I have no idea how this sounded, but again I was exploring new musical areas for me and played with a confidence more akin to a composed piece.  One final effort yielded a similar result.  All told this exploration os the mystery question took me close to 40 minutes.  Each take was taped, but for me the musical outcome is not as important as the process I undertook to arrive there.  More explorations to follow.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Savouring the Unknown

Three-Day Kayak and Hiking Tour of the Channel Islands (San Miguel, Santa Rosa, Santa Cruz) After my sitting today, I improvised on an idea that arose yesterday in Amaj/Cmaj.  No measurable progress was made, but I did do the work and then enjoyed a bike ride and Qi Gong in the surf. Later I read a snippet from Pedro de Alcantara's great book on the Alexander Technique called Indirect Procedures.  Regarding fear of improvisation Pedro states:  This universal fear always manifests itself in misuse of the whole self. To learn to improvise is to lose fear and, consequently, to stop misusing the self.

What happens when I improvise?  I engage the unknown in music and in myself.  Fear ever so subtle, even manifest in playing guitar which I so dearly love.  In an Alexandrian sense what happens to my use when I play "wrong" notes or find that I do not know what to play next?  I begin to rush and I tend to collapse my upper body.  The judgement voice usually in a negative tone arises within me.  How can I use AT to help my savour the unknown?

Today I decided to improvise in various styles for just four bars.  Maintaining an awareness of my use while improvising was paramount.  If I completed four bars without collapsing the improvisation was a success.  I paused between playing through various ideas and directed my thinking via AT.  A sense of letting go emerged as I continued to play in this way.  In my use certainly, but also in my thinking about myself as an improvisor and in the music.

After a short break to write notes, I returned to this notion of improvising four bars.  A piece was developing and a moment arose where the slight fear of the unknown manifested.  I paused very briefly and thought of openness.  Bold confident notes came out and well past the four bars I found an ending.  The pause was momentary and if an audience had been present could have been perceived as a musical rest.  The pause was significant for me, showing me the power of slowing down and being open.

Another attempt yielded overall positive results.  As the improv developed and became tricky, I noticed my upper left arm was tensing and I had begun holding my breath.  I am certain that the tension had been developing beneath my level of awareness as I played.  I did not find a way to release this tension as I played.  Getting excited now I was ready to rush into the next exploration.

Sensing that I may be end gaining, I choose instead to do a lie down.  As my back hit the floor I noticed the tension in my spine.  Letting this go, I was still eager to proceed.  But I stayed with the lie down and released my neck, spine, leg, and arms.  When I did begin again - loud intense notes played at a tempo much faster than the others.  At times I felt as if I was holding on,  while at other times I felt free.  Towards the end I again noticed I was holding my breath, the very breath of life.  These three improvisations all proceeded past the four bars I had originally established and the all had a sense of music to me.  May the learning continue as I approach the middle of this month long exploration inspired by Creative Pact 2011.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Changing My Thinking About Improvisation

Shanklin chine at night 

Walking to the beach, my wife reminds me to have thoughts of openness and freedom.  I meditate on this while walking in the surf.  Breathing in - I am free, breathing out - I am open.  Some of my steps are easier and lighter, as the ocean ebbs and flows around my legs, just as some thoughts and habits are easier to walk through than others.  As I continue to meditate on openness and freedom, I also allow these thoughts to be held:  I can improvise music.  I am free to create spontaneous compositions.  I am free to create music in the moment. Happy as I notice how these thoughts which just a couple weeks ago made me twitch, are now being received with ease.

      I sit and watch the ocean continuing to meditate on openness and freedom. Just as the soft breeze blows across my skin, I imagine my fingers gently caressing the strings of my guitar.  Waves of sound rising and falling, riveting and soothing.  Any note can follow any note.  Any chord can be the sound of freedom. Release the mental, confining constraints, and just be with the sounds as the music unfolds.  Be the inspired and the inspiration.  Just BE.

    What is changed when we observe our breath?  What is changed when we sense our bodies?  Coming alive to the moment of our doing, we may become open to a choice beyond our habits, a choice beyond right and wrong.  Freedom arrives, is glimpsed excitedly and then I am lost again.  If I direct my attention, freedom may again become possible.  We begin again constantly, as the Guitar Craft aphorism so aptly enlightens.  Waves of presence, followed by waves of absence, until the splash of waking up arrives once more.

    Will I allow my sands of time to be eroded by habits?  Or will I act from principle?  Train the mind?  Release the unnecessary?  Cultivate the positive?  Be open and partake of the help that is available?  Understanding that my habits are subtle and obstinate, I must have help to release them.  Habits developed over a lifetime, perhaps over many generations, do not yield overnight.  Except for the occasional, extraordinary event, habits usually unravel in a gradual but persistent release.

    This release requires discipline and dedication to principle, an intentional approach, oftentimes aided by the divine.  In any case, I have to ask for help.  Ask myself, what am I willing to commit?  Ask others who have trudged the path before me for guidance?  Plead for assistance from the unknown.  And then I practice, as often as I remember.

    When the sun rises once more, with my first waking breath, I ask again.  Grateful for another chance to train my mind and change my life, I align myself to a higher principle.  Being gentle and generous in my approach to myself and to others, I breathe in good thoughts.  And I smile as I breathe out.  Alive again, I take a step into life...and then another.  The Breath is always with me.  Am I with the Breath?  Release the unnecessary and arrive in a new place.  The present moment.  Home of the known and the unknown.  Arriving at a castle in heaven, that, for me, is made of sand.  Begin again constantly...act from principle...breathe in...release the sand.

Photo by Andy Buckland

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Release the Unnecessary

    I began my practice by playing Where We Are, moved onto an improvisation, then played through Kinnara, and followed with another improvisation.  There was something about the energy of music flowing with a piece andcthen alternating with improvisation that I liked.  The Crafty aphorism Release the unnecessary came to mind.  I was prepared to play through Gathered Hearts but decided to inhibit this action and work with the AT directions instead. 
    I came up with a new improvisation based on the AT directions: 
    *release my neck and allow my head to flow like a cloud
    *allow my spine to release upward into the heavens
let me back be as wide as the cosmos
    *allow my legs to release from the pelvis and my feet to kiss the earth
    *my shoulders as wide as the ocean
    *my arms lengthening to the horizon, allowing my fingers to release music as the ocean releases a wave.

    As I returned to improvising on the guitar, I quickly found myself thinking and judging about my musical choices.  I realized another release - unnecessary thinking and judgment was in order.  Not only is this a good musical practice, but it can serve me well in other circumstances as I improvise my life.  As I moved on in the improvisation, I smiled.  I also realized that I needed to release the unnecessary thinking and judgment that approved of how the improvisation was unfolding.  I do not need to get swallowed and lost in my thinking, but simply remain present to what I am doing.  “Accept, allow and play” could be my mantra.  Release the concept of right and wrong and instead focus on movement in the musical moment.  On a larger scale, focus on the movement in my thinking...focus on the movement of my life.

Screenshot from Brian Eno's 77 Million Pictures.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

A day of preparation                                          and consolidation.

When I did get to pickup my guitar, I began to improvise


dyads & nearby notes.

minor ninths


minor thirds.

Something happened. I went deeper. Cared even less.




Appears my preparation and consolidation is now complete.

Screenshot from 77 Million Paintings by Brian Eno

Friday, September 9, 2011

One That Almost Got Away

Another tired Friday evening.  I was trying to convince myself to take the night off.  One good decision I made was to at least begin with my AT lie down.  Once the energy began to flow, I reasoned I might as well play a few pieces.  I could take the night off from my improvisation exploration, just have a little fun with music.  Let the strings sooth my soul.

I placed the partial capo in the second position ready to play Gathered Hearts, and instead I began to improvise.  Gently probing, listening, and my thinking turned again to Eno.  A dyad caught my ear, followed by an arpeggio and we drifted along.  As one fragment followed another, I arrived at an ending.  No tape was rolling, so I began again.  My SD card is full and I did not want the distraction of making room, so I kept playing.  Eventually I decided to notate the beginning.

While doing this I turned on 77 Million Paintings, writing, playing ideas on the guitar, watching the images unfold.  The musical fragments grew and while the sense of the 'piece' remained, I took more chances.  As I did this, my legs began tensing and I found I had lost all sense of myself.  Pausing to direct my thinking with AT, I returned to the images onscreen and to the images being drawn by the notes.  The primary ideas are on paper and I trust the spirit of the piece is in me and will return. I'll resist pushing hard and prepare myself for another day.

Screenshot from  77 Million Paintings.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Oblique Improvising

Long day at work today followed by a long wet commute home.  I had a brief time available to play guitar before I went to a friend's celebration.  I languished a bit with my AT lie down, enjoying the release this simple but powerful practice offers.  Reinforcing the thought that improvising is easy to do, I began.  Flat, uninspired,  more flat - simply the reality of where I was.  The judging thoughts tried to impose themselves on me, and to a degree they did.  Returning to what worked last night I did enjoy improvising around the arpeggios in fourths and sixths again.

Returning home at 9:45 pm, I was ready to call this a night.  Yet I felt as if I had not made an effort with my commitment to the Creative Pact 2011 project.  I know the value of honoring commitments, and tiredness is not a reason to let go of what I needed to do.  As I thought of what to do, Brian Eno came to mind.  What would Eno do, to find a way past his habits and be open to music.  The thought that arrived was to fire up my copy of 77 Million Paintings and improvise a soundtrack.  Sparse, simple, and Enoish moments came and went, replaced by other moments.  Watching the changing  collage of color, lines, shapes offered me a focus.

The time flowed gently.  I thought that I was not thinking about the Alexander Technique much.  Smiling I let this pass, and played on.   Very occasionally wishing for my neck to be free. Just releasing the notes from within this space the images and overall influence of Eno created.  Yes, improvising is easy to do ...

Screenshot from Brian Eno's 77 Million Paintings.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

False Starts With Faith

"String Web" woven sculpture by Machiko Agano

Found my notes earlier this week that David Jernigan had taken from what may be my favorite podcast about the Alexander Technique.  Pedro de Alcantara, an AT instructor, was interviewed by Diana Rumrill on her wonderful series on Musician's Health called Harmonious Bodies.  David's notes were taken in a rich text format and the first one which appeared to float off the page after I completed my practice last evening is

                  ** things are easy to do ** 

Yes they are, especially when I am present to the task at hand.  The next line on the notes reads

     put yourself in the frame of mind to do so;
                     work on frame of mind.

Certainly sage advice.  Mindful breathing and the Alexander Technique bring about a harmonization of my body and mind.  As the Dhammapada tells us All that we are arises with our thoughts.  If I tend to the garden of my mind and water the seeds of music, improvisation, peace, or anything that I wish to manifest, I am laying the groundwork for bringing this into being.  So today I reflected on the thought - improvisation is easy for me.  Over the years I have watered many positive seeds in my thinking and I know that changing my "frame of mind" takes time.  So I practice watering positive seeds.

When my guitar practice time arrived, I was in a good frame of mind to begin.  After completing my AT lie down, my energy was flowing, my body and mind engaged.  While opening the case I knew I was opening my case, picking up my guitar, I was present.  And tonight, music taught me patience, showed me a couple areas to study.  I began a few different improvs and they quickly fell apart.  These false starts began to concern me, but I reminded myself this is part of the process.  Wondering how am I to sustain this for the month of my Creative Pact 2011 commitment?  Can I continue to blog about improvisation and the Alexander Technique without becoming redundant?  The simple thought - have faith came to mind.

Smiling, I began to alter an arpeggio exercise in fourths and sixths.  Concerning myself with the quality of the notes I was playing, moving slowly and without concern I quieted my mind.  Simple melodies emerged along with a few surprise twists.  Pausing to check in via AT, I began again with a different chord and slowly explored the possible.  One more time and I took a break to write this.

Now for another lie down to re-harmonize myself before returning to the guitar.

I reminded myself that improvisation is easy as I completed my lie down. Three more efforts, two with clearly defined beginnings and the third began with abandon.  Moments that were musical emerged in all three, with surprise and horror also arising in the third.  By pausing and directing my thinking via AT between each improv, I was able to maintain a sense of myself while exploring the various musical situations.

One more lie down and this variation on the AT directions came to me.  Improvisation is easy when my neck is free.  Improvisation is easy when my spine is lengthening and widening.  Improvisation is easy when my back is long and wide.  Improvisation is easy as my legs release from my pelvis to my knees, from my knees to my ankles.  Easy when my feet are long and wide.  When my shoulders are away music flows through me.  When my arms are long all the way through my fingers I am better able to touch music. 

I hope that my improvisation with the Alexander Technique directions does not offend nor misinform anyone.  What transpired after this lie down was sublime.  Nights like this I want to go into the wee hours of the morning, but I have my responsibilities at work tomorrow.  Something tells me that I will play more once I publish this post.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

One Small Step

Teotihuacan - tempel van de zon

While driving to work today, I was reflecting on my work with improvisation last night.  I began improvising a melody in my mind, when I realized I could sing an improv instead.  Fairly quickly I realized the limitations of my singing wide intervals, but I persisted nonetheless.  I returned to this a few times during work today, gently singing a melody created in the moment.  While I have done this before,  and have even consciously work on a developing piece in this way, I'm not sure why I have never thought of this as improvisation.

Tonight I had my Alexander Technique lesson with David Jernigan who also happens to be an accomplished jazz bassist,  plays guitar and piano.  I knew that I would have to continue my work on the Creative Pact 2011 commitment I made to work with improvisation and AT with David tonight.  As it was raining I began to use this as an excuse to leave my guitar at home.  I did have an AT related question for us to work with tonight.  A tendency I have to "hold on" with my right leg & foot, and a similar tendency with my left hand.  David has shown me how to apply AT to release my left hand, and this has happened markedly in the past two months.  We worked with the sense of lengthening along the diagonal between the left shoulder and the right leg.  Releasing the lower back to release the leg.

David put me on the table and with gentle manipulation and direction introduced a greater release and length in me.  As I went to get up we talked about the habit I noticed a couple weeks ago, of always rising from a lie down to my right side.  This came up as I had began to roll to the right.  I did choose to continue in this direction, but at least now it is not always just a habitual response to rising.  As I sat on the table, he asked if I was ready to play guitar.  A part of me did not want to get the guitar out of the case and improvise, even though this was the intention I established last night.

A short improvisation followed by a short discussion. And then another, which was moving along and then I was lost as to where to go and stopped.  A bit more discussion about vulnerability and stepping out into the unknown.  I mentioned that I was not using my body to withdraw away from him and hide.  Then David asked me to play again.  This take began with a tritone and had a sense of musical direction throughout.  A bit varied in intensity, and I followed with what developed until I found an ending.  The duration was probably less than two minutes and at one point self-judgement slipped into my thinking, but overall I remained free.  This is major progress.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Density - Intensity


While resting after dinner tonight, two ideas to explore as launching points for my improvisations tonight arose.  This is in line with my commitment to Creative Pact 2011.  I was fairly certain that the ideas were from Ralph Towner's book Improvisation and Performance Techniques for Classical and Acoustic Guitar.  Flipping open my copy to search for these ideas I came across this gem: Density and intensity are not the same thing.  The sparsity of notes and again the coloring can maintain and even increase the drama.  Suddenly I was letting go of my ideas for a different evening, even though I was unclear as to what I would do.  Gotta love stepping into the unknown.

Armed with a vague sense of how to proceed, I hit the floor for my AT lie down.  Towards the end of the lie down, I began improvising in my mind.  This began with a tri-tone and gently took off.  The thought arose that I could begin to improvise in my mind and then play what I was hearing, which would also challenge my ear and fretboard knowledge.  So once again, my sense of what I would do this evening had a slight change of course.  I began improvising in my mind, and almost as soon as I began playing, I let go of the notion.  The hands took over and I allowed them to.  What came out was pleasing to me, but I'll never know if it was the act of improvising that was pleasing or the subsequent music.

Because of this I decided to up the ante and break out my mp3 recorder.  At the very least I could listen back during my commute to work.  I know that listening back is a double edged sword.  Harsh judgement could sidetrack otherwise good work from developing.  Yet not having a tool for evaluating my work is delusional.  Five improvisations followed - two based on Mike Vargas's concept of Zone's; one with an emphasis on dyads; and one with an emphasis on chords based on fourths.  The final improv was an effort to vary the intensity of quick burst of dense notes.  One thing I noticed in the act of playing with the final improv was that when I focused on intensity of notes, my playing slowed down.  More work to follow with all of this.

My work with AT was not as active this evening.  I did do another lie down after the first three improvisations and paid attention to myself in between the improvs.  Reflecting back on this though during both of the lie downs, I did have thoughts that were pertinent to my musical work for the evening.

Density - Intensity. Wherein lies the balance?

Note: I was pleasantly surprised to see that only a used copy of Towner's book is available on Amazon at a price of $142. Glad I've held onto this.  I suspect we'll never see this happen with digital works.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Quality of Active Rest

Soon I will rest

This morning as I was journaling. my thoughts turned to improvisation.  Suddenly as I have joined the Creative Pact 2011, improv is taking over.  One valuable tidbit that came out in my journaling is that when I am present with the disconnect of the musical flow when improvising that some type of learning will be possible.  This may be an area of musical knowledge that needs to be deepened, the information that I was using myself poorly and/or end gaining and lost my awareness of what I am doing.  Or that once again I was distracted in my thinking.  My intention while improvising will be to be present with my playing.  Always a challenge to maintain, and a bit more so for me when improvising.

Most evenings when I begin my guitar practice, I do an Alexander Technique lie down.  Tonight I was very physically tired from having had fun for 3.5 hours at a splash park with family.  As my back hit the floor, I noticed a bit of tension in my spine begin to release.  Usually I am tired emotionally and mentally from having been at work during the day, but tonight was as close to a pure physical tiredness as I get.  As I rested with my neck on the books, I was replaying parts of an important conversation I had earlier.  Examining it, wondering about actions and repercussions that will follow.  At one point I found myself thinking, that perhaps because I am so physically tired, I'm not going to register that energizing affect of the lie down.

As I began to roll over, I just felt tired.  The usual charge was missing.  And then I paused - yes I had been laying in a semi-supine position with my neck supported by paperback books.  But that was all.  I was not present with the process.  I was not directing my thinking, I was just laying down and rehashing the past.  Before I got up from the floor, I began my AT lie down again.  This time I did direct  my thinking and lo and behold my energy began to regenerate.  In my first lie down, the "active" part of active rest was not present and thus neither was I.

As I moved to the guitar, I choose to begin with a known piece of music.  I wanted to get the energy of music alive in me and to allow my hands to play with confidence.  Then I began with an idea that arose in an improvisation on Friday.  Taking it a bit further,  while enjoying the act of improvising,  I was pleased with the musicality of what I was playing.  Pausing to reconnect, I began again.  Varying my responses, and working with maintaining my awareness, slowly the music developed.  Taking my hands off the instrument to direct my thinking via AT, I began again.  This time just letting the notes come out, listening, taking chances, and working to remain judgement free.  At one point a fast run leapt from my fingers, followed by another one.  I pulled back a bit and then let loose with another flurry of notes, this one a bit hesitant.  Resting a second and reestablishing my connection with myself I continued to play.  Part of what transpired was uncharacteristic of me.

After a short break I explored a zone, as described in Friday nights blog.  This had more space than my earlier improv, perhaps even more of an emotional connection.  The beauty of some of the notes was surprising to me.  Pausing to play through Gathered Hearts, I then explored this zone one more time.  Something is happening, I just need to trust and allow the process to unfold.

Saturday, September 3, 2011



On my second active day of participation in the Creative Pact 2011, I sensed that working with dyads was appropriate.  As I began thinking of the various ways I could improvise with dyads, I knew I was on the right path.  While doing my Alexander Technique lie down, as I was thinking of a wide back, the notion of using wide intervals to begin my investigation arose.  I choose to use only intervals larger than a minor ninth.  There is something about the minor ninth that has always captured my ear, probably the same attraction I have to the sound of seconds.  Working my way around the fretboard, I would pause and renew the AT directions.

Again my intention was to work to keep myself free as I improvised.  Moving on to using dyads interspersed with single notes, and then dyads and arpeggios, I continued to pause and pay attention to my use. Eventually I found a short progression of dyads that really caught my ear.  I began to play with and develop this progression.

After dinner, I returned to this progression, and found that I still liked the musicality.  As I continued to improvise with this progression as my springboard, I became excited and decided to notate what I had.  The act of working with the guitar, paper, & pencil generally triggers a strong tendency to end gain in me and to loose any sense of myself.  Frequently I paused to once again find a pencil in my mouth, my upper body slumped on the guitar, and one or both of my feet pressing off the floor with my toes to "balance" me.  Why do I loose my sense of myself as I play and notate?  I have observed this on too many occasions in the past.  When I did pause tonight to reconnect with myself, I would let go of the desire to capture anything and instead look to free myself.  Returning to the moment in this way, had me go down some unfamiliar musical paths.

Smiling now as I recall my thoughts this morning of how am I going to proceed with incorporating Alexander Technique and improvisation for the month of Creative Pact 2011.  A day at a time, of course - just one note, one release at a time.  Trusting that music is there when I am.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Allowing Alexander Technique to Influence Improvisation

Cupid Considering

Tonight found my wife invoking my two times to practice rule on me - when I want to and when I don't want to.  So grateful for such a supportive presence in my life.  While doing my AT lie down before picking up my guitar, I marveled at the complex systems which we call our body.  Bones, tissues, and an energy system the power of which I have only glimpsed.  Numerous biochemical processes adapting to the sustenance and abuse we absorb.  I recalled the sense of awe I had when I first held DNA in a test tube during biochemistry lab. And then I came back to my body.

Allowing my thinking to touch various aspects of the Alexander Technique as I continued to lie down, I sensed the freedom that is available to us.  Can I practice tonight with the aim of maintaining this freedom, rather than becoming concerned with results?  After playing through two pieces I paused, recalling a project a couple of online friends are participating in Creative Pact 2011 which began yesterday.  I know the value of support, but finding out about Creative Pact on the day it began, I was unsure of how I might participate.

As this project is hosted by a group called Inclusive Improv, I did have a sense that working with improvisation was a way in for me, but how to share the documentation.  I do not want to get bogged down with recording/editing of improvs to share with the project.  I also thought of Alexander Technique and my writing related to application of this to my musical practice.  So tonight in the spirit of joining the creative pact 2011, I improvised with the intent of being quiet in my thinking and free in my use.

The first improvisation came to a halt when I noticed that my judgemental thinking had begun it's dialogue.  Coming back to myself and quieting the thinking by observing my breath, I then directed my thinking with the Alexander Technique.  Beginning again, I soon faltered with judgement thoughts impeding the flow.  Centering myself again, I simply enjoyed sitting on my stool, and then began to play with a sense of space between the notes.  Allowing this sense of space between the notes to inform the sense of space within my body.  Directing via AT, in between snatches of playing.  I continued in this fashion for 15 - 20 minutes, occasionally pausing to reconnect.  Noticing that my mind was quieting and my energy rising.

I took a short break and then resumed in this manner, exploring and playing with different ideas.  One idea I borrowed from my pianist friend Mike Vargas was to restrict myself to a particular "zone" on the guitar.  In this case the notes between the 6th and 15th frets including open strings.  Little judgement surfacing now, just playing and following where I might go.

Deciding at one point to play through Gathered Hearts from this space I was in, I did so.  Then with the partial capo in the second position, I resumed improvising.  Finding an idea that I will return to, I now had my bridge to begin my practice tomorrow.