Music Inspiration Journal: #5 Bite Sized Functions


Please use a discerning gaze when reading these claims, which deserve critical examination. This documentation represents a snapshot of my internal landscape at a certain point in time in my life during my collegiate career.


This entry in particular I am hesitant to share. It feels incomplete and perhaps unhelpful to me now, as I sit in 2020; or at least it feels unhelpful in it’s current state. Throughout this writing, I believe my intention was to explore how practicing my guitar could relate to a logical and almost mathematical way of thinking. I was especially interested in how I could break down the seemingly complex task of succeeding in a collegiate Jazz performance program. The problems I see with my old writing now? It feels young and earnest, though only partially informed. If you are in for a few chuckles or head-scratchers, followed by a reframing of the ideas, I would invite you to read on. If not, I don’t blame you for passing this one over.

At a few moments in the original entry, I sprinkle in some current reflections in italics.

Original Entry:

Bite Sized Functions:

I get tired, so I rest. I get hungry, so I eat. I get energetic, so I move. Any of these “Functions,” when overstretched create tension, gyrations (so to speak), a lack of balance. I overcompensate, spill the beans, tip the scale; I must to experience myself. I am aware of tipping points, “highs,” as well as deficiencies, “lows.” I gravitate towards releases of energy (dopamine?), then inhabit their “niches” like tube worms clustered around hydrothermal vents. I love energy.

According to the first law of Thermodynamics, energy is considered constant in the universe, implying that…what? Either energy is infinite? Finite? Nothing? Speculations. Energy feels quite certainly like something, and from that something, somehow, I emerge. Learning to recognize form and balance is a life-long process; language, physical balance, motor skills, social interaction, music, arranging color, space and sound, drawing, and focus are all activities that I still actively shape and hone, even to this moment. From the entropic haze of reality I emerge, aware of the mess.

Energy transfers are like functions; variables and constants interact and changes occur. For example: a tree grows a fruit, which eventually gains more weight than the branch that birthed it, and it falls down, down, down. Splat. Potential for new tree, nourishment for the creatures below. (Now I try to frame my idea into a concept, which, in the present at 2020, seems a little less certain and concrete.)

The parent tree is constant (within it’s own relativity) and is responsible for producing fruit. The fruit, it’s weight, it’s health, it’s shape, it’s self, is variable, as it’s breaking point. Gravity is constant. The fruit falls.

Learning vocabulary on guitar is a situation composed of the same elements, constants and variables. Or, perhaps it is useful to consider how the situation of learning guitar could map onto the schema of constants and variables.

Inherent NotesForms
Musical RelationshipsSolos
Sounding (Whatever this means)Melodies

As I observe exchanges of energy, not only on guitar, but between musicians, I observe uniquely operating functions.

I am my ability to observe and interact with infinitely varied functions. (This technique of language shows up a lot in this era, as I tried to frame my intentions with Empowered Language, something that Mark England exposed me to at Gratifly Music and Arts Festival (Turns out Gratifly experienced some hard realities too). His website is linked, though I honestly have no idea what he has going on now days. Here’s a Tedx Talk he gave.)

Because I am my ability to observe and interact with infinitely varied functions, I choose to engage with small and manageable functions that promote opening, deepening in every Dharma that arises, like a tree fruiting to nourish and plant seeds.

Current Reflections:

As my Great Uncle John might say, “Boy, oh Boy.” If I could, I would pat this past version of myself on the shoulder and say, “Good try kid.”

I was really trying to take my experience of moments, framed in a dichotomy of yin and yang, (linked here is the Britannica encyclopedia’s cursory entry), as an interplay of opposites. I was attempting to boil my experience into a simple if/than, dualistic, ‘profound,’ or even worse, ‘informed‘ equation-esque way of thinking. This I would plaster over my growing sense of discomfort at the scope of material that I was constantly demanded to learn, memorize, and execute during my college years.

The problem? Life is way more messy than simple “constant and variable” dichotomies, and perhaps much deeper than a “this” and a “that.” My graph above makes me shudder. Any of the constants that I listed in those neat columns could easily be variables, and vice versa. And my imagery of the apple tree makes me groan a little bit. The tree is a variable. It could grow in any way depending on the weather, the environment, the people who live nearby, etc.

As I continue to live, practice, and grow, I’m starting to recognize that maybe life is one big variable, one giant expression of change. Sure, some things seem to stay the same. We can use them as a reference point for measurements and calculations. For example, we can use the sun to measure time. People have been using sundials forever. I just looked up how they work with this cached Yale Scientific Article. The sun is pretty apparently constant, but one day, you know, that fucking thing is going to burn itself out. Sundials won’t work for shit without a sun.

Maybe the universe is constant flux. And maybe it’s useful to consider how ancient spiritual wisdom, like that of the ancient Chinese philosophy of yin and yang applies to our lives right now, whatever our current endeavor.

But this original entry? Trying to frame some ultimate constants and variables? Pssh. There are thousands of different kinds of guitars. That’s a variable. You can tune the damn thing however you want. That’s a variable. Inherent notes? Eh…? Some systems of music use measured micro tones that fit into the cracks and spaces between our piano keys. Even Bach tempered his clavier so that the natural harmonics of the instrument would sound more in tune in all keys. And so on and so forth for the rest of that list above.

For me at the time, I was looking for some discipline. I was searching for a way to regiment and integrate the information I was encountering at music school – and it was a fucking lot of information. I needed to sit down and decide, “Okay, I am going to do it this way, with this tuning, with this feeling, with this approach and form.”

I needed this. I still do now, in a way, but especially then. Because before this time, I was just trying to figure out how the guitar worked with my own thoughts, ability, and mind.

Turns out there are a lot of heavy duty teachers and musicians in the lineage of Jazz, as there are across other musical traditions.

For me, deciding to learn music through the framework of jazz was a way to take the bull by the horns and say “listen here, Sam, you are going to learn the fuck out of this information in this particular tradition;” because ambling around noncommittally for a year was exciting and creative, but wasn’t really yielding the results I wanted. So I took it up and, by gum, I got myself through it. I’m still growing, struggling, and giving it my best; and, I actually use some principals of Yin and Yang in my guitar practice, but in a much more pragmatic way. Bows to my teacher for the practice.

So, the biggest take away from this, for me? My life is a constant process. Maybe change is the truth of the universe. And maybe intentional, critically-examined, and earnest ritualized effort is a vehicle for growth and actualization. And I see now that, not every stop along the way is the greatest place ever.

Sometimes I can be wrong.

1 Comment

  1. I love how you bring forward some of the phrases of your ancestors in your musing. (by gum) Yes you are on the right track, grasshopper, the only constant in this world is change. its the one thing we can count on, like decision making, if you don’t make it for yourself, it will be made for you. Live your life, don’t let life live you.


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