Original Entry: The Challenge, The Puzzle
How can one take new information, new lenses, new toys – mechanical and technical practices – and transform them with love into recognizable feelings and sounds?
What is it that is receiving attention?
How does it feel, for itself?
Current Reflections: The Challenge
As we navigate throughout our lives – as musicians, professionals, and as human beings – we encounter new experiences that challenge us to grow. In my own study of music, whether through lessons, performances, or my own exploratory process, I’ve recognized some different ways to encounter novelty, to transform the unfamiliar to the intimate.
But, how is it that we grow?
What stimulates YOU to dig deeper? Encourages you to face your own difficulties? Motivates you to persevere?
I’d love to hear about your process and life experience if you’d like to share.
For me, at some point, I recognized for myself that there was a deeper order to the musical universe than I had initially believed or examined as a kid. It was strange, because I suddenly realized that there was a sort of intelligence informing the artistic expression of some of my favorite bands.
“Wait, what did he just play?” or “What the hell did the band just do?” started popping up into my mind first.
“How do people take such nice solos?”
“Why do some notes feel so good? Why do others sound so awful when I play them?”
“Wait, how would you actually count that?”
“How is he feeling that groove so deeply?”
“How is his rhythm and strumming so smooth?”
I found my self suddenly and starkly aware that was a lot that I didn’t really know about music or the way people created such beautiful sounds.
I wanted to know the how and why.
As I began leaning into the process of music making, I began to discover that I have tons of tiny emotional hangups about experiences so subtle or unexamined that I had never considered articulating them before.
From loud and obvious observations like – “Why the heck is it so hard to listen to a click and to match up simple hand motions?” and “Why can’t I freaking count from 1 to 4 without getting lost?” – to much subtler observations: suddenly realizing that simple adjustments in my posture seem to open an extra dimension musical space before me, noticing the ways my emotions can flare in frustration and scramble my meticulous efforts when constructing a piece, and abruptly hearing or seeing a musical shape in a new way on the fretboard – suddenly, I found myself exploring and training on a whole new playing field in the Universe.
At the same time, in this process of seriously deciding to become a professional musician, I found myself facing novelty of all kinds. This spanned from novelty in academics, where I discovered new instrumental techniques and encountered entirely new lineages of musicians alongside an unending repertoire of new music, to novelty in my social encounters with the world. I suddenly found myself thrust into an entirely new realm of interpersonal communication with my peers, professors, and fellow students. For the first time, I painfully realized how much my timeliness (or untimeliness) effects everyone around me as I awkwardly stumbled onto the bandstand with only seconds before the downbeat.
“And what is all this talk about musical “conversations” happening between the different members of the band as they improvised?”
“And god, how am I supposed to act after I put my instrument down after the gig?”
The more these new encounters washed over me, the more I realized that I needed to change the way that I was relating to new and unknown experiences.
This insight has been one that I consistently fight against on a daily basis.
I don’t know about you, but for me, novelty and the unknown still makes me pretty uncomfortable. Hell, sometimes it makes me downright anxious or even worse.
How can we encounter this discomfort in the unknown, yet continue to fully engage with our life (and all the junk it throws at us) in a way that allows up to show up, to contribute, and to learn?
To me, that seems to be the most important point. How do we face difficulty with dignity, even if that difficulty throws us on our ass, screams at us, or even kicks us when we are down?
My teacher once told that “It’s possible to practice living your life, and to practice living your life well.”
What does that actually look like, though?
Whether on the neck of the guitar, on the meditation cushion, or out in the world, It’s possible to bring our full attention to bear in the moment before us. How do we engage with patience and generosity with others, or perhaps more difficultly, with ourselves?
What is actually showing up for you in this moment? In the moment of your practice? What are you working on in your musical study? At work? In your life at large?
How do we meet ourselves and others in these moments?
For me, I know I still have a lot to learn. But I have discovered some ways to explore, practice, and actualize new information, lenses, and new mechanical and technical processes on the guitar.
First off, I’ve began to recognize when there is a real need to practice.
What is the edge of your current ability? What can you do without thinking? What takes more effort and time for you to do? What spots do I consistently stumble? When do I get angry?
In my experience, these are all little red flags that serve as markers and deserve a deeper examination. Within these moments of friction and difficulty, often it seems that valuable lessons and insights are waiting just around a corner for us to discover.
I’ve also found that if I can factor out the unnecessary elements of a new technique or passage, this allows me to focus on the core point of my practice. This could be the flow of notes, the intonation, the rhythm, the articulation…
“What am I actually trying to do?
“Where can I realistically start?”
“How can I build off of this place that I am and lean into what I’m trying to do?”
Apply and Contextualize
When I’m really trying to wrap my mind and body around something new, I often like to play it in all keys, play it everywhere I can find it on the neck, and in as many ways as possible.
“Can I play this passage on every string set?”
“Can I play this in another position?”
“Is it possible for me to play this passage on a single string?”
A little bit of divergent, creative thinking can go a long way.
“How do I normally see this? How can I apply effort to see it in a new way?”
Maybe this sounds a little bit like overkill for some folks. That is totally understandable. But for me, I find that the more points of contact that I have with a new practice or technique, the more I can apply this new information, and the more ways that I can see a single new piece of information, the clearer it becomes.
A lot of times, I like to see if I can channel a flow of creativity through strictly defined parameters, limiting myself to the notes in a new shape, an unfamiliar scale, or from a difficult passage of study.
“Can I clearly play the core idea?”
“Can I play this idea reliably in time with a metronome?”
“Can I incorporate a count while I play?”
“Can I introduce rhythmic awareness into my playing?”
“Can I play this idea clearly backwards and forward?”
“Can I limit myself to these notes and create some simple improvised melodies?”
“Can I do this without unintentionally hitting notes?”
And, after all of this thorough examination comes the most important question:
Can I just forget all of that shit and just show up and play?
Love and Bows