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.

Original Entry:

Shift in Dynamics:

My tendency is to worship exercises with the broad intention to get better. Now I realize I may shift the paradigm.

I observe my “weakness.” I generate an intention to strengthen these “weaknesses.” I apply an exercise as medicine, with intent to heal the sore spots; then, I allow time to process and heal.

Current Reflections:

A little misleading, this one. If you were expecting an exploration of “dynamics” within this entry, which in a musical sense would pertain to a sensitivity to volume when playing, then your assumption would be well informed. But for this entry, I was thinking about “dynamics,” not as in volume, but “dynamics,” as in, “What characterizes the dynamic of this specific relationship I have with my musical process? Or, “With what qualities am I relating to my process of music?”

For me, especially during the time that this entry was written, I was starting to recognize a generalized feeling inside of me – this feeling was one that intensely motivated me to practice with a furious vigor – I wanted to “get better.”

I mentioned in a previous entry how handicapped I felt throughout my undergrad education. I was always trying to catch up. I never felt qualified to make a statement, perform, or share my music, because, “my word, I hardly know what I am doing right now!”

As I went through my daily life in college, I would do my best to take care of all of the responsibilities handed to me, from an academic standpoint. This was my baseline. Beyond the bare minimum of marginal success within the school structure, I was always searching for the edges in my ability as a musician. Whenever I would meet for ensemble practice, lessons, or listening/performance lab, I would try to give my full attention to what was happening before me.

“Do I understand this?”

“What do I notice?”

“What is this person showing me within their performance, where are they at?”

“Is this something I could do, if I was asked?”

This internal running dialogue was present with me constantly, for better or worse. In a certain way, it created an immense amount of suffering, because I was constantly comparing myself to my peers and recognizing my perceived “lack” of ability.

In another light, this constant probing lead me to push myself harder and harder – I wanted to break my boundaries and limitations, I wanted to taste the freedom of crashing through impossibilities, I wanted to “BREAK ON THROUGH TO THE OTHER SIDE!”

And man, let me tell you, when breakthroughs happen, it’s SO dang sweet. (SO dang sweet)

But my god, there is certainly a lot of head-bonking when a person is put into a pressure cooker and constantly trying to break through their own barriers.

The result of this constant impulse to grow and push lead me to a place where I would encounter difficulty and my immediately response was “How do I get better? I need to get better. I will get better. It’s time to get better.”

I would sit down, and my god, I was going to do it. I was going to get better. In retrospect, this lead to quite a bit of unguided and wasted effort, because I actually had no idea what I was trying to do. I just had a vague sense that I needed to do something to close the discrepancy between what I knew was possible for me in relation to where I currently was.

Now don’t get me wrong. Out of this ruthless fire of trial and error, I discovered some effective ways to achieve certain results, as well as some quite peculiar ways to shift my perception of time* (but more on that later). But it also lead to exhaustion, hopelessness, and at least once, the reality that I was NOT cut out for music and should quit. (Thankfully my teacher met me with an astounding sense of compassion and gentleness, and I decided I would keep giving it a GO.)

So, this particular journal entry marks one of the first moments that I began to develop an awareness of this drama I was living out.

“Holy shit, I recognize that when things inspire me, my first impulse is to push as hard as I can on the concept of getting better.

“What if instead of just stomping on the accelerator, alternatively I took stock of where I am, what I am working on, and where I am missing the mark? Maybe I could stop wasting energy and begin to heal specific illnesses and difficulties in my playing?”

Of course, like many ideas, I thought this one was great. So I wrote it down, tried it for a few days, then got overwhelmed and mostly forgot about it. Then I would fall back into the same old drama: get inspired, feel insignificant, push, push, push, inevitably break, then remember “Oh wait, I think I’ve been here before? (Question mark?)

Spirals dude. Spirals.

If I’m being honest, I still fall into the same dramas to this day.

So really, this is refreshing, encountering this post. What a good reminder. It can be helpful to pause, take stock, think about what’s really going on, recall the steps that have lead to this moment, and to hone in on the particulars of the specific edge that I am encountering. It’s easy to keep pushing and pushing and pushing with good intent, but my word, this can actually be harmful. Perhaps its important to recall the importance of stopping and noticing what’s actually happening too.

Bows

_/\_

Sam

Kogen

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.

Original Entry:

Baskets of Practice:

There are multiple ways to approach practice. I have just discovered composition, applying the techniques I have learned into active and interactive play.

Craft practice is the space and time to familiarize with the subtleties of guitar. This is the place to mess up. Hard. Flounder. Miss it. Let it suck. Just notice. This isn’t perfection in a blink, this is rewiring my natural tendencies.

Cognitive practice stretches my conceptual understanding of music and is the time to explore the connections ripe within any musical ideas, this includes reading new material.

Forgetting.

Current Reflections:

I had to go back and double check all the journal titles I’ve used so far to make sure I wasn’t repeating myself with this entry, “Baskets of Practice.” This is something I’ve thought about so much and written in so many notebooks, I was half-convinced that I had already written about it – and you know, if I have before, I’m sure that this entry won’t be the last.

This way of relating to my musical practice is another gift from my teacher, Jay Rinsen Weik, and is something that I rely heavily upon in my own teaching and practice (even if my students don’t realize it).

The basic idea is this: it is possible to know the guitar, or music at large through different lenses. Although all of the lenses are inter-related, each lens provides a unique perspective into the universe of music.

When I first encountered the idea of “baskets” in music, it was in a conversation Rinsen titled “The Five Baskets of Knowing (On Guitar), which I dutifully scribbled down in my notebook.

And if my memory serves me off hand,(come on transient memory, let’s get it!) these were the baskets that he presented to me:

  • Notes as Letters
  • Notes as Numbers (relative to scale degrees)
  • Notes as pure sound
  • Intervals
  • Shape

I thought that this way of looking at Guitar, (which for me at the time, I was doing quite frequently and intensely) was absolutely brilliant.

Sure, I was aware of Shape on the guitar, that Basket of Knowing was probably the most familiar to me.

You know, because chords have different, like, shapes. For an instance, a G chord, cowboy style, its like a, a, well, I guess a big triangle? And C? That’s kinda like a staircase missing a stair, and then F Major 7? That ones is a STRAIGHT up staircase. And D major definitely has some MAJOR triangle vibes going on with it. D7 is like an INVERTED D major with triangular vibration. I guess A major is just like a block.

Scales have shapes, chords have shapes, arpeggios have shapes, the guitar can be a very visual instrument, especially when you first pick it up

Eherm.

All of my personal perceptions aside, the guitar basically presents like a gigantic graph, and people (myself included) tend to easily chart shapes of their own description onto the grid. In my opinion, it’s probably the most logical or natural way to start trying to understand the strange and infinite universe of THE GUITAR.

And in this particular lesson with Rinsen, I suddenly became aware of 4 new and distinctly different ways of conceptualizing and engaging with the guitar. A lot of the work I found myself doing in college involved getting to know the terrain of the guitar through some of these different lenses, or baskets.

Where do all the notes actually live on each string? How do the notes translate to numbers and scale degrees related to the major scale? What about the distance between notes? What does it actually sound like? Can you describe it and see it in all keys? Then, how do the baskets start to superimpose/relate to each other?

Whoa whoa whoa there cowboy, you are losing me.

It’s strange looking back now, having deeply investigated these five different ways of knowing. More than anything, I realize that I still have TONS to learn. But if someone is to pick up the study of guitar, (or music in general) in earnest, these different baskets of knowing can start to grow stable roots and can begin to inform the decisions a person makes when writing a song, taking a solo, or jamming around.

At school, I think my biggest wake up call came in the form of the following message: How can you be surgically intentional about what you play? How can we use our different ways of seeing and knowing, and how can we apply it intentionally rather than accidentally?

Of course, this doesn’t mean a player should be swimming in charts and graphs in their mind, thinking about every specific note they want to play and calculating or thinking about the right thing to play. Rather, how can we use everything we know to speak freely, to move fluidly through our baskets of perception, and to contribute something meaningful to the moment?

Are you still here?

For me, this was my first introduction into “baskets” of practice. Perhaps you can tell, but I was quite taken with the idea.

How interesting. We can investigate reality through different distinct lenses to help ourselves see things in new ways.

Rinsen had presented me with “The Five Baskets of Knowing on Guitar,” so I decided to look for ways to parse my musical practice out into different “baskets” or lenses.

SAM’S BASKETS OF PRACTICE FROM SOMETIME IN COLLEGE

Composition:

In this entry, for the first time, I was recognizing that I could use musical composition as a way to practice, apply, and integrate new information. A new composition can act as a vessel with which to explore new concepts and sounds – we can create a container for ourselves to play within.

Craft:

Another pillar offered by my teacher, craft practice involved studying the mechanics of the instrument, studying the techniques, and developing the ability to maneuver through musical space on the guitar. This includes Scales, Arpeggios, Notes on the Ax, cells, and shells. (I’m sure there are plenty of other craft-worthy pursuits that I haven’t mentioned.)

Cognitive:

Conceptually, how can the musical universe be mapped out? What are the 12 major keys? How about conceptualized as 7 flat keys, 7 sharp keys, and C major? That gives us 15 keys. How about the relative minor keys for each of the major keys? That would give us 30 different keys (Thanks @Victor Wooten) What is the circle of fourths? Fifths? How do the 12 different tones stack out in minor 3rds? Whole tones? What is a major 6th? What does that sound like in all keys?

These questions can start to help us build a map of the musical universe. They can help us navigate and respond to different musical moments that we encounter, giving us the gift of options, rather than keeping us limited to guesswork and shapes alone.

Forgetting:

My goodness, please forgive me, I just had my Covid Vaccine today and I’ve quite forgotten where I was going with this one.

Bows

_/\_

Sam

Kogen

9/23/2020

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.

Original Entry:

Listening to this freaking gem as I write today 9/23/2020. Thanks Eric Joseph! This Record is pretty bangin’. Sounds like Incubus a little?


Original Entry:

Everything Ingrained:

Is music a creation of mankind, or did Humanity just notice a much deeper and larger pattern in reality? Everything I see is defined by humans for humans, at least in a cultural sense; here, in saying a cultural sense, I mean the collective culture of all of humanity and our natural progression, unfolding from nature. As we evolved, we began shaping the earth for our benefit.

So, in studying music and language, as well as my own awareness and relationship to the world, what am I actually doing? What is this process of deepening experience and growth? What are encounters within reality?

All of my life I have been learning to communicate through different languages, more languages, perhaps than I am even aware of. Recently now, I find myself aware of a constant deepening of the universe’s tendency to communicate.

So, it seems, you and I, we talk about and around something much vaster and greater than either of us could ever hope to say. Life is in constant interconnection and communication, gauged against remarkably impossible uncertainty.

I understand a “this,” a “that,” and then the potential of interaction between those seemingly separate elements. As we interact, banter, and encounter, we create an exchange. The use of Taoist tendencies towards opposites, as in black and white, allow one to both establish and shatter patterns of habit.

Patterns can deepen and grow, or they can shatter and recycle completely into something new.

Every choice I make either strengthens, transforms, or destroys patterns. Every choice I make does something else entirely.

If I start getting locked in a pattern of stagnation, I can apply eastern principles of opposites to the stuck pattern to transform the perspective.

In just talking to @Tyler Aukerman, I was inspired by some of his experiences with breaking patterns. When he gets locked down in playing, he’ll listen to some recordings and transcribe a chorus of a solo for inspiration on any standard or tune he is working on.

If playing becomes locked, listen. What situations can I apply opposites and balance to? What are my patterns and habits? What am I “stuck” in?

(Write down, compose licks.) (Here we have a little side note to myself.)

Listening to some Amos Lee as I transcribed this entry from my notebook

Current Reflections:

This entry is clearly orbiting around an ongoing interest I hold in Taoist philosophy and the study of Yin and Yang. Starting just this year, I’ve begun to actually engage with and read the I Ching (Linked here is the Translation my teacher recommended for me, for anyone interested). I’m still in the beginning of my first read through of the text, and I recognize that my understanding is still quite undeveloped now. So when I wrote this in the early 2010’s, this lack of awareness on the subject is even more pronounced. Even still, I was quite taken with the philosophy and ideas in ancient Chinese thought back when I wrote this entry.

At the same time, I was quite readily attempting to apply my cursory understanding of Empowered Language from Mark England – who I have definitely cited previously on this blog. It’s funny, in retrospect, to recognize how much of an impact Mark made on my life in less than a half hour of conversation. That one encounter completely shifted my perspective and approach on how my mind uses the operating software of language to tell myself stories about the world. Thanks Mark.

The result of these two elements – a flowering interest in ancient eastern philosophy, as well as a radical reexamination of my use of language in my relationship with the universe?

The original entry above!

And for just a little more background on the circumstances and context that invited me to write this original entry – At the time I was actively studying Japanese and instrumental Jazz at the University of Toledo as an undergraduate, and was also beginning my own personal exploration and practice of Zen Buddhism.

If I were to place the original entry in simpler terms today, I might boil it down to this:

  • Who am I, really?
  • This universe clearly expresses opposites, as documented in ancient Chinese philosophy, as in Yin and Yang.
  • How can I apply this ancient wisdom directly to my life now, especially as an artist in the ongoing development and refinement of my craft
  • How can I directly apply this wisdom to my development as a human being?
  • How can I fully engage with every moment, regardless of the contents or my reaction to it, transforming it into fuel for deepening my practice?

These all look like damn good questions to me.

As for answers or takeaways after all these years?

Well, first, I want to thank my teacher Jay Rinsen Weik for reminding me of the usefulness of the study of Yin and Yang, as well as for reminding me that our understanding of their relationship continually morphs, changes, and grows as we do.

Then, if I do become stuck in the creative process, I have an entire arsenal of remedies that I’ve collected over the years since I’ve graduated, embodied on an “inspiration alter” that I have in my office. It looks like this:

Inspiration Alter

And, posted above it, some ways of getting “unstuck” that have been useful for me:

Unsticking my process

My practices for unsticking myself are continuing to evolve. Now I might also include: Playing some Xbox for an hour, Practicing scales and permutations, taking a run, connecting with my girlfriend.

The creative process and the development of our lives is an ongoing project; hopefully the project of a lifetime. And I do have to say, it’s nice to have traversed the gauntlet of University Music School and come out on the other side. There is so much less pressure to achieve and more freedom to explore and speak.

What practices do you use to unstick yourself? Do some tend to work better than others? Do you feel recharged with you practice, or does it drain you? I’d love to hear!

Bows _/\_

Kogen

Sam

9/9/2020

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.

Original Entry:


Sub-functions for Energy – Re-imagining Thoughts:


Thoughts of all types are abstract, ethereal, and intangible, at least in a certain sense. Feeling of Rhythm, time, gravity, density, and spaciousness are tangible anchors.

Perception seems to mesh together through 5 physical senses and a 6th mental sense of mind, of thought and imagination.

All too often I wander through my thoughts and loose my center, or so it seems. I am always centered, even when I’m not.

I change the basic way I relate to my thoughts.

Thoughts are like time; fleeting and perpetually changing. Thoughts are a reference points in reality, symbols to relate with, impermanent packets of ordered chaos transformed to manageable quanta with which we construct our schema of reality.

All perception acts as a reference point to harmonize with; tonics, dominants, extensions, people, plants, books situations…

I harmonize with all reference points of perception, toying with rhythm and content, with infinite potential to draw from, creating a life, a story, a song to offer to the universe, as the subtle and mysterious process it is.

Dissonance always points. Harmony Relaxes home.

Current Reflections:

Okay folks, here we go. It feels important to deeply acknowledge my process of growth over time – it’s brought me to this point and continues to propel me forward. Looking over these last few entries, it makes me smile, recognizing just how thinky I was during my college years. And maybe I’m still thinky even now, but there has a tangible and qualitative shift in the way that I relate to my thinking.

So, to dive into it –

Thoughts. What the fuck are they? Where do they come from? Who exactly perceives them and where are they perceived at? Now, in a way, it doesn’t really matter what the answer to those questions are. Regardless of the answers, thoughts are going to rise and dissipate. It seems that a more important question may be this: am I giving my power away to my thoughts? Am I letting my thoughts and emotions drag me around and create suffering? Because, regardless of their content, how can we stay present with the circumstances of our reality, exactly as reality shows up? And how can we meet whatever moment that is showing up from a place of generosity and patience? Can I show up in a way that doesn’t make the world a worse place for others or myself?

Now, in my original entry, after I introduce my subject of thoughts and their mysterious nature, I immediately focus on a feeling:

Feeling of Rhythm, time, gravity, density, and spaciousness are tangible anchors.”

From where I sit now, this is an interesting move that I pulled. Why?

Within the last few months, the Teachers and Sangha of the Buddhist Temple of Toledo offered a virtual teaching retreat for it’s members, focusing on the Home Liturgy outlined by the Abbot. I had the great fortune of joining for a portion of the week’s teachings, where I furiously scribbled poetry along with the teachings and conversations, using my words as a container for the wonderful wisdom that was being offered through the Zoom Retreat.

During the first day of teachings, the teachers focused in on the importance of ritual action and cultivating a feeling through intentional practice. In the context of Zen Buddhist practice, they were discussing the importance of creating a clean and aligned alter, creating a physical space of energetic power, and nurturing the actual feeling of the tradition within the body. This feeling is characterized by nobility, unity, grace, and ease, enabling the practitioner to skillfully use the alter and ritual action of lighting the candle, incense, and making bows as a means of empowerment and grounding, regardless of the circumstance of life in that moment.

In this moment, reviewing this entry from over five years ago, it strikes me as intriguing that within the first paragraph, I acknowledge the fleeting nature of thought and then immediately and subconsciously focus on ways of creating a tangible anchor in feeling. I had not explicitly received any teaching in my Zen training about this, though I was immersing in practice at the time. It seems that some of the unspoken and felt wisdom of the tradition was, even then, influencing my process.

Perhaps around this time, I had engaged in the formal process of becoming a Buddhist, called Jukai, taking up the 16 Boshisattva Precepts, encountering some novel ways of being in the world for the first time in my life. (Here is a picture of our Jukai class, I’m standing in the back wearing a blue necklace)

One of these novel ways of relating to the world I encountered at this time, came to me through a required reading called, “The Heart of Being” by Daido Roshi; There was a passage that spoke of the five sense organs and their object of perception, but also acknowledged a sixth sense organ – the mind – and it’s object of perception – thoughts. Framing the world in this way blew my mind at the time. Our mind is an organ of perception too? And it’s object of perception is thought? Just like our eyes see images and our ears hear sounds, our minds perceive thoughts? I was delighted at the revelation and spoke excitedly with my teacher, Rinsen Roshi; he smiled and told me “there is plenty more where that comes from within the practice.”

Now, back to the original entry, my intention here was to, at the time, and to the best of my ability, reframe the way I encountered my thoughts about music. I recognized that my thoughts were fluid and impermanent, always changing. So how could I center myself in my practice of music making, if not in my fluctuating thoughts?

Through ritualized practice. Through cultivating a feeling tone in the body, by invoking and evoking the tradition of Jazz and the musical ancestors that inspired me in a concrete and tangible way.

In my original entry, I say that “thoughts are a reference point in reality.” I don’t know if I would say it the same way now, perhaps I would leave this line out.

The juice? The nourishment?

All perception acts as a reference point to harmonize with; tonics, dominants, extensions, people, plants, books situations…

I harmonize with all reference points of perception, toying with rhythm and content, with infinite potential to draw from, creating a life, a story, a song to offer to the universe, as the subtle and mysterious process it is.

Or in other words, it is possible to harmonize with any moment in life, no matter the contents. It’s possible to meet the moment fully, in a way that, at the very least, does no harm, and perhaps at the best, actualizes good for others. Whether the circumstances are shitty, the notes are tense, creating augmented, droopy, diminished feelings, or divine, sweet, Lydian, sharp 11 major 7, minor 9 lullaby-esque sounds, or anywhere in between for that matter, it is possible to use the contents of the present circumstances as fuel for practice, as a way to express musicality and to transform suffering.

May the contents of the moment never hinder our ability to show up with compassion and generosity, and may it be so for all beings across space and time.

_/\_
Sam

Kogen