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:

Too Radical of a Change

I noticed today when practicing material – licks that I can hit and nail at half note = 50, I step in gaping holes wen I immediately attempt it at half note = 70.

This is not, by any means, a new trend. Often I use too radical of a change to express myself; sometimes it’s perfect, but in other situations, it may overwhelm other more subtle energies and shut them down. Not every moment calls for a jarring shift; it would be extremely rude to wake one’s lover from a gentle sleep with a screaming guitar solo.

There exists infinitely subtle energies and dimensions of reality that are dismissed by blundering awareness. I am my ability to tune into these layers of increasing subtlety.

Because I am my ability to tune into the infinitely subtle aspects of reality, I guide my creativity to gently shift and unfold with the natural potential of the universe, introducing massive shifts almost beyond perception.

Current Reflections:

When I first wrote this entry, I was noticing a tendency in my practice of the guitar; I was always gunning for the goal, trying to GO GO GO and GET THE RESULT. I would learn how to play a melody or a line at a fairly pedestrian and accessible speed, and then, I would ratchet up the tempo to THE GOAL TEMPO, which was AS FAST AS I COULD PLAY IT.

Instead of starting with the reality of my current ability level, acknowledging my capacity, working on the edge of my ability to consistently and evenly, building up a foundation that could support my intention, and gradually crushing my goal with tectonic and unshakable force, I instead wanted my results NOW.

I can do it at this slow speed. NOW LET’S BUMP THAT SHIT UP.

It was like I was confidently curling 2 pound weights without a problem, so I decided I was ready for 40 pounds. And I expected that I could probably keep doing 3 or 4 sets of 15 reps each. What could go wrong?

Turns out that adding 38 pounds is pretty heavy if you aren’t used to it.

And based on the false expectation that I was going to be able to perform flawlessly with this new weight, I created quite a bit of suffering for myself.

Because I couldn’t do what I expected. It was way harder than I thought. I messed up and dropped it. And then I would beat myself up for being such a schmo.

“I’m such a failure, I can’t even lift these 40 pound weights 60 times in 5 minutes. I mean, I’ve been practicing with 2 pounds.”

A recipe for a bad time.

Recently I’ve been reading a wonderful book by the author James Clear, called Atomic Habits. The whole premise of the book is built around the idea that small, atom sized shifts in our daily lives can lead to compounding results. I’ve read it through once and I am reading it again, almost like a devotional. It fires me up to touch the inspiration daily – it’s a protein-packed reminder that I can empower myself, set practices in motion that I deeply value, and track and maintain my progress. It’s a wonderful book, and if you are interested in how we, as people, learn, grow, and evolve, I’d recommend it 100 times over.

Small incremental shifts.

It turns out, these little shifts can make a HUGE difference.

This is something I’ve found out of my direct experience of practicing music. Maybe jumping from 50 to 100 on the metronome is hard (especially if you are feeling the beat in cut time or on 2 + 4), but it turns out that crossing the gap between 50 to 100 in small increments doesn’t necessarily have to take forever.

Just as long as we can have some basic information clear, the metronome becomes a powerful tool to deepen, strengthen, stretch, and integrate our experience. It allows us to dig in and increase in manageable chunks without loosing the integrity of what we are doing.

Small incremental shifts. Build on what you have.

There is a wonderful Bill Evans Quote that my teacher had posted in his studio, and that I now have posted in my own studio:

“It’s better to do something simple which is real. It’s something you can build on because you know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you try to approximate something very advanced and you don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it.

“They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress. If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance.”

https://www.presentationzen.com/presentationzen/2016/05/the-creative-process.html

I couldn’t have said it better Bill. Thank you for your wisdom.

For me, at a certain point in my life, I began to recognize that I was barreling through my days, numb to many of the sensations in my body and perceptions of the world. I found myself needing to slow down, wanting to take the time to notice the little things around me that I had been previously taking for granted: The textures in the bark of trees, the smells of plants and how they subtly changed during the heat of a summer’s day versus the cool of night, the way that sounds seemed to play across my eardrums…

Observations – Papadosio – This record was a staple for me as I began to open and notice

I began to wonder “What is the limit of my perception?” and “How deeply can I notice or feel into this moment?” or “What is the most subtle information my senses can register?”

Is there something I am missing by tuning out and zipping from activity to activity, bouncing from pleasure to pleasure, and recoiling away from the pain and discomfort of existence?

When I remember this era of my life, of noticing the reality around and within me, it charges me up and excites me. These questions are still very much alive for me today, if only I take the time to cultivate and notice them.

How do musicians and artists encode emotions into their artwork? How do they take their feelings and pour them into a medium? How is it that I can feel them? How can I pour this feeling into my own art? What is really happening in that process? Am I really taking the time to savor and appreciate the life around me as it happens?

Recently for me, the answer to this last question has sadly been no.

Maybe more than ever before, I find myself compulsively bouncing from task to task, always trying to either GO GO GO, or when a lull happens, trying to tune out and avoid the junk that I’m feeling.

Let’s face it, right now, the world is a painful place. Quarantine and Covid has been hard on everyone, and it seems to be stretching on infinitely.

It can be painful to stop and notice sometimes.

But I don’t think that is a good reason to avoid stopping or slowing down.

How do we meet the circumstances of the moment unfolding before us? And how do we meet it well?

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:

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

9/16/2020

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:

The Beings Embodying Music:


I embody different beings when I enter and engage with the field of music.

I am a being of craft. This is my technically proficient aspect, which focuses on fluidity, form, approach, and intimacy with the techniques involved with playing guitar.

I am a being of “student.” I learn and listen to masters around me and porously absorb their teachings.

I am a being of “teacher.” I “enlighten” beings as they engage with music with the “wisdom” of my own direct experiences.

I am a being of song; of melody and emotion, pure feeling of freedom, of expression, of my true voice – a love for sound.

I am a being of practice. With practice, I sift through myself and gently correct and redirect my flow, working with attention and intention to develop an ever deepening relationship with music.

I am a being of performance, an ego, a projection of my musical essence, observed by some audience.

I am a being of relationship. I am a spoke in a musical wheel, a part of the band. I am a voice that resonates and oscillates.

I am a being of ecstasy; I am high, one with the music and moved beyond words, formless as wind, as flexible as air, drifting with love as incense smoke.

When I practice, as I move through these different beings, these different aspects of myself, which parts of myself need loving, attention, and intention? Where am I weak? Where am I strong? How can I grow from and with the present circumstances?

Current Reflections:

This entry is an interesting one. Also informed by conversations I’ve had with my teacher, Jay Rinsen Weik, here, in the context of Zen Training and personal development. I remember attending a workshop at the Buddhist Temple of Toledo several years ago, a meeting after Sunday service; Rinsen was talking about setting yearly intentions and documenting the process in writing. I’m sure there is a podcast or recording of the actual meeting floating around on the internet somewhere.

For me, the biggest takeaway from the workshop rose in our investigation of the questions:

“What roles do I inhabit in my life?”

“What responsibilities do I hold in each of these roles?”

And:

“How can I develop, challenge myself, and evolve in each of these roles in a way that is actually attainable?”

Roshi shared with us that he learned this process of inquisitive journaling, examination of life roles and responsibility, and setting intentions largely from his father, Otto Weik (Carpets by Otto, anyone?). He also shared that he has integrated yearly intention setting as an annual practice, one he engages with every December in the winter lull. This is a way and time for him to reflect on his current life trajectory and the projects associated with the different roles he embodies in his daily life.

This practice has been invaluable to me, one that I have adapted for myself every winter; here, in this entry, it is showing up in a microcosm, now examining the different aspects of my musical practice. The language is a little different, as I ask myself:

“Who am I, as a musician?”

“What roles do I embody and engage with in my artistic growth?”

And:

“What are my strengths and weaknesses in these different roles?”

Today, would my roles change? How would I word it?

Roles of Sam’s Musical Life:

  • Craft – How can I work at the edge of my ability to stretch my capacity and technical finesse beyond my current limits?
    • Melody, Harmony, Rhythm – Many teachers I have encountered over the years have highlighted these three elements of music as three different technical baskets of training. This distillation into Melodic, Harmonic, and Rhythmic training is not the ultimate way of breaking down music, but has been a helpful way of engaging in practice
    • Fretboard Training – How the heck does the guitar work? Where do the notes live? How do different musical forms relate to each other? How do forms overlap and interact? How can one see this form in many different contexts?
  • Student – As a student, my relationship to the world has changed. I don’t have as many regular traditional lessons with teachers, though I still deeply cherish the lessons I do have. Now, I find myself as a student of recordings, a student of listening, as well as a student of my own students. I am finding that the more I teach, the more I realize the gaps in my own understanding and the places I need to evolve. As a student of recordings, I’ve been finding great nourishment in transcribing music that I love to listen to, music that inspires me.
  • Teacher – As a teacher, I find myself participating in and acting as a catalyst for the growth of my students. How can I take my verifiable experience as a musician and distill it into a way for my students to engage the process of music making, finding their own unique path? I like to think in systems. How can we bring musical systems online, from the ground up?
  • Composer/Arranger – How can I take my my technical knowledge and my emotional awareness and channel it into sound in a way that reflects a tangible feeling? How can I arrange existing pieces in new ways that evoke a deep and engaging feeling in myself and in the world?
  • Singer – How can I engage with and use my voice in a way that allows it to resonate best in my body? What technical adjustments can I make to enable the smoothest and cleanest tone quality possible? How can I use my breath to support the sound? How can I use my intention and emotion to convey the feeling and story in my body through sound and words?
  • Collaborator – As a collaborator and teammate, how can I best contribute to the creative moment in a way that is useful? Am I able to share my ideas freely? Can I let go of attachment to my own ideas and be okay with cutting pieces away, changing my idea, and working to best serve the collective musical creation? Can I get out of my own way?
  • Improvisor – How can I evolve my ability to speak freely through my instrument? How can melodic ideas cross harmonic changes? How can I speak freely over traditional standard repertoire, utilize rhythmic motivic development, and tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end, using only my guitar? How can I take my ability to improvise to the next level?
  • Writer/Storyteller – How can I use the direct experience of my life to communicate through my poetry and lyrics? How can I use the struggles, suffering, and practice of my own life to tell a story that matters – both to myself and to those around me. How can I use my art as a way to relieve suffering?

There may be other aspects to my musical life, other roles that I embody as a musician, but for now, it feels good to examine and outline the beings that show up for me in my own musical process.

What roles do you inhabit in your life? What responsibilities do you have? Where are you strong? What could use some love and nurturing? What is the edge of your practice? and How do we gently, yet firmly lean into the places that will help us grow?

_/\_

Sam

Kogen