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:

On Gravity in Sound

Similarly to how Pulse is a center of gravity, so too are all chords their own universes with their own gravitational centers. Chord tones are like stars and planets, with massive gravity and a tendency towards grounding the more ethereal and weaker tones. Of course, one must tune into chord tones of all qualities; to hear and feel them through all changes – subtle and magnificent – is to stay grounded within the natural relativity of sonic landscapes.

It becomes a game. How do these massive points of density interplay and shift? Where does the tension grow? Where does it break?

Arpeggios and chord tones are the world against which all music dances and through which all music breathes.

Current Reflections:

Last week, we considered the gravity that exists within rhythm; this week, it looks like my past-self decided to focus on the gravity that exists within harmony.

If I’m being honest, in my initial re-read of this entry, the language makes me cringe a little. I can see that my spirit was full of fire and my intention was strong, but I’m not sure that I would say this the same way now.

How might I say this now, you ask?

Well, if you aren’t asking, I certainly am.

As I consider this question, I find myself gazing towards my personal relationship with harmony; I think that I left something crucial out of my initial considerations, all those years ago. I completely neglected the importance of melody when considering the musical universe of harmony.

If my memory serves me, I remember encountering several critical and life-changing perspectives about harmony from my jazz and history studies at the University of Toledo. This wisdom was transmitted to me, perhaps during my studio lessons with my professor, Jay Rinsen Weik, or maybe in a composition lesson with the gifted Dr. Lee Heritage – both professors heavily altered the course of my thinking about composition. It may be so that each told me the same thing in different moments, or even that these nuggets of wisdom arose from somewhere else in the fertile environment of UT’s music department. Wherever it came from, what I learned was this:

  1. Chords, in and of themselves, in a certain way, are inert. This means that in isolation, chords don’t necessarily lead anywhere or have much to say without a relationship to melody or larger context. (This one definitely traces back to Dr. Heritage. Forgive me if I have misrepresented your words, sir.)
  2. The great guitarist, Jim Hall, had a fascinating concept of harmony: rather than conceptualizing chords as blocks or stacks of notes, Jim Hall preferred to conceptualize harmony as the intersection of different melodic lines, each with their own integrity and direction.

Could I site the information for this second claim? God I wish. I’m going to have to dig around on the internet and in my notes to see if I can trace the source.

In the meantime, lets look at each point, one at a time.

  1. Chords are fundamentally inert.

In many ways, this was a point of contention for me when Dr. Heritage first asserted that chords were basically meaningless on their own. I was studying in the jazz world, and there was a blatant worship of chords and chord changes. Every one was talking about the changes, how the chords were built, what the good notes were, what notes to avoid. This worship of chord changes largely informed my original entry. It was easy for me to get lost in the infinite soundscapes of harmonic drones, exploring tensions and consonances in sound. Droning harmony was and still remains a favorite experimental setting for me to explore the nature of sounds on the guitar. It was from this deep communal regard of chords in the UT Jazz department and through my direct experience of mining sounds out of drones that I began to conceptualize the celestial perspective of harmony that is so apparent in the original entry.

I don’t think chords are meaningless on their own. I don’t think they are inert, frozen, dead, and without motion. I know this, both in my own experience and because droning tones are foundational for the ancient and improvisational Hindustani music.

(Further reading on drones here and here)

But I think what Dr. Heritage was trying to convey was closer to the second point on the list.

Without context, a chord is just a block of sound.

When I use a chord or some stack of harmony as a drone, I am using the harmonic and looping sound as context to explore melodic improvisation against that sound.

So perhaps Dr. Heritage and I agree more than I initially thought. Context is important for harmony to convey meaning.

But you could also argue that people have the capacity to give meaning to anything. If I want to play the same chord over and over again, asserting my musicality, who’s to argue?

Philosophy aside, I think that Dr. Heritage was trying to underscore the importance of melody. Now that I’ve been stewing in this conversation for awhile, I can remember him talking about harmony as the intersection of different melodic lines.

2. Harmony as the intersection of melody

When two singers are singing different melodic lines, there are moments when their voices might sustain and overlap on different notes. The relationship between these different notes create a resonance, a musical interval, a little pocket of harmony.

How interesting.

Melody is often the animating force for musical expression. We love when the chorus hits on the radio, little fragments of songs often get stuck in our heads, playing endlessly – ear worms – and I think that most people have heard a melody that they love so much that they can’t resist singing along in the shower.

What if harmony is a musical phenomenon that occurs when multiple melodies intersect?

God, there is so much I could say about this topic.

What I will share is this: By shifting my understanding about harmony, I have enabled myself to encounter new musical possibilities in my own composition process. Music doesn’t have to be constrained to “theoretically perfect” grids and charts, using the “correct” harmonic voicings and adhering to all the “rules.”

Often when I write now, I think primarily about the melodic integrity of what I am playing or singing:

Does it catch my heart? Does it make me feel?

How can I use the ideas within the melody as a springboard for the rest of the composition?

Can I play a countermelody on the guitar/my instrument at the same time?

Or maybe I could harmonize a line that I am playing on my guitar with the melody I’m singing, using the rhythmic contour of my vocal line as inspiration for my guitar/accompaniment.

Can I make little melodic lines pop out above, below, around, and through the chords I am playing?

Can I make satisfying decisions about voice leading, considering each note in my chord as a separate melody line; each saying something meaningful, each pointing somewhere?

And yes. At the same time, all of my exploration with drones, experimentation with tensions and consonances, and the celestial regard for harmony that I wrote about about in the original entry – ALL of it informs my current process. For me, this is a process driven by the pure love of harmonic exploration, except now it is better informed by the singing heart of melodic intelligence and the driving force of rhythm.

How do you conceptualize harmony? I’d love to hear about your perspective. Do you agree with these perspectives? Disagree? Have information contrary to what I’ve shared here? I would love to hear from you. Drop a comment and let me know how you receive this entry!

Love and 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.

Starting off with some older Drake today

Original Entry:

On Rhythm… On Pulse

Rhythm and pulse are centers of gravity in sound. Not only do keys have centers, but so too does pulse.

As I play, I tap on 2 and 4 and engage with the feeling of pulse. As my mind sorts and integrates new information, the energy of my awareness shifts to enable my arms and hands to activate and maintain a pattern; when this happens, my awareness sometimes looses hold of my pulse on 2 and 4, and my imagination slides around outside of a feeling of time, causing me to oftentimes drop my entire act.

This is the moment to become more deeply aware of. When do I drop the whole show and loose track of the ground, the beat? What techniques or feels scramble my mind? These are the moments to realize.

All feelings are relative to a center; where I loose my center is where I work to move more deeply into it, to compensate for hectic changes.

If I continually drop my performance in one spot, this becomes the spot to thread a steady pulse that I can feel with my body.

I am aware of the feeling of my body. I harmonize with center through the feeling of pulse. My foot tends to feel pulse on 2 and 4. My arms, hands, and fingers feel vibrations emanating off of my guitar. I am my ability to harmonize multiple dimensions of feeling around a single unshakable center. My hands and fingers harmonize their rhythm with the pulse of my body, of my feet. I am my ability to smoothly drift through changes while maintaining a solid living root of pulse in my awareness.

Jamming some Papadosio For this Part

Current Reflections:

It’s fascinating to see the language of my mental operating system out of this era of my life. I was really taken with this “I am my ability to…” phrase, like it had some sort of super power. It was a phrase my friend Ryan Murray arrived with at festival when Mark England walked him through a process of examining his language and personal stories. I watched Ryan suddenly become empowered with his words in that moment, and rather than fully appreciating the process that brought him to this personal phrase, I just grabbed the phrase, believing it to be the magic fruit that could help me do anything.

Although I employed this phrase frequently, I’m not sure that it had the intrinsic power that I hoped for.

Do any of you notice features of your language and how it seems to change over time? If so, I’d love to hear about your perspective on your own linguistic process!

Beyond these initial observations of language, this entry is an interesting one. You may know that, Western music especially (as in Western Hemisphere) tends to use tonal or key centers. But at the time of this writing, I was realizing that the beat or pulse of music can also act as a center of gravity.

Here I am talking about “tapping on 2 and 4.” Just in case you don’t know, I’m talking about tapping my foot along with a metronome. Instead of tapping out every beat, I was actively practicing tapping my foot ONLY on beats 2 and 4.

Why? Why would you do such a thing?

This was one of the first and hardest lessons I learned at the University of Toledo in the Jazz department during my 2012 incarnation as a Saxophone Major. My Teacher at the time insisted that I “CUT THAT SHIT OUT,” (talking about me tapping my foot every beat) and “TAP THE 2 AND THE 4.”

I had no idea what the fuck that meant. Though I was quickly and harshly informed that beat 2 and beat 4 were typically the beats that the drummer would pump the high hat with their foot in many styles of traditional jazz.

So, I realized I was going to have to become my own drummer – at least in some capacity.

I smashed my head against the wall with this one for the entire semester. It took five months of continual (and painstaking) practice before this started to become even close to second nature.

Then I dropped out of school and forgot largely forgot about it.

After a year of shenanigans, I gathered up myself and reapplied to the University of Toledo, now incarnating as a guitar player (This had been my original intention back in 2012, although I accidentally auditioned on Saxophone, thinking I was just trying out for the big band or something, ending up lumped in with the other saxophone majors.)

During my year away, I had taken it upon myself to drill all my major scales and basic major and minor triads. Theoretically, I felt ready to hang, but as a player, I knew I had a LOT of mechanical work to do.

But you know what I didn’t need to do?

Kill myself to understanding tapping on 2 and 4. Turns out that shit was slowly aging like a fine wine in the cellar of my consciousness while I partied for a year. It happened to be so that I could tap 2 and 4 pretty effortlessly now.

This entry is interesting because I was noticing that, even though I had a pretty solid command of tapping beats 2 and 4, there were still moments in some tunes where I would completely lose the beat or turn myself around. The easiest place to do this for me was during an improvised solo. I always wanted to do the best I could (maybe trying to one-up my friends and peers), but usually I just ended up farting and fumbling around, loosing track of the beat and the form.

It was like: “Solo time? AHHHH!” *Screaming and spontaneous fires, people running in utter mayhem*

My most basic thought was embarrassing: “DO THE THING!” I’d scream to myself, watching my hands open and close like clamps in a claw machine.

Oh yeah.

All of my training went right out the window in panic and I’d just bang on the strings, using wide vibratos and bends when I ALWAYS landed on a b9, #9, b3, b6, or b7 on a major 7 chord (These happen to be among the WORST sounding unintentional tones a person could accidentally resolve to).

Eventually I became aware that it was perhaps, not a wonderful idea to panic and vomit every time I soloed.

Then, a friend, mentor, and wonderful teacher of mine, Mike Cantafio then taught me a way to take my foot tapping to the next level.

“On your left foot, keep tapping 2 and 4, but with your right foot, tap every beat 1, 2, 3, and 4. A teacher taught me this, then I applied it to EVERYTHING, and It’s CRAZY dude, it will help your time SO much. I can tell when drummers are dragging or rushing now. It’ll change your world!”

Bows Mike. That shit fucked up my mind and put me back on square one. It was hard.

Really. Fucking. Hard.

But I kept practicing. This exercise took YEARS before it began to feel natural, but guess what, it clicked together, even for a person as dense as myself.

This new approach to rhythm has changed my life.

It didn’t solve everything, but suddenly, I had much deeper and more stable roots to rely on when site-reading, playing melodies, and improvising solos.

After that, I started to wonder if I could root my rhythm more deeply, using my voice as another anchor point for rhythm.

I started counting the beats “1, 2, 3, 4” out loud. Easy, right? Sure, if you are playing quarter notes or maybe 8th notes. But how about syncopation? Triplets? 16th note syncopation? Quintuplets?

This is the cutting edge of my practice now, keeping my feet tapping and locked onto the beat, counting any subdivision that I choose, and creating musical phrases that have a beginning, middle, and end. Where do I lose the beat now? What moments overload my rhythmic center of gravity and cause me to drift through time?

And you know, maybe that’s not necessarily a bad thing. What if I could use this mistake, drifting through time, and harvest the result of it while still maintaining my grounded gravity of pulse? That sounds like freedom.

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:

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

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:

Exploration of Circumstance:

Cats back in time didn’t attend music school to learn jazz. Cats used to roam and work. And work and Play.

I have a beautiful opportunity to receive an education, and I am misdirecting my attention, aiming to achieve, playing to achieve, not playing to play.

I consciously now choose to transform my drive to “achieve” scholastically into a drive to explore musicality as deeply as possible.

All of the tools are present. I can improvise, I just have a small amount of experience actively thinking, performing, and expressing as an improvisor over standard jazz repertoire.

Now is my chance to explore simple ideas with the vocabulary I know and to apply them with focused intent.

Current Reflections:

This one takes me back. God, music school is such a blessing and a curse. The theme in this journal entry is repeated often in lots of my notebooks from my college career – how can a person resolve to maintain their creativity, their heart, and their spark in the factory-like environment of academic jazz?

For me, it was never true that I wanted to or needed to specifically learn how to play Jazz. I loved the guitar and was kind of at a loss trying to figure things out on my own. It definitely didn’t cross my mind that I could take private lessons with a teacher outside of a university, so I assumed my only option was to take myself to college. When I got to UT, I was presented with two option: Classical Guitar, or Jazz.

Hmm, well Classical was nice but seemed a little too stiff to me. I guess that meant I was going to study jazz.

When I got to school, I had some basic facility and coordination. I knew my cowboy chords, I had a few nice Major and Minor 7 voicings, a melody or two (Autumn Leaves, which I auditioned with), and some basic arpeggio awareness, (though I couldn’t have articulated much about what I was doing), and off course a good ol’ single position minor pentatonic/blues scale.

I stumbled through a (likely) sub-par audition and was graciously admitted to the University of Toledo Jazz Department as a guitar player.

For me, I felt like I was severely handicapped for every year of my career spent in music school. I felt like I had to work 8 times as hard to understand basic concepts that some of my peers and contemporaries had been jamming with for years.

Throughout all of college, through both my junior and senior recital, I felt like an imposter. I was much more content to try and get my basic physical coordination together on the guitar than I ever was to learn repertoire. Repertoire felt like something I was never ready for.

How could I learn repertoire if I don’t know the basic mechanics of the instrument?

I spun in circles trying to understand Triads, 7th chords, notes on the ax (fretboard), scales, and cells. And my god, you can play each of those different forms in nearly infinite permutations. Triads live on 3 string sets, that’s 4 sets of 3, or Bass, Tenor, Alto, and Soprano string sets. There are 3 inversions of each triad, that’s 12 different shapes for a single chord. And there are Major, Minor, and Diminished triads, at the bare minimum. That is 12 Shapes times 3 different qualities, or 36 shapes for the 3 basic qualities of C. So we have 36 different shapes to learn for C major, C minor, and C diminished. And there are 12 keys (at a minimum), which gives us 36 shapes for each root times 12, giving us 432 different shapes and positions to play if we want to know all the basic triad forms in all keys for Major, Minor, and Diminished. And this is just ONE way to look at triads, because they can be constructed in different directions and ways across the guitar.

We haven’t even touched scales.

The volume of information was so vast, the demand so high, the sense of development so imperceptible, that after four years, I found myself asking, “What the fuck am I even doing?”

Forget musicality, I don’t even fully understand how this fucking instrument works. I can move “up” in how many ways? I can play arpeggios how many ways? I need to be able to do what to pass my sophomore scale barrier?

Dude, I faked the SHIT out of that. If they were to call a random scale in a random position, I would have been FUCKED.

Information overload.

Achieve.

Attain.

Pass.

Regurgitate.

Perform.

It made me feel sick. And I hated it. I couldn’t even remember why I was playing the damn thing.

Eventually I got to a place of anger. I was going to do it because “Fuck all of you, I’ll show you,”

which in reality was a miserable failure. I felt like a miserable failure. I couldn’t remember changes because I didn’t know which voicing were best to use. Do I use drop 2’s? Drop 3’s? Shell voicings? Which way was best for me, a beginner? But guitarist Peter Bernstein says that the root position Major 7 Drop 2 sound like crap, so he recommends just grabbing the chord tones you really like. And Be careful when you are playing with a piano player, you want to fit together like a puzzle. Don’t step on the piano players toes. And say something meaningful for your solo. Jesus. It’s so flat.

I hated it. I was never good enough. How was I supposed to integrate nearly 100 years of musical tradition in 4? It’s not possible. It didn’t matter how hard I pushed, how much I worked, how late I stayed up to practice. I felt like Captain Jack Sparrow at the beginning of the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie, sailing into the harbor standing at the tip-top of the mast, inches above the water, the rest of the ship sunk ages ago.

That’s what graduating from music school felt like, for me. The ceremonies and celebrations felt hollow. Sure I graduated with honors and bells and whistles, the ravenous academic benchmark satiated in the grids and forms I needed to pencil in to pass, but me? Why did I do this?

I have a better handle on what I need to work on, but I did NOT become “My ability to fucking play bebop.” Nor did I “Become my ability to stay rooted in any chord changes and take a coherent solo.” I crashed across the finish line feeling like an internal failure, dressed up in regalia that didn’t match my heart, and then I was pumped out into the world to “figure it out.”

So yes, I learned a lot. I became aware of ways to think, I developed a framework for understanding and practicing new concepts, and I finally learned a tune or two.

Looking back on my process, it makes my heart hurt. I see how hard I worked, how much I resolved to “do it,” and you know what? I did do it, but it hurt. Maybe I was just weak. Maybe I still am. But I did it. I started and I finished. And that means something, if only to me.

But maybe strength doesn’t come from never being weak. Maybe strength is something that you build, that you decide to continually show up for, something that you choose, amidst the waves of overwhelming demands.

I know it’s sensitive, my relationship to music. Part of me believes my value as a musician is tied to my ability to “pass,” to be judged well by those fucking people making the benchmarks. And yes, I know I need a thick skin, I know I need fail to grow. I know I need to be uncomfortable, to be rejected, to fall, to break. I know all of those things. I do.

And I know that the dichotomy of passing or failing is not the only way to relate to music. Sometimes I still need a reminder, something my teacher Jay Rinsen Weik told me as I was getting to the end of my wits and contemplating quitting music all together – Pass or Fail, did I show up? Did I contribute? Did I learn something? Because if I showed up, contributed, and learned, then whether I pass or fail, I always will win.

Sometimes it gets hard. Sometimes it seems to stay hard, but son, you gotta make it so you can win, you gotta be on your own team.

Don’t let the critic inside your head get you down folks. Keep at it and dig in.

Bows


_/\_

Sam

Kogen