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

3/12/21

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:


In This Moment:

I transform my intention in relation to music from a drive to perfect to one of sonic exploration.

I have a set of tools with which life and I may breathe symbiotically through.

What is the animating force that swells and pulses through dimensions of reality?
What is it’s intent? What is my intent and motivation? What is my inspiration?

Rhythm allows one to organize time.

The mind disengages and begins to subconsciously hear rhythms that repeat more than 4 times. (I’m not sure where I pulled this information from at the time. I think I remember reading it somewhere, but I can’t speak to the efficacy or truth of this claim.) One may shape practices around a concept and engage with practice in new ways by transforming rhythm.

Move slowly enough to feel the pulse of rhythm, yet quickly enough for continuity.

Listening to and feeling empty space helps to incorporate and experience new rhythms.

Current Reflections

Sometimes, looking back on my own process is hard. Have you ever recorded yourself singing or playing music? Listening back is sometimes really uncomfortable, especially if you aren’t used to hearing yourself make sound. By placing ourselves into a new role, now the listener instead of the creator, we are given front row seats to our own performance. And the recording never lies. It shows us exactly where we are.

I’ve personally noticed a strange phenomenon in my own experience and relationship to singing, playing, recording, and listening back – sometimes the way that I feel when I am making sound disappears or changes when I’m listening to myself make sound.

Sometimes I feel like I am drenched in a feeling, expressing with pristine clarity, encoding a nebula of pure and raw emotion in sound and time. I know it rocks. I can feel it in my guts.

Then, when I listen back, it feels like I am drinking flat soda. I feel an aversion to the thing I just made. Its sound does N O T H I N G to reflect the feeling I had when creating it. In fact, it’s quite distasteful and I often don’t want to finish it.

A good friend of mine, Noah Martis explicitly shared this very insight with me once during a late night hang. We were listening to Noah Gundersen, Derrick Trucks, and Novo Amor*, and he told me “Sam, I like to listen back and make sure that what I am feeling when I am creating music is the same thing I feel when I’m listening to myself. If I can make myself feel the way that I do when I’m playing, but when I’m listening, I know I’ve got something. I start by making music for me, making music that I can feel.”

I’m deeply appreciative of Noah, his music, his process, and our friendship. He lights the fire under my ass and makes me want to do something, to dig in deeper, and to give it my everything.

And he is right. Ever since he told me that, I’ve been using that approach to check and see if what I play and sing feels as deeply real and tangible when I’m listening.

And it’s not always comfortable.

But it gets easier every time.

Sometimes it really sucks. Sometimes it’s not so bad. And sometimes it’s actually pretty damn cool.

If we can make the simple decision to document what we do, then take the time to look back at it, improving upon it starts to become the most natural response. We can sift through the junk, skim off the slime, and grab the best parts. And who knows what we will end up doing with the best parts of our artistic expression? Especially if they make us feel.

Are you still here?

We haven’t even really looked at the entry yet.

And you know what, I think that simply looking at the entry feeling something, even if it was an initial distaste lead us to explore some interesting waters, so thanks for joining me.

Bows

_/\_

Sam

Kogen

Photo Credit – Aleah Fitzwater

9/30/20

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.

Jamming some Shinoda Today

Original Entry:

Juggling and Music:

As when I first began juggling, music too is an exploration, a play, a spin of patterns.

All of juggling is juggling; in fact, no part of reality is outside of juggling from the juggler’s mind. It took time to unearth this perspective, yet now it’s active and alive.

So too, all of music is music. Music delves beyond any of it’s component parts; all of unified reality is music.

Patterns, scales, arpeggios, rhythms – all music. I play with patterns to familiarize, then I apply them to perceived stimulus in reality: songs I hear, natural rhythms, other musicians, what I hear in my mind…

If I ever become stuck, recall that the material that “binds” is simply a singular expression of music and remember change is my friend.

Current Reflections:

This entry is refreshing. Juggling has continued to inform my music making process over the years. Some of my Papadosio friends may remember a time before I learned to juggle, many more of them might have connected with me because I was standing in a little patch of grass, myself with LED juggling balls through sweeping sets of music at a time during some of the early Rootwire Music and Arts Festivals. Oh, I have so many stories about juggling at festivals. I remember one night after Govinda slayed a set and ended around 2 or 3 AM, I kept walking around the grounds and juggling until the sun rose. When I finally sat down, I remember nestling into the dirt outside of our tent on a little incline, classical guitar in hand, slowly picking “Norwegian Wood” by The Beatles out of my memory. For the rest of the day, no matter what I was doing, I could still feel my hands juggling in some liminal space in front of my body where they had been dancing all night long.

Leaving my library of bizarre states of consciousness related to juggling aside, the process of juggling and the process of music making have always been closely related for me. I started to learn how to juggle during college in 2011, using 3 oddly shaped bouncy balls in the living room at my parents house at midnight. I continually tried to wrap my head around the process of juggling during breaks from writing papers for my comp class and banging my head against my chemistry homework, at the time on a pre-medical undergraduate track. I was going to be a doctor. Juggling and music were my solace from the overwhelming weight of school, and I spent as much free time as I could trying to deeply understand both.

After my first semester at college, I officially ditched the idea of becoming a doctor, had a brief fling with becoming a jazz saxophonist for a semester, then took a wild and fun gap year. It was nothing short of a miracle that I decided to go back to school – it would have been easy to keep on having fun, chilling, dancing, and working at a pizza place. Thankfully my friend Ryan Murray and I talked ourselves into going back to school to study music.

But that gap year was important for me. It gave me the opportunity to really dig into my understanding of music. That’s when I learned all of my major scales in all keys, figured out what arpeggios were, and began to unlock the fretboard. And I never stopped juggling; in fact, I juggled more, and more, and more, until I was dancing around local and distant concerts, running around the neighborhood, and studying new patterns arduously in my room, juggling like a madman.

For me, juggling and music evolved along two separate paths at that point: Music became rigid and regulated. I suddenly realized how much I didn’t know and was surrounded by a lotta cats who knew a whole HELL of a lot more than me. I was swimming for dear life in an ocean of unknowable depth. It felt like I had to work 10 times harder at my actual instrument to make anything remotely musical happen, while some of my peers seemed to shit beautiful sounds from their fingertips with their eyes closed. The environment was a pressure cooker. Sophomore year was one of the worst of my life, and my upperclassman years were slowly tinged with a hue of depression. All I could see was the benchmark I was missing, the next mark I would have to meet, and all of my shortcomings.

Don’t get me wrong,I learned so much more than I could have ever mustered on my own in my bedroom, regardless of how hard I was working before I decided to go back to school; but it was tough. Really tough. I almost quit my Junior year, but thankfully my teadher Jay Rinsen Weik talked me down and met me with some much needed compassion as I sat across from him on the brink of tears during one of our lesson hours that day.

I’m grateful for the hardship and the intense, diamond-forging heat that helped me arrive at this point. From here, I hope to keep growing with that same intensity. But I’m also recognizing that it might be more fun and sustainable to marry this academic intensity and drive with some of the free flowing, genuine curiosity that is my juggling process.

Early on I realized how unhelpful my anger and self-deprecation was for my process of juggling. I would drop the ball, look at it, and just seethe with hate. Stupid ball. I can’t do anything. Damn gravity.

Then one day, I dropped it, (HA) and realized how thankful I was that the ball didn’t disappear forever. All I had to do was bend down. I started picking up the ball faster and faster each time, making a game out of it, enjoying the opportunity to make a big scene of throwing all the balls up in the air. The pattern interrupt became a springboard to launch from during performance and a practice of patience in my study. I kept learning new ways to weave the pattern, locking one down into a stable state, then trying to imagine how I could build a layer on top of this sturdy pattern. I discovered I could walk, run, dance, and subdivide my catches to a beat. I found some ways to isolate balls, to hold them steady, to carry them, to swirl and spin them. And, by George, it was fun.

Juggling was a new skill, something I utterly COULD NOT do, that after some concentrated effort, became something I could do, arguably very well, compared to my profound inability at the beginning. I’ve actually made some money from juggling. Not a ton, but hey!

I learned a new skill, from nothing, just because I wanted to flow. And in learning a new skill, I got to peek under the hood of how I actually learned, what the process actually looked like. Let me tell you, it wasn’t how I thought I learned based on my early education and high school. It was hands on, sweat on the back, anger in the barrel, “fuck you I’m going to do this” gumption paired with breakthrough’s that were naturally rewarding. Strange states of consciousness emerged. Patterns clicked into place in an almost mechanical way. Progress was tangible, demonstrable, and could be carried anywhere. And by golly, it was still fun.

I’m still trying to push the edges of my ability, both as a musician and a juggler, and recently, I’ve been thinking of how I can bring the sweet flowing love of my juggling process into my learned and rigid tendency towards strict discipline on the guitar.

This is the evolution of this original entry. Everything that rises on the guitar, from your voice, or from your instrument of choice is music, if you choose to unconditionally love and see it as such. Multi-instrumentalist Art Lande told me once at a masterclass on Cal Arts’ Campus that it’s important to practice to let myself babble like a baby on my instrument, not to judge it. And pianist Kenny Werner talks about loving every sound that rises from your instrument unconditionally (Here).

In the same way, everything is juggling to the juggler’s mind, drops, throws, catches, stops, starts, conversations…

The question for me is still: how can I bring my practice of juggling through guitar; how can I bring my practice of guitar through juggling. How can I continue to understand and learn how to learn?

Bows

_/\_

Sam

Kogen

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

9/2/2020

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.

Preface:

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.

ConstantsVariables
GuitarCombinations
TuningRhythms
Inherent NotesForms
ScalesChanges
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.

8/27/2020

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

Magnetic Learning:

I learn in a very mysterious way, through experience over time. I reference a knowledge body and relate new information to it. This information becomes magnetized towards me and my neural network and energetic library, or is repelled away from me and forgotten.

The emotions I create open gates for my soul, my center, my essence to draw experiences through.

“Negative” emotions are valid and insightful, creating a space of contrast for novel experience to emerge from.

Engaged and excited emotions quickly magnetize and charge, making learning embody a state of flow.

Lusting and “greedy” emotions draw towards a specific desire and nullify opportunities of opening and flowering in preference of one specific release. My question is this: can this ability for desire be harnessed in either a more helpful or less helpful way?

If I desire to play “better” or “cooler” music than what I already create, I disengage from reality and engage with impossible fluctuating standards. This is neither an excuse to curb the desire to expand and grow, nor is it necessarily helpful to catalyzing or enabling myself to expand or grow.

I define my standards and project them on reality.

I create a projection onto reality, reality creates an impression on me.

I am my ability to project and impress upon reality.

Because I am my ability to impress and project upon reality, I create harmony, commUNITY, and inspiration for the benefit of all sentient and unaware beings throughout all space and time.

Samuel Kogen Rugg

Projecting is giving energy, impressing is receiving energy.

Giving, receiving, and energy are empty.

I am silence, emptiness, nothing.

I am everything.

I am.

I III 3 delta

(Well, there was that Empowered Language Trip from Mark England showing up again, followed by some free association.)

Current Reflections:

Upon a few years of steeping and ripening, as I look back upon this entry, I can see that my focus in this writing is clearly focused on memory and learning. Questions like:

  • How do I learn new things?
  • Why do I forget some things, but remember other things so vividly?
  • Can I unearth a way to help ritualize the process of encountering new forms and practices?
  • Can I ritualize a way to integrate new forms and practices into my being and then directly apply them to my life in this moment?

At the time of this writing, I was intrigued with the idea of magnetic learning. What exactly does this mean, magnetic learning?

In my experience, it seems that the human creature has a very special ability. We can encounter new information, something we have never seen before, something that requires our body and mind to engage in a particular way, and something that then creates a specific novel result when actualized with experience. As we practice, it seems that this new form can become easier and easier, until it suddenly seems like it seems to show up on it’s own accord, with a mind and inertia of its own.

It’s almost like we this: We can engage so fully, so consistently, so consciously, and so regularly with a practice that we can literally wire up a new habit and plant it into our subconscious. All of our conscious effort and attention becomes so ritualized that we can offload it to automatic or subconscious action, but not mindlessly. Rather, we can offload it with full mindfulness. It’s like all of the hours of our consistent work, all of our full-contact, engaged, and present awareness – it never stops. We have created a version of our self that has no beginning or ending, but is always engaged in this particular form of our practice. And once it’s subconscious and automatic, we can engage with the process again and build on it.

Oh lord stop me.

Starting to sound like a Bill Evans quote my teacher Jay Rinsen Weik has taped to his office door at the University of Toledo:

It’s better to do something simple that 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 don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it.

The whole process of learning the facility of being able to play Jazz was to take these problems from the outer level in- one by one and to stay with it at a very intense conscious concentration level until that process becomes secondary and subconscious… Then you can begin concentrating on that next problem which will allow you to do a little bit more.

The full article is here. And it comes from a video called “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans,” here linked to the YouTube video.

For me, back in my undergraduate years at the University of Toledo, I was extremely interested in how our emotions effect our ability to learn. Do strong emotions help me learn and remember things more deeply?

If so, how can I cultivate a deeper emotional connection to the musical forms that I want to integrate? An amazing pianist, Josh Silver once told me that he likes to sit, close his eyes, and listen to a new tune he’s working on, imagining a film playing in his mind along with the music. This deeply struck me. At the time he delivered this wisdom, I was overwhelmed and out of my mind scrambling to get my shit together to just pass my finals. I tried his idea out once while I was learning the standard, “Here’s That Rainy Day,” Here from my senior recital.

A better one is Bill Evans, Here.

I haven’t forgotten the tune.

If I’m being honest, it’s likely rusty, but man, Josh’s insight really helped me out. And if you listen to him, he’s a, (pardon my language) a MOTHER FUCKER of a player. Deep respect Josh.

How can we create a powerful emotional connection with our art and craft, whatever it is? How can we make it personal, real, and meaningful? How can we use the building blocks of our craft and electrify it with our life? Maybe it’s time to take some of Rinsen’s, Bill Evans’, and Josh’s insights to heart.