Category Archives: Guitar

Mini-Habits: (Don’t) Break the Chain

I’ve been enjoying the Udemy app so much I have become an affiliate.

It’s been an app-y summer.   I’ve finished graduate school and though I am preparing to start a new career as a school librarian, there aren’t as many looming deadlines and forced readings as last year.   I’ve installed a few apps and I’m rolling with them:

  • Simply-e–which allows you to use your New York public library card to borrow books to read on my tablet
  • Epic–to get online picture books for my daughter
  •  Sworkit—provides a variety of workouts without a gym
  • Udemy–an app for learning new skills online from various content providers
  • Chains–an app that lets you track and maintain new habits

Using the Udemy website and app I’ve been  watching the “Mini Habits Mastery” course on Udemy.   In short,  this course explains that in order to create new positive habits you need to go teeny tiny and small.  (Thanks to Rob Schwarz, a friend and an NLP trainer who suggested the course.  You can reach out to him at rob.schwartz@gmail.com for more cool ideas).

Great course on how-to of building mini habits

The course has been worth it to me even though I’ve been mostly listening to it on my walks in Japan as opposed to watching the video content.   It’s been worth the price because it has allowed me to jump start some habits and think about how to maintain them.   The course itself really digs in deep in an informative and entertaining way so check it out.
However, the main point I’ve gotten from the course is that you have to go infinitely small to develop habits that you want to sustain you.   For example, if you want to get in shape, set the goal of doing one push up every day.  If you want to write, set a goal of writing fifty words a day.

The Mini Habits course does a much better job of explaining why you would want to do this.  However, here is my understanding of the power of mini-habits:

  • setting super-small goals and actually being able to do it every day ingrains life-long habits that can transform your life
  • tiny, do-able habits get you on the page, to the gym and lead to increased forward momentum
  • mini-habits encourage “bonus reps”and often lead to exceeding mini-habits
  • Mini habits help you to insure you have your “tools” out for further creation…my mini-habit may be to out the guitar in my hands for two minutes but it puts me in the position of playing more if I want to

 

Easy to use checklist with great quotes about the power of building habits

I have game-ified the Mini Habit process with Chains.cc, an app that lets you track your habits and try to create chains.   Every day that you practice your habit you swipe to the left on your the app and create a new link in the ongoing chain

 

When you turn your phone sideways you can see the chain of habits you are creating with cute images.

So far I haven’t broken a chain because it would be so sad to break the visual picture.  What’s more important is that I’ve gained some momentum on goals that have seemed formidable.   I signed up for some Udemy guitar courses and asked have practiced at least two minutes a day.  It’s just two minutes so why not keep the chain going?

So far I’ve noticed some powerful advantages to this chains and mini-habit fusion:

Picture your on going chains of success. Part of my success with this so far is not wanting to “break” the picture by skipping a mini-habit day.

  • It’s fun.   Because the daily goals are very low stake it’s easier to have s feeling of success at the end of the day.
  • Momentum leads to “bonus reps” as the authors of Mini Habits call it.  If I have the guitar out to do my two minutes it’s easier to do more.   The mini habits author explains not to secretly raise the bar because it’s the mini aspect of this system that makes it work.
  • The chain effect makes it harder to forget where I was, whether it is the latest blog idea or the names of te guitar strings.

So far it’s only been a week but it’s been a quiet but powerful way to change up my summer.   Hope you will join me.   Become part of the chain gang.

Overresponding Samurai: Stop the Drama and Do Something

Overresponding doesn't have to be hectic.  Use your snail power.

Overresponding doesn’t have to be hectic. Use your snail power.

In four  more days, my family and I will leave Japan and we will be back in our semi-hectic work/school mode.  I am spending more and more of my days preparing to teach rather than studying/immersing Japanese and doing all my other side projects.  I needed a little self-help fun, though, and since I am taking classes at CoachU I decided to read a book byThomas Leonard, one of the founders of personal and career coaching.

I am still undecided about what I think about The 28 Laws of Attraction:  Stop Chasing Success and Let it Chase You but I am happy to be doing some trashy self-help reading.  However, one of Thomas Leonard’s ideas keeps getting stuck in my head:  “By overresponding of overreacting, you evolve.”  I”ve already gotten my money’s worth from getting that phrase in my head.

By overresponding, Leonard was talking about being fluid, active, and creative in confronting the issues and problems we come across.   Leonard was unhappy with his chosen career as Certified Financial Planner.  In the process of “overresponding” he became a personal coach and went on to start several coaching schools including Coachville before he passed away.

Another overresponder I constanly refer to is Khatzumoto over at All Japanese All the Time.  He wanted to learn Japanese and “overresponded” to it by “by spending 18-24 hours a day doing something, anything in Japanese (“all Japanese, all the time”).”  He emphasizes using fun materials as a way to actually learn Japanese.

Nowhere in Leonard’s book or Ajatt.com do I see anything encouraging you to flagellate or hate yourself as part of overresponding.   That is overreacting.   Overreacting stops action, even fun actions that can help you develop your skill, learn a language, or move a business or life forward.  Even when overreacting leads to action, the negative crud attached to it can lead to resistance or worse.

I don’t write this as someone who has mastered the practice of overresponding vs. overreacting.  I’m just a motivational blogger who lives down by the Hudson River.   The truth is that some days I am just a hot mess.  I’m writing this to motivate myself because any time I stop listening to the drama and pick up my pen, my guitar, or a fun Japanese book, the universe smiles and a puppy is rescued from a grizzly death.

Become an overresponder.  The life that you save may be your own. Or a puppy.

 

 

Rub up Against It, Samurai!

 

Find new and fun ways to "rub up" against your skill.  I like looking at advertisements--they are designed to get your attention. :)  This is a Japanese ad for air conditioners you can control with your smartphone.

Find new and fun ways to “rub up” against your skill. I like looking at advertisements–they are designed to get your attention. 🙂 This is a Japanese ad for air conditioners you can control with your smartphone.  Ads are great for rubbing up against a foreign language.

Learning about guitar has been a lot like learning a foreign language to me.  This means that I get many opportunities to panic. 🙂  I often feel like I don’t understand what is going on and that I need to understand everything all at once.   What I really need to do is to STSU (Shut the Samurai Up) and rub up against the skill instead of trying have it all at once.

I’ve been pretty systematic about just trying something with guitar.  I’m following AJATT’s philosophy of “Getting Over Zero.”   “Just.Do.Something.”  My pull is just to stop playing because I haven’t mastered guitar, so anything that I can do for even five minutes is a huge victory.

These days when I am away from the guitar (these days at the mangakissa), I’ve been watching at least five minutes of David Wallman’s “Theory and Improvisation” lessons on Jamplay.com.  When I have access to my guitar and computer I either learn a small part of a lesson from Jamplay or review lessons.

I use these cards to help target my practice.   I simply follow the link to the lesson, watch the video or simply play using the supplementary materials on Jamplay.  Just one simple way to "rub up on" a skill/game I thought I couldn't play.

I use these cards to help target my practice. I simply follow the link to the lesson, watch the video or simply play using the supplementary materials on Jamplay. Just one simple way to “rub up on” a skill/game I thought I couldn’t play.

To take a lot of the angst of choosing which lesson to review, I create web-based flashcards using surusu.   I create flashcards simply by using the titles and links to Jamplay lessons.   Surusu mixes up the cards and as I pass them and grade how successfully I’ve remembered the skill or lesson.  The cards come up again sooner (hard cards) or later (easily mastered cards).    Having the cards prevents me from having the wasteful pity party of deciding what would be the right card to review.   Since I have the guitar strapped around my neck, I also just “fool around” and try to make cool sounds.

If you are overwhelmed by a potential skill, rub up against it instead trying to tackle it.   Right now, I am at a mangakissa in Japan.   It’s a fun way to have the office space that I have in the states.   I used to be overwhelmed by the choices of Japanese  manga, magazines, and entertainment that lay outside of the little cubicle where I have my computer.  So I would be here in the heart of Japan, studying my Japanese flashcards but also checking Facebook every fifteen minutes.  Now I don’t care if I understand everything.   I look at the pictures or I look at a complicated kanji and just gaze at it~or not.  Life can be a lot more fun when you are just rubbing up against it.

Here are some tips for rubbing up against your desired skills:

  • use time limits: set a timer for five minutes: How bad could five minutes be?
  • find more opportunities to rub up against the skills:  What are the different modes, podcasts, visuals
  • dont’t let rubbing up against a skill become a threat.  Have fun
  • find light ways to be around what you don’t understand .  Look at the pictures of a manga.  Celebrate what you do know.

I’m getting a lot more out of the paid websites (Jamplay, Japanesepod101.com, iKnow, etc) because rather than beating myself I’ve decided to rub up against the skills I want to have.   This is a lot better than the months (and probably years) that I did not use these websites because of my perfectionism.  There is definitely a role for going gang busters at a skill, but if perfectionism is stopping you from even trying you need to “rub up against it.”

Life is short.  Rub up against it.

Samurai Getting it from All Directions

Look back, look forward, look around.   Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward.   Think cross-train.

Look back, look forward, look around. Sometimes an all directions approach helps you move forward. Think cross-train.

I loved it when Daniel Coyle, author of The Little Book of Talent and The Talent Code, mentioned the skateboarders highlighted in the documentary Dogtown and Zboys.   These outsiders and misfits changed skateboarding forever.   Part of how Coyle explains how they developed their talent was that these skaters “trained” in ever changing environments.   The Zboys were influenced by surfing but also learned how to skate streets,  irrigation ditches, and in a year of drought a plethora of dried out pools.   Each change of environment added to their repertoire and talent.

The takeaway for me is to make sure to get it from all directions.  For example, I came to Kentucky from Puerto Rico at the age of eight and did not know very much English.  (I had the advantage of having a mom that already spoke English).   I went to school and was assigned a speech therapist in addition to regular instruction.   I also fell in love with comic books, specially Richie Rich, Casper, and Archie comic books.   I also grooved on “Sesame Street” and” Electric Company.”   I listened to AM radio.  I watched “Name that Tune.”  I was getting language from all directions.  A cat named Khatz did the same thing with Japanese at an older age and built a website called All Japanese All the Time.

Change your environments and approaches but not so much that you actually don’t move forward.   For example, I’ve taken a very dogged approach to music theory.  I spend five minutes every day moving forward on a little piece of music theory from Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist.  Is it the best book on theory for guitarists?  I don’t know.  Probably not.   At the end of each page, I hunt for youtube videos on the topic and see what other people have said about the various music theory topics.  I’m learning a foreign language here and I know that to learn it, I will need to approach it from many directions.   Every now and then something makes sense.   Victory! 🙂

I also make sure that there is time where I am playing and watching others play.  The point of practice is getting to the point of no mind, a concept I learned through continuous viewing of The Last Samurai.  🙂   Have fun strategizing and playing so when the self-doubt and “I am not worthy”  assassins come to kill you in the dark, you can have your Tom Cruise moment and come at them from all directions.  Peace!

 

 

Shut the Samurai Up and Give Up!

This image is from a great book in Japanese that translates into 100 Tricks to Get Better With Guitar.   It has a lot of practical practice tips and also tips that I think could apply to life beyond guitar.  One of the tips is whatever you do have fun and also do it your way.  STSU, give up, and do it!

This image is from a great book in Japanese that translates into 100 Tricks to Get Better at Guitar. It has a lot of practical practice tips and also tips that I think could apply to life beyond guitar. One of the tips is whatever you do have fun and also do it your way. STSU, give up, and do it!

“Practice with no hope of fruition.”  Terre Roche

I’ve practiced more guitar lately because I have given up.  I’ve given up on becoming great.  I’ve given up on having to know everything instantly.  However, I know that I am not so helpless that I can’t find five minutes.  Sometimes I start five minutes, make connections and the fatigue fades away.   Or not.  However, no one can take those five minutes away.

Yesterday’s five minutes connects with yesterday’s five minutes.   Or not.  A little breath feeds the fire, keeping the mind and heart a little more awake for today and the next day.  Or not.

As far as guitar is concerned, I’ve taken the approach that with my limited time I will practice and study from all ends.  Maybe some day it will “all come together.”   Or not. After reading, Guitar Zero, I decided to buy guitar teacher extraordinaire’s “Fretboard Vitamins.”   I’ll steal Roche’s words to explain it:

The method uses contemplation cards and exercises to help the student tame the geometry of the fretboard and develop a strong sense of relative pitch. This innovative teaching approach was praised by cognitive psychologist Gary Marcus in his new book about music and the science of learning, “Guitar Zero“.

I love the beautiful red box they come in and the gorgeous pictures.  Will the vitamins work?  I don’t know.  I just started.  But I like the idea of a new way to help mix fun, theory, and the senses.

Part of what was stopping me was panicking about the right methods, books, etc.  Did I have the right books?  Am I doing the right lessons?  Am I having the right kind of fun?  I decided to “Shut the Samurai Up”, push just a little bit and when I’m finished pushing, noodle around on the guitar.  I picked a theory book to push on for five minutes a day.  I put the Jamplay lessons on surusu electronic flashcards with links to the lessons, so thinking about which lessons to review will be less of a drama queen moment.

I’ve decided to shut the samurai up, give up and try anyway.   “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.” Or not.

You will never get “there”: The Now Samurai

Talk about life long learning.  I love that there is a book dedicated to teaching seniors how to play The Ventures.   But why wait until you retire to do what you want to do?

Talk about life long learning. I love that there is a book dedicated to teaching seniors how to play The Ventures. But why wait until you retire to do what you want to do?  My Japanese father-in-law is taking up guitar.  I’m thinking of seeing if I can join his classes.  Japanese and guitar, wow!

Yesterday, I decided to stop at a cafe to have an iced latte.  Because it was hot outside and their air conditioner wasn’t on, it was relatively empty.  Then they turned on some Best of Jimi Hendrix, which I hadn’t heard in a long time.  Listening to Hendrix after a long drought is like drinking a cup of coffee after I’ve “given it up”–it blasts me to the stratosphere.  What was interesting was that as I was listening to it, I was thinking things like, “oh he slid up the strings there” or “how and where did he get that idea?”  I didn’t do the usual hero worshiping, practice stopping rant.  “I will never get there.”

If you think you never will “get there” you are right.  You will never get there because where you are is right here right now.   So what are you going to do about it?  Find a way to hit just one string clearly or worship the rock gods?  (Hey, why not do both 🙂 )  Will you find a way to just push for a few minutes to write a little scale or moan about how you wish you could write songs?

Part of pushing is  allowing yourself to “suck” while you move forward.  Part of why reading alljapaneseallthetime.com was so liberating was Khatz’s concept of “suckage.”   As he explains, you have to be comfortable with were you are with your skill but not so comfortable that you aren’t doing something about it.  “Accepting permanent suckage is not humility. That’s resignation. Sucking is a temporary condition. Contact is the cure.”  Have contact with your desired skill at many ends from the theoretical pushes to just having fun listening to the “masters” without being threatened.

You will never get there.  You are always here, now.  Push. Play. Repeat.

Push ‘n Play Samurai: Small Steps Big Results

2013-03-23-07.01.44

This is the last hint in a Japanese book called, “100 hints to Becoming Better at Guitar.” Have fun with your “pushes” and “produce” the life you want. (I would love a great translation of the caption in this book.) You can do this in any area of your life.

My little music theory experiment continues.   Music theory has scared me in the past but I have books that I have accumulated over the years that have laid dormant and untouched.   I have decided to take one book, Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist, pulverize it into little digestible bits and put it into my samurai notebook.   Each bit doesn’t take me more than two or three minutes.  Today, I will draw the F major scale in my notebook and call it a day.

Because I review my notebook, I will be seeing my new friend a few more times.  In the two months since I started this, I have progressed nineteen pages.  Because the bits are so small the process has actually become fun.  I have become a push ‘n play samurai.

There is no grand guardian blocking your path to any field of knowledge.  You don’t have to own it overnight.  There should be no,  “I am not worthy.” There is nothing you have to do to be worthy. You are already “blessed” with the ability to breathe and think on this beautiful and complicated world.  It’s a lot easier to start from, “what would happen if I just push a little bit and try to have a fun.”  Here are a few little tips:

  • you don’t have to put your creative/learning pushes out there for the world to doubt, hate, question etc.  I’m putting my little music theory push out there as a public service announcement but there are other pushes that are under the cloak of silence
  • you don’t have to know where you are going . . . I don’t really know if understanding music theory will really help my playing.  But it has seemed impossible, and that’s part of why I’m attracted to it.
  • keep thinking small is powerful.   Khatz, the dude over at alljapaneseallthetime.com, calls his immersion service Neutrino.  Teeny tiny particles.  According to wikipedia, my vast samurai mind powers, “a typical neutrino passes through normal matter unimpeded.”  When you pulverize your new skill into do-able bits, it’s you will pass through skills you’ve seen as obstacles before.
  • Don’t break the neural chain, man.  (You have to say this in a hippie voice!)  Even if you pick up your guitar (code, language, piano [ouch!], business plan, etc) for five minutes, you are making the next day of practice a little easier.

You won’t always feel great, but I think you might just get a lot farther than if you just beat yourself up about how you don’t know fill in the blank.  Skip the drama.  Become a push ‘n play samurai.

 

100 Secrets to Becoming a Better Player: Samurai Thru-view

There is a lot of good information in this book that can be applied to general skill development.

There is a lot of good information in this book that can be applied to general skill development.

After reading Daniel Coyle’s Little Book of Talent, I realized that I was spending too much of my free reading time in English and needed to veer back to Japanese.   I pulled out ギター上達100の裏ワザ  (100 Secrets to Becoming  Better at Guitar) by Masaki Ichimura.   Following your interests in your target language is a little something I like to call hybridizing your crack, doubling the learning power.

Right now, I am mostly interested in the soft skills and philosophy of playing guitar.  Here are just a few interesting principles that could apply to whatever you are trying to learn.  (My translations are inexact and include other context.  Take with a dash of soy sauce.)

If you practice 10 minutes a day you will accumulate 3, 650 minutes of practice.  You will make a difference in your playing.  続けたことによって発見する物事があります。基本練習を毎日10分やるとしても、1年で3,650分やる人と、やらない人で差があります。

In order to become a guitarist who looks at the audience, practice blind folded.  各席を見られるギタリストになるは。。。。目隠し練習.   This hint reminds me of The Little Book of Talent.  If you want to become better and more natural at a skill, you have to change it up.

If you take lessons, you won’t get better if you don’t practice at home.  ギター教室に通うひとは。。。自宅練習しないと上達しない  Of course this is common sense, but engaging and choosing with your skill is all part of the fluid choices that you get to make with your life.  To tell the truth, I kind of suck at guitar.  But I’m trying to practice a little bit each day, so I suck less than I did when I started.   Khatzumoto recently got all neuroplastic on us and spit it like this:  “Your mind, your body, your skills are fluid and mutable. While you’re alive, it’s up to you what you flow and mutate (?) them into; you have the power to choose.”

To Go Up in Your Level of Playing, Reach for the Next Hardest Level Within Your Reach.  上達という階段を登るには。。。。手の届くレベルにトライし続ける。Coyle would call this looking for “the sweet spot” or “reaches.”  You won’t become Eric Clapton overnight, but where is the next “reach” or do-able “stretch” in your learning?  Not just for guitar, kids.

I

Don't forget to have fun doing it your way!

Don’t forget to have fun doing it your way!

t’s Important to Do What You Like.   一番、好きなことをやろう。Reaching, stretching, etc is important but a key and often forgotten element is to do what you like and reach for what you think is fun with your skill.  Ichimura illustrates this with a wonderful cartoon of a middle aged man playing guitar dressed in his socks.  Happy feeling make happy learnings.  🙂

Tip 100:   You are the “Producer” of Your Life.  あなたは、あなた自身の人生のプロデューさーです。 No matter what age you are, you get to mix it up and do it like you want to.  You get to write the score, choose the instruments, and write the dance track to your life.   Enjoy.

 

 

 

Keep the Fire Burning, (Man)

“Keep the fire burnin’…never let us lose our yearnin'”  . . . REO Speedwagon (ugh!)

Screen shot 2013-03-15 at 7.03.03 AMDo you try to have all of your breath all at once?  No.  A small steady supply feeds all your body systems and your mind.  Small keeps the fire burnin’.

Whatever you are trying to move in your life doesn’t necessarily have to move at once.  In some ways, it may even work better to go small.   I used to wait until my summer vacation and make big promises to myself to write and I did write.   These days, I have around fifteen minutes every morning to write.   I use a timer and then study Japanese.   I’m getting a lot more done than when I had “all the time in the world.”

Small works when it is consistent.  Daniel Coyle writes in The Little Book of Talent  five minutes a day is better than infrequent and longer practice period.   It is easier to link thoughts in writing when it is day to day.  With musical instruments, it is easier to keep “muscle memory” going.  Try to stop breathing for an extended time and see how much fun it is to get breathing again.  On second thought, don’t.   It will be a lot more pleasant for everyone if you keep breathing.

Fun illustration from 1分スピード勉強法。 Short term memory expires quickly.   However, through repetitions the memory can cover the distance to light the candle of long term memory.

Fun illustration from 1分スピード勉強法。 Short term memory expires quickly. However, through repetitions the memory can cover the distance to light the candle of long term memory.

Small leverages the short term to long term memory connection.   Masami Utsude describes transforming short term memory into long

Real language exposure is the best and I get that too.  However, I do a few minutes of iKnow every day.   It keeps it from getting boring and takes advantage of short term to long term memory connection.

Real language exposure is the best and I get that too. However, I do a few minutes of iKnow every day. Short periods keeps it from getting boring and takes advantage of short term to long term memory connection.

term memory.  He describes it as  a relay race.  Imagine a team of matches.  One match (short term memory) runs until almost exhausted and lights the next match, continuing until it reaches a candle (long term memory).

Khatz, over at AJATT, talks about learning languages and suggests that critical frequency, moments of constant contact with the language will help it thrive and stay alive:

A language is like a cross between food, air and a pet. You can’t just binge on it once and call it a day. You need it there constantly, no, not constantly — very frequently — and when it does go, it needs to come back soon. Otherwise the skill dies.

Don’t let the skill die.  Don’t prevent it from being born.  Keep the fire burnin’.

 

 

 

“Stare at Who You Want to Become”

“Don’t wait for your mojo to get to the dojo.”………… me 🙂

Daniel Coyle talks about "windshield time" or time spent watching people doing the kinds of things that you want to do or didn't even think of doing before.  You can do it with people, books, tapes, and languages.   Cultivate your windshield.   photo source:  unprofound.com.

Daniel Coyle talks about “windshield time” or time spent watching people doing the kinds of things that you want to do or didn’t even think of doing before. You can do it with people, books, tapes, and languages. Cultivate your windshield. photo source: unprofound.com.

A funny thing happened on the way back from the dojo.  My oldest daughter takes karate lessons.   My wife takes our two year old daughter, who just watches.  Lately when we watch our oldest practice at home, the littlest also tries to execute the form.   I’m not a real samurai but the toddler’s form looks pretty good.

It’s the power of “staring at who you want to become.”   This little mantra comes from The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle.  He studied “talent hotbeds” across the world.  One of the patterns he noticed across a lot of these training centers is that there is often a period of training where students observe the skill with intensity before actually practicing.  In one Russian tennis center, students watch advanced players before they even pick up a racket.

I would also add that it’s important to have fun with “staring” at who you want to become.   You could watch Jimi Hendrix play guitar and shout, “Jimi is God! I am not worthy!”  (I still say that! 🙂 )   However, even Hendrix sucked at one point.   You don’t have to avoid those feelings.   But, you can also choose to put them to the side and just–watch.   He plays on this part of the guitar, then moves his finger there, etc.

There are many ways to ride the stare-way to betterment:

  • keep the quotes from people who are doing what you want to do and think the way you want to think and review it in your samurai notebook….also copy out the phrases of writers whose style you admire
  • get into the sounds of the foreign language you want to acquire . . . no self-loathing because you don’t understand it yet just let yourself bathe in it . . . find the fun, funny and inspirational and move on … see AJATT.com on this one
  • don’t get threatened or angry at people that are “better” than you in whatever skill you want to acquire . . . watch them closely . . . watch for how they work and also how they bring joy and fun to their work . . . be grateful for people who are better than you.  If you still feel threatened or angry that’s fine .  Hating yourself for your feelings isn’t productive.  Recognize it and find something to stare at (in a nice way!).
  • listen to the people that inspire you on headphones . . . the only English I allow on my headphones is audiobooks by Steve Chandler . . . I don’t agree with everything he says but I like the positive direction and humor of  his work.

Don’t short-circuit yourself by rehearsing how bad you feel about your lack of skill.  If it’s true that you become what you focus on, have some fun.  Stare into the present.