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All I need to know is how much is enough.   —James Heisig’s translation of  saying on a small stone basin at Ryonji,  a Zen temple

Buddhist poet Saigyo tried to live “one inch above the ground.”  . . .not with one’s feet planted firmly in the everyday, not walking on the clouds, but floating a thumb’s length above the ground.   –Heisig,  Dialogues at One Inch Above the Ground

Stop being a jerk to yourself.  You did your best given what you knew at the time.  Now do your best now. —from a Silverspoon email.

Remember, in order to actually get better at guitar you need to actually take the guitar out of its bag. —Dan Emery, head of NYC School of Guitar in a postcard to all the students

I decided to shut up and show the samurai up with guitar. I picked this book to begin with because it will reinforce my Japanese. Of course, it has a mangalike character on front. If you are interested, here is the closest version I could find on Amazon Japan. Two birds. No killing. Just a rolling stone gathering no moss.

In my last post, I focused on Heisig and how he examined his systems and perfected them.  Heisig  optimized his learning and the learning of many more through his system for learning kanji.   I also suggested that it’s great to examine your methods, find your weaknesses and reassess.   I still believe that is true, but I also believe you also just have to show the Samurai up!  If you can’t think of the “right”  thing to do, do something! In short:

  • if you can’t think of the most fun or targeted learning activity, do the “boring” one until you are inspired
  • inspiration sometimes comes through “work”–sometimes it doesn’t
  • keep your brain myelinated …keep the mental and physical conversation of the skill going
  • still, don’t forget the fun–what’s really great is when some fun activity or experience reinforces the work and seals the deal on what you have learned
  • stay “one inch above the ground”…grounded in the practice of what you are trying to learn and also dreaming and enjoying it . . . watch experts and children who still enjoy learning and model them
  • use a timer to get through the blocks

I need to practice what I preach. 🙂 Lately, I decided to start playing guitar again.   I have no dearth of materials, in Japanese and English.  I was getting my underwear all in knots thinking of which set of materials to use:  a Japanese guide, Jamplay.com, or the many English DVD’s and books that are hidden in different corners of my apartment.

Did anyone notice how good Japanese graphic arts can be?  In addition to these homey little characters (this one is showing you how to hold a guitar correctly) there are also very precise and sharp schematic drawings about how to hold the pick and hit the strings.

I finally to stop fretting (guitar joke!) about all the materials and just get started.   I had an old flashcard deck devoted to guitar playing and started with some scales.   Then I decided to open up one of the many guitar books I have and just go through it.  It includes a DVD and I fired up an old Dell that I now use as a spare DVD player.  The first few lessons are really simple, and explain how to hit the strings with your pick. The first few video lessons show how to hit one string with different rhythms.  It’s kind of boring but hitting the strings and doing it rhythmically correct is fundamental to a lot of guitar playing.   Hey, someone should write a book called Zen Guitar!  (It’s an actual book!)

This is a reference manga for the manga series, “Beck.” The manga is about a 90 lb. weakling who joins a rock band. (I didn’t end up following the manga or the anime.) The music guide gives background to all the characters and all the real-life music influences that run throughout the manga. If I read this, not only will I know more Japanese, I will also know more about rock and roll music history. Amazon Japan Link.

After doing scales for a few days, I thought about perusing the lessons at jamplay.com and found a new series on the guitar playing of Eric Clapton.   I went through a beginning lesson that covered the style of the Yardbirds doing a song called “Boom Boom.”  I listened to this song and the many versions of the original by the blues-man John Lee Hooker.  It’s so much fun to watch what the masters can do with their guitar.   (of course you never hear what they sounded like when they were sucky beginners)

The Beck Music Guide is fun and encyclopedic. For example, one character is really influenced by the blues, so here you see the character and then all the real-life albums that “influenced” his playing. It’s great to see the cover art of all these great blues albums from Bo Diddly, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf, etc all in one place.

But all of this happened because I decided to show the samurai up!  Use a timer if you need to do but do something daily instead of fretting about the methods.    Stay grounded but not at the point where you are digging your own rut.  Get inspired by the masters but not to the point where it looks impossible and you stop practicing. Work.  Have fun.  Stay “one inch above the ground.”

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