Tag Archives: Guitar

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.

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.

 

 

 

“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.

Let’s Get Physical: Samurai Moving

“Let’s get physical, physical..let me hear your body talk.”….Olivia Newton-John, metaphysicist and 80’s pop star.

One of my lockers where I cage my books and laptop.   Reading closely and savoring each word still has its place, but adding a little velocity to your learning game through speed reading or pre-reading is a way to shake things up.   Do you have any books on your shelf that you think you should read but haven't.   A quick read might give you the lay of the land to read it or get the best part out.  Feel free to eat the best part of the tuna!

One of my lockers where I cage my books and laptop. Physical activity can be a form of review, which is really key to moving forward in your life.  The physical act of going through spaces wakens up ideas and possibilities.  Pick one space to “review.”  Throw out the irrelevant bring forth the joy.

A couple of posts ago I quoted Snoop Dog, and now I am quoting Olivia Newton-John.  Yeah.  That’s how I roll.  Just the other day I was reviewing my samurai notebooks, where I put ideas and borrowed inspirations and information.   As I often do, I use a timer to keep me moving through different tasks.  (Timeboxing, read about it later.)   I wondered whether I should time the physical act of getting an old notebook out of a storage space.   I decided to include it.

When you are making moves towards your goals, you are also making physical moves.  Yes, Shakespeare wrote Hamlet and sonnets and all that, but does anyone talk about how many times he had to sharpen his quill?   There are all of these unsung moves that needed to happen.   Do you want to play guitar?  Hey, you know the guitar is not going to get out of the bag by itself.

Ay, here’s the rub.  Sometimes making the physical move gets you a little further along your “goal.”  You’ve gone through the small act of getting the guitar out of the bag, you’ve tuned it, and strapped it around your neck.  Are you just going to put it back down?  Probably not.  This little physical motion is already giving you momentum.

Khatz over at AJATT taught himself Japanese in fifteen months.   A lot of how he explains he did that is physical.  Not only was he listening and watching Japanese all the time, his walls and bookshelves were covered in Japanese.  The key part is fun.  Yes, I get frustrated that I fumble over  “stretch” activities I am learning on the guitar.   But once I have that guitar strapped around my shoulders, I make time to actually “play” with the guitar.

Make it so that you literally trip on the material you want to become. Inside you will find two lightweight notebooks (one current and one for review), a Japanese book on guitar, and random junk. :)

Make it so that you literally trip on the material you want to become. Inside you will find two lightweight notebooks (one current and one for review), a Japanese book on guitar, and random junk. 🙂

Part of the game becomes finding ways to “physical-ize” your goals.  Here are some of my recent moves:

  • leaving a music theory book underneath my laptop so I there is more of a chance that I will look at it
  • making sure I always have a Japanese book in my “man-bag”
  • leaving a travel-sized guitar in the closet at work….buying a $20 tuner . . . after all the work is done for the day I try to spend 15-20 minutes…reviewing and/or farting around
  • making sure that the battery on my computer at the Writer’s Room stays charged at 80-90%.  This means I need to show up everyday and work
  • make Netflix work by constantly having Japanese DVD’s in my laptop
  • keep various “study” and “fun” windows open on the browser so they are just there

Make 2013 the year when you get physical with your goals.  Let me hear your body talk. Body talk.  🙂

Take a Little Off the Top (and the Sides), Samurai

Take a little off the top and the side.  Don't be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible.

Take a little off the top and the side. Don’t be overwhelmed by the seemingly impossible.

Just yesterday some friends shared a little clip from an organization called code.org.  I have to admit, just the thought of coding is something that overwhelms me.  But according to Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and the creators of twitter, dropbox and many other mega-sites explain, it is an approachable skill.  One of the coding stars explains that it is like any skill that might seem scary at first, whether it is playing an instrument,  learning a sport, or hey learning a language.  I don’t know if this clip is propaganda for some kind of coding cult but I like its message of how the seemingly impossible can be possible.

One phrase that helps me with this these days is “take a little off the top.”  I am a teacher and a father of two young children.  I am pulled in ten thousand directions, so the thought that I would also write, learn Japanese, and learn guitar seems ludicrous.  But taking a “little off the top” is doable and that’s what I’ve learned to do day to day.

I think the ability to persist in small and steady games has been one of the benefits of doing Silverspoon, an online coaching service I used to immerse myself in Japanese more.   In one of the emails I got from Khatzumoto, he summarizes the game/plan of action:

AJATT 7-Step Victory Formula: 0. Have no good intentions whatsoever. Just pick a good direction. No intentions. 1. Start off on the wrong foot. 2. Set your quitting time ahead of time (timeboxing) 3. Do a bad job. Quick. Dirty. Ugly. 4. Do only half the job (or less), using only what tools are immediately available. 5. Stop and switch games at quitting time, before quitting time or as soon as you get bored, whichever comes first. 6. Get more, better tools. 7. Return to step (1)

(BTW, AJATT has a really interesting new article on the importance of skimming.)  I could complain that I don’t have all the time in the world to write the great samurai self-help book or I could play around with writing in 15 minute stretches every morning.  I could whine that I don’t know that I don’t know how to play guitar or I could pull out a lesson from my SRS deck, Jamplay, or any other tools and then just let myself play.  I may not be able to put in 10,000 hours but I can “take a little off the top.”

You can also take a “little off the side.”   What I mean by this egregious hair metaphor is the importance of changing tactics,

Some Brazilian players play "futbol de salao."  Small, challenging environments can improve skills.  Work it!

Some Brazilian players play “futbol de salao.” Small, challenging environments can improve skills. Work it!  BTW this isn’t futbol de salao.  🙂

environments, and tools in addition to the persistence of “taking a little off the top.”  I just finished reading The Little Book of Talent by Daniel Coyle (in five minute daily increments).  His tip #9 is “To Build Soft Skills Play Like a Skateboarder.”  He encourages people to explore and expand their skills “inside challenging, ever changing environments.”  He is alluding to the skateboarders that are featured in Dogtown and Zboys.   One of the ever changing environments they discovered were empty pools.  Confined, ever changing environment that took skateboarding in new directions.  Coyle also discusses how some Brazilian soccer teams train in small rooms that force them to learn all kinds of new skills.

Games are fun because of their limits.   Don’t be scared to develop the skills you want because of limits.   Bend time and space like a ZBoy.  Take a little off the top.  Come at it from all sides. Enjoy.

Claim Your Song, Samurai

Screen shot 2013-02-27 at 6.50.23 AM

Image from unprofound.com. You don’t have to be Keith Richards or Beethoven to claim your own corner of music. Life is short. Play.

“Everybody loves music. What you really want is for music to love you. And that’s the way I saw it was with Keith…You’re not writing it, it’s writing you. You’re its flute or its trumpet; you’re it’s strings. That’s real obvious around Keith. He’s like a frying pan made from one piece of metal. He can heat it up really high and it won’t crack, it just changes color.” – Tom Waits

Note:  this is a break from a self-helpy vein though there is a little message about claiming your abilities.  If you are allergic to personal stories,, skip to the end. 

In August of 2010, I returned home late in the middle of the night.  My youngest daughter had just been born.  I was browsing through Facebook and found out that my friend, Tom, had died in our hometown of Lexington Ky.  Joy and sadness can live so close side by side and even right on top of each other.

Tom and I knew each other mainly through the same group of friends.  We didn’t hang out alone.   Tom was a talented musician.  One of my fondest memories of Tom was when he wrote and recorded a blues song based on a concert gone wrong.    One summer night, I was the designated driver to go to a Steve Winwood  concert.  Jimmy Cliff was the warmup act.  All went fine until my mother’s car decided to have a flat tire an hour or so away from Lexington.  To add to the fun, someone locked the keys in the trunk.  A couple of angry mothers later, we were able to go back home.   Tom wrote and recorded a song that I wish I could still find.

Tom and I weren’t necessarily close friends.  But never let emotional or physical distance make you underestimate the power of relationships.   I would see Tommy once every other year, mostly at poker games when I visited my hometown.  But when I found out he was gone I missed him terribly and wished he hadn’t gone.  If you happen to go, you will be missed terribly by more people than you think.

Over the next few weeks, I had to decide whether to go to Tom’s memorial.  The memorial was the weekend before school started again, and we had a three year old on top of a newborn.   We don’t have a lot of family or extra help in New York.  I also worried that I wasn’t part of his “inner circle.”  (If we’ve had contact, please feel free to consider yourself part of my inner circle.)  I also needed to buy an airplane ticket at a time when my wallet was pouring out dollars for diapers, wipes, and did I mention diapers.

But I really missed Tommy.  After talking to Yoko and getting a sitter to help, I decided to make the trip to my hometown.  At the memorial, I got to see friends that I had seen in years in addition to good buddies that I would always see when I came home.  The pastor spoke about Tom’s natural ability to play music and bring joy and creation.   He explained that even though we may not have the same musical abilities that it was up to us to keep the music alive, in our own ways, even if it meant we had to work a little harder.  Maybe someday I will return the favor to Tommy and write my own blues tune.

Five minutes of playing is better than not playing at all.

Five minutes of playing is better than not playing at all.

It’s strange that my daughter’s birthday will also always be around the anniversary of my friend’s passing.  On the first anniversary, my friend Jeff posted a barrage of music that Tom loved and was inspired by.  It was kind of like I was getting to know Tom better even though he wasn’t on this physical plane.

I’d love to report that after that memorial, I took up music with a passion and have kept the music going every day.  I have let the dust accumulate on the guitar for months at a time.  These days I am going for a minimum though I’m promising nothing to anyone not even myself.  I’m trying to follow Julia Cameron’s advice on how to take up an art form:

sit down at the piano and touch the keys.  Five minutes a day is better than no minutes a day.

Now is the time to claim your song, whatever form it may take for your.  If you can’t claim it through joy, claim it through anger or grief and let it lead back to joy.  Life is precious.  Claim your song.

“Don’t Give a Pluck, Guitar Samurai: “.ooooo1% is better than 0”

One of the nice things about signing up for Silverspoon, an internet Japanese immersion service, is that you get daily servings of corny motivational phrases.   After a while they start to rub off on you, and you start to believe that you can accomplish things.  (Motivational reps–resistance if futile 🙂 )  Yes, I am not completely fluent in Japanese.  (I’ve been doing/not doing Silverspoon my own way so it’s not really an issue for me.)  Yep, just having a hell of a lot more fun doing stuff in Japanese, writing more (in so-called English), and otherwise tripping the light fantastic.

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?

 

A recent “casualty” of the corny motivational Silverspoon phrases has been my guitar playing.  I haven’t gone anywhere near my Jamplay.com  account in months.   It will expire at the end of the year.  (Check around Christmas time to New Years–they often have discounts if you are interested.  Follow the link on the bottom right of this page.)  I was doing the usual response:  avoiding thinking about guitar or silently beat myself from it.

Then I got one of the 100’s of emails I get from Silverspoon that said:  “.000001% is better than o.”  That little phrase motivated me to pick up and tune my Fender and do a little Jamplay.  Luckily, I had created Anki cards for my guitar lessons and was reminded to go to beginner lessons by Steve Eulberg.   I like his lessons not only because they are clear but also because he is cheerful, hopeful, and teaches you how to keep on learning.  I’ve been doing ten minutes before I get to bed.  I’ve been learning about the logic of chord progressions and playing them. More importantly, getting to the lessons means that I end up with a guitar strapped around my neck and often just end up playing around.

I can’t promise you that I will keep on playing.  It’s a one day at a time thing.  However, I can take the opportunity to provide you with some pithy “take-aways” from guitar to help you with any skill you want to take on:

  • don’t wait for the right materials.  Don’t fret about the “right materials” or method.  You need momentum.  Use the “crappy” materials while you find better stuff.  Jamplay is actually excellent but I found myself fretting about the dozens of materials instead of actually picking up the guitar.  Luckily, I had created an
    If you make the happiness decision then maybe you can experience more creativity in your life.  Self-loathing and criticism aren't going to help you.  I finally got around to getting out my Japanese guitar books.  Learning through love.  Trying to make the happy decisions. Two birds no stone.

    If you make the happiness decision then maybe you can experience more creativity in your life. Self-loathing and criticism aren’t going to help you. I finally got around to getting out my Japanese guitar books. Learning through love. Trying to make the happy decisions. Two birds no stone.

    SRS flashcard deck out of many of the lessons and that gave me ideas of where to begin.  Continue.

  • have some fun once the “heavy lifting” has begun.  Once I had my guitar and stumbling through a lesson, I also had the guitar in my hands and ready to play around.
  • just a little bit keeps the conversation going–when you are learning a skill or  learning a language.   A little bit each day keeps the skill in play even if not perfected.   I started thinking about chord progressions after a short re-exposure to one of Steve Eulberg’s lessons.   Light the matches until you can burn the candle.
  • put your money where your mouth is–pay for a service.   The fact that I paid X dollars for Silverspoon keeps me going.  The fact that I have to decide whether to renew Jamplay got me back to the guitar.
  • cross-pollinate your interests and “leverage” your interests.  I want to know more about music.   I could bash myself and note that I don’t know every band that Eric Clapton was in or I could just have fun.  Lately, I have been making Japanese
    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.

    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.

    flashcards about Happy End and Harumi Hosono, some of my favorite old style rock groups.  Two birds rocking and rollin’.

A New Year is approaching but don’t wait until then.  Give it .00000001%!

Samurai Swimming: The Importance of “Treading Water”

Sometimes you have to bookmark or tread water with your skill. If you can’t do all guitar all the time, do five minutes. Photo by sudyasheel. http://bit.ly/UChtLh

The other day I was minding my own business and paying attention to @ajatt’s twitter conversation when a rockin’ young ma twitterin’ man named @Mikeylovesrock asked, “Could someone create an @ajatt method for guitar fluency? :p I’d be much obliged.”  I told him that maybe he is the man that everyone is waiting for. Khatzumoto didn’t know Japanese when he began his immersion experience.   Now Khatzumoto has a cool blog helping people all over the world learn Japanese through fun and immersion.

Later on, I suggested some of my posts where I mention guitar.  I also sent Mikeylovesrock a link to Rittor, a Japanese music publication company.   I have a great book from them called (roughly), 100 Hints for Becoming Better in Guitar.

@mikeylovesrock graciously conceded that he would give it a shot when he finished learning Japanese.  I let a few hours pass, thinking about the fact that even Khatzumoto began from nothing and I replied, “fair enough … but what is one thing you could do in guitar? keep strings tuned hold guitar five minutes/day.”  Why wait?

The Importance of “Treading Water”

“Relax your mind and float down stream.” When you are treading water, a relaxed attitude will help you “float” better.  Photo by Jim:  http://bit.ly/S1Kvpd

Even if you have a big learning project underway, I think it is important to “tread water” in the other skills you want to develop.  Why?

  • Your mind loves a challenge and progress is made in minutes of doing rather than not doing.
  • The next skill can become a motivator for continuing and progressing with the on-going learning project.
  • A little bit a day lays the groundwork for more each day and gets your mind thinking like a guitarist/pianist/speaker of French/coder etc.
  • Because it’s just plain old fun.

Tips for “Bookmarking” or Treading Water on a Future Skill

  • use your current learning to shore up future learning–i.e. play around with the guitar books written in Japanese
  • keep the instrument(s) of your future skilled out and “tuned”-take the guitar out of the case, keep it tuned, and just touch it for five minutes
  • have a place in your notebook for future goals, dreams, and skills in your notebook and find fun ways to keep reviewing them in your notebook…create ways to keep bumping into your desired skills
  • if you can’t do five minutes, do one minute.  If you can’t do one minute, do one second.  If you don’t physically pick up your skill, hold it in your mind.  A friend of mine says he practices guitar scales and patterns in his mind when he is too busy being a dad.   Guilt and self-hatred don’t count.
  • create an online flashcard deck for your future skill….even if you just put one card it in the deck it counts

The nice thing about giving advice to other people is that sometimes it spurs you to follow your own advice.  🙂  I blew the dust off my flashcard deck for guitar and landed on Jamplay.com lesson based on an AC/DC song called, “You Shook Me All Night Long.”  For five minutes, the bright lights shone on me as I had my Angus moment.  Of course, this was a four day weekend.  Let’s see if we can sustain the five minutes during the stress of the school year.  In the meantime, stay “tuned.” 🙂

How to get better in one easy step. Show the Samurai Up!

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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