Shaky Musicianship- The First Book For The Day

For the first ever Book For The Day, I decided to make a rather unusual choice. Instead of selecting a book to examine thoroughly, I wanted to use a book, one that is seemingly irrelevant to music, as a catalyst for discussion. The book is Shaky Colonialism: The 1746 Earthquake-Tsunami in Lima, Peru, And Its Long Aftermath, by Charles Walker.

Shaky Colonialism covers the 1746 Lima Earthquake and the efforts of the Peruvian Viceroy Manso de Velasco to rebuild the city. The natural disaster was so devastating that of the 5,000 people living in the nearby costal town of Callao, only 200 survived, a death rate of 96%. Viceroy Manso proved more than ready for the challenge and was so successful that by the end of his post-earthquake reforms, Lima was better off than before the disaster. He used the earthquake as an opportunity to consolidate his power and strengthen the local government while simultaneously restoring social order to the city.

Walker’s main argument in the book is that natural disasters have been one of history’s greatest tests of government strength and provide an opportunity for federal and cultural change. I chose this book because I believe this principle can be translated to level of the individual.

The ultimate test of the individual is his or her ability to respond to disaster and utilize the challenge as an opportunity to grow. Throughout our journey we are guaranteed to hit points of despair, scenarios where giving up is the easiest option. But if we push through, we often find that we have risen above our previous circumstances.

In early August of 2013, I was on vacation with my family. During this trip I hit the lowest point I have ever reached in my now eight years of playing music. I hated everything about what I was doing. I hated the songs I was writing and the songs I was learning. I hated my level of technical ability and that I seemed unable to play any of the songs that I wanted. I hated music. I hated guitar. Every note I played disgusted me. I wanted to quit. I wanted to light my guitar on fire. But I didn’t. For some reason or another, I stuck with it, pushing passed the plateaus that caused me anguish. Over the course of the next year, I worked harder than I ever had before, completely reinventing my entire technique of playing guitar and relearning songwriting. At my most vulnerable point, I was able to finally develop my style. I was able to discover my sound and who I was, both as a musician and a person.

A little over a year later, I released my own solo album.

In times of strife and tragedy, surrendering may seem like the safest option, one that minimizes loss. In reality, quitting is the most dangerous, because you relinquish what could have been. Never give up, because if you stick with it, you will ascend beyond your limitations and become the person you were born to be.

How I Breathed Life Into My Playing

I would like to discuss a topic that I personally feel has not been talked about enough in the online music community: taking your playing to the next level.

This is something that I have been personally struggling with for the past few months and, quite honestly, it still continues to challenge me. So, of course, I turned to the internet. After trying many different searches such as “taking your playing to the next level” and “new challenges”, I was left disappointed. All of the articles and videos I found were geared towards less experienced guitarists and intermediates. They contained typical advice such as “work on your bends” and “play to a metronome.” Sure this is great advice for the beginner and intermediate guitarists, but what about the more advanced axe wielders out there? Those that are looking to push themselves into unchartered territory.

I was looking for something more.

I have been playing guitar for just over five years now and although I went threw a brief period of lessons, I am predominantly self-taught. I followed all of the typical advice: I practiced my scales, worked with a metronome, studied my favorite songs, and it worked. I believe that I have become what most would categorize as an advanced guitarist. I even felt so confident as to release my own solo album a few months ago. That was great, but I was left unsure of what there was left to do. What could be next?

I became bored with the usual metronome grind that is involved in developing technique, primarily due to a lack of interest and a sudden skyrocketing of songwriting productivity that seemed to take up all my available time for music.

Around this same time I began to become heavily interested in mediation and the Indian art of chakra healing. My newly zened out approach combined with the chakra principle of third eye intuition led me to realize that I did not actually want what I was working towards. I never had any interest in being able to down pick or shred at warp speed; it was merely just an illusion. Revitalized, I am now looking for some new challenge: I want to struggle like I never have before.

Interestingly enough, my increasing fondness Eastern traditional music has provided this spark. It has refreshed the way I look at music and provided me with my next great challenge: scoring music. As of now, I am still learning to even read sheet music, being the guilty tab reader that I am. It has been a humbling experience. I am struggling, but I love every minute of it. This new stage of my journey has made me feel like I am thirteen again and just picking up guitar for the first time.

If you stuck with me through that wall of text, I’ll leave you with this to take away:

If you are ever in a rut, lacking motivation, or unsure of where to go, go back to the days of innocence when you were just picking up the guitar. Think about what it is you truly desire to get out of music and be aware of when life presents to you another path to choose while on your journey.

Songwriting 101: Part 1 Introduction

This article is an introduction to a series called Songwriting 101, a course that will be aimed at helping songwriters, of all skill and experience levels, improve their craft. The series will detail the major ways that the songwriting skill can be sharpened, before delving into some more unusual theories on how else this can be done. The four major ways to improve songwriting are developing technique, learning music theory, analyzing music, and practicing.

1. Technique

Discussing technique seems to almost be a taboo subject when discussing songwriting. The two are seen as opposites that are unrelated. However, improving your technique can unlock new possibilities that seemed unattainable before. The modern songwriter no longer relies on scoring to compose music. This effectively limits his options to what is within his technical limits.

Working on technique should be like adding tools to the tool belt and improving the usefulness of the ones already there. Sure you can build something with a hammer, but if you have a hammer and a wrench, now you’re going places. To bring it back to musical terms: if you are not capable of playing past 160 bpm, then there could be plenty of songs past that tempo that you could have written.

2. Theory

Okay, admit it. You saw this one coming. I know it’s pretty predicable, but it has to be included. Why? Because it helps. It is important to get a decent understanding of music theory. Nothing crazy, but if you have a solid understanding of chord progressions, melody, harmony and modes, you will have a lot more guidance in arranging your music. Think of it in the same way as technique: it gives you more tools, creating more options.

3. Analyzing Music

Again, predictable. But, true nonetheless. By analyzing your favorite artists, you will take note of what you like and do not like and then begin to incorporate them into your style. Think about the types of riffs being played. Why did your favorite guitarist choose that note?

One of the biggest tips I ever received was to pay attention to the way artists arranged their songs. Many musicians will tell you that you can learn from your idols, but what they often leave out is that you can “steal” their song structures. (No one has to know.) If you look at some my music, pretty much all of their structures are lifted from Trivium, Death, Amon Amarth, or the standard Verse-Chorus structure. It doesn’t matter how good your ideas are if you don’t know where to put them, and looking to your idols for guidance will certainly help.

4. Practice Makes Perfect

The cliche holds true. The only way to become great at songwriting is to write as many songs as possible. If you are just starting out, your songs are probably going to sound horrible for awhile. Do not be discouraged, this is normal. Instead, keep pushing forward and know that each song you write will be better than the last. Songwriting is as much of a technique as sweep picking and should be practiced as such.

I know this is pretty general, but it was only meant to serve as a broad introduction to give an overview while also providing some information, kind of like a syllabus day in school. The upcoming installments of the series will be much more in depth and cover the areas discussed above, as well as any other aspects I can think of. If you have any suggestions for a lesson or questions you would like addressed, let me know in the comments.

The Locus Of Control: Why You Should Wait To Start Music Lessons

There appears to be two general methods of learning guitar: taking lessons or being self-taught. History has proven that both work very well, each with their own pros and cons. But, what if there was a way to combine the two methods?

A musician’s success is dictated by his drive to succeed and the responsibility he takes for his own progress. As musicians, it is essential for us to know that only we can decide our musical success. This is where learning through lessons fails. Learning through a teacher early on in learning an instrument creates what is known as an External Locus of Control.

According to MindTools.com, “Locus of control describes the degree to which individuals perceive that outcomes result from their own behaviors, or from forces that are external to themselves” (Link Below). A person with an external locus of control believes that the forces around him dictate his success and that action can do little to change it. This phenomena leads to the individual placing his responsibly for success on others, rather than himself. When learning an instrument exclusively through lessons, it is easy to develop an external locus of control, (in regards to music at least,) transferring the responsibility from the student to the teacher. This is problematic, as a teacher cannot practice the instrument for someone else; all they can do is offer guidance and monitor progress.

A person with an internal locus of control takes full responsibility for her life and believes that her actions control personal success. This mindset is optimal for achieving not only in music but in all other areas as well. A musician who is self-taught has to develop this mentality in order to succeed: there is no other way. There will not be anyone watching over your shoulder. No one cares if you succeed. No one but yourself. I believe that being self-taught during the early years is necessary in order to establish an internal locus of control. 

Only once the locus of control has been established should you start lessons in order to learn what you were unable to teach yourself. I believe that for a guitarist to be successful, he must be self-taught at heart. It is important to learn from others, but there is a certain beauty in learning yourself and creating your own style. You have more freedom to choose what you want to learn. This is, of course, a double-edged sword, as it is very easy to neglect the necessities and less exciting aspects of music. However, if you maintain the discipline to do these things, you will be unstoppable.

Source:

“Locus of Control: Are You in Charge of Your Destiny?”: http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newCDV_90.htm