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Posts Tagged ‘inspiration’

My wonderful wife posted this on her Facebook profile today. You’ve probably seen this as an email forward, but I thought I’d share it…

In Washington , DC , at a Metro Station, on a cold January morning in 2007, this man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes.  During that time, approximately 2,000 people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.  After about 3 minutes, a middle-aged man noticed that there was a musician playing.  He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds, and then he hurried on to meet his schedule.

About 4 minutes later:

The violinist received his first dollar.  A woman threw money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk.

At 6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped, but his mother tugged him along hurriedly.  The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head the whole time.  This action was repeated by several other children, but every parent – without exception – forced their children to move on quickly.

At 45 minutes:

The musician played continuously.  Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while.  About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace.  The man collected a total of $32.

After 1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over.  No one noticed and no one applauded.  There was no recognition at all.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world.  He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars.  Two days before, Joshua Bell sold-out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100 each to sit and listen to him play the same music.

This is a true story.  Joshua Bell, playing incognito in the D.C Metro Station, was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people’s priorities

This experiment raised several questions:

*In a common-place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty?

*If so, do we stop to appreciate it?

*Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this:

If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…

How many other things are we missing as we rush through life?

Enjoy life NOW .. it has an expiration date.

Excuse the pun, but reading this again after a couple of years really struck a chord in me this morning. The reason is because last Sunday at my church gig, we did a couple of my older tunes that I wrote back in 2004. After our rehearsal right before service, my bandmates all said how much they enjoyed those tunes. In response, I remarked, “You know, I’ve been at an impasse with writing. It has been a long time since I’ve gotten the inspiration.” During 2004-2005, I was music-writing machine, coming up with new tunes every week. But the inspiration to write kind of dried up. Lately, I’ve really been wanting to return to writing music, but with the exception of brief spurts of inspiration, I haven’t been able to churn out songs like I used to.

Then this morning on the drive in to work, I thought about where my inspiration had come from in the past, and I realized that it had always come when I noticed life around me; when I quieted my mind so I could be aware of the things happening in my life – aware of life’s beauty.

Talk about positive reinforcement. That article above certainly reminded me to quiet my mind!

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…I gotta go with it! I just got home from playing a three hour solo acoustic gig. I’m physically tired from playing and singing, but I’m going to go out to my garage and play some more after I write this entry! I’m on a real high from getting a great evaluation back from my latest song, “The Breakup,” and my gig tonight was really magical because I had breakthrough with letting my emotions pour out while I was performing. I’ve been doing this gig now for almost 8 years, week in and week out (except for vacations), and even after all this time, all I want to do is sling my axe!

Call it an obsession, but I could think of a lot of worse things to be obsessed with…

I’ve been trying to develop an idea for a new song. It’s a softer one, but I don’t necessarily want it to turn into a ballad…. oh well… Like I said, I’ll just go with the flow for now and see where this latest burst of creativity takes me. I guess that’s the point of this entry, just going with it. Tonight at my gig, I was feeling really passionate about playing. Normally I restrain myself from letting it all hang out emotionally, but tonight I just said, “Screw it. I’m feeling this way, so I’m going for it. I’m going to put everything I’ve got into my performance.” What that produced was magic. Normally, diners at the restaurant don’t seem to be paying attention – I get pretty good tips so I know they’re hearing it – but tonight, they really listened, and I think they connected with what I was feeling because the room was unusually much quieter than it normally is when I stick to the background, and I observed people just watching me play. That was so over-the-top cool!

I learned a great lesson tonight, and that is if you play with sincerity and with all your heart, great things can happen!

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This morning, my aunt sent me an e-mail that contained the following story. The story was so powerful for me as a musician that it literally brought tears to my eyes. Please read on!


On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at LincolnCenter in New York City.  If you have ever been to a Perlman concert, you know that getting on stage is no small achievement for him. He was stricken with polio as a child, and so he has braces on both legs and walks with the aid of two crutches.  To see him walk across the stage one step at a time, painfully and slowly, is an awesome sight.

He walks painfully, yet majestically, until he reaches his chair.  Then he sits down, slowly, puts his crutches on the floor, undoes the clasps on his legs, tucks one foot back and extends the other foot forward.  Then he bends down and picks up the violin, puts it under his chin, nods to the conductor and proceeds to play.

By now, the audience is used to this ritual.  They sit quietly while he makes his way across the stage to his chair.  They remain reverently silent while he undoes the clasps on his legs.  They wait until he is ready to play.

But this time, something went wrong.  Just as he finished the first few bars, one of the strings on his violin broke.  You could hear it snap – it went off like gunfire across the room.  There was no mistaking what that sound meant.  There was no mistaking what he had to do.  We figured that he would have to get up, put on the clasps again, pick up the crutches and limp his way off stage – to either find another violin or else find another string for this one.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he waited a moment, closed his eyes and then signaled the conductor to begin again.

The orchestra began, and he played from where he had left off.  And he played with such passion and such power and such purity as they had never heard before.

Of course, anyone knows that it is impossible to play a symphonic work with just three strings.  I know that, and you know that, but that night Itzhak Perlman refused to know that.

You could see him modulating, changing, re-composing the piece in his head.  At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from the m that they had never made before.  When he finished, there was an awesome silence in the room.  And then people rose and cheered.  There was an extraordinary outburst of applause from every corner of the auditorium.  We were all on our feet, screaming and cheering, doing everything we could to show how much we appreciated what he had done.

He smiled, wiped the sweat from this brow, raised his bow to quiet us, and then he said – not boastfully, but in a quiet, pensive, reverent tone – “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.

What a powerful line that is.  It has stayed in my mind ever since I heard it.  And who knows?  Perhaps that is the definition of life – not just for artists but for all of us.  Here is a man who has prepared all his life to make music on a violin of four strings, who, all of a sudden, in the middle of a concert, finds himself with only three strings; so he makes music with three strings, and the music he made that night with just three strings was more beautiful, more sacred, more memorable, than any that he had ever made before, when he had four strings.

So, perhaps our task in this shaky, fast-changing, bewildering world in which we live is to make music, at first with all that we have, and then, when that is no longer possible, to make music with what we have left.

That is now my favorite quotation, and it not just applies to music. It applies to life in general. With respect to us gear and tone freaks, I think that this story is so applicable to us. The whole point in getting all the gear that we get is to make music, not just to produce tone. I’ve always been a big proponent of using what I’ve got on hand. For years, where I was just playing acoustic guitar – and didn’t have the disposable income I have now – all I had was my guitar and a little amp. So my challenge was to try eek out as much tone from what I had. From reading the story above, it makes me pause to think – do I really need “X?” Can achieve the same thing with what I’ve got?

I’m still a gear freak, so I’ll probably still buy gear, but this story has really helped change my perspective… Rock on!!!

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kiyosakiBack in the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, I got swept up in the craze of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I soaked up what he was saying like a sponge. It made so much sense to me! I was hooked, and proceeded to buy all his books, and two of his board games! I wanted to learn how to get out of the rat race and get on my way to real financial freedom. I even went so far as creating my own business that was actually a great idea. Then reality struck. My business failed because of my inexperience and ignorance of running a business. I couldn’t keep up with my expenses. I sometimes couldn’t make payroll. It was tough!

Even still, I kept on buying Kiyosaki’s books. But by about the fourth book, I realized he was saying the same damn thing that he had said in the previous books, only rephrasing the message so it sounded different. That was also when I came to the realization that he perhaps Kiyosaki was just a front man, and that his “advice” wasn’t all that sound. What he was really after in getting rich was to sell more fucking books and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” paraphernalia!

It was like this personal development seminar company that I got involved with in the early 90’s. They had three courses: Basic, Advanced, and Leaderhip, plus a satellite seminar for couples. I took the Basic and Advanced and my wife and I did the couples course. Those three courses changed our lives forever! And for the good. But then we both realized that what the company was really after was getting people to take the courses, and go through all of them, then recruit more people! They weren’t really interested in creating leaders. They were interested in filling up the classes! Needless to say, I divorced myself from this organization once I realized what they were up to. I’m not the only one who became enlightened to this, as the company is no longer in existence.

I shared this with you because while I learned a great deal from reading through Kiyosaki’s books and attending these seminars, they ultimately led me to one ultimate truth: I am responsible for my success. Only I can make the choices to excel at something or remain in obscurity. I can pray as much as I want, and dream and scheme till the end of my days; but in the end, I’m responsible for where I take myself in life.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? I shared these two experiences because despite the fact that they ultimately turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, they did have a lot of great material. Common to them both was this concept of “You get what you pay for…” Within that context, both stressed that we should beware of “free advice.” Free costs nothing, and in many cases, it’s very appealing. But blindly heeding free advice is essentially putting your success into another person’s hands, and not taking the responsibility for it. Yeah, free is good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a cost down the line.

This concept of free advice applies to buying gear. Like most gear sluts, I hang out in a few online forums to see what people are playing, and to engage in conversations. It’s great fun. But one thing I’ve noticed a lot in the forums is the plethora of free advice saying that things like “X cable is better because it has the lowest capacitance. You should get this.”

One thing I’ve learned in writing this blog for the past couple of years is to avoid giving advice. I’ll make suggestions for sure, and if asked, will say what I do to approach a particular problem. Usually, I’ll just tell people to try out a bunch of gear to see what they like because everyone’s idea of good tone varies from person to person, and tone being subjective pretty much behooves the buyer to “try before you buy.”

What sparked the idea of this article was a comment a reader left on my review about the Roland CE-5 Chorus: “I find it amusing that every other guitar player says that a pedal is better solely because it is analog, regardless if they actually own an analog pedal or not. I’d like to blind-test these people and see if the can actually tell the difference between a digital and an analog pedal. Maybe you can blind-test yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprise at the result. Well, unless you are Eric Johnson anyways…

That got me to thinking about all the free advice that’s out there regarding gear. I’m not saying you should ignore it. But use the free advice you get as reference points rather than guides. Make decisions based upon your own research. Even with the reviews I give here, remember, they’re my personal opinions. Ultimately, you have to make the choice. But if you go in blindly, and you’re disappointed with what you get well, you read the title…

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Back in the late ’80’s to early ’90’s when getting your “personal power” was all the rage, I’ll admit, I took several of these courses designed to help me face my weaknesses, conquer my fears of success and learn to grow; gaining my own sense of personal power. Most of the ground we covered in these seminars has proven to be invaluable over the course of time, and while they were fairly expensive, I consider them a great investment, as I don’t think I could have grown both personally and professionally had I not taken them.

As I alluded to above, the courses covered a lot of ground. But over time, I’ve learned to distill and refine the subject matter into much more condensed versions. An area of particular interest to me is personal performance; that is, how I honestly perceive my performance in any situation and evaluate whether or not I’m showing up 100% and providing myself with opportunities to grow and expand my knowledge, efficiency, or output. Granted it’s not always an easy thing to determine whether or not I am, but I’ve come up with a little saying that has helped drive me to constantly look for ways to improve and at least do my best to “show up.” Here it is:

If you know you can do something phenomenally, don’t settle for just being good.

The idea behind this is many of the limits we place upon ourselves and thus growing and developing in anything in which we’re engaged have much to do with what we believe the outside world – our culture, society,  or peer groups – may accept to be the line of good or satisfactory performance. Hey! There’s nothing wrong with performing satisfactorily or good, and meeting the standards placed before us. But to me, that’s just maintaining the status quo. I suppose you’ll eventually grow by meeting the standards, for as soon as you hit a particular standard, you go to the next harder level with its own set of criteria for satisfactory or good performance. Meeting the standards is safe. But those who truly excel at their endeavors take the standards into account and draw their own line of optimal performance; especially if they know they can exceed the commonly accepted standards.

But what really holds us back? I will submit that it is an inherent fear of being successful; of breaking free and traveling beyond the comfort of the pack. Excelling at anything can cause anxiety, especially if you’re always used to doing what everyone else does. That inner voice will tell you, “You’re going too far too fast.” You may have waking dreams filled with images of your peers saying, “Don’t leave us behind!” I will say this: Ignore those images! You inherently know of what you’re capable, so use that as your guide.

That’s not to say that you trudge forth with a vengeance that is lacking in compassion, wreaking havoc with your friends and close relations; rather, you march forward with the conviction and determination that you are who you are as the result of your choices, and no one else’s; that no one else can be accountable for the progress you make in life but YOU. So I will say again, if YOU know you can do something phenomenally, don’t settle for just being good!

So how does that apply to playing guitar? If you’re like me, you interact with other players, be it locally or globally online. As you encounter various personalities, you’ll get lots of opinions on what people agree is “good” playing at a particular place in your development. And while there’s lots of great and helpful advice, you’re still the one who has to develop your skills. My point is this: Don’t let anyone define what your ability should be. Don’t be discouraged by the haters out there – especially in the online forums – who have very little good to say about anything, and are quick to criticize. In other words, don’t let ANYONE tell you that you can’t! That’s just the pack speaking.

So you want to get better at playing guitar, or better at doing anything in life? This has been expressed in many ways: Break free of the pack, find your own voice, make your own luck. For me, it’s not settling for just being good. Be good, but work to be even better than good.

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ignore

IGNORE EVERYBODY

I just finished reading Hugh MacLeod’s fantastic book, “Ignore Everybody,” recommended by my blog-buddy, Ig, of the now-defunct, but well-loved igblog. He said I would love it, and of course, I did. Thank you, Ig!

What’s it about? Mostly it’s about taking personal ownership of your creativity, wherever it comes from, and in whatever shape it takes. Everyone has some sort of creativity inside of them, being it writing, playing music, drawing, painting, what have you. The challenge in life as Hugh MacLeod asserts is owning that creativity, recognizing that it’s yours, giving yourself permission to express it, and not fall into the trap that your creativity should be directed towards what other people say it should be.

I know, it sounds a bit brash and slightly anarchistic, but that’s creativity. You own it. It’s yours. Hell, MacLeod made it big by writing cartoons on the back of business cards! People thought he was crazy, but that’s how he wanted to express himself.

The things MacLeod says in the book are practical; not pie-in-the-sky New Age, metaphorical, metaphysical bullshit. The advice is in your face, and with many of his cartoons interspersed throughout the book, incredibly entertaining.

I was just thinking, what does this have to do within the context of this site? Well, we gear sluts buy acquire as much gear as we do to feed our passion for tone. Guitar is our creative outlet. Reading Ignore Everybody has put an exclamation point on why I play guitar, why I write this blog, and why I spent the countless hours each week sifting through the Internet and trade rags in search of new, compelling gear. I can’t really explain why I love doing what I do. I just love it. And I want to share it.

I encourage you to get this book. It’s a quick read. I started reading it last night, and finished it about half an hour ago. I guarantee it’ll inspire you! And no matter what your particular form of creativity is, you’ll gain a lot of insight into expressing it.

5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

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Steve Ray Vaughn
Ahhh… the venerable SRV in a classic guitarists pose. I used to think that was just something rock stars did for publicity shots, and that the poses were contrived. But then as I’ve delved more and more deeply into improvisation, I’ve realized it’s not contrived at all. That kind of pose or expression is all part of what can be called “gettin’ in the zone.” The Zen masters call the “the zone” the state of satori, where thought and action are one; where your consciousness is at a height where whatever enters your mind you do. From the perspective of playing guitar, the awareness of what your body is actually doing is lost. Your focus is entirely on expressing the music you’re playing.

For instance, have you ever been playing one day and just get into the groove of a song, close your eyes, and just let your fingers do the talking? You’re completely aware of the song, but that’s pretty much all you’re aware of; and when you play, it’s pure expression. I had recently had this experience. I was playing on top of a simple chord progression in D, and the song came to a part where I had a rather long lead break. A few years ago, I would’ve been terrified to do play such a long solo, but I’ve really started to get comfortable with my playing to handle something like this. Luckily for me, it was not a fast song. 🙂 But in any case, after the first few bars, I got into this groove where I didn’t worry about technique nor worry about how I was playing a phrase. I just played. It was pure expression.

After the gig, a few people came up to me and said that when I was playing, I had this look of pure rapture on my face. I replied, “Really? I thought I was just playing. Gawd, I hope I didn’t look like a poser weenie…” One of the folks was a guitarist and told me that it was genuine. He said, “Dude, you were in your own world.” I just chuckled because I was totally unaware of my posture or body language. I was completely focused on playing. I was really in the zone.

I think a lot of my latest inspiration is that I now have gear that gives me the tone that I’ve been after for awhile, and while I realize that 90% of your tone comes from your hands, having gear that facilitates your playing just adds to your inspiration. For me, I’m playing what I believe to be the absolutely perfect amp in my Aracom VRX22. The cleans are absolutely spectacular on any guitar I play with it, and that clean channel is the most pedal-friendly channel I’ve ever played. The drive channel on that just sings and sustains beautifully. I know, I know… I rave about this amp a lot, but I’ve searched high and low for an amp like this, and now that I’ve found it, it’s like I’ve died and gone to heaven!

I’d be interested in hearing your “in the zone” experiences. Feel free to share ’em!

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