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Posts Tagged ‘thoughts’

Am I Over the Guitar Thing?

I started this blog in January of 2007. For the first few years, I posted to it at least five times a week. It gained in popularity, and became a destination site for people looking for gear. In my mind, I never wanted to be an “uber” gear site where I reviewed anything and everything. Frankly, I started this blog simply as a diary to get my thoughts down on gear I was testing to potentially add to my rig.

So here I am, nine and a half years later wondering about this blog. And no, I’m not considering closing it down. It’s a useful resource for many people. But it’s most likely that unless I get some new gear that totally blows me away, I probably won’t be posting here much at all, as has been the case for the last couple of year.

Why is that?

Simply because I’ve found my tone. Being ever so pragmatic about the gear I have, I’ve sold off most of my electric guitars because I just need a couple to get the sounds I need. I’ll hold onto my amps because I just love them, but quite honestly, I only play with two amps now (though I am looking at getting a Fender Twin since I’ve been focusing a lot on Reggae as of late). As for pedals, I still have a bunch of ’em, and I’ll probably hang on to those as well.

So here are my electric and acoustic rigs right now:

Electric Rig

Guitars:
– Gibson ’58 Les Paul Historic with Deacci Green Faze pickups
– Slash L Guitars “Katie May”

Amps:
– DV Mark Little 40 with Groove Tubes 6L6 tubes (will also take EL34’s)
– Aracom VRX22
–  Fender ’58 Champ in a custom 1 X 10 cabinet

Effects (These are switched out depending on my mood):
– Overdrive: Paul Cochrane Timmy, Tone Freaks Abunai 2
– Distortion: EWS Little Brute
– Chorus: TC Electronics Corona, HBE THC, BOSS CE-2
– Reverb: Hardwire RV-7
– Delay: Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay (handwired version)
– Wah: VOX Big Bad Wah (I love this wah)

Acoustic Rig

Guitar: Yamaha APX900 Acoustic/Electric

Amp/PA: Fishman SoloAmp SA-220

Effects:
– Same modulation effects as above
– Looper: Roland RC-2 LoopStation

As I mentioned above, I’m looking to get a Fender Twin. I’ve played both the new and vintage ones, and didn’t hear much of a difference between the two, and you can find decent used reissues for a great price.

But circling back to the title of this article, that electric rig that I described above is about two years old. It gets me pretty much where I want to go tonally. I’ve found my sound, so I don’t need anything else. I’m now in a cover band, and it could be argued that if I was going to be true to the original sounds, I should get the “right” equipment. But with our band, which is really a bunch of old farts, we’re just getting together and having fun. As long as it’s close, we’re good.

All that’s not to say that I won’t succumb to a GAS attack in the future, but I haven’t had a serious GAS attack in a LONG time. Chances are I probably won’t any time soon.

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fender_drriI haven’t been this excited about some gear in a long time! Actually, I haven’t done all that much reviewing in awhile. Sure, I’ve done some little things here and there, but haven’t done an amp in a LONG time.

When I picked this up at my buddy Dave’s house yesterday (he was my right-hand man in my previous band), I remarked that I haven’t done any amp reviews in awhile, and that I’ll probably write a review of it since I’m testing it to see if I want to buy it from him. A large part of me not writing is that I haven’t been in a band for a year and a half, so my “need” for gear and subsequently my GAS has been seriously curtailed. He laughed, saying the same thing. Now that he’s in another band, he’s starting to buy gear again (actually, I’m jealous because he’s setting up his living room as a jam center).

He even showed me some pedals that I really need to check out, like the Mad Professor Silver Spring Reverb. OMG! Talk about gooey, wet ‘verb! I played that pedal with a Les Paul Custom, into a custom Aracom VRX18. Could’ve sworn I was playing through a Fender amp! Gorgeous!

What really excites me about this amp is getting it into its breakup zone. Fender amps are known for their clean headroom, so when I hook up my attenuator to this, I’m hoping it’ll be a revelation! We shall see… 🙂

So… GAS is in full flow right now! I’ll probably post a “First Impressions” article in the next couple of days. ROCK ON!

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This article leading up to the book advertisement is important. Give it a read…

In any case, that article kind of hit home with me in that while I feel it’s important to know theory and scales, I believe that you can eventually arrive at that knowledge in your learning journey. Music is meant to be played. And especially with guitar, which is a rhythm instrument, I feel it’s more important to get the movement of the right and left hands down, then get into theory way later, after you’ve learned to actually play some songs.

For instance, I’ve found that with many of the younger players who’ve played with me in my church band and who’ve taken a lot of lessons is that their left hand technique is often far superior to my own, but they can’t play anything outside of what type of music they like. To a person, I found that is because they have horrible right-hand technique. So I tell them that although it’s important to know chord shapes and scales and how to place your fingers on the fretboard, all that is meaningless unless you use your right hand, which is the hand that actually makes the sound! So I tell them that although they may not like various genres of music, I give them a challenge to be able to play reggae, country, blues and even latin music to get used to working their right hand.

You gotta love the energy of kids, especially if they love to play. All of them to whom I issued the challenge would go and practice, then show me later on what they’ve learned. Then I’d say, “Okay, open the book to number ____, and let’s see if you can play it.” And they can play. At that very moment, they get it.

For example, I had one kid who was absolutely flailing on guitar. He had the heart, but he couldn’t keep a beat. At the time, I was on kind of a blues kick, and I told him to go study John Mayer, and learn to play along while listening so he could practice playing with a group, and to be aware. The kid went off to school, then came back during his summer vacation, and just blew me away with what he’d learned. Not only could he play every single John Mayer lick, he had built the confidence to be able to play with the band.

The point is that all people need most of the time is a little nudge in the right direction. And with guitar, right or wrong, the direction I tend to nudge people is to simply play different kinds of music. I suppose that mimics my own experience as I learned to play via chord charts to songs, and figuring out how the original artists executed their tunes. I didn’t have YouTube. I just had vinyl records and cassette tapes. It wasn’t until years later that I started applying theory. I play with modes – a lot – now, but I’ll be absolutely honest: I didn’t start thinking about them until a few years ago when I wanted to expand my improv palate.

Circling back to lessons… Don’t get me wrong, I’m not at all against taking lessons. I’ve taken them from time to time to learn different things. I think the problem I have is learning technique for technique’s sake, and learning it divorced from the context of playing a song. Take learning the major scale for instance. It’s one thing to know the notes of the scale up and down the fretboard. That’s pretty easy. And I suppose you could just take a scale and start playing around and eventually come up with something while playing over a chord progression. But the major scale doesn’t really become meaningful until you apply it to modes, and having a song or practice chord progressions to play against.

I’ll leave a deeper discussion of modes for another time, but I will say that it wasn’t until I started studying modes that all the work with the major scales that I had learned actually became useful because all modes are simply expressions of a certain major scale played over a chord progression.

And I didn’t even learn modes in the academic way, where a mode is described in the spelling of the mode. For instance, with the Mixolydian mode, R W W H W W H R, or something like that. To me, that was always confusing. Even when someone would say, “If you want to play the Mixolydian mode in any key, just remember that it’s simply that scale with a flat-7th.” WTF?!!

The best explanation for the Mixolydian I ever got was this: Since the Mixolydian mode is the fifth mode, simply take the root note, then count backwards along the scale where that root note is the fifth in a major scale. Then play that major scale. So for example, if we want to play D-Mixolydian, we’ll count backwards where D (the root) is the fifth of a major scale. In this case, it would be the G-major scale. So if you want to play D-Mixolydian, then play a G-major scale because that includes all the notes of the D-major scale with a flat-7th. There’s a lot more to it than that, but just learning how to find a particular node for any key really expanded my improvisational toolkit. That didn’t take any formalized lesson. It just took practice to learn.

That kind of segues into my final point which is simply this: Play or die. As I mentioned above, music is meant to be played, and there’s a price to be paid to become proficient with any instrument whether it’s a guitar or piano or even your voice. To me the only way to internalize anything that we learn is to apply it, and that’s especially true of learning an instrument.

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Please… Don’t Be Full of S$%t…

Check out this video of a Branford Marsalis interview…

The best line for me was: “We live in a country that seems to be in… …just a massive state of delusion where the IDEA of what you are is more important than you actually being that.”

OMG!!! That phrase rang true for me on so many levels, and not just music, and frankly, not just kids. I call it the “American Idol Syndrome,” where people have been led to believe that they’re good just because they happen to participate in something; or that they can achieve fame and fortune by simply showing up. I’d bet that 99% of the folks that enter aren’t very talented (remember, there are thousands that show up for the auditions in each city), and I’m also willing to bet most just don’t have the drive to do what it takes to achieve, let alone sustain their success. But they certainly think they do and that attitude is exacerbated by those around them saying how good they are.

Don’t believe me? Just look at all the past winners. While several have enjoyed professional success to some degree, arguably the most successful of them is Carrie Underwood. That chick has put in time! Sure, “Idol” put her on the map, but you don’t win multiple Grammys and other awards on talent alone.

Though not of the “Idol” ilk, the same could be said of Taylor Swift. Again, I’m not a fan of her music, but that young lady WORKED to achieve her success and fame, moving to Nashville at the tender age of 14 to pursue her dream of songwriting. She was recognized for her talent, yes, but if you think she didn’t work to get where she’s at now…

I’m not going to disparage any single person directly, but over the course of my long musical career, and especially the last several years, I’ve met so many people who have been told they’re good by those around them, and they just aren’t very good. The plain fact of the matter is that to be GOOD, you have to work at it. As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in his incredible book, “Outliers,” the best people in any profession that he studied spent at least 10,000 hours honing their craft. 10,000 HOURS! The best aren’t the best because they have talent. The best are the best because they have talent and are willing to put the work in to the point where they are recognized as being the best or at least among the best at what they do. These people are definitely not full of shit.

So what’s the point to this? Other than not mimicking the title of this article, realize that there are no shortcuts, and just because you have talent doesn’t mean you’re going to be a success. As I tell my kids, “You gotta work at it, baby…”

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If you follow pop, it’s certainly not about music but about persona. Not that pop stars don’t have talent, many actually do, but pop is so much more about the image than it is about the music. Besides, very few of them write any of their music, or if they get any songwriting credit, it’s because they happened to participate in the writing process.

And don’t get me wrong, I’m not one of those oldies who wants to return to the “good old days” where music seemed to mean much more. That was another time. There wasn’t the Internet. There wasn’t the technology available where anyone with a laptop and GarageBand or Audacity could lay down decent enough tracks to get their music out there. Back then, you had to rely on the studios. There was no choice.

But it was inevitable that eventually the music business would arrive to the point where everything sounds the same. The studios are businesses. Once they find a successful niche (sound, in this case), they want to ride that wave for as long as they can and profit from it; unfortunately, it means that introducing new material that falls outside the wave has a much harder time getting picked up.

And I’m not one of those bitter artists who you hear about constantly complaining about not getting paid. I’m surely not in it for the money… and I guess that’s the point to my meanderings here. From an artist’s standpoint – not the industry perspective – what really is making it?

For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that I probably will never write anything that has real wide appeal. I certainly couldn’t write stuff that 20-something’s could relate to because I’m 30 years out my 20’s. Believe me, I’ve tried to do it; to research things that appeal to younger people; tried listening to “younger” music like screamo, hardcore, modern pop. Very little of that appealed to me.

But I do like a lot of the Indie stuff from younger artists, particularly guys like Passenger, who’s sole big hit was “Let Her Go.” But if you listen to his other stuff, while it’s catchy, a lot of times, the lyrics are WAY too deep, and you have to listen to the songs and read the lyrics over and over again. A good example of this is “Circles,” probably my favorite Passenger song. It’s about aging, and it’s a truly great song. Don’t think you’d ever hear on the radio, but that’s not the point. That song is good. Here’s a clip from a concert, probably recorded with a phone. It starts out with “Circles,” then Mike moves into “Trouble” then segues into “Let Her Go.” When you watch, you realize just how much he loves what he’s doing.

Speaking of “circles,” I guess I should circle back now to the original question. What really is making it? For me, it’s simple: I’ve always just wanted the ability to share music with as many people as I could, and gig – a lot. I do from 150 to 200 gigs a year, and if I wanted, and also if I didn’t have a family, I could probably support myself on doing music alone. I don’t have any ambitions that somehow I’m going to get discovered and get a contract. At this point in my life, I don’t have the time to do the self-promotion that entails. But I do get to gig, and as of late, I’ve been introducing more and more of my own music into my gigs. Some have caught on with my audience, others… well, I don’t do the ones that don’t really catch on much… 🙂

But to me, the fact I can gig as much as I do, is enough for me. To me, I’ve “made it” on my own terms, and that’s good enough. Maybe in the future when I have more discretionary income, I’ll put more time into promoting and playing bigger venues, but right now, I’m happy with where I am and how far I’ve come.

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Last weekend at the restaurant where I play music, during a break, a couple of my “regulars” came by the piano to say hello and chat. The restaurant was particularly busy that night, and one of them remarked, “It’s so busy tonight. It looks like no one is paying attention.” I just smiled, pointed to my tip jar, and with a smirk said, “Well… some people are listening…” We had a good laugh out of that. I explained that over the years I’ve learned that even though people don’t seem to pay attention, my tip jar is my gauge. If I’ve got even just a few bucks in it, I know I’ve reached someone. Plus, and more importantly, I added; I don’t let people’s seeming disinterest affect me. I just keep on playing with all my heart. I learned that from being a waiter.

A little back story first…

Back in 1999, I decided break out on my own and start my own little consulting firm, doing custom programming and QA services. I didn’t have many clients, but the clients I did have were all my little firm needed because they paid so well. Then 9/11 hit and overnight, I went from high-flying, highly-paid consultant to… nothing. I couldn’t find a job. No one was hiring, and the only jobs that seemed to be available in software at the time were pretty low-level, low-paying jobs that required oodles of time for not much pay. Employers knew they had job-searchers by the short hairs, so they low-balled all the offers, figuring they’d eventually get someone qualified who’d bite.

Between 2001 and 2004, I must’ve sent out over 500 resumes, applying at large, medium, small companies, whatever… But as these things go, the job I finally landed was through a connection, proving the adage “it’s who you know” is in many cases, absolutely correct.

But in those three years, to help out the family, my wife convinced me to apply at one of our favorite restaurants where the servers sang. I could make a little money, and also do what I love: Entertain. So I applied, got an audition, and got hired. Little did I know that there wasn’t much time for singing. Despite that, once I figured out the system of serving, I was able to sing between 5 and 10 songs a night. But that’s getting a little besides the point.

A valuable lesson that I learned being a waiter is what we Americans call “growing a thick skin.” You see, as a waiter, you see people both at their best AND their worst. And when you get their worst, you can’t react to it – at least not with negativity back at them. And it’s not so much that you just “take it.” You simply let it pass through you so it doesn’t affect your performance. What you have to realize is that 99% of the time, whatever anger someone is experiencing is not directed at you. What they’re doing is taking out their anger on the person they feel they can take it out on.

Make no mistake: Though we live in a democracy, imperialistic behavior is alive and well. But despite all that negativity, you still have a job to do. So you can choose to engage the customer’s anger, or you can simply let it pass through you and know that it’s not about you.

The same goes for entertaining; at least the kind that I typically do: Restaurants, parties, corporate events, etc. In those cases, I’m not the drawing attraction, nor the focal point. But I still have a job to do, and since I just love to play, I put all my heart into it, no matter where I’m at.

A friend of mine, for whom I got a singing job at the same restaurant I play, once shared with me that it bothered her that people weren’t paying attention. She is a former Broadway singer, having major roles in musicals like “Hair” and “Les Miserables,” so her performance reference was being on stage. But I shared that while we are technically “background,” we’re like the “canvas” for the dining experience. If the canvas is torn or of bad quality, no matter how good the painter is, the ultimate picture will not be as good as it could be. So we provide a canvas on which the servers “paint” on top of, and if we do our jobs right, we’ll be rewarded because people actually care about what’s being played and how it’s being played.

In light of all that, I’ve learned to grow a thick skin. After all, as a performer, it’s all about the music.

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Monday Morning Inspiration

I’ve shared this story in the past, but decided to share it again because it has had such a profound affect on how I approach practically any problem. The article was first published in the Houston Chronicle in 2001, but I first heard about the story a few years ago when my aunt shared it. Here’s the transcript from the article:

—-

On Nov. 18, 1995, Itzhak Perlman, the violinist, came on stage to give a concert at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center 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.

People who were there that night thought to themselves: “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, recomposing the piece in his head . At one point, it sounded like he was de-tuning the strings to get new sounds from them 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 his 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.

—-

The incredible thing about that quote above is that it doesn’t just pertain to art or music, but any creative endeavor, be it figuring out a business plan, programming; well, anything. In this day of having everything at our fingertips, what do we do when there’s no easy access to resources?

I occasionally re-read that story to help remind me to use what I have and do my best when I don’t have everything I need. Granted, some things just can’t be done in the absence of key resources (for instance, you can’t bake a cake when you don’t have flour). But in many cases, we can still accomplish incredible things if we only dig deep and use what we have instead of freezing in our tracks when we we’re missing things. To me, that’s character-building.

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A reader commented on an earlier post that our perception of sound changes with volume, challenging my claim that high-end attenuators are the most transparent of the lot of attenuators on the market. As opposed to getting all worked up about this apparent heresy, that statement instead got me thinking; I suppose in this case, wisdom prevailed. 🙂

Perhaps my idea of “transparency” has been flawed; perhaps everyone’s perspective of transparency is flawed because if you think about it, anything that you add to your signal chain beyond your guitar and amp will change your sound, be it volume, be it tone via modulation effects, be it overdrive or distortion. So really, what are we talking about when we say something’s transparent?

From a strict audio perspective, if the noise and distortion from an audio device is too soft to hear at normal volumes, and the frequency response is flat enough to not notice a difference between engaged and bypassed, then that device can be considered audibly transparent (From “Defining Audio Fidelity” at SonicScoop.com). Looking at transparency that way from a guitar gear standpoint, nothing is transparent but a booster or volume pedal; but then again, if the booster pushes your amp into overdrive, then is that really transparent?

After thinking about it though – for actually several weeks at this point – perhaps my idea of transparency has to do with expectation; that is, when I engage an effect or place a passive device like an attenuator in my signal chain, do I still sound like me? Is what I expect my fundamental tone still present? Are the dynamics I’m used to without that device still there?

In the case of an attenuator, what I’m looking for is no change in my expected dynamics and little to no loss of highs, which happens a lot with other attenuators, perception of sound at the lower volume aside.

But what about transparent overdrives? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say, there’s no such thing. Overdrives add clipping, albeit soft-clipping, but clipping just the same. Clipping is NOT transparent. Maybe the manufacturers mean that they keep your EQ response flat at neutral EQ settings on the pedal, then add clipping. That’s transparent from an EQ perspective, but even still, I don’t know of any overdrive pedal where I don’t mess with the EQ in response to the grit I’ve just added.

Furthermore, almost all overdrives add varying levels of compression and sustain. This makes for a more expansive “bigger” sound, which most people will describe as having “more” of your sound present when the pedal’s switched on. Case in point: With my new EHX Soul Food overdrive, even with no gain added and at unity volume and flat EQ, while I don’t detect any changes to the EQ, there is definitely a bit more sustain. Add a bit of gain and enough volume to push my pre-amp into breakup, mix in a little treble boost, and suddenly my tone comes alive!

What’s happening when I switch on the Soul Food is not at all transparent. But it sounds so damn good to me, who the hell cares? And I guess that’s the rub of all this transparency business. Perhaps it all boils down to our expectation of a device not taking away from our tone. With respect to the Soul Food, it doesn’t take anything away, but it actually adds to my tone. When I had my amp up at gig volumes, what it added were noticeable overtones and harmonics that created a gorgeous shimmer to my tone. I still sounded like me, but there were other dimensions to my sound that were suddenly present when I had the Soul Food on.

Thanks for sticking with me thus far… The kicker to all this is that unlike other articles where I discuss a particular issue, I’m not going to take a stand on transparency, but rather share that I now have my doubts about exactly what “transparency” means. It would be interesting to get other perspectives…

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Sometimes, Success Means Taking Risks

At last night’s gig, I walked away with lots of tips; probably one of the largest amounts I’ve made in tips that wasn’t in the holiday season. It actually shouldn’t have been that good since restaurant traffic, even for a Saturday night, wasn’t all that heavy. By about 7:30, while the restaurant was full, there was no wait, and that was unusual for a Saturday night. Normally, on “light” nights like this I take more regular breaks, but for some reason last night, I got in a groove and ended up playing a 2 hour and 45 minute first set. Most of the tunes I was playing were primarily vocal-centric, but last night, I added some instrumental parts to several of the songs with my looper and just improvised over the chord progressions. I’m not all that technically savvy, and probably only know a few modes at best, but I decided to take the risk, and just go for it.

I must’ve been doing something right because the response was immense, as I saw my tip jar filling up. That just spurred me on to keep experimenting and pushing outside my comfort zone with my playing. At one point, I even pulled a bit of a “George Benson” and scatted along with some phrases. That was something I’d never done in the thirteen years I’ve been playing at the restaurant. I was so inspired that I even did a song that I knew well, but had never performed (“Summertime” from Porgy and Bess), with a chord progression that really departed from the original, then put on the looper and scatted/improv’d over that.

Who knows? Maybe I got a bit of inspiration from the two elderly African American women who seemed so appreciative of what I was playing. For them, I pulled out an old, old Nat King Cole tune called “Nature Boy” that they recognized – it warmed my heart to see them smile then close their eyes in reminiscence, perhaps pulling them back to a time when they had more to look forward to and less to look back upon. When I see reactions like that, it eggs me on, and even with that song, which I played on the piano, I did some scales and runs that I had never done.

But the important thing to me when I looked back on the gig after I finished was that I made the choice to take the risk of looking like a total fool. In the process, I discovered that I had some latent skills tucked into my subconscious that only needed the permission to come out. The proof of the success of the evening was in my tip jar, which was packed and literally filled to the brim.

Of course, it’s important to be aware of the reaction – I really don’t know if I’d be able to pull this off with another crowd – but I could only know if something worked if I tried it out, or more precisely, took the risk. In this case, the risk came with some nice rewards.

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Persistence Pays

The feel-good story of the year is of 32-year-old Bracken Kearns, recently called up from the minors. Pretty old for an NHL rookie, right? But his is a story of persistence and never quitting on his dream. Here’s a guy who played 593 games in the minors; that’s right 593 games. As defenseman Dan Boyle put it, “You hear of guys playing a couple of hundred games – but 600, that’s a lot of years down there…”

Since he got called up last week, Kearns has scored 3 goals, and has been a factor in other scoring chances. He works hard and has a great sense on the ice. He’s a coach’s dream – at least from where I stand. I’m hoping he won’t be going down again. And he probably won’t if he keeps up the great play.

So what’s the point of mentioning a hockey player on a guitar-related blog? It’s the persistence that struck me and prompted me to share this here. As Kearns spoke of never losing his dream, “Maybe when I was younger – 18 or 19 when guys were getting drafted. But not since I’ve turned pro. I just think I’ve slowly gotten better each and every year.” I see a lot of his journey in my own journey as a guitar player and performer. I don’t have a musical pedigree or any degree for that matter. But I always believed; I always stuck to my dream of performing, and I kept working at it over the years to the point where if I had the time, I could be gigging full-time.

But my own journey aside, this story of Bracken Kearns’ persistence is a lesson from which we all can learn. We live in a society of instant communication, instant fame, instant everything, for that matter. We have shows such as “American Idol” and “X Factor” where people compete for a few weeks and get international recognition overnight. To me, these shows perpetuate a trend of the impatient got-to-get-it-now attitude brought on by the instantaneous-ness of our society. I see it all around me in my career as a software architect. I work with a lot of Gen-Y kids who expect to make six-figure salaries within just a couple of years of getting their degrees. What they don’t realize is that in order to get the six-figure salary, they actually have to have accomplished things – real things that have made an impact.

One could argue that this is simply the folly of youth, but I’ve been in this industry for over 25 years. It’s a lot different now than it was 20 years ago. But not to be a curmudgeon, I’ve mentored several young engineers who are willing to put in the work and learn my own personal mantra: A career is something you build, not something you’re given. And a huge part of building a career is being persistent, and sticking with problems until you’ve exhausted all possibilities. To me, that’s the earmark of a successful person.

And the same goes for music and guitar. I’ve seen so many folks over the years pick up a guitar for a few months then give it up. Getting even reasonably good at playing guitar – or any musical instrument for that matter – requires persistence. You have to practice, you have to push yourself to learn. It’s not easy. The wankers out there will tell you it’s easy. Don’t believe them. And though you might be discouraged at times, keep on working at it. One day you’ll have a breakthrough. Then another. Then another. Who knows? It could lead to a career in music if that’s where you want to go with it. Just remember: Earning something is far more satisfying than something just handed over to you.

 

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