Learning, Collaborating and Performing in Accordance With Your Nature

Each of us has a unique nature and each of us comes to learning guitar and expressing musically from a place that is tied to that nature. As both a teacher and someone committed to my own evolution, I am constantly investigating the many different ways we humans learn, process and actualize, as well as what we find to be stimulating, what motivates us and what makes us feel comfortable and safe. In teaching, I benefit from analyzing and responding to the way people learn best (aural, visual, kinesthetic, etc.) and whether they operate primarily from the left brain or the right, as well as whether they are more active or passive in approach, what constitutes their optimum concentration span, their natural tempo for communication and much more. In working with a variety of traits, I have come to feel that the element in our nature that may drive or affect our relationship to creativity and performance the most is our place on the spectrum of introversion or extroversion.

We live in a culture that places a high value on extroversion. Our culture also values creativity, however, which seems somewhat ironic, as the majority of people who are assessed as creative are also classified as introverts. The irony lies in the fact that representing oneself as a musician or other artist is likely to be uncomfortable for the introvert and performing may feel like torture. Even entering into the study of music can be daunting, due to the generally accepted cultural values of wealth and fame, as represented by an emphasis on stardom and self-promotion.

Many of my new guitar students reveal a lot about their nature in our first conversation by announcing “I just want to do this for my own enjoyment.” Others reveal their dreams of fame and their dedication to the path that will lead them to those dreams. Those students who recognize their own traits are able not only to nourish their own inner being, but also to inform others of those traits, in order to receive respect and assistance with their goals.

There is no set definition of introversion or extroversion – or, perhaps more accurately, there are many definitions. None of us is 100% introvert or extrovert, but most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum of either introversion or extroversion. When determining introversion or extroversion, it is often necessary to look below the surface. For example, it is quite possible to be shy and be an extrovert or to be an anxious introvert as opposed to one who is calm. Because I am gregarious and talkative (traits usually attributed to extroverts), I am often mistaken as an extrovert, but when given the choice between attending a party or spending quiet time with a book, I will go for the book every time. I need and enjoy people, but I always choose one-on-one conversation over group interactions. I am uncomfortable in the spotlight and I require a lot of time alone – preferably in nature – in order to charge my creative battery and maintain my physical health and emotional well-being. Those are traits that place me solidly on the introvert spectrum. It is worthwhile to take time to discover your own traits in order to provide for yourself the optimum environment for comfort, productivity and creativity.

If you are interested in these ideas, you will want to read Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Noisy World, by Susan Cain. It is a provocative and informative book and one that I consider important. Check out this TED talk by the author to learn about the subject and get a feel for the book. For a shorter synopsis that is accompanied by Molly Crabapple’s wonderful illustrations, take a few minutes to enjoy this entertaining video.

Enjoy being who you are – The world needs all of us!

Patience, Tenacity and the Value of Time

If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking ~ Buddhist Proverb

It takes time to learn to play an instrument. As a teacher, I strive to organize and present concepts and material in such a way that I can shorten the time required for my students to comprehend and digest the information they receive. Regardless of how well I do my job, however, no one will learn to play guitar without logging in a lot of practice time – and that practice time must be focused and efficient in order to produce satisfying results.

Ways to Use (or misuse) Time

In studying music, we are called to not only spend time ingraining skills through repetition, but also to devote time to independent problem-solving. Students commonly resist digging for an answer when, in fact, the deepest learning comes from just such effort. If you find yourself saying “I don’t understand” or “I can’t remember” quickly or often, try sitting with the challenge until you are able to find or remember the answer. This type of struggle is exactly what makes testing valuable – it pushes us farther than we might push ourselves. When we train ourselves to not only work through challenges, but to relish them, we boost our capacity for learning.

Another consideration of time as regards learning and practice relates to attention. In The Book of Secrets, Deepak Chopra says “The misuse of time is only a symptom for misplaced attention.” This broad wisdom certainly applies to the study of music and the attention required. For example, many guitar players choose to practice while watching television, hoping to expedite progress in the mechanical areas of guitar playing (building calluses, strengthening the fingers or programming muscle memory) through multi-tasking. What is ignored in this approach is the fundamental function of practice: what you do repeatedly, you will likely continue to do in the same manner. In other words, however you practice is how you will perform. If you practice unconsciously, you will likely play unconsciously in all situations, resulting not only in the production of unsatisfying music to both performer and listener, but also in confusion and anxiety in the performer who is catapulted into a highly aware state when faced with an audience.

Time is also a function of our learning in the choices that we make away from the practice room: when to walk away and how to direct our energy when we do. Learning has a natural cycle of activity and rest and by tuning into and responding to that cycle, we can optimize our investments and our inherent abilities. If we ignore the rest phase of the cycle, we not only suffer from a creative perspective, but we also risk physical injury. Take time away from the guitar to enjoy new experiences, open to fresh ideas and rest your mind and body!

Tenacity

Tenacity will take you far in the study of guitar and in performance goals, as well. If you are tenacious, it means that when you set a goal, you do what it takes to achieve it.  Tenacity relates to will, desire and determination.

The emotional energy of tenacity is yang – it is an active energy. In attempting to conquer procrastination or the temptation to jump ship, it is helpful to summon that kind of energy.  Make a plan, stay true to a commitment and employ discipline. Keep a practice log. Set regular goals for performance (even if only for a friend or family member) or record yourself. Get on it!

Patience

Unlike tenacity, patience is the ability to be still and allow time to work its magic. The emotional energy of patience is yin – passive and yielding. It feels like a soft and willing kind of resignation that is a cousin to surrender.

In order to increase patience, it is helpful to engage in practices such as breathwork or meditation. Learn to emotionally detach from self-judgment and to cultivate the ability to call up positive feelings about your musical expressions at any given point. Consciously enjoy your playing, regardless of your level, and be fully engaged and satisfied, while continuing to put one foot in front of the other.

If we are facing in the right direction

When applying the Buddhist wisdom to learning guitar, it is critical to give attention to every word of the sentence. Many determined people walk for months or years in the wrong direction.

I consider my principal job as a teacher to be to constantly monitor and correct the direction that my students are facing. Determining direction is the part of learning guitar that can be the most frustrating for those who are either without a teacher or are taking lessons from a teacher who is bound to a strict and inflexible curriculum. If you recognize yourself in this description, stop suffering and start seeking the guidance that will point you in the direction that you want to go.

Keep on Walking

The word “keep” is critical. It takes time. It takes more time that you probably bargained for. You may put in the time in increments of thirty minutes or you may log in 5 hours a day, but know that it will take time. One day you will look up from your playing and ask yourself “How did I get here?” The answer is – you kept on walking!

Accessing and Nurturing Creativity

“Creativity is seeing what everyone else has seen and thinking what no one else has thought.” – Einstein

Accessing and acting upon unique thoughts and perceptions is among the deepest and most satisfying aspects of being human. You may consider yourself to be more or less creative than your peers, but regardless of where you view yourself to be on the spectrum, there have probably been times when you wished for some stroke of magic that would ignite the creative fire. During those times, it is all too evident that creativity cannot be programmed or forced; it can only be allowed. Cultivating certain habits, however, will invite or stimulate the flow of creativity and once those habits become a part of our lives, we discover that creative energy flows as naturally and consistently as does the breath.

Tune in to the right side of your brain

Creative ideas and expressions emerge from the intuitive mind, or the right brain. You can stimulate and strengthen your right brain by engaging in artistic endeavors, but it is also essential to know how to turn down the dominant activity of the left brain. Begin this process by learning to turn off mental chatter. (This is a skill that is practiced in meditation, so if you don’t already practice meditation, you may want to begin.) Empty the mind regularly. Give yourself permission to daydream. If you set an intention before going into the silence, you may be amazed to discover how powerful your intentions are!

Perhaps the most effective way to open a channel to the right brain is to practice observing your thoughts and responses in a detached manner. Releasing judgment of your thoughts and feelings allows them to expand. As you learn to observe your thoughts, dismiss those that are narrow, limiting, cumbersome or distracting.

Creative ideas spring from varied perceptions and sources

Because the seeds of our own creative ideas and works surround us, it makes sense to develop our ability to notice them. Begin to increase your attention to details in your environment. Wake up your senses! (Remember to listen, as well as look, feel, touch and taste.)

Surround yourself with creative people and creative works – it’s not only fun, it’s guaranteed to stimulate your own creativity. Go to art galleries and concerts. Read. Choose stimulating and fresh entertainment over that which is mind-dulling, predictable or manipulative.

Learn to see events and circumstances in ways that extend beyond your normal perceptions. See humor or oddity, find beauty, experience compassion. Tap into wisdom that lies beyond your daily awareness by learning to find connections and to understand symbols and metaphors. Study and enjoy the rich messages in fairy tales, myths and stories. Look for signs or insights in seemingly trivial events. Find a larger meaning or a deeper message in the details of your life and become aware of all that is presented to you, personally.

Ego-driven goals conflict with and distract from the accessing of intuitive information

It’s easy to become distracted by the ego. If we succumb to that distraction, however, we will suffer from insecurity and be tormented by thoughts and questions that sabotage our creative goals: “How will my work be received? Do I look, sound or act intelligent or talented? Will my song (painting, book) sell?” When you recognize that you have fallen into the ego’s trap, make it a point to suspend all judgment and turn off expectations. Remember that what you create doesn’t have to be cool, provocative, serious art or even a finished piece. Instead, cultivate creativity as a lifestyle – something that can be accessed when writing an email, choosing your clothes for the day or setting a table for a meal. You are, by nature, creative. Relax and enjoy it!

Commit to innocence and authenticity in your creations, without regard for consequences, either positive or negative. Give yourself permission to be expressive in all that you do.

Pressures, schedules and deadlines rein in and corral creative potential and expression

Set aside time to write, draw or play music. A lot of “free” time, without structure or discipline, can deteriorate into slouch time; by the same token, a tight creative time frame is like a tight shoe – it’s unpleasant and it doesn’t take you very far. Carve out broad periods of time and then disallow distractions during that time, such as emails or telephone conversations. Daydreaming, however, is allowed and encouraged!

Soften your eyes to open your mind

Learn how to soften your visual perception, so that your field becomes broad and limitless. Relax and expand your focus – or close your eyes completely. Allow your internal eye to drift into the distance while following thought streams. When you broaden your perception, you may notice that you access specific types of information from different parts of your visual field and that you can successfully connect the thoughts and images that flow into that field.

Know Yourself

You are a unique individual with unique requirements for optimum patterns of work, rest, social time and exposure to external stimulation. Many people, for example, generate ideas best by working in a team, while others feel overstimulated or squelched in the company of others. Discover the environment that best nurtures your creative self.

Not only is the amount of solitary time a crucial element in a creative lifestyle, but the quality of that time must be considered. Fatigue or physical discomfort can sabotage a creative session, as can emotional upsets or distractions. Strive for mental and physical clarity during times that you want to express creatively.

Achieving the optimum balance often requires not only self-discipline, but also a willingness to educate the people in your life as to your plan. Once you’ve found that balance, honor it!

 

For news of upcoming creativity workshops (as well as other workshops), visit the calendar page.

Guitar Workshop/Retreat for Women, Spring 2013

The spring retreat took place this weekend. I loved having every one of these wonderful women join me for two days of good playing, good food and good stories.

We had perfect weather, so when we weren’t gathered around the dining room table, we were learning and playing guitar in the gazebo.
Those who spent the night in the tipi reportedly jammed until 10:00 and then slept until 9:00 the next morning. I guess they were relaxed and comfortable!
I’m including this picture as proof that I was actually in attendance. Sadie, who you might remember from a previous post (best. assistant. ever.), was also present. You can find her in Jenny’s arms in the tipi picture, above. Of course, the other kitties and horses helped, as well.

Big thanks and much love to all who came. I miss you already!

Listening

Listening is the most important activity that we engage in as musicians. Our motivation to play music is fueled by listening. When we play an instrument, we must carefully and constantly listen to the sounds we are creating in order to choose fingerings, dynamics, tempo and more. If we are playing in a group, the success of the collaboration is dependent upon each musician listening deeply to every aspect of the musical whole.  When we compose or improvise, we must first listen to the notes and rhythms in our heads before we bring them to our instruments.

In studying music we must listen carefully to all instruction, whether that instruction is formal, as in a lesson or a class, or is one of many subtle hints that we encounter in our daily lives. As we practice tuning into those enlightening hints, we also practice listening to our own intuition, thereby reinforcing the very foundation of creativity.

One of the most exciting things that I do as a teacher is to help my students expand their listening skills. Through study, anyone can hone their ability to discern pitches and sort out rhythms. In order to achieve true artistry, however, it is necessary to go beyond the classroom and to reach deeply into personal experience. Consciously engaging in certain practices will facilitate the process of listening as a means to enhance personal expression and creativity.

Turn off the Noise

Today’s world is filled with both incessant noise and large amounts of information that is transmitted at a rapid rate. As an adaptive species, we tend to unconsciously protect our nervous systems from this barrage by tuning out the noise and by receiving only the information that comes
through quickly. In receiving only the sounds that are most demanding, we lose much of the beauty, wisdom and knowledge that reside in a subtle realm beneath the noise. The solution is to scale back the noise and consciously invite our senses to wake up! Simply choosing to stay home for a quiet dinner instead of going out or to turn off the television in favor of spending an evening on the back porch can open new mental and emotional pathways.

Spend Time in Nature

Although nature is far from silent, her sounds are more conducive to clarity and creativity than those of the mechanical world. Make time during the work week for lunch in a park or a walk after work and carve out periods during the weekends to visit the ocean, a river, stream or lake. (Leave your ear buds and cell phone at home!)

Meditate

Go into the silence at least once a day. Just try it. You’ll be amazed at what spontaneously emerges.

Listen With Full Attention

Give your attention to the sounds in your everyday environment. By consciously tuning in, you will begin to notice sounds that spark your imagination and to have new thoughts, ideas or encounters that specifically relate to your goals.  You will also hone your ability to choose a supportive environment and to create a space in which you thrive.

Listening, like all other skills, begins with intention. Merely by intending to increase your listening skills you will find yourself increasingly drawn to opportunities to do so.

If you are interested in expanding your music listening skills, you can find help in the following publications: Learning to Play Lead Guitar, Chapter
3
(Aural Comprehension); Comprehensive Guitar Instruction (DVD), Chapter 4 ; A Guitar Player’s Guide to Ear Training (Book and 2-disc set)

Living According to the Natural Cycles

I choose to live in the country and adhere to a natural lifestyle. I wake up every day with the first light and I spend approximately two hours in quiet before getting to work. Only after I have completed my morning program of exercise and meditation and have finished feeding all of my animals do I become available to other humans.

I have managed for many years to be very productive and to successfully interface with the outside world, not in spite of, but because of my habit of listening to Nature and following her rhythms. My body likes it. My emotions thrive on it. And my creativity demands it.

And so, tomorrow I will change the clock and attempt to find a balance between the rhythm of my body and the false rhythm of the business world. I don’t plan to tell my horses or cats or the many wild and beautiful animals and plants who grace my presence, though, and so I will so be feeding and watering at a different “time.”

Happy Spring to all!

 
 
 

Why I Love Skype (Webcam Lessons!)

Before I started teaching via webcam, I assumed, as many do, that remote lessons would be a cumbersome substitute for “the real thing.” I finally took the leap to teaching by Skype when a student bought me a webcam and insisted that I save her the driving time to my house, which is an hour from hers. What I quickly discovered is that webcam lessons are no less valuable than in-person lessons – they are just different in some ways.

Because I rely heavily on my intuition when teaching, my first concern was that I would feel less connected to the student. From the moment a student enters my studio, I am assessing his or her mood, energy level and feelings regarding the previous week’s practice. As the lesson progresses, I am reading the student for blocks, confusion, frustration, resistance, fatigue, excitement and interest. I proceed according to the cues I receive and I keep the door to my own creativity open, so that I may determine the optimum tempo and direction of my teaching.

Within minutes of the first webcam meeting with my generous student, I realized that I was not limited in any way by the camera or the distance between us. Intuition works long distance! There were some technical glitches to get through, but those glitches proved to be no more than a minor and temporary inconvenience. I began to take on more long-distance students and with time, I discovered some unexpected and interesting dynamics that are unique to webcam interactions.

Remote lessons have some obvious advantages: the student can tune and be warmed up before the lesson begins; the lesson can take place regardless of whether the student has a cold or is dealing with a logistical issue such as car trouble or a sick child; the student can work in a comfortable and familiar environment; the student can practice what he or she learned immediately after the lesson; lessons are more likely to begin and end on time. What I didn’t anticipate were some of the subtle qualities that actually increased the intensity of human and musical connection.

When two people are interacting in the same space, there is a constant, subconscious balancing of physical and psychic boundaries. When those same two people are relating on webcam, there is an absence of the energetic juggling and balancing that takes place in person, which leaves more room for clear focus on the topic. In addition, by neither party having to be concerned with invasion of the other party’s physical space, it is possible to orchestrate close up views of hand positions or proper posture that might be awkward in person.

Because students are viewing their own image during a webcam lesson, they have a tendency to focus on the task at hand more consistently than they do in person, where they may allow themselves to mentally drift or to be distracted by the environment. Also, the level of mutual conversational respect rises acutely, as it is impossible to talk over one another on Skype. The student who is accustomed to interrupting or talking over others is quickly cured of the habit when he realizes that due to the delay, it doesn’t work.

I have a desktop computer with a different internet provider that I keep beside the laptop that I use for my webcam lessons. This setup allows me to use the desktop to choose and view a video of a song that a student is interested in learning without compromising the connection or interrupting the flow of communication. I often type out lesson notes to email on the spot or after the lesson and I can scan in drawings, songs or charts to send, as well. In addition, it is possible for either or both parties to record some or all of a lesson.

The only limitation I have found in webcam lessons is the inability to play along with the student, but this issue can be solved by using simple homemade recordings or backing tracks. I do not recommend webcam lessons for complete beginners, as it important for the beginning guitarist to have a teacher who can physically assist with proper technique and posture, as well as other basics of playing. So, if you can “play a little” (or a lot!), and want to join the fun, hook up your camera and schedule a lesson!

The Ideal Student

I enjoy keeping in touch with other teachers, both in my personal relationships and through forums. One topic that often comes up among music teachers is “the ideal student.” I never contribute to these conversations in any expected way, mostly because I feel that all of my students are ideal students!

Of course, I know that the accepted definition of a good student is one who is punctual, learns quickly, practices diligently, is enthusiastic and ambitious and who attends lessons regularly and is prompt with payment. Those are great qualities in a student – they make my job easy and fun and I definitely appreciate them – but I don’t feel that a student has to exhibit any specific qualities from the start of the relationship in order for both of us to enjoy a satisfying experience. I have grown the most as a teacher and a person by working through situations that are challenging or uncomfortable. Can you imagine the thrill I feel when a student who has been through four, five or more teachers is able to break through to a level of playing they have sought for years? It is exhilarating to be able to facilitate that leap for someone who has persisted so diligently in their quest and I am deeply grateful that they didn’t give up on their goals before reaching my studio!

I start with the basic premise that if someone enrolls in lessons, they want to learn to play guitar and that no one intentionally limits his or her ability to do so. My job is to assist my students in reaching their goals and that means helping them to develop effective approaches to learning, successful practice habits, positive responses to the process, concentration, confidence, creativity, coordination, manual strength and dexterity, listening skills, pitch sense, rhythmic sense and more. In other words, I see a teacher as being far more than someone who organizes and disseminates information – I see her also as someone who, by listening and attending to the whole student, is able to assist, support and fully participate in the process of learning.

As for those “ideal qualities,” I find that by resisting the temptation to hold them as expectations or requirements, I am able to enjoy their emergence as a natural part of the process of learning how to learn. The rewards are rich: I have the opportunity to practice patience, commitment and creativity and the student learns to make music! That is a beautiful and gratifying experience that I wouldn’t trade for all the ready-made “ideal students” in the world.

Resolutions

This is the time that many people are enthusiastically launching into fulfilling their New Year’s resolutions. Although I don’t make specific resolutions with the New Year, I do feel the urge to clear out the old and make way for the new (as evidenced in the last post!). Regardless of how we name our goals or when we set them, we all welcome ways to achieve them as painlessly as possible.
Although others tend to view me as being very disciplined, I feel that most of what appears to be discipline in my life is merely habit that has been consciously chosen and placed. Of course, there is discipline involved in establishing the habits I choose, but once they are in place, they carry themselves. Think about it – it doesn’t take discipline to brush your teeth in the morning, because you have established that as a habit! There are countless things that you do in any given day without having to make yourself do them, because those things are habitual. So, when beginning a commitment, it seems that the trick is to move as quickly as possible from discipline to habit.
As I’ve observed many students struggling with discipline over the years, I’ve considered how the process works for me. In doing so, I realized that I employ a few tricks that set me up for success.

Timing

Sometimes in our zeal to accomplish a goal we try to force ourselves into starting something new before circumstances are supportive or we are emotionally or mentally prepared. It is possible (and preferable, to my mind) to set your intentions and then wait and watch for the starting time to show itself. This does not mean that you give in to resistance, but that you tune into your thoughts and feelings and “step into the river.” Trust yourself!

Practicality

Before beginning a new commitment, it’s wise to make sure that your goal is a reasonable one rather than a fantasy. You might want to play guitar several hours a day, but is that really going to work in your current life? You are far more likely to achieve success if you initiate a small change and then let it grow naturally. By starting with a realistic and manageable commitment, you will likely find that with time things shift to allow for expansion.

Consistency

I’ve found that it is much easier to do something every day than to do it only on specific days of the week. If, for instance, you decide to exercise on Monday, Wednesday, Friday, you may always have in the back of your head that if you “need to”, you can put off one of those sessions with the hope of using one of your unscheduled days to “catch up.” As we know, things have a way of unraveling from there. Also, it is likely to feel more like discipline and less like habit if there are constant choices to make. A habit should just be a habit, absent of excessive thinking and planning.

Scheduling

It helps to attach a new activity or task to something that is already in place. Guitar practice might attach to dinner (my favorite guitar time – it’s dessert!), first thing in the morning or immediately before or after school or work.

Do you have any tricks for keeping resolutions? If so, I hope you will share them!

Look What I Found!

I only have three closets in my house and they are all very small. Having such limited storage space is a good way to keep from collecting more than I need, but it requires periods of relentless clearing. While digging deeper than usual last night, I broke into a box of memorabilia that I hadn’t inspected in years and found this item that I loved as a kid – a “rhythm tote” from the 50’s. It belonged to my “big sister” (sorry, Laney – not quite sure how I ended up with it), which, of course, added to the cool factor.

What is it about bags, totes, albums and such that kids like so much? This album was especially cool, because it held records  – and check out that picture of the teenagers spinning 45’s.

Of course I had run across this in other cleaning frenzies, but this time I decided to see what records were in it. Much to my surprise, I found a 45 of  The Starlettes! Who knew? I had forgotten that such a thing existed. Here’s proof:

Side 1 – April Showers; Sentimental Journey
Side 2 – Down By The Riverside; A La Puerta; Now The Day Is OverOf course, I will need to find my adapter to be able to play it. (Yes, I have a turntable.) I have a feeling these are the same cuts that are on the CD and they probably sound a lot scratchier, but that’s part of the beauty of vinyl. Now if only there were a video somewhere of the performance on the Ames Brothers Show…