Sharpening the Senses Through Solitude

Want to sharpen your senses and expand your creativity? Try getting away – alone! We all know that stepping away from the demands of our typical schedule is great therapy, but we don’t often look at solitude as a valuable component of that therapy.


Through both choice and circumstance, I have come to realize that my nature demands periods of solitude, with only the sounds and energies of Nature as a companion. As I attend to those demands, they grow, like an insatiable hunger.

Each day of quiet that I give to myself sharpens my senses more. During my daily country chores the
creaking of the barn door becomes increasingly loud, the banging of the wheelbarrow as it rattles across the rocks is almost deafening and the hot breeze moves through the tree branches as if amplified in a concert hall. Every
particle of dust or blade of grass appears bright and bold, as if viewed under a magnifying glass. Scents of plants, animals and the earth itself compete for my attention.
As senses are sharpened, mental chatter subsides, opening the consciousness to clarity. With clarity comes both increased creativity and
a deepening sense of peace. The mind empties, creating space for healing and insight.

While it is impossible to thrive or even survive in true solitude, as in “solitary confinement,” experiencing an absence of human company while relishing the vibrancy of Nature is nothing short of bliss. May you enjoy it often!

This rabbit showed up for me today. Can you see him?

In Praise of the Song

Are you a guitar player without a song to play? If you love playing riffs and leads, you may have achieved a degree of musical success without ever having learned to play a song from start to finish. And, if so, you are not alone.
 A lot of guitarists manage to avoid the sequential learning style that is often presented by a teacher or method and skip right to the parts of guitar playing that interest them the most. Avoiding whole-song playing seems to make sense not only to those players who love lead playing, but also to those who are either disinterested in singing or feel lacking in vocal skills. After all, what could be wrong with playing what you want to play?
I’m a big supporter of musicians devoting themselves first
and foremost to the music they love! I am also committed, however, to helping
guitarists continue to grow in those same areas and sometimes that means
investigating foreign territory. I have seldom met a songless guitarist who
didn’t, at some point, encounter
limitations in rhythm, form and more. These are problems that can be
solved simply by gaining an understanding of the complete song, including the
rhythm, harmony and melody. That understanding comes most readily by learning
to simultaneously sing and strum!
How do you know if
you need to learn (or return to learning) to play songs?
The first clue that you might benefit from learning songs
may be that you don’t want to! If you find yourself squirming at the thought,
consider that your resistance may be due solely to the fact that it seems like
a lot of unpleasant work! It’s never much fun to do something that you don’t
feel you are good at doing, but that’s the nature of stretching into new
territory. Just as when you first picked up a guitar, song playing will require
an investment period that involves discipline, but as you improve, your
enjoyment level will skyrocket! You will also certainly be happy for the
rewards in your general musicianship – and there are plenty of them!
How learning songs
will help your playing
Here is a partial list of the benefits
of song playing:
Correct or tighten up rhythm by singing the
melody while strumming or fingerpicking the pulse
Develop an awareness of and ability to
communicate about form, including the number of measures in each section and
the number of beats in each measure
Develop a heightened melodic sense and the
ability to tie in to or refer to the melody in solos
Aurally connect all of the musical elements
(rhythm, harmony, melody)
Strengthen memorization skills
Expand the overall feel for and response to the
song (an essential in the art of soloing!)
How to make it happen
Choose a song that you like, but be sure it’s a simple song,
preferably one that is written in 3/4 or 4/4 time, has a moderate tempo and no
more than three chords. Use a basic strum and take your time! The goal is not
to create a performance piece, but simply to learn to play a few songs
correctly. Don’t worry about your vocal quality, but instead focus on putting
all of the elements together.


A recording device can be handy for your work and a
metronome is essential. If you are not sure that your rhythm is correct, you
can contact me to assist you with your method, determine your level of
accuracy or help you with corrections. Also, be sure to check out Getting Started, which includes nine
songs with instructions and a CD, as well as more tips on song playing.


Are you passionate about guitar? Even if you wouldn’t
describe yourself as passionate about creating music, you probably have deep
feelings attached to the experience. After all, it is the emotional aspect of
music that inspires and motivates us to listen and play – so what role could
detachment possibly play in musicianship?
Ironically, detachment may be the musician’s most valuable
tool for achieving artistic success. This does not mean that someone who
achieves mastery in detachment will produce dispassionate performances. In
fact, the opposite is likely to occur, as detachment invites a level of focus
that allows deep emotions
to emerge in a musical performance. 
How Will It Help?

guitar is challenging, but it shouldn’t be chronically frustrating. If you
experience impatience or anxiety about your progress, you may be wasting
valuable time and energy on judgment of yourself and your abilities, as opposed
to engaging in detached analysis and improvement of the performance. It’s no fun to feel like less of
a musician (or even more miserably, less of a person!) because of imperfections
in your playing!
Detachment will help you to alleviate disruptive feelings
and learn to direct your practice time and energy productively. When you learn
to stay focused and disassociated from the ego during practice, you will find
that you are only a small step away from accomplishing the same onstage. In
other words, detachment can not only help you to learn more efficiently, it can
also help you to diminish or eliminate performance anxiety!
How Do You Do It?

The first, and perhaps most important, place to implement
detachment is in the practice room, where you have a quiet and private place to
develop the ability to witness, critique and correct your work without
succumbing to frequent and debilitating emotional responses.
Begin with intention. Before you pick up your guitar, set a goal to listen deeply throughout
your practice session and to maintain objectivity in uncovering and improving
problem areas. Be relentless in your commitment to this musical
goal, which does not allow time for indulging in self-judgment and unproductive
mental distractions. Remember, every time you respond emotionally to
your practice, you have gone off task.
When you
first begin the process of practicing with detachment, you may have to do some
self-coaching: “Keep moving!” “No criticizing
allowed!” “Keep your eye on the ball!” No matter how much
coaching is required to keep moving toward your goal, just give it to yourself.
You will succeed!
Good Things to

You are not your
. No one is born a great player and each musician has a unique
timetable. It is important to honor yours!
Your playing will
never be without “mistakes”
– but you may reach a level where
those mistakes no longer matter to you or your audience and they may even go
unnoticed. The truth is, the less they matter to you, the less they will matter
to your audience – and you have control over how much they matter to you!
A sense of humor may
be your best ally
. Of course, it’s important to continually strive for
exceptional technique, tone, melodic content, rhythm and more – but don’t
forget to have a good time!

For optimum practice results, follow this guide.

Exercising Patience

I did not arrive on this planet with patience – I had to
gather it along the way. My nature is to think and move quickly and I easily
fall into a rhythm with others who do the same. Slow movers were, for many
years, a source of discomfort for me. But a lifetime of conscious work and a
plethora of deep experiences transformed my impatient responses and I am far richer
for it.   
Learning to play
taught me patience, but my stubborn habits knocked me around a bit
along the way. I was too hard on myself and I hurried so much toward arbitrary
goals that I neglected to listen to my physical and emotional bodies. My
current mission is to help others avoid beating themselves up as hard and as
often as I did. Tenacity, discipline, commitment, all cornerstones of deep
learning and musical achievement, have always been mine for the taking and they
have served me well. Patience, however, was not an easy fourth cornerstone for me to find and place.
It was only with the strength provided by the first three that I managed to succeed.

Teaching guitar
presented swift and straightforward lessons in patience. How could I truly give
to my students if all I offered them was information? In order to give my
students the best of myself, I had to meet them where they were – on all levels
of their being. That meant I needed to relentlessly respect the tempo of the
individual. As I practiced giving that respect to others, I began learning how
to give the same to myself. In time, that gift provided a vital flow of
creative and emotional nourishment and became a guide toward a fulfilling life.
Love brings a
person to patience and I run on love. Waiting for a child to determine which
shoe goes on which foot, a horse to take a long draw from the water bucket or a
cat to decide “in or out?” – these are all acts that require surrendering to a
tempo that may initially seem tortuous. But the magic of an open heart is that
it adjusts quickly and willingly to merge with the pulse of the beloved.
Nature is the best
teacher I’ve found for cultivating not only patience, but also an ability to
tap into and respond to intuition and
creativity. Nature invites us to sacrifice our artificial agendas in order to step into the mystery. I
have come to depend on my peaceful country home to provide ongoing comfort and
personal lessons.
I love my subdivision road. It takes 6 minutes to go the 2
miles to my house, if you drive it well, which means patiently. Of course, you
can arrive in less time, but you not only risk banging the bottom of your
vehicle on the rough, unpaved road, you will most certainly miss the albino
squirrel, the occasional jackrabbit or
the subtly changing view from the high, tight curve in the road.
Those who are in a hurry to get here sometimes report “I
love your place, but I don’t like
your road.” Of course, I understand that from a certain perspective, the delays
can be frustrating and uncomfortable. But from another perspective, every rock
in that road is sacred.

If you didn’t have to drive a slow and bumpy 2 miles to get
to this place, you wouldn’t find this place at the end of the 2 miles. What is
that sublime feeling that washes over you as you make your way up my driveway?
It is the absence of traffic noise, the multitudes of unseen wildlife and the
whispered wisdom of the trees. It is the non-violence of excessive machinery or
hard, formed concrete. It is a history of respect between Human and Nature. It is
the most exquisite harmony, complex, yet stunningly simple, and there for all
who are patient enough to listen.

My Awesome, Bull-Headed Neighbor

He lives just across the road, but I don’t get to see much of him, as the end of my driveway is not within view of my house. Also, he and his herd have plenty of acres to roam and he doesn’t often graze on my side of his territory. When we met last week, it struck me that although there may be a lot of people who would describe a neighbor as bull-headed, I’m one of the lucky few who can do so with delight and awe!

Could You Repeat That, Please?

Fingerings, chord shapes, lyrics – you learn them one day
and the next they’re gone. Maybe you’ve been taught notes on the staff, scale
formulas or chord formulas in the past – and maybe more than once – but you can’t
seem to retrieve the information or put it to use. It can be pretty
frustrating. But the good news is, your frustrations are less likely caused by your musical
limitations than they are by unrealistic expectations and a flawed approach to
Perhaps because music making has such a magical quality to
it, we tend to forget that the same laws that govern any other type of learning
apply to learning music. Regardless of whether we are studying geography,
poetry or chord formulas, the key to retaining information is repetition. By using that key effectively, you can immediately and
dramatically increase your progress on guitar!   
Short-Term vs.
Long-Term Memory

Remember cramming for a test in school? Although you may
have remembered enough of the information the next morning to pass the exam,
how much of that information was still available to you the following week? If
you took the same test a month later, your score would certainly be lower yet
and with the passing of a year, you might remember little or none of the
By devoting yourself to one intense period of study
(cramming), you managed to succeed in committing information to short-term
memory. Without sufficient repetition, however, the same information never
moved into your long-term memory. If, instead, you had reviewed, taught and
used that same information repeatedly over a period of time, you would have moved
it into long-term memory and probably would have aced the test a year later.
The same principles of short- and long-term memory apply to
learning guitar. When you memorize a chord formula, for example, you can easily
move it into long-term memory by reviewing it repeatedly and in varied ways and
then putting it to use. The more you practice intelligent memory storage, the
more efficient your learning becomes!
In order to capitalize on this basic truth about learning, I
included worksheets for every concept or skill presented in A Guitar Player’s Guide to Music Theory, and I urge students to do the
worksheets repeatedly. If you are trying to learn from a course or system that
doesn’t encourage or allow sufficient repetition, don’t blame yourself for your
frustrations – get a new course, system or teacher!
It all comes down to practice, but not just any kind of
practice. There are specific ways to practice that will maximize the benefits
of repetition.
Take small bits

All aspects of guitar playing, including ear training and
theory, become manageable and fun when you break down the material into small
bits and then practice sufficiently. Take a small bit, memorize it, then take
another. Review both bits before taking a third. Resist the temptation to
memorize too much in one session. Instead, walk away when (or before) you perceive
a decline in your mental performance. When you return after a break, review the
material thoroughly before taking on more.
Review new material
on the same day of the lesson

You will save a lot of time and energy by nailing down new
information on the same day you first learn it. If you don’t have time to
devote a full practice session to the new work, make sure that you at least think
through it before the day is done.
Review the material in
varied ways and from varied perspectives

Read it, write it, draw it, apply it to other songs or teach
it to someone else. If, for example, your goal is to learn the formula for a
scale, first study it and then test yourself on it repeatedly by writing it,
saying it out loud and finding places to play it on your guitar. Last but not
least, teach it!
Log in a sufficient
number of correct repetitions

The amount of repetitions required for mechanical skills
(exercises, scales, licks, passages) varies according to the complexity of the
skill, but will probably be more than you expect. Always remember that the
point at which you can correctly play a passage is the point at which your
practice should begin – and that only correct repetitions will be beneficial.
Once you begin those repetitions, don’t count them, just do them – and then do
them some more.
Be prepared to study facts, information and concepts
(theory, note recognition, etc.) in varied ways a minimum of six to ten times,
with hours or days in between.
Be intentional

If you want to memorize a passage, song or concept,
put your attention on doing so. Playing a piece numerous times while gazing at
the music will not result in memorization. Instead, make an intention to
memorize it and take the proper steps (above) to make it happen.
Clean up your language

Now that you understand the reasons behind your frustration
and have some solutions, clean up habitual thoughts or language that drag you
down and misdirect your mental and emotional energy. In other words, keep your
eye on the ball and practice productive thinking. In expressing your feelings
about your guitar progress, for example, avoid the word “should” as
in “I should be able to…”
Instead, take a minute to realize how far you have come and then get to work!

It’s true that insufficient, incorrect or ineffective
practice can hold you back. A big part of my job as a teacher is to identify
practice problems for my students and present solutions. But even the most creative
solutions invariably depend on the power of repetition!

(Don’t) Finish One Thing Before Starting Another

I tell you: one must still have chaos in
oneself, to give birth to a dancing star – 
Frederick Nietzsche

Face it – some of the well-worn lessons
that are taught both in and out of school are ineffective when it comes to
learning guitar. At the top of the list of aphorisms I reject is “finish
one thing before starting another.” It’s true that a lot of goals, both
small and large, are best achieved through a methodical and sequential
approach. It is also the case that many people feel that their success in
learning is dependent on mastering one concept or skill before considering the
next. Enjoying and playing music, however, is predominantly a right-brain
function, and as such, often calls us to embrace a squirming, out-of-focus and
unfinished picture. Clinging to a linear or graded approach invariably results
in sluggish progress and a lack of musical vitality. If your default learning
style requires you to feel confident and secure through each step of new
territory, maybe it’s time to try something new. Be adventuresome! Jump off the
Can Be Finished?
In the musical world, many things are
impossible to finish. For example, even when a song is performance or
recording-ready, the elements it contains may never be fully explored. When you
have “mastered” the fretboard, music theory or composition, there
will still be new relationships to encounter and songs waiting to be born. So,
the question in study and practice often comes down to: should I stay or should
I go?
Music Theory: A Puzzle

Because music comprehension is best
obtained by studying numerous musical elements and concepts simultaneously, it
is important to be willing to surrender to chaos when learning theory. Know
that with time and patience, the elements come together like the seemingly
unrelated pieces of a puzzle. If you are tenacious in placing the pieces, you
will see how each area feeds an understanding of the others and you will be
rewarded with a picture even before the project is completed.
In order to practice ear training,
for example, you need a language to describe aural relationships in music. That
language is provided by the study of music theory. If you postponed ear
training until you finished studying theory, however, you would never get to
ear training! Likewise, it would be both unsatisfying and unrealistic to postpone
playing your guitar until you had memorized all the notes
on the fretboard or saturated your knowledge of theory and ear training. Even
if you managed to persist on such a miserable course, your progress would
suffer, as the act of playing is itself instructive and using musical knowledge
as you acquire it deepens that knowledge. 
Songs: When It’s Okay to Move On (and When It’s Not)
While some people resist starting a new
song before they have “finished” the old one, others barely start a
song before becoming distracted by another. Both of these tendencies can inhibit
learning and cause frustration in the long-term. In order to determine the optimum time to spend on
learning a song, take an honest look at your personal style and habits. Are you
easily bored or distracted or are you a perfectionist? Do you shy away from
challenges or do you relish them?
It is natural to lose motivation and
consider dropping a piece when, in spite of diligent practice, you find
yourself making little or no progress. If this is a common problem, it’s
important to discover how to become unstuck.  If, however, the “stuck” is a
result of burnout or of attempting a piece that is beyond your level, it’s best
to set it aside. Sometimes it’s just not possible to push through problems in a song until you progress beyond them. Develop your skills systematically through playing
fresh material and you will find that when you return to the problematic piece,
you will take those skills with you.
Even when you don’t feel stuck, it’s a
good idea to overlap songs as you are learning, as opposed to perfecting one
song before beginning another. Striving for perfection can create stress and
sabotage your efforts – and, after all, your idea of perfection is subjective.
Strive instead for correctness.
Playing a piece correctly means that you
can play the correct notes and/or chords and that you play them in time.
Finished tempo isn’t necessary, nor is satisfying expression or tone, but stay committed to your process and
maximize your learning by conquering the basics of a song before leaving it –
and don’t forget to return when the time is right!
Practice Well to Finish Well

Although you may never completely finish
your exploration of music, when you look back over a period of time, you
probably want to feel good about your playing. You can make that happen by
cultivating good practice habits. Choose a broad course of study, but
make and meet small goals on a daily basis. Be present, persistent and patient during your practice
time. And remember that while becoming the musician
you want to become takes logging in plenty of intelligent practice, it helps if
you get comfortable with juggling! 

Chemistry, Comfort and Compatibility: Finding Your Perfect Match

1956 Gibson J-200
 It was beautiful. It was big. I sold it.
Many of us have been in relationships that had plenty of
sparkle, but were painful much of the time. So it is with guitars. When I was
fresh into the guitar world, my head was easily turned by beautiful wood,
artistic inlays or an exquisite tone. In a moment of passion, I would commit to
a guitar that was utterly amazing, but wasn’t right for me. In spite of a
strong attraction, without the day-to-day ease that comes from comfort and
compatibility, the relationship was doomed.
Although breaking up is hard to do, sometimes it is clearly
the best move. The wisdom of experience coupled with the realization that there
is no shortage of amazing guitars on the planet led me to healthy, happy (yes,
even blissful!) long-term relationships with some great guitars. A little
forethought can do the same for you.
Make a List

Before you begin shopping, write down your criteria for your
perfect match. (Lists don’t lie!) Start your list with fundamental
requirements, such as size, type (acoustic, electric, etc.), playability,
quality of workmanship and price range. You can find information about guitar
types and tips on guitar shopping and negotiating the deal in this article on
how to buy a guitar. 
Once you are clear on the basics, add in your personal needs
and desires, such as kind of wood, decoration, tone and general appeal. This is
the time to reflect on yourself and your music.
Know Yourself, Know
Your Music, Trust Your Gut

It is important to consider your body type when choosing a
guitar. If, for example, you are small or have a short upper body, you will
play and feel your best with a small guitar. Never underestimate the importance
of the size and shape of your guitar – a guitar that is too large for you can
actually cause injury to your hands or arms!
Different styles of music call for different kinds of
instruments. Is the guitar you’re considering built to bring out the sound of
the of music that you will be playing on it? You may need
to face the fact that you require more than one guitar in order to be effective
with the different styles of music you play. (Hey, what guitar player doesn’t
like an excuse to collect guitars?)
Try to avoid excessive peer influence, brand bias or flashy
sales gimmicks when choosing a guitar. When you find a guitar that really draws
your attention, pick it up and play it. Tune in to the way it sounds and to how
it feels in your lap. Play it some more. Is it your guitar?
Once You’ve Found It,
Never Let It Go!
It’s a lot of fun to buy a guitar, but it’s even more fun if
the guitar is a sweet deal and a good match. Once you’ve found that match, take
it home, give it lots of attention and watch the relationship grow!

Listening With Others: Music Appreciation, Naturally!

Most people today listen to music alone. Regardless of
whether you are in a crowd using ear buds, in your car or at home, your
listening experience is likely to be a solitary one.

Much has been
written about the many changes that have come about from this style of
listening, including the effect that ear buds have on our hearing, the changes
in the way that music is marketed and the quality of sound that is produced as
a result of that marketing. As a musician and a music teacher, I have an
additional concern: as social listening declines, is a natural path to music
appreciation being sacrificed?  
appreciation is usually taught in the classroom the same way that other topics or concepts
are: bring attention to it, describe it
and, if possible, make it experiential. The teaching becomes even more
effective when the transfer of
information is accompanied by a positive emotional experience.
Listening with others in a social situation can offer the
same advantages that a classroom approach to music appreciation offers, but for
most people, it’s a lot more personal and relevant – and therefore a lot more
fun! When several people listen to the same band, one is likely to comment on
the sax solo while another will focus on a bass riff and a third might respond
to the lyrics. As each person receives the opinions and reactions from another,
attention is brought to an area of the music that might otherwise have remained
Listening is not the only aspect of music appreciation that
is addressed in the classroom, nor is it the only one that is learned in a
social listening experience. A formal curriculum for music appreciation will
usually include a historical view of the music and a biographical look at the
artist. Who doesn’t share these types of details with friends when they are
listening to music together? Fan clubs are built on less!

If you find that listening is largely a solo experience for
you, try setting aside some time with one or two friends to listen to a wide
variety of music. Background music during a party or a meal doesn’t count. I’m
talking about real listening. Take turns playing DJ or work a “youtube party”
into your casual hang-out time with friends, family members or roommates. It’s
a cheap, easy and satisfying way to connect with people – and you might just
find that you are also connecting more deeply to the music you love!