I deserve a gold star

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This past Thursday, Danny and I spent an entire hour working on the Simon & Garfunkel piece. Not because I didn’t practice. Not because it was difficult. But because he was delighted to see my progress and gave me page 3 and 4 for homework. Which means I’ve completed two-thirds of this fingerpicking song!

It felt really good–I mean, really, freakin’ good to have Danny proud of me. “Now, didn’t I tell you-you’d be great at fingerpicking if you just practiced?” he said in his twangy South Carolina accent.

Typically Danny’s lessons are complex due to his “pop quizzes” and ability to fly through an extensive amount of material but last week it was 100% fingerpicking. But even he said it was worth it.

Although, my performance was nearly a 180, there were a few errors Danny teased me about (that’s the kind of relationship we have). When reading music, I tend to skip measures when I get bored/zone out. And secondly, I often neglect my pinky. The latter is most difficult because I’d already learned how to play tricky finger patterns (my way) and now I have to relearn them by using my pinky. Oh well, it’s nothing a metronome and repetition can’t fix, right?

IMAGE COURTESY OF PIXTAWAN / FREEDIGITALPHOTOS.NET

Shame. Shame. Shame.

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Last week was embarrassing. I am ashamed of myself for walking into Danny’s studio full of false confidence. I knew good and well my fingers lacked the muscle memory needed to play Simon & Garfunkle, a 7 page arrangement I promised I’d learn.

I could blame it on my internship with the Symphony Orchestra. I could also blame it on my current romantic interest–the most social (or “busy body”) man I’ve dated in a long while. I could even blame it on the numerous U.S. states I’ve visited this summer. But no matter what my excuse is, it will never erase the shame I felt in Danny’s studio.

Well, that was then, and today is a positive now. I’m sitting at my MacBook after a long weekend in Georgia, thankful that I took my guitar along because I made major improvements in my fingerpicking. I may have already said this, but I did not expect this summer to be me fighting distractions–that’s exactly what it’s come down to.

I see Danny on Thursday and I am determined to blow him away. Seeing the disappointment in my guitar teacher’s eyes feels no different than disappointing my own father.

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It’s been a busy summer!

ID-100234772It seems to be that I’ve overextended myself this summer and because of that fact, Tipsy Tuesday will go on hiatus.

With my busy schedule, I’ve discovered that the mornings are now the best time to practice. Just like the old days, I’ve begun see Danny for guidance.  Although I was attached to Alek, I realized I learn more material (faster) with Danny.  He’s been pushing me and making my practice routine significantly longer.  Sometimes I feel like I’m not good enough because it’s become so important to impress him.  Is that backwards?

I guess it could be viewed as such but I know if I make him the slightest impressed, my performance will be astounding–beyond my very own goals.  I suppose that’s the benefits of having a mentor with high expectations of his students.  In comparison, Alek was constantly complimenting me when I knew good and well that I did not practice to the best of my ability.

“Okay, let’s hurry up and get you back into this,” Danny told me.  “There’s no telling how long I’ll have with you.  You might move across the country again.”

It makes me laugh to know that he knows me well enough to accurately predict my adventure seeking agenda… and as usual, Danny is right.  Adventure seeking or not, I need to find my groove.  It’s taking me a bit longer than expected this summer…

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Cold Feet

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As I donate my belongings to Salvation Army and turn my furniture into cash, I realize the hardest part is almost here: saying goodbye and actually leaving.  Not just talking about leaving but emptying what was once my home and boarding a plane with no intention of returning anytime soon.  And as much as I love the adventure of picking up and moving, the thought of saying goodbye to my routine, comfort, and California friends is making me sick to my stomach.

This week, I had my second to last lesson with Alek.  We reviewed a lot of the theory he’s taught me the past 4 months and it left me dreading my final lesson.  I don’t even know what we’ll work on.  There’s no point in working on something new so maybe we’ll do something fun – more blues soloing?  I shall wait and see.

I will admit I am having second thoughts about this move – cold feet, perhaps?  I just have such a great connection with Alek and his explanations are down to earth and it feels like we’re just two friends chatting away about music.  I don’t even feel like I’m paying for lessons because he doesn’t rush me in and out which is a good and bad thing.  I’ve accepted the many times we’d start my lessons late because I knew that he would give me the same opportunity to learn and was willing to go over the allotted time to ensure I left with a full understanding and foundation to practice new material at home.

Danny has a lot more students than Alek so that’s never an option.  But I’m excited to see Danny too.  He’s like a second Dad to me.  Except it’s not awkward talking to him about dating and other personal events in my life.  I mean, I’m extremely close to my Dad but that’s a rare topic.  I’m sure some of you understand where I’m coming from.

Anyways, I’m squeezing in one last lesson on Sunday – gotta get my money’s worth.  Gotta say goodbye… although a small part of me wants to stay.

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Dropping the habit: Memorization

Players like myself need to accept this: Memorization is not your friend.  I’m still trying to accept this and last Sunday I realized how important it is to refrain from memorizing without understanding what you’re playing.

I highly doubt Alek intended to spark another revelation when he asked me to play a minor pentatonic scale.  Mind you, I’ve never learned it but I do indeed know the blues scale by heart.  So he gave me a hint, “avoid the blue note.”

“The what?”

After Alek’s detailed explanation about the flat 5th scale degree and additional theory that I’d rather not attempt to repeat, I accepted his challenge.  But I’ll be honest, the theory went out the other ear because I figured I could simply memorize what he showed me.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to skip over a couple notes, ya know?

As I attempted to impress Alek by playing a slow and sloppy variation of the E minor pentatonic scale, I felt as if it was much harder than it should be.  It also did not help that he tricked me.  Okay-not-really.  But there was definitely more to it than I thought and my cleverness hurt me big time.

In retrospect, Alek’s elaborate scale degree explanation was the knowledge I needed to play the scale without a problem.  Instead, I used memorization as a short cut that resulted in a messy line of notes reminiscent of the blues scale–what a headache.  It’s very clear to me now: the further I delve into learning guitar the less I can rely on memorization.  If you want to be a versatile player you gotta drop the habit or else your skills will be limited to your memory.  And yes, this is the exact advice he gave me that very day.

Is it enlightenment? Or common sense?

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Growing up and even now, I sensed there was a secret within the music community that catapults intermediate players way, way, way ahead.  And whatever that secret is, I ain’t got it.  Does that make sense?  It probably sounds silly to those who’ve already surpassed the intermediate level but I cannot be the only person who feels this way.  And ya know, maybe that’s why me and others have quit instruments but return to it?  Who knows.

I hope I’m not getting ahead of myself but I feel like I’m finally bridging the gap in this journey.  The gap that I always take a starting sprint towards but never gain enough momentum to leap over.  Ya know, that “aha!” moment, light bulb, that secret.  

It’s as if everything Danny taught me (but did not stick) is now 100% clear now that Alek reexplained it in different terms.  This doesn’t mean Danny’s not a good teacher–he’s hands down, one of the best–it’s simply beneficial to hear and see a concept multiple times and in various ways.

As you may or may not already know, Alek teaches me theory in every single lesson.  Everything I’ve learned so far explains “why” for literally every teensy-weensy guitar concept that I honestly was never interested in to begin with… but it made a huge difference.  Recently, the material fell into my lap as one entity with a note,

Kristen, open your eyes and pay attention.  This is how you use everything you’ve been taught.  This, right here, is what’s been missing. Stop overlooking it. 

At the time I didn’t understand why I needed to know all those technical concepts but now it makes perfect sense.

For that reason, I am currently fixated on music theory.  I can’t get enough of it.  It’s so complex but when you place all the puzzle pieces together you get one of those, “ohhhh!” moments–it’s addicting.  And because of that, I’m thirsty to know more and more.  I wish people weren’t so afraid of theory or think it’s boring.  I suppose it’s like an acquired taste that must develop over time.

Paying for guitar lessons motivation

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Every Sunday at 11:50am, I walk two blocks to my guitar lesson.  Always excited.  Often rushed.  Sometimes sweaty.  But more importantly, always excited.

“I enjoy having students who practice the material and progress in each lesson,” Alek complimented me, “it’s frustrating when students come here and say ‘oh, I didn’t practice all week.'”

“They actually admit that?” fell out of my mouth as I recalled the many times I would do the same thing as a drummer.  The only difference being I always tried to cover it up by practicing two hours before a lesson; needless to say, that rarely worked.

After Alek confirmed my question, I opened up:

“Ya know, I did the same when I was a drummer–I wasn’t into drums like I am with guitar,” I freely admitted.  “So I understand it.”

It’s kind of like paying for a gym membership and never working out.  Sometimes people think if they pay someone it’ll motivate them but in reality it’s a waste of money.  You can’t pay for something you don’t have (motivation) and expect to be successful without trying.  It actually takes effort beyond showing up at your job to receive the pay check that you’re putting towards lessons.

I guess when that happens it’s important to revisit why you’re interested and evaluate how badly you want it before realizing you’re in the very same condition you were in to begin with… just broke.