A look into the mirror

Before you start reading this post, I want you to answer the following question for yourself:

Zappa guitar
Frank Zappa

What did you practice yesterday?

To be honest, I have to admit that the nature of my personality tends to be pretty chaotic. I suck at automating things as well as planning things. Most of the time I like concepts more than details. The big picture is often most important to me. Besides that, I have an open mind and I am interested in a lot of different things. Specially if they are challenging or just totally new for me. Probably, that’s the reason why on the other hand,  I’m always in search of structure and logic. Chaos or a lack of structure is good in a way that it can definitely help you to get to know yourself.  A great musician who has embedded this concept into his music, was Frank Zappa. If you let go of all rules and structure, you are forcing yourself (or the listener in his case) to search for structure and logic. It’s just a human habit. But as it goes for almost everything, there is a down side too.

A spinning compass

In my case, with my personality, the chances are good that I will drown in chaos. I could end up like a compass spinning around forever. In a certain way I feel comfortable with that. Just floating around and drifting away, but in the back of my mind there is always a vague sense of some final destination. On a musical level, for me this is a complete understanding of the neck of a guitar. I believe that only when I understand the neck, I will be able to master the guitar and improvise for real. I can’t tell you if its a realistic goal, or if it is even possible at all. It is just a gut feeling of which I belief is true.  However, I am realistic enough to realize that with floating around I will never come any closer to that goal. What I need is a direction, but I lack the competence (or is it interest) of planning a detailed route in advance, before taking off.  On the other hand, if I had developed the right competences, it would still be an impossible task to define a spot on road map. The destination is not just one spot on the map. Its more like a whole area. So how can I ever accomplish this mission and where the hell do I start?

Fixing my inner compass

Cover new grounds with the same exercises in a routine
Routines are great!

The answer lies in focused (preferably slow) repetition, and gradually covering new grounds. What I have been missing all those years of practicing was a daily routine with good exercises. I am sure you know the feeling of “What should I practice today?”. Should it be the same as yesterday or should I try something else. If you switch too often from one exercise to another, you will forget what you have been practicing before, and it is a waste of your valuable time. At least, that is how it has happened to me a lot of times. But if you are able to switch exercises inside the boundaries of a method, you’re exercises will build one upon each other. You will not remember all the details of the things you’ve practiced, but on a subconscious level things will add up, and make you grow musically. The results may not be noticeable directly, but after some period you definitely will notice a difference.

Since I am following the method of David Reed as explained in his book “Improvise for real”, I noticed that his exercises are designed to leave room for your own interpretation. The number of exercises is limited, the rules are simple, but the ways in which you can apply them are countless. And that is the real beauty of it. It does solve the problem that I’ve described, in a brilliant way. You can use his exercises for the rest of your life, as long as you adapt them to your personal musical level. In this way, everything you practice, does somehow relate to each other and thus strengthen your musicality.

A tip that saves the day. Every day!

The best tip that I have found inside this book, solved the question “What should I practice today?” forever. At least to a certain level. Again it was dead simple, but brilliant.

How many notes does the major scale have?    answer: 7
How many days are there in one week?             answer: 7

Just assign each note of the major scale to a fixed day of the week, and you have a context for every single day for the rest of your life. My schedule is as follows:

Monday1 chord1 3 5 7
Tuesday2 chord1 2 4 6
Wednesday3 chord2 3 5 7
Thursday4 chord1 3 4 6
Friday5 chord2 4 5 7
Saturday6 chord1 3 5 6
Sunday7 chord2 4 6 7

You really should give this a try, and stick to it for a couple of weeks. I am pretty sure you’ll like it. Every day of the week you enter another world. Gradually you will feel comfortable in all of them. Things you learn in one world, will also be useful in any of the others. They all share the same basic material, so everything works together and builds up. The intervals are always the same, but what changes is just the order. And whenever you miss one or two days practicing in  a week, don’t worry. You’ll get there the week after. Or the week after that,  or the next month, etc . It all builds up. The material keeps the same.

Good luck with it en enjoy!