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Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The "Zen Burglar"


June 6, 2015

Wow, what a cool place to write. I decided to take a stroll last week through old town Camarillo, CA. My wife was out of town, my daughter was at work, my son-in-law was working on his computer and my grandson was taking a nap – it seemed like a great time to get out and do some writing, take an adventure, and just get moving. I was looking for a place to have a meal, and a glass of wine that didn’t have a “chain” feel - a place where I could sit down and not feel like I was taking up a table, or being weird by writing on my laptop as a single at a two top in a restaurant. I was looking for a cool writer’s hang.
So, I proceeded to walk up and down Main Street at least four, if not five times - probably looked like a nut as I passed by the same people over and over, but I was on a mission. And besides, I know I’m a nut, so no worries there. Despite all of the walking, I struggled to find an establishment that fit the description of what I was looking for - then it came to me, seemingly out of nowhere. It was a very narrow restaurant with a somewhat clunky entrance - a bit understated to say the least. I had noticed it several times, but never stopped when suddenly it dawned on me – hey wait a minute, that’s exactly what I’m looking for! 
I decided to pop in and check out the “Sabores Peruvian CafĂ©.” Jackpot from the very beginning, I took one quick look around the room and noticed a warm, cozy feel, but more importantly, I saw my spot. It was as if that destination had been prepared for me all along. There it was in the back corner, a couch and a couple of big comfy chairs nestled against the back wall. The vibe was nothing short of super cool coffee shop – a writer’s hang. So, there I was, with my house cab, my laptop, sitting on a killer couch in the corner - ready to write!  
A quick side note – something that I just remembered about wine abbreviations. I was picking my wife up a few weeks ago from the LAX airport. I got there a little early because I was driving in from Vegas and didn’t want to be late. I was super early so I walked around the airport for a while when I finally decided to sit down somewhere and have a glass of wine. So, I made my way to a bar at the bottom of the international terminal, sat down and asked the bartender for a “cab.” He looked at me like I had two heads. I looked at him like he had three heads. We were both staring at each other and wondering what the problem was – what’s the communication breakdown here? I quickly refined my request and said, “Could I please have a house cab.” With a big smile on his face, the bartender laughed and explained that he had just moved to town from NYC. He was positive that I had asked for a taxicab. He was puzzled as to why I would seek to hail a cab from the bar. He was wondering if he had missed the memo on how cabs are hailed at LAX. It was really funny. I guess you had to be there. 
Anyway, back to the story. The title for this blog came to me a few nights ago when I was talking to my son and daughter about selling our house, which is currently on the market. We were talking about how safe our city streets are, and how incredibly safe our town is. Newbury Park is a great sleepy little town nestled in the Santa Monica Mountains. It’s reminiscent of Mayberry, Barney Fife and Sheriff Taylor. 
I was rehearsing my lines for what I would say to perspective buyers might they inquire about our safety rating. I blurted out something like “no one will ever rob, or steal your physical possessions in this town – the only thing that we have is the occasional “Zen Burglar.” That term just rolled off my tongue like water. It was really funny. I have no idea where it came from. I proceeded to describe the Zen burglar as someone that robs people of their joy, of their fun. The Zen Burglar places judgment on others without admitting, or remotely feeling like he’s judging anyone. The Zen Burglar worries about everyone but himself. He would say that he’s simply holding people responsible for themselves. He’s quick to point out others shortcomings when he hasn’t begun to deal with his own. He knows deep down inside that the root of his frustration has little to do with the people that he’s judging. He just hasn’t figured out how to “let it all go, how to just be comfortable with not having everything be exactly as he thinks it should be. The Zen Burglar has a bit of an ego, and he’s a bit controlling to say the least. The Zen Burglar has issues.  
So where does the Zen Burglar come from? Do you have a Zen Burglar in your house from time to time? Have you ever been a Zen Burglar? How does the Zen Burglar grow and manifest in the first place? Well, with me it was with thoughts like “man, my son should be doing this, or my son-in-law should be doing that, and my daughter should be doing this, or who didn’t do their dishes earlier today, which of you clowns slept late, who didn’t take out the trash? Of course, in reality, none of this stuff matters at ALL! Certainly not enough to live in a state of misery – not even close!
The real key here is to know and to act upon the fact that the more you let go of controlling others, the more control you’ll have over yourself. Do you have control over your own emotions, or does your sense of self-control come from controlling others? You might think that you’re at the top of your game when you’re controlling others, but your sense of self-control is actually zilch, 0, nada! You know what I’m talking about here my friend, can I get an AMEN! 
When I’m not careful I’ll walk into a perfectly balanced loving home and completely bring down the house in one fell swoop with just a few words like “who didn’t do their dishes, who left laundry in the dryer? It’s going to be rough for you guys when you can finally afford your own apartments!” What? Is dad home? The Zen Burglar didn’t just say that did he? Is that how he spent his day, and his drive home? I thought he was surfing, or working out, or composing, or meditating. Doesn’t he meditate on being calm and relaxed, or has he been stewing and festering again over whether or not the laundry was in the dryer all day – yeah… that’s what threw off his day – the laundry. The Zen Burglar’s at his best again. 
That sounds absolutely ridiculous, but that’s the way a lot of us roll – don’t deny it. It’s a lifetime of work for some of us to get to the point where we are able to keep ourselves centered, loving and supportive of others, especially our families. Sometimes I think my kids should have it as tough as I did, but then I realize that my wife and I have worked really hard in order to provide a better life for our kids and us. I should be rejoicing, dancing and thanking God that my wife and I can give them a better way then we had. So why don’t I? Because I have an ingrained extremely narrow vision of how life should be that’s inherently flawed. It’s a very restrictive, and small way of thinking. Why shouldn’t my kids have great success very early? Why shouldn’t they have great abundance? Why should I tell them they need to work harder and it won’t be easy and work your fingers to the bone and don’t expect anything in return and on and on and on... That’s not helpful, there are other ways – it’s the Zen Burglar tearing a hole in the universe – not cool. 
One more thing, its time for me to stop thinking that I created all of this goodness – there is a God after all. I’m not controlling anything despite what I think. It’s been incredibly illuminating through writing this blog to allow myself to step back and just live the life that I’ve been blessed with. I haven’t slept, felt more joy, or done much anything with more excitement and happiness then I have since I wrote this blog – thank you to whoever put that term Zen Burglar in my mind because it was meant for me to work through and for no one else. One more thing, here’s to once again regaining a beautiful sense of peace and love no matter where I am, who I’m with or what the circumstances are – it’s all good, it truly, truly is.
Until Next Time My Brothers and Sisters, Surf it Mellow – The MD

Thursday, May 28, 2015



5/50





            I was recently privileged to teach guitar lessons to a very young girl named Andrea - she was five years old, and the youngest student, by far, that I’d ever worked with. I’ve taught a boatload of lessons in my day including working with musicians from primary grades through the college and university ranks, as well as serious pro players at Line 6, but never a five year old. I soon realized that my challenges were not only going to be in working with Andrea in terms of lesson planning etc., but she was quite small in stature. How would she hold her guitar? Where would she sit? What would she understand? Well, whatever was on my mind at the time didn’t really matter, the lesson was upon us – time to get going.  
A quick and easy option for me was to suggest that Andrea and I work out of a beginning level guitar book. That sounded like a fantastic idea – right? After all, we were standing at the front desk where the books were being displayed - brilliant. I leaned over, grabbed a book, and proceeded to show it to Andrea and her mother. They both looked at me with big bright eyes, expressing a mild degree of stress and confusion when Maria, Andrea’s mom exclaimed: “Andrea can’t read, she’s too young, (awkward pause). This book won’t work.” My jaw dropped. Brendon, who was working at the sales desk was equally surprised to hear about this challenge – he later told me that his jaw dropped upon hearing that our new student couldn’t read. I think I kept my cool on the outside, but I was equally, if not more stressed and confused, on the inside. I had never taught a student that couldn’t read. This was a first for me. I’m 50 years old for crying out loud, I should know how to handle this. I had to think fast. And so, with my head swirling about with a bunch of  “what should I do scenarios,” the three of us proceeded to walk, in a single file line, back to my teaching studio.
Improvising and navigating through different learning styles and abilities on the fly is one of my strengths. I love it. But, this was different. There are entire schools, researchers, and philosophies dedicated to teaching music to very young children. Only one problem, I’ve never studied any of them. I’ve heard of the Suzuki method, but other then that, nada, zippo, nothing. I had to think fast. Then it dawned on me. I had just viewed a Ted Talk featuring Victor Wooten in which he spoke of the natural resting place of music, where it comes from, what it is, and what it’s not.
I had already spent quite a bit of time reflecting on that Ted talk. I had also participated in a discussion on the topic at our Tuesday morning Line 6 guitar class. As it turned out, those ideas were going to be pivotal for this guitar lesson. I knew, at that moment that this lesson would have to be taught from my heart, not my mind. My standard go to academic approach would have to be shelved – kicked to the curb. Time to let it flow, let the joy of music, and the love for new adventures and challenges take root. Let them take their own path, their own timing. It was time to let myself go forward with confidence and joy. And so I did, for the first time in my life, proceed without a safety net, no map, no directions, no method book, just my heart and 50 years of life experience. I was a bit nervous, but ready and excited to move forward. I was in the same place as Andrea. Neither one of us had any idea of what to expect.
It takes about 30 seconds to walk from the front desk back to my teaching studio. Lucky for me, that’s all the time that I needed. Suddenly the words “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” flashed into my head. Andrea is the perfect age for that song. It had only been a week or two since Peg, one of my adult students had asked to learn songs to sing and play to her nieces and nephews. Twinkle Twinkle was the first song that we worked on so it was fresh on my mind.  
Andrea and her mom’s eyes both lit up like Christmas trees when I said that we’d be working on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” They were so excited. You’d think that they had won the musical lottery – that’s how much positive energy they exuded. In their minds and hearts they had won the musical lottery – so awesome to see and feel that energy. I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down the first phrase of Twinkle Twinkle. I used tablature notation, and made sure to use large numbers. Tablature is a process for documenting guitar music that doesn’t require musicians to know how to read modern musical notation i.e. reading notes on the five line staff, or on the grand staff etc. I made a crude drawing of each of the six strings of the guitar and wrote down numbers indicating each fret where Andrea would need to place her fingers. The numbers alone don’t indicate rhythm, or right hand fingerings, but the melody is certainly there.
Although Andrea didn’t have any issues with the melody, there were still a few other important issues for us to work out. Andrea’s mom purchased a small guitar that Andrea could hold in her lap. They also brought in a very small chair from home that was comfortable. I have a feeling that Andrea spent more time on her moms lap then on her chair because she didn’t seem to be comfortable in her chair during our lessons. So, on her mom’s lap she sat!! No big deal because the fact is that something very unexpected and profound arose from their seating position. I was pleasantly surprised and happy to feel two times the energy, two times the joy and an overall incredible execution of musical expression that could only have come from two people, mother and daughter participating as one. Cool idea they that two of them came up with and musically and emotionally powerful to boot. I don’t think the outcome was in their minds when they decided to sit that way, but they sure felt it when Andrea performed.   
There was no way for me not to have fun and experience lots of joy when I was working with Andrea and her mom. I was transforming from being an academic to being a fun and happy person, musician and teacher. I never lost sight of Victor Wooten’s talk. I was not only in charge of making, or breaking this five year olds love for music, but for her love and respect for her future music teachers as well. It was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to nurture her through her first experience with learning a musical instrument.
In terms of our lessons, we spent the first couple of weeks getting Andrea comfortable with reading tablature. By the third week she understood enough of the tablature to be able to play all of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I made sure to sing every time she played so she could hear the lyrics and the melody in her head and feel them in her heart. I’m a horrible singer, but it got the job done. Kids that age don’t judge – Andrea seemed to enjoy my singing – it was all a part of expressing our joy together. We were singing, and playing guitars and laughing. I was beginning to understand and internalize what Victor Wooten spoke of in his Ted Talk.
We didn’t spend a single second on music theory, reading music, or interpreting time signatures. We didn’t work with a metronome. Although all of those skills and techniques are very important at some point in a musician’s development, it was not at all important to us. It was such a huge breakthrough for me. I’ve spent many years in academia. This was a great release and lesson for me on getting to the root, and to the heart of the music, learning to wade through all of the academic and music related minutia – I was learning how to use my heart – not just my mind.
My next great challenge was how to work with Andrea on rhythm and her emotional, and musical expression. I needed to do all of that without introducing any music theory. The first thing that came to my mind was “stall.” I needed some time to figure this out. Happy Birthday. Perfect, I’ll sketch that song out in Tablature and consider it a great way to continue working with Andrea on how to read tab and learn notes on the top three strings, not note names - just pitches, timbres and hand positions etc. I was also betting that she could sing the words and the melody to Happy Birthday in her sleep.
Great idea for sure, Andrea and her mom had a similar reaction to learning that song as they did with Twinkle Twinkle. I sketched out the first phrase to Happy Birthday and away we went. I was still gently nudging Andrea to memorize her songs. I flipped her music pages over periodically to test her memory. That seemed like a good idea but I noticed that Andrea was a bit taken back from time to time so I eventually stopped doing it. I knew that there wasn’t any real reason to have her memorize the songs if it made here anxious, or nervous. None of us wanted that so I stopped suggesting or pushing. We completed all of the phrases for Happy Birthday and Andrea was off and running with two songs!
Week four. Andrea came back and was eager and excited to play both songs for me while sitting in her moms lap. I took out the music for her and asked which song she would like to play first. Andrea looked at me with great confidence and said “I don’t need the music, please flip the page over.” She was basically saying, “I’ve go this, I don’t need any charts!” It was awesome. I was shocked and yet so happy and amazed. She proceeded to play the melodies for both Twinkle Twinkle and Happy Birthday and from memory – wow!!
Week five. So… now she had the melodies from memory, but what to do with the rhythm – hum? Then it came to me. “Hey Andrea,” I exclaimed. How about singing while you play? Why don’t you sing Twinkle Twinkle. Even better how about us singing together while you play the melody. Without hesitation she began to play and sing and I guess it was the singing that pulled the melody along because she played perfectly in time and with great expression– I was absolutely blown away and astounded. I guess it makes sense that her singing tied the whole thing together. She did the same thing with Happy Birthday. She couldn’t play the song on the guitar as a standalone exercise but when she added the singing then it all came together – incredible.
  There was one more important hurdle. Andrea was playing with a very hard attack. She was playing the notes in a very short, and rather rigid fashion. I wasn’t going to use those terms with her so I decided to ask Andrea to let the notes at the end of each phrase ring just a wee bit longer – let them breath and enjoy listening to them. I demonstrated on my guitar and she got it. I conducted a lot for Andrea and that seemed to help her stay on track with rhythm and emotion. I explained that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a lullaby and can be sung and played for babies. Andrea’s eyes lit up and she and her mom said that one of their family members was expecting a baby very soon. Andrea would play this song for the new baby. It was clear that Andrea now had a perfect understanding of the purposes of that song. I asked her to play and sing it as if the baby was in the room. She knocked it out of the park!! She had the correct notes, the correct rhythm and a great sense of musical expression. Someone in her family also had a birthday coming up. She was super excited to prepare Happy Birthday for that occasion.
It’s incredible to think that all of that learning and newfound love and affection for music arose, developed and came to full fruition in just over one month. I would have to say that it was a lifetime of preparation for me to get to point where I was emotionally, and spiritually ready as a teacher and musician to be able to work with Andrea in order to have us both learn so much about ourselves, the people around us and the reason why music is such an important part of our lives. Thanks to my students for showing me what’s really important!!    



Victor Wooten’s Ted Talk – Don’t Miss This!!!!


Until next time – surf it mellow my brothers and sisters! – The MD

5/50


             I was recently privileged to teach guitar lessons to a very young girl named Andrea - she was five years old, and the youngest student, by far, that I’d ever worked with. I’ve taught a boatload of lessons in my day including working with musicians from primary grades through the college and university ranks, as well as serious pro players at Line 6, but never a five year old. I soon realized that my challenges were not only going to be in working with Andrea in terms of lesson planning etc., but she was quite small in stature. How would she hold her guitar? Where would she sit? What would she understand? Well, whatever was on my mind at the time didn’t really matter, the lesson was upon us – time to get going.  

A quick and easy option for me was to suggest that Andrea and I work out of a beginning level guitar book. That sounded like a fantastic idea – right? After all, we were standing at the front desk where the books were being displayed - brilliant. I leaned over, grabbed a book, and proceeded to show it to Andrea and her mother. They both looked at me with big bright eyes, expressing a mild degree of stress and confusion when Maria, Andrea’s mom exclaimed: “Andrea can’t read, she’s too young, (awkward pause). This book won’t work.” My jaw dropped. Brendon, who was working at the sales desk was equally surprised to hear about this challenge – he later told me that his jaw dropped upon hearing that our new student couldn’t read. I think I kept my cool on the outside, but I was equally, if not more stressed and confused, on the inside. I had never taught a student that couldn’t read. This was a first for me. I’m 50 years old for crying out loud, I should know how to handle this. I had to think fast. And so, with my head swirling about with a bunch of  “what should I do scenarios,” the three of us proceeded to walk, in a single file line, back to my teaching studio.
Improvising and navigating through different learning styles and abilities on the fly is one of my strengths. I love it. But, this was different. There are entire schools, researchers, and philosophies dedicated to teaching music to very young children. Only one problem, I’ve never studied any of them. I’ve heard of the Suzuki method, but other then that, nada, zippo, nothing. I had to think fast. Then it dawned on me. I had just viewed a Ted Talk featuring Victor Wooten in which he spoke of the natural resting place of music, where it comes from, what it is, and what it’s not.
I had already spent quite a bit of time reflecting on that Ted talk. I had also participated in a discussion on the topic at our Tuesday morning Line 6 guitar class. As it turned out, those ideas were going to be pivotal for this guitar lesson. I knew, at that moment that this lesson would have to be taught from my heart, not my mind. My standard go to academic approach would have to be shelved – kicked to the curb. Time to let it flow, let the joy of music, and the love for new adventures and challenges take root. Let them take their own path, their own timing. It was time to let myself go forward with confidence and joy. And so I did, for the first time in my life, proceed without a safety net, no map, no directions, no method book, just my heart and 50 years of life experience. I was a bit nervous, but ready and excited to move forward. I was in the same place as Andrea. Neither one of us had any idea of what to expect.

It takes about 30 seconds to walk from the front desk back to my teaching studio. Lucky for me, that’s all the time that I needed. Suddenly the words “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” flashed into my head. Andrea is the perfect age for that song. It had only been a week or two since Peg, one of my adult students had asked to learn songs to sing and play to her nieces and nephews. Twinkle Twinkle was the first song that we worked on so it was fresh on my mind.  
Andrea and her mom’s eyes both lit up like Christmas trees when I said that we’d be working on “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” They were so excited. You’d think that they had won the musical lottery – that’s how much positive energy they exuded. In their minds and hearts they had won the musical lottery – so awesome to see and feel that energy. I pulled out a piece of paper and wrote down the first phrase of Twinkle Twinkle. I used tablature notation, and made sure to use large numbers. Tablature is a process for documenting guitar music that doesn’t require musicians to know how to read modern musical notation i.e. reading notes on the five line staff, or on the grand staff etc. I made a crude drawing of each of the six strings of the guitar and wrote down numbers indicating each fret where Andrea would need to place her fingers. The numbers alone don’t indicate rhythm, or right hand fingerings, but the melody is certainly there.

     Although Andrea didn’t have any issues with the melody, there were still a few other important issues for us to work out. Andrea’s mom purchased a small guitar that Andrea could hold in her lap. They also brought in a very small chair from home that was comfortable. I have a feeling that Andrea spent more time on her moms lap then on her chair because she didn’t seem to be comfortable in her chair during our lessons. So, on her mom’s lap she sat!! No big deal because the fact is that something very unexpected and profound arose from their seating position. I was pleasantly surprised and happy to feel two times the energy, two times the joy and an overall incredible execution of musical expression that could only have come from two people, mother and daughter participating as one. Cool idea they that two of them came up with and musically and emotionally powerful to boot. I don’t think the outcome was in their minds when they decided to sit that way, but they sure felt it when Andrea performed.   

     There was no way for me not to have fun and experience lots of joy when I was working with Andrea and her mom. I was transforming from being an academic to being a fun and happy person, musician and teacher. I never lost sight of Victor Wooten’s talk. I was not only in charge of making, or breaking this five year olds love for music, but for her love and respect for her future music teachers as well. It was a lot of responsibility on my shoulders to nurture her through her first experience with learning a musical instrument.

In terms of our lessons, we spent the first couple of weeks getting Andrea comfortable with reading tablature. By the third week she understood enough of the tablature to be able to play all of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. I made sure to sing every time she played so she could hear the lyrics and the melody in her head and feel them in her heart. I’m a horrible singer, but it got the job done. Kids that age don’t judge – Andrea seemed to enjoy my singing – it was all a part of expressing our joy together. We were singing, and playing guitars and laughing. I was beginning to understand and internalize what Victor Wooten spoke of in his Ted Talk.

We didn’t spend a single second on music theory, reading music, or interpreting time signatures. We didn’t work with a metronome. Although all of those skills and techniques are very important at some point in a musician’s development, it was not at all important to us. It was such a huge breakthrough for me. I’ve spent many years in academia. This was a great release and lesson for me on getting to the root, and to the heart of the music, learning to wade through all of the academic and music related minutia – I was learning how to use my heart – not just my mind.
My next great challenge was how to work with Andrea on rhythm and her emotional, and musical expression. I needed to do all of that without introducing any music theory. The first thing that came to my mind was “stall.” I needed some time to figure this out. Happy Birthday. Perfect, I’ll sketch that song out in Tablature and consider it a great way to continue working with Andrea on how to read tab and learn notes on the top three strings, not note names - just pitches, timbres and hand positions etc. I was also betting that she could sing the words and the melody to Happy Birthday in her sleep.

Great idea for sure, Andrea and her mom had a similar reaction to learning that song as they did with Twinkle Twinkle. I sketched out the first phrase to Happy Birthday and away we went. I was still gently nudging Andrea to memorize her songs. I flipped her music pages over periodically to test her memory. That seemed like a good idea but I noticed that Andrea was a bit taken back from time to time so I eventually stopped doing it. I knew that there wasn’t any real reason to have her memorize the songs if it made here anxious, or nervous. None of us wanted that so I stopped suggesting or pushing. We completed all of the phrases for Happy Birthday and Andrea was off and running with two songs!

Week four. Andrea came back and was eager and excited to play both songs for me while sitting in her moms lap. I took out the music for her and asked which song she would like to play first. Andrea looked at me with great confidence and said “I don’t need the music, please flip the page over.” She was basically saying, “I’ve go this, I don’t need any charts!” It was awesome. I was shocked and yet so happy and amazed. She proceeded to play the melodies for both Twinkle Twinkle and Happy Birthday and from memory – wow!!

Week five. So… now she had the melodies from memory, but what to do with the rhythm – hum? Then it came to me. “Hey Andrea,” I exclaimed. How about singing while you play? Why don’t you sing Twinkle Twinkle. Even better how about us singing together while you play the melody. Without hesitation she began to play and sing and I guess it was the singing that pulled the melody along because she played perfectly in time and with great expression– I was absolutely blown away and astounded. I guess it makes sense that her singing tied the whole thing together. She did the same thing with Happy Birthday. She couldn’t play the song on the guitar as a standalone exercise but when she added the singing then it all came together – incredible.

  There was one more important hurdle. Andrea was playing with a very hard attack. She was playing the notes in a very short, and rather rigid fashion. I wasn’t going to use those terms with her so I decided to ask Andrea to let the notes at the end of each phrase ring just a wee bit longer – let them breath and enjoy listening to them. I demonstrated on my guitar and she got it. I conducted a lot for Andrea and that seemed to help her stay on track with rhythm and emotion. I explained that Twinkle Twinkle Little Star is a lullaby and can be sung and played for babies. Andrea’s eyes lit up and she and her mom said that one of their family members was expecting a baby very soon. Andrea would play this song for the new baby. It was clear that Andrea now had a perfect understanding of the purposes of that song. I asked her to play and sing it as if the baby was in the room. She knocked it out of the park!! She had the correct notes, the correct rhythm and a great sense of musical expression. Someone in her family also had a birthday coming up. She was super excited to prepare Happy Birthday for that occasion.

It’s incredible to think that all of that learning and newfound love and affection for music arose, developed and came to full fruition in just over one month. I would have to say that it was a lifetime of preparation for me to get to point where I was emotionally, and spiritually ready as a teacher and musician to be able to work with Andrea in order to have us both learn so much about ourselves, the people around us and the reason why music is such an important part of our lives. Thanks to my students for showing me what’s really important!!    



Victor Wooten’s Ted Talk – Don’t Miss This!!!!



Until next time – surf it mellow my brothers and sisters! – The MD

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Coulter - The Rescue Dog








            
I was walking to Starbucks this morning to meet my buddy Johnny C when a song suddenly popped into my mind. Then it dawned on me that it was my song – what? I had completely forgotten about it. We have a family reunion on my wife’s side every four years - it’s coming up again this summer. Maybe I was thinking about the upcoming reunion without realizing it, which in turn, jogged my memory of the long lost track “Coulter,” dating back to September 27, 2011.
About 100 people attend the Coulter family reunion every 4 years. The last reunion was held at the Doublehead Resort in Town Creek, Alabama. It was a total blast. We enjoyed fantastic meals, lots of activities, cold beers and long evenings reminiscing, laughing and catching up. There was one difference this particular year, the daily appearance of a dog that seemed to be abandoned. That’s enough to tug at the old heartstrings! Enter Natalie Hucke and her family. They not only took care of that dog during the week by feeding and petting her, but they also followed up after returning home to Annapolis, Maryland. It turned out that the dog had in fact been abandoned - so what did Natalie do? She hauled her butt back to Alabama and adopted that dog and honored her with the “Coulter” family name.
I was inspired to compose this jam in honor of the amazing story of the indescribable compassion, bond and love between all of us.

Until next time - surf it mellow my brothers and sisters - the MD

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Into The Light


Relaxing Music perfect for everything from kicking back and unwinding to getting into deep meditation - I took this picture on my phone at Rincon Beach - one of my favorite spots!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Southern Guitar Charm

Southern Guitar Charm
Inspired to Study Improvisation Again
A New Birth 
  


What is Southern Guitar charm?  It’s a phrase representative of my newfound adventure into finally learning how to improvise in a meaningful and fulfilling way. I’m finally learning how to express myself in a way that I’ve always wanted to, and in a way that I’ve always dreamed of.  It hasn’t been easy and the journey certainly continues. After all, one can improvise from the very first day that they pick up their guitar, but that’s only the beginning. It’s a long road between jamming on the first pentatonic scales to full blown control over the guitar neck and musical sensibilities. The exploration of music improvisation is a lifetime endeavor – it never ends. 
I love to teach. I’m constantly thinking of new approaches to age-old questions like what comes first, the chicken or the egg? How about the cart, or the horse? How do these questions apply to music improvisation?  Do you learn the scales and theory first? Or, do you step back looking for a specific goal for your soloing and use that as the prize that will entice you to practice relentlessly? I think it’s a combination of the two. Your study of scales and theory coupled with playing music in a band, or in your home studio will lend improvement in both areas proving that they are both necessary. But, It’s important to have something to work towards whether it’s a specific style, genre, or artist. I always thought that my soloing would develop through studying be bop jazz and fusion but it never seemed to click for me. Why?
 I’ve listened to gazillions of guitarists and have attempted to learn something about all of their styles of playing. Only one problem, I’m not them, and they’re not me. Taking a guitar riff, or a lick, and trying to incorporate it into my own style of playing didn’t really work, at least in the earliest stages. Playing real book tunes never seemed to draw me in for one reason or another. I’ve always had a feeling that something deeper and more meaningful was missing from my somewhat academic approach to soloing. It wasn’t the music that was the problem; it was me being able to relate to the music – that was the problem. I needed to find a style of music that would draw me in and create a need and a desire in me to practice relentlessly with joy and purpose.
There were two huge factors in my finally being able to have a firm grasp on soloing. One was the fact that I’ve spent a couple of years teaching employees at Line 6. I teach and work with adults who are already really good guitarists. They’ve been interested in learning a few solo guitar songs, which wasn’t a problem for me. I had done a lot of that in the past. But, they also wanted to learn how to get better at improvising – uh oh – that’s something that I was also struggling with. I wanted to come up with something that we could work on that would stretch us all, make us all better players, and teach us all something that we didn’t already know.
The perfect idea came to me. I spent quite a few years living on the east coast. I was a huge fan of southern rock as well as the guitar wizardry of guys like Chet Atkins and Jerry Reed. I’m a huge fan of Brent Mason, Greg Koch and JD Simo. They all employ a technique known as “hybrid picking.” I didn’t know much about it. . I had always played the guitar, one of two ways; either with a flat-pick using no additional fingers on the right hand, or with fingers only and no pick, as in the traditional style of classical guitarists. It was either the pick, or finger style for me as opposed to a playing with a combination of the two. I had spent many years studying and teaching primarily in the classical guitar discipline. This was my chance to step out of my comfort zone and get my improvisation skills up to snuff once and for all! 
It was time to combine my thirst for putting together killer solos with working on a brand new style of playing. I finally found something that inspired me to the point that I couldn’t stop picking up the guitar at every spare moment. I was about to enter a new exciting world of music that would allow me to combine much of what I had already learned in jazz and classical music. I was once again excited about studying and practicing improvisation and technique.
I took this challenge to my students. We set off on a journey to work with hybrid picking and learning the paramount principles of what goes into a great guitar solo. I challenged myself to come up with a succinct, concise way to explain soloing and to make it easy for students to process and access. I have lots of method books on soloing. Many of them are so complicated and over stated that you can’t make heads or tails out of the material unless you’re already an advanced improviser.  It took me a couple of years but I’ve done it - thanks to working with the Line 6 gang, and also thanks to my most recent studying of the Nashville guitar style. I finally have a method of teaching and understanding for improvisation that’s easy to comprehend and fun to learn. I finally found an improvisational style that makes my heart sing!! I had incorporated a new rack of spices into my playing, a newfound Southern Charm.

I’m employing the thumb pick technique that Brent Mason uses. Get an up close look at Brent’s technique on this teaching video – it’s killer!



                Until next time – surf it mellow my brothers and sisters – the MD