LIVE in THE SPOTLIGHT
- How to practice: exploring strategies and tactics in an aging body through book reviews, interviews, personal anecdotes, with the goal of staying happy, healthy and focused.
- Attitude: what it is a good attitude, how does helps us to learn and persevere, which daily tactics help us to acquire or keep a good one, what to do if yours needs a tune up?
- Metacognition: what it is, what it can teach us about learning, resources for study, conferences, and in practice.
- Intrinsic motivation: what it is, how it helps us to learn and persevere as we age, how to help those we mentor with theirs.
Remember when we were young and we had to put up with grumpy old men complaining that the Beatles ruined everything. Or, Disco, or Grunge, or synthesizers, or what-ever. Well Cats, we are now that age. How do we come across? Positive, open, excited, contributing? Or grumpy, complaining, and a drag to be around to anyone who still has their hair in its original colour?
In the past couple of weeks, I found myself in situations where I didn't know what the hell was going on, I was way over my head, and/or I didn't give a tinker's damn.
1. Jam session: A younger musician, though by no means a kid, plays the "Dilla Beat" behind his jazz singing wife. At least I knew what he was playing, having recently checked out the roots of this beat in Detroit Hip Hop of late last century, this jazz musician was intrigued, but not overwhelmed. Take a listen.
2. Piano workshop with young kids. The teacher asked ahead of time if I knew some current tunes. She named the titles. I hadn't a clue. I did some research and all went well. But, I had never heard of some of these tunes. A clear case of not knowing you don't know.
3. Our classic rock rehearsal band starts playing "metal". The guitarist hands me double bass drum pedals. Ooooooooboy. What the heck are these things for? It gets better. He books us at an outdoor street festival in June.
What to do?
Strategy one: Don't give a hoot. Complain loudly that that isn't music and take a seat at the table of cranky old farts.
Strategy two: Dilla, I'm not sure where I stand here. I'm checking it out. It sounds cool, but I've got to admit it isn't singing my song. Current pop tunes, I'll ask my students their favs. Maybe we can dedicate the month of June to Pop music of their choice. Double bass pedals? I found a drummer who will teach and coach me to be ready for the June festival. Rock on baby!
Most of us need a reason to practice: David Story, musician
· Self-respect: we are musicians, musicians practice, it's what we do. Feeling unmotivated? Join a new band, find a practice partner, volunteer at the local school to help the jazz band, or even better offer to start and run one as a volunteer. I know about this, I did it for over 20 years at Westdale high school in Hamilton, Ontario
· Identity: Keith Richards said in an interview years ago, something to this effect. "A guy may not have gigged in years, but every Saturday afternoon he feels like packing up his gear and putting it in the car".
· Self-esteem: Like fitness, starting can be hard, but afterwards bliss.
Check out James Clear's short essay on deliberate practice. Short cut to practice joy and mindfulness at the instrument.
It's going to happen. "The old grey mare ain't what she used to be". The only way to escape this inevitability is to check out early. Not my plan.
Lars Ulrich of Metallica fame has a personal trainer on site in the office. The band tours in 2 week bursts having giving up the 1.5 year tours. Booze way down. Sensible eating. Boundaries around his work ethic. Goal: avoid burnout and last another decade or more on the heavy metal merry go round.
Terry Clark of Boss Brass fame rebuild his technique to survive as a player in his 70's. So far, so good. Time is spent playing, teaching, and walking the dog.
As always, we need to pace ourselves, sleep enough, fuel up with healthy choices, and manage stress with down time and exercise. The smart folks get professional input before undertaking any radical change. You don't want to drop dead in the gym.
For me it happened in my late forties. I was tired and didn't give a fuck anymore. Thirty-two years of playing, booking, recording, and producing on demand: Weddings, corporate, studio, civic, theatre, clubs, you name it this guy has done it. From Billionaires to Paupers with all stops in between. One day I said, "I'm done". But, I'm still a musician. Now what?
I found answers, your answers will be different.
If you have been at it for decades, there sensible solutions to your problems too.
Transforming oneself from "Professional musician" to "Musical artist" in one's fifties is an interesting proposition. The cynic in me interprets that as playing for free music that nobody likes. The romantic in me says, "go for it". The realist in me just wants to have some fun and make beautiful music with skilled musicians and visionaries. Music we create ourselves.
Artist: Someone who makes stuff, creative stuff like musical compositions, poems, paintings, installations, movies etc. that help people make sense of their world.
Entertainer: Someone who makes life easier for others to bear through performing on stage, internet, T.V, movies, apps, blogs etc.
Professional musician: Someone who interprets the work an entertainer or artist. Artists and Entertainers put the "stuff" in front of the musician. The vision belongs to them. We are paid to play it.
Skill, experience, training, ambition, and hustle is required for all the above. But both artists and entertainers need vision. Musician not so much.
A Plan for Transformation
"‘Beauty is our weapon against nature; by it we make objects, giving them limit, symmetry, proportion. Beauty halts and freezes the melting flux of nature." Camille Paglia
Here is a heroic vision, a romantic vision, and really outdated vision in the age of identity politics, polarized populations, war and terrorism. My two cents.
Song: Girl from Ipanema
Drummer: Yours truly
Attitude: Improving with each chorus
Ages of musicians: I calculate roughly 25 to 65, a forty year spread
Why still jam?
What is an attitude adjustment? That’s a good question. What do you think? I think it is dissatisfaction with your status quo or “stinkin thinkin’” that leads to action so that dark days become sunnier.
A good attitude verse a bad attitude
It was easier in the old days because we played weekly gigs. Some of us remember 6 nights a week and weekend matinees. But, like everything else this is a new day. No point lamenting the "good 'ol days".
Gerald Klickstein suggests making repertoire lists and creating a maintenance schedule that cycles through this list. The cycle length is determined by the complexity of the music. So, 100 Jazz Standards (for a basic jamming list see http://www.hopestreetmusicstudios.com/articles/100-must-know-jazz-tunes) The first list has 50 tunes, I know 25 intimately. No point spending time on those. That leaves 25 needing a tune up.
Some great ideas here: https://www.quora.com/Whats-the-best-spaced-repetition-schedule
Every goal needs a why big enough to keep us going when the going gets tough. My why? I'm enjoying playing jazz around town in jam sessions. On drums I'm cool. On piano I've a few frustrations with my repertoire being a little rusty. It is a point of pride that jazz musicians play from memory. No fakebooks, or apps on the phone to get us through. I had to use an iReal B to get through "There will never be another you" last Thursday. Sax player, my age, looked at the phone and said, "so that's how it's going to be?" How embarrassing.
Here my plan of getting 25 more Jazz Standards back into my working memory using the 2X2X2 method of spaced repetition as advocated on the quora site.
In a nutshell: review each tune practiced the following day then in ten days, in thirty days, and finally sixty days. To which I'll add: keeping a playlist of tunes on my phone to listen to in the car.
Day One: Tune A
Day Two: Tune A and tune B
Day Three Tune B and tune C
Day Ten: Tune A (at this point I'm reviewing three tunes a day, one in depth, two less so)
Day Eleven: Tune B
Day Thirty: Tune A (at this point I'm reviewing four tunes a day, one in depth, three less so)
Day Sixty: Tune A (at this point I'm reviewing five tunes a day, one in depth, four less so)
At this point Tune A should be stuck in there. I'll keep you up to date on my progress. And, at Jams I'll suggest tunes from the new list.
I'm seven years in. Here is what I learned from the experience.
From my facebook post of Sunday night.
"Played a show tonight with Glen Hall and Diane Roblin as a drummer. It has been an interesting journey taking up this instrument and progressing to the point where I'm welcomed to join in. This ongoing experience of learning has reinforced the obvious.
1. Start with desire. "Without desire you have nothing" Nadia Boulanger
2. Get a great teacher. Thank you Terry Clarke, Paul DeLong, Gregory Hutchinson, and Kevin Dempsey.
3. Make time to practice.
4. Get out there and play."
To which I'd add, "screw fear".
"Metacognition - Wikipedia
Metacognition is "cognition about cognition", "thinking about thinking", or "knowing about knowing" and higher order thinking skills. It comes from the root word "meta", meaning beyond. It can take many forms; it includes knowledge about when and how to use particular strategies for learning or for problem solving."
In short, taking responsibility for our own learning to avoid the following.
“Why People Fail to Recognize Their Own Incompetence” (2003). They found that “people tend to be blissfully unaware of their incompetence,” lacking “insight about deficiencies in their intellectual and social skills.” They identified this pattern across domains—from test-taking, writing grammatically, thinking logically, to recognizing humor, to hunters’ knowledge about firearms and medical lab technicians’ knowledge of medical terminology and problem-solving skills. In short, “if people lack the skills to produce correct answers, they are also cursed with an inability to know when their answers, or anyone else’s, are right or wrong”. https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/metacognition/
This short article is worth a quick read and a moment of reflection. The authors present several helpful suggestions to help us grow as learners (musicians). I will leave you with this strategy which I've adapted for musicians.
"How did the gig go last night?"
"I don't know, but I made a recording off the bandstand. Let's listen and discuss the results at the next rehearsal"
Competence or incompetence exposed. To grow as humans, we got to man up to the truth. Or woman up as the case may be.
David Story: Professional pianist, drummer, composer, and educator. Well into his 4th enthusiastic musical decade, David works with adults pursuing musical dreams in the autumn of life, while he maintains an active presence in the Toronto arts scene.