The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
The Story Of An Unlikely Dream
To Become A Musician
One foot in front of the other, big step, small step just keep em coming and we’ll get there. That’s always the goal, the how and why are crucial but the steps are what makes it all happen as long as we make sure they’re going in the right direction.
Yesterday I had a guitar lesson and it wasn’t like any I’d had before. For the first time I “jammed” with my teacher as part of the work I’m doing on my confidence/tension issues. The results were surprising, very much so in a good way. Everything I’m doing genuinely seems to be working and I actually did ok, felt relaxed, had control and enjoyed it (ish). I’ll leave the (ish) out of this because it’s complicated but let’s take the win!
But there’s more... today for the first time I managed to play without “anxiety loss”. Just once but just once is a huge breakthrough after six years. Not the jamming (that was full of flaws but still much better than I expected), it was the rhythm guitar ive been learning. I played through once and it was meh but still better than normal by a long way for a “once only try”. Then I did a second take and with the backing track pulled down in volume (thus upping the pressure) and I performed so better, as my teacher put it, 50% better! I actually played it as well as I do on my own when I’ve been warmed up. That’s never happened before on any instrument.
I was actually focusing on my movements and how normally that would make matters worse ... FAR worse but today it made things better, substantially so. The changes are working but it also means so is the practice, the combination of method and psychology are working in multiple ways but it is just the start of a long road. Still a start is great!
I spent half my lesson complimenting my drum teacher and guitar teacher. I really do love these guys. Thanks to them I’m doing the impossible and yes it is down to me too, after all I’m the one who’s fighting hard and I’m the one winning but not without their incredible help.
Why I was predestined to end up here even though I don’t believe in destiny.
When I was 5 my Mum took guitar lessons, only for a short while but watching her play set something alight in me. I had already developed a love of music even at that age and from then on it grew & grew! We’d watch Top Of The Pops, listen to the Top 40 every week & I’d obsess over my parents record collection. Music was always on in the car, I got Walkman’s, Diskmans and stereos I had on constantly. I loved (and continue to love) music so much.
To continue...! My mum bought a piano for my brother to learn but he was judged too young by the teacher (I was around 8-9) and a few years later I would get a taste too but the method of learning (terrible teacher) and the time (it would be decades before I developed the skills I needed to really learn) wasn’t right but the seed was sewn.
Around the time I stopped learning piano a girl in my music class tried out a set of drums during our class. Rare for a set to be there but maybe it was fate!! She could just do it (Sam could just do EVERYTHING!) and I remember feeling sooooo incredibly jealous and in awe too. It had never occurred to me girls could play drums and it still didn’t that “I” could. As I grew older my friends at school always seemed to played guitar and I wanted to so badly too but even when I got one I didn’t know what to do with it. I just never seemed to be able to germinate that seed.
And so it was sewn and left buried..... for decades. As a final twist it turns out my dad was a fan of drumming (explains why he took me to jazz sessions as a kid ... I HATED it) and actually had a kit at one point but it never took. I only discovered that very recently too. So as crazy as this life is, it isn’t as surprising as it might seem. My great grandfather was a radio pianist, very talented from what I’ve heard. My mum was drawn to guitar & piano, my dad drums and I was fed GREAT music constantly from an early age. It was always there and once the sapling finally appeared it was always going to grow into something incredibly big.
This wasn’t predictable in any way, quite the opposite in fact but it certainly shows how it happened isn’t random at all.
I thought I’d give a specific example of the kind of things I’m exploring within this strategy. It’s an exercise I’ve visited before so I had some muscle memory, I’ve generally improved in the techniques the exercise utilises and until I’m tested in lesson, to see whether the progress sticks and therefore works, it’s very much my opinion on the success of it. Ultimately it’s hard to measure this stuff short term, the results have to be replicated regularly under different circumstances and then built on to see a consistent curve of success that shows the method works. But the thought process behind this is valid for all kinds of things from learning a new computer program to solving a puzzle to doing your shopping in the most efficient way!
Just remember the exercises themselves help but it’s the ANALYSIS and adaptation that is what I’m really working on. The science part.
This is the exercise and what I’m doing is breaking it down in different ways. I work on just playing all the left accents through the exercise. Then just the right. Then both. Then I’ll work on the doubles keeping the roll going and doing a bar or two of each combination and seeing if I can make it smooth. Then looping the doubles & accent combinations and looking for exactly where tension and anticipation starts to affect things (and when). I’m listening for a change in clarity so I can pinpoint the moment I’m losing control and work out why. What I want is each stroke to be independent and not reliant or anticipation takes over and the flow is lost.
I look at ALL the combinations of movement to try and work out what’s comfortable and what’s feeling forced or sloppy. Then I look at why, hand position, tension, approach, technique, finger movements, body position etc. That’s where the science comes in then I work on trying to work on that specific issue. It’s a much more fussy way of doing it but it’s working on the details as much as the combinations themselves to isolate problem areas.
In other words I’m trying to make each stroke whether it’s an accent or a double or a normal stroke be it’s own individual controlled intentional fluid movement within the roll. Harder than it sounds, I’m not very good at it but I am seeing improvement especially in my overall tension.
Like I said this is a work in progress. The idea here is to look for specific combinations of movements that are not feeling natural and then drill them and work out the tension, learning to feel it, watching how I move, how I transition and learning how it feels.
So far the results are promising and I’m finding at 90bpm I can read the full Etude playing through focusing a lot more on just the roll and yet thinking a lot less letting my eyes tell me accent/double. It’s a start but that may all go down in flames in my next lesson. What I need to do is to see what improvement I can hold on to, look for where it breaks down and figure out why. I won’t explain how you can use this to shop more efficiently but you’ll just have to take my word for it! It’s the WAY of thinking not necessarily the specific methods which unfortunately change from activity to activity hence why it’s taking me so long to work out how to apply it here.
I don’t KNOW if this will work but I do know that I need to find some way to compensate for my shortcomings as a player and I’ll keep trying until I find it. I have a very good feeling about this though, long term at least.
It was Autism Awareness Day on Friday so I thought I’d talk a little about that today. When I tell people I think differently to them 99.9 out of 100 dismiss me. They either make comments like “we’re all different” or they give me THAT smile that I’ve seen so many times. I can’t read people but I recognise THAT smile when I see it ... and I see it a lot.. The mistake people make is assuming I think it’s a good thing & that I’m saying I’m better than others. It’s not & I’m definitely not.
I overcomplicate literally everything. It certainly has benefits but those benefits represent 5% of the whole experience 95% it’s just complicating my life. I care so much about people but I always say or do something to make people angry or cause them to get fed up with or tired of me. I often misinterpret what people are saying and can never seem to communicate what I’m saying. I’m such a brave, adventurous person but I’m suffocated by so much fear. I have so many ideas and have no one to share them with. I feel so much emotion all the time and am not able to regulate it.
No Im not saying it’s good to think differently but I do and while it does upset me I try to make the best of it. I apply my over thinking to my passions and to other peoples problems, I try to help as much as I can. I try to recognise patterns in peoples behaviour so that I can connect their words to them and try to understand their meaning and try to avoid upsetting people (this I’m least successful with). I pour my emotions into my music and I use my empathy to make sure I’m always there for people if they need me, I’d never turn down a request for help not even from an enemy (even though I probably should).
They say if you’ve met one Autistic person you’ve met one Autistic person and my (admittedly limited) knowledge really backs up that view. Everything I read or learn and my experience with my father and my son highlights just how different we all are even though we are all so similar too. Recognising others on the spectrum is much easier for those of us who are which is why I suspected my son was, after I suspected I was, after learning my father was. It wasn’t the genetic relationship that set off the alarm bells it was the similarities in our thought processes and the pattern of problems we shared because of them. I’ve found on social media that others on the spectrum recognise it in me easily while “normal” (no one is actually normal but to me you guys are a very different species) people often dismiss me and refuse to believe I’m even on the spectrum. That’s because what they’re looking for is behaviours but it’s the way we think that’s different and that SOMETIMES leads to different behaviours.
One further thought. I have spent my whole life trying to learn how to fit into the world of neurotypical people .... to date NO ONE not even my hubby has spent any time trying to learn how to fit into mine. At best people make allowances for me and they put up with my quirks never considering just how much I have to do that for them...! Now imagine what it’s like to hear those comments or get THAT smile? It hurts a great deal, especially because I care about that person automatically and would absolutely help them if they asked.
No I’m definitely not saying I’m different is a good thing but yes... I do think I am special, not better than anyone else but I am very special. So as you read this blog try to bear in mind what you take away from my posts may not be what I intended but as long as you find something positive to help you then ... as we say down here in Australia ... “It’s all good”!
That’s my current go to learning strategy right now but it’s taken me a long, long time to realise how to use it. I’ve had to learn all about the “elements” within each technique in order to understand how I can connect them to achieve what I want and even now I’m still only beginning to really make ANY progress with it.
So while it sounds obvious it’s really not. It’s not the same as “going slow” or “practicing each note consciously” it’s about focusing on the science behind it all. The physiology, the physics and the sequence of events and connecting it all to my motions, muscles, sensations and learning to make it all work together fluidly.
I’m not very good at it yet mainly because I don’t know enough but the more I do it the more I’m learning. I believe this will be one of the biggest solutions to my tension problem but also to my co-ordination issues and of course combined they’ll make a difference to my flow and confidence... eventually.
This is a mammoth area and it’ll take decades to learn but I’ll be benefiting more & more as I learn. It requires me to consider what’s happening and what I want to happen and work the science behind how to get from one to the other. The first things I tried this on were my double strokes and my bass drum technique and obviously they took years for me to figure out even how to start but eventually I did - I didn’t find perfection but I found the progress I needed to break free of my “push the pull door” problem. I haven’t solved every (many to go!) problem because I’m not aware of every problem and I have so much to even start to yet working on but the important thing is I took what I learned from that and applied to new areas.
It works. The results are consistent even if they’re still rough, progress is progress and this thought process works. Logically it should of course because that’s what they use to train athletes but with music it’s different. When I do a new action now or learn a new groove I first try to do it to feel where the tension is or what it sounds like. I then break it down as far as I can looking at exactly what is happening with me, the instrument, my sticks or pick or fingers/thumb etc. I think about the movement (start, finish positions and how it all relates). I try to understand what each hand is doing which is definitely NOT an original concept it’s what we should be doing but I try dig a little deeper and connect that to myself.
I’ll leave it there because right now I don’t know WHAT I’m doing only that my instinct (and what I do know about recommended practice) says I’m on the right path. The first step took a few years so I’m not expecting fast results from this but the fact I’ve been able to replicate results and build on them is very good. This is one of the hardest parts of all this, trusting our instincts and knowing when to keep going and when to quit. We won’t always be right, there’s no manual and we’re all different but part of learning how to learn and getting good at it is trying, trying, trying, trying, trying.
Just keep trying and keep paying attention, adjust, tweak, adapt, be brave, be creative, no idea is bad but try to learn which ones have merit and which don’t. What you’ll find - what I found - was that it was my so called silly ideas that had the most value because they pushed me much harder in trying to make them work and that opened my mind up more and stopped me assuming, stopped me being lazy or complacent and it developed my creativity in the most amazing ways. The thing I had to learn and it took me a long time was to milk it and dump it as fast as possible. Don’t invest too much in the wrong ideas.
I’ve mentioned before about my past owning a business. It’s a really bitter (mostly) sweet thing for me because I did have a beautiful business, I did love my products and they ultimately benefited my life and my children in huge ways. I owned a traditional toy shop and as you can imagine I applied myself in much the same way I do to this, it was quite something. We still have soooo many of the beautiful games and toys and they’ll go down to my grand kiddies some day and maybe even theirs. I could never have afforded this lot so I feel very privileged to own it. But there was another good side to it too, I learned the skills I now apply to all this. I learned how to learn, I learned how to force myself to do things I REALLY didn’t want to do but had to, I learned how to think outside the box, I learned how to fight, I learned how to be patient, I built up resilience and I learned problem solving skills I never could without basically spending 6 years bailing out a sinking ship. I was once told by someone that I was the only person who could have kept that business afloat as long as I did. I wasn’t the only one who could have obviously, I’m not that amazing (or at all really) but I do believe I put up a very impressive fight.
The question is… should I have? The answer is NO NO NO NO NO.
I made three HUGE mistakes.
People tell me to forget the past, to put it behind me after all we all make mistakes right? Yes of course and we shouldn’t bury ourselves in them at the cost of moving forwards. So surely as much as it cost us (everything and MORE) I should forgive my mistakes especially as they were made with good intentions? Yes of course I should and I do but…. should I forget them? NO. I don’t drag them around and wallow in them and I don’t let them prevent me moving forwards .... obviously. After all how many people would decide “oh I know I’ll be a multi-instrumentalist songwriter starting from scratch at the age of 39” after that kind of huge failure? I think not many so I’m definitely not shy of giving it another go even in crazy ways. What I am shy of is not learning from my mistakes and repeating them. I must absolutely be aware of EVERY mistake I made, not just what the mistake was but how I could have prevented it, so as to be aware when there’s a threat of me repeating them and that has helped me more than I can stress.
I’ll take the three big mistakes above and demonstrate how I use them regularly to guide me.
One other thing I learned the hard way is make sure it’s worth the effort full stop, that can be long term benefit of course but ultimately think, choose well and know when to STOP. I do make bad choices but now I know when to let go, cut my loses and move on. I made one of those choices this week, a very hard one but I realised that after much effort the wall was getting bigger not smaller and that I was still hammering away at it because I wanted to get through it so I stopped to ask if I genuinely thought I could. I have no regrets for trying but in the end if I kept trying I knew I’d not only not succeed but the act of trying was putting my health at risk. Tough choices like this are not easy but they’re much clearer to me now because I keep my past mistakes very fresh in my memory.
Now and again they do throw a dark cloud over me but I simply dig in harder, make sure I’m more productive and come out better for it. I’ll never let my past own me, instead I will use it to make sure this one works as much as I CAN… ultimately the last lesson I learned is that I don’t have full control, there’s far too many other factors at work. All I can do is try to be aware of as many as I can, be flexible and yet resolved, be open and yet decisive, dig in but know when to let go, evolve but be sure why and believe in the dream but not without constantly questioning it.
Once bitten twice shy.... that's an understatment! The full story would make a good book some day… maybe I'll write it when I find a happy ending.
Holiday plans... rest? Of course not!!! Where’s the fun in that.
Nope it’ll be full steam ahead for me. Drum song to finish learning, new one to learn, old one to keep working on. Single stroke rolls, sextuplet rolls, paradiddle-diddles, accents, and six stroke Etude to relearn. Started a new Pink Floyd guitar solo to start working on my chops and feel. Rhythm guitar practice still ongoing. Bass is about starting a new slap song, carry on working Can’t Stop up to performance standard and whatever comes up next lesson. Songs to finish, songs to start! Covers to do, original Blues song to write. Problems to keep chipping away at and three weeks is suddenly a very short period of time.
I don’t need any more to work on but I got some more inspiration in my lesson today. Side note on that, definitely noticing the new approaches paying off which is such a relief. Still a mountain (actually about 20!) to climb but I take what I can get. Anyway....
After my “performance” this week my teacher gave me some feedback or more like suggestions and really stirred up some ideas on how I can get extra mileage from the songs and how I can use them long term. What I love about working creatively with people is that ideas can come from anywhere and when they argue out an idea it sparks new ones in my head because I’m either a) agreeing and deciding how to approach or use it or b) I disagree but I’m trying to work out why it’s not appropriate and often decide upon what would be but at the same time I’m considering how the idea could benefit me. This thought process sparks more feedback and more ideas and... you get the point. I love it!!!
Anyway back to the point the three ideas I like most (a mix of mine & his).
I love getting new ideas!
Learning Time Log
How long I've been learning as at at the end of Mar 2021.
What's This About?
One fateful day I decided to get guitar lessons. 6 years later I'm learning four instruments and trying to become a musician and songwriter. I set a five year goal (Aug 2021) to create a very special song for my 25th wedding anniversary and this is a record of my crazy journey, weird thoughts, strange doodles and unapologetic music obsession! Enjoy!