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It’s Getting Better All the Time

Hello Troubadourians! January. Time for New Year’s resolutions. Or not. I’m not one for artificial and external “reasons” for making changes. I am of the opinion that actual change happens because a person finds something in their life to be intolerable and change becomes inevitable. If that sounds a little too esoteric and intense for a music and gear-centric column, please bear with me. When I listen to folks talking about their New Year’s resolutions, my first thought is always: when did you realize that something in your life required resolving, and why didn’t you do something about it then? I’m reminded of a meme that is a picture of a cat and is captioned: Don’t blame the holidays; you were fat in August. If you were enjoying a barefoot romp in July and you happened to get a sliver of glass in your foot, would you wait until January to remove it? I didn’t think so. Which is the reason why I wonder about New Year’s resolutions and how sincere or effective they are. But, if your resolution somehow involves music; your commitment to practice and learning, your desire to expand your genres and tastes, or especially if you have resolved to obtain better gear or improve your stagecraft, then I think it is my obligation to assist your efforts.

If you want to improve your practice regimen, start now. Don’t wait until after the holidays or “until things settle down,” because they aren’t going to settle down. They didn’t last year, did they? No, and they won’t next year either. Unless you make your living as a professional musician—and sometimes not even then—you have to steal the time to learn and practice whenever you can. If you are fortunate enough to be able to create a scheduled time for practice, then that’s great, but it’s far more likely that you’ll have to make time whenever you can. What you need to resolve is that you will jealously make time for your music and make the most of that time when you are practicing and studying. You have to want it and believe that you deserve it. If you don’t, you’ll never get better. You also have to love the work. Let me say that again; you have to love the work. Ask yourself what you enjoy the most about playing music. There are no wrong answers, only what it true for you. But if your ambition involves performing onstage, for an audience, then you will need to put in the work to get there. On average, the amount of time that you spend performing is a very small fraction of the time you spend working on your music. This applies no matter the level to which you rise. Whether your scope is a couple of songs at an Open Mic Night or headlining a world tour of your own music, there is far more work-time that precedes (and follows) a performance than there is performance-time. If you don’t enjoy the work, you won’t be around to enjoy the performance. If you can’t claim the Little Red Hen as a lover, you’ll never be believable as the Little Red Rooster.

Expanding your genre tastes can be as simple as putting a new CD from an unfamiliar artist into the CD player of your car and listening while you commute or run errands. If you find yourself waiting in the car for a song to finish before going into work or into a store then you’ll know you’re on to something. Some things require more than one listening to understand especially if it’s way out of your normal comfort zone. What was it that brought you to this music? Something new from an old favorite? The recommendation of a friend? A song you have to learn for your band? Whatever the reason, if you like it—go with it. If you don’t like it, figure out why. Be specific in your analysis; otherwise you’re simply allowing your old habits to inform your new ideas and that is counterproductive. Will you end up liking everything? Probably not. But those things that you don’t like will likely hold at least one or two things that you’ll find of valuable to learn and add to your own playing.

Now, if you resolve to buy more gear, I say do it! Just make sure that you spend your money well. You probably know by now what all of the desirable, high-quality instruments are and there’s at least one that has “spoken to you” in the past year. I’ve written before about the “one that got away” when I hesitated or declined to make a purchase of a unique instrument or piece of gear because I thought it was too expensive, I wasn’t a good enough player to use it properly, or both. Sometimes it requires the investment into something that’s over our heads to inspire us—or to allow us—into reaching beyond our normal limits or to facilitate our playing things that we knew we had inside us but couldn’t get out of our older gear. It happens a lot and there is a message there when it does. Listen to the message and do what it’s telling you to do. Or you could resolve to wait until next year… those resolutions work both ways. Just remember that “I told you so” when you miss out on that one-of-a-kind instrument because you hadn’t yet “resolved” to buy it. But don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying buy stuff just because, I’m telling you to be open and aware of the sensations and messages that you are receiving from your hands and ears and heart when you encounter a fine instrument. You are worth it (or you will be).

If you do make any New Year’s resolutions, I wish you the will to remain true to them. Just remember, you can resolve to improve, refine, define, change, or commit to new things at anytime of the year. So if you find yourself in July facing something that requires a ‘resolution’ from you, don’t put it off until January. Don’t waste the opportunity because you think it’s not the right time. Don’t be hampered by tradition. Jump in and do it. Pick up your instrument and practice. Listen to that new music. Buy that piece that moves you beyond where you are. You don’t have to get better all at once, just get a little better all the time.

Need to know? Just ask… Charlie (ask.charlie@hotmail.com)

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