A Music Lesson

Learned two valuable lessons this weekend. More precisely, I saw in real-time how two lessons I’ve understood intellectually actually feel to experience. For nearly 30 years, I’ve been playing drums in bands. This weekend, I played my first covers gig as a bassist, playing with a drummer I had never met before that evening. I got to experience how numerous other bass players experienced my drumming for the first time.

Floods of memories of how I tried to impress both the band and the audience with flashy chops or speed, failing to see how self-serving and ego driven I’d been. I thought about all the times I failed to do my job. The times I failed to make the music feel good. The times I failed to listen to what the other musicians, especially the bass players, were doing so I could figure out how to lock everyone together to connect the experience for the band and the audience. The times I broke the cardinal rule of never bringing what’s still in practice into a performance.

Being on the receiving end of a drummer that didn’t listen to lead from behind was frustrating, especially for a green bass player. Experiencing past the bar line, chopped-up, linear fills and metric modulations during extended jams on Marvin Gaye tunes left me feeling like I was drowning and being thrown weights instead of a life preserver. It also made the few people attempting to dance be unable to do so. Although it was an admittedly small crowd, the size of the crowd should never sacrifice the integrity of the performance. For if great care is not demonstrated from the stage, it can never be fully-appreciated by the audience.

The second lesson I learned was how discipline truly equals freedom. My inexperience as a bassist was confining. In a 4-chord song, I could play the root notes of the progression well-enough, but I had no freedom outside of adding occasional 5ths and octaves to enhance the musicality because I was literally locked in a box. I realized the importance of mastering the fretboard, the keys and the chord shapes to truly be able to be expressive. My lack of being a disciplined bassist meant I had no freedom to express the music beyond the bare minimum.

Although sometimes the bare minimum is just the right amount, in most cases, it simply means the job was done effectively. May we all aim to be more than simply effective in whatever work we do!

The lessons learned: 1) If you can put yourself on the receiving end of your own job, you’ll learn how to perform your job better. 2) If you can’t apply freedom to the job you do, you need to get better for your sake and for the sake of those you work with.

For Facts Sake

Learning is not so much about acquiring knowledge as it is about decoding the process of understanding. Once we learn how to learn, deciphering the process by which we learn best, we have become active students in our lives. We can learn anything, because we know how to approach it with our reasoned choice. This creates lasting understanding through our unique lenses. This drives innovation and progress. If we continually focus on memorizing what’s been written by others or memorizing facts for facts sake, we are learning by the adage of insanity: repeatedly doing the same thing yet expecting different results. It may work from time to time, however, our originality is noticeably absent. This is running in place.

Jinxing Awareness

Calling attention to, or stressing the importance of, something while it’s in motion tends to be more destructive than objective in nature. For example, when a pitcher is in the midst of a no hitter, it’s not something to be discussed in the dugout. Similarly, sometimes it’s best for our awareness to be left unspoken. If a situation doesn’t benefit from our verbalized awareness, we are only truly self-aware if we know better to say nothing.

The Chore of Change

One of the many brilliant one-liners by comedian Steven Wright is, “It’s a small worldbut I wouldn’t want to have to paint it.” May we keep this idea in mind when we become frustrated by the lack of positive change we see in the world. Instead of trying to change the world, may we focus our attention on altering ourselves to see the world differently. That’s a chore rooted in the realm of possibility.

The Ego Cloud Machine

Sometimes the best tool for the job is not in our own tool kit. We must borrow it from someone else. There is no shame associated with not owning every tool. The same goes for asking for help. If, however, we find that we keep needing to borrow the same tool, and don’t make a plan to acquire that tool for ourselves, and allow ourselves to become reliant on others to provide for us what we need, that’s no longer a tool they can provide for us.  Awareness is not an object we can tangibly possess. Awareness is the gift we can only gift ourselves – a gift received by giving away old vision in favor for seeing anew, like parting clouds revealing that the sun has never run away to hide. Awareness is always radiantly present, and our egos make for cloudy days.

Best-laid Plans

Planning ahead and setting goals are good practice. However, if once we do so we become inflexible, we are setting ourselves up for failure. The writing process offers some valuable insight on the subject of planning and goal setting. Making a plan or setting a goal is akin to making an outline for an essay. That outline must then be followed by a shitty first draft, which requires editing. The editing process is an organic process that continues until our ideas are fully fleshed out and our intentions are presented with clarity and purpose.

The true goal of setting goals is to achieve something that’s not yet been attained. An initial idea will more often lead to a desired result if we include in our planning some space for reflection – some space for editing. Progress is not the result of a predetermined goal. Our determination, our firmness of purpose, is what needs to be inflexible – not the plan or the goal.