Can a bad gig…be good?

Go back in time for a moment, and think to yourself of a performance that…didn’t go quite so well.

Perhaps you lost the form.

Or played some notes that raised a few eyebrows and grimaces from the audience.

Inevitably, that little voice appears from inside your head.

“See? I was right – you’ll NEVER be good at this! Here you go again, screwing up on this tune yet another time…”

What happens next…

Sweaty palms.

Shaking hands.

The feeling like you just want to run away from the bandstand.

==

I’ll be honest with you…

I’ve been in this situation many times myself.

In fact, it nearly crippled my career.

Upon getting advice about performance anxiety, the general consensus was: “Just keep doing it – you just need more experience! It will get easier…”

But it didn’t get easier.

In fact, every gig that passed by resulted in me getting more and more self-conscious, and I started to second-guess my abilities.

Here’s the thing:

I’m not the only one that this happens to.

A lot of people end their professional musical careers or leave music entirely because of the crippling effects of performance anxiety.

The worst part?

Performance nerves suck out the enjoyment and passion that drew you to music in the first place.

But:

It doesn’t need to be this way.

After training in meditation and mindfulness, I realized something.

The way we view a situation tends to reflect itself back at us in what we experience.

The attitude and philosophy you have towards performing, and the results of performance, is critical to how you experience it, and the results you end up getting.

So, here’s my philosophy:

When it comes to performing, there are no failures – only feedback.

There are only two types of performances really:

Either your performance was 1) a great performance or 2) excellent feedback in order to prepare yourself for your next great performance.

Sometimes the gigs where you flake out are the ones where you learn the most. These experiences are actually the stepping stones you need in order for you to get better.

If you happen to have a bad gig at some point, sometime afterward (over a calming cup of coffee), pause and reflect.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • Were there any triggers that made me nervous?
  • Was there something that was distracting me?
  • If I couldn’t remember the form or had a blank slate when it came to improvising, are there any aspects of my practice technique that needs improvement?
  • How was my attitude on the day of the gig before getting on the bandstand?

Questions like this can be the genesis of you becoming a better player. And these questions can only arise when you’re faced with challenging gigs.

So in the end, it’s our attitude that can either turn towards negative performance experiences into failures, OR the seeds of successes.

So what’s the result of adopting this philosophy towards performing?

I don’t tend to get performance anxiety very much anymore, and if I do, I can manage it effectively without it negatively impacting my performance.

So, give it a try.

Next time you do a gig that doesn’t go as well as you’d hoped, sit back and reflect afterward – it may be the best guitar lesson you’ll ever have.

Over to you…

What are YOUR top tips for keeping your cool on the bandstand and recovering from mistakes?

I would love to hear from you, leave a comment below to share your thoughts…

Keep on jazzin’,

Greg

==
Greg O’Rourke,
Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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What REALLY annoys me…

Do you know what really annoys me, more than anything else?

It’s those huge books that line the shelves in the jazz guitar section of the music shop.

You know, the ones called something like The Complete Guide to Jazz Guitar Soloing, 100 Lessons for Jazz Guitar, The Ultimate Jazz Guitar Companion…

They feature promises on the cover such as:

“384 pages of everything you need to get started soloing today! Over 90 backing tracks, 3000 exercises and the essential scale and arpeggio patterns you need to know in order to completely master the skill of jazz improvisation on guitar!”

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that they aren’t telling the truth about what’s in these encyclopedic references.

What annoys me is that…

THIS IS what’s in these books.

384 pages.

3000 exercises.

And…

Every scale and arpeggio pattern you could ever hope of learning in the short space of one lifetime (or maybe three.)

I’ll be honest with you:

I can’t help laughing when I see books like this.

Because they capitalize on something that you may not realize about my line of work, which is:

It’s REALLY easy for a guitar teacher to make a book like this.

The concept is simple. Just quickly write out a few scale diagrams, press the transpose button in the music notation software, do a few melodic variations and copy and paste to your heart’s content.

Voila! – a hefty looking tome of impressive scale and arpeggio patterns, which should keep the punters happy (and bewildered) for months to come.

Here’s the thing:

Although these might be good reference books to have on your shelf for occasionally looking up some patterns, they will not help you one jot to learn to improvise and actually sound like a jazz player.

The reason:

Scale patterns and arpeggios, in and of themselves, are NOT jazz vocabulary. They are more like what the alphabet is to languages.

Now let me ask you:

Is the alphabet what we use to talk to each other when we have a conversation?

NO!

Here’s what you actually need:

Words, phrases, and ideas that make sense to your listener.

So remember:

Quality of material is far better than quantity when it comes to learning jazz guitar.

Just because a book has a lot of pages doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s valuable or helpful for your learning.

Now now, don’t feel guilty about all that money you’ve spent on these great wads of paper…

They make brilliant doorstoppers!

But now I want your input:

Let me know what books YOU have actually found useful when it comes to learning jazz guitar.

Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

Have a great weekend,

Greg

==

Greg O’Rourke,

Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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Deer In The Headlights?

One of my readers wrote to me recently with the following woeful tale:

“When it comes to improvising, it’s a bit like being a rabbit caught in the headlights.

Have you ever felt like that?

You’re not alone:

I’m constantly astonished by how often people write to me with these kinds of sentiments.

There’s a simple reason why you might feel like this when you’re improvising.

If you feel like a deer caught in the headlights, or like improvisation is the equivalent of being a painter staring at a big blank canvas with no idea where to start…

You must be doing something wrong when it comes to practicing your jazz guitar.

You see, many people approach learning to improvise by using scales, modes, and arpeggios.

Whilst these are good to practice (don’t get me wrong), in and of themselves they won’t help you to sound like a jazz player.

A great sounding jazz solo requires something more…

Jazz vocabulary.

Licks.

Motives.

Bebop sounds.

If you haven’t learned these ‘words’ of jazz, you WON’T have any ‘raw material’ to start with.

In this situation, you DO, in fact, have a blank canvas with nowhere to go.

This is the thing a lot of jazz educators miss.

They shun the idea of learning licks and motives because they feel like it is not really ‘improvising’ per say.

Of course, when you’re at a very advanced level it’s good to “forget all that B.S. and just play” as Charlie Parker would say.

But for the beginner or intermediate player, you’ll be left confused and disappointed if you start out trying to solo with that mindset.

So…

This is where I want you to turn your attention to in the woodshed:

Learn melodies.

Think melodically when you solo.

Jazz licks and motives are great for this approach.

All they are is short melodies, jam packed full of delicious jazzy goodness.

Soloing with melody in mind is the most rapid way to improve your soloing on the guitar and have it sound really musical and confident.

Over to you:

What do you think of my reasoning here – that licks & motives is a better way to tackle improv then the scales/arpeggios/modal approach? Or do you think I’ve missed the mark here?

Let me know your thoughts by leaving a comment below…

Cheers,

Greg

==

Greg O’Rourke,

Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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The Curse Of Internet Overload

It’s kind of ironic that I’m writing this to you.

(After all, Fret Dojo is now one of the most popular jazz guitar websites on the internet, but that’s by the by).

What I want to raise with you is something serious…

Internet Overload.

Facebook.

Twitter.

Instagram.

All that stuff.

Collectively, this is an insidious force – ever so sneakily whittling away more and more of our time.

I’ve recently realized that it’s been taking a real toll on my own effectiveness and productivity, and, most importantly, focus when it comes to wholesome things like (you guessed it) jazz guitar practice.

So many of us just go online to check a few email messages, but 27 Instagram posts and a few lame talking cat videos on Facebook later, lo and behold…

There’s no time for anything else.

If you want to get good at any craft that requires skill, dedication and a great degree of concentration, like the glorious jazz guitar…

Internet Overload is your enemy.

Here’s the thing:

Being bombarded by the Internet doesn’t just cost you in terms of minutes and hours.

It also impacts on your general focus levels throughout the day.

This is far more serious, as it starts to impede your ability to concentrate on anything for any decent length of time.

So, a few days ago I made the bold decision to take my Internet browser off my smartphone – and got my wife to set a password to prevent me from reinstalling it.

She found it all rather amusing.
So what brought all this on?

I recently picked up a great book called Deep Work by Cal Newport, which explains what extended sessions of distracting activity on the Internet can do to your brain – it’s scary. Here’s the link if you’re interested.

So – turn off the dang iPhone.

Instead…

Turn on your amp, grab your six-string, and do something worthwhile with your time.

Making music is far more satisfying than the latest online doohickey.

Thanks for entering this little meditation with me today.

Let me know what you thought about this article by leaving a comment below.

Now go play some jazz!

Cheers,

Greg

==
Greg O’Rourke,
Founder, Fret Dojo
World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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Brushy One String

There’s someone that I would like to introduce to you today.

Brushy One String.

“…Who is that?” you might ask.

Let me show you.

He’s a one-string guitarist from rural Jamaica.

Check out the video below of Brushy’s playing in all his glory.

Then, read the rest of this article.

Brace yourself:

 

Seriously – how cool is that video.

But after having watched this, you might be asking…

“Greg – why did you show me this? After all, it’s not even jazz. Your website is supposed to be all about jazz guitar – right?”

I’m showing this to you today because I think Brushy’s playing actually contains the essence of jazz, even though technically he’s not even playing the style.

The reason:

As you may have noticed, Brushy only plays a one-string guitar – and only a few notes on that one string at that.

But – the rhythm and energy in the music, that elusive feel that we are all searching for…

This is what Brushy has in spades.

So much of the time, aspiring jazz guitarists get wrapped up in all the tricky scales, the clever substitutions, and spend hours practicing arpeggios up and down.

There’s something seriously missing in ​only​ focussing on those things though.

In Wes Montgomery’s words: “Regardless of what you play, the biggest thing is keeping the feel going.”

Brushy, you taught me a great deal watching you today.

Let me know what you thought about this video by leaving a comment below.

Cheers,

Greg

 

==

Greg O’Rourke,

Founder, Fret Dojo

World Leader in Online Jazz Guitar Education

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The Healthy Woodshed: Tips for a Preventing Injuries and Pain When Practicing Jazz Guitar

The Healthy Woodshed: Tips for a Preventing Injuries and Pain When Practicing Jazz Guitar

A few months ago, I had a BIG problem.

Hands tired. Backaches. Migraines. The works.

What was going on? I needed to get some help….

So, I detailed my troubles in an email I sent out to my readers a few months ago:

“What I’ve been worried about: I’ve been seriously clocking up the hours doing some intense jazz guitar practice and study lately. Coupled with time spent at the computer doing website maintenance etc. means I’ve been spending long hours sitting in my studio and my back is starting to give me grief. I’ve been reading about the dangers of excessive sitting, which has really got me thinking about how to have a more healthy approach to work.

Do you have any ideas for keeping your body in tip-top shape when needing to practice for long hours? I would love to get your thoughts!”

The response to this email was overwhelming.

Many guitarists from around the world replied and gave me loads of helpful ideas to relieve tension and pain​ for both inside and outside the practice room.

I benefitted so much from their suggestions that I thought it would be helpful to share the responses with you.

(Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or healthcare practitioner, and any of the comments expressed by myself or the contributors in this article are merely opinions of the authors, and do not constitute medical advice.)

Ken Niehoff

“Hi Greg, thanks for your teaching. I’m a health trainer and use my knowledge of exercise, nutrition and psychology to help individuals achieve a healthier lifestyle.

I only practice guitar standing up or leaning on something high. I use my computer and read on my iPad standing up. You just have to get used to it and you will. Standing with my electric guitar for practice did cause a problem that I solved. Holding a heavy guitar is a pain and mine is just over 6 lbs. I practice all my jazz on a short scale (23in) classical guitar with a cutaway that weighs 3 lbs.

When I have to work up something for performance (not lately) I make sure to switch to the performance guitar. This choice is easy on my hands and shoulders.

Walking around the block between bouts of heavy concentration is a good idea and I recommend keeping it up. For better fitness and using less time I recommend doing something that completely gets you out of breath: fast squats to exhaustion or fast stair walk or run. If you live on a hillside, fast walk or run up the hill. You could add a set of push-ups or some other weight exercise once in a while. Use your imagination for ways to get out of breath. Come back and hit your studies. I recommend doing this one time per hour but you will still need to stop sitting so much. You can get out of breath out in as little as one minute.

Take care, Ken”

~ Ken Niehoff MS

sonomahealthtraining.com

I took on Ken’s suggestions and ended up using my Yamaha Silent guitar as my main instrument for practice. This guitar is incredibly lightweight due to having no body, which really eased up the strain on my back whilst standing with a strap. I’m also doing the brisk walk up my local hill daily as Ken suggested.

 

guitar-pain-injury-relief-2

Rusty Smith

“Thanks for reminders about how to practice. I am almost 70 and need to be careful in my practicing. There were times I would practice 6-8 hours in a day but only one day a week. The other days were an hour or two. The routine that worked for me was to never practice more than 45-50 minutes. Then get up and take a 10-minute break. Didn’t matter if I was in the middle to something I thought I should complete. Seemed to refresh me in a way that allowed many hours of practice and I also became more productive. ~ Rusty”

Following Rusty’s advice, I looked into ways to manage time and came across the Pomodoro technique which is an excellent way to manage time and encourage breaks – find out more about it here.

Ben

“Hi Greg,

Back problems – I have a lot of experience in this department. In the past, I have had regular bouts of backache, to the point where I would expect it every 2 weeks or so.

I’m actually a drummer/percussionist, and moving gear, driving to gigs, sitting for hours at a kit, standing with a foot on the vibes pedal etc. all has resulted in back problems over the years.

I have previously used chiropractic for when I have a really bad knot in my back, but though it gave some immediate relief, it wasn’t really treating the underlying problem. I actually wouldn’t recommend chiropractic as it’s expensive and in my experience, it doesn’t work long term.

I have found the best relief for immediate back pain is Ibuprofen (an anti-inflammatory over the counter drug in the UK) and putting a ‘Theraflex’ ice-pack wrapped in a tea-towel under my back and lying down for about ten minutes at a time.

I have also more recently started Pilates which seems to be helping for inner core strength, as does swimming. But, the best help I have had is from my fiancee who is a therapist, who has observed me moving and suggested ALWAYS bending from the knees when bending down. Before I would just lean over to pick something up, now I don’t, and it has really helped me keep my back from going into spasm.

So, in brief: improving core strength, swimming (good all round support), avoiding sitting awkwardly or for long periods and good moving and handling all helps. As does a good mattress! 

Now it is extremely rare that I get back ache, and when I do, it is less severe, and lasts for far less time.

Hope that helps!

Best wishes,

Ben”

 

guitar-pain-injury-relief-3

Peter King

“Greg,

I have encountered similar challenges of prolonged sitting (not just playing guitar but my day job) and started having back aches and gluteal pain. The important concept to grasp is that the problems need to be proactively addressed since flexibility and tolerance for mechanical strain lessens with the aging factor. I am in the medical field and my wife is a physical therapist both of which have given me more insight into the problems. What is absolutely essential is to maintain core muscles that support the spine (back muscles and abdominal muscles). They will weaken with prolonged disuse and could lead to more serious problems including herniated discs and degenerative disease. Here is what I have done that has markedly improved things:

1)      Using a strap is essential (I am mainly a classical guitarist and the left foot on a stool was killing me!). I can now play with both feet even. I even play the classical guitar standing and occasionally walk around and play.

2)      Strengthen core muscles: swimming is the absolute best way to do this. I swim 3 days a week. Regular walking (4-5 miles) is another way.

3)      Light weight lifting focusing on axial muscles

4)      Stretching. This should include gluteal muscles, quads and hamstrings—because they all feed into the core muscles.

5)      Regular breaks while playing—every ½ hour get up and walk around etc.

6)      Stand up desk. I got mine from varidesk.com. This is an adjustable desk that sits on top of a regular desk. You can raise it to multiple different levels depending on your comfort zone. You can collapse the desk at any time and use it as a regular desk (takes less than 5 seconds)

7)      See a physical therapist to get more formalized exercise/stretching approaches. One or two visits should suffice.

8)      Be religious about doing all of the above. One or two times a week will do no good. do something every day.

Best,

Peter King”

After reading Peter’s email, I took the plunge and purchased a standing desk – this has been a real game changer for back pain.

Mark Jobin

“As a computer technician I spent most of my time sitting and started to develop some lower back pain. I started practicing yoga again after a break of some 30 years and I found it made a real difference. I do about 3/4 of an hour 3 times a week – mostly stretches, not the pretzel-like postures. ~ Mark”

 

guitar-pain-injury-relief-4

Last But Not Least, ‘D.D’…

“Dear Greg,

As I have grown older my back has started hurting due to the sitting position with left leg raised while holding my classical guitar.  I practice about 2 hours each day.  Believe me, the best thing you can do is to take a good walk between your sessions or after them.  After my practice sessions, I take a brisk 2 km walk.  I do this every day, even if it is raining, snowing, hot as hell, etc.  I am in my 70’s and not only does it relieve my back pain, it is good cardiovascular exercise as well. 

Now that I am studying jazz, I often will stand and wear a strap around my Fender stratocaster.  I chose the strat because I love playing blues as well as jazz. You look to be in good shape – so take it from an old guy, don’t forget to exercise.  I know how busy you must be developing these lessons for us and I greatly appreciate them. 

And one final thing: DO NOT RUN. It is bad for your knees particularly if you run on asphalt.  Walking, on the other hand, is much easier on the knees and back.  Less impact stress on the spine. Swimming is also a good option if you can get access to a pool.

Besides walking, I do a number of yoga exercises for my back after a practice session.  One is to get on the floor and bring my legs up to my chest and hold them for a few seconds and then release the legs back to the floor.  There a number of websites where you can find yoga exercises for lower back pain and spine.  I do a number of the poses found on the website: http://www.thefitindian.com/10-best-yoga-poses-to-relieve-lower-back-pain/ 

Keep up the good work and thanks again for everything you have done to help me and others learn the elements of jazz.~ D.D”

Thanks to D.D’s suggestions, I’ve prioritized a short yoga routine in my daily regime, and I’ve been getting fabulous results. I also practice meditation daily as well.

Discussion

I hope this post helped give you ideas on how to make your practice room a healthier and happier one. A huge thanks to all the contributors who gave their permission to publish their tips.

It’s important to take your physical health seriously if you’re practicing many hours on an instrument.

Why?

It not only helps you to feel better but also enables you to focus more, which will help the music and ideas flow much more easily during a jazz guitar session.

Over to you – what other thoughts or suggestions would YOU like to contribute to this topic of ‘The Healthy Woodshed’? Leave a comment below with your thoughts…

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