:: WHY WE BE ::

Boo to false, self-imposed limits, we say. These champion oracles want to live enthusiastically. Follow our trip through projects that challenge, frustrate, and/or scare us. In the end (which is really the middle) we want to live like big bright free and authentically awesome people.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

What good is a living soul if you suck? (patresa)

Guitar practice minutes logged since last post: um… about 40 minutes all together, I guess.

The rest...

I made a nice schedule for myself, teal and yellow, hard to miss. I mapped out the week. I penciled in some ambitious stuff, including frequent chunks of excellent guitar practice. I fastened it to the cork board above my desk with a thumbtack.

Then, I went about the business of ignoring it. Oh, I thought about it all right. But I still ignored it.

BUT IT'S OKAY! Progress does not follow neat and tidy trajectories. Progress is like really intense interval training: meandering, sprinting, resting, heaving, back-pedaling, resting, sprinting, power-squatting, stretching, walking, prancing, climbing, sideways-pedaling... When I get back on track, I will throw semis with the sheer force of my discipline.

Although I know step 1 of my plan to play guitar and sing in front of strangers is to embrace the inevitable suckage that will occur  when I get all nervous and sweaty in front of a microphone (Don't coddle me: it doesn't work. At some point I will give an embarrassingly shitty performance.), I do want to minimize the suckage to the best of my ability, which requires me to practice. I must practice the guitar. Because I don't--I don't practice the guitar. I think about practicing the guitar. But I don't.

However, in the short stretch that I did practice, I learned that I have no real practice plan. Piano was very structured. I had scales and chord progressions and exercisey songs and recital pieces. I had to write down everything I did and show it to Mrs. Fremar who would then dole out the stickers. I was an absolute sucker for stickers. With the guitar… nothing. I pick it up and strum aimlessly, or I putz through things I made up. I make up chords, because I don't know what the notes are. I don't know music theory. My last year of piano lessons was my last year of piano lessons, largely because Mrs. Fremar made me study theory, and it felt like my soul was dying. I don't want to know what I'm doing. I just want to do it.

My husband, Chris, is a musician and a former guitar teacher. He knows theory like… I don't know. Like a cow knows cud. He picks up a guitar and sees patterns and shapes. He says, "Oh, see here, this is a diminished 4th and a 7th and a sustained and a such and such minor with an ooglie pookie doo in the key of boink boink." I pick up a guitar, I see strings, and I say, "Oh, see, what happens if I put this finger over this dot thingy and that finger between these bar thingies? Oh, that's a nice sound. What other sounds go with that?" And that is how i build a song.

Which brings me to two concerns:

1. I am going to have to ask Chris to give me some structured exercises to practice. Which means my soul might die. So why do it, you ask? Because what I also recall about piano is that after I quit lessons, my playing turned really clumsy. It turned clumsy because I didn't pound through those boring, soul-killing exercises anymore. So… all that crap must be good for something. What good is a living soul if you suck?

2. I'm afraid I might need to learn some theory. Why? Because when I do make up songs, I have a hard time remembering it later. I don't know what to call anything, so it's just finger choreography. Nothing has a name. Much harder to recall. Moments of genius vaporize.

My goal before the next post is to learn 3 different soul-killing-but-good-for-me-except-for-the-soul-killing-part exercises and to practice them (and other things) for at least 3 cumulative hours. (3 hours in 10 days is doable and much better than 40 minutes in 10 days.)


Ann said...

Patresa- Your post takes me back to my days in music. I played piano starting in elementary and switched instruments before finally sticking with oboe. And I played until my second year of college. I even got a scholarship for school. But if you were to ask me if I could tell you a minor this, major that blah blah blah sadly I wouldn't be able to, not then really and certainly not now. So it is not impossible to play and play with skill and not know theory. The thing is that to add real mastery and soul you need to get through the boring bad parts to get to where you want to be... maybe you need to find something rewarding sticker replacing thingy that you can be rewarded with after you practice :) like wine, or a movie or whatever... and go at the practice with gusto not dreary fear-filled anticipation! You can do it!

Wendy Jans said...

I SO identified with this post. I agree - theory stinks! I am horrible with theory and while I do think knowing it better would've helped me, I have to say that of the musicians I know, Chris is one of the only people that really knows theory (besides jazz players and other performers who also taught guitar as a job). MOST performers in Nashville can't really read music and know very little theory. You'd be surprised.
But if it gives you more confidence, I am behind you, so go on with your bad self and learn those myxolidian scales!

Tanner May (Tanya) said...

DOABLE! YES YES YES! I am so sorry, however, that theory is much less exciting, BUT think of it like getting to spend all that time using your brain, which in turn will reduce the likelihood you will get Dementia later in life. I know nothing about music (despite being ridiculously inherently good at clarinet), but I do know you will be fabulondo Sister P. You will also be the best of students to your dear talented awesome husband, because, and this I am also certain, you will punch yourself and run 10 more marathons if you are not (punching being figuratively).

Much love and power to the P!

Man, this was meant to be supportive.... I hope it came across that way. Maybe I should have just said, GOOD LUCK P!

Stephany said...

P... another thing we have in common: that drive to really dig in and kick a$% at something but no desire to do what it takes to kick that A$%! WHAT IS UP WITH THAT??????

That being said, I happen to think that there isn't one doggone thing you could ever set your mind to do that you couldn't somehow pull off. No coddling intended! I'm being totally serious. SO, I say, kick that A$%, P, KICK THAT A$%!!!!!

T-Free said...

You mention stickers, and I know this might sound goofy, but have you thought about a chart or calendar on which you can put a sticker every time you practice?

I suggest this because my little sister suggested it to me for working out and exercising motivation. She gets a sticker every time she works out. I scoffed, but then I decided to try it (after she mailed me a package of stickers). And I'll be damned if I didn't get all excited about those stickers, just like the little girl I once was. I would look at a week straight of stickers and it would motivate me. I wanted to keep the stickers going! Hahaha. Just a thought.

At any rate... 40 minutes is great! Go P!! YEAH! :)

patresa said...

you know, ann and tawni, that's not a bad idea. rewards. every morning i go to the gym i get starbucks. that's very motivating. and i highlight the day in my planner with yellow and a green marker checkmark. which is also very motivating. so maybe you're right. good thoughts!

wendy! that is ENCOURAGING! although, you "chart" music. what is that? how do you that? how do you remember the songs that you write? because you write a LOT of songs. perhaps i will include this when i interview you.

tanya, you bring up a very very good point! when i taught, i would refer to the things that students would complain were pointless as BRAIN AEROBICS. that it all strengthens the muscle. so maybe i will start viewing these drills and exercises as squats and pushups.

stephany! oh, but you give me too much credit! i will try, though. i will try! and yes, what IS up with that--having the vision but not getting too enthused about the work? blah! stink. we must fix this, girl. we must.

amy said...

P to the Awesome, I loved your analysis of how progress actually works because I've always thought that's how it works too. Also, my life motto is Life is progress not perfection. I say it to myself a lot while walking down school hallways.

I had a Cuban piano teacher in high school who drilled me. I learned a lot about music and reading it, how it works, etc etc. And I totally know what you're saying...that process is soul-defeating. She'd give me these huge, classical pieces of music to play and then make me practice each one, piece by piece, measure by measure. For an entire YEAR. In addition to endless scales that made my fingers ache.

And I just wanted to PLAY. (Once, I asked her if I could learn a less intense, much funner pop song and she said yes. And we began to work on it, but she did 2 things: she broke it up into little tiny soul-defeating pieces and then (2) she dumped it. Because it wasn't intense and classical enough.)

Here's what I did with this problem (I love problem solving): I'd half-ass practice her stuff and then I'd go and play my fun stuff. And then she'd show up for my weekly lesson and say all suspicious: "Have you been practicing my very intense theory-based practice lessons? Or have you been PLAYING?!" And I'd say all innocent: "No, I SWEAR I practiced your intense lessons. I promise."

But she knew. And so she'd just sigh and give me the next exercise and I'd practice it a little, get what I could out of it, and then do my own thing.

...I just re-read all that crap I just wrote and realized I haven't given you anything useable. I think I'm actually just encouraging you to goof off a lot. Man, you are so lucky we're not in the same music theory class! We'd always get our names written on the board, and there'd be a bunch of checks by them.

Michelle said...

Progress does not follow neat and tidy trajectories.

THANK YOU for saying that!! Seriously. And why is it SOOO hard to remember?? jeez. That is half my problem, I think.

My hubby does the same thing as you with the guitar and practicing. lol Although he doesn't have dreams of playing for an audience or anything, well unless it's with Springsteen or Dylan so... yeah.

I think the stickers/rewards suggestions of the other gals is a great idea, I was thinking the same thing. However, I have to tell you the idea of your soul dying is awful. But I think I get what you mean about what good is it if you suck. I don't want to get that, but I do.

I like your plan, I think it is achievable and reasonable and that you will DO it! (Hopefully, with soul intact)