A Day in the Life

This is a question I get a lot and it doesn’t have a straightforward answer. That said, it may be a surprise to you that a day in my life is probably not incredibly different than a day in other professions as far as the contents. They’re just at different times of the day and in a different order and I’m in charge instead of someone else.

A day in my life will have some combination of these three categories:

Work at Home:

  • Practicing – I aim for two or more hours a day but sometimes a good warm up is all I can get.
  • Writing music – I lead three bands. We’ve got to have stuff to play.
  • Working on my websites – This one and Drummers Transcribed.
  • Managing Social Media – I’m super bad at this but I’m getting better. I’m on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
  • Research – Listening to music, watching performances, checking out equipment and reading. This research is enjoyable but its still research.
  • Emails & other forms of communication – I bet you and I get the same amount of pleasure out of this. This is not fun.

Work Away from Home:

  • Teaching a class – I get hired to teach high school and middle school percussion and jazz classes all around the county.
  • Teaching private lessons – I’ve got seven students that I meet with throughout the week.
  • Meetings – Discussing future plans with schools that I associate with and bands I’m a part of.
  • Picking up supplies – Printing music and buying sticks etc.
  • Rehearsing – Polishing the product.
  • Playing Gigs – This, of course is what its all about.

The Same Stuff You Do Every Day:

  • Sleeping
  • Cooking
  • Buying food
  • Going to the bank
  • Exercising
  • Relaxing
  • Washing the dishes
  • Laundry
  • Etc.

The main difference is while someone with a more “normal” job may be relaxing at 7pm, I might be relaxing at 3pm. While their work day might begin at 9 and end at 5, my work day could start at 2pm and maybe end at 1am when I get home from a gig. If there’s not a gig that night my workday might be really short. I usually get to cook my breakfast and my lunch where they might only get to cook their dinner.

Weekends are when I work the most and I have no prescribed days off. So I might work 11 or 12 days in a row before I get what most people call “Saturday.” Sometimes I’ll get 2 or three Saturdays in a row too.

I don’t normally wake up early unless I have an appointment that requires my physical presence or church. Yep, you read correctly. I’m pretty much only waking up early for Jesus.

We musicians drive a bunch too. Far more than most people. The most I’ve driven for a gig is 3 1/2 hours. 2 hours isn’t uncommon and 1 hour is typical. So a 3 hour gig when you include leaving early (lateness is unacceptable, people – construction, car accidents and snowbirds will make you late if you leave on time) driving there and driving back, a 3 hour gig is really at least a 5 1/2 hour commitment.

As you can see, most of this is self-directed work and that’s the way I like it. I like the feeling of holding the responsibility of my success in my hands. I also like the feeling of being able to measure my success the way I want to. For some people success is money and “moving on up.” For me success is autonomy, being able to do the work that I want to do, being able to give of my time and money to those who need it and being creative on a daily basis.

Aside from some obvious differences, we musicians aren’t terribly different from what everyone else does. That said, I don’t know that many of us really have a “day in the life,” to offer. Every day is an unexpected adventure. I don’t think I’ve duplicated the schedule of any given day since I started making my living as a professional musician.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Hard to Understand

I haven’t quite figured out how to explain what I do for a living.

Most occupations need no explanation or maybe very little, but that’s just not the case as a musician. Being a musician comes with the stigma (perpetuated mostly by movies, books, media and fearful parents) that artists are probably poor and starving, possibly lazy, maybe uneducated and certainly impractical.

Not the actual case. But since that’s the assumption and I’d prefer not to be thought of in those terms, it requires some explaining.

I think it comes from the foreign nature of an artistic profession to non-artists. If the primary exposure to musicians has been to the two polar opposites of Beyonce and that starving artist trope, of course someone making a blue collar living as a professional musician might be unsettling.

After I tell someone “I’m a professional musician, I play the drums,” they say “Do you teach?” Or when I get to the part in my explanation where I mention teaching they say “Oh you teach!” Like maybe I was being a bit deceptive when I said I play the drums for a living because that’s, you know, impossible and they figured out the truth like Lieutenant Columbo or Adrian Monk.

People. I’m not exaggerating this happens like clockwork.

It’s when they hear that I’m a teacher that they become relieved, even excited. They can now wipe the nervous sweat from their brow saying “Whew, turns out he’s on the conveyor belt like me after all.”

Full disclosure, I actually charge super low when I teach and its not my primary source of income. I teach to have a part in sharing music with young people. Music did a lot for me, great music teachers did a lot for me too and I’ve found a way to teach that fits with my life priorities. I don’t teach because I cant play (“Those who cannot do, teach” is another trope that’s got to go in every subject, not just the arts), or because I don’t make enough playing. I make enough playing, but I want to also be a teacher.

Anyway, once people hear “teacher” they latch onto that and suddenly feel very comfortable. I can see their posture normalize and their face un-scrunch. From then on the questions revolve around my teaching, not my playing, even though that’s not actually the focus of my profession.

This particular misunderstanding is just one example of many. I’ve just come to embrace the fact that this occupation is a bit hard to grasp if you’re not a part of it. We’ll always get questions, some accusatory in nature, because we’re doing something out of the ordinary. This used to really bother me but now I’ve come to understand that it’s just one of the costs of living a creative lifestyle.

Totally worth it.

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When I Realized the Value of Money

I’ll never forget March of 2016, the month I drove and worked way too much. The way it normally works is if someone says “Hey, can you play March 9th?” I check my calendar and if the date is empty I mark it and commit. I just committed to way too much this time and it really wore me out.

There was one day during the month where I was going to be driving about two and a half hours both directions to make some decent money. I didn’t at all feel like making the drive. I wasn’t even that excited to play the gig. I don’t mind driving long distances and the gig was a good and fun gig, I was just so tired and worn out from the amount of work I’d been doing already that the only thing I wanted to do was sit on my couch and relax.

This moment caused an important realization. This gig paid well, but did it pay as well as sitting on my couch right now would? Absolutely not. Sitting on my couch instead of getting in my car for a gig I wasn’t excited for with the amount of exhaustion I had going on was worth $300, maybe $400. Like if I could have paid to not to do the gig, I would have paid up to $400 at that moment.

Money is nothing more than a tool that enables us to craft the things we want into our lives. Without a direction money is nothing more than potential. I needed rest more than I needed more potential. I’d made good money for the month already and there was good money waiting for me in coming weeks. I had the potential I needed. My living expenses were more than covered, I didn’t need the money from this gig. I didn’t need more potential, I needed to rest.

The value of money is giving us the potential to do what we want with it. It’s a means to an end, it’s not an end. The end that I wanted was to vegetate on my couch but the end I was going to get instead was more means. This is backwards.

We’ve got to be guardians of our time, no one else is going to guard it for us. If we guard it well we can avoid burnout, if we don’t we might have to drive two and a half hours to a gig instead of recharge our batteries.

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This Life is Beautiful

I had an ideal day today.

I woke up at 7:00 AM to coach two middle school percussion sections at one of the most successful middle school band programs in the area. Talented band director, receptive kids. Beautiful.

I stopped at Sam Ash to look at some equipment and ended up trading licks with another drummer in the drum room. He asked me to show him some of what I was playing and we had a good talk. Beautiful.

On my way out of Sam Ash I got a text message about another teaching gig that would start next week. Beautiful.

I got on the highway and took the scenic route, (I275 South) to where I was headed (Naples, Florida). I stopped at the rest stop before the Skyway Bridge. As the name suggests, this is a very tall bridge surrounded by a lot of gorgeous water. I decided on a whim to stop there. I climbed out on the rocks, found a perch overlooking the pristine, glassy and still sea water, read Psalm 51, prayed and considered how huge the world is and how small I am. Beautiful.

I got back on the highway, connected to I75 South and stopped in Sarasota. Here I took a nap waiting to hear from my dear, dear friend Brittanny. We sat in the car for a couple hours after I got some food and just talked and listened to music. You don’t need to make plans with a friend like her, all you need to do is plan on being in the same place and you can be certain the experience will be fulfilling. 2 incredible hugs, many laughs and several wonderful conversations later I was back on the highway. Beautiful.

On the way down I75 I got a call from a North Carolina number (“Huh? I don’t know anyone in North Carolina”) who wanted to use me for some good paying gigs that were already booked. I found out that one of my teachers recommended me to this guy. A really great teacher who did a lot to shape the way I see music in just 2 semesters at the end of my college education. Beautiful.

Eventually I got to the gig, set my drums up and had the best time making some beautiful music with some beautiful people. We got funky, we played Latin, we did some swing – I even got to play some Baiao. I played some solos I was really happy with and several times the singer, guitar player and bass player all but made me stop playing because of how wonderful they sounded. There was one time I almost got teary eyed at the idea that this what I do. I didn’t. But I was really close. Once in awhile I just look up at the sky and involuntarily thank God that this is out there to be had and that I’m having it. Tonight was one of those nights. Beautiful.

Now it’s 1:05am and I’m on Sanibel, the island I lived on for 18 years, in the house I lived in for around 18 years, on a couch that’s probably not remotely that old but is still a relatively comfy couch. My parents and grandmother are sleeping in their rooms but they’ll wake me up at a frustratingly early hour I’m sure. I’ll quickly forget the early wake up call and we’ll spend quality time with each other – I get to visit them sometimes when I play nearby. Then I’ll hop back on the highway in time to play another gig closer to Tampa, where I live now. Beautiful.

This is the life I live.

Of course not every day is such a wonderful highlight reel. Some days are tough emotionally. Some days are all work and very little fun. But some days are like today.

I don’t enjoy a life like this without a cost, every good thing has a cost. There’s a degree of insanity that goes into choosing an entrepreneurial lifestyle like this one instead of the cookie cutter life most live. While I enjoy a pretty regular income, it’s not exactly predictable. While most people are free at night, night time is when I’m working. I don’t have anyone telling me what to do, everything is self-directed, whether its success or failure its on me. I can’t complain to my boss because my boss is me. It’s a lot of driving too. A lot of driving.

But I’m not forced into the rat race. I have time to make an impromptu stop at the water and be with my thoughts. I have time to stop in Sarasota and grab two of the best hugs humankind can experience.

And days like this? I get to enjoy days like today often! Every couple weeks or so I get a life-confirmingly incredible day like to day. A day where all of my emotional needs are filled to a surplus that’ll last a couple weeks or until the next life-confirmingly incredible day. Whichever comes first. This is incredible! This is beautiful.

This life is just beautiful.

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That Can Never Happen Again

I recently had an experience where I subbed on a gig and didn’t do well. The majority of the things that contributed to this were way out of my control, but there was one variable that was totally on me.

There was a weakness in my own playing that had nothing to do with the gig itself and everything to do with me and it was really magnified on this gig. I’ve known about this weakness for awhile but it had never been a significant problem. Always hovering below the surface, barely noticed until that night. Thus I hadn’t given it the proper attention and the performance wasn’t as good as it should have been.

In the grand scheme of things it went alright. No one got hurt, the audience had a good time and although the band I was subbing for wasn’t exactly happy, no one took any kind of damage. However “no one got hurt” is a low standard and I do my best not to deal in low standards. It just should have been better.

Of course I had the option to shrug it off my shoulders or blame my shortcoming on someone else but instead I chose self-reflection. For the next two days I spent a significant amount of time playing the events over and over in my head, searching deeply to find everything I could have done better. Every time I was driving, every time I had down time, every time I was to myself I was reliving every moment.

This was good for me. It helped me discover that most of it really was out of my control which was a bit of a comfort. But it also pointed me back to that weakness of mine over and over without any mercy. Thus I made a decision and I’ve made a mantra out of that decision.

That can *never* happen again. That weakness can *never* interfere with my playing again.

Every practice session I’ve had has revolved around hitting that weakness from as many angles as I can and I’m seeing humongous progress. Progress that should have been made a long time ago, but I’m making up for it now.

“That can *never* happen again” is making me grow and stay focused and hungry for growth in the important things. Soon I’ll be able to say with confidence “That *will* never happen again.”

It might be that there’s something in your past playing experiences that should never happen again. If we’re striving to be great, those kinds of things should only happen once right?

If you’ve got work to do to insure whatever that is will never happen again, I just want to encourage you to get on it today. There’s no sense in making up for lost time later when you can start now, my friend.

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Frustrating Personalities

Music is a people business.

Everything that happens from getting booked to packing up and getting paid is interpersonal interaction. Usually this is almost as fun as the gig itself but on occasion I’ve run into personalities that just don’t rub well with mine.

Did you notice how I described them? As personalities, not people. Personalities may clash naturally but people don’t have to.

My way of dealing with these personality mash-ups has essentially come down to attempting to appreciating our differences and checking my ego. Disorganization and alpha-male type micro-managing behaviors are the very worst for me to deal with. I’m not good at this, but I’ve gotten better.

I don’t mind a little spontaneity and open-endedness and I don’t mind a leader with a clear vision. It’s just when I feel those start to get out of hand that if I don’t watch myself my (normally minimal) ego gets the best of me and sometimes I let it it shut me down. Not good, especially if I’m supposed to be making music.

So first I try to appreciate the good in the personality in question.

Loud people can be incredibly annoying, but they’re also the type of people who become the “life of the party” and give a room wonderful energy. Assertive people can be overbearing sometimes, but they’re great to have around when a client tries to ask the band to go beyond the contracted agreement.

Disorganized people can be frustrating but they tend to also be the most calm and laid back band leaders, resulting in a very low stress gig. I’m the right guy to calm an erratic person and most definitely the wrong guy to build you an office building.

You get the point.

I try to think of each of our personality traits as though they’re on a spectrum. On one end of the spectrum is too little, the other end is too much and even those are pretty subjective. Between too much and too little are all the gradients.

Some situations need to lean towards the left and some toward the right, and sometimes we get it wrong. Given too much or too little, we end up throwing off the balance in a circumstance, but using the right amount of a trait seasons the situation perfectly. Like a good steak. Who doesn’t like a good steak? I’m sure you can think of some people you know and some examples.

So trying to think “this person went a little too alpha for my preference, but we need people like that in the world” makes it a little easier on me. Because even if I really hate a particular trait, the truth is if the world were void of any given trait spectrum, the world would be lacking something highly valuable. And we’re all guilty of going too little or too far on a given trait spectrum.

That kind of self-talk helps me to hold it together much better. By the way, I’m not a perfect pro at this by any means. Writing a blog post is cheap. Actually doing it is costly, in this case costs a lot of pride. So secondly, I remind myself that its not about me and check my pride.

Very few situations I’m in are about me. I’m just not important enough for that. Most of us aren’t. So any time we’re behaving as though a moment is about us we’re being super selfish and need to reel ourselves in.

So by attempting to appreciate a given trait and by restraining my pride I’ve gotten myself through many a tense and stressful circumstance. I’m still growing in this but the times where I really focus my energy on my own attitude the better everything goes.

My own attitude is the only thing out there I can change anyway.

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Let Them Struggle

As a teacher there’s a lot I want my students to feel. I want them to feel comfortable and affirmed. I want them to feel valued and safe. But more than any of that, I want them to be *learning*. If they’re not learning, I’m not really teaching them, and sometimes all of those things I want them to feel while they’re with me for 50 minutes won’t help them learn anything.

When’s the last time you really pushed yourself while you felt comfortable and safe? Probably not recently.

It’s usually under great discomfort and constant pressure that we make strides and adapt – necessity makes us grow the fastest. Of course we can grow without those things but the progress isn’t as big is it?

So I’ve been making my private lessons an environment where that kind of exponential growth can happen. I do this in a couple ways but the main way is asking a fairly obnoxious number of questions and giving very few answers.

After they play something I don’t tell them what I think – at least not yet. It’s always “how’d that go?” first. What did you hear? Was that better? Ok let’s do it again. If I can get away with not making any statements and asking only questions that’s ideal. Maybe they can’t find the answer immediately so I ask some guiding questions but I try to avoid giving the answer like its the plague.

Because it is.

Once I give them the answer, the opportunity to learn how to learn is drained. Maybe they know the answer now and they can work on it but they’ll still need me to give them the answer. They’ll always need me or another teacher there unless I teach them to evaluate themselves critically and to be aware of themselves as they play.

And they have to be hard on themselves too. I don’t let anything slip by, I want them to learn excellence. If they learn critical self-evaluation and they learn excellence all we have to add is problem solving and that’s pretty much how to learn.

The problem solving part is the toughest part for myself and for the students. I let them struggle to find the answer. Sometimes for a long time, like 5 or 6 minutes. Which is like 5 or 6 eternities for a high school freshman (2.5 eternities for a high school senior in case you’re wondering).

Sometimes I want to swoop in and say “just put your pointer finger here,” watch them do it and pat myself on the back. We got there painlessly. “I’m a good teacher!” I could say to myself. I know I can’t do that though. They won’t learn how to learn if I do that.

So instead it’s “Maybe there’s something off in the way you’re playing. On the video, do you see anything in your hand that’s unusual?” and then they say “no,” and then I say “look again.” Then they say “no” again and I say “look again,” again. Maybe this happens for a whole 45 seconds before I say “did you check every part of your hand?” and then let them try to figure it out again.

I know this might seem agonizing or even antagonistic and it feels that way too. I don’t relish it at all.

But what I do relish is when I let them struggle for awhile and then they get it. And then I can say “who figured that out?” or when they play something great “who made that?” and then they say “Me” and I can say “exactly,” with a massive grin on my face and give them a huge hi-five.

After we have a victory like that in my private lessons we celebrate. Because earning the answer to your questions is worthy of celebration. Having answers handed to you isn’t but searching and finding and struggling and battling for the answer – that is worthy of praise.

The last part of course is the debrief. My job isn’t finished until they can take victory home as a new tool and use it. So after they figure it out I say “so how did we get there?” and they’ll almost inevitably say “I moved my finger.” That of course is not helpful. That’s the answer. I don’t want the answer, I want to know how we got to the answer.

So I redirect them to the steps instead of the result. It may have included recording a performance and listening to it or watching it, looking at a mirror, paying attention to how their hands feel, listening to sound the drum is producing, etc.

After the debrief we move on. Sometimes the process is 2 minutes long, other times one process takes the whole 50 minute lesson. I’m fine with that and I’ve conditioned my students through many repetitions to be fine with that too.

The real learning isn’t going to happen in front of me. It’s going to happen in their bedroom at their drum set when they hate how they sound. Or in a practice room at school when their concert is tomorrow and they can’t figure out how to play the part. So I want to make sure they’re prepared for those moments.

The effect of this has been that my students who I’ve had for a long time are solving the processes for themselves very quickly in lessons and coming back better and better. Sometimes after only one of my questions they figure out the entire concept in their head without a word from me. These students have almost arrived to the destination. They’re figuring it out with just a bit of prodding. In a couple years they won’t need prodding, they’ll have it figured out.

They won’t need me.

I’m trying to build individual musicians who can figure things out for themselves. As I get closer the feeling is incredible. Worth a million dollars every time it happens.

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Hating on Pop Music

I did three majors in college, finally arriving at a Jazz Studies degree. Before that I spent time as a percussion performance major and a music education major. All three areas of learning did a lot of good for me but there was one pattern throughout those communities that I just never understood.

Hating on Pop music.

A lot of people insisted on the “musical stupidity” of the general public. They didn’t come to the wind ensemble concerts because they weren’t smart enough for the music. Alternative music education curriculums meant dumbing down music ed. “They can learn that in a garage band,” they’d say.

I’ve always found this kind of silly. I don’t think music serves the same purpose for all listeners. I just don’t understand how that idea isn’t more intuitive for professional musicians (especially educators).

Some people want their ears challenged. Some people want to hear a super flashy saxophone solo. Some people just want good ol’ four on the floor. Some people want something to help them survive their awful commute to and from the gut wrenching job that they really don’t care about. Are we so egotistical as to call people who just want comfort music “musically stupid?”

I’ve got just two things to say about this.

First, this is not about musical intelligence. I think this might really be about our jealousy. Having great ideas and challenging ourselves should pay better. Why is it that Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” is taking all the recognition but my super adventurous 17 piece Hip Hop/Reggae/Polka/Jazz/Alternative/Heavy Metal/Fusion band (with 3 bass players and a kazoo) hasn’t taken off yet?

Dude. I don’t know. I’m not crazy about that either.

I do know the solution isn’t alienatating our audience with petty name calling.

Our expectations for audiences need to be realistic. We can’t expect niche genres to get the same respect as accessible genres. That’s silly and maybe a bit infantile.

Here are three alternatives to that attitude.

1. Find ways to be accessible and artful instead forcing ourselves to choose between the two. Examples include Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers and of course Snarky Puppy.

2. Do a better job of reaching our niche instead of complaining that people outside our niche aren’t buying. Again, I wish we found this to be more intuitive.

3. Don’t change anything and face the consequences. Maybe the way you’re doing things is too central to your identity or too precious to be changed. That’s fine, just don’t expect any changes. You’ve heard of Einstein’s definition of insanity by now right?

Secondly I think we should reevaluate the way we think of ourselves as musicians. I consider myself a healer more than anything else. If you take a minute to consider *why* people listen to music, sometimes it comes down to wanting to be healed of some kind of internal malady.

Maybe a bad day at work, a break up with a significant other or just being tired.

Or maybe it’s not an internal malady, but simply filling in the time or curing boredom. Or going somewhere where there will be music to create the opportunity to build relationships and community.

Either way, its serving a purpose. Emphasis on serving. Most of our work is working as a servant. Maybe if we were willing to think of ourselves as servants and healers instead of high and lofty artists we’d enjoy our opportunities to play music more.

Yes, I know that’s unattractive.

Being a willing servant is so incredibly unattractive to us in Western society. When we’re put in positions of serving we whine, moan, complain, kick, and scream about it. This behavior actually just makes us more miserable, why not modify our outlook?

Thinking of things this way is the kind of thing that keeps me a happy drummer. I want to be a great servant to whoever I’m playing with and to the audience. I love being a great servant.

It’s time for us to stop hating on pop music and start loving our opportunities to heal and serve.

If you’d like to check out my drumming and other endeavors like my Facebook page!

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Perpetually Unimpressed (Or The Angry Salmon Face)

At the time of writing, I’m on a 6 week run playing drums for the musical West Side Story. It’s been a wonderful experience.

One of my favorite parts is seeing the different reactions of each audience. One audience will be rolling on the floor laughing at a joke while the other one will miss it. Completely. But that second audience will chuckle at one of the more nuanced humors that the first would totally miss.

Also due to the way the conductor’s podium is set up and the angle of my drum set I have the view of just one audience member every show. Everyone else is blocked by the barriers that keep people who are laughing too heartily or crying in too mobile a manner from falling into the orchestra pit.

Since I essentially have the show memorized, whenever there’s downtime between songs or a part of the show where I can safely take my eyes off the sheet music and the conductor, I like to take a peak at the face of this person. Especially when I know a good joke is coming up, or an impressive dance move or a sad moment.

In one particular show I had a lady who was perpetually unimpressed. She had what I and a friend in the pit now call an “angry salmon” face. All the time. There was only one time when she thought something was funny (it wasn’t even a very good joke) but she didn’t actually smile. She just un-frowned.

But in this afternoon’s show I had a completely different lady. She was engaged the entire time. She smiled, she gasped, she frowned, she laughed, clapped, cried, she even danced a bit during the Mambo. She got everything out of the show that she could.

I’m not necessarily knocking on angry salmon lady. Some people just have a face that looks like that. Or maybe her friend dragged her into the show and she didn’t want to go. Maybe it was a dare. I dunno. What I do know is the second lady had to have had a way better time.

My take away from these two contrasting ladies is simple.

I want to be like that second lady all the time.

I always want to walk into my experiences with her attitude. There’s obviously something about her that let her so deeply enjoy and engage the art in front of her. She came ready and open to being affected.

I’ve seen the angry salmon face before. I really don’t know what it’s about. Seems like a weird way to experience life to me. I think for some people it’s an excessive guard that they keep up. I think for others it’s just their personality. I know for certain people it’s intentional. They come off tough and hard if they’re unimpressed by everything around them.

Yuck. What a boring, unfulfilling existence that must be.

As for me, I hope every time I play music, or see music or art in general that I take on this lady’s persona.

Ready to go anywhere the art wants to take me.

Ready to cry, laugh, dance in my seat and smile at any moment.

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Listening With My Eyes

We’ve all seen it haven’t we?

The rhythm section guy at the jam session with his eyes closed. In the zone. Completely in tune with himself and his playing. Not so much with anyone else’s though.

Way too loud. Way too busy.

Way too soft. Way to sparse.

They’re obviously just listening to themselves, not anyone else. The sound, the audience, and the rest of the band are the victims, of course. They suffer the abuse of the self-centered super-musician while the musician enjoys they’re own incredible personal concert of none other than themselves being awesome. He’s his own world, closing everyone else off with his closed off eyes.

I don’t mean to say everyone who closes their eyes while they play is this guy. Some of my favorites close their eyes when they play, I’ve just made a conscious decision not to allow myself to do this.

Over time I’ve rapidly realized that I’m turning off my most important resource for communication when I close my eyes. Musicians can only accept communication with our ears and our eyes. That’s all we have.

So a secondary problem with closing our eyes when we play is cutting off the rest of the world. We can neither communicate nor accept communication when we close our eyes.

I think the primary problem is we can stop listening and stop prioritizing our listening. This doesn’t apply for everyone. But I will say that the people I enjoy playing with the most tend to have eyes open for connecting and the people I least enjoy playing with tend to have their eyes closed.

For me, my eyes are always focused on the most important thing going on, whatever that maybe. Usually its the soloist. Sometime it might be the bass player’s right hand as we start a new groove, or to encourage the piano player with a smile when they play a delicious voicing at the right moment. Maybe the conductor if I’m playing a musical or with an orchestra. It might even be my ride cymbal hand.

I call this listening with my eyes.

When I put effort into focusing my attention with my eyes I get so much more out of my experience. I play with the ensemble better. I concentrate on the current priority better. I remain engaged in each sound that’s made and react accordingly. I can enjoy the lovely surprises that the act of making music drops on you when you least expect it because I’m primed for the moment.

Listening with my eyes really works well for me. It may be that its not your thing and that’s just fine too. As long as you’re being a good band member and not being that guy I talked about earlier more power to you!

I triple dog dare you to give it a try though.

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