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.

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.


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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.

Higher Standards

In the last 6 months or so I’ve been much harder on my private students. I was hard on my drumline students this season too.

I said things like “that’s not good enough,” and “is that the best you can do?”

I also said “I’m disappointed,” and “don’t come back to a lesson with that kind of preparation again.”

Harsh right? Maybe. But maybe in general we all could use a harsh kick in the pants to start excelling instead of being mediocre. Maybe that sentence was harsh too. But I’m ok with that.

I didn’t just start pushing my students harder out of nowhere. They were “warned” if you will. I spent a lot of time talking with them about what my expectations were going to be and why my expectations for them had suddenly risen.

It was because my expectations for myself had risen. Dramatically.

I’m not sure where it came from, but I started seeing greatness in areas of my life that aren’t music. Example: Gordon Ramsay cooking a steak.

I began realizing that I had no excuse to not be as awesome as this girl doing a Karate saber demo.

And of course greatness in music too.

As a drummer and as an educator, I need to be striving for that level of greatness. Shoot, as a person I need to be striving for that level of greatness.

It’s my mission to share these kinds of things with my students when I get a chance so that’s what I did. Its not that I haven’t always dealt exclusively in high standards — I think and hope that I have. Just recent exposures to greatness have pushed me to more.

The results have been pretty outstanding to put it simply. They’ve worked a lot harder for me, thus forcing me to work harder for them. Higher standards rub off.

No one has complained either. I like how Gordon Ramsay cooks a steak, not so much how he terrorizes his chefs into doing it. While I’ve enforced high standards and accepted nothing less, I haven’t been mean or condescending. Just simply reporting the facts.

“This is not good enough,” isn’t mean. It’s honest. I think we could all do with a bit more honesty with ourselves, with others and especially others with us.

Being forward with my students has made all of us have better experiences. No one has complained, everyone has improved.

The more I experience greatness the more it rubs off on me. Hopefully it has the same effect on you. So go experience some greatness and then get to being great.

Don’t accept less than that, less than that is not good enough.