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Showing posts from November, 2015

Five Steps to Achieving the Impossible

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I recently decided to learn a song. It’s one that’s typical of a certain Irish style of singing which is very wordy, often humorous, with lots of alliteration and internal rhymes, and is sung quite fast.

I’ve always been crappy at memorizing pretty much anything. For all that people call me talented and artistic, poetry reading and acting were never options for me. My aikido students know that I can’t even remember the four basic principles: I get to three and then get stuck.  Memorizing a nine-verse song with long words that have to be exactly right or the rhymes don’t work, and no room for breathe or think? Out of the question.

But I wanted to.

And I was armed with some new tools for mastery that I've been using really successfully in my aikido and music practice.  So here’s what I did:
Start with absolute confidence that it was possiblePractice S-L-O-W-L-Y.  I have a cool program called Amazing Slow Downer. I set it up in my car to loop the verses one at a time, at 80% speed…

Metronome - Part II - The Tai Chi of Music

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This entire post is pretty much paraphrased from my awesome piano teacher, David Leonhardt.

Most people, when they begin to play with a metronome, start by setting the metronome to slow. They practice until they are proficient at that speed, then they gradually speed up the metronome. Very seldom do people start the metronome at the speed they would like to play the tune, and then step by step, slow the metronome down.

This is kind of like a Tai Chi of music.

When you slow the music down to the point where you have big gaps between the chords or notes you have to play, a lot of really interesting things happen.


You can no longer play "automatically." It's just too slow. You actually have to know what you're going to do nextIt's a great focus practice, because, oddly, you're going so slowly that it's easy to lose track from one chord to the nextYou are going slowly enough to expose your (beneficial and not-so-beneficial) thought processes - you can see exac…

Using Rhythm to Create "Lift"

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Learning to play the violin has been great for me, because it brings another perspective to things I experience in aikido (and vice versa). One of these is how you can use rhythm to move peoples' bodies.

Using rhythm to create "lift"in music I play a lot of traditional music - Irish, American, Scottish, English, French Canadian, and more. Much of the traditional music repertoire is written for dancers. Of course, dancers need to know where the beat is. But musicians can also help make the dancing more fun by adding something called "lift." "Lift" makes the music feel lighter and more energetic. Some people do this unconsciously, but sometimes you have to focus on what you're doing or not doing to get it right. It might mean emphasizing the up-beat, or lightening up certain repeated notes, or even by creating spaces or rests. The most important point is that it's dance music and it should make you feel like dancing

Rhythm in self-defense?  My Ai…

I'm not complaining, but...

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I often think about the way that our habits of speech change our personality.
I have more than one friend who always seems to speak in complaints. They are wonderful people. They are my friends. But here's what I've noticed: When you complain a lot, you make a frowny face a lot. I know that I look better when I smile than when I frown. I want to look good. So I try not to complain.When you complain, people around you may react by getting defensive, or they may mentally distance themselves from you. They may even start to avoid you in general. I think that most people who complain are looking for community - they want someone to agree with them. Unfortunately complaining often has the opposite effect. Habitual complaining messes with your head. I've already written aboutTara Brach, who says that "Neurons that fire together wire together." If your brain is used to complaining, you start to look for things to complain about. You'll find them. Slowly but surely the…

No, no, no, no.

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In August I played at a fiddle contest. No, I didn't win. My goal was to make it through both tunes without stopping. And I achieved my goal. After all, I've only been playing for a couple of years.

In fact, before I played, I said something to the effect of: "I've only been playing for two and a half years - I'm saying this not to get your pity, but to tell you that if you want to try something that seems really hard, even at an 'advanced age,' go for it!"

After the contest was over, the musicians were starting a little jam session. Someone came up to me and told me how much what I said had inspired him. He said, "I really want to play again. I played when I was in high school, and everyone really thought I was good then."

"Well, why don't you come and play with us now? Someone will loan you a violin!"

"No, no, no, I couldn't do that, they would laugh at me!"

"OK. If you want to play as an adult, I have a couple …