Thursday, April 30, 2015

Intentional Listening

Happy #ThrowbackThursday, comrades!

  Just went up the street to drop some stuff off at the thrift store....annnd wound up getting some cool jazz records.

  As is human nature, I've been justifying my obsession with collecting music, and I've stumbled onto a cool idea that I'd like to share with you.  I think it can improve both your musicianship and your life (and at the very least, make me feel OK about all the crazy records.)

  What if you looked at music the way nutritionists look at food?  You know the food pyramid, with the recommended daily servings of the different food groups?  What if you did that with music?

  I've been telling this idea to a few comrades this week, and wanted to share it with you.  What if you tried to listen to at least five styles of music each day?  (So far, I'm on track.  I woke up to the classical radio station, blasted some Franz Ferdinand, was studying and building a Run DMC beat in my studio, put on a Motown record, listened to Poets of the Fall - pop rock from Finland - and now have Billy Taylor spinning on the classroom turntable.  He's jazz, and I've never heard him before.  Wow, what an album!)

  I'm intrigued with this idea of intentional, or active listening. One of the first questions I ask my guitar students is "what have you been listening to?"  Most people, myself included, listen to what's there, be it on the radio, the iPhone, or whatever we put on our playlist a few months ago.

  I'd encourage you to go beyond, and watch your musical diet.  Listen to what you like, and keep adding stuff.  I hope that I'm right when I say "you are what you hear."  Of course, this wouldn't explain why I can't play Mozart, but I like to think that, deep in my musical mind, there's a bit of everything that I listen to.

  Our intention can be to hit a balance, like the five styles a day, it can be a research, as in "I'm going to add some gypsy jazz elements to my playing, so first I'll add it to my listening", or it can be an all-consuming study, as it was with most of my family when we discovered Stevie Ray Vaughan...and got a ton of his bootleg recordings.

  The point is - try paying attention to how you listen to music, and see what happens.

  As I was visiting with my father, and we discussed 1960's tunes as a Beatles record played, he made the point of how lucky we are to have access to recordings.  Imagine being a composer before you could listen to music on the radio or any sort of recording.  Here we have a shelf of priceless knowledge that we can access any time we like.  Want to know how Beethoven would put some chords together?  Go ask him!  (listen.)  Wondering about cool snare drum sounds and how they evolved over the years?  Listen to Elvis, The Temptations, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, and Pharrell Williams.  They're all there, and we can learn from them anytime we like.

So...have fun listening!  I always learn a lot when I do.  And try that 5-style a day experiment and see how it works.  If you haven't already, download a free Spotify account to access pretty much any song ever.

- Josh

         (My living room, being taken over by my record collection!)

Monday, April 27, 2015

The 2015 Rail Tour!


  Happy #MusicMonday!

  Boy oh boy, I've got some exciting news for you today!  I'm proud to announce....The 2015 Rail Tour!  That's right, backed by my newly-formed label, 5th Grade Records, I'll be embarking on a 10 city tour on September 4th, and of course, playing a lot of online events, too.  (I'm also excited to see if the new live-streaming apps like Periscope and Meerkat will help bring the tour to everyone!)

  Now, now, big news for me, but let's face it, it wouldn't appear to influence you at all.  "Bah, good for him" you might be growling into your fifth cup of coffee, trying to catch up on a mountain of paperwork.  "Musicians...."

  Yes, I realize that, at first glance, this might be another "Hey, I'm going to travel half a day by dragonfly to a Spanish castle, with your help on kickstarter!" type of deal.  (Bonus points if anyone gets the Hendrix reference.)

  But nope, this is a bit different.  There will be a cool social/world bettering element announced soon, and as with previous projects, it's very interactive.  So, basically, I get the hassle of checking into distant hotels in the middle of the night, and you get the fun of a being part of a big social and music project.  Plus, there's no money or fundraising involved from individuals, so you don't have to worry about that.  I can't wait, and the planning phase is kicking off in a big way!

  Just off the top of my head, at this part in the logistical journey, I'm especially looking to talk to musicians to collaborate in the cities listed, venues/performance opportunities, business sponsors, media connections and outlets, and anyone enthusiastic about the idea!

  Happy #MusicMonday, and WOW this is going to be fun!

All Aboaaaaaarrrrd!

- Josh

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The Rockchemist

Happy Earth Day, comrades!

  Have you heard the story The Alchemist?  To sum it up in the bluntest of terms, a dude goes looking for a treasure, travels far and wide, and in a distant land, figures out it's under his stove.  At home.

Or something like that.

  I was just working on some songwriting, and I was "taking inventory."  It's a new thing I do when I write.  I see what's going on in my mind, and what I'd like to write about.  I was sitting hunched over my desk, inside, on the most beautiful earth day I can remember.  Suddenly, in a corner of my mind, I discovered a much younger version of myself, sitting there in a dusty corner with 80's toys.  I had forgotten about him, and he wanted to forget all of this boring adult work, and go outside.  So, I finished up the writing, and wandered out into the light from our nearest star.

  Immediately I was drawn to the flowers under the dogwood tree.  I really need to mow the lawn, but an unexpected benefit from my procrastination is the miniature meadow of wildflowers under the tree.  I crouched down, and watched the bees tend their garden.   They looked like flying puzzles, ones which I could spend lifetimes studying.  Some of the plants flickered into recognition.  "Creeping Charlie...Dandelion...Indian Strawberry...Violet.."

  I remembered how I would get the same sense of delight witnessing nature as a child.  I wanted to be part of it.  So, I begin to study it.  I was this close to becoming a naturalist instead of musician.  But, studying something brings a different sort of joy, and in a way, only further removes one from the initial awe of the situation.  Perhaps my way is just to sit with the delight and magic, just watching.  (Don't get me wrong, I have the greatest respect for the study of nature, and believe it essential to the planet's well-being.)

  I wondered if I was doing the same thing with music, dissecting the mystical roar of the electric guitar into specifications of amplifier circuits, music theory, and techniques.

  I realized that it was a bit of an Alchemist moment for me...studying nature so thoroughly, wanting to be part of it.  Studying music so thoroughly, that it seemed tired sometimes.  And now, in a home I had purchased with the money I made from music, across from a forest I had helped save with my involvement in grassroots organizing....the answer I had been looking for was just to sit and look at the weeds blooming so stunningly in an unkempt simply sit with the magic, not to do anything with it.  Sort of like what psychologist Erich Fromm would say..."To have, or to be?"

So, I just lay in the grass with my eyes closed, feeling the sun on my face as the windchimes sang and the bees tended their garden.

(Unlike The Alchemist, there's no way I'm looking under the stove, though.)

Happy Earth Day.  May you find what you're looking for.

- Josh