I’ve been looking into some of my limiting beliefs about both my ability to create art and about how we all create art in general. This memory – a mix of good and bad feelings – is prominent enough that I think about it often.
In the 3rd grade I read a book called Dominic, by William Steig. I don’t remember much about it, except that I really, really liked it. Turns out, it’s a book about a dog who kind of hits the road. That the book resonated so much is interesting in and of itself, considering how my life has taken shape.
We made diorama for the book we were reading. It was during this process that my dad showed me how I could draw a graph over a drawing and then draw the same graph on another piece of paper and use it to copy the original.
I drew a bunch of the books’ characters that way and handed in my diorama. I was thrilled that I could replicate the characters in a way that made the diorama look like a pop-up version of the book.
I remember very strongly that the teacher asked, “Did you draw those yourself?” I remember that she seemed skeptical when I answered yes; like she thought I was lying. I don’t want this to be the story of an evil adult squashing my creativity. I liked this teacher, and she liked me. Looking back, I assume she was surprised at what I had made because I had probably never made something that looked like that before.
Why does this memory, of all the moments, stick so strongly in my mind? It’s strong enough that I’ve thought about it many, many times over 35 years. This memory has affected choices I’ve made a beliefs I have about what tools I am “allowed” to use when I create art and how much I can say that a piece of work is mine. That, “Yes, I made this.”
How will this story change now that I’ve brought it out into the light?
This is the continuation of some thoughts I’ve been thinking and discussions I’ve been having around the idea of talent.
As a guitar teacher, I spend a great deal of lesson time on the mechanics of playing the guitar. The sounds that musicians are able to achieve from the guitar are wildly varied, and it can take some work for students to expand their physical habits to allow for those sounds to be achieved.
In my limited time as an art student, there hasn’t been much talk of the physical movements needed to achieve my goals. It really caught my attention when my art teacher mentioned an exercise a teacher had her perform in art school where they had to draw circles on a piece of news print.
I took some time this morning to try it out. I stood arms length away from the paper and just drew circles. The first one is one that I unconsciously “completed”. I drew to the counterclockwise to make the first half and then started again and completed it at the top.
The rest are made with one continuous movement; standing an arm’s length away from the paper.
Some things I noticed:
Starting at the top and drawing counterclockwise, the charcoal slid right along the page. But, when I needed to swing up to complete the circle, my arm had a much more difficult time controlling the line. Instead of being loose, the line would skip. As my arm tensed to gain control, the line would become too shallow or to wide.
I started to close my eyes. This is something that I know from guitar playing. We, as musicians, can play a lot more accurately than we might think with our eyes closed. Sometimes, we’re even better with our eyes closed.
I closed my eyes and got a picture of the circle I wanted to draw in my mind, and then I’d draw it.
If completing the circle was the goal, I was MUCH more accurate than I thought I would be.
If I drew counterclockwise with my eyes closed, I was able to complete the circle almost every time.
If I drew clockwise with my eyes closed, it was much more challenging. I almost never completed a circle.
On drawing clockwise – I thought it was very interesting that I had to be very, very deliberate if I wanted to draw clockwise. Many times I’d think, “OK. I’m going to draw this one clockwise.” But, then I’d put the charcoal down and end up drawing counterclockwise. This happened several times in a row. I realized that I had to be much, much more deliberate if I wanted to draw counterclockwise.
What do you think? Do people have a talent for drawing circles? How good do you think one could become as a circle drawer? Do you like them? Are the completed circles the only ones that you like?
I take visual art classes with the most amazing person; Kaye Buchman. Her art classes have moved online and it has been a highlight of the week to meet with her and the other students. I’ve been saying that the pandemic has taught me that, “A good teacher in person is going to be a good teacher online,” and Kye certainly proves that to be true.
Kaye and I always talk music almost as much as we do art, so I wanted to write a theme song for her art studio; KB Studio. Building community is the name of the game at Kaye’s studio, so I was thrilled when one of the other students, Mary Ridley, agreed to sing the song I wrote. Enjoy the music and take a look at kbstudio.us if you want to build your visual art practice. She is fantastic.
You can listen to the song right here. And, you can download the notation of the song, here.
This fall I published my latest zine, The Sticker Method: Creating a Habit of Practice. This is a method for taking a lot of the stress that can come with being a learner/do-er out of our lives. I’ve developed the method over my lifetime as both a teacher and a student.
I am a user of The Sticker Method and one of my favorite aspects of it is that the method can be used for anything. If you’ve heard my music, seen my drawings, watched my skateboard videos, or if we’ve talked about developing a habit of going to the gym, then you’ve seen The Sticker Method in action.
What are you going to practice? I’d love to know. Drop me a note at email@example.com.
I’ve been playing guitar for a long time. And, I teach a lot of guitar players that haven’t played for very long (comparatively).
Learning to play is a lot of work, and for the most part it’s very solitary work, so “the public” only sees the “finished” product.
As a teacher, I can tell that it is difficult for students (especially adult students) to believe that I have had, and continue to have, all those same challenges that they have. I’m not special, I’ve just been doing it for a long time. The work isn’t any easier, I just know how to do the work.
Here is a short excerpt of a tune I recently wrote. It has a part right in the middle where my fingers need to make a move that they are not familiar with. Now it’s time for me to take my own advice! Slow down. Play with intention. Don’t let your habit take over because your habit doesn’t know it.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve played this very short section over the past couple days. Finally, it’s starting to come together.
It’s taken a lot of work. The work is the thing to do.
We can’t have camp this year because of the pandemic. So, Coach Denisse Franco and I wrote a little song to share with the campers. Today, in Segundo Barrio, El Paso TX, some of the coaches will be distributing care packages with books, sports equipment and a zine with this song. It’s called Amigos de Basketball en el Barrio.
Since 2016 I’ve been the music director at the best summer camp. It’s called Basketball in the Barrio and it is the most amazing sports, literacy, health and fitness, music, poetry, social justice, visual art camp you’ll ever experience.
I wrote the tune and made the zine. Coach Denisse wrote the lyrics. I think you’ll agree that they are very fitting for this challenging time in our society.
Here are the lyrics. Download a zine to help you learn the song here. A recording of me singing and playing the song is after the lyrics.
Pronto jugaremos, sí. Yo te cuido y tú a mí. – Coach Denisse
This week’s episode, Fighting a Virtual Pandemic (embedded at the bottom), is all our actual pandemic as it relates to a video game called World of Warcraft.
I don’t really play video games, but I still find the episodes about video games so interesting.
There is a moment at about 17:80 when the interviewee, Virginia Wilkerson, talks about the different reasons people play video games. She says,
People live life for different reasons and people play video games for many different reasons. I’m sort of like a skill and achievement-based player. I want to be the best in my class that I can be. And then there are people who play purely for social reasons that aren’t interested in going to the high level raids and really maxing out their characters. And then you have a small subset of people who play just for the economics of the auction house in World of Warcraft. And then you have lots of people who play for the roll playing. Like it’s Dungeons and Dragons or something similar to that.
Here description of the 4 reasons people play video games caught my attention.
Skill and Achievement
Role Playing/Character (which I would call emotion)
I see those four facets in my own reasons for playing music. It made me pause and think about how I relate to those aspects of playing.
For skill and achievement, I do like to do my best, and be known as someone with a high level of skill. But, I don’t go out of my way to be the best player or something. I play to my abilities and standards, and I don’t worry about music else.
I do play music for the social interactions to be sure. I think that is why I excelled within a musical community like the Old Town School of Folk Music, which puts a high value on the social aspect of music.
And, I do think that I have a character when I’m playing. I LOVE to be on stage and I love to put my limited acting range into the music I play. For me, this is where the emotion of my music comes out. I don’t have a character in the way that David Bowie or Bruce Springsteen have, but it’s there. It may be subtle, but know I’m a different person off stage than I am on.
If I had to put a number on these aspects of my interest in music it would be something like 30% skill, 30% social, 15% money, 25% character.
Those numbers are very different than my drawing work. That is more like 50% skill, 25% social, 5% money, 20% emotion.
What about you? Why do you do things like play music or video games? Or dance, draw, play sports, write poetry, ride a skateboard? I would be interested in knowing. I’ll leave the comments open. Thank you for sharing.
For someone who is relatively new at playing music, learning a new tune, or a bunch of new tunes can be overwhelming.
Because of this, I thought I would share my process for learning tunes. Maybe you’ll find it helpful to see how I do it. In this video I learn the tune Nancy on my harmonica. I learn an arrangement from my good friend, Jonas Friddle. I highly recommend checking out more of his music at jonasfriddle.com
Enter your email address here to receive a free .pdf that accompanies this video essay.
Here is a quick guitar lesson for total beginners. This is my usual first lesson for both youth and adult musicians. If you can do this, you can do anything on the guitar! This will get you started.
If you do get started with this lesson and are looking for some more in depth study, let me know! I’ve moved all of my teaching online for the time being and would love to meet with you. We’ll have you playing in no time!
Here’s the Rain, Rain Go Away video lesson and here is a free download of the lyric and melody sheet.