Drawing Circles – Counterclockwise/ Clockwise, Eyes Open/Eyes Closed

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? 

The Sticker Method: Creating a Habit of Practice

Available now from Etsy!

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 jasonplaystunes@gmail.com.

On Practicing – Sept. 2020

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.

Why do you play video games? Why do you play music? Why make art?

Imaginary World Podcast is one of my very favorite podcasts.

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.

  1. Skill and Achievement
  2. Social
  3. Money
  4. 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.
  • I’ve built a career out of teaching music, so I can’t escape the financial aspect of it. Getting paid to make music allows me to make more 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.

Let’s Have a Pizza Party! – Songwriting with 2nd Grade

It’s Saturday and for many people that means pizza!

Here’s a fun song to go along with your pizza party.

Some second graders from Hibbard Elementary and I wrote this song in 2018.

“Cheese and pepperoni! We’ll drink some juice!”

Here is a lyric and chord sheet that you can download to learn to play the song yourself!

How I Learn Old Time Tunes – Learning to Play the Tune, Nancy, from a Recording by Jonas Friddle

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.

Rain, Rain Go Away – First Guitar Lesson

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.

Rain, Rain Go Away – a perfect first song for beginning guitar players.

How to Find the Minor 2 (ii) Chord in a Major Scale – Video Lesson

During this challenging time of life I’ve been inspired by the Marquette Makers’ Project to keep busy with some creative work.

I’ve made a lot of lessons like this, but this is the first one where I used a virtual whiteboard and recorded my voice along with the drawings I made on the whiteboard.  It turned out pretty well and I learned a lot!

In the video I mention two songs that use the minor 2 chord.  Here are lyric and chord sheet for those to songs

Old Devil Time by Pete Seeger

Hungry Heart by Bruce Springsteen

Here is the weekly schedule for Marquette Makers’ Projects during the physical separation from our communities.  Cool stuff.  I’m excited to see what people are working on.

Juice Box – A Harmonica Song for Youth Musicians – Notation Download a Audio Recording

Hi everyone,

Today I’m teaching my first workshop as part of Winter Roots Festival in Marquette, MI.  In honor of this big day I wrote a new song for you to learn on your harmonica!  It’s called Juice Box and it’s all about everyone’s favorite drink . . . a juice box!

Here is some recordings of me singing and playing the song. The first recording is just the harmonica part.  The second is my harmonica, my guitar and my voice.

You can download a FREE .pdf of the notation of this song.  Print it double-sided an cut the paper along the dotted line to make your own zine!  The zine also has the notation to another favorite song, Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.


Snowy Day – A Song for Young Musicians – Video and Zine

Recently, it was a very snowy morning here in Marquette, MI.  I was waiting for some of my students to have their lesson and I wrote this song.

I made a video of me playing the song, and there is a .pdf of a zine that you can print out to help you learn it.  Print it double-sided and then follow the instructions to make the zine!

The zine contains the lyrics, standard music notation, and specialized notation for harmonica, guitar and ‘ukulele. 

I was wondering, what would happen if we changed the lyrics from “snowy day” to “cloudy day” or “sunny day”.  What changes would you make in the rest of the lyrics so that the song is about your day?

Download the Snowy Day Zine here. Be sure to print it double sided and then watch the short video below to learn how to fold your zine.

Thanks to Ore Dock Brewing Company for letting me use their beautiful community space to make some music.

Watch this short video to learn how to fold your zine.