Practicing, Life-Hacking, and Intrinsic Motivation

Note: This post was originally published on my other website, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist.

For me, musical practice is a laboratory for life-hacking, not training for a competitive sport. Since fully adopting this attitude, I’ve been a lot happier, healthier, and more productive. Here are three reasons why you should base your practice on intrinsic motivation (for more on this concept, I highly recommend Daniel Pink’s book Drive):

  1. It prevents comparative thinking. I read – a lot – and in a bunch of different subjects related to the human condition. One of the nearly universal ideas is that comparing yourself to others is a surefire path to unhappiness. Sure, a lot of people enjoy a certain amount of competition, but getting stuck in this mindset is pure misery.
  2. The achievement is the solution, not the victory. Personally, I don’t get off on defeating others. For me, the best sense of accomplishment comes from figuring out a solution to a problem – which usually involves making a process more effective, more efficient, and/or more enjoyable.
  3. You live a more authentic life. I wrote my dissertation on authenticity (pro tip: don’t write a dissertation on authenticity), so it’s clearly been a core value in my life. Getting in touch with my intrinsic motivation has allowed me to better understand myself – contradictions, complexities, and all. Practicing smarter allows me to cultivate other interests and having a balanced life makes me a better practitioner.

How would your practice change if you started focusing more on your intrinsic motivation – rather than extrinsic competition? What life-hacking techniques have you used (or could you use) to make your practice better?

LP Stitch: Superunknown

In light of Chris Cornell’s recent, tragic passing, I stitched Soundgarden’s Superunknown (1994). I was 10 when this album came out and I quickly hopped on the grunge bandwagon (which – as a chubby, mid-western kid – was pretty unfortunate-looking, I’m sure). About four years later, I started playing the album on loop constantly. They say that 14 is a pretty formative year, pop-culture-wise. It seems fitting that I ended up in the city who’s music I idolized a child and teen.

Bonus: When I cross-stitch I often listen to KBCS, a local, awesome, eclectic radio station. Their funk program did an hour-long tribute to Chris Cornell (see playlist from 05/19/17). Initially, it seemed out of place, but I quickly realized just how much funkier and more soulful Cornell was compared to other grunge singers. The thing that cemented this view was hearing this cover of “Jesus Christ Pose” on the tribute program (original here).

The Art of Practicing Jazz Bass: Design Thinking

Note: this post was originally published on my other site, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist.

Lately, I’ve become mildly obsessed with “design thinking” – the process of finding creative, practical solutions to real-world problems – particularly its applications to practicing “smarter, not harder.” As I wrote about on this site, I’ve recently been dealing with some health issues that have hindered my progress in finishing the e-book. I’m hoping that this delay will actually be for the better, as I incorporate my recent research and insights into the final product.

Here are the three insights from design thinking that are most relevant to practicing jazz bass:

  1. Learn from “mistakes”: In many forms of music education, mistakes are something to be feared and avoided at all costs. In design thinking “mistakes” are merely an opportunity to assess what works, what doesn’t work, and – most importantly – how to keep improving individual and group performances.
  2. Stay focused on the positive: Not only are mistakes highly discouraged in music education, they tend to be punished with criticism, demotions, and/or bad grades. Instead, design thinking encourages people to brainstorm innovative ways to achieve better results. Instead of, “You failed because of ____________,” it’s, “How might we modify _____________ to create success?”
  3. Be empathetic: Design thinking is based on the joys and challenges of being human. Even though music is part of the humanities, it’s been infected by the one-size-fits-all, factory model of public education. Each person is different and requires different things out of their musical learning and practice. Furthermore, these needs often change over time – sometimes on a day-to-day basis! By staying focused on what does/doesn’t work, experimenting with numerous approaches, and accepting diversity, musicians can find unique, exciting ways to approach practice, rehearsal, and performance.

In future posts, I’ll elaborate more on these points and incorporate more specific insights from researching this topic. In the meantime, happy practicing!

Renaissance Minimalist: Focusing on Vitality

For the last few months, I’ve been flying under the radar. While gigs, teaching, and writing have certainly kept me busy, I’ve been dealing with a series of health issues best described as, “Nothing serious, but definitely annoying.” It’s especially annoying because I’ve spent years trying to better manage my physical and emotional health and thought I was doing well.

Recently, I’ve made a paradigm shift. I’ve gotten into “design thinking,” which focuses on solutions, rather than on problems. In doing so, I realized that I’ve been focusing way too much on problems (specific maladies) and not nearly enough on solutions (developing overall vitality).

Vitality refers to both physical and mental strength – which can be cultivated by anyone regardless of their condition or ability. Rather than focusing on the foods and experiences that I’m giving up for the sake of my health, I’m learning to appreciate the vitality that I’m gaining through healthier eating and living.

Vitality also provides an umbrella term that unites my seemingly disparate passions – whether teaching, learning musical instruments, practicing yoga, or cross-stitching, each helps improve my body and/or mind.

As I recently told my mom, “I’m not quite ready to get back to being awesome.” That said, I’m hoping my blogging will pick up a little bit (my goal is two posts per week) as things settle down. In the meantime, the best advice that I can give anyone is to focus on finding solutions over dwelling on problems.

Renaissance Minimalist: PhD Unplugged

I’m on the internet for less than 30 minutes a day – and it’s awesome! Recently, I started opting out of emails and social media notifications. Now, I quickly reply to emails once a day and limit my remaining time to listening to music, checking out library e-books, and paying bills. (I’m even starting to hand-draft posts) Here are the 3 best things about living (mostly) offline:

  1. My professional life is now 95% playing/teaching/writing and only 5% administrative tasks. This is awesome.
  2. My brain is rewiring to be more mindful, focused, and content. This is also awesome.
  3. My schedules is less cluttered, allowing me to be available to assist others when crises arise unexpectedly. Not super-glamorous, but still pretty awesome.

Like my actual diet, I know that a continual, highly-restrictive internet diet isn’t for everyone. But if you’re feeling like internet and other forms of screen-time are draining your energy, mood, and productivity, it may be time to unplug…

Theory Bass-ics: Functional Circle-of-Fourths for Blues

Note: This post was originally published on my other site, Gig-Ready Jazz Bassist.

I’m still lurching towards finishing the e-book, but in the meantime I want to expand on a concept that I wrote about in the last Theory Bass-ics: understanding how chords relate to the circle-of-fourths.

Recently, I started using a chart that I call the “functional circle-of-fourths” in my teaching. In it, the tonic (or Roman Numeral I) is at the top of the circle and the rest of the chords are graphed out by harmonic function. This version is for “C Jam Blues” (see below for chart), which is in ‘C’ and has a very simple harmonic progression:

The reason that this model is helpful is that it makes it easier to understand (and memorize) chord progressions in tunes. Most of us know that I-IV-V is the typical “3-chord progression” in blues and rock, but we don’t think about how all three are adjacent to each other at the top of the circle-of-fourths. And as I mentioned in the previous Theory Bass-ics post, it’s easier to understand ii-V-I progressions if you can visualize them on the circle-of-fourths.

“C Jam Blues” is about as basic as it gets in terms of chord progressions (and with the added bonus of being in the key of ‘C’). In future posts, I’ll analyze more complicated tunes using this model (I’m already making my students do similar analyses for each of our tunes – which is equal parts frustrating and productive for them). Stay tuned!

LP Stitch: Head Hunters

Although I’ve been busy with the e-book, I’ve still been cranking out my LP Stitch projects. This one, Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters (1973) will be up for auction at Jazz Night School’sSwing Jazz to Life” fundraiser on May 6th. My reproduction of Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue will also be available. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend the even because I’m playing with SWOJO featuring Christine Jensen that same night (but am very excited about the concert!) For more information about my upcoming performances, see Calendar.