Blog

My Escalating Obsession with “Tribal Leadership”

For better or worse, I tend to jump between obsessions – certain books/ideas that I cram into just about every conversation. My current obsession is the book Tribal Leadership. I’ve summarized the ideas in the infographic above – individuals and groups go through five stages from least to most productive:

  1. “Life sucks”: Alienated and nihilistic, individuals are focused on survival (examples of groups include gangs and prisons).
  2. “My life sucks (and it’s your fault)”: Separate and resentful, individuals feel powerless to advance in life (examples of groups include many office environments – represented in the comic “Dilbert,” the movie “Office Space,” etc.)
  3. “I’m great (but you’re not)”: Personal and self-centered, individuals are focused on gaining competitive advantage over others (examples of groups include most corporate cultures – personified by our current commander in chief (who is mentioned repeatedly in the book (which was written back in 2008) as the patron saint of Stage 3)
  4. “We’re great (but they’re not)”: Partnership-based and productive, individuals set aside their egos to work together (examples of groups include high-functioning companies such as Apple)
  5. “Life is great”: Team-based and transformative, this is Stage 4 teams working at their very best – with the only competition being what’s possible

The problem with music – along with many other competitive fields – is that most people get stuck in Stage 3.  I haven’t been immune to this – I’ve gotten snagged on personal development and self-promotion. To get from Stage 3 to Stage 4, individuals must go through an epiphany and realize that true happiness and impact comes from working with and to help others – not from being the best at your own thing. Most musicians recognize that Stage 4 groups vastly outperform Stage 3 groups, but few are willing to let go of their ego enough to make the shift themselves.

Right now, I’m figuring out how to help people progress through these stages through my performances, teaching, and publications. The main challenge is that people can only move up one stage at a time (or from the lower part of a stage to the middle-upper part). Thus, I’ll encounter groups where everyone is at roughly the same level musically, but at very different stages of Tribal Leadership. It’s challenging, but it’s no longer “me” against the world – it’s “us” plugging into the full potential of the tribe.

Music as Mindfulness Practice

While it took years of trial and (humiliating) error, I’ve somehow managed to become a fairly happy and productive person. The common theme with everything that’s made this possible is mindfulness. Now, as an instructor, I’m going to show others how to transform music, particularly jazz, into a mindfulness practice.

Continue reading “Music as Mindfulness Practice”

Lessons and Practice Decks

Well, summer’s somehow over and I’m back to teaching. After some setbacks earlier this year, I’m back with a vengeance and have some exciting announcements.

First, I’m (re)launching an online booking system for my lessons because I’ve increased my student load substantially (as my brother would say, “These are the kinds of problems you want to have…”) You can get more information on this site, including lesson terms and conditions, or go directly to the booking page. I will be teaching exclusively at Jazz Night School for the time being.

Second, I’m nearing the finish line and offering a first look at my upcoming publication: Practice Deck for Jazz Bass (Beginner Level). What started out as a standalone e-book has turned into a more innovative and interactive series. I’ll be publishing this and other sets in the series soon.

Finally, I’m preparing for an exciting concert. SWOJO will be performing as part of the Earshot Jazz Festival with DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle. The concert with feature winners of SWOJO’s Composition Contest for female composers. The concert is Wednesday October 25th, 7:30pm, at Shorewood Performing Arts Center. See SWOJO’s website for more information.

In Search of (Healthy, Productive) Flow

After 15 years of failing to live up to others’ ideas of peak performance, I found my salvation in an unlikely place – hacking into my beautiful, dark, twisted mind.

Backing up – a few weeks ago I read an awesome book called Stealing Fire, which distilled the dilemma I’ve faced for over a decade:

Scientists have known about the relationship between flow and peak performance for more than a century, but a real understanding of this relationship has been slow in coming. The main problem was conflicting motivations. The people really good at finding flow, mostly artists and athletes, were rarely interested in studying it. And the people interested in studying flow, primarily academics, were rarely good at finding it.

My problem was that when I was studying music, I wasn’t especially good at finding flow, but I’d gotten enough of a taste of it to feel starved once I switched to academia. The past two years have been me (with increasingly levels of desperation) trying to find a middle path between the two.

Continue reading “In Search of (Healthy, Productive) Flow”

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!