When You Can’t Hear the Music

When I felt bad in the past I could always, ALWAYS find peace, solitude, love, affirmation — you name it, in music.  Music filled in what was missing.  It was my therapist when the world around me was swirling with change or surrounded by dark clouds.  A simple melody would whisper in my ear that everything is going to be alright, just hang in there.  You’re good.  We (music) got you.

Lately I don’t hear those whispers in music and it frightens me.

As mentioned in my previous post I’ve taken a social media break.  It has been good – no, it’s been great.  Great for getting my head out of my phone and in touch with now, being present, spending time with my family.  I read that when you stare at your phone while in a room full of friends/family, you’re telling them that the people on the phone are more important than they are.  I never thought about that but I don’t want to send that message to my wife or kids.  Studies show that some people actually become depressed when taking breaks from social media.  They were more in touch with how they were actually feeling rather than ignoring / drowning out those thoughts with pictures, videos, likes, emojis and other distractions.  Perhaps that is what I’m dealing with?  Perhaps depression was always there but drowned out by sound?

I haven’t been as motivated to practice.  That is highly unusual for me.  Normally I would literally count the seconds till I could pick up my instrument and explore a sound, melody, technique or just try and create something.  Lately I pick up my bass and while I go through the motions of practicing, the joy just plain isn’t there.  Yes, that frightens me.

It frightens me because I’ve always considered music my 6th sense.  Not because I am great at it but because it is as important to me as sight, hearing (obviously related), touch, taste, and smell.   I love listening to music and I love playing it.  It feels funny to be lost, know what’s missing and yet, can’t get back to it — even though it’s right there in front of you.  Admittedly I have not been getting a lot of rest.  Most days I am up by 4:30AM (or earlier) and usually begin my day just a few short hours afterwards.  Perhaps I’m just tired?  I hope so…

This past weekend brought a glimmer of hope.  I had friends over and we played tunes.  I originally wasn’t as charged up as I normally was.  I only practiced to ensure I would be able to support them and make the music good.  When we started playing, laughing and joking, I felt that joy for the first time in what feels like ages.  It felt wonderful.  I felt good.  I don’t have that same joy now but I am hopeful it is a sign that it hasn’t left me.  It’s still there.  Perhaps it is being quiet so I can deal with something – something that might be keeping me from taking that next big musical step?

Right now however, I’m not thinking about big musical steps.  I just want to hear and feel the music again like I used to.



Extended Social Media Vacation / Chris Potter is a Monster

I’ve been addicted to social media.

Granted, I don’t think I’m as bad as most but for me a break was required.  The amount of time I spent on Facebook or Instagram mindlessly scrolling through posts or pictures was too high.  This was time that I could spent reading, doing some focused music listening, practicing or more importantly being present with my family.

I have an addictive personality.  I know I can’t simply spend less time on social media.  If you have that ability, you are my hero.  I can’t.  I need to go cold turkey to break the habit.  Once I feel ready, I’ll tip toe back into it and try to develop a more healthy relationship.  Before that happens I need to develop new healthy habits (for me) and then use Facebook / Instagram as the fantastic marketing tool that it is.  Yes, it’s a great way to stay in touch with family and friends but at it’s core – it’s a marketing tool.

I’m on day 5 of the break.  I’ve found that I don’t spend as much time on my phone as I used to which is great – especially when I’m supposed to be spending time with my family, listening to what they are saying or watching a movie together.  I have been guilty of being distracted too many times so it is a huge change and enough of a benefit to keep it going.  Still not sure how long.

If anyone is curious about some of the articles that talk about social media and their effects on our lives – please hit me and I’ll send you some links.  You can also just hit YouTube and perform a few searches.  The info is out there for all.  Thanks to Damian Coccio for sending me really informative stuff.

A great byproduct of this break is I plan to spend more time on this site.  More writing, more posting videos and more development to make it better.  One of the first things I’ve done is setup a subscription option.  You can subscribe to receive updates via the subscription box on the right.  I welcome you to sign up and I thank you in advance.  This also puts a bit more pressure on me to post more regularly.  🙂

Chris Potter is a Monster

I’m a big fan of musician Bob Reynolds and his YouTube Vlog.  One of my favorite posts was a recording of one of his gigs with tenor sax giant Chris Potter.  Bob plays with Snarky Puppy and on one particular gig, Chris Potter agreed to sit in on a tune.  What happened on that stage was truly magical and in my opinion the perfect example of a player who has mastered his instrument and can respond to the sounds heard around him.

Watching this on YouTube gave me goosebumps.  The really cool thing was yesterday morning I had this video playing on TV.  My oldest son Henry walked into the room after waking up and watched the entire performance in silence.  His head moved up and down in response to the rhythm and pulse.  Normally he is a chatter box (like most 5 year old kids) but in this moment he was mesmerized.

So sounds like I need to either practice a lot more or find out if Chris would be interested in baby sitting my kids.  Music is powerful stuff.

What Really Matters

handsIt’s been ages since I’ve written anything on my blog.  Rather than say that I’m going to try and do better, I’ll simply apologize for my silence.  I do hope to come here more often to share my thoughts on music and life when the inspiration hits me.  Today is one of those days.

It is around the time of my birthday.  It’s a day that I usually keep a secret because I don’t like a lot of fuss or attention.  Truthfully, I’d be content to be left to my own devices – hidden in the basement exploring music (or video games to blow off steam).  Maybe go to the movie theater to watch a good sci-fi or action flick.  A great meal is always nice.  It’s funny – I don’t mind being spoiled but I certainly won’t ask for it.  Everyday I try to give what I’d like to receive.  I always will.  When someone is special to you, you’ll make them feel special everyday, not just 2 or 3 days out of the year.  If someone wants to do something nice for me – cool.  If not, I know the things I like and have no problem giving to myself if I’m able.  I’m rambling but I bring up my birthday because the thought of getting a year older has brought me into an interesting head space.

I get up around 5:30AM every morning to practice.  I’m not a professional musician but I love music so much and want to play it well that I’m compelled to do it.  5:30AM is the only time I can work on being a better musician without feeling guilty about not spending time with family.  It’s also the best time to have an uninterrupted and focused practice session.  If time permits, I do more after work.  I have a 9-5 that pays my bills and keeps me engaged mentally but when it comes to feeding my spirit and making me feel good, nothing comes remotely close to how I feel in the rare opportunities I’m able to make music with and for others.

Last night a good friend of mine came by and we worked on two tunes for a couple of hours.  During that span of time everything was right with the world.  I mean everything felt – right.  I wasn’t concerned about work, the responsibility of being a husband or father, the health of myself and my family or my fiances.  I was in the moment and the moment felt wonderful.  As I frequently say in my meditation class, I was in my true state.  The euphoria of that short span of time remains in my body now and that was only two hours in a total of 24.  That means something.

I’m always concerned with what people think of my love of music.  I’m 40-50ish, not a pro and yet I spend a tremendous amount of time practicing music, listening to music, studying music and anything that relates to organized sound.  Vibrational communication is what I like to call it.  I  sometimes worry that people would rather see me submerged in a book related to career advancement or something that would lead me to improved finances.  That self imposed mental roadblock will frequently lead me to not take my musical study seriously or not enjoy it as much.  It makes me second guess why I drag myself out of bed at the crack of dawn to bang out scales, chords and rhythms in an effort to create something meaningful.

Music is what I love to do.  For some people that is more than enough reason to pursue a passion but for someone like me who truthfully is a bit low on self esteem, it can be crippling.

As I add another year to my life I’ve begun to realize what is truly important and I’m starting to feel OK about being me.  I know that sounds strange but I remember feeling that way when I was younger.  I was bold and empowered by the freedom of no longer being considered a child.  At some point however, I began to operate based on what others were doing and what I thought others wanted to see in me.  Again, all self imposed but powerfully present none the less.  That type of thinking will lead you down a path that is not your own and if you’re not careful you’ll look up and find yourself on a road that is extremely foreign.

I know a few people think I’m having a mid-life crisis here.  Perhaps, but I prefer the term mid-life awakening.

In a world of constant change, my love for music is probably one of the few consistent things that have been with me my entire life.  Consistency is something you can always grab for stability when everything else is reeling (for better or for worse).  That feeling I got last night playing music confirms it and solidifies it.

No, I’m not thinking of a career change.  I’ve got a family to support and my new bass guitar addiction requires me to stay employed.  I feel blessed for the job that I have and I plan to continue to do the work that I do.  That being said, if it feels right for this long – it probably is.  Full steam ahead.

Mindful Practice, Laurie Frink

Since starting to learn bass guitar I am approaching practice different than before.  A lot of the things I am doing now I should have done when I started playing trumpet.  I would even dare to say these things were suggested to me but I either stopped doing them or dismissed them.  Now that I?ve been working in this new manner for the past few weeks I see tremendous value in it.  As of late, I’ve been amazed at my retention and the quality I’m getting out of my practice sessions.

In the past I would just practice until my chops got tired.  I would play my exercises and work  until I started to feel that familiar burn at which point I would put the horn down.  One thing I never took into account was mental fatigue and focus.  With my new practice routine I play for a maximum of 15 minutes.  I set an egg timer and once it rings ? I put my axe down and wait 5 minutes before I continue.  The important thing is during those 15 minutes I am mindful of what my brain is doing.  If it is not totally and completely engaged in the exercise, time for a break.  A good example would be this:

Practicing major scales descending?.  focusing on tone?.  focusing on the notes and their relation to the chord?  I wonder if I can squeeze in 18 holes of golf Sunday morning?  *What are you doing Eric??  get your head back in the game*?.  Ok, Ok?  Good clear tone?.  When does the new season of Sons of Anarchy start again?

At that point I have completely disconnected from the exercise.  Even if my chops or fingers (when playing bass) feel good ? it?s time to stop.  I give myself another 5 minute break and then I jump back in.  If I were to continue to play while not focusing I would get muscle  benefit but not much else.  Tomorrow I would start in the exact same place that I started.  While a certain lack of concentration is OK for some exercises, most require you to think about technique, feel, tone, etc.  To not be mindful of all aspects of an exercise defeats the purpose.  A lot of times we grind on the same exercises or drills over and over again wondering why they haven?t been completely absorbed.  Sure ? we may be playing the exercise from a physical standpoint but are we 100% engaged?  I can speak for myself and say I was not until recently.

In meditation we call this being mindful – fully and completely engaged with what you’re doing.  I teach a meditation class on Saturdays but in all honesty I never really applied those principals to my music.  Since I have started approaching practice this way I am amazed at my retention and ability to improve.

Try practicing mindfully.  Try to really connect with what your mind/brain is doing during exercises.  If you find it drifting outside of the practice room ? time for a break.  When you come back and make sure that everything is fully engaged in the process ? mind, body and spirit.

Laurie Frink

The trumpet community recently lost one of their shining champions.  Laurie Frink was a teacher who helped so many players develop their command of the instrument.  Ingrid Jensen, Dave Douglas and countless others have all shared tales of how she helped them become one with their horn which opened the door to true expression.  I had the pleasure of studying with her and my current teacher Jon Crowley was a student of hers as well.  Facebook was flooded with stories and tributes to Laurie when she passed.  It was then that I really grasped how much she meant to so many people – not just me.

Curious about how many people she touched?  Do a Google image search for “Laurie Frink trumpet” – you will see a few pictures of Laurie but even more pictures of the countless players she has helped over the years.  She was and always will be a blessing to us all.

Rest in peace Laurie…

Remembering Laurie Frink, The ‘Trumpet Mother’ Of The Jazz Scene

Bass – How Low Can You Go?

It has been a while since my last journal entry.  As usual life has been full of change, change and more change.  Some changes were small but there were certainly a few big life altering changes.  I won’t bore everyone with those details but I will provide an update on where I am with my pursuit of music.

The fire is still there.  Even when I was adjusting to fatherhood my mind was on music and what I wanted to accomplish.  The challenge was making the time.  What I came to realize is in many cases I was making excuses for not coming to my instrument.  There were plenty of opportunities to work on my craft and even a few opportunities to get out and play.  For one reason or another I found an excuse not to do it.  My son Henry Michael is coming into his own and definitely gives me moments where I can have a (somewhat) focused practice.  On top of that I have support at home to make time to play pretty consistently.  For some reason however – I didn’t.

Why have I been stuck?  I still don’t know the answer to that one.  Maybe I’m still recovering from the dark period.  Maybe I just needed a moment to catch my breath and look seriously at what I wanted to accomplish and why.  I will say working on anything when you’re in a bad place mentally (aka depressed) can be extremely counter-productive.  Music is no different.  I have always been extremely critical of my playing and when I’m in a bad mood it is much, much worse.  Every missed note, botched change and failed attempt at saying something on my horn was a direct negative hit to who I was as a person.  I wasn’t learning anything – I was simply reinforcing every negative thought that I had about myself.  Instead of approaching practice with a neutral attitude and accepting it as is – I used it as another reason to beat myself up even more.  Real talk.

Maybe that is why I avoided it (I just realized this as I’m writing)… I was tired and needed a break from those negative voices.  I need music to be fun again.  I still loved listening to it but playing was just not fun at all.  My teacher has been great with keeping me focused and working on the right things but he couldn’t stand there in the practice room and fight off the negative voices.  I needed to do something before it was too late.

The Answer (?)

Enter the electric bass.  When I first started playing trumpet everything was new.  Every blatty sound that came out of that bell was pure heaven.  Ok – that may be an exaggeration.  It wasn’t heaven for my ears but certainly for my spirit.  One thing about the trumpet is it was hard work from the beginning.  I know most things are exactly what we make them but my memory of starting out on trumpet was it’s a fun challenge.  I enjoyed the work but it wasn’t easy.  Fast forward to now – with my bad attitude it is hard AND it isn’t fun.  Not a good combination.

After talking to some friends I decided to fool around with the electric bass.  With it I hoped to find enjoyment in music again and maybe even heal my spirit in the process.  From a music theory standpoint I admired how bass players connected the changes in songs.  A well crafted bass line says so much about song form and I wanted my solos to have that type of quality.  I wanted to be able to solo over “There Will Never Be Another You” and have people recognize the tune without any accompaniment.  I hoped that the bass can translate that feel to my horn.

Well, the fun is back again but along with it – I am finding that I spend more time on the electric bass than on the trumpet.  I still go through my technical studies on the horn and have made an effort to keep up my chops but I will admit that a lot more of my time is spent learning the bass.  One of the great things about bass is the ability to practice in silence.  If the house is asleep I can still jam out into the wee hours of the morning before work or late at night before bed without a practice mute that makes things stuffy and completely disrupt my chops.

I have a new found respect for bass players and how important their role is in a band.  They dictate so much more than I ever realized.  I’ve always been a Beatles fan but I had no idea that Paul McCartney was such a killer bassist.  Playing the instrument also connected me to cats like Donald “Duck” Dunn and James Jamerson – and with that a reconnection with the music of my childhood (Motown and Staxx).  I had no idea how beautiful a bass could sound on a solo until I started checking out Jaco Pastorius (genius), Richard Bona, Jimmy Haslip and others.  I am fortunate to have friends who are bass players and they have been great with advice, listening advice and encouragement.  I also have a great teacher in Todd Johnson.

Bass is certainly not without it’s challenges.  My fingers are slow.  Like a snail crawling through peanut butter slow.  My hands are almost always sore every day.  It is incredibly challenging to maintain the groove of a tune while sliding all over the fretboard.  The difference however is my attitude.  Bass is new which in this case means it is fun.  This was the exact same mindset I had when I first put my trumpet to my lips and blasted out an awful 2nd space G.  As the vibrations of my bass rumble through my chest and body I feel it exorcising the evil demons (ego) that tell me I can’t play this music.

Is the bass that “other woman” threatening my main squeeze (trumpet)?  It is far too soon to say.  I have a ton of work to do before I can even think about taking the bass out of the basement.  More than that, I still feel like I have a lot to say on trumpet (or flugelhorn but that is a story for another post).  I will say that I am enjoying my reconnection with the joy to music and to be honest – that was what I wanted to find again.  If it leads to me becoming a better horn player – great.  If it leads to me becoming a bassist… well… that’s cool too.

If you never realized how important a bass line is to a song I offer this as proof.  James Jamerson’s bass line on “What’s Going On” is pure perfection.  Creative.  Grooving.  Dark Brilliance.  Combined with Marvin Gaye and the message of the song and you have magic.  Have you hugged a bass player today?