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Do You Overplay or Underplay? That’s the Wrong Question.

How about…Do you play with Beauty in mind?

France - Paris: Haunting Beauty

Over the years I’ve come to believe that beauty is directly related to order, and order only occurs through godly submission.  (note: Although there is a sense of order in forced labor and other forced forms of submission, that type of submission produces no beauty, only pain and sadness).

Consider our universe, the beauty of the stars, planets and heavenly bodies, even the seemingly chaotic activity in the cosmos, is the product of those bodies submitting to the laws God has placed over them.  The same goes for the beauty of our earth, whether it be mountains, plains, oceans, the vibrant colors of our seasons and infinite varieties of sunsets, all know their place and submit to the laws of the Creator.

Our relationships are made beautiful only when there is loving, orderly submission to one another.  Consider Paul’s exhortation for us to submit to one another out of love (Eph. 5-6), and most importantly, the example set by Jesus’ submission to the Father (John 15:10).  Once again, the orderly beauty of these relationships comes from loving, humble submission, not forced submission.

Art follows this path as well.  Beautiful art is art that was created by an artist, an artist that passionately formed the paint, clay, wood or stone to submit to his idea.  What about abstract art?  Where’s the beauty and order in something that is purposely created without order in mind?  Great question, but I believe the abstract artists create their works with the intent on the viewer finding order and beauty in the seeming chaos.  In other words, great abstract art inspires visions of beauty and order in the mind of the viewer.

Music is no different from the above examples.  The musician’s instrument submits to her hands and ideas to create the beautiful, orderly sound.  The band or orchestra, likewise is made up of fellow musicians with a like passion to create beauty from their combined, cooperative, orderly and purposeful playing of instruments and voices.  If one or more members chooses to not submit to the others, then order is disturbed and beauty tainted.

As a worship musician, I must play to inspire and represent beauty.  Why?  Because all beauty points to a creator. As human artists/creators, I believe it’s appropriate to receive and appreciate accolades for the beauty we create. However, as Christians, we must also remember that the beauty within us has been given to us by The Creator.  It is, therefore, our highest calling as musicians to make every effort to create beauty with our music so that we may point the listener, the worshiper, to the ultimate Creator of all beauty.

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Do You Practice with a Destination in Mind?

…or are you a drifter?

Sand Beach Drift Wood - Acadia National Park

I heard a powerful quote yesterday from former Thomas Nelson Publishing CEO Michael Hyatt, “You never drift to a destination you would have chosen.”  Ouch!

The best thing I can do when I read a quote like that is to ask myself how it applies to what I do. So, am I a drifter  musician? Do I just pick up my bass without a plan and “noodle” through a few minutes at random times, or do I have a destination chosen?

The “destination” could be having a song you want to learn by a certain date, a technique you want to master, or a gig you want to earn.  Simply put, when we have a “destination” in mind for our practice time, both short and long-term, we will increase our chances of reaching that destination 100-fold!

Think about your bass-playing destination today.  Then, consider how you can plan to reach it.

 

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From 4-String to 5-String – Some Tips on Making the Transition

Rogue LX205B Series II 5-string
I’ve had a few emails come in regarding challenges with transitioning to a 5-string bass from a 4-string, so here are some of my thoughts.

Anytime we make a transition to a new bass, whether more strings or a different make, there is some kind of adjustment period we need to allow ourselves. For many of us, this period can be frustrating and even discouraging to the point of not wanting to play this new instrument. However, I want you to remember this simple, yet profound quote from the German philosopher Goethe, “Everything is hard, before it is easy.” You and I must first go through the “hard” time of learning before the task will become easy, and believe me, it will become easy. How long will it take to get through the hard time? It depends on your ability, your discipline, and your patience.

Here are a few tips for getting used to your new 5-string:

Put your other bass in the case! If you want to learn a 5-string, then immerse yourself in it and commit to playing it until you got it.

Play songs. Enjoy getting to know the fifth string and how it relates to the other familiar four. Play some of the easiest songs you know, play some simple Blues lines, or even some familiar scales or arpeggios. Sometimes, it’s easy to make things hardJ Make learning your new instrument as much fun as you can.

Learn new songs. Learning a new song on your new bass is a great way to incorporate the new feel of that fifth

Overplay on the new fifth string. If it’s the low-B then, try to play a few songs with just root notes on the E and the B string, or the G and C if you’re adding the high-C. Your fingers are going to want to play the B in the same way as the E so, force them to learn the difference. Remember, we’re involving all our senses as we learn, so engage your ears, as they hear how the new notes relate to the feel of the strings.

Bring it to your next gig. Play your next gig ONLY with the 5-string. Leave your other bass at home! Having the “crutch” of your old familiar bass with you might be too tempting. Having only the 5-string will put you in a “sink or swim” situation and help you make the transition quicker. Mistakes will happen, but so will progress!

 

Remember, be patient with yourself and consistent with your new bass. Play often, have fun and enjoy those thundering low notes!

 

 

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Why You’re Not as Good as You Want to Be

Stop Procrastinating image

How many times have you been frustrated with yourself due to a poor performance, wasted practice time, or a sense of stagnation in your playing?  How many times have you looked back over the past year or two and thought, “I could have been so much better of a bassist if I only_______________”, if you only, what?

How would you fill in the blank?  If I only, practiced more?  Procrastinated less?  Worked in more bands?  Learned more songs?  Moved to Nashville, L.A., or New York?  Regardless of your answer, I believe it’s important for all of us to look back and assess how we have grown, or stagnated, in our talent.  For many of us, it can be painful to recall missed opportunities, relationships that suffered, or time that was simply wasted.  However, if we actually take the time to assess these things we will take a very important step toward significant, positive change…if we want to move forward!

Procrastination is Not a Medical Condition

The reason it’s difficult to believe we can change our ways is that we allow our past to define our identity.  Then, if we settle on that identity we feel that we are “locked in” and can simply never change.  I would look at my own proclivity toward procrastination and allow that to define me saying, “I’d practice more but I simply can’t keep to a good routine”.  After repeating that line to myself over the years, I began to believe it and create my identity, I’m a procrastinator.

Renowned motivational speaker Zig Ziglar used to say, “Failure is not a person, failure is an event”.  Hearing that quote made me realize that I considered Procrastination to be part of my DNA, procrastinator, to me was a person, ME!.  By thinking this way, I allowed myself an excuse for mediocrity. It’s like I was expecting people to understand my mediocre performance and growth, because I had a “condition”.  Don’t let yourself be limited by your past!

Let’s get something straight.  Procrastination is not an incurable medical condition.  I’ve been dealing with it for most of my life and have my share of regrets to prove it.  However, in the past 5 years, I’ve learned much about myself and how I have limited my own growth by simply refusing to believe I could change.  The truth is, I can change and so can you.  However, it requires that we first, do a few things to set ourselves up for successful change.

Success Is a Choice

If you want to be a better bass player, then you have to choose to be better.  Success will be much more certain when we set a goal to be successful.  But, be prepared to encounter obstacles!  Obstacles are the food Procrastination needs to survive.  Therefore, name your potential obstacles, be prepared to face them, then get them out of the way ASAP!  One of the best ways to avoid obstacles is to create a plan, any plan.  In fact, make it as SIMPLE a plan as you can.  You can add to it later.

Start With One Small Goal

Setting and achieving one small goal at a time will be more effective than trying to set too high or too many goals at one time.  Begin with planning a consistent 4-5 day a week practice routine. What should you start with?  How about using this chart and find three areas you’d like to improve in your playing.  If you’re looking for my suggestions, then I would work on three things – scales/arpeggios, right hand coordination, and learning a song.  Shoot for committing 15 min a day to these things.  Play a major scale for 5 minutes, eventually working through every key (click here for video demo).  If you are able to focus on your right hand (plucking hand for you left-handers:-) while playing your scales you’ll be “killing two birds” in one exercise.  Next, find an easy song that you can learn.  Find the chord chart and play the notes from the chords on the chart.  I’m including a link to a simple practice chart you can use (click here for the blank version).  Fill in the left-hand column with areas of practice and check the days that you accomplish your goal for the day. Remember, start small and you’ll begin to feel a sense of accomplishment as you see your subtle improvements.  IMPORTANT: IF YOU MISS A DAY, OR EVEN A WEEK, START WHERE YOU LEFT OFF.  We all miss practices, we all fall off our routines, but the successful musicians will not allow themselves to quit.  Make the choice to not quit!

 

Let me know how it goes.  I’d also love to hear what has worked for those of you who have overcome your own obstacles.

 

 

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Worship Music – Motivational or Manipulative?

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I have been a musician for the past thirty-six years of my life. Twenty-four of those years have been spent playing some type of “Christian” music, either for worship services, concerts, or youth camps. In those twenty years I have experienced some of the changes in how music is used within the Christian context. However, within the past few years the use of music in our Christian worship services has probably stirred my thoughts more than any other topic. Why? Because music has the ability to move people’s hearts as nothing else does.

Persuasive Power

The power of music has been used to move the hearts and minds of men in many ways throughout history. In Ancient Greece, music was used in cultic rituals to arouse a heightened consciousness in order for participants to become receptive to the gods.[1] Music was also used on the battlefield to rouse the troops and set a rhythm. Music has been used to express our feelings as we sing, dance, or play an instrument to express our moods. Many labor and civil rights movements have been driven by music as theme songs were sung in unity for their causes[2]. Music is used to create an atmosphere of joy, sadness, excitement, rebellion, energy, comedy, anger, and even worship?   Music has always been used by humanity to set a mood or drive a heart. This is my concern with our worship music today. All of the examples cited above, although taken from various cultures and times in history, can be traced to one common component within humanity, the heart, or more plainly, emotion.

A Responsible Use of Music in Worship

All of the applications for music mentioned above are for the purpose of moving the hearts of men to some type of action. Whether to stir the heart for battle, for protest, to take part in a debased cultic orgy, or to bring heartfelt praise and worship to God, music has been used as a primary source of motivation. So, how can today’s worship leader use this powerful means of communication responsibly?  What are the dangers of misusing music in our worship services?  I’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences.

[1] Quasten, Music and Worship in Pagan and Christian Antiquity, 34-36

[2] Pete Seeger recorded the lyrics of Chaplin’s Solidarity Forever to the tune of The Battle Hymn of the Republic. Also Peter, Paul, and Mary’s We Shall Overcome during the civil rights movements in the 60s.