Photo Oct 26, 2 47 39 PM

notes on self-expression

I played another open mic last night and didn’t do as well as I had before… I began to be really hard on myself about it and was replaying every little mistake in my head. A friend mentioned something about how Coltrane could never really listen to his own music because of his quest for perfection and all he heard were all the little mistakes.

Though I’ve always kept close the quote from Miles Davis about mistakes, “Don’t fear mistakes. There are none.” I’ve taken that to mean that mistakes are crucial to the creative process and can be a incredible source of new ideas or ways to approach a song.

On that note… (um, no pun intended) I was able to stop myself from beating myself up about the performance and instead took a step back and asked myself, “What could I have done different? What are some strategies for making the next performance even better?”

NOTE: I’m figuring out that taking a step back and asking yourself something is a pretty f-in good thing to do.

Here’s a short list of what I came up with (and read further below for the big kicker about this process for myself):

Connect With Them

It’s always a good thing to establish a relationship with someone new. And this is a great thing for starting of a set of music. For me, this could look a lot of different ways: say hello, my name is… or taking a moment to breathe and looking out at them and making eye contact with a few… or even starting off with a story instead of music.

Clarity Counts

Across the arc of the night, from beginning to middles to end, being clear about what’s going on is key. Without it, I found the audience wandering and loud conversations taking over the place. I imagine that recognizing that one song has ended and another one is about to being is big. It’s like saying, “Here everyone is where the song has ended. We’re in this quiet time in between and I have this story or an introduction to the next piece… and here we go it’s about to start this new song and Bam!”

I’m not up there to just spew out some noise (unless I’m in a punk mood). It’s an experience we’re having together… not just me on the stage.


Passion should be apparent in every song… and not just to “them”, I gotta know the passion, too. If not, then why the hell am I out there? That doesn’t mean loud and boisterous all the time. If I’m deep into a song and it’s moving me, then it’s a pretty sure bet that it’s moving them, too. It’s infectious!

When passion is working, I lose my self and find a bigger Self to connect with. It’s a place where we all come together during that space the music is creating. To hit that FLOW when everything and everyone is grooving, that’s magic. In there, I can be the container and the base and the foundation through which everyone else has the space to find and have their own experience that can take them outside themselves to something greater. And when it’s places they don’t expect, it’s beautiful. Be excited, be proud, be fun.

Be Prepared

Down to the technicals of the execution of the song, it’s gotta be solid. I have to know the song in and out so that when it comes to making it live, there’s opportunity to improvise and adjust to the context of the place. When the song is easy, then I get to experience the magic of making it different. My mood, my intention, the crowd, the place… they all feed into creating a new and unique experience every time the songs are “made”. And they are made over and over each time they are voiced. This is having dominion over the music.

Everything In Working Order

And down then to the physicality of the instruments… my guitar, my body, my fingers, the strings, the stool, the capo, the clip. All of this should be in top shape. I can improvise when it’s not, though a lot of times that will take me out of the flow of creation when the song is being played. I forgot to move the capo down two frets for a particular song and it threw me off when I started to hit the higher notes. It’s a “mistake” that could have some potential, though. It changed the song fairly drastically… Hmm… maybe I should take a look at that.

Either way, fresh strings and a clean guitar. Clipped nails and a tight capo. All the little details make it important to be able to shine when the time comes that a song emerges triumphant in the shared space of experience.

So, after writing all of this… I realized, wait, this is not about music. Or, rather the music is about life and the things I’m telling myself about the music is directly related and applicable to everything else in my life. Facets, facets, facets! It’s all the same and so electrifyingly unique at every turn. All of my attitudes and approaches are reflected everywhere I turn. Passion in my work, being prepared with my kids, keeping my body in great physical shape, clarity in communication, connection with every relationship… that’s where it’s at.

If I’m grooving in one are, I’m going to open it up and let the other areas take it on.

Take your own particular experience that was not what you thought you could do. Ask yourself, “how can I make it better next time?” Be specific and answer yourself in detail. Then take a step back and ask, “where else can this advice work in my life?” Go for it!


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