Comment by Andrew on No junk, no soul?

As a drug abusing, alcoholic musician I can say without a doubt, ‘Yes, it was and is worth it.’ Not only is it worth it, it’s necessary. Not so much the drugs, but the personality that will embrace drugs to cope with it’s existence. The individual who will shrug the pain of developing the finger callouses, tendonitis, arthritis, blown lip, etc. for the release of endorphins playing something ‘good’ brings will also likely shrug the dangers of drinking, smoking, or shooting whatever makes him feel better about his one true addiction…music.

That said, psychedelics are their own thing. Taking them not only makes you aware of different perspectives, it allows you to be one with them. Jimi Hendrix without LSD would’ve been just another exceptional blues guitarist. Maybe more because his career coincided with the invention of distortion and other effects. But what made him stand out was his connection to things he may have never personally experienced. Watch the woodstock video of his version of the national anthem. That wasn’t a new take on the blues scale. That was him expressing what his mind’s eye had seen of war. The 1st handers didn’t get a chance to play their guitars, but he was able to fully realize their plight and express it through his medium.

About the losses…death’s a part of life. We lose about as many musicians to plane crashes and cancer.

LondonJazzCollector mentioned the audience and the drugs they were on. The audience is a huge part of a music’s upbringing, evolution, and overall success. How many venues have you been to that didn’t have a bar? Where you didn’t smell weed near the back door? Where you didn’t suspect someone of a self-inflicted runny nose?

Drugs are as much a part of the music we know as an artist’s childhood, society, colleagues, or influences and it is worth it.

‘No junk, no soul.’

Guitarist’s block… Is that a thing?

I have thought to myself on more than one occasion that my frustration as a Guitarist must be similar to what a writer would call writers block.

The hours that I have spent so frustrated with not seeing improvements in my skill, or speed,  that for days or even weeks, I’d just have no interest in playing. Then maybe I pick it up for a couple of moments, lose interest at playing the same old, same old and put the guitar back down again.

I think most musicians hate doing endless repetitive scales or arpeggios and yearn to be able to improvise like Miles Davis or Grant Green. Those same musicians most likely know the importance of these exercises in the grander scheme that is Music. It would be like writing your first book with a vocabulary of a five year old.

Conversely, i have heard from many guitarist friends of mine that the drive to play better and faster becomes almost an obsession. I myself have periods when I am not satisfied until I go through my drills and make no mistakes. And if I make a mistake, I just start over again.

I constantly think that I should be farther along in my development than I am, that maybe I should play in a Jazz band or push myself more. But, I just have to remind myself that I have many years of learning ahead of me, and when I am ready, I will do these things.

I also get constantly frustrated with what I call ‘Frankensteins Hand Syndrome’, where it sometimes feels like one (or both) of my hands feel like they have loose wiring between them and my brain. My brain seems to be very capable of learning fretboard patterns and chord shapes, but I sometimes feel let down by my fingerwork.

When guitarists block kicks in, it is tough to keep to a daily practice schedule. Everything becomes a chore, scales become lines on a blackboard, fingers feel sluggish, your brain just can’t be bothered. You know that if you don’t play for a while, it is going to be a pain in the butt to get back to where you are.

Luckily, the remedy for guitarists block is to get inspiration from something or someone in the form of a mentor. Inspiration can come in any form.

In the past, my mentors have included Django Reinhart, Buddy Guy, Grant Green, Thelonious Monk and most recently Paul Mehling of the Hot Club of San Francisco.

So, in the event that you find yourself in the grip of this horrible affliction, I would recommend copious amounts of trawling for inspiration. I found Youtube very effective, but live performances are best.

Gifted or stubborn?

If you play a musical instrument, you probably fall into one of two categories…Naturally gifted, or dedicated and stubborn.  And if you are very lucky, both.

There have been numerous, truly gifted musicians over the years, some of which seemingly endowed with an ability to see music a different way, or a to be able to pick up an instrument and play it. And some, who really study and become so technically proficient that it is staggers you.

Personally, I have always been attracted to musicians who seem to have a raw, or god given talent for music (or art for that matter).

Grant Green, has been one of my favourite jazz guitarists for a long time. He arrived on the Jazz circuits as a young man, and the professional musicians that he was jamming with said that the things that had taken years to study, he picked up in a matter of minutes of playing with them. Jimi Hendrix, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, too, all seemingly gifted (or cursed) with the ability to see music differently and manipulate it in a different way to everybody else.

For the rest of us who have to study, practice, and work our fingers to the bone, I have a different kind of admiration. I personally started playing late in my life and while my brain is equipped to process music, and make sense of music theory, my hands have always been my handicap. The determination of somebody for whom music doesn’t come easy is a testament to my theme, they love music so much, that they study and study, and practice and practice.

It is frustrating, even infuriating at times. You constantly strive for perfection and very rarely achieve it. Let alone the hours spent going over scales over and over again. But it is always worth it in the end! If it were easy for everyone, there would be no value in it.

History celebrates the genius composers and super gifted musicians, as they well should.  But as most people who have tried to learn an instrument will tell you, the vast majority of working musicians have spent years of there lives learning their trade.

And that, deserves as much (if not more)  respect.