Around the same time, I decided I wanted to learn how to play guitar I was lucky enough to have a couple of friends who were also interested in learning how to play musical instruments too. My friend Darren had just gotten a bass and my other friend Jake had recently acquired a full drum kit. My Dad’s basement became our designated practice space. I am forever grateful to my Dad for this. The hours we spent hacking away at barely identifiable cover songs at ear-splitting volumes could not have been pleasant for any living creature within earshot. What we were unaware of at the time was that while we were disturbing the entire block learning how to play our instruments we were also learning some other valuable lessons.
When we first started playing together there was a strong desire to hear ourselves and to be heard by others. So, we turned it up to eleven! We were like people at a large party all shouting to be heard. We would jump around and try to draw attention to ourselves. Initially, it was very exciting to be a part of this enormous ball of noise. But soon it became almost impossible to decipher who was doing what and when. Eventually, this became tiresome. Our ears would be ringing after practice and we all sensed a feeling of disconnection.
As we continued we started noticing the places where we were out of sync. We started to understand how much control we had over the sound we made. And if we just slowed down and started listening more things felt better. It took some time. It wasn’t perfect but we’re all committed to the work. We all became obsessed with learning how to emulate our favorite music. Slowly, we learned how to play more consciously. We figured out how to have more control of our instruments and to play off of each other. More and more, we fell into what a lot of musicians call “flow.” Flow is when you are seamlessly moving from playing to listening and everything feels connected. Before you know it we were writing our own songs and performing live in front of people. At times it was very tedious. We would have long debates about how things should sound. But our desires to make something good won out.
Learning how to play music with others is not unlike learning how to get along with people in general. You just swap out your instrument with your mind. It takes time to learn how to use your mind skillfully. Sometimes, when we are hyper-focused on our own voice, we fail to hear important things that other people have to say. Other times we pay so much attention to other people we allow our own voices to be drowned out. The point is when we develop good listening skills with tools like meditation we learn how much control we really have over our own mind-instruments. This opens up a path to making good music with everyone we meet
Hopefully, listening to some of this music will help to add more flow to your life. -MMM
This month’s playlist includes song by: Rainbow Room, Orville Peck, True Dreams, Scott Fagan, Corridor, Jesca Hoop, Lee “Scratch” Perry & Brian Eno, Bonny “Prince” Billy, Lucy Arnell, Norma Tanega, False Figures, Scientists, Ananda Shankar, Bill Callahan, Thurston Moore, Menahan Street Band, Amanaz
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