Author Topic: A Lesson With Justin: You Have to Be Ready to Hear It, Not Just Ready to Play It  (Read 5852 times)

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Offline PattheBunny

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(note to Mods:  Not sure of where to post this, move it if you like).

I had a lesson with Justin when he was in Los Angeles.   And yes, he is very like he is on the Internet.  I suspect one reason he's successful is that he is so genuine.  And smart.   And funny.  But he's not all that nice. :)  It was a tough lesson because he didn't spare the truth.  And he told me something that I knew but in a way that I could finally hear it. 

First of all, I went in with the singer/songwriter thing my priority.  I half thought I should just tear up a six month practice routine with him -- if you play alot in context of songwriter, that is not, I'm afraid, the same as practice --  and I partly regret that I didn't.  But an hour is an hour.  I made my choice and now I will be  :'( in it.  I am sure the other direction would involve the same amount of work.     

Second of all, if I had thought it through I would have played a different second song in a different key and tempo and strum, but I didn't .  I played one song all through and a verse and chorus of another similar one.  I think it was just as well in the end.  You have to put learning in front of trying to convince your teacher that you aren't an idiot and might have a teeny tiny bit of talent somewhere inside, in other words, forget showing off.   Just forget it.   This isn't Los Angeles' Got Talent.   Thank God.

I knew that I had to watch him watch me and that was a little difficult at first, because you become so self conscious.   And believe me, watching someone watch you looking for what you are doing wrong is not easy.  It's not that he didn't say the song was nice. He did.  And even if he didn't, I like the song.   It's that he wasn't there to say the song was nice.   So it began.

The text and the subtext were of course different.  What he said was that I needed to really examine the lack of dynamics in my playing, and figure out how to change them.  That I needed to get on with finding other chord shapes, open ones, to make a simple song sound fresh.   That I needed to consider whether I might not do better with a different instrument -- cowbell, for instance.  (that last one was my inner voice chiming right in, but I shut her up.  I have it on good authority that cowbell is harder than guitar :) ) It doesn't even sound all that awful, what he said, but it means giving up on a lot of habit and finally embedding a new way of interacting with my instrument.  My strumming like a monkey days are over.  And that's a little sad.  I enjoyed it so, and it was so easy to be that way. My default, he said.  Everyone has one.  And none of them are good for you.     

Here's the subtext.  And I believe it's even more important for everyone stuck anywhere or confused or discouraged or even thinking they are the bees knees.    Until you are ready to hear something, you will not.   Readiness is all.   I knew this was a problem for a long time.  I even told myself it was an issue I had to deal with.  It's just that I rolled over it in favor of working on a new song, or trying to strum harder (tis' true, I play violently when I am nervous or just not "present".   But it was only when Justin said with no hesitation, "I had to force myself to listen to the second verse," that I heard it.   That I was shutting out people.   That I could not be heard until I changed.   And really, for me, it's about being heard.  Not even being loved, just being heard.   Childhood stories anyone?   No, let's move on.

We did talk about other things.   How to approach writing a song.  When to realize you are doing something that is making you unhappy trying to force yourself into a different approach, and being kind enough to yourself to allow yourself to work the way you work instinctively, naturally.   We talked about theory, and while for him it's just part of how he plays, and he certainly knows what he knows, he also believe that creativity leads and theory follows.    I, he said, am thinking too much.  Moi?   Je suis shocked. 

Yeah, I'm just sharing this stuff because it's a rare and lucky thing to have a lesson with Justin, he does very very few in a year and  I am sure people are curious.   

But I am also sharing it because the subtext of the whole thing, that I had to be ready to hear what he had to say, is so important.  There will be all sorts of struggles that I won't be able to deal with because I won't be ready.  I'm not even ready half the time to hear something good, much less a criticism.   But one day I will be, and that's when, I suspect, I will see and hear myself grow.    So like the song says,  it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.  (Huh?) 

How about you?  Anything you know that you haven't really heard yet?  That you know you need to tackle but have been dodging, maybe for years?  That you might hear calling for help even just today?  Wanna share it?

As for Justin Sandercoe, thank you dude.  You never cease to inspire me with your dedication, focus, good nature and kindness.   I'm so glad for your success, because all of us get to share a little bit of it with you.  But also because you are such a great example of succeeding on your own terms with your own values.    Yeah, you rock.

Pat the Bunny
Realism is relative.

Offline Endureth

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Good post.

Have an applause on me.

Offline mike42

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Some very good info in your post, Pat. Thanks for sharing!

To respond to the last part of your post, I think I've been dodging some of the same things as you have, albeit in a different context. I always tell myself I need to learn some more theory, scales, chord voicings, etc. but I just never do it. I always revert to the same old simple, 'strummy' cover songs that I've been playing for years and it's clearly been holding me back.

I have my first "band" practice tomorrow, and I think this may be my eye-opening experience. I don't think the other musicians have a whole lot of experience and they say they consider themselves "beginners or maybe intermediate" but I still think they might be light years ahead of me playing-wise. I just haven't put enough focus into the fundamentals the past couple of years and I think it might really show when I try to play with others.

But I'm taking the plunge and at the very least I hope I can get a realistic idea of where I'm at right now so that I can figure out a better way to get where I want to be.

Offline misterg

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Interesting and thought provoking, as ever, Pat.

It sort of begs the question: What were you *expecting* too hear...?

Every now and again I think about taking some guitar lessons, and I sit down and think about what I might get out of it. What I would like is that magic bullet that brings instant mastery, but I know there is no such thing. What such thoughts bring home is what I know is bad about my playing - my rhythm *sucks*; my strumming lacks control and is monotonous, and my improvisation is unimaginitive. I know what to do about these - all I lack is the discipline to stick to a practice routine. I conclude that my major gain would be paying for someone to be my conscience... (this may be worth it at some point, but recently I elected to go for voice lessons instead, as this was an area where I had no clue about what to do or how to do it).

I can only imagine that a one-off, one hour lesson is going to be pretty crushing. If the instructor is any good, you will be handed a long list of stuff that you need to work on (that's what I paid for, right? Not for someone to blow smoke up my ass ;) ). Good teachers know what an individual can take and load them accordingly, so you could take some comfort in "the longer the list, the stronger you seemed".

I would imagine that the lesson was pretty concentrated - Did you keep notes? It would be a shame to dwell on one or two points that struck a chord (sorry for the pun) and lose the rest...

You are strong. Follow the light :)

Offline mouser9169

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Good post.

Have an applause on me.

Indeed.  As has often been said, 'When the student is ready, the teacher appears.'
Mouser's Rules of Music:

1) Always Trust your Muse.
2) See Rule 1)

Offline PattheBunny

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As I sat down tonight to approach the work I have to do, I totally understood why I didn't want to hear it.  Every part of what I am doing needs work.  I suspect that's the kind of sad, worried look I saw in Justin's eye.  Although he might have just been tired and hungry.   

Anyway, I have quite a phoenix and the ashes project ahead of me.   See you in about a year....

Also I am exaggerating for dramatic effect.   I can downstrum.  After a fashion.   :)
Realism is relative.

Offline Scooter Trash

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Great attitude Pat! IMHO it's good that you heard what he had to say. I agree with what Justin said about dynamics. I believe in your potential and know that you're passionate about your music. Am looking forward to hearing what it sounds like a year from now :)
I dream of a better tomorrow where chickens can cross roads without their motives being questioned.

Offline PattheBunny

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Scooter, belated thanks for the faith.   

I just listened to the lesson I had with Justin again.  We had fifty minutes.  What he did for me in that time was give me a six month plan at least, and a rich one to boot.    It's such a shame he can't teach more one on one because the experience of working with someone who totally gets where you want to go, where you are, and how to get you the next step is a rare thing.  And I've had really good teachers.   

I've said it before and it sounds gushy but what's true is true and in a world full of slackers,  Justin is so the real thing.   I think one reason he's so successful is that he is skilled at making the right choices quickly and then acting on them.   Even when he's working for your benefit and not his own. He doesn't waste time.  But he still enjoys what he's doing.    He treats the average guitar player with honesty, respect and kindness.    And he's wicked sweet to boot. 

Justin, you can just put the money in my Paypal account.  Thanks.
Realism is relative.

Offline Drubbing

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I suspect you may have been disappointed if he validated everything you wanted him to, or hoped that he would. A good teacher will be brutally honest, but give you something to help you achieve what you want to.

Justin's approach looks effortless on screen, but you only need look at the old vids to see how he has ramped up his presentation, approach and content; he knows what he's doing, and what works. There's a hell of a lot of work gone into developing what he's built, no doubt.

As for me, I don't have your drive to be heard and succeed. I'm just plugging away with Justin's help, learning open chord and barre songs. Private lessons with anyone would be a waste right now. I find it hard to really advance, with small kids around I have time and volume issues... but I just keep picking up the guitar and doing what I can.

Offline PattheBunny

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I don't have your drive to be heard and succeed. I'm just plugging away with Justin's help, learning open chord and barre songs. Private lessons with anyone would be a waste right now. I find it hard to really advance, with small kids around I have time and volume issues... but I just keep picking up the guitar and doing what I can.

 Ah well, kids and volume.   Lucky you.   And sometimes I think drive and doing what you can are two approaches that might have the same result.  Cause after all, you keep picking up the guitar.    :)
Realism is relative.

 

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