cerebellum blues

"Life changes and throws you curves, asks you to live for better or for worse"

• Notes on Cerebellum Blues, Playlists One and Two: the talent question.

Welcome to my series of posts about how I got into music and songwriting and the events that ultimately led to the 2012 release of my first album. Here are the posts, so far:

1. a little bit of blood, lots of sweat, a few tears (the launch!)
2. what’s with the title?
3. beginnings
4. from high school to LA and back

If you read anything that strikes a chord please let me know in the comments section or via email. As always, thank you for reading.

Before I move on to the next phase of my music life, there’s a topic I have to address: talent. I could try to define talent, but why should I when Merriam Webster’s has done it so well:

4a : a special often athletic, creative, or artistic aptitude

Yup, I agree with that, to me talent is potential you’re born with that hard work can bring out and hone. I have talent for some things, but playing in time, locking into a groove, is not one of them.

Many, if not most, people I talk to about talent tell me it’s a myth (there’s even a book called The Talent Myth, read it, bored), that we can all be great at anything. Bull. Even after subjecting myself to the reality distortion field of the mighty Malcolm Gladwell by reading his book Outliers, I remain unconvinced. Gladwell’s 10,000-hours rule has become de facto fact but I don’t buy it, or I am the exception to his rule. Once upon a time I might have believed that if worked hard enough — and truly practiced with intent — I could become a really good guitar player. But then I went to G.I.T.

When I started at G.I.T. in mid 1985, I had been playing guitar for about seven years and despite much woodshedding remained a fatally flawed musician. No matter how hard I tried — and I tried goddamn hard — I still really struggled to play in time, forget grooving. But as I read about  G.I.T.’s curriculum, its instructors, its guest lecturers and took in the gushing quotes from satisfied G.I.T. students and considered the school’s location, which was in the heart of Hollywood and just down the road from Capitol Records, I concluded that G.I.T. held the answer to my rhythm woes.

The early days of G.I.T. were all about scales and learned them all: major, minor, lydian, mixolydian, dorian, whatever. G.I.T. also placed emphasis on shapes, which really helped me navigate the neck of the guitar with more fluidity and to understand why certain things worked and others did not. Most important, for me, G.I.T. believed in timing, as in in playing on the beat. I bought an electronic metronome and I practiced everything to it. I practiced for hours and when I wasn’t playing to the metronome I was recording to my drum machine. It all helped, I got better, but better is not good and because good takes talent.

When I finished G.I.T. I knew a lot more about the guitar than when I started and this extra knowledge has served me well ever since. I was also a better guitar player. In fact, I was so much better than when I had started, I was still thinking about a career in music and after school had ended and I was driving back up to the Bay Area, I was plotting the formation of a band. But you can convince yourself of almost anything when driving at night on I5 and drinking a few too many cokes to stay awake.

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