TD MIller

Jun 09 2012

The Little Things

After what essentially amounts to my first week of getting back into a routine of practice with the guitar, I see more and more that the little things really do matter. What I’m talking about is the details that I’m uncovering as I slow the mental pace down while I’m going through exercises on the fret board. This is not the same thing as “sweating the small stuff…”, rather working on rebuilding my relationship with the instrument, not only to restore, but to surpass what it once was. This intimacy, if you will, doesn’t come over night, but is built and nurtured over time, and the deeper it goes, the details become more visible. This is what ultimately builds the fiber of that musical muscle, weaving a stronger fabric rich in color.

It has been a successful week in terms of my objectives to lay the groundwork, ultimately for recording and sharing these works. I will post more here as things progress, slow and steady.

Jun 05 2012

Back to Basics

This past weekend, I dusted off the guitar playing fingers and started work on developing a routine and habit to re-establish a musical footing that will not only help start progressing, but also ensure I don’t fall back into the old ruts that marked parts of my style and to break through to places I have always been able to hear, envision and feel—almost physically—in my fingers and hands, but was not persistent enough to put in the work to bridge the gap between the ideas and inspiration inside of me, and the ability to physically express them…in other words, practice.  

I had gotten too comfortable.  I had put in my time early on—8 hours a day, 12 on some days; and there is a sort of musical muscle memory there, but that will fade like any other activity that requires persistent and disciplined practice.  My first initial goal is to re-build the caluses on the finger tips, which means pushing through a little pain for a couple of weeks, spending a little time each day with fingers on the fretboard.  But that couldn’t dampen the excitement, the raw inspiration and desire to do this thing, again, once and for all.  It is the feeling that I had 30 years ago, which drove me to spend all of my waking hours practicing.  While I can’t spend that kind of time today, the key component is back.

The muscles in my hand are slowly starting to get stretched back into shape, and as I bring the left hand back online, I am taking an approach with my picking hand that I neglected years ago, relying on articulated (hammer on/pull off) fingering to compensate.  But that was not enough to carry the ideas and inspriation through to expression, and still isn’t.  My left hand is years ahead of my right, which means that I am driving down into the details, the minutae of technique, striving to find that which will allow controlled adjustments to bring the picked and articulated notes together seamlessly.  My objective is to bring the right and left hands into a sort of alignment, and to ultimately create a new sonic color palate to use to paint the music that has been kept under a lid for way too long.

Jun 02 2012

Searching for Tone

The musical influences in my life are scattered all over the map, and to try and pin down what the sum of them would look like would be virtually impossible to put into words.  In fact, as I have been peeling away the layers of my long stagnant musical self, I am discovering so many things that were always floating around me, yet unnoticed, and at the same time realizing that I have never really discovered and polished my musical identity.  Never gave it the depth of care and nurturing that it deserves, even demands of me.  I have always focused my energy on the technical side of my musicianship to the point that I have neglected to realize that each musician has a musical personality, a style, a tone.

Watching a video recently of one of the greatest influences on my guitar technique, the concept of each person having their own individual tone that is heard through the instrument, regardless of the make or model, or the gear that the instrument is being played through.  It is a truth that all creative expression starts from within, and then flows out through the fingers upon the fretboard (in this case).  The size, the physical texture and composition of the fingers alone play a role in expressing one’s tone, let alone the ability of the musician, by way of talent and practice, to automate that expression by manipulating the strings of the instrument.  These characteristics are a tiny example of the nuances and subtleties that contribute to the creation of tone.

As in any art form, it is in the detail of the expression, that which is almost always unnoticed or even known to exist to those who listen, that lies the colors of the tone which the artist layers into sound, painting the picture that is the composition.  That video shot me back to my days studying cello.  My cello teacher was one of the greatest influences on my musical development.  He would have me find one—one note—and meditate on it.  At first, without even sounding it—simply focusing on the feel of the string at the position where that note is played; then with the stroke of the bow, concentrating on the tone, the feel and the mental picture of that one note as it’s being played.  This not only creates an indelible imprint of the note itself, yet exercises the musical muscles that are needed to draw from the deep wells of the musical soul and transform the indescribable into expressive musical color.

The other major influence was my guitar teacher, who knows better than just about anyone about this truth. (Incidentally, he introduced me to the work of Steve Vai, before anyone knew who he was…)  He, too, had me focusing on the individual notes, honing the craft of expressing each individual note with care and fidelity.  I have been taught this; I have known of the significance of this, yet it is only now that I am really getting it.  It is now, as I crawl out from under the rock that I have been living under, that I am stepping back to the beginning, the fundamentals, to develop and discover that basic building block of musical expression that is heard in one’s own individual tone.

May 24 2012

True

A year ago this past Winter, after an evening of sharing and conversation, a good friend of mine looked at me in the eye and said, “You need to be true to yourself…”  Now, while sounding cliche, at that moment I knew the gravity of that statement, but I could not explain what it actually looked like, what it actually meant in terms of me, my life, and how my feet touch the ground from day to day.

It is true that the deep and transformational messages that we get in those fleeting moments take time to incubate in that space between the subconscious mind and that light-bulb moment where we catch a glimpse of that something, once again, that takes us one more step toward unerstanding of what the seed that was originally planted and what it is intended to become.

I tend to take my time in figuring these kinds of things out, but when I do, they hit hard.  I am getting hit again and working through what I need to do next with what was planted in me a little over a year ago.  What I do know is that there is something freeing about the passage of time, what one learns in the interim, and the promise of shedding that which prevents me from being true to myself, who I am.  

This is a journey, a process…and I am in the middle of it, but each day, each moment, is a beginning in and of itself, which means that while I am in the process of figuring things out, I am always beginning…and that is a good thing.

Feb 22 2012

21 Days, 14 Songs

As of yesterday, I completed the February Album Writing Month challenge with 14 songs.  This is 7 8 days early for this year’s FAWM event because it’s a leap year.  I wanted to use this as an opportunity to crank up the paddles and resucitate my musical, songwriting self, and at this point I feel like that is happening.

So, where are these songs, you ask…I have each song titled and at least charted—they’re on paper.  Music—melody, groove, feel—these are what flow for me and come relatively easily for me, lyrics not so much.  While the written word is not a challenge for me either, lyrics take special care and more precise measure.  I have lyrics for 2 of the songs so far and will be continuing work on the rest of the songs as I work on recording the initial pre-production tracks for this project.  With this approach, I will hammer out the music and then flesh out the words that are in it.

I am debating as to how “rough” I will be willing to let a track be in deciding if I should share it or not, but I will be posting demo work as I roll along.  I will post links when I do.  I have started to piece together recorded ideas of several of the songs so far, with one of them just about complete as far as arrangement and idea being captured.  I will post updates as I progress.

Feb 19 2012

Recording Project Update

Making serious progress with recording the initial demo tracks for the project.  Learning new technology and tools, seriously like a kid in a candy store finding out what I didn’t know I had available to use.  I will be posting some rough demo tracks soon—very excited about how it’s coming out ;-)

Feb 08 2012

Progress

As I mentioned in my previous post, I am participating in FAWM this year in an effort to do some musical stretching and get the creative gears moving.  Disciplined songwriting has not been habitual for me for many years, so now is the time to develop that habit.  For me, the musical component comes with little effort; that’s not to say that everything that rolls through my head is great—or even good, but I don’t have to strain to find it.  In fact, it’s usually the other way around, with it chasing me, not letting me be in peace, demanding my attention, which is a major driver behind this effort.

So, I acquiese.

The part that does not come as easily is lyrics, which tend to come after the structure of the song.  As I post new tunes to FAWM, most of them will only have titles for the time being as I develop the lyrics around the song that has rolled off the conveyer belt.  For each song, I have charted and structured on paper, and even laid down scratch tracks to hear with my ears what I have been hearing in my head. 

Once all of these parts come together—song, lyric and demo—I will post them and let you all know.  As week 2 of FAWM begins, I have song #5 that will be posted shortly.  Overall, things have started out nicely, but there is a lot of work left to be done.  In addition to creating music, building and maintaining the internet outlets is coming along as well.  All of this is both old and familiar, and at the same time new and somewhat unfamiliar, presenting opportunity to learn and share.  This is what it’s all about—if not, it’s not worth doing.

Feb 03 2012

Launch

In order to jumpstart the music engines, I am participating in the February Album Writing Month challenge, a.k.a. FAWM. This is kind of like a boot-camp for songwriters and musicians, providing an opportunity to generate momentum, build some songwriting muscle and to collaborate and get feedback from other FAWM’ers out there.

This seems like a great way to get back to where I belong, doing what I know I was intended to do, and exercise my atrophied musical being. A lot of time has passed since I last wrote and recorded music, and a lot has changed in that time as well—both with me personally and musically, as well as how music is created and shared.

I will be posting more as things get moving, but to start, I have posted the first 2 song titles and will have lyrics for them posted shortly. I am not sure what to expect, but it’s the journey that matters and just taking the first steps can be the most difficult. But that journey is not worth much if it is travelled alone, and to not share the music I create would make me a solitary traveller. It is my hope that you will get as much, if not more, out of this as I am expecting to myself. So, with that, let’s move out…

Oct 24 2011

Spark

I have been standing still, moving with my feet not moving…looking for that spark, the electricity that gives life to the thoughts and images that once fueled the sound and passion which were my breath, my being, my soul…

I am looking for that spark that gives dimension and life to the colors that fill the air. I have been waiting for it, but am beginning to realize that it is created first, exercised and then feeds back into inspiration.

That is how I take my first steps, don’t know where they will take me…but this is what they look like…

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