Pretty, Mental Music (and whatnot) #1.

“...Now could I drink hot blood
And do such bitter business as the day
Would quake to look on.  Soft, now to my mother”. 

Hamlet 3,2.


Why a blog? Why NOW?

Obsessive, compulsive, addict, perfectionist, control freak, neurotic. These qualities don’t just result in remarkable chops and an arresting Tinder profile. There’s a downside too. They can lead to PARALYSIS.

Does any of the following resonate with you?

  • I want to emerge as a fully-formed artist.
  • I want to explode onto the scene with all my writing/harmonic/technique shit completely down.
  • The thought of revealing weaknesses in front of an audience sends a shiver down the old s.
  • I’d better not attempt that Lick Of Doom as so-and-so is in the audience. Can’t risk fucking it up. I’ve got a reputation!
  • The mere thought of a 1st draft induces panic. It must be perfect the instant ink meets page.
  • Committing ideas to the page causes acute anxiety.
  • I don’t feel I have enough harmony/language/rhythmic shit to make an album yet. 

Things are somewhat complicated and exacerbated by the fact that I have achieved a healthy amount already. I got my first West End gig when I was 25 and still a student at the Royal Academy Of Music. I currently play with an extraordinary band in the best show in the West End, The Book Of Mormon, and last year I got to perform 6 sold-out shows at Ronnie Scott’s with my hero, Al Jarreau. We performed the ‘Jarreau‘ record in its entirety to mark the 30th anniversary of that masterpiece. This was a particularly special moment for me as Jay Graydon, producer and guitarist on ‘Jarreau’, is one of my idols. I actually teach a class at the London Centre Of Contemporary Music all about L.A. studio guitarists’ rhythm guitar styles and Jay is the focus. (Incidentally, I’ll be doing a series of video lessons on Jay’s playing and how I prepared for the Jarreau gig. I’ll also be talking more about West End theatre as more and more students seem to be setting their sights on this area of the business).

In addition, I’m working on a project with my friend and mentor, Pete Zeldman. If you don’t know Pete, Google him immediately. He’s astonishing. Our band is called Albert Snoid. We play groove music that involves 3 core concepts; displacement, polyrhythm and metric modulation – taken to the EXTREME. I’m going to share my strategies for learning this rhythmic language with you.

Okay, that’s the porcelain veneer affirmations out the way. Now back across the Atlantic to the nimbi and malocclusions…   

The reason I think all this intensifies my inertia is that people expect big things from your playing when you have a reputation. Further, I think that West End theatre and studio work puts the FEAR in you. This is very specialised work which requires a particular mindset that differs considerably from that needed to play improvised music. In the studio and orchestra pit you are demanded to get it right straight away, night after night. Surgical precision and consistency is king so it’s no surprise that fear of failure/fear of mistakes becomes a survival instinct (if it wasn’t already there before). After all, your livelihood (and ego) is at stake. In order to play jazz or any improvised music it is necessary to take this hat off and put on another more open, playful, childlike one. One must keep two sets of books.    

Thus, one of the salient characteristics of this blog is that it’s my journey to achieve a more fearless, childlike approach to improvisation and to no more play the hepcat i‘ th‘ adage.    

Writing things down helps. Check this out…

A study conducted by Emmanuelle Zech and Bernard Rime from the University of Louvain involved participants discussing traumatic experiences with experimenters to ascertain whether the musty proverb, ‘a problem shared is a problem halved’, is true. 

What do you think? Does talking to others about problems help ease pain?

Apparently 90% of us believe this is the case.

Indeed, the participants felt the chats had been helpful. However, a series of questionnaires revealed that there was NO SIGNIFICANT BENEFIT.

On the other hand, several studies have shown that just a few minutes of journal writing a day causes a marked hike in self-esteem and happiness.

Intriguing. Why does writing work when talking doesn’t? Professor Richard Wiseman in  ’59 Seconds’ explains:

From a psychological perspective, talking and writing are very different. Talking can often be somewhat unstructured, disorganised, even chaotic. In contrast, writing encourages the creation of a story line and structure that help people make sense of what has happened and work towards a solution. In short, talking can add to a sense of confusion while writing provides a more systematic, and solution-based, approach.

Now, obviously these studies involved people coming to terms with illness, divorce and bereavement and not hybrid pentatonics, arrythmic groupings of quintuplets and the struggle for artistic identity but is there a parallel application to everyday happiness, learning, achieving etc?

Fuck it, let’s just do it and see what happens… 

*(See pp 16-19, :59 Seconds)   

At the very least, writing will get those manic, high-velocity, merciless volleys of thoughts out of your head and afford some clarity and therefore a hope of tackling your work effectively. Particularly valuable if you’re afflicted with a dose of Uhtceare, I’m sure you’ll agree. (Google it). Check this out from author Julia Cameron:

“Once we get those muddy, maddening, confusing thoughts (nebulous worries, jitters and preoccupations) on the page, we face our day with clearer eyes.”    


Before you start squirming, fear not, there’ll be no oversharing here. I’m just making my PRACTISE DIARY public – Public practise from my private music practice, if you like.

I’ve kept a practise diary for many years and I insist on all my students doing so. I also keep an ideas book (and will be kicking off the proceedings with a few video lessons detailing some of the ripest). The LISTENING DIARY I’m going to share is a NEW addition. It will inform or feed what I practise by highlighting precisely what it is about certain music that excites me.       

The practise diary is an incredibly powerful learning tool and has bountiful benefits. I’ll be talking about it in much more detail in due course.

*spoiler alert* Here are just a few to convince you to start scheduling and tracking your practise right NOW:

  • It’ll help you identify tripping points – the reasons you break your practise regimen – and begin to overcome them.
  • It’ll keep you honest – will focus you on the task at hand i.e. the stuff you can’t do (yet) and will remind/bully you to get down to it. 
  • It’ll help you to schedule a sustainable routine – something realistic you can’t fail to stick to – and set short term/long term goals (for the next 5 mins, hour, day, week, month…)   
  • Tracking your progress isn’t just good for your self-esteem and motivation. It’ll show you whether your method is effective and efficient. If you’ve been practising alternate picking for 20 years and can’t get past a relatively pedestrian speed barrier, there’s clearly something wrong with your method. If you’ve only come so far in two decades, whatever you’re doing can hardly be called efficient, right?! (This is me btw. More on this later…)

Tim Ferriss says, “…tracking even a mediocre variable will help you develop awareness that leads to the right behavioural changes.”  

Why make it public? What’s in it for you and me?

  • You get to see WHAT, HOW and WHY a jobbing musician practises. 
  • Together we’ll learn what works, what doesn’t and where the greatest misuses of time in our practise sessions lie.
  • I implore you to steal my creative ideas and to pervert and twist them beyond recognition. This is exactly what I do. 
  • Public accountability – another thing this blog is about is getting stuff done. I’ll look a complete arse if I don’t fulfil my commitments; this blog, the lessons, my practise and the challenges I’ll be setting myself down the line. I’m insuring against my weaknesses, against failure – I’m creating stakes. The theory goes that I’ll be forced to practise and then actually produce something with the concepts I’m working on – a lick, a composition, a mindset or attitude, a gig, a record.


  • It’ll be fun.



By teaching my concepts to you I’ll necessarily have to get a firmer grasp of them. This from Stephen Fry’s ‘More Fool Me‘ struck a chord:

I tried to explain Hegel to Johnny: he said it was fascinating but that he knew he would forget every detail of it the moment I had stopped speaking. I know what he means. That’s why I love talking and teaching: the act of reproducing ideas out loud reinforces them in the head. If, every time you read a book or idea, you had to explain it to someone else, you’d never forget it.

I love my teaching job. I find it incredibly rewarding. A sense of responsibility and obligation attend it as well. My musicianship is in large part owed to the extraordinary teachers I’ve been fortunate enough to study with and I firmly believe the fate of our business and art in general is to a significant degree in the hands of good teachers. I want to be a good teacher and I want to give back, to continue the lineage, the tradition. That said, my motivation for teaching is also unapologetically selfish. I’m working on the same fundamentals my students are. In a sense I’m being paid to practise.

Here then is my first tentative step towards a spot of behaviour change and getting stuff out there. Please believe me when I tell you that it tortures me not to have agonised over these words for months, that I haven’t mastered Logic and Final Cut, or bought a splendid new camera. For the first time in my life I’m going to learn as I go along, make loads of fuck-ups (and a tit of myself) and I’m grateful for any criticism I receive.

There’ll be no Soft, now to the mother of our comfort zones. We’re going to take arms against a sea of mind-games and drink the hot blood of mettlesome musical adventure.


  • You are a kindred spirit.
  • You want an insight into my process and how I think about music.
  • You want to see what, how and why I practise.
  • You want to know what I listen to.
  • You need motivation, inspiration or want to know what and how you should be practising (and WHY!).
  • You want to see what it’s like to work in the West End.
  • You want to shred…

Pore on, Macduff…





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    November 13, 2017

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    November 13, 2017

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