Tag Archives: practice

Great Guitarists #7: Wes Montgomery

As we arrive at the final installment of this week-long mini series, there is one Great Guitarist left to feature, and we’re ending on a high. Since I’ve focused this short run of articles on jazz guitar players, it is essential to include the man who has left an indelible influence on how jazz guitar is played…

Wes Montgomery

He played impossible things on the guitar because it was never pointed out to him that they were impossible

– Ronnie Scott

Like the origins of jazz itself, nothing about Montgomery’s career was orthodox. Born John Leslie Montgomery in Indianapolis, 1923, ‘Wes’ only dabbled in music until hearing a Benny Goodman record, aged nineteen. The record in question featured the guitar playing of Charlie Christian (the installment from this series on Charlie Christian can be found here) and inspired Montgomery to buy a guitar the very next day. He spent almost a year learning Christian’s solos, particularly those from the record Solo Flight.

Working as a welder during the day, Montgomery’s guitar practise sessions took place at night, leading to complaints from his neighbours and his wife. His solution was to ditch the pick and pick the guitar’s strings with the dude if his thumb, as this was much quieter. His use of octave playing also comes from this period, as it enabled Montgomery to better hear what he was playing as he practiced. This technique, which Montgomery has said gave him real “headaches” when learning, was relatively rare in guitar playing; following the influence Montgomery left behind, it is now one of the most definitively recognisable characteristics of jazz guitar.

Success didn’t come easy or quick for Montgomery. Although he had started to build his reputation as a guitarist while playing in ensembles with his two brothers, Monk (bass) and Buddy (piano & vibraphone),thete early recordings did not garner much commercial success. In his mid-thirties, Montgomery had returned to working factory shifts during the day, to support his wife and six children, then gigging in jazz clubs until the wee small hours.

This lifestyle ultimately took a toll on his health, but the sheer amount of graft Montgomery was devoting to his playing was paying off. Without being able to read a note of music, Montgomery used his ears and his heart to make his playing swing. His prolific use of octaves, as well as his chord-based soloing (usually on the highest four strings), all without fully understanding the theory of what he played, revolutionised the way in which jazz guitar could be approached and performed.

A chance discovery by saxophonist Cannonball Alderley led to Montgomery being signed to Riverside Records in 1959. Montgomery was soon a rising star, although his more pop-friendly crossover records in the mid-sixties (covers of pop songs, often featuring additional orchestration) led to him being considered a ‘sell out’ by so e jazz musicians. He died of a heart attack while on tour in June 1968,aged just forty-five.

Montgomery’s legacy survives through the countless guitar players he influenced. These include his friend (and another guitarist to experience crossover success) George Benson, Pat Matheny and Earl Klugh, to name only a handful.

Essential Listening

Despite Montgomery’s short recording career, he recorded sixteen LPs as band leader in his lifetime, as well earlier recordings with his brothers as The Mastersounds and a handful of posthumous releases. Smokin’ At The Half Note (1965) is a fantastic live album that I ehie heartedly recommended you give some time to.

For studio cuts, you won’t go wrong with his first few albums with Riverside. A personal favourite is The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1960), which includes some of his more well-known pieces such as ‘Four On Six’ and ‘West Coast Blues’.

…And that brings us to the end of this week’s Great Guitarists mini series. I’d love to hear what you guys thought, and what you’d like me to look at in future posts, as I will definitely be bringing this feature back in the future, perhaps focusing on a different genre. I’ll likely post another quick round-up of the last seven installments next week, with a few honourable mentions. I have a few additional thoughts which I have left out of some of these posts, to keep them concise, which I will share with you soon. Until then, keep playing…

Why practice should NOT make perfect

Does practice make perfect?

It’s undoubtedly true that the more you focus on doing something, the better you become at its accomplishment. However, as this Guardian news story from 2019 highlights, the modern convention of ‘the 10,000 hour practice rule’ may not be quite the guarantee some people have sold it as. Personal improvement, in any sphere of one’s life is never so cut-and-dry, nor can the same methods work for every individual.

The key question is why do you practice, or rather, what are you practicing for?

For instance, is it to sound like a particular musician? And if so, why?

Take this example: I love BB King, and have listened to his music for over two decades to date; I’ve learned some of his key phrases, his recognisable musical characteristics such as his blues box, vibrato technique and the space he’s leave between notes, etc. And despite learning & digesting all of this information – heck, I used to teach these techniques at specialist masterclasses focusing on the blues master – I still sound nothing like him when I play guitar.

That’s not a bad thing, either. It doesn’t represent a failure on my part. If anything, bring able to incorporate so many elements of a player who got so much right, while still retaining my own musical voice, has to be an achievement worth celebrating in some small way. Of course, a large part of a guitar player’s sound comes from their fingers, so I’d never have been able to completely obscure who I was, even if I wanted to.

Perhaps you simply wish you could execute certain techniques as well as the great masters of your chosen instrument? Read that Guardian article again, then learn to measure success by your own improvement, in comparison to your past self only.

It almost sounds trite, but you can’t stop being you, so be the best you possible

So how should you practice? This interesting article from Bulletproof Musician offers some insights into what you should be looking for, and offering the term deliberate practice instead.

For further reading, feel free to peruse my older blogs & reblogs on the subject of practice, such as my warm-up and practice recommendations, and this reblogged article from Nicole Rogers on how to practice effectively.

…Just remember, perfection is an illusion, and no amount of practice will stop you from being you. Perhaps we should all embrace that.

How to practice effectively [video]

This is a short video from TED Talk on how to practice more effectively. It includes some useful tips & really interesting information based on what we know about the brain & how we learn tasks.

This ties-in with my previous blogs on rehearsal & my own (admittedly rather limited) research on music and the human brain [see previous posts]. Let me know what you think!

If the above video doesn’t work, here’s a link so you can access the short TED Talk video on YouTube.

Enjoy! xx

Music & Wellbeing (Part 3): Music Therapy

Music Therapy

As a practice, music therapy sits somewhere between art, therapy, healthcare, and psychoanalysis; it ‘invites the art, science and craft of music and healing’ (Pavlicevic, 1999, p. 141). Its practice has been proven as having a ‘huge impact on confidence, and therefore improved wellbeing’ (Therapy Today, 2011, p. 5). Besides more common associations with mental health and children with special needs (SEN), music therapy has also proved to be of benefit on a much wider scale, including, amongst other areas, ‘physical impairments, people with hearing and visual problems, the institutionalised elderly, and people in the criminal justice system’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 298-299).

Within the field of music therapy, there is a history of deploying music to ‘alleviate chronic psychological disorders and problems associated with long-term physical impairment’ (North & Hargreaves, 2008, p. 298). There is evidence of music-based practices dating back prior to the beginning of recorded history. Being centred on music makes it one of the most accessible forms of treatment in terms of engagement:

Everyone has the ability to respond to music, and music therapy uses this connection to facilitate positive changes in emotional wellbeing and communication through the engagement in live musical interaction between client and therapist (British Association for Music Therapy)

The idea of creating music ‘out of thin air’ might seem like an alien concept to some. However, the process of music therapy sessions is to create something out of the patient’s feelings, situation and environment, with the assistance of the therapist (Williams, 2014). In the context of a music therapy session, there are ‘no ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ notes: all are part of possibility.’ (Pavlicevic, 1999, p. 143) Improvisation between therapist and client is key to allowing the client to experience music as a positive means of therapy:

Music therapy allows people to discover for themselves what is going on underneath, as well as allowing them to express repressed emotions or memories. If verbal communication has shut down, as with autism or stroke, it has a huge impact on a person’s confidence, which in turn affects every aspect of their life (Angela Harrison, quoted in Therapy Today, 2011, p. 5)

Just as the act of talking, or indeed writing, about one’s personal experiences can be seen as therapeutic and empowering (Newham, 1999, p. 32), so too can singing about it (Stige et al, 2010; Harrison, 2006). Due to the connections music makes with the brain and emotions, singing as a means of therapy can be seen to be even more cathartic:

To fill our memories with emotion requires us to use the full range of our voice to express the full range of feelings. And nowhere do we witness such a use of the voice more intensely than in the art of singing (Newham, 1999, p. 59)

Community Music Therapy

Such feelings of catharsis and empowerment which music therapy can provide are also useful in the context of a community. One’s place in their community has an effect on their overall wellbeing (Venkatapuram, 2013). According to Feld (1994, p. 77), ‘music has a fundamentally social life. It is made to be engaged – practically and intellectually and communally’. I agree that the main purpose of music is as a shared form of communication, much as it has been considered a language throughout history (Thaut, 2005, p. 171). This language reaches us at a level of understanding deeper than verbal communication (Harrison, 2006).

According to the National Health Service (2006) there are five evidence-based steps we can take to improve mental wellbeing:

  • Get active
  • Connect with others
  • Keep learning
  • Be aware of yourself and the world
  • Give to others

(National Health Service, 2006)

I believe that the practice of community music therapy covers all five of these points, through a variety of styles. Modes of practice, including music workshops, which act to ‘foster active and collaborative music making’ are therefore an excellent way of fostering better community wellbeing (Higgins, 2012, p. 144). Harrison (2006) believed the power of singing lay in its power to move other human beings; its ‘transformative qualities’; the way it can allow others unable to sing to feel cathartic benefits through empathic listening (2006, p. 24). I am inclined to agree with this view. I believe this element of music therapy has in fact the most potential to affect overall wellbeing, through its inherently inclusive and group-based nature. Participants, in making music with others, can experience ‘one of life’s greatest pleasures’ (Green, 1986, p. 69).

Further examples highlight to me that community music therapy might be better thought of in more broad terms, such as ‘care’ and ‘service’ (Stige & Aarø, 2012, p. 14) Like Stige & Aarø (2012), I believe it represents a group musical ‘service’ which takes place outside of the private, confidential, one-on-one setting of the traditional music therapy session. It is a means of bringing the community, and neighbouring communities, together through local music-based activities, the kind of which I have witnessed throughout my life in one form or another, without ever having identified them as ‘therapy’. These activities can take place in ‘arts centers [sic], schools, prisons, health settings, places of worship, festivals, on the streets, and in a wide range of community contexts’ (Higgins, 2012, p. 174). They can be said to be having a beneficial effect on the wellbeing of the community, and therefore the individuals within those community groups (Choi, Lee & Lim, 2008).

Music Therapy & Dementia

The term dementia, generally associated with old age or degenerative neurological diseases, is displayed as memory loss and difficulties with thinking, problem-solving or language, the most common form of which is Alzheimer’s Disease (Alzheimer’s Society). Alzheimer’s is characterised by changes in nerve cells and neurotransmitter levels, as well as destruction of synapses (Levitin, 2006, p. 231). In many cases, short term memory is largely absent, creating frustration among patients (Pavlicevic, 1999, p. 130). However, music therapy has proven to be of enormous positive effect in improving the wellbeing of Alzheimer’s patients (Lee & Thyer, 2013; Stige et al, 2010). Levitin goes on to report an interesting observation in the musical memory of Alzheimer’s patients:

As the disease progresses, memory loss becomes more profound. Yet many of these old-timers can still remember how to sing the songs they heard when they were fourteen. Why fourteen? Part of the reason we remember songs from our teenage years is because those years were times of self-discovery, and as a consequence, they were emotionally charged; in general, we tend to remember things that have an emotional component because our amygdala and neurotransmitters act in concert to ‘tag’ the memories as something important (Levitin, D. 2006, pp. 231-232)

Music’s innate ability to hone in on these ‘tags’ seems to almost reverse the symptoms of dementia for a brief time; play or sing a song from their past and they are once again ‘present’ (Sacks, 2008, p. 377). The practise of community music therapy has also been seen to have a positive effect in regards to Alzheimer’s patients, due to the added social factor involved (Stige et al, 2010, p. 266).

Music as alleviation to anxiety and depression

The frustration experienced by many people with dementia can often lead to frustration and agitation (Clare, 2004). While research on the subject is limited, music therapy has been proven as a noticeably effective, low-cost, non-pharmacological intervention (Blackburn & Bradshaw, 2014). Music-based interventions have yielded positive results in easing depression among adults without dementia (Chan et al, 2012). Occasionally studies note reduced anxiety as a by-product of alleviating another condition (Hargreaves & North, 2008).

There has been found to allow improvements to self-esteem and reduced depression in children and adolescents with behavioural and emotional problems, which were sustained over a prolonged period (Therapy Today, 2014, p. 6). One particular advantage of music therapy over talking therapies is that younger people seem more open to participation:

The most popular activity was song-writing or writing their own lyrics to music, which seemed to benefit their ability to communicate their feelings more generally, she said. Nearly all — 97 per cent — chose to write autobiographically about how they were feeling, where they were at. This age group tend to find talking therapies slightly more challenging but our psychology colleagues tell us that, as a result of the music therapy, these children are more open to engaging with them in their sessions and more able to express how they were feeling. (Therapy Today, 2014, p. 6)

The level of effectiveness music has in relieving stress varies ‘according to age, the type of stress in question, the means by which the music was used, the listener’s musical preference, and their prior level of music experience’ (Hargreaves & North, 2008, p. 307). This brief overview highlights to me that music therapy is of intrinsic value to our wellbeing. As well as the areas mentioned above, music therapy has seen measurable success relieving anxiety in a variety of settings (Hargreaves & North, 2008). It is also useful in treatment as therapy for drug and solvent abuse (Oklan & Henderson, 2014; Silverman, 2009).

REFERENCES

Alzheimer’s Society (2015) What is Alzheimer’s disease? Available at: http://www.alzheimers.org.uk/site/scripts/documents_info.php?categoryID=200171&documentID=100&gclid=CI_j59OHv8UCFYgIwwodCqUAPA (Last accessed: 06/05/2015).

Blackburn, R., & Bradshaw, T. (2014) ‘Music therapy for service users with dementia: a critical review of the literature’, Journal of Psychiatric & Mental Health Nursing, Vol. 21, No. 10, pp. 879-888. Available from: 10.1111/jpm.12165.

British Association for Music Therapy (2012) What is music therapy? Available at: http://www.bamt.org/music-therapy/what-is-music-therapy.html (Last accessed: 12/05/2012).

Chan, M., Wong, Z., Onishi, H., & Thayala, N. (2012) ‘Effects of music on depression in older people: a randomised controlled trial’, Journal of Clinical Nursing, Vol. 21, No. 5/6, pp. 776-783. Available from: 10.1111/j.1365-2702.2011.03954.x.

Choi, A., Lee, M., & Lim, H. (2008) ‘Effects of group music intervention on depression, anxiety, and relationships in psychiatric patients: a pilot study’, Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, Vol. 14, No. 5, pp. 567-570. Available from: 10.1089/acm.2008.0006.

Clare, M. (2014) ‘Soothing sounds: reducing agitation with music therapy’, Nursing & Residential Care, Vol. 16, No. 4, pp. 217-221.

Feld, S. (1994) ‘Communication, music, and speech about music’, in Keil, C. & Feld, S. (eds.) Music grooves: essays and dialogues. United States of America: The University of Chicago Press, pp. 77-95.

Green, B. (1986) The inner game of music. United States: Pan Books.

Harrison, P. (2006) The human nature of the singing voice: exploring a h basis for sound teaching and learning. Great Britain: Dunedin Academic Press.

Higgins, L. (2012) Community music: in theory and in practice. United States: Oxford University Press.

Lee, J., & Thyer, B. (2013) ‘Does Music Therapy Improve Mental Health in Adults? A Review’, Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, Vol. 23, No. 5, pp. 591-603. Available from: 10.1080/10911359.2013.766147.

Levitin, D. (2006). This is your brain on music: understanding a human obsession. Great Britain: Atlantic Books.

National Health Service (2006) Wellbeing self-assessment. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/Tools/Pages/Wellbeing-self-assessment.aspx (Last accessed: 11/05/2015).

Newham, P. (1999) Using voice and song in therapy: the practical application of voice movement therapy. United Kingdom: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

North, A. & Hargreaves, D. (2008) The social and applied psychology of music. United States: Oxford University Press.

Oklan, A., & Henderson, S. (2014) ‘Treating inhalant abuse in adolescence: A recorded music expressive arts intervention’, Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, Vol. 24, No. 3, pp. 231-237. Available from: 10.1037/pmu0000058.

Pavlicevic, M. (1999) Music therapy: intimate notes. United Kingdom: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Sacks, O. (2008). Musicophilia: tales of music and the brain. 2nd Edition. United Kingdom: Vintage Books.

Silverman, M. (2009) ‘A descriptive analysis of music therapists working with consumers in substance abuse rehabilitation: Current clinical practice to guide future research’, The Arts in Psychotherapy, Vol. 36, pp. 123-130. Available from: 10.1016/j.aip.2008.10.005.

Stige, B., Ansdell, G., Elefant, C. & Pavlicevic, M. (2010) Where music helps: community music therapy in action and reflection. Great Britain: Ashgate.

Stige, B. & Aarø, L. (2012) Invitation to community music therapy. United Kingdom: Routledge.

Thaut, M. (2005) ‘Rhythm, human temporality, and brain function’, in Miell, D., MacDonald, R. & Hargreaves, D. (Eds.) Musical communication. United States: Oxford University Press, pp. 171-191.

Therapy Today (2011) ‘NHS urged to pay for music therapy to cure depression’, 2011, Therapy Today, Vol. 22 (No. 7), p.5.

Therapy Today (2014) ‘Music therapy helps beat depression’, (2014) Therapy Today, Vol. 25, No. 9, p. 6.

Venkatapuram, S. (2013) ‘Subjective wellbeing: a primer for poverty analysts’, Journal of Poverty & Social Justice, Vol. 21, No. 1, pp. 5-17. Available from: 10.1332/175982713X664029.

Williams, T. (2014) ‘A journey to music therapy’, Exceptional Parent, Vol. 44, No. 4, pp. 30-32.