I’ll take d) for $500: Insecurity and Academic Balderdash in GuitarLand

2:47 AM seems as likely a time as any to hack away at a new post. I shoot for eight posts a day. Currently averaging one every six months. So if I ever get to a daily post, it’ll feel like a huge accomplishment and yet not even halfway to where I wanna be so as not to feel like I really worked that hard.

This week has brought some interesting conversations about modes- not about modes, actually, but as a matter of fact modes brought up some interesting conversations.
Though doubting mightily that the other participant in said conversation will read this ever, I’ll leave things on the safe side of vague so as to…well if this person reads this they will know I felt the conversation unpleasant enough that it needed redacting, so maybe that’s worse.

So it goes.

To generalize-

Gutiarists, and guitar teachers in particular, are a painfully insecure lot. As I’ve often said, there ain’t no drama like a boy drama. Modern men, being culturally disallowed from airing feelings with transparency, and now not even afforded the dubious luxury of generations past wherein they could openly and without shame punch each other in a consensual battle of non-wits without fear of ridiculous life-trajectory-altering litigation, now have few options. We are between a shitty rock (made of actual shit) and a shitty hard place (you guessed it, actual shit again), which is worse than just rocks and truly unyielding places because of the lack of honesty. These shit spots will yield a little sure, if you’re backed into them, which would offer a modicum of spatial relief if not for- now you’re catching on- the poop.

This is nonsense but you catch my drift. That’s a directive, YOU CATCH MY DRIFT, NOW!

So I post about modes, on TikTok. I explain them in the simplest way possible. I have sixty seconds. It goes like this:

Modes aren’t complicated. Anyone who wants to make them sound complicated either 1) Is a shit teacher, 2) Doesn’t know what they’re talking about, 3) Is trying to sell you something, or 4) some combination of 1, 2, and 3- usually at least two of them.

Major scale goes Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti Do (Re Mi Fa…ad infinitum). We can replace those Italian nonsense words with flavors of ice cream, one’s seven favorite dinosaurs, or say numbers. Numbers are more commonly used. Point is they’re just names, meaningful like all words only due to us having agreed that we’ve attached them as labels to the things they’re appointed to. In this case, the “thing” that Do Re…are appointed to are locations in musical space, along the axis of pitch, which is, unlike many musical terms, an extremely specific and definable and even scientific term referring to the sound of a note in terms of lowness or highness (and only in those terms- it describes nothing about any other characteristics of music, whether time, or sound “quality,” or anything else).

I swore this was simple.

So you got your Julie Andrews bit with the Do Re Mi, or as I like to label them (not unique am I) 1 2 3 etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Bonus points if you can name the musical I just referenced between The Sound of Music and the end of this sentence.

So if we travel from Do to Do- 1 to 1- we have a major scale. Now the point is not that we travel to and only and directly to 1 from 1. We could go past it, not get all the way to it, skip around, or even go to a 1 that’s several 1’s from “here.” The point is that 1/Do is our focal point. It’s home. It’s what our ear hears as homebase, as resolution, stasis, because we told our ear to think of it that way by repetition in terms of frequency of landing on it (mostly, among other ways).

That sound, making 1/Do “home,” is what we call a major scale- or to be more precise, we are playing a major scale if we travel from 1 to 1 (and usually back again, ears like resolution and there’s no resolution like landing where you began. Cue Van Hagar “Finish What Ya Started”). If we play the notes from that scale and make it clear that 1 is home, we are playing the notes of that major scale, and we can be said to be playing in that “mode”- in this case, the Ionian mode. The name doesn’t matter. It could be the raspberry gluten-free cotton candy mode. All that matters is that when you come across that word, your mind knows you’re talking about that sound. The menu is not the meal. Map is not territory.

So though as explained above we needn’t play FROM AND ONLY FROM 1-1 and back again to be playing in the Ionian mode (that would be simply playing a scale), it is helpful to think of the Ionian mode as playing music using the intervals (specific spaces, in terms of pitch and only in terms of pitch, between notes) that comprise the “Diatonic” (meaning normal-ass) scale, with 1/Do as your “tonic”- your “root”- your home base.

Now: WHY IN THE EVER LIVING HELL WOULD I WRITE THAT MUCH TO EXPLAIN TO YOU THAT THE IONIAN MODE IS THE GODS-BLESSED MAJOR SCALE?

I’ll tell you why. Oh, I’ll tell you alright.

But to tell you that I have to tell you why I wouldn’t just tell you “The Ionian mode is a fancy word for the major scale.”

The answer here is that I did, in fact, do just that. On TikTok. In the vast expanse of sixty solar seconds, I explained that

  1. Modes aren’t complicated
  2. Anyone who tries to make them sound complicated a) is a lousy teacher, b) doesn’t know what they’re talking about, c) is trying to sell you something, or d) at least two of the above (usually the case).
  3. All modes are “naturally occuring” within the major scale, with each of the seven modes arising from the sound yielded when you travel from any one of those notes to the octave above it- again 1-1 (Ionian), 2-2 (Dorian), 3-3 (Majestic Stegosaurus), etc.

It was all so clean and simple!

So much so, one of my regular viewer/commenters and a TikTok friend commented that I had literally done a better job explaining the modes in sixty seconds than any of her music theory professors did in college.

Boy, that made me feel amazing. These are the things you live for as a teacher.

I screenshotted it.

I cropped the image to hide irrelevancies.

I shared it to Instagram.

Let it be known I truly had not even the faintest rumblings in my mind of “This will look good and might drive business.” It was a moment of total teacher’s innocence. It was actually beautiful. Was I proud? Absolutely. But not egoically, violently so, as pride often arrives. I was happy, truly, for her, and felt so privileged to have been the one to make that lightbulb go off for her. Life was fucking perfect.

But I had missed something.

Something crucial.

Something damning.

Refer, if you will, to the numerical list above, with subsections a)-d).

If I had known then what I know now, item d) would be denoted item e), with a new item d) in its place:

d) DESPERATELY WANTS TO DEMONSTRATE THAT ALL OTHER GUITAR TEACHERS ARE BUFFOONS, THAT ONLY they HAVE THE true UNDERSTANDING OF MODES, THAT MOST TEACHERS, BLESS THEIR ASININE LITTLE HEARTS, TEACH MODES ALL GODDAMNED WRONG, AND WANTS TO EXPLAIN ALL THIS IN A WAY THAT SOMEHOW PRETENDS THAT’S NOT EXACTLY WHAT THE HELL THEY ARE DOING. NO, THEY’RE JUST “CHIMING THE FUCK IN” WITH THEIR “PERSPECTIVE.”

That would’ve been item d). If only I had known.

The Reader’s Digest version of what ensued is this: one such teacher, having committed many such drive-bys on my educational content in the past, asked to see the post on modes which was the subject of the life-perfecting comment from my TikTok friend. I obliged. Then d) happened.

To be fair one might argue I’m reading quite a bit into what was actually written to arrive at d). But I would say I’m not reading into- I’m reading. Reading an old, familiar book, one detailed painfully at the end of this post. I know what was happening. There’s more to the story than would be fair to share here but suffice to say, plenty of water runs under that bridge and I know exactly what the hell it tastes like. Not recommended.

I was passive-aggressively critiqued along the lines of “I’d love to agree, but ‘What you forget is’ (direct quote)” and then lectured about context, and how that’s what guitar teachers all leave out.

I was desperately sorry to not have laid out a rich tapestry of musical context to the wide world of modes, making their application in varied harmonic settings relatively effortless for my dear TikTok audience of 16 year old boys in sixty seconds or less. Oh I mean it, he made me good and sorry.

I said Reader’s Digest, right.

I called him out, gently but in no uncertain terms.

Peacemaking ensued.

That relationship is now probably in as good a standing as it’s ever been, for whatever that says.

Here’s the hitch:

Class is class. Gatekeeping is gatekeeping. What was really going on when this long-time acquaintance and deep inhabiter of musical academia asked me to share the 60 second video that caused one close TikTok follower to comment, and I quote, “Also you just explained modes beter than any professor I ever had?”

Academia’s charade as the arbiter of reality is disintegrating. under the irresistible power of The Internet. Finally. To put it gingerly, thank fucking God.

What this person was really up to in asking to see the post was this: “There’s no way what that commenter said was true. They think they understand something, but they don’t. No one could pull that off in sixty seconds- at least not anyone who’s not me. Something was left out. He taught something untrue, even dangerously false. I must keep the gate. I must inspect, critique, and dispel the ignorance. I’ll even make it look like I’m being friendly and ‘helpful’ while I do it. It’s my God-given duty as the academic police to ensure this does not stand. I cannot abide it.”

This is academic poison, and it runs deep. Y’all see how I write. I’m no dummy. I ain’t! I’m not anti-academics. I’m the furthest thing from anti-education. Even music education (as a reminder, I’m teaching music, for passion, in 774 TikTok videos and counting since October 2019 (not all are music, but the vast majority are), plus five years of content creation on Instagram, six on YouTube, and heaven knows how many on Facebook. No, I am no adversary of academics.

Academia, however- oh yes. I yearn to see it crumble. To see the curtain pulled back, to watch the facade of authority and relevance implode. We are watching it now. It is truly beautiful. For the jobs lost after Coronavirus and the families affected of course I am hearbroken. They didn’t ask their institutions to be so recklessly committed to utter irrelevance. But committed they are. And so, so many will fail. Justly. Beautifully. Into the past, where they belong. If they didn’t, they would not fail. Those that endure clearly have earned their place in today. We’ll see about tomorrow.

And what was happening for my friend who desperately pined to do exploratory surgery on my work- to tell me and the world how deluded I was in thinking I had actually helped someone understand what she herself knew I had helped her understand?

Classic. Institutional. Academic. Bitterness.

The over-educated jazz musician who bemoans all the “no talent hacks” filling the pop charts.

Who believes she or he can buy relevance-through tuition, time, sleepless nights in intellectual hamster-mazes bearing no resemblance to the marketplace.

Who believes that academic study, institutional skill, and insularly validated metrics of quality have a direct relationship to the degree of success one is entitled to through said internally-accredited pursuits in the real world. In other words, who believes nonsense which has always been nonsense, but which is now- wonderfully, gorgeously, deliciously- being butt-ass-nakedly exposed as not only nonsense, but the most obvious and absurd kind, not innocent nonsense but truly stupid, willful nonsense, in the wake of the true scaling of The Internet, the great eviscerator of gatekeepers.

This person congratulated me on having “found” such a great audience on TikTok, after the fact. To say this person is struggling on that platform would be false, because there is no struggle without effort.

He’s paying a social media marketer. She says TikTok isn’t important, and that high-production YouTube videos are what he should be focusing on. The kind of vidoes that could win him a real audience, if only he’d been doing that exact thing starting at least five years ago. He’s banking on her being right. Literally. Because he’s paying her.

Paying her to give him wrong-headed, past-licking information, while the very act of paying her causes him to make psychological investment against even making the effort in arenas that could yield real exponential growth in his audience. Expensive.

I’m counting on her being right. Because I’m paying her.

So yes, I was congratulated on “finding” my audience of 22,602 Followers as of today.

Amazing what one can “find” when they’ve posted 774 videos in six months. Go figure.

at this rate I’m paying like $50/post and this bullshit has to stop

Welp my WordPress subscription re-upped and I’m super pissed cause I’ve posted like half a time this year so I’d best get going.

Writing isn’t hard. Not writing is hard. And boy sometimes it takes a lot of not writing to get any writing done.

It’s a heck of a horse to stay on. Once it bucks you it’s damn near impossible to mount again. The curve from there is exponential, it gets rapidly, rapidly easier and tapers off quickly. From there it’s easy. But what is ease when you’ve become accustomed to it? No different than difficulty, or medium-ease/difficulty. 80 mph is fast when you just shot up from 35 in four seconds. But once you’ve traveled it for thirteen minutes it’s normal.

And so on.

This little corner of the internet is ostensibly about guitars so reckon I’d better go there. Since last I posted I’ve owned, well I don’t care to remember all that so I’ll just tell you. I have my PRS McCarty 594, my ride-or-die (or sell if times get really rough)- newly dubbed my “Lester Bester” since it more than makes up for the lack of romance carried by a Les Paul in tuning stability, niche credibility, and that certain je ne sais quoi I lovingly refer to as “Won’t break at the headstock if you look at it wrong.”

Speaking of.

My 1953 J-45 is now, again, in two pieces. I leaned it in a corner, as I’ve safely done a thousand times before, while attempting to wrangle a very nippy Australian Cattle Dog. I hear the bang. It was windy. I look up at the corner of the porch in question, in shock and not at all suspecting its terrible fate.

Yeah you know where that’s going. It could be repaired, maybe- the break is deeeeep into the truss rod cavity. But I’m over it. It was a non-original headstock when I got it in 2004, having been replaced likely in the 70’s. It gradually came apart starting around 2010 and reaching a critical crap mass by 2017 that I had it repaired. Went great. Til I lived with a girlfriend who belonged in the rainforest, had no AC, and a humidity of 348% in her house. It was a weird time. I awoke one wet May morning to “POP” and the strings completely slacked against a headstock turned very much the wrong way. A year later it was finally repaired. Now fewer than two years after that- I’m done with repairs.

Now of course one day I’ll have it repaired with adamantium or something and it shall be as Aragorn’s Anduril, the blade that was remade. If only it had been broken doing something more epic like cutting off Sauron’s hand. In the meantime I’ll have a new neck built, or rather build one, or rather help my dad build one as he’s become more than handy at building necks and even entire ukuleles from scratch. I’ll be able to salvage the original Brazilian rosewood fingerboard which is cool to say the least.

Now speaking of Anduril and Aragorn- an unexpected delight in life has been TikTok. The internet’s home for all things Tolkien, naturally. The full extent of my escapades on that burgeoning platform are the subject of another series of posts entirely but suffice to say I’m using it to help find and finesse my voice. Literally, I read the entire Fellowship of the Ring, over fifteen nights, live on TikTok. It’s putting me back in touch with the love of reading, of reading fiction in particular (which constitutes less than 5% of my reading, easily), with Tolkien and Middle Earth (both of whom I love dearly and to whom/which I cannot get close enough), and most excitingly is giving me the opportunity to practice my voice. Throughout my purportedly adult years I’ve periodically been asked if I do or have done voice work, whether in radio, narration, or voice acting. The former answer was no, but now is yes (though not professionally as of yet). I love practicing, building my stamina, getting into characters, and above all delivering the arc of a narrative much as one would hope to deliver the arc of a musical work. It’s a natural fit.

More could be said but for now this post only cost me $33.00 so I’m moving in the write direction. Get it. That’s a directive, not a question. Please get it. I’m talking to myself here.

xoxo JoshOptical

What the Guitar World Needs Now (Is Love, Tough Love)

STOP PLAYING NOTES AND START PLAYING MUSIC, AKA the cranky music rant you didn’t know you needed.

I am soon to lose my mind over guitar posts and videos about how you’re “playing something wrong,” about “the right way to use scales,” about “unlocking the fingerboard.” My disgust surely marks me as a grumpy musician, bitter even! But that’s not what this is about.

MUSIC IS IN YOUR MIND

MUSIC IS IN YOUR HEART

MUSIC IS IN YOUR !!!EARS!!!

Asinine guitar videos telling you about how “understanding” some scale or chord or for Chrissake technique (because music is something to be “understood,” with your left brain, right?) is going to give you the key to music- as if the door were locked.

Wanking fusionists with musical diarrhea for which there is no cure, passing themselves off as “masters” (masters of what? Musical diarrhea, that’s what. But mercy that shit comes so fast and free!)

Here’s the bad news:

If you’re shredding a ton of notes, IT PROBABLY SUCKS. It’s probably the furthest thing from music.

What’s that? Oh, but you’re “expressing yourself?” Some people just do it with more notes? Hate to tell you, but it sucks. WE ARE MUSICIANS; WE SERVE MUSIC. Music is your boss. Not your feels or your ego. If it’s not your boss, go on playing. But don’t call yourself a musician.

If you’re thinking about music like a math equation, or thinking about how to impress your pretentious music friends, IT PROBABLY SUCKS.

If you are going out of your way to look or sound the right way for the hipsters at whatever bar is cool this week, whether in your music or dress or Instagram posts or anything else, IT PROBABLY SUCKS.

Here’s a list of do’s:

DO

1) Play the blues. You must do this.

2) Play with conviction.

3) LISTEN TO YOUR OWN PLAYING AND NOTICE IF IT SUCKS. I don’t mean “isn’t perfect” sucks; that kind of thinking is what sucks. I mean, does it sound actually good? Is it music? Or is it just notes?

4) PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT LIKE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT BECAUSE AT SOME POINT IT JUST FREAKING MAY

Please Share this, the world needs it and I don’t mind saying so.