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Use a mind map to make a ritual

Can you establish a ritual of picking up your guitar every day? You’ll need a good reason before you do. What’s the long-term goal aside from knowing a few songs?

Get a piece of paper. We’re going to do some mind-mapping. It’ll only take 5 or 10 minutes. Unless you get into it, in which case it could take a while…

Mind-mapping was developed in the 1970s as a whole brain alternative to linear thinking. It’s essentially a keyword technique.  The idea is to write down a central theme, and then use lines growing out of that central theme to depict your thoughts and associations.

This is not about categories. It’s about whatever is in the mind.

What I’ve got below is a template: a broad category and then stuff coming from it. You absolutely cannot censor yourself when you do this. Judgement is never fun, and this should be fun. You can eliminate stuff later. Dream big right now.

A mind map recipe.

  1. Use “music” as the central theme.
  2. Then use “guitar” as one of the first thoughts coming from that.
  3. Use things that you discover in the music theme that relate to guitar. These will likely be things you haven’t thought of before.
  4. Fill in the squares surrounding the guitar circle. Add squares if you want.
  5. Fill in the empty circles surrounding the music square.
  6. Fill in the boxes surrounding those circles. Again add squares as required

Remember. Don’t censor yourself.

mind map


Now you’ve got some ideas for what you want to do. Don’t get rid of anything. Which do you think are most realistic to start with? “Play like Eric Clapton” is possible, but won’t happen right away. Do you know what you need to know in order to do that?

“Learn my favorite song” is possible sooner depending on how hard it is. “Learn a few chords” is easier than both of those.  “Play with other people” is something that could happen as soon as you know a few chords, or after you learn a few song (these are just examples; none of them need to be on your mind map if they don’t feel right to you).

Make a list of all this stuff.

 Teachers are useful

Now find a good teacher. Show her/him the list, and create a learning strategy together. What do you start with? At what point do you start working on playing like Eric Clapton?

Figure out a sequence of learning and a loose timeline for when you might be able to accomplish your goals. Base those goals on 15 minutes, 6 days a week. Be realistic. If you’re not realistic, you’ll get discouraged. If you get discouraged, there’s more likelihood that you’ll quit. I don’t want you to quit.

You don’t have to keep going back for lessons if you don’t want to. You can develop the plan with a teacher, and then go home and work it. When you run into a problem, go for another lesson.

Be aware that some teachers don’t want to teach this way. Many require a monthly cheque for 4 lessons. This is reasonable if teaching is their sole means of income. Others teach part-time and are more flexible, so make sure you let whoever you talk to know up front what you’re looking for. Teachers are great for encouragement, and for giving you a sense of how you’re developing. Use them wisely and according to your budget.

For more techniques on idea generation, check out Michael Michalko’s excellent book, Cracking Creativity: The Secrets of Creative Genius.


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Guitar ritual

Before you do anything else, you have to do what you can to establish a habit of picking up your guitar. You have to do this if you want to get better. Without doing this, you’ll quit. Seems obvious. Without a habit of doing the activity, you stop doing the activity. Or you do it haphazardly, don’t get better, and then assume (wrongly) that you don’t have what it takes.

All it takes is the habit of doing it. You’ll get better. It’s just the way it works. This is really important, so I’ve dedicated the next 3 posts to the topic.


Research has shown that the majority of our activities are not consciously directed. As much as 95% of what we do occurs automatically or in response to external stimuli. With that in mind, it’s a good idea to create automatic behaviours that get us what we want instead of going through our days doing things without consciously establishing what those things are.

This where ritual comes in.  Defined as a detailed method of procedure faithfully or regularly followed, ritual allows for success. A ritual might seem too rigid for you, but think about it. You already have rituals in place for things that you think are important. Family dinners, an exercise program, personal hygiene, whatever. There are almost certainly actions in your work life that you have established that enable you to get work done as effectively as possible.

Think about the things you do every day. Which are the ones that you repeat? Where in your life are you most successful? Family? Work? Health? In most cases, where you find success, you’ll find ritual.

Next post: using a mind map to decide what to base your rituals on.


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What’s meaningful?

By meaningful, I mean making and sharing. I mean learning – but ideally making – a song and playing it for people.

If the thought of that scares you, it should. It should scare anyone. But it shouldn’t seem impossible, like something that couldn’t possibly happen. If you can do it with a teacher, you can do it with anyone.

You should be able to close your eyes and imagine yourself with a guitar, in front  of a group of people. There you are, playing the guitar and singing. Or maybe someone else is doing the singing.

Maybe it’s a whole band.

And of course thinking this will make you feel nervous. Everybody feels this way. Professional musicians feel this way. Right up until they’re out there doing it. Doing it’s not hard. Thinking about doing it is.

The good news is that there are certain well-defined steps to getting there. It’s not easy, but people do it all the time, and they start from zero. They do it – we all do it -one step at a time.

Not just songwriting

How about making an instrumental piece? Or learning an audio programming language? Or using free software to make electronic compositions? Or using you tablet or phone make and record songs?

You can do all those things, too.


If you just want to play guitar, that’s great. If you want to explore other areas, also great. Whatever you do, don’t limit yourself because of some preconceived idea of who you are or what you’re able to do. Music can be the entryway to a lot of stuff you wouldn’t have thought about.


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Music books make me feel stupid

I’m not sure that I started the right way. I don’t know if there is a right way.

Starting with books isn’t a bad idea. But a lot of books assume a level of knowledge that most people don’t have. And by people, I mean non-musicians. No wonder people don’t think they’re talented enough. Most books tell them implicitly that they’re supposed to know stuff they couldn’t possibly know. Which makes them feel vaguely stupid.

An example:

“Melody, rhythm and harmony are so intertwined in songwriting that it is difficult to discuss one without the other.”

An understandable response from someone who has never had a music lesson might be: “What?! I have to learn all of that together? What’s harmony?” You’re already overwhelmed and you haven’t even got to the end of the paragraph. And the rest of the paragraph just piles on more of the same. You won’t get to the end of the chapter because, as relevant as the material might be, you won’t use it. You won’t know how.

Let me be clear. There’s nothing wrong with this book. There are many good things about this book. But someone who know zero about music will go somewhere else. Worse, they’ll quit without ever trying. And chances are the next book (if they do try) will be much the same. And then you just might think that you have no talent because you don’t understand this stuff. As if anyone else in your position does.

That’s when you’ll say, “I could never do that. I’m not musically talented.” And I’ll get angry.

 I don’t want to get angry anymore. So I decided to write this blog. I want people to have an alternative to books that don’t consider the non-musician. I want people to feel like they can do this.


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