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Being creative means that you’re going to fail. I’m sure you’ve failed many times. I have. Just like everybody else.

Creative types train themselves to accept failure and look at it as a way to get better. They see it as an opportunity. Otherwise they would quit. It would be emotionally damaging to tell yourself you suck every time you fail, because you will fail a lot. And then you will succeed.

That’s the process. Try. Fail. Succeed. Or as Samuel Beckett said:

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Failing better means that you did that thing you’re trying to do, and you did it better than before. It’s still not perfect, but what is?


More failing

You never stop failing. The curse of creative types is that they see flaws in their work where others see perfection. Their strength is that they keep going. You have to really like doing this. And you have to redefine failure.

Thomas Edison failed hundreds of times before he invented the filament for the electric light bulb. His assistant asked why he kept doing it if all he ever did was fail. Edison said that he hadn’t failed. He had learned hundreds of things that didn’t work.

And then he made the thing work.

I like this quote from Townes Van Zandt: “I don’t think you can ever do your best. Doing your best is a process of trying to do your best.”

Samuel Beckett, Thomas Edison, and Townes Van Zandt – author, inventor, and songwriter. They all knew the secret: keep trying.


Perception shift

All of this takes a fundamental shift in the way you perceive the things that you make. Being creative allows you to watch yourself reacting to failure, and that helps you discover who you are. Not all of who you are. But pieces of the puzzle fall into place.

It’s hard to look. But the good news is that you get better. A better artist, a better, more interesting person. You go on more adventures, meet more people, have a more interesting life, because you’re not worried so much about screwing up.

Being creative isn’t just making stuff. It’s making yourself, and that happens by failing. Which, as it turns out, is succeeding.




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Funk 2

In the last post I talked about using a combination of scratch rhythm and chords to create accented rhythmic grooves. But I only looked at accenting the first 16th and the third 16th notes of a four note group.


A reminder of those two:

funk - 1st 16th

funk 3rd 16th


You may be wondering about accenting the second 16th note and the fourth 16th note. Perhaps you’ve been playing around with them. If not, here they are.


funk 2nd 16th

funk 4th 16th

The procedure here is pretty much the same as what we did with the first and third 16ths. It’s just harder.


Body rhythms

It’s harder because of the way we use our body when we play. Most of us tap our foot on the beat. This makes it necessary to lift our foot on the offbeat.


Here’s what I mean:


So we have a clear movement for the downbeat (the number) and the offbeat (the “and”). But there’s no foot movement that corresponds to 16th notes. They’re somewhere between your foot going down and coming up.


Some people tap their foot on every 16th. Understandable, but this destroys the sense of the beat. Developing a good sense of rhythm means accenting the downbeat while feeling different rhythms in different parts of the body. Drummers do this every time they play.


So our foot “feels” the 8th notes simply by moving up and down. Our strumming hand “feels” the 16th notes. In doing so, it goes twice as fast as the foot. This requires body independence that can take a bit of work to attain. Be patient if this is difficult.


The new rhythms

As always, play the 16th notes slowly and count “1 ee and uh, 2 ee and uh, 3 ee and uh, 4 ee and uh”. Just use scratching to start. Keep counting. Now play a chord when you say “ee”. Loop that rhythm until you’re comfortable with it. You should still be playing slowly.

funk 2nd 16th

Now speed it up, but not too much. Funk generally falls somewhere between 75 and 90 beats per minute (bpm).


Which reminds me…


The metronome

Get a metronome if you haven’t got one already. I use this one.


Set it at a tempo slow enough to make the 16th notes easy to play. When you’re comfortable at that speed gradually increase the tempo. So if you start at 60 bpm, increase the tempo to 65, then 70, etc.


Here’s a good article on issues to consider when using a metronome.


Switch to the other new rhythm. Same procedure as the other one, but play the chord when you say “uh”.

funk 4th 16th


Mixing it up

Now create some loops using all four rhythms.

Here’s one. This is an exercise designed to challenge your concentration. No hook or riff is going to change this rapidly.

funk 16th note rhythm mixed


As always, take it slow. Then speed it up.

Create a few of your own by making one of the rhythms the main focus. Then improvise by inserting the other ones wherever it feels right to do so.

Or you can structure this work more by deciding to play one of the rhythms three times in each bar. Then fill in the fourth beat with one of the other three rhythms.


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16th notes and funk

Back to sixteenths…

A discussion of 16th notes needs to include funk. Develop your ability to play funk, and you develop feel and groove. This is important for overall development of rhythmic abilities.


Funk basics

First step: play nothing but four 16ths to the beat.


4 16ths scratch

The ‘x’ noteheads mean that you need to mute the strings while you strum them. This is called scratching.

To get the right feel, do the following:


  • lay your left hand fingers lightly on the strings
  • keep your right arm and wrist loose as you strum
  • go through the strings quickly as you strum whether the tempo is slow or fast. Try to make it sound like a percussion instrument


Tap your foot on each beat, and count “1 ee and uh, 2 ee and uh, 3 ee and uh, 4 ee and uh.” Be patient. This can feel weird if you’re not used to doing it.


Placing accents

 Once you’re comfortable playing the scratch rhythm above, move on to the second step: placing accents on different parts of the beat.

Placing accents on different parts of the beat is really important for funk. It’s also important for developing a strong overall rhythmic feel.

Here are a couple of examples.

1. Accent on the first sixteenth note.

funk - 1st 16th


2. Accent on the third sixteenth note.

funk 3rd 16th



The slash indicates a chord.  Use scratches for the rest of the 16ths. Pretend your strumming arm is a machine and keep the 16ths even.

This works best if it’s a chord that covers all the strings that you’re playing. Open string chords generally don’t work, since some of the strings will ring when you release the chord.

This one works. A lot do, but this is a classic funk chord. It’s the E7#9 chord.


E7 #9 chord

As you’re strumming, release it just enough to keep your fingers lightly on the strings for the scratches.

Try to play just the strings that have your fingers on them. This chord is very forgiving since both the low E and high E strings are part of the chord. It won’t sound that bad if you hit them.


Combining rhythms

Mix the two rhythms I provided above, and create some four-beat loops. For instance:


funk rhythmic pattern 1


Come up with as many as you can.

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