Best thing I've done all week v1

The best thing I've done all week is play drums and guitar along with the album "Coltrane Plays the Blues."  The first two tunes "Blues for Elvin" and "Blues for Bechet" have totally lit me up!!! I am playing along with them multiple times a day!  Seriously!  It is like some kind of musical crack. 

Rick Considine, my drum teacher, told me to play along with that first track and once again I understand why he is the man and why I travel to Bushwick and sit in a tiny, dimly lit, freezing cold, grungy little practice closet to study with him.   Thanks, Rick.  Seriously.  Thank you for once again blowing my mind.

What makes playing along with these two tunes so great?

  • Because playing along with real music is the next best thing to playing real music.  Ha!  What I mean is, it is the next best thing to playing a gig with your heroes ... and I love playing gigs and love playing gigs with my heroes even more.
  • Because the tempos of these songs are MY JAM.  These slow tempos speak to my soul.  I get so pumped to find music that exists in this slow, spacious land of time.  Ben Webster plays a lot at this tempo and he is one of my touchstones.  Gillian Welch plays at this tempo.  Damn.  So much good and soulful music at these slow tempos. It is a kind of soul food for my ears.  Delicious.  Sweet.  Lingering. 

Check out the entire Coltrane album here.  And you tell me -- What was the best thing you did all week?

Colin Stranahan

I've been wanting to ask Colin to be a part of the Tenacity series since I first met him, and I first met him through Facebook. 

He came to know my music in some mysterious way (who ever really knows how these things work) and he reached out.  We had a lot of musical friends in common, so it was only a matter of time before we met and played together.

And play together we did at one of the last gigs I had in NYC before my Mom got sick and I took two and a half years off from making music in public.  Colin brought his small kit, crammed himself into a corner at the Gershwin Hotel, and we played a set of tunes.  It was a magical, memorable night.

(This interview is part of the TENACITY series.  Read the FAQ here.)

I Fell in Love with an Egg Timer and My Playing Got Better


I am always looking for ways to improve it, develop it, get better at it. 

There are many ways I work on it - meditation, saying no to things, working from a list, cutting down on consumption.  But in the day-to-day, one of the best ways I've learned to focus is by using this tool: the kitchen timer.

How does a kitchen timer make you focus? 

Setting a time limit on a task allows you to go deep and shut out distractions.  It's you versus the clock.  How much can you get done in 20 minutes? in 30 minutes?

During those 20 minutes, you make a deal with yourself: buckled down and do this one thing for 20 minutes, then you get to do something else.

I use a timer when I practice ANYthing -- guitar, drums, bass, voice. I use a timer when I sit down to write.

When I have a choppy day full of errands, lessons, and sessions, I set the timer for 10 minutes and get small, deep practice sessions done before I head out the door, between two appointments, or right after I walk in my apartment.

I can hear you saying it right now, "Why not just use the timer on your smart phone?"

I'll tell you why.  Using the timer on your smart phone means you have to fiddle with your smart phone to set the timer and turn it off.  It also means your smart phone will be sitting right next to you during your "supposed" deep focus session.  No one -- not a single person -- does deep work with their smart phone beside them.  Get real.  How do you get real? Get old school.  Go analogue.  Get a stand alone, honest to goodness kitchen timer.

Over the years I've bought, broken, or lost 20 or more of these things.  There are a million timers on the market; an Amazon search pulled up 2682 results.  Walk into any kitchen store and there will be five or six for sale, ranging from $5 to $55 or more.

One of my $5 timers recently broke.  So I was on the hunt for a new one.

I decided to hit up Amazon and found a GREAT one.  It's called the Smart Cube Timer.

Why am I in love with this timer (besides the fact that I am a total geek)?

1) It limits your choices.  Less is more.  You can only time yourself in 5, 15, 30, or 60 minute intervals. 

Limiting your choices -- when it comes to getting anything done -- is a good thing.  Less is more. 

2) It is whimsical and playful.  The large cube shape reminds you of a Rubik's cube, of dice, of wooden blocks. You want to touch it, flip it over, turn it around.  To time yourself for 15 minutes, you push the on switch and put the side with the big number 15 facing up (toward the ceiling).  The timer immediately begins to count down.  When 15 minutes are over, the timer beeps.  To stop the beeping, you turn the cube around so the zero faces up. 

What if your sweet spot for practicing is 10 minutes or 20 minutes?  Challenge yourself and grow: focus for five or ten extra minutes.  You can do ANYTHING for five minutes more.  Or get a different cube.  There at least three other cubes (in bright colors) that count down in different intervals (the yellow cube counts 5-10-20-45 minutes, the purple counts 5-10-20-30 minutes, the green counts 1-5-10-15 minutes).

In the end, of course, it is not about your kitchen timer, but about the time you put into your instrument.  The kitchen timer is a tool.  That's all.  The best tools are the ones that get used ... a lot. 

What are your strategies for focusing?  What tools do you use?  Any tips and tricks you want to share?  We are all in this together.  It's us against the forces of distraction ... Give it up!