Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy


Your Chops are Your Concept

As of late when I practice the guitar, I feel like a total retard.  Maybe that’s a good sign.

Yesterday I worked on a simple song for an hour (Copa Cabana), trying to put the finger picking rhythm in the pocket and still stay loose.  The day before I had been working on playing just the melody to “Autumn Leaves.”

(20 years ago I started every gig with the song “Autumn Leaves.”  You’d think I already know the song.)

Spending hours on such simple stuff?  Why?

I had a brain full of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” from my guitar and music teachers.

I was taught

  • proper hand position
  • staying loose with my technique
  • playing cleanly
  • playing fast and fluidly

However…I can recall my teachers then bearing down on me musically, stressing depth of groove, tone, counterpoint and overall listening.

It was a mystery…as a student I had been doing it all technically right, yet a “veil” was shutting me out from higher realities.

Now it’s backwards…am I struggling with technical basics…I have thrown away most of what they taught me.  Playing music is now fueled with a different intention than it once was.

My “basics” – my right hand technique, left hand technique, concept of sound, repertoire choices and the feeling of “groundedness in the groove” are now being fueled by musical instinct and experience vs “imagination” or imitation.

The “why” I’m playing music has changed.  And it’s morphing my technique.

“Technically” correct is not “spiritually” correct.  And, “spiritually” correct can appear “technically” incorrect. Very Bizarro.

“Autumn Leaves” is suddenly challenging, much less “easy” than before and is requiring more of me digging into my guts to find the music.  On the flip side, it sounds like the song should sound really, more than ever before.

Reflecting on all this, I am hearing my teacher Mike Longo say “chops is your concept, not velocity.  Fast is just fast.  Listen to Monk – that’s concept – that’s real chops.”



Garbage Bags and Inner Peace

Recently I found myself on tour in the Toronto airport, itching for a book to read.  I’m kind of a self-help motivational junkie, and the newsstand had a small book that jumped out at me called “How to Save an Hour a Day, Guaranteed” by Michael Heppell.

On first blush, it looked like a quick reference for this type of thing, and I felt “well I have read all this before, but I’ll use this as a quickie reminder.”  I figured for the $20 I’d spend, I’d make it back in saved time.

I needed a little “kick in the pants” and thought perhaps there would be at least one good idea in the book.

Actually, I am really knocked out by this simple little book.  Some organizational books are a real “geometry project.”  With those books, I find myself getting drawn in and then have a hard time following through with the full setup – even if they are more comprehensive.

This book had some quick, but real game changing ideas…here are a few:

1) Define why you want more time. This is a very clever way to get you on track with what you want.  This is the positive pre-cursor to eliminating negatives.  The stronger the motivation with the end in mind, the better you will do.  Hint – don’t skip this step!

2) For a week  track what you do every 15 minutes on a spreadsheet or some type of graph.  I’m 4 days into this, using Excel.  Like a diet, you see where you produce good things, and where you waste time.  The time sheet won’t lie!

This alone for me immediately translated into less time spent online.  The constant “blood letting” of checking email and Facebook got limited to 3 times per day, and I have got a TON more accomplished as an result.

3) Do a deep “clutter clean.”  I remember when I moved in to my place how organized and clean it was – I felt great, free and limitless.   Also, when I go to a hotel room on the road…I can THINK because I don’t have every loose end in my life staring at me.

I highly recommend a deep clutter clean…

  • Anything not used in 6 months…throw out.  Business cards you’ll never enter in the PC or Mac – throw out!!!  Old magazines, clothes you never wear (donate), crap in desk droors, coupons, all of it.  Be merciless and throw it all out.
  • Big things standing in corners?  Get em into a closet so you don’t look at them.
  • Things you use all the time?  Find a home for them, and take em out when you use them.
  • Instruction Manuals?  They can all be found online as PDFs…throw out!

And so on….

4) List your “Time Bandits”.  As I became aware of mine,  I “woke up” immediately and found I had more time. I set the phone to vibrate, put the computer in airplane mode, just to start.

To Sum it Up…

My whole being has simply melted and relaxed into a profoundly peaceful place since doing this.  (Mainly due to the deep clutter clean & purge) I feel it especially as a physical sensation in my solar plexus.  It’s not just “nice” – it’s profound.

This may sound odd, but musically I have grown since doing a deep clean…getting rid of crapola helps one (me) be clear and creative.   Suddenly new music ideas have the space to “pop” into my awareness.

It’s as if I am letting old things go to make room for the new, now that my environment is reflecting that.  Yummalicious!

There’s more in the book, but for now I highly recommend it….and hey – he offers a money back guarantee if you feel the book didn’t help you!

Lastly, the book is written in a way that is easy on the eyes, good subheads…he suggests skimming and scanning, so it need not be read cover to cover (even though I did).

Thumbs up for ” “How to Save an Hour a Day, Guaranteed” by Michael Heppell.


Preparing for Stage Performance

Quite often people ask me about how long I have played guitar, how many hours a day I practice, and things of that nature.

I think the more important issue is “how” and “why” I practice. I’d like to convey to you a painful, but ultimately great – story from my past regarding practice and stage preparation.

Maybe this will resonate within you, and give you some ideas about what you need to be doing, practice wise.

I was 15 years old, and was a classical guitar student at the Bloomingdale House of Music in NYC.  Each year, they had an end of year recital.  I was an older advanced student, so other’s (and my) expectations of my playing were high.

I had been learning the Courante of Bach’s 3rd cello suite, and could play it pretty well – but only from reading the score.

So…I went out on stage thinking I knew it, and fell on my face.  Had to stop playing after 3 bars.

My mind went blank.

My stomach sank.

Lather, rinse, repeat.  I tried 2 more times, and fell on my face.

The piece just pooped out after 3 bars.  Oh God!!!!

Parents were holding their hands over their faces in horror.  It was the ultimate “knot in the stomach from humiliation” moment for everyone in the room. Horrible, thunderous silence.  Zero humor.

The director of the school came onstage and put his hands on my shoulders.

“Now everyone,” he said “what do we do when this happens?”  Oh great, now he was making an example of me.  Was this supposed to make me feel better?

I wanted to die.

I then played a piece I knew “Adelita” by Tarrega…and…shuffled off.

Afterwards, everyone was telling me “No, really you were good. Don’t feel bad, that has happened to us all, and can happen to anyone.”  Yeah right.  They tried to make me feel better.  It sucked – they knew it, and I did too.

This was the worst moment in my life up until that time….but little did I know the fantastic lesson contained therein.

Now, when I practice my arrangements, I repeat, repeat, over over over.  I vowed that this would never happen again.  And it hasn’t.

Sometimes at home  I STILL practice pieces I have played 10,000 times, and I wonder if I am crazy by doing them once more…and then I realize….being “bulletproof” for stage is more important to me than being “creative” on stage.  Creativity has a different place, for me.

I still practice “Superstition”, “Billie Jean” and all the songs I could play onstage years ago.  Just  to keep em in check.

And 2 nights ago  I played a 1000 seat theater after a plane ride, car rental, hotel check in and a frozen TV dinner as my meal.

I was exhausted, but the performance was solid, bulletproof and the people loved it.

What do you think served me and the audience on stage?

What served me was the ability to slam dunk 2 bulletproof  arrangements.  This only comes from repetition, repetition, repetition.

By doing this repetition, the fingers and music are auto pilot – in a sense.

This way you have mental resources to deal with everything else: communication with the audience, nerves, exhaustion, a weird crackle in a patch cable, lights shining in your face and so on.

Now….get to work!  🙂


How To Write a Song – (Reprise – A la Seth Godin)

You can have the best mics, preamps and converters.
You can have Logic Pro.
You can have all the plug ins.
You can have the samples.

You can have the look.
You can have the groove.
You can have the online presence.
You can have 100 bazillion youtube hits.

You can have the lyrics.
You can have the dance moves.
You can have the sex appeal.
You can have the “gigs” in the hip spots.

You can have the intellectual explanation.
You can have the university teaching position.
You can have the “chops.”
You can have the harmonic know-how.


All of that is fine and good and adds tremendously to a musical experience.

I’m not dissing any of that.  It’s all very good and excellent stuff!!!

However in the end, after all of that….

Sing me the melody.


How to Write a Song

I know this is a very bold title to a post, but after reading some horrifying information online yesterday on the topic of songwriting, I felt like I had to throw my hat in the ring on this subject.

On a portal “expert answer” site I saw an article that looked like “well, you have written some words, and some chords, and now you need to find a good melody.”

Editorial opinion: you have not written a song yet if you have “chords in search of a melody.”

To word it as though melody is the “last step” in the process is totally incorrect, and in fact, ass-backwards.

I’m sure there are many approaches to squeeze one’s creativity, but a great song will sound great even without the lyrics. Sometimes a verbal phrase may “unlock” a melodic idea for me.  However, melody is king.

No melody = no song!

Look at the great tunes that last over 25, 50, 100, 300 years….they are unforgettable melodies. So if you write a tune, ask yourself – could an instrument play the melody, and fully retain the identity of the tune?

Contemplate for a minute the opening lines of “You Are the Sunshine of my Life” or Mozart’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusic” or “Michelle” or “Yesterday” by the Beatles.

You can just sing any one of these melodies walking down the street (without lyrics), with no fancy equipment or even an instrument other than your voice.

Even a solo sax could convey the whole thing all by itself.

In 2 lines of music, the story is being told.  You remember it forever.  It’s more than notes, it’s a song.  When you “write”, that’s what your radar must be attuned to.

To “receive” these melodic germs, is like being tuned in to a “zone”.  I have had days that are barren….waiting for a song to come, and nothing.  Then, I’ll be in a zone where anything and everything I sing sounds like a tune.

You’ll need a way to capture the “germ”, the inspiration when it comes knocking.  Personally I like writing it on paper, but others like a recorder (maybe you can sing into your iPhone or other?).

I personally stay away from the confines of the guitar or piano and do “sound in my head direct to paper” to get the purest result.

  • I hear many fingersyle guitarists doing things where fingers look very “busy” as they thumpick their way through chord progressions at breakneck tempos.
  • I hear many guitarsists who play a percussive / slap / harmonics thing.
  • I hear many singer-songwriters with gruffy bluesy voices and weird instruments.
  • I hear many super technical jazz bands.

Someone will then invariably ask me my opinion – “did you like them?” or “what did you think?”

It’s quite simple…all I say is “sing me the melody.”

That’s the moment where you know if a piece of music soars to the heavens or falls flat on it’s face.

(The musician may be great, but it’s the SONG we’re talking about – not the skill, the look, or the charisma.)

That’s the test.

Could chords or lyrics or a groove inspire YOU to write a song?  You bet!  Yes, of course, and that’s ok.

I repeat – sing me the melody.