The world loves lists, so here is another one. Notice that none of these ideas that follow have anything to do with a specific style or technique that must be used to attain guitar legitimacy. I don’t teach that way. These items, these commandments, are sensibilities to be cultivated, things to try, and ways of being that are most often learned in the pursuit of something. This is more mental game work that none of my teachers ever talked about. They either tried to turn me into themselves or scolded me for the kind of music I liked. My goal as a teacher is to introduce students to themselves through the use of the guitar. Music lessons are a great experiment in human psychology because the associated challenges of learning and how they are responded to can be indicative of general character. Quitters quit and problem solvers solve problems, to be blunt. Who we are as a person is important to the kind of musician we become and to finding out if we can become one, at all. In keeping with that, consider these commandments most of all on the difficult days, when you don’t feel like playing and are full of resistance. What you want is on the other side of that wall.
1 – PUT YOURSELF INTO IT!!
Nothing works if you don’t commit. Give your best efforts in all that you do. Don’t phone it in. You either have desire to play or you don’t. If you are going to play, give it all you’ve got in that specific moment.
2 – LEARN WHAT YOU LOVE!!
Forget about learning the music you think you ‘should’ learn and focus, instead, on the music you want to learn. Don’t sweat jazz if your heart is in punk rock. We all go farther faster when our heads are in the game. Music should get you emotionally hot. Figure out what does it for you and learn that. This is especially important for beginners.
3 – SEEK INSPIRATION, NOT PERFECTION!!
The most important thing in music is to be inspired and to inspire. Technical perfection does not always accomplish that alone, but can be part of the bigger picture. We connect first with ourselves and then with our audience. As long as those connections are made, all is right with the world and a misplaced note here and there isn’t important.
4 – LEARN YOUR GEAR!!
Take the time to explore the gear you have and get sounds out of it without a lot of fuss. There are many players who never take the time to do this and end up developing the ability to make even the best gear sound terrible. Don’t be one of them.
5 – TAKE CARE OF YOUR GEAR!!
Gear costs money, right? Use it as hard as you need to, but don’t destroy it. Keep up on your set ups, re-tubes, and any other regular maintenance issues your rig may require. When was the last time you took your pedal board apart and cleaned it?
6 – PRACTICE FOR AUTOMATION!!
Practice until you can play without thinking, until you can have a conversation and play your song at the same time. The goal is to be fluent, just like you are with your daily spoken language. Even simple music should be played well. This ability will serve you well on stage, where distractions are everywhere and those who can’t execute drop their pants in front of the world. This will also make you a more intuitive player and songwriter because you get to a point where you are reacting, not thinking.
7 – BE NON-VERBAL!!
It’s hard to describe what I am thinking when I play, but it’s not really a lot of nouns and verbs. I’m not steering by actively giving myself instructions, but am relating to music musically. This ties in with #6 above, in that fluency leads to musicality. We all describe it differently, but know it when we hit it. In the best moments, it’s pure emotion and color.
8 – TEACH!!
It’s been said that you don’t really know something until you can break it down and teach it to someone else. Teaching forces you to use everything that you know, to search for what you don’t, and to analyze your own playing. Plus, this thing of ours is ultimately passed from human to human and I feel it matters for us to hand off culture in that way. Do your part to make sure rock and roll really does live forever.
9 – TAKE DIRECTION WELL!!
Never forget that your band is more than the sum of its parts and all the pieces and parts of your music need to fit together for it to hit its potential. If you respect your band mates and one of them asks you to try playing something a certain way or with a certain tone, give it a shot, your best shot. The goal is to sound good together, not come across as a bunch of soloists searching for a band. If you don’t respect your band mates, consider why you are playing with them.
10 – KEEP YOUR EGO IN CHECK!!
We all need a healthy ego to perform, but don’t be a jerk. Be cool, confident, and let your game do the talking. Being difficult, making demands, and generally being a tiara-wearing diva just makes you look small.
MIKE O’CULL plays guitar, writes songs, produces tracks, teaches, preaches, writes poetry, makes art, and is in love with human creativity. He has the ability to put a song in your ear and make it stick. He writes songs that combine every cool thing he has ever heard into a new sound that is funky, rocking, literate, and conscious and contains elements of blues, hip hop, rock, funk, and skid row poetry. He has a new release slated for 2016 that will contain his new and topical track ‘Tough Times These Days,’ which is now being previewed on YouTube. In 2015, he released a single, ‘What’s Old Is What’s New,’ that was co-written with poet/activist Leroy Moore of Krip Hop Nation which mixes down and dirty blues with old school hip hop and an EP, ‘The Mike O’Cull Band,’ that features seven funky blues/rock original songs. Both are available on iTunes, Spotify, and Amazon. He is also the creator of Street Level Guitar, his own unique method for learning to play guitar. SLG involves a concentration on the practical aspects of music and guitar playing blended with a personal development angle that ensures his students build the confidence to perform, not merely play. http://www.Facebook.com/StreetLevelGuitar is the place to hang out for more info.
Mike has also worked as a music journalist and PR writer since the mid 1990s, including 12 years with the Illinois Entertainer (http://www.IllinoisEntertainer.com), contributing to the start of the blogosphere with http://www.ChicagoGigs.com in the late 1990s, and has been a contributing writer for http://www.ChicagoMusicGuide.com, http://www.ChicagoBluesGuide.com, Gig Magazine, and scores of others, and has written bios, press releases, and liner notes for many different artists.
This year is a new beginning in his story and career and Mike is making his most fully-realized music to date that is equal parts current and classic, old school and new jack. He is a fearless creative with an expansive knowledge of American music mated with the touch and vision of a modern producer, songwriter, and instrumentalist.