What I learned from having 11 gigs, a recording session, filming, and a drum show all in one week

“Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

- Tchaikovsky

(What I learned from having eleven gigs, a recording session, a rehearsal, video filming, and the Chicago Drum Show all in just 7 days.)


I am writing today as a philosophical observer of my own life. It's a strange perspective to have, but I think it is essential to be able to step back and reflect on one's personal experience to glean new ideas, inspiration, and insight.

I recently completed what I can easily mark the busiest week of my year thus far. 

In just seven days, I had nearly a dozen gigs, a recording session, a rehearsal, about 20 hours of video filming and editing, and oh yeah, a booth at the Chicago Drum Show all weekend. 

I still remember back to my very first professional gig. I was fifteen years old and my original band, "Yön," was to play a show at a nightclub in town. I had only been to a nightclub twice in my life at that point. Once to see the Yellow Jackets, and once to see Buddy Rich. I was so nervous that I skipped school so I could mentally prepare. That year I probably played three gigs. 

The practice of shutting down for the entire day in preparation for a gig continued for several more years. I would be sick to my stomach nervous. Unsure of my abilities to perform, uncertain of the band's ability to not only play but to also put on a show (these were original bands that were trying to build followings). 

Eventually, around the time I was 25 or so, I started to be able to handle playing a gig and still functioning during the day. From about age 22 until I was 35 I taught an average of about 25 hours of lessons a week plus played maybe 3-5 times a week. I was finding my groove.

Fast forward to about 2009, and things ramped up big time. I retired from teaching privately and ended up creating the educational material for the DrumMantra. Isn't that ironic? I attribute it to having a purity back in my life. I was no longer interacting with students on their level, so I was able to create material that suited my own interests.

Since about 1992 my playing life has been pretty busy, but in the past decade, things have grown quite crazy. 

So back to this past week with all the gigs, sessions, shows, etc.

Here was my schedule:

I knew that if I was going to survive it physically, I needed to be well-rested, efficient with my time, focused, aware, and relaxed.

Notice how I didn't say anything about practicing, learning music, studying charts, or anything else about music? It's because I've learned to trust myself.

  • I trust that I have practiced all styles of music so I won't be surprised or challenged by something foreign or new.
  • I trust that I have practiced lots of coordination and timing exercises so I won't have any problems with tricky passages or groove/feel issues.
  • I trust that I have practiced reading rhythms so I won't have challenges understanding any style of musical chart.
  • I trust that I have listened to so much music that I understand how to anticipate what is to come so I won't have to wonder how a song goes, even if I've never heard it.

So for me, the focus of my attention is not on the music, it's on my thoughts, emotions, and mental strength.

  • I know that as long as I stay in the moment, focusing on the task at hand, I will not stress myself out with "all the gigs I still have to play this week."
  • I know that if I can stay focused on my surroundings, I won't be distracted by things that are swirling around in my mind. I can remain engaged where I am instead of hanging out in my imagination of where I'm not.
  • I know that if I remain relaxed (but not aloof), I will make everyone else feel comfortable and confident in what I do in the music. I will also eliminate stress from staying relaxed. How do I stay relaxed? I try to remember to notice my breath as often as possible; I reaffirm that I have dedicated my life to this craft and I know what I'm doing; I remind myself that each experience is just a snapshot of life, and it is ever-fleeting, so don't get attached to what just happened.
  • I know that if I can be aware of my surroundings, I can respond with empathy, support, and purity.
What on earth does that last point even mean?! 

    Being aware of the people I am playing with from as many perspectives as possible allows me to have a more meaningful musical experience with them. Being empathic musically means to be supportive of what someone else is doing at all moments. To allow them to take the lead and to provide a supportive roll in whatever way makes them feel the most comfortable. Playing from a space of selflessness to me is the purest way to play music. Everyone stays relaxed, everyone feels safe and free, and everyone can dive into their musicality without feeling self-conscious or judged.

    So how did I "survive" a week where I had drumsticks in my hands almost literally every minute that I was awake? From being well-rested, efficient with my time, focused, aware, and relaxed.

    Here is the most interesting part of the whole experience:

    I was more motivated, inspired, and excited to work even harder because I was experiencing an effortlessness from the efficiency of my own mental attitude. I was in the zone with my life and things were flowing very well. 

    I just love that quote by Tchaikovsky at the beginning of this post:

    “Inspiration is a guest that does not willingly visit the lazy.”

    Don't be busy for busy's sake, but be focused, hard-working, present, and open. This will bring all kinds of inspiration to your life.

    I hope this sheds some light on your own mental distractions and challenges you may face in dealing with stress whether it's because of tons of gigs, or just a busy work week in general.

    The details of my life just happen to be defined within the parameters of being a professional musician, but these concepts are certainly not exclusive to any profession. To me, these are concepts that work for all of life, regardless of interest, career, or any other detail that may seem to make one feel unique;-)


    I wish you the best.
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