A Sober Self-Assessment

Motivation, Musicianship, and Being Holistic About It.

This was taken from the 20th or so video I filmed for my recent cover and topical video on Radiohead’s “Videotape.”

Some days, I just get into a funk. I start to feel very un-motivated. When this happens for too many days in a row, I start to stress out, thinking about how little I’ve accomplished. Then, when I begin to look at my next task, I just shut down (even when the task is a small one). Simple challenges feel convoluted and impenetrable. And there I am. Stuck.

Call it anxiety, depression, frustration, writer’s block, procrastination, whatever you like. We all know the feeling. Anyone with a goal or hobby does.

Maybe you’ve experienced it while learning guitar, or writing a song, or recording an album. We know these pursuits are worthy of our efforts and time… but sometimes, we just get overwhelmed.

I’ve been in this place many times. Most recently, with numerous failed attempts at covers, challenges in the production of the WARRENMUSIC Series, and even the simple act of getting through the day in the wake of monumental changes in my personal life (I got married and moved across the country). Each of these things took an emotional toll, and together, molehills quickly became mountains.

I got the old band (Phonofield) back together. Ellen sang backing vocals!

I’ve seen it in my students, too. They get down on themselves after flubbing a few notes or chords, as if it were a mark on their character. They beat themselves up when they can’t finish writing a new song, and start to backpedal on their intention to write new material. They feel frustrated at themselves for “wasting” our time because they didn’t practice that week, and cancel their lessons. In the worst times, they even bail on their musical goals entirely. We usually recover and move forward, whatever it is, and quickly. But sometimes, when warranted, we go deeper; we really explore the problem, and work together to describe the real issue, the thing that’s keeping them from moving forward. And it almost always comes down to one thing: their view of themselves — the ways in which they (don’t) feel up to the task, or the ways they see the setbacks as evidence of the underlying negative view they have of themselves.

Lots of cancelations. Some of them from feeling burnt out.

I know both from personal experience and from working with students over the years that ignoring setbacks or dismissing negative attitudes does work… for smaller tasks. Writing a song with soul-baring lyrics or putting together an ambitious live set, though — or even pursuing any project that comes at significant personal cost, for that matter — is difficult work in part because it flows from the intangible depths of one’s emotional world. And so, casually brushing aside a more persistent feeling of incompetence or overlooking a pattern of getting stuck when it comes to more significant musical goals is a mistake that can even worsen the issue. Hoping to gloss over deeper issues is only natural, to be sure, but ignoring a lack of motivation only delays and deepens the problem.

What is needed is a sustainable solution. Something holistic. A sober self-assessment.

Forlorn Ambition

Last night, a student told me about a $1500 acoustic guitar he purchased on Craigslist. A vintage guitar of about twenty years, it was being sold for half its original price by a gentleman who was clearing out his garage. In his garage, there were other musical possessions he had accumulated. They seemed largely unused. When asked if there were any problems with it, the seller confessed to having picked up the guitar a total of three times for the three guitar lessons he took over the course of twenty years. He confessed that he couldn’t get over his fingers hurting and realized that it wouldn’t be as easy as he initially thought. And so the gentleman considered it a forlorn ambition, and my student became the beneficiary. When he told me this story, it struck me as one of the most sadly mundane stories I had heard about learning the guitar.

1264 guitars for sale… how many sales are the product of forlorn ambition?

Without knowing more about Craigslist Guy, I surmised that he simply didn’t have the motivation to get over the hump, and sniggered arrogantly. As a guitarist, I felt a strange mix of happiness that my student got a great deal and stab of pity for the guy who never got to experience the joy of playing guitar. But when I turned it back on myself, I had to wonder: Am I so different from this guy? When it comes to the tasks I find overwhelming, don’t I also put them aside, take a break, come back, go at it, get frustrated, stress out, and quit for a longer period?

In Search of a Solution

I’ve listened to podcasts from successful people, read fitness blogs, talked to entrepreneurs, and even consulted faith leaders in search of a more sustainable and holistic solution to the motivation problem.

I loved hearing that people who were aspiring marathon runners that struggled with motivation started their training by making their goals easy, like sleeping in their running clothes, or putting the alarm clock on the other side of the bedroom. “Yeah, that’s good stuff,” I thought.

I learned about S.M.A.R.T. goal-setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, Timely); I debated punishment vs. reward as conditioning for behavior (there was no clear winner); I made “Just Do It” and “‘Done’ is better than ‘perfect’” my motivational mantras.

I laugh at these motivational posters, then ponder their messages deeply, then laugh at them again.

I remembered another story about a fitness blogger who instructed his friend to make a donation to a hate group on his behalf if he didn’t publish a new blog post every week. “Too extreme,” I thought.

I turned to friends and asked them to hold me accountable. I tried being more transparent with customers over email. I posted publicly about my goals.

But none of these things brought relief. I would eventually fall back into the awful cycle. Productivity would grind to a standstill again. And through all of it, I found my view of myself and what I was capable of sinking under the weight of it all.

A Sober Self-Assessment

It was at this point (well, multiple points, really) that I realized that I had a big problem with how I was viewing myself.

Whenever I had a rough day of writing, I found myself wondering whether I could really accomplish this video series I had in mind. Whenever I saw that sales had slowed down, I felt myself getting hesitant about my goals, and whether they were truly attainable. Or whenever I read a negative comment on a video of mine, I noticed a sliver of doubt over whether my community could really be relied upon for support. I became less and less certain of my abilities.

Warren Lain’s identity had gotten tangled up with WARRENMUSIC.

Any perceived flub of my brand became a stain on my person. Any setback in my project made me wonder if I had aimed too high.

You would think that someone who is constantly in the business of motivating others might recognize the same problem in themselves. And you’d be wrong.

So I began to ask myself questions that I was almost afraid to ask:

Did my work suddenly change and become more difficult? Are my goals really so unattainable? Did my community, my base of supporters really desert me? Did I somehow become less capable?

The answer to these questions was a resounding, “NO.”

It wasn’t the work that had changed in my periods of high and low productivity, it wasn’t the goals that were somehow too lofty, it wasn’t a fickle community of supporters around me that had come and gone, it wasn’t that I had somehow become less capable.

By any objective measure, none of these things changed. What had changed, and changed very subtly, was my perception of myself. I found that I was in need of some sober, self-assessment.

Keep It in Perspective

I’m just one guy. But I am a unique mix: I love explaining things, I love deep analysis, I nerd out over music theory, I am passionate about making music, and it energizes me when I see the light come on for others. All of these things are true. I also struggle with deadlines and organization, I obsess over tiny details in my creative work, I find it incredibly difficult to be brief, and I go numb when looking at raw numbers. All of these things are also true.

Being fair-minded about it, I am a normal person with strengths and weaknesses. Naturally, my brand will reflect those things as well. But what can I do about my weaknesses without punishing myself for them? How can I see my weaknesses more clearly, and not regard them with suspicion, as if they make me less of a person? And how can I celebrate my strengths without getting cocky? And what can I do to structure my working habits so that they highlight them?

I’m still looking for the answers to these questions. I’m trying new things. And while I still have a ways to go, I’m encouraged… because I don’t feel stuck anymore. And I think that’s what’s different. I can draw a harder line between my setbacks/failures and who I am as a person.

Though it took a much deeper level of self-reflection, I find I am more able to move forward, and try something different. I feel more free to try out new ways of structuring my work, new ways of approaching a project, new ways of strategizing for business. Setbacks and failures are starting to lose their sting. But I am still the same music theory nerd who obsesses over details.

A Musicianship Series

What if someone could walk you through the process of becoming a better musician, step-by-step? What if you could gain something more valuable than a tab or a tutorial, or even hundreds of tabs and tutorials? What if there were a video series that went beyond playing songs and could give you more? And what if it were more affordable than a private teacher, available to you 24/7?

I’m looking to launch a music theory and ear-training series. The more I think about it, the more it grows… like the series to end all series. I think about it every day, sometimes every hour. I talk and write and dream about it because I believe that there is a revolution waiting to happen in the lives of so many students of music. When someone who has been looking outward only to see fixes that are temporary in nature looks inward instead and begins developing their own ear and their own understanding of music, a radical shift occurs. It is a shift from passively listening to the music they love to being able to play that same music by ear, being able to identify what’s happening in it, and do new things with it. It is a shift from feeling stuck in familiar patterns, unable to break through a ceiling to feeling continually renewed by a stream of fresh musical insights and challenges in a cycle that never ends. I’ve seen this spark of inspiration occur again and again during my workshops and private lessons firsthand, and observed similar light bulbs come on for students through the online interaction surrounding the content I’ve been putting out on YouTube, etc. over these eight years, and I’m convinced that it is time to bring more people into this deeper conversation on music.

If you have been following what I’ve been up to awhile you’ll know that there have been hints and even false starts since late 2012. It’s both exciting and scary to think about what it might become, and what it might take to pull it off. It has even been overwhelming in its scope at times. This has made me realize that I really need your help to make it get off the ground! I need your support, your insight, and your constructive criticism. I am looking for an inner circle of WARRENMUSIC friends.

Does this describe you? If so, join me on this journey. Like this post, sign up for my mailing list above, find me on Skype/Instagram/Twitter @warrenlain. And consider: what would a series like this be worth to you? What would it look like? What topics would you want to see covered in it? I look forward to your input.

Preview the Harmony Module!

Harmony for all.

Playing chord and chord progressions by ear is not just for the select few.

It’s available to you now, if you want to work for it.

Playing by ear and knowing what you’re hearing… why, it’s worth more than all the tabs and tutorials in the world, combined And you can extract the chords from a song you love yourself… if you know the way.

Episode 04 on Vertical Harmony shows the way. Using explanations that just make sense, that don’t rely on technical jargon, with fun homework, and audio examples of popular songs, take your ear and understanding of chords to the next level. Watch now below.

Download high-resolution WARRENMUSIC Chord Numeral flash cards here, completely FREE.

Buy the entire module now, without risk: if you aren’t satisfied, you can ask for your money back.

Here’s the breakdown of the entire module:

*To interact with the Visual Aids and Homework I’ve created, just click “File,” then click “Make a copy…” then voilà! Enjoy the entire Harmony Module today.

Get to the next level.

Playing by ear and knowing what you’re hearing… that’s musicianship. And musicianship is what enables me to do what I do. To break apart Radiohead, Bon Iver, Minus the Bear, James Blake, Sigur Rós, and all of my favorite artists’ music into bite-sized, easy to manage chunks. Musical fragments and ideas that I can use to re-create the song, re-contextualize, or do new things with.

That’s what it takes to get to the next level.

To translate raw sound into tangible scale degrees, chord numerals, and units of time. It can be done.

And I’ll show you how if you let me.

If you give this series a shot, I promise, it won’t let you down.

Purchase the Harmony Module today for $99.

  • Skills you can use to work out real world chords and chord progressions by ear
  • Working knowledge of Diatonic Harmony via popular songs, fun demonstrations, and digestible music theory breakdowns
  • Introduction to Chord Numerals expanding The WARRENMUSIC Grid**
  • 10 in-depth episodes ranging from 10-40 minutes in length
  • Lifetime access
  • Visual Aids
  • Audio Examples
  • Worksheets (Song Puzzles)
  • Interactive Tools
  • Access to Members-Only Harony Module Forum
  • Direct help from fellow learners and Warren

The Harmony Module is complete!

Friends of WARRENMUSIC,

I’m extremely proud to announce we just finished uploading the final cut of the Harmony Module. Watch the teaser for it right now.

The Music You Love, and the Music You Make… Bridging the gap between the two is now more possible than ever. Take control of your musicianship in a whole new way, all while working at your own pace, and be among the first to preview the entire Harmony Module today.

Thank you to those of you who pre-ordered the Harmony Module for making this possible with your early support.


The next iteration of the website is nearing completion. Update your bookmarks: we have moved to warrenmusic.xyz as a permanent home for the series. Each video has its own page and comments section to feel more seamless.

Until then, watch this blog, your inbox, and/or your YouTube subscription THIS WEEK to enjoy the first four episodes, completely free. Here is the Module breakdown:

*To interact with the Visual Aids and Homework I’ve created, just click “File,” then click “Make a copy…” then voilà! Watch here/your inbox/your YouTube subscription for the release of the next episode!

This is, by far, the most ambitious project I’ve ever attempted. Bigger than my YouTube covers, my now-defunct band, perhaps even greater than my solo album, which is still in the works. But as challenging as it’s been, it would be an even greater burden to keep quiet about this whole thing. To help you get more out of the music you love has become one of my life’s dreams! To help you go beyond tabs, beyond tutorials, and… inward? Yes! Inward, to developing your own ear. To establishing your own understanding of music.

Purchase the Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm* Modules today.

If you hit any roadblocks, know that I’m right there with you, pushing myself to my limits, too. Not only with the scope of this project, but every day with my ear-training, and my understanding of music as well.

All the best,

Warren

P.S. Remember, you can also find me on Skype for private tutoring, or learn your favorite songs with me via custom tutorials and chord charts.


*Rhythm Module is available as a pre-order. Melody and Harmony are available for access today.

  • Skills you can use to work out real world chords and chord progressions by ear
  • Working knowledge of Diatonic Harmony via popular songs, fun demonstrations, and digestible music theory breakdowns
  • Introduction to Chord Numerals expanding The WARRENMUSIC Grid**
  • 10 in-depth episodes ranging from 10-40 minutes in length
  • Lifetime access
  • Visual Aids
  • Audio Examples
  • Worksheets (Song Puzzles)
  • Interactive Tools
  • Access to Members-Only Harony Module Forum
  • Direct help from fellow learners and Warren

Playing a Song the Same Way Twice: How to Miss the Point. Thanks Filipe…

Filipe recently purchased the Melody Module and I asked him for initial impressions of the videos and for feedback. Instead, what I received was a much more interesting story of personal discovery on how replicating a song really misses the point.

“The biggest leap was when I came upon your Radiohead tutorials. In one of those (I don’t remember which one) you casually point out that students shouldn’t worry about playing a song exactly how they sound on the record, Radiohead never played a song exactly the same way twice and neither should we. That’s when I subscribed to your youtube page and liked you on facebook, and really it’s what stands you apart from all the other teachers I found on the net. They all focus on showing how to play perfectly (and some are quite good at it), while you made me understand the songs.”

Click here to enlarge.


*Rhythm Module is available as a pre-order. Melody and Harmony are available today.
  • Lifetime access to Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm Modules (Rhythm pre-order, TBA 2020)
  • Skills you can use to work out real world melodies, chords and chord progressions, and real world rhythmic patterns by ear
  • Working knowledge of the Major Scale, Diatonic Harmony, Meter, Syncopation, Swing/Shuffle, and much more via popular songs, fun demonstrations, and digestible music theory breakdowns
  • Introduction to Scale Degrees, Chord Numerals, the Time Unit Box System, and The Complete WARRENMUSIC Grid**
  • 30 in-depth episodes ranging from 10-40 minutes in length
  • Visual Aids
  • Audio Examples
  • Worksheets (Song Puzzles)
  • Interactive Tools
  • Access to Members-Only Melody, Harmony, and Rhythm Module Forums
  • Direct help from fellow learners and Warren

All about Radiohead’s “A Moon Shaped Pool”

Radiohead’s “A Moon Shape Pool” was released on May 8, 2016. I taught a song from the album on the same day below.

I’ve been a busy bee. Follow along as I listen to “Burn the Witch,” “Daydreaming,” and “Decks Dark” for the first time and break everything down on the spot.

I livestreamed my first crack at “Burn the Witch” the day it came out:

Then I live streamed my first listen and immediate analysis as well as taught “Daydreaming” in its entirety:

Then I live streamed my first listen and immediate analysis as well as taught “Daydreaming” in its entirety:

And finally, I sat down in front of the camera again to listen to the entire album for the first time. I gave my first impressions, learned a few riffs, and taught another song, “Decks Dark,” in full:

Subscribe to email updates about all of my newest videos and projects, and as a thank you, you’ll receive access to any of the chord charts and practice tracks I’ve made for the songs above for free.

Just sign up through the link in the respective video description by clicking through to YouTube. Or if you don’t need the chord charts, and you just want to stay up to date on all things WARRENMUSIC, sign up here.

Are You Progressing Well Enough At the Guitar?

…If your long-term goal is to improve as a guitarist and more generally, as a musician, just be sure to include some music theory in there, and get your ear involved. You’d be surprised how many people learn to play songs, but never learn to play music!

Find out how well you’re progressing on the guitar and read my full response on Quora.

 

To Learn Music Theory, Or Not To Learn Music Theory?

A great question was asked on Quora: “What is the major difference between the musicians who learn the music theory and the ones who have not learnt any of that but still are brilliant?”

I suspect that many out there are skeptical of music theory, or at least intimidated in a way similar to how many might feel when confronted with learning a new language.

I hear the same criticisms repeated all the time… some of which have merit, some of which do not. I’ve even addressed a few of them.

But what is the big difference? Do musicians really need theory? How about standard notation? Well, the real answer is, it depends.

Read my full answer and follow me on Quora.

 

What Is a Diatonic Chord?

“…most musicians expect to perform a number of musical tasks that might seem extremely daunting to the layman: transposing chords and chord progressions, improvisation/soloing, arranging, re-mixing, navigating alternate tunings (guitar), analyzing the harmony of a song they love, re-harmonizing a song, and the list goes on. Knowing what chords are diatonic and what chords are non-diatonic gives musicians a huge boost in thinking about and approaching these tasks. Most musicians already know the diatonic triads in every major key, if not by simple memorization, then probably by rote, over time, which can help when trying to learn to play a basic chord progression by ear.”
View my full answer and follow me on Quora.

Guitar Six: A Little Theory Boost

Have you ever wondered how to play any scale or mode? And in any tuning?

Thanks to the awesome community at Reddit, we’ve got a nice little theory boost that will help you visualize just that: scales and modes that suddenly appear on the fretboard!

I know I preach about music theory and ear-training, and how there is no real substitute for developing musicianship in the long-term. Very holistic approach, yes, blah blah blah. But there is room to have a little extra help on the side. Hop on over to Guitar Six to check it out.

It’s awesome and inspiring when amazing people put their hard work and thought into something like this. The Internet is truly beautiful. Nice find, Reddit.

And when you’re ready to take it to the next level, check out my explanation of how modes work and how to make your fretboard do whatever you imagine.