Peak Experience

I spent my last year in the Marine Corps in Okinawa. I’d heard of Musicians Institute and the Guitar Institute of Technology, because I used to buy magazines like “Guitar Player” and “Guitar for the Practicing Musician” (actually was a charter subscriber on the latter).  It was my intention to be a professional musician. OK. I wanted to be a “rock and roll star”. I knew that I didn’t play well enough to do that, so going to MI/GIT seemed to be the thing to do. It was also a “proper” school, so I’d be able to use my veterans benefits to attend, once I was discharged.

The most intimidating part of the process of applying was creating a demo tape for evaluation. This would be the thing that would make or break my chances of going to school there. So I thought carefully about what I would do and wrote a few simple pieces that I could record and showcase my playing at its best. I actually still have the that tape and will make MP3’s of them (at some point). I was using a Tascam PortaOne mini-studio (a four track tape recorder) to do it. Had a cheap little Yamaha RX-7 drum machine to use with it and a lot of time on my hands.

The last track I did was a bit of a rock/blues tune where I wanted to do some lead guitar playing. I remember slaving over that for a long time. There was a brief section of the song where the “real soloing” was going to take place. I was never particularly happy with how it was going. Then at some point something clicked.

I had the experience of my life. I was recording the track and all of a sudden, I had the distinct experience of something playing through me. I remember watching my hands and listening to the music, in a bit of a semi-shock, wondering what was happening to/with me! Don’t get me wrong, it was great… but I couldn’t explain it. I had nothing to compare it to. It was as if I was just along for the ride. I was detached from it and something was coming through my fingers and making the music.

I rewound the tape and listened to it and I was ecstatic! I listened to it many times and even tried to figure out what I actually did to play that. Where did it come from? I didn’t know any “licks” (prepackaged phrases or learned sequences of notes) that sounded like that. I even slowed it down and still couldn’t figure it out. How could my fingers (they weren’t borrowed) do THAT!?!? It was unreal, mystical, magical and all that other stuff all rolled into one.

The one thing that I did know was that I wanted to have that experience again. That colored my expectations and my actions from that point forward. Could I ever get there again? Would I? Well, as it turns out, this would prove to be elusive. More on this to follow.

Have you had a similar experience? If you have, feel free to jump in and share it.

July 26, 2009 · kengon · 4 Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Music

4 Responses

  1. stango - August 4, 2009

    Ken a musician? Would never have thunk it!!!

  2. kengon - August 4, 2009

    Heh. Yeah, it’s like that. I (literally) turned that part of my life off and put it away. Wrote it off is probably the more accurate way of describing it. I’ve actually been playing guitar for ~30 years. One of the things that I will be doing online is posting audio and video files for stuff that I record. I’ll be making announcements of that here. It’s my intention to return to performing publicly (on a routine basis) in the very near future. More on that to follow…


  3. FooteMAN - August 19, 2009

    I had the same type of experience while competing in a practical pistol competition where after many years of “trying to shoot like the others” helped me meet with much dissappointment. Through practice and applying martial arts training and finding my own style, it did, as you say, finally click. Ever since, I have set that moment as the “bar” as you will. I think because of the novelty or surprise it created within there tends to be a level of unreasonable expectations to relive the moment. I have since realized and have been able to divorce myself from “that span of time where I excelled” and have not tried to relive it. Each time I shoot is an experience in and of itself, in the moment using all the technical abilities, training and muscle memory at my disposal. When I reflect and try to shoot better than I did before (compete against myself) I fail miserably, without exception. When I “just do”, that is when it happens. When I watch video of me shooting during these moments I have a hard time believing it is actually me.

    Consistency in performance is the result of pshcological consistency. If shooting, performing or what have you is executed in the present tense (in the moment)there are no thoughts that produce pressure, and therefore, no pressure.

    An invaluable resource on this subject whether one is a shooter or not is:
    Shooting from Within
    by J. Michael Plaxco
    ISBN: 0-9626925-1-4
    Mr. Plaxco is a world class shooter since the 1980’s

  4. kengon - August 19, 2009


    Excellent comment. It’s definitely worthwhile to keep in mind that, while my example is musical, it doesn’t need to be. What we’re pointing to is being connected to something larger and having that flow through us. That’s one of the reasons that I am excited to do this investigation in the context of development. I think that this will really forward having that access be reliable. I have no doubt that this topic will resurface often, as the inquiry continues.

    Thanks for the post.

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