Mar 142013

A dozen is quite the popular number. Donuts, eggs, cans of beer and bottles of wine all come in dozens. When we want to show an impressive number, we use dozens. “She has dozens of friends in Chicago.” “He has published dozens of articles on the subject.”

If you’re feeling really enthusiastic, you can join The Dozenal Society of America, which advocates a worldwide switch from base ten to base twelve. I am skeptical that base ten will be replaced any time soon., but who knows? Base twelve was in use back in ancient Mesopotamia, so it’s not just a new-fangled fad. Check out the song links at the end of this post, and you may be persuaded to join the ways of ancient arithmetic.

Now, to the real point of all this number talk.

The most common cause of unhappiness and frustration among creative personalities is resistance–the inner resistance that keeps a person doubting, worrying, fearing the vulnerability, and dismissing artistic endeavors as less than meaningful. It may clothe itself in procrastination, laziness, lack of focus, low confidence, or squandered talent. Whatever form it takes, but resistance lies behind anything inside a person that keeps him from doing the work.

Dedicate yourself to a dozen hours of creative work each week. It will change your life.

One musician plans her dozen hours a week this way. She practices for an hour every day. That’s seven. Then she spends five hours on emails, searching for gigs, keeping her website and press kit spiffy. Several months later she is performing more, growing her following, and pushing her music to a higher standard.

Another musician feels he is lacking in some foundation skills. He decides to practice ninety minutes a day. That’s ten and a half hours a week. Plus he puts a weekly lesson on top of that, and his dozen hours are set. He’s going to be a much better musician in just a few months.

Walter Mosley states that ninety minutes a day for a year is the minimum for finishing your first novel draft. Imagine a writer starting on this daunting adventure for the first time. Ninety-some minutes a day, a dozen hours a week. In about twelve months she’ll have six hundred hours poured into her draft, and that might make for a pretty solid piece of reading. Dabbling for a few hours every once in a while on a bored Saturday afternoon isn’t the way to good writing. Putting in the sweat and time is the only way she will get her best writing done.

If you have a job, kids, school activities, yard work, and your volleyball league, finding twelve hours might be tough. You’ll need to scale back on some things. The two-hour volleyball session could be replaced with an hour of running. Some of the school activities you volunteer for could go to other parents this year. Maybe TV isn’t always worth the time.

No one can guarantee that your work will find financial success or critical acclaim if you give more time to it. But it is guaranteed that a second-rate effort will never lead to excellence. Think of it this way: No one could promise that an hour a day in the gym will make you an Olympic athlete. But if you want to feel great and be in the best physical condition possible, that hour in the gym seems like an obvious plan. Work hard and you’re more likely to do very good things.

I’ll wrap up here with those promised songs of historical importance. I do have a soft spot for Mesopotamia from my days in ancient Near East studies. I spent the summer of 1992 translating the entire code of Hammurabi for an Akkadian independent study. So of course I have to point out some great music about the land between the rivers:

Sep 282011

If you know the name “John Hartford,” you are probably a fan. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone say they didn’t enjoy the man’s music, imagination, and wit.

Hartford was a fanatic for traditional fiddling, especially the styles from the western side of Appalachia along the Ohio River and down through Missouri toward the middle parts of the U.S. And for all the research and scrutinous study of traditional fiddling, his fiddle had a voice all its own.

The man played banjo with such soul, sweetness, and tone. Among banjo nerds there are all kinds of ideas about Scruggs style versus Keith style versus Fleck and Trischka. The hard-driving classic bluegrass’s and the funky sweetness of jazz and newgrass pickers. Hartford’s banjo sound had its own voice, almost a granfather’s chuckling narrative.

His singing, his lyrics, his stories, his constant dancing and musicality are all over tons of great records. Get out to Amazon or iTunes or a good used CD shop and pick up a couple things by Hartford if you’re unfamiliar. It’s funky, fun,, acoustic, purely American music that defies genre.

Marcy Cochran and Sheila Nichols are two fabulous filmmakers and fiddlers working on a John Hartford documentary. They have piles of primary source material from family, friends, and legendary musicians such as Glenn Campbell and Earl Scruggs. Check out their Kick Starter campaign here and consider lending your support. And check out the trailer here on Youtube. This is great stuff for your ears and your heart.

Jul 142011

Most of us guitar pickers have a uke lying around somewhere. The Beatles played ukes, easy to take along when you jump into your car or the back of a cab to go jam. The uke is just kind of easy and fun to play.

Listening to it might be another story. Little tinkling strums on “Five Foot Two” and such is kind of corny. But there are some powerful good ukers out there.

Del Ray is one of those pickers. She has performed a few times in the northern VA area in recent years. She has devoured old Piedmont, country, and delta blues all her life (as she tells it), and she has taken her blues and boogie guitar stuff over to the uke.

Here are two videos from a blues uke workshop she taught in Reston a few days ago. (Unfortunately she isn’t playing her awesome resonator uke in these.)

(Thanks to Julie Mangin for recording these videos, and to Ann Granger and the whole Reston Uke Festival crew for making these workshops happen.)

I also mentioned that Del’s guitar playing is heavily influenced by blues and boogie piano in a .

Nothing like getting to swap brainwaves with other musicians who love to dig deeper into the wells of music.