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Thought for the Day “Tempo”


By Andy Harrison

When I first started playing guitar back when I was 11, I started out mostly playing by myself, learning chords etc. After awhile I learned a few songs and I felt like I was getting better.

A friend of mine from school who was learning to play the drums heard that I was learning the guitar and he invited me over to “jam” (If you don’t know, “jam” is the official term for musicians playing together, often times without a formal plan-just for fun).

So I took my borrowed cheep electric guitar and starter amp over to my friend’s house anticipating how great we were going to sound.

About 2 songs into our jam session, I realized something wasn’t working. For some reason the songs that sounded pretty good to me when I played them at home sounded horrendous when playing them with my friend. We weren’t syncing up. He was playing a different tempo than I was playing and I wasn’t following him (“Tempo” is another word for the speed at which you play a piece of music). We tried a different song that my friend knew really well. Same thing. It sounded horrible. It felt horrible.

It wasn’t long before I realized that there was another skill I needed to develop before I could easily play with other musicians – the skill of paying attention to what the other instruments were playing while I was playing my instrument.

By being able to have some of my attention on what the other instruments were doing, I could adjust and sync up so we could all be playing at the same tempo. As I worked at it, I became better at putting some of my attention on what the other instruments were playing and speeding up or slowing down as needed to stay at the same tempo as the other instruments I was playing with.

After playing with several bands with musicians who all had developed the skill of paying attention to the other instruments, making music with other musicians became much more enjoyable, fun and easy. When we were all playing in the same tempo, the life inside the music would just jump out and magical unexpected moments would occur that surprised everyone. It was effortless and full of wonder. Whenever one person got out of tempo, we could feel it immediately.

Now this is probably going to sound really cheesy but hang with me on this. Isn’t this exactly how life works too? I mean the way events unfold in your life each day – from when the telephone rings to what you decide to do next to what you say when you’re talking to someone. All of the little events and tiny decisions you make throughout each day have a flow to them – a tempo.

Each little thing has an effect on all the other things don’t they? Like whether or not you decide to hit the snooze button one more time has an effect on whether or not you are rushing to get to your first appointment which has an effect on the state you will be in when you get there which will have an effect on what you decide to say and do during your appointment which has an effect on the outcome of the appointment and so on and so on.

Every tiny detail is woven together in a tempo. You are either “playing” at the same tempo as your life or you are rushing ahead of it or lagging behind it.

Sometimes you have some influence over the speed for a moment. Sometimes it is someone or something else. To stay in tempo with your life you need the skill of paying attention to what the other “instruments” are playing and to make small adjustments by speeding up or slowing down as needed to stay at the same tempo. You need the skill of putting part of your attention on what else is happening while you are doing your part. You have your part to play that naturally fits with all the other parts. It can feel enjoyable, fun and easy as long as it’s in the same tempo as the other parts.

We all know the feeling of what being out of tempo with our life feels like. In fact I feel that most of my life between the ages of 7 and 40 was spent almost entirely out of tempo with my life. It feels hard. It feels heavy. It feels like a struggle. It feels like things don’t work.

On the other hand we’ve all had at least glimpses or periods of time when things all clicked. When life felt easy, like we were flowing with everything else that was happening and synchronistic events just happened magically. I think this is what being in tempo with you life feels like. I think we all are already playing in a band everyday and if it’s not feeling enjoyable, we are simply not paying attention to the other instruments and playing at the right tempo. J

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