Tuesday, August 29, 2006


So, my practice blog is going to do a bit of growing up now. I've decided to move future entries of my practice journal into my current blog at bb.com: http://www.brendanburns.com/blog
All of the old posts will remain here.
The new practice journal posts will be a little bit more coherent and tidy than the ones on this blog. This blog is mostly stream-of-consiousness writing, and it's done that way on purpose. The new practice entries will be a little more structured and easy to read.
Thanks for checking in.

Friday, July 21, 2006


So my high-priced insurance is finally paying off. I've got Physical Therapy underway, I had an MRI on Wednesday & this week I'm getting my EMG. All of these will most likely tell me that I've overworked my forearm muscles.
The way I understand it is that because I switch between finger-style and pick-style playing throughout the year, I send my forearm through a roller-coaster of overuse and underuse. When I'm playing finger-style, I end up using mostly my fingers to articulate the notes and keep my forearm relatively stable. When I play pick-style, I really use my forearm muscles to wag my wrist back n' forth. Because my forearm isn't always in shape, when I start using if for strumming I end up overusing it. As a result, the muscles swell and irritate my ulnar nerve, which causes my numbness.
My prescription for Physical Therapy will work to calm down my forearm muscles and then, when they are ready, work them back up and give them a plan to continually be strong so I don't yo-yo back & forth like I used to.
That's the plan, as far as I know. I'm deeply grateful that the people I'm working with have the education that they do. It's a great feeling when someone knows how bad you feel and why you feel that way, and can give you some help so you don't have to feel that way anymore.
On the practicing front, I've been keeping it kind of low-key. I've been trying to keep busy with other activities. I"m not sure if I will continue to take a break or gradually work back in playing some music. I've got a vacation coming up too. I'm not sure what will happen then either.

Saturday, July 15, 2006


this week I got to see the neuorligist. I've been diagnosed with 2 pinched nerves, one in my shoulder and one in my elbow area. I've been prescribed Occupational Therapy at a nice performaning arts rehab center in Coolidge Corner. I'm also getting an MRI & some nerve testing to see how good/bad the situation is. I touch base with my Neurolgist in 8 weeks.
Being diagnosed, or defining my pain/problem was quite a relief to me. It helps me come to terms with why my arm doesn't always feel so well and how I can make it better. To help with the healing process I've been limiting my computer activities.
On the practice front, I've been looking at Charlie Parker & Joe Pass all week. Same old, same old..... I'm getting better with my Parker licks all but the ones that are blazingly fast. Those will take a little time. Joe's book is filled with some many great Jazz nuggets. I feel like I learn something each time I pick it up.
I also spent a small time this week looking over Ralph Towner's book. He's got so many good exercises for Right Hand work & Polyrhythms.

Friday, July 07, 2006


A little bit of everything today. I dug up an old Ralph Towner book and worked through a couple of exercises. He's such a weird guitarist. Sometimes he's techinque is amazing and masterfull; other times he sounds a little sloppy. Either way, he's got some good exercises to run through. I've had the book for about a year or so; I'm glad I had a chance to run through some of it today.
Yesterday & Today I"ve been working pretty hard on Blues for Alice & Joe Pass Lines (over the same changes). I'm trying to work very slowly and accuarately. When I find a lick that I like, I put it into a grip and then move it around in different keys to see how it fits. It's good work. I think it will pay off some day soon.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I'm torn about restarting these blog entries. I don't allways have profound observations when I practice. I don't allways practice.
But I do know that my memory is biased and I need to properlly document my practice if I'm going to be honest about it.
With this conflict, I want to come up with a different use of this practice blog. I'm not sure what it is right now, but I'm thinking it's going to be a little more brief. I think I can use the more observational comments on my other blog.
We'll see.
Today I spent just about all day looking at Charlie Parker. The Blues, the licks, some Joe Pass licks over parker's changes... It was all be-bop all day.
My fingers are getting faster by listening to Charlie play. My phrasising is also getting better.
Having been looking at this music (jazz) for close to a decade now, I'm beginning to see how things come together. Isn't that crazy?!
What can start now that I'll be happy with 10 years from now? Microtonalism?

Tuesday, July 04, 2006


In the great Ebb & Flow of practicing, I"ve been on the ebbing side of things lately.
Since I've last made an entry, I"ve been practicing some jazz blues & be-bop blues. Most of the time there isn't much for me to write about. It's a big subject for me and progress is very slow.
Today I spent some time working on "Blues For Alice" again. I'm trying to learn as much as I can from those licks.
Lately, I've been working on arpeggios a lot. I'm trying to find uses for smaller and bigger arpeggios. I'm also working on using some chromatic approaches to the downbeat of a new chord. These 2 things have really held my priority in the past few weeks. Hitting the changes and approching the changes. so important.
I finished my practicing by working on another chorus of "Blues For Alice." It was good to go back to the recording and study Parker's phrasing.
I'm curious to see how it all fits together after a night's rest.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


I had two nice gigs this weekend. I had great time playing, and it was good to feel my arm getting better.
From my perspective, I was a little dissapointed with the lack of chromaticism in my playing, especially on how the weekend before it was effortless pouring out of me. That raised a question: Why am I no longer using approach notes?
I sat down this evening to figure it out. I worked exclusively on the Joe Pass Blues Etude I've been working on these past weeks. I had a lot of fun with the loopstation, and switched between looping a chord progression and a walking bass line.
I played the etude several times, altering the rhythm and improvising of the reharmed chord changes. My big breakthrough of the evening came when I took my eyes off the paper and just thought about the changes going by. For some reason, not reading made it easier. It was almost as if reading the changes was taking up too much brain energy to really improvise and interpret the music. When I closed my eyes, or looked away from the paper, I found that I could influence my playing a lot more.
I did a lot of experimenting and found some good uses of the altered 5 and approach tones to the downbeat of a new chord. When things were going well it was exciting. When things were going bad, it was just because I was distracted or couldn't concentrate.