Colored Scales: A Visual Approach to Note/Scale Analysis. How David Goggins gave me the courage to stick to my convictions.

As a saxophonist, I like to experiment, and the fundamental reason for this is that I don't want to end up sounding like anyone else. I admire Charlie Parker, David Sanborn, Phil Woods, Sharel Cassity, and Vincent Herring, but I don't want to sound like any of them. If I simply practice the things that they practiced, then at best, I will end up sounding like a second-rate facsimile of them. Below, I am going discuss how David Goggins inspired me to stop trying to be like everybody else. He gave me the courage to say "my differences from other people are a valuable part of this universe, and I need to nurture them instead of always conforming when someone tells me that my ways of doing things are wrong. Goggins' story gave me the courage to look inside myself and ask: 

  • "What really makes me tick?" 
  • "How does my mind work?"
  • "Why was I put on this planet, and what is my true purpose?"

When I sat down and asked myself "how does my mind work?", the answer was that I am a visual learner who loves logical relationships. This makes me very good at anything computer-related. David Goggins story gave me the courage to stop saying "my skills in other fields don't matter: I need to throw them away as soon as I start playing the saxophone".  What if those very skills are the secret to me achieving a uniqueness that will make me stand apart from, and be distinct from, other saxophone players?

One of the results of this constant experimentation was this: I wanted to use my skills with spreadsheets to create a visual representation of how the notes in different scales are related. The basic philosophy behind the experiment is that every note is assigned a single number and a single color. Then, the notes are arranged in different kinds of scales to visually see the relationships between the notes in those scales. The results of this experiment are here: https://saxtalk.com/colored_scales.html

However, the more important story is how I developed the courage to try something that I had never seen done anywhere before.

A couple of years ago, I watched  THE video that changed my life forever. It was an interview with decorated Navy Seal David Goggins. That video is here (WARNING: Strong Language):

David Goggins is one of the hardest men alive (here are some of his accomplishments):

  • In 2005, he ran 100 miles in 18 hours 56 minutes.
  • In 2007, he came in 3rd place in the 135 mile Badwater Ultramarathon in California's Death Valley.
  • In 2013, Goggins earned a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records by completing 4,030 pull-ups in 17 hours.
  • In 2016, Goggins came in first place in a 40 mile race.
  • He is the only man to ever complete all three of the hardest training schools in the world:
    • U.S. Navy Seal training
    • United States Air Force TACP
    • U.S. Army Ranger School

When I saw his list of accomplishments, I knew that I had to take what he said very seriously. The one line in the interview that will be seared into my brain forever is this one: "The younger generation of people nowadays will just quit as soon as you criticize them."

Think about that for a second: for a lot of young people today, if someone tells them that they are wrong, they simply quit. This can only be the result of a complete lack of self-esteem. If one believes in himself or herself, he or she will at least put up a fight. They will say "you're wrong, I'm not a broken person". Now think about this in the context of music. As human beings, we all want to avoid pain. So if someone criticizes your playing because you don't play "correctly", a dangerous result can occur if everyone starts responding to a small group of very powerful critics: everyone ends up sounding exactly the same because everyone is afraid to rock the boat. David Goggins' message is the absolute antithesis of this, and that is why he accomplished what he did. I have a theory that every truly great saxophonist developed a deeply personal style of studying music. Yes, they listened to others, but they also had a deep and powerful internal voice guiding them. Michael Brecker wrote his own etudes. John Coltrane spent a year deep-diving into and studying Giant Steps before he recorded it. I attended a Zoom Masterclass with David Sanborn today, and he said that he had a very personal practice method as well: he learned a lot by just playing along with records. Chris Potter also played along with a lot of records. The point is that, according to David Goggins, if you want to really achieve something special, YOU HAVE TO LEARN HOW TO BELIEVE IN YOURSELF.

Let them tell you that everything that you are doing is wrong. Instead of quitting, extend your practice session from 2 hours to 3 hours. Dig deeper, and find out WHY you approach things the way you do. Believe in yourself and try to find the value in the way that you approach things. Eventually, you will start developing the strength and the courage to not quit moving down your path every time someone tells you that you are wrong, and this is when you will start to discover the beauty of learning to love yourself, and to have faith in yourself.

You can download version 3.4 of the Colored Scales (.ods spreadsheet and .html file) here.

 

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