The Essence of Feel, Part 2

The Essence of Feel, Part 2
Jeff Porcaro

What is it that our favorite players have that make us love them? How can you quantify Jeff Porcaro’s innate ability to make a song dance, or John Robinson’s pocket, or Steve Gadd’s relaxed, effortless precision? Oddly enough, by learning more about who YOU are.

In part 1, we looked at ways to help ‘improve’ a musician’s feel or groove, but in this segment I’d like to explore what it is we are talking about here, and how to make ourselves more sensitive to it. Again, I’d like to stress that this is a very subjective topic, and that leads us to our starting point: personal preference.

You can’t help what you like, can you? Interesting question. I think honesty and self-inquiry are very useful here, as in all deep art: somewhere it’s about learning who you really are; who you are underneath all the influences of your mind and the world around you. If you get that deep, then sure, you can’t help what you like. But it’s a very fun and interesting question to ask yourself. If you can isolate influences and identify them, without self-judgement, it can be fun deciding what to keep and what to throw out. It can be delightfully arbitrary, with the exception of putting each to the test: does this influence help you grow? Does it contribute to your happiness and satisfaction as an artist? If yes, then keep it. If not, think about letting it go.

That said, you can come to some very primal influences that, for whatever reason, you feel you want to stick with. These you can begin to consciously apply to your craft, without regret. Who cares if you don’t know why you love the way Ndugu plays the groove from Billie Jean? If you don’t, then indulge it. Seek the emotional response in it and roll around.

Now, this ‘emotional response’ is something that is hard to describe. I know it when I feel it: the groove moves along smoothly, as on polished bearings, and there is a particular kind of joy. If you know some songs or players that always illicit this response from you, spend some time getting conditioned to recognize that response, that feeling of joy, because this is the muse that feeds all art. That delight in the art itself, the DELIGHT. Listen over and over, wallowing in the joy of the groove. Play along with the music and tweak your performance to no end, until you feel it in your body when you play it. It’s like love; when it happens, you just know. Here’s a hint: it’s always relaxed.

Unfortunately, some people have difficulty feeling this kind of delight; I wish everyone could feel it all the time! Time spent working on yourself can really help this. This feeling is so primal, so deep beyond the threshold of thought, that it can take some real work to unearth it in yourself. This is the hardest work anyone can do, and yields the greatest reward. Meditation, selfless service, self-inquiry and spiritual study are all very useful tools, but don’t fall into the trap of believing what works for someone else has to work for you. It can, but maybe not. We all know people that seem miserable and shallow, yet play with such depth and feel that it boggles the mind. You can’t help that, you have to work with what you have. Don’t worry, even if you’re playing improves very little, just by expending the effort to know yourself, you will reap unimagined rewards in all parts of your life.

Try to listen to your own playing as if it were someone else, and ask yourself if there are any clues in there about the person playing. Use your intuition; first thought, best thought. See if you can uncover some things about you, just by listening to you.

Don’t judge yourself; you’re perfect as you are, even if you want to change. And that’s okay too: if you aren’t growing, you aren’t living – you’re decaying. You are inherently deep, life is deep. Don’t ignore it. Harness it, even if it means hard work.

Ganesh Giri Jaya

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