Miyamoto Musashi, a legendary samurai warrior from 17th-century Japan, is not only known for his remarkable swordsmanship but also for his profound philosophical teachings.
Musashi's philosophy, encompassed in his written work called Dokkodo, which translates to "The Way of Walking Alone," holds valuable insights applicable to various aspects of life.
One such aspect is the art of playing the guitar. By exploring the principles outlined in Dokkodo and their application to guitar playing, we can gain a deeper understanding of the instrument and elevate our musical journey to new heights.
Miyamoto Musashi was born in 1584 and became one of Japan's most renowned swordsmen. Throughout his life, he engaged in numerous duels & emerged victorious every time.
However, it was not just his mastery of martial arts that made him exceptional; it was also his profound philosophical insights on life & combat that set him apart from others.
Musashi's philosophy emphasized self-reliance, embracing change, continuous self-improvement, and finding harmony within oneself.
Dokkodo is a fascinating piece of literature written by Miyamoto Musashi shortly before his death in 1645. It consists of twenty-one principles or guidelines that encapsulate Musashi's wisdom gained through years of intense training, introspection, and firsthand experience on the battlefield.
These principles were intended as a guide for leading a purposeful life based on discipline, clarity of mind, unwavering determination, and detachment from external influences.
In Dokkodo's essence lies an invitation to walk our own unique path with courage & authenticity while remaining true to ourselves despite societal pressures. The principles are not prescriptive rules but rather philosophical insights that encourage us to cultivate inner strength, embrace challenges, and seek personal growth.
Below we cover just a few of the aspects of his teachings as they can be applied to guitar playing.
To truly embody this principle, guitarists should strive to embrace different genres and styles without judgment or prejudice. By being open-minded, one can expand their musical horizons and develop a broader understanding of music as a whole.
For example, a guitarist primarily inclined towards rock may learn to appreciate jazz or classical compositions by accepting them without bias. This willingness to accept diverse musical expressions can inspire creativity and introduce new elements into one's own playing style.
It's crucial not to limit oneself to a single genre or style. By embracing diverse genres such as blues, jazz, rock, classical, flamenco, or even world music traditions like Indian or African rhythms, guitarists can gain valuable insights into different techniques and approaches unique to each style.
They can explore various chord progressions, scales, rhythmic patterns specific to different genres and incorporate these elements into their own playing. Breaking free from self-imposed boundaries enables musicians to become well-rounded players with a versatile toolbox at their disposal.
This principle also extends to being open-minded about different techniques or approaches within their chosen genre(s).
Rather than dismissing unconventional techniques or dismissing unfamiliar ways of approaching the instrument as "wrong" or "inferior," embracing these variations allows for continuous growth as a musician.
For instance, if someone primarily plays using a guitar pick (plectrum), they might try fingerstyle technique for an entirely new experience.
By exploring different techniques, such as tapping, hybrid picking, or alternate tunings, guitarists can expand their repertoire of sounds and techniques, enhancing their overall potential for musical expression.
When it comes to guitar playing, it's often tempting to be drawn towards flashy techniques and showmanship. The desire to impress others with mind-bending solos or lightning-fast shredding can be alluring.
However, according to Miyamoto Musashi's principle of not seeking pleasure for its own sake, it is crucial to avoid excessive focus on these external elements.
While technical proficiency and virtuosity have their place, they should serve as tools in the pursuit of a higher goal: musicality and emotional expression.
Instead of indulging in flashy techniques solely for the purpose of showing off, a guitarist who adheres to this principle seeks a deeper connection with their instrument and audience.
It involves understanding that true pleasure comes from creating meaningful music that resonates with listeners on an emotional level. This means prioritizing melody, harmony, dynamics, and phrasing over mere technical prowess.
To go deeper into this principle, it means that rather than approaching the instrument as a mechanical tool for executing notes flawlessly, it invites guitarists to tap into their emotions and use music as a medium for self-expression. A musician who values musicality understands that each note played should convey intention & meaning.
They strive to evoke emotions in themselves as well as their audience through carefully chosen phrasing, nuanced dynamics, expressive vibrato, and tasteful ornamentation. By channeling their innermost feelings into every note they play, they create a profound connection that transcends mere technical proficiency.
In practical terms, prioritizing musicality means giving ample attention to elements such as tone production, dynamics control, rhythmical precision within phrasing, and the ability to convey different moods & emotions through playing. It also involves a deeper understanding of musical theory, which helps in crafting harmonically rich melodies, as well as exploring various tonal colors on the guitar.
This next principle emphasizes the need for guitarists to cultivate a comprehensive skill set that extends beyond their comfort zones. It entails exploring various styles, genres, and techniques to develop versatility and adaptability on the instrument.
By embracing different playing styles, one can can expand their musical horizons & pave the way for creative expression in diverse contexts. In doing so, they can break free from limiting themselves to one specific genre or technique and instead become well-rounded musicians capable of navigating any musical situation.
To adhere to Musashi's principle of not depending on a partial feeling in guitar playing means mastering both rhythm and lead aspects of the instrument.
Rhythm playing forms the foundation upon which all music is built. It involves understanding various strumming patterns, chord progressions, and time signatures.
By developing solid rhythm skills through disciplined practice and studying different rhythmic techniques across various musical genres (such as reggae skanks or funk rhythms), guitarists can enhance their ability to lock in with other musicians and provide a strong rhythmic backbone for any musical ensemble.
On the other hand, lead playing encompasses melodic improvisation and soloing abilities. It requires technical proficiency in scales, arpeggios, bending techniques, vibrato control, phrasing skills—all while maintaining an acute sense of melody within improvisation.
While technical mastery is unquestionably important in guitar playing, Miyamoto would advise guitarists to strike a harmonious balance between technical mastery and musicality. The importance of infusing emotions, dynamics, and expression into every note played should be paramount.
A technically proficient guitarist who lacks musicality may impress with dazzling speed & accuracy but can fail to connect with listeners on a deeper level.
To achieve this balance, guitarists must dedicate time to developing their sense of phrasing, exploring different tonal possibilities through various picking techniques (such as fingerstyle or hybrid picking), studying dynamics and articulation within melodies or solos, and delving into music theory to understand chord progressions and how they can be used to create tension and release.
If one is to not depend on a partial feeling in guitar playing, one should seek to be well rounded & develop both rhythm and lead skills while balancing technical proficiency with musicality.
One of the core concepts emphasized in Dokkodo is the importance of thinking lightly of oneself. As guitarists, it is crucial to cultivate humility in order to continue growing & evolving as musicians.
This involves recognizing that no matter how skilled we become, there will always be others who are more proficient or innovative. By embracing this mindset, we can remain open to learning from those around us and constantly push ourselves to improve.
In line with the principle of humility, it's essential for guitarists to acknowledge that their musical journey is an ongoing process with no ultimate destination.
No matter how much knowledge or experience we acquire, there will always be new techniques, genres, or musical trends waiting for exploration.
The true masters of the instrument understand that they are perpetual students of music and approach each practice session or performance with a genuine curiosity and hunger for growth.
Guitarists who would embrace this philosophy must also appreciate the vastness of music beyond their personal abilities.
While it is natural for us to focus on our own playing and strive for improvement, it is equally important to immerse ourselves in a wide variety of musical styles and genres.
As mentioned previously, by expanding our horizons beyond what we're comfortable with, we gain a deeper appreciation for the art form as a whole and develop a broader musical perspective.
Ultimately, by thinking lightly of ourselves as guitarists while delving deeply into the world of music, we can cultivate humility that transcends mere technical proficiency.
When applying the fifth principle to guitar playing, it becomes crucial to detach oneself from the desire for material possessions & external validation.
Often, guitarists may find themselves caught up in the temptation of acquiring the latest and most expensive gear, believing that it will magically enhance their playing abilities. We've all been there.
However, this principle teaches us that true growth & mastery come not from relying on external factors but from cultivating internal skills & knowledge.
By avoiding excessive attachment to gear, we can focus instead on honing our technique, expanding our musicality, and exploring new creative avenues.
In a world inundated with consumerism, it's easy for guitarists to become fixated on accumulating an arsenal of guitars, effects pedals, or amplifiers, or in our case - guitar picks.
However, Musashi's philosophy urges us to shift our focus away from material possessions and towards personal growth as musicians.
This means dedicating ourselves to continuous learning and improvement rather than being preoccupied with owning the latest gadgets.
By investing time into practicing scales, studying music theory, or exploring different playing styles rather than obsessing over acquiring more gear, we can cultivate a deeper understanding of music itself.
This 5th principle also encourages us to seek intrinsic satisfaction in the act of playing guitar rather than relying on external validation, accolades, or vainglory.
Instead of constantly seeking approval from others or chasing after fame & recognition, we should find joy in the process of creating music authentically.
This entails developing a deep connection with our instrument - understanding its nuances and using it as an extension of our emotions and creativity.
By focusing on the sheer pleasure derived from the act of playing, we can cultivate a sense of fulfillment that is not dependent on external validation.
This intrinsic satisfaction becomes a driving force for self-improvement and allows us to truly connect with our art on a profound level.
By putting less emphasis on material possessions and seeking external validation, we can redirect our energies inward by honing our skills, expanding our musical horizons, and finding true joy in the act of playing.
Regret is a powerful emotion that can hinder personal growth and artistic development. In general, it's essential for us to shift our perspective on mistakes & failures. Instead of dwelling on them or regretting the choices we have made, we should view them as valuable learning opportunities.
Every misstep or error is a chance to gain insight, refine our technique, and expand our musical horizons. By embracing mistakes with a growth mindset, we can extract invaluable lessons that propel us toward improvement.
Analyzing what went wrong during a performance or practice session allows us to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments. Moreover, by understanding the root causes of our mistakes, we can develop strategies to prevent similar errors in the future.
After acknowledging our mistakes and learning from them, it is crucial to adopt a positive mindset that propels us forward. Dwelling on past regrets can create mental roadblocks that hinder progress and stifle creativity.
Instead, we should focus on the present moment & channel our energy into constructive actions rather than ruminating over what cannot be changed. Cultivating resilience in the face of setbacks allows us to persevere and continue pushing boundaries in our guitar playing journey.
By maintaining a positive outlook, we are more likely to approach challenges with enthusiasm & determination rather than fear or self-doubt.
Jealousy can be a destructive force in any endeavor, and guitar playing is no exception. Musicians often find themselves comparing their skills to others & feeling envious of those who appear more accomplished.
However, embracing this next principle of never being jealous can bring immense benefits to your mental & emotional wellbeing. Instead of being consumed by envy, we should focus on our own growth & progress.
Recognize that each guitarist has their unique path & set of experiences that have shaped their playing. By celebrating others' achievements without harboring jealousy, we create a supportive community where everyone's experience is valued.
Rather than succumbing to jealousy, we should cultivate a mindset of appreciation for the skills and accomplishments of fellow guitarists. When we truly appreciate the artistry & dedication it takes to master an instrument, we shift our focus from comparison to admiration.
By acknowledging the strengths & talents of others, we open ourselves up to learn from them instead of feeling threatened or inferior. This not only benefits our own growth but also fosters a spirit of collaboration within the guitar community.
As we explored the first few of Miyamoto Musashi's principles, it becomes evident that these timeless teachings hold great value for musicians seeking personal & artistic growth.
By applying these principles, we can elevate our guitar playing beyond technical proficiency alone.
Moreover, Musashi's call to be detached from desire while never being jealous reminds us that true fulfillment in music comes from intrinsic satisfaction rather than external validation or material possessions.
By embracing a mindset of appreciation & focusing on our own journey, we create a harmonious environment where collaboration and learning thrive.
So, let us embark on our guitar journey with these principles in mind, forging our path with humility, discipline, and a deep appreciation for the endless possibilities that music offers.
With every note we play and every chord we strum, may we find joy in the process and leave behind any trace of jealousy or comparison.
Remember that each guitarist has their own unique voice to share with the world – let us celebrate & support one another as we walk this musical path alone but together.
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