About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011 Goals

I'm a big goal setter. Every year since I began playing guitar, I've written out my goals for the upcoming year. I like to post them on the door of my equipment cabinet and check them off when I've met them. My goals are usually pretty ambitious. I rarely manage to accomplish every single goal for the year, but I have a pretty good batting average.

Here are my goals for 2011.

1) Arrange at least 15 Christmas songs for solo guitar, and arrange at least 5 Beatles songs for solo guitar.

I'm pretty good at faking my way through Christmas music, but I'd like to build a repertoire of well written holiday arrangements. I love Beatles songs, but I just haven't gotten around to arranging any of them for solo guitar, so it's time add a few to my repertoire.

2) Recruit 20 private guitar students.

I recently began recruiting guitar students, focusing on beginners of all styles and intermediates who want to explore jazz guitar. I already have four students lined up in January, and I'm confident I'll be meet my goal of 20 students in 6-8 months. For now, I'm traveling to each student's home to teach. If I reach 20 students and it seems there's still a high demand, I'll consider teaching from a studio or store.

3) Record a solo album.

I'm often asked if I have a CD for sale, and I unfortunately have to keep saying no. InTown Band, my originals group, has a CD for sale, but I don't have a solo album. I haven't decided yet if it'll be totally solo or if I'll hire some back-up. I do know it'll be a mix of jazz standards and original music.

4) Record backing tracks for Christmas songs, jazz standards, and original instrumentals.

I haven't put a number on this goal, because I'm still learning how to use the recording software. Eventually, I'll come up with a system and be able to crank out backing tracks efficiently. The backing tracks will be for long solo gigs. Playing solo guitar for 2, 3, or even 4 hours can really wear down your hands. Backing tracks will allow me to play a lot of single line melodies to give my left hand a rest. It's always preferable to play with a group of people, but not every client is willing to shell out the money to hire a full band.

5) Write 20 original instrumentals.

I slacked off this year in the writing department, and I plan to write more original music in 2011. I'm not so great at coming up with lyrics, but I have a knack for writing strong melodies with interesting yet accessible chord changes. In 2011, I'll focus on writing lots of instrumentals, and I'll present the voice-friendly ones to InTown Band for lyric ideas.

6) Memorize 50 vocals.

My classical training makes me a very strong reader, particularly for a guitarist. The downside is that I tend to rely on my reading too much when I'm performing as a soloist. As a result, I stare at the music and avoid eye contact with the audience. It's time to wean myself away from the written music and start connecting more with the people who are listening.

7) Get comfortable standing and playing.

I'll always prefer to sit and play guitar, but the simple act of standing automatically enhances my stage presence. Before I lost weight, I was very uncomfortable standing and playing. Now that I've lost 115 pounds (and counting), standing and playing has become a little easier. I have less weight to carry, and even the position of my guitar has changed to a more comfortable position as my tummy has lessened.

8) Write an "improvised" chorus for at least 5 songs I've already arranged.

If I write out a chorus for an arrangement, it's obviously not improvised. One of the main skills I'm developing is improvising completely solo. It's pretty easy to improvise on guitar when you have back-up, but it's quite a challenge when you're playing all by your lonesome. When I practice sight-reading out of a Real Book, I'll often improvise over the chords. This has improved my improv quite a bit. By writing out "improvised" choruses, I'll essentially be writing out exercises for myself, coming up with new licks and deepening my understanding of the guitar. I may never reach the level of a Joe Pass, but I'd like to be able to improvise a chorus or two without back-up.

9) Weigh 200 pounds, max.

I'm almost there now. On April 11, 2011, I weighed 323 pounds. Today I weigh 208, and I'll reach 200 sometime in January. I've been running quite a bit, with plans to eventually complete a marathon, so I'll most likely end up in the 185-190 pound range, which is heavy for a distance runner, but light for a guy who is 6'2" and has a large frame. I never want to weigh more than 200 pounds ever again.

10) Complete two half marathons.

I've signed up for a half marathon in March, and there are two Atlanta half marathons in the fall that I'm aware of. I'm happy with the way my running has progressed, and I'm confident that I'll be able to complete a couple half marathons with no major problems. If the half marathons feel comfortable, I'll be looking at running a full marathon in 2012.

So those are my goals for 2011. There's still a week left in 2010. I think I'll get a head start on those backing tracks.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

iPhone (geek alert!)

If you think this blog entry is yet another Mac geek gushing about his new iPhone, well, okay, it's another Mac geek gushing about his new iPhone. My previous phone was about 5 years old, which is pretty ancient in tech years. It even had the older style keypad with combined numbers and letters, so that if you had to type the letter C, you had to press the number 1 three times. Texting was glacially slow.

I bought an iPhone about a month ago, and I'm amazed at how much it has changed the way I operate. You can read reviews or go to Apple's website to learn about the features. I'm just going to write about the features and apps I've found useful.

I have a special talent for getting lost. I couldn't even guess at the number of times I've gotten turned around on my way to a gig, or even coming back home from a gig. I grew up in Illinois, where everything is a flat grid with the roads all running north/south or east/west. In Atlanta, the roads curve up and around hills, and it doesn't take me long to get disoriented. I used to use MapQuest to find my way around town, which meant printing out directions for most of my gigs. With the Maps app, I don't have to print anything out anymore, and there's even a little blinking icon that shows where I am in relation to where I'm going. For someone who gets lost as easily as I do, the Maps app alone is worth the price.

iTunes has been useful at gigs. I recently played a few long Christmas gigs. I was able to connect the iPhone to my amp and keep some music playing while I was on break. It's going to be even handier once I've recorded a few backing tracks. I'm recording solo backing tracks for myself with Garage Band. I save the tracks as MP3s and load them into iTunes. I can then hook the iPhone up to my amp and have my own miniature back-up band. (Live back-up is preferable, but it's useful to have prerecorded tracks for some situations.)

I've also downloaded metronome and tuner apps, not to mention the iReal Book. The tuner app seems to be more accurate than my "real" tuner, and with the iReal Book, I can call up the chords for 500+ jazz standards and even transpose them to different keys automatically.

I use the Kindle app quite a bit, too. I like to read, and it's nice to have a digital book with me. Let's say a miracle happens and I don't get lost on the way to a gig. Suddenly I have extra time on my hands. What to do? Call up a book on Kindle at the gig site and read it while I furrow my brow to try to fool my client into thinking I'm answering time sensitive messages.

Most of my song ideas come when I'm away from the computer or even a piece of paper. With the iPhone's voice memo recorder, I can record song ideas while I'm driving. This saves me from having to sing the same idea over and over all the way home until I can rush through the door to grab a pencil and paper.

The iPhone has also been useful for losing weight. I recently wrote about MyFitness Pal, which helps me set calorie goals and track my food intake and exercise. Despite succumbing to the temptation of holiday goodies, I've managed to shave off a couple pounds, thanks in large part to keeping myself honest with MyFitnessPal.

Sometimes you buy a new gadget or piece of musical equipment, only to discover that it wasn't as great as you thought it would be. Other times, you buy something that turns out to be more useful than you thought possible. Well that's how I feel about the iPhone, and now I'm finished gushing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Want Gigs? Build Relationships

It's easy for us musicians to keep a distance from potential clients and only think of them as sources for gigs. It's also a mistake. If you merely view your contacts as sources of income, it's very possible that the number of gigs you book with them may dwindle. However, if you are willing to develop a relationship with everyone you work with, you increase the odds of getting more performance opportunities.

It takes a while to develop a relationship with a client. Some of your clients may eventually become friends, while others may simply become good working partners. Either way, it's a matter of developing trust. Your client needs to know that you're going to bring your A-game every single time. No matter what the pay is, you always need to perform to your best ability, dress for the occasion, show up on time, and be polite and professional with your client, guests, and other workers (the bartender, waitstaff, and anyone else who is also there to serve). After gigs, follow up with a verbal "thank you," followed by an email or even a thank you card.

As you continue to book gigs with a client, impress them with your consistency. All that stuff you just read about professionalism and courtesy? Do it every single time. Not only will you continue to book gigs with that particular client, but they'll be more likely to recommend you to someone else, and there's no better advertisement than word of mouth.

Be extra helpful with your client. A few months ago, I performed for a corporate client at the Embassy Suites in downtown Atlanta. She contacted me last week. Their next big event is in Las Vegas, and she was wondering if I could hook her up with any musicians there. I don't have connections with any Vegas musicians, and I could have told her that and been on my merry way. Instead, I contacted someone else who is familiar with the Vegas scene and asked him for a recommendation. He put me in touch with the right musician, and I was able to put him in touch with my client. This didn't cost me anything but a little bit of time. I don't know if that musician got the gig or not, but I'll bet the next time my client has an event in Atlanta, she's going to give me a call.

In a nutshell, be professional, generous, kind, and helpful, and you'll slowly see your gig calendar start to fill up. Sometimes good things happen to good people.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Busy Season

As a musician, this has been a busy Christmas season. In the past two weeks, I played ten gigs and did a photo shoot. I have three gigs coming up this week (possibly four), including a radio interview. This isn't to brag; it's to write about how grateful I am to be playing a lot.

Last year at this time, I played a few gigs, but nowhere near as many as this year. Like most musicians, I often wish I had more gigs. It's easy to get caught up in fretting over what's happening now, but looking back over the past few years gives me some perspective. Compared to last year, month by month I've been playing out more frequently. I'm definitely making progress in the quantity of gigs, and the quality of gigs is also improving. To me, a quality gig has to either pay well or be fun. Of course, the best gigs are the ones that are fun and pay well!

My eventual goal is to perform as frequently throughout the year as I have been this December, and next holiday season I hope to be in a position where I have to turn down some gigs and pass them along to my other musician friends. I would love to be playing 4-5 quality gigs each week as a soloist or with bass or piano, with Tea for Two or InTown Band, as a member of a big  band or sitting in with a combo, singing or strictly performing instrumentals, center stage or as background music. You get the idea.

This is my mission statement, lovingly taped to my computer. "I will make a quiet, comfortable living playing the music I love." I'm not quite making a living at it yet, but I'm getting there. Meanwhile, I'm thankful for this busy holiday season and for the gigs I've played this year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Fitness Pal

If you're looking for an easy way to count calories and keep track of your exercise, I highly recommend checking out MyFitnessPal.


Although I've been successfully losing weight for 8 months, I wish I had discovered MyFitnessPal earlier. It would have saved me a lot of guesswork. The site is free, and the service is priceless. It's available through their website at www.myfitnesspal.com, and it's available as a free mobile app.

When you register, you're taken through a brief questionnaire. You'll be asked how much you weigh now, and how much you want to weigh. You'll also be asked how many pounds a week you'd like to lose or gain (max 2), and how active you are. It gives you examples of jobs that fit different activity levels. Although I exercise regularly, I selected a sedentary activity level because I sit at a computer or play guitar most of the day.

Once you've been taken through the questions, you're given the maximum number of calories you can eat every day and still meet your weight goal. Throughout the day, you enter meals and workouts, and the day's remaining calories are automatically updated.

The site factors in exercise, and you can do a customized search for different types of exercise. For example, after I run 4 miles at a pace of 10 minutes per mile, I'll add the workout on MyFitnessPal. The 644 calories I burned off are added to the number of calories I can consume that day.

If you know how many calories are in the meal you just ate, you can simply type the number. If you're not sure, there is a huge food database that includes lots of restaurants. Just add the calories or add the food, and your remaining daily calories will be updated.

While this isn't an exact science, I'm finding MyFitnessPal to be a very useful tool to help me stay on track as I work to lose the rest of my excess pounds. A few days ago, I was tempted to buy some cookies when I ate at Subway. I looked up the cookies on the MyFitnessPal iPhone app and learned that they would have totaled more than 600 calories, and this helped give me the willpower to pass them by.

If you're a calorie counter and a gadget geek, you can't go wrong with MyFitnessPal.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Radio Man

Two nights ago, a man named Ron Kibler called me and started talking about the radio. At first, my brain didn't quite compute the sounds my ears were hearing. I kept expecting him to say "and we need your pledge," but I finally realized he was asking me to come to the station for an interview and to play a couple songs. This is the first time anyone has called me for a radio interview, so it all felt rather surreal after I hung up the phone. If I felt this way after being asked for an interview on a local radio station, imagine what it must be like to wake up one day and learn that a song of yours has hit the charts or that suddenly everyone knows your face. I'm not in danger of being mobbed on the streets just yet, but still, it made me wonder how I would react if my stock in the music world suddenly soared.

Once or twice a month, I play at a Cajun restaurant in Tucker, GA called Rotagilla. (That's "alligator" backwards.) There's a guy who's heard me play a few times, and he told Ron about this wonderful guitarist and singer, Tom Godfrey (me!) who plays there. I didn't recognize the man's name, but if he's heard me perform at the restaurant, I'm sure I would know his face. You never know who's out there listening.

So anyway, I'm going to be live on the air in a few weeks. I'll start and end my segment of the show with a song, and I'll take questions, including call-ins, in the middle. Although I'm looking forward to the interview, I'm sure I'll be nervous. This will be my first time doing anything like this. I'll be sure to pick a couple songs I can play even if my hands are shaking.

You can catch the show on December 18. I'll be on the air at 9:30 a.m. Atlanta listeners can tune in to 1010 AM, and other can listen online at www.wgunradio.com. The call-in number is (770) 491-1010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Losing It #18: On the Road Again

Last weekend, I overdid it on the running. I ran 6 miles, and my route included 4 very long, steep hills. I was prepared for the first two hills, but I didn't realize those last two hills were on the route until it was too late. My body was ready for 6 miles, but it wasn't ready for those hills. I gutted out my run out of sheer stubbornness and stupidity.

I felt pretty good the day of the run, but it was too soon to congratulate myself. The next morning, I felt a pain below my knee. A "good pain" is when your muscles are slightly sore from a workout. A "bad pain" is when a muscle feels like it's been pulled or your bones or joints feel crunchy, and that's what my left shin felt like. Ah, shinsplints. While the uphill run demands the most effort from your body, it's the downhill and the extra impact that gets you.

For the rest of the week, I did the smart thing and stayed off my feet. I pedaled the stationary bike every morning. The stationary bike isn't my favorite workout, but there's no impact, and I can at least pass the time by watching a video. I've been watching the Battlestar Galactica series on NetFlix and enjoying the frack out of it.

After a week of pedaling, I hit the road this morning to resume running. I left the stopwatch at home so I wasn't tempted to push the pace. It sure felt great to be outside running again, and my leg felt great. I'll be going for easy runs this week, and next week I'll start building up my mileage again. It won't be long before I build back up to a 6-mile run and beyond, but I won't be running that hilly route any time soon.

The lesson isn't that running is bad for you, but overdoing it is. I've only been walking for exercise for 5 months, and I've only been running for 2.5 months. Your body adapts if you gradually increase the workload, but it freaks out if you overdo it. Six miles of steep hills was way too much for me, but after another 6-12 months of running, I bet I'll be able to tackle that route again.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Booked

Double booking. It happens in the music world. This weekend, I was scheduled to play at Ray's in the City with Tom Olsen, a wonderful jazz pianist. I arrived an hour early as usual and began setting up. As I was finishing my set-up, a man walked through the door and headed directly to the small musician's stage. I thought he was going to ask when we started playing. Instead, he asked "Are you playing tonight?" I replied "Yes, we start at 6." He said "Oh, I'm playing tonight." Not yet understanding his intent, I asked "You're playing tonight? Was Tom not able to make it?"

It didn't take us long to figure out that the night had been double booked. When this is the case, you have two basic options. The two acts can share the evening, or one act goes home the loser. The gig at Ray's in the City pays, but not well enough that it's worth splitting the check with another act, and so this one went to the "judge." In this case, it went to "J," the guy who books the musicians at the three Ray's restaurants: Ray's in the City, Ray's on the River, and Ray's at Killer Creek. (The piano player mentioned that this has happened a few times since "J" took over the booking.)

What was really crazy is that Rick (the piano player) was called last minute by "J" to sub for someone else who was supposed to play that night! I thought at first that maybe "J" didn't have us on the schedule, and so he called Rick to fill the empty slot. Nope. We would have been double booked either way, either with Rick, or with the guy who would have been double booked with us in the first place.

Tom and I came off on the wrong end of the double booking, but it wasn't a total wash. Everyone involved was polite and professional, with no hard feelings. Rick was gracious, saying he would have just as quickly bowed out if the decision had gone the other way. Tom is going to be scheduled for two gigs at Ray's in the City in January, and he'll be calling me for at least one of them. The manager at Ray's in the City comped our meal. My duo partner, Lynnette, and her parents had come to hear us play, so I invited myself to their table and enjoyed a lovely dinner with friends.

It was altogether a wonderful evening…just not the evening I expected. Sometimes you just need to roll with the punches.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Losing It #17: Final Push

I'm in the final phase of my weight loss adventure. I've lost more than 100 pounds, and I have about 20 to go before hitting my target of 200 pounds. Lately, my weight loss has been at a standstill. I haven't gained. I haven't lost. I've been running quite a bit, but I've also been eating quite a bit. I think I relaxed my diet the last week because I simply needed the mental break. Now it's time for the final push.

I'm not going to be doing anything different to lose these last 20 pounds. I just need to get back to what's gotten me this far and keep up the strict diet for 2-3 more months. So, after two weeks of easing up, it's back to watching the sugar intake, ordering a salad when I go out to eat, and refraining from eating after 6 p.m. It shouldn't be long before I hit the magic 200 pound mark.

Once I've met my 200 pound goal, I'll probably have a little bit more to lose, but at that point, I'll be losing fat not through strict dieting, but because I'll be training for long distance races. I wouldn't be surprised if I eventually slimmed down to 185 by the end of 2011 by simply running.

I'll worry about all that later, though. For now, this is the home stretch, and any extra bit of weight loss after this is gravy. Mmm, gravy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Break It Down

Sometimes I think about what I would do if I won the lottery. One of the first things I would do would be do give a lot of that money to family, a few select friends, and some favorite causes. After the big giveaway, I'd probably be left with a mere $50,000,000 or so. Oh, the places I would go. Oh, the guitars I would buy. The problem is that I don't play the lottery.

We all have dreams. If all you do is think about it, your dream will remain just a dream unless you do something about it. If you want to turn your dream into a reality, your first step is to turn it into a goal…not just a goal in your head, but a written out, established goal. Whatever your dream is, write it down and put it up somewhere where you can see it. Stick it on the fridge or tape it to your computer. This helps change your inner dialog from "wouldn't it be nice if…" to "I'm going to do this." Once you truly make the decision to turn dream into reality, you may feel a surge of energy, like the world just shifted around you.

After you've written down your main goal and really decided to go through with it, you have a lot of work to do. It may seem overwhelming, but whatever you want to achieve, it's doable if you break it into smaller chunks.

Nearly seven years ago I started playing guitar and decided to use the instrument as a vehicle for restarting a performance career after my trombone career was halted due to a lip injury. My first major goal, which has been met, was to reach a skill level that I considered to be entry level professional by 2010…not a world class player, but good enough to be making some money through guitar playing.

Once you've decided on your big goal, you're going to want to break it down into smaller bits so you're not overwhelmed by it all. You can break it into several mini-goals, which will all push you further toward your big goal. As you make progress, you may need to revise your mini-goals or create some new ones. The big goal remains the same, but most of the mini-goals are adjustable.

After deciding I wanted to reach a professional level of guitar playing, I wrote down the things a professional guitarist should know, including chord knowledge, familiarity with the fretboard, and lead playing. At first, my goal was to be a fancy fingerstyle folk guitarist, but I took a left turn when I discovered jazz guitar. The overarching goal of becoming a professional level musician remained the same, but I had to make some revisions to my mini-goals because of a change in musical direction. Now I also needed to learn improvisation, jazz comping, chord/melody style playing, arranging, and a whole new world of chords.

Each one of your mini-goals will have sub-goals. For example, learning jazz chords. There are many, many chords to learn if you want to be a jazz guitarist. There are at least five different places on the fretboard where you can play any given chord, and then you can use different voicings to change the texture of that chord. For example, off the top of my head, I can think of 9 ways to voice a basic C7 chord, and I can come up with more if you give me a little time. The point is that there are many chord forms to learn. If your goal is to have a solid grasp of jazz guitar harmony, you'll quickly discover that it's going to take a few years, so what you end up doing is learning them a few at a time and gradually discovering how to put them to practical use. Whatever your own mini-goals are, you can apply the same concept and work toward success a little bit at a time.

Eventually, your big goal gets broken down into a daily routine. If you stick to the plan, you're doing something that contributes to the overall goal every single day. For me, it's practicing guitar with a purpose every single day. Everything I practice moves me closer to becoming the guitarist I'm capable of becoming. Every song I learn increases my repertoire. Every scale I play improves my technique. Every solo guitar arrangement I write deepens my knowledge of the fretboard and my own capabilities. I improve bit by bit. The things that challenge me today will become old hat in another year or two.

My original goal was to reach a professional level of guitar playing. I've reached that goal, and I will continue to improve year by year. My next major goal is to take it to the next level and actually make a living with a guitar in my hands. I may develop a private teaching practice, audition for cruise gigs, or finally break through the barriers in the Atlanta scene. Very soon I'll be sitting down and drawing my roadmap for the next 5-10 years.

Do you have a dream? Do you want to make it a reality? Write it down and turn it into a goal. Figure out what steps you'll take to make it happen. Break those steps down further and further until you have bite sized chunks. Work every day to make it happen. You can start today. You're not going to win the lottery until you start playing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Makes You Happy?

This was the plan: Put in 20 years playing trombone in the Air Force (which would have allowed me to draw a pension), and then find a college teaching job until I decide to retire. At this point in my life, I would have been playing in the Air Force for around 17 years. I probably would have owned a house by now, and I would have made a lot of college connections through presenting masterclasses and performing recitals.

That was the plan, but a lip injury put a stop to all that. Today, I'm 44 years old, living in a basement studio apartment, starting over on a completely different instrument (guitar), struggling to find good paying gigs, and often having trouble making ends meet.

So why am I so happy? If I were the kind of person to dwell on the past and keep second guessing myself, I'd probably be miserable, but the past is the past. The only constructive thing I can do about the past is to accept its lessons.

The main reason I'm happy is that I'm doing what I love to do.

Material things don't make me happy. A new guitar or amp will temporarily thrill me, but they don't make me happy deep down. Would I like to have a house or a large bank account? You bet! But it's not high on my priority list. What is high on my priority list is making music. Fortunately, this doesn't require a lot of money or a large home. I can make music just as easily in my small apartment as I can in a mansion, and practicing, not money, is what will make me a better musician.

Maybe someday I'll be able to afford a house, or maybe I'll continue living in a studio apartment for the rest of my days. Maybe I'll stay in Atlanta, or maybe I'll be lured to another city by a steady gig. Maybe I'll find work performing on cruise ships, or maybe I'll develop a respectable private teaching practice and stay put. Whatever the gig, wherever I am, as long as I'm making music, that'll be enough for me.

So what makes you happy?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Practicing Spontaneity

It's funny how if you practice a certain thing, you get better at it, like it's some kind of weird coincidence. I've been practicing improvising a lot these days, and I was pleased to find at tonight's gig that my solo playing has improved. I'm not exactly in Joe Pass' or Pat Metheny's league, but I've gotten better.

It may sound strange to practice improvisation. How can you practice something if it's different every time? To a non-musician, it might appear that the music flows out of the improvisor like a gift from above, but the truth is that we're not always so inspired. On some nights, the musical ideas flow like a river. On other nights, the river is frozen solid.

For the past month, I've been practicing improvisation at the same time I practice sight-reading. Every day, I take out a fake book and sight-read 8-10 songs. (For you non-musicians, a fake book is a large collection of lead sheets: melody, chords, and sometimes lyrics.) I'll play through the melody first, attempting to play it perfectly the first time. Then I'll practice improvising over the chord changes. Sometimes I improvise single lines, and sometimes I'll challenge myself and improvise chords with a melody on top, which isn't particularly easy on the guitar. After I've improvised my way through a song, I'll go back and work on the problem spots, playing around with the tricky chord changes until I come up with a few things that sound good.

When I practice improvising, I usually don't sound all that great. To make it as challenging as possible, I improvise without any back-up…no Jamey Aebersold tracks, no Band in a Box. I've discovered that if I can play without relying on back-up and make it sound even halfway decent, it's going to sound pretty good once I'm playing with someone else.

Like most musical skills, improvisation is something that can be developed. It comes naturally to some, and other have to work at it a little more, but it's something that all musicians can do with practice. I've worked at improvising off and on over the past few years, but I've mainly "practiced" improvising during gigs. Even with only a month of concentrated practice, my improvising has improved quite a bit, and I'm excited to think about how far I'll take my improvisation skills in a year (or five or ten).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting for My Turn

As much as I enjoy solo and small group performing, my favorite kind of guitar playing is big band rhythm guitar. On the surface, it may not appear very exciting. The guitarist in a big band rarely takes a solo. For the most part, you play quarter notes all night. On the other hand, you have to stay mentally sharp because the chords are coming at you a mile a minute, plus it's a lot of fun to be part of the whole big band sound. The guitar plays a very specific role in a big band, providing a clear pulse for the band and filling in the middle register of the rhythm section. The bass covers the low while the piano covers the high end. If you're doing it right, the listener may not even notice the guitar unless it drops out.

Although there are plenty of guitarists in town with better technique, I have an ace up my sleeve: I can read music. I'm living proof that you can be a guitar player and read music at the same time. Jazz band books typically have a lot of charts, and there's rarely time to rehearse any of them in depth. Another guitar player may have more impressive chops, but if he can't read music, or if he only has a rudimentary grasp of reading notation, it's going to take him a while to learn any given part. On the other hand, while I don't have lightning fast technique, I can read down most big band guitar parts the first time. This makes me very useful as a sub, because I can sight-read my way through a performance if necessary.

One of my goals is to be the regular guitarist for one of the big bands in Atlanta. Unfortunately, there is only one guitar player per band (and some big bands don't use a guitarist at all), so it may be a while before I earn a spot. In the meantime, I get as much experience as I can by subbing with the Sentimental Journey Orchestra and the Atlanta Swing Orchestra. I'm also working to get myself on the sub list with other jazz bands in Atlanta.

You get into many of these groups by simply hanging around long enough to be the last man standing. Essentially, I'm waiting for someone to quit or leave town. Sometimes I feel like a vulture waiting for a guitar spot to open. For now, I enjoy subbing, and I'm sure that my turn will come.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Losing It #16: Century Mark

As of today, I've lost 100 pounds. I still have 23 to go before I hit my target weight, but it sure feels good to have made it this far. Some friends have expressed admiration that I've managed to do this alone. The truth is that this has been far from a solitary effort. True, I don't work with a personal trainer or dietician. I'm not a member of a gym, and I haven't joined Weight Watchers or any other weight loss support groups, but I haven't done this alone. In a way, my friends have been with me every step of the way. I've received nothing but support and encouragement from my friends in Atlanta as well as my online Facebook friends, most of whom I haven't even met in person. Regularly reporting my progress on Facebook helps keep me accountable, and the words of encouragement I've received have helped me stay motivated.

Sometimes there's nothing more annoying than the newly converted, but at the risk of sounding preachy, let me say this: If I can do it, you can do it. Aside from my four years in the Air Force, I've been overweight most of my adult life. I shudder to think at the total gallons of Ben and Jerry's I've eaten, and you could probably build a large, delicious hill with the chips and burgers I've consumed. In spite of all that, I've lost 100 pounds in six months, and I've progressed from a 30-minute walk to a regular 3.5 mile run. Recently I signed up for a half marathon. I can't even run 10 miles yet, but I guarantee I'll be able to run 13.1 miles in another 5 months.

So if this former couch potato can get off his large ass and turn it around, I know you can, too. You need to find your motivation, set your goals, plan your diet, and plan your exercise. Finally, find or create a support group. It could be a formal program, a personal trainer, a workout partner, or an informal support group like the one I created for myself on Facebook. I couldn't have made it this far without my Facebook peeps!

It's not going to be easy, that's for sure, but it's doable. If there's any way I can help, please let me know. I'd be happy to be in your cheering section!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Losing It #15: Half Marathon

On April 11, 2010, I weighed 323 pounds and couldn't make it up a flight of stairs without having to catch my breath at the top. Today I weigh 226 pounds and regularly run 3.5 miles with a fast, uphill kick at the end. On March 20, 2011, I'll be running the Georgia Half Marathon.

I have to thank my Tea for Duo duo partner, Lynnette, for planting the idea in my head. Not long after I met her, Lynnette completed a half marathon. I think it might have been her first one. She's running another half in November. Since I've started running again, she's encouraged me now and then to sign up for one. My running strength has increased significantly over the past few weeks, and I started thinking about a half marathon more and more often. I checked out the half marathon training schedule that Lynnette followed for her first one at www.halhigdon.com. After looking it over, I thought the schedule looked quite doable, and today I took the plunge and registered for the race.

The timing of this particular half marathon couldn't be better. It'll be only a couple weeks away from April 11, the day I finally decided to turn my health around for good. It'll be a celebration of a year well spent. Also, to time the 12-week training program to coincide with the race, I will have to start January 2. I can't think of  better way to start off the new year than by starting a brand new training program.

One of my strengths (and sometimes it's a flaw) is that I don't do anything halfway. When I started playing guitar a few years ago, I almost immediately began to see it as a vehicle for restarting some sort of music performance career. The same goes with running. I'm not kidding myself that I'll ever be a top flight runner, but I can set my own personal goals. My first major goal is to complete the half marathon in March. After that, I plan on completing a marathon. If I feel good about my half marathon performance, I'll plan on training for the Georgia Marathon the following year. If it's a major struggle, I'll complete another half marathon or two before tackling the longer distance.

After I complete a marathon, who knows? I'm sure I'll think of something.

Friday, October 22, 2010

No More Cool Side

A couple weeks ago I disbanded my jazz quartet, On the Cool Side. It wasn't an easy decision. Three of us had invested over a year of time, and the fourth had been with us for about nine months. I learned a lot by playing with these guys, and my musicianship improved.

I disbanded the group because of simple economics. I've been fairly successful finding solo jobs here and there, but nobody seems to want to hire a quartet. It just costs too much. On the Cool Side had one good gig at Embassy Suites a few months ago. Aside from that, we've been playing low paying or free gigs. I didn't want to keep stringing everyone along, telling them that a great gig was just around the corner.

Playing and singing isn't my day job yet, but that's my ultimate goal. Since I've had almost no luck finding quartet jobs, I decided to focus my energy on solo and duo jobs, assembling a trio or quartet as needed. One of these days I'd like to have my own regular combo again…maybe after I'm more well established and my stock has risen in Atlanta. Finding work can be frustrating, but I have to keep reminding myself that I'll get there. I've been playing guitar not quite seven years, and I've only been seriously looking for gigs for the past two years.

So I'll be looking for solo and duo gigs for the foreseeable future, with an eye toward leading another combo someday. In the meantime, I'm also very open to joining an established combo if the opportunity arises.

Friday, October 8, 2010

InTown Band Debut Album

I'm pleased to announce that InTown Band has released a self-titled debut mini-album of seven original songs!

A while back, we won an open mic contest at Earthshaking Music. The prize was two free hours in their recording studio. We originally went into the studio thinking that we would claim our two free hours, pay for two more, and record a good demo. We prepared seven songs and figured we would get 3-4 songs that we could use. The session went so well that we ended up recording all seven songs. If we had gone into the studio with the idea that we would lay down the tracks for a mini-album in one session, we probably couldn't have done it. We would have felt the pressure and been too uptight to make it happen. Instead, we had a blast recording. We were joking around, feeling loose, and having fun. We were quite surprised at the end of the session when we realized we had seven good tracks.

We describe our original music as Soul Fusion. It's a blend of rock, jazz, blues, reggae, soul, and whatever else we feel like throwing into the pot. Some of our music is written individually by Thomas Vinton or me. Many of our latest songs are co-written by the entire group. For example, I'm good at writing melodies and harmonies, but I'm not so hot at lyrics. I'll bring a new melody to the group and have the others write lyrics. That's how Cutesy Blues came about. On top of that, the group morphed Cutesy Blues from a cute little swing blues to a "funk blues" with more of an edge. Change Jar is another group song. I sent an email to Thomas Vinton about an idea for a song that would use the change jar as a metaphor. (See my blog about the Change Jar Principle.) He took my rambling email and crafted it into a lyric. Thomas also came up with the guitar lick you hear after the 2nd verse, and I wrote the bass and guitar riff that you hear from beginning to end. When Patricia arrived at rehearsal, we presented her the lyrics and told her to sing the lyrics and make up the melody as she went. That's how Change Jar came to life.

InTown Band is really excited about this first album. We continue to write more music, and we're planning on recording a full length album in the near future.

You can purchase the album by visiting InTown Band's website and clicking "Buy," going directly to CD Baby, or by searching for "InTown Band" at any number of download sites, including iTunes, Amazon MP3, Rhapsody, Zune, and many, many more.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Feeling Blah? Just Start

This is was of those days when I felt blah for no good reason whatsoever. I slept well last night after an easy gig, and then I woke up and had a long, pleasant walk. I'm well rested, and it's a beautiful fall day, but I spent a good part of it moping around, not feeling like doing much of anything.

There are days when I absolutely need a break from everything. Maybe I've played several long gigs in a row, or I'm swamped with music engraving projects or rehearsals. This wasn't one of those days. Sometimes I genuinely need a break, and sometimes I just feel lazy. This was a lazy day, but not the fun kind. Most of it was simply not feeling like doing anything at all, and then feeling sorry for myself because I wasn't feeling motivated to do anything. It's an annoying, circular self pity party.

On days like this, I turn it around by making myself do something useful. I'll pick a project and simply pretend I'm motivated for it, going through the motions until I really feel motivated. Today I finally got the ball rolling when I decided to take the guitar out and practice a little bit. After all, the best musicians in the business didn't get there by only practicing when they felt like it. My main goal was to simply start. Ten or fifteen minutes into it, I was focused on the guitar and not my blahs. It wasn't the longest practice session, but it was productive.

After practicing, the blahs settled in again. Since I didn't feel like moving around or even leaving the apartment, that's precisely what I did. I walked the half mile to the Corner Pub and enjoyed an early dinner. I feel refreshed now, and I'm going to spend the next few hours working on a music engraving project.

I wish I could brag that I always handle the blues successfully, but I don't. Sometimes I succumb to self pity and lethargy and simply waste the day doing absolutely nothing. Other days, like today, I can shake myself out of it by picking a project and faking enthusiasm until I genuinely feel it.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Backing Tracks

This evening I probably set a record for the longest time ever taken to record a backing track. I'll get faster at it. Using recording software is a new skill for me, but one that I'm keen to develop. Once I'm comfortable with it, I'll probably use it to record a solo album. To learn the software (Garage Band), I'm recording backing tracks for myself.

There's some controversy about using backing tracks for professional gigs. The purist says that you should use all live musicians. If you want to play with a group, then hire the musicians. I've felt this way about backing tracks for a long time, but I've recently taken more realistic view.

First, let me say that I prefer playing with other musicians. With a group of live musicians, you get the spontaneity and chemistry that is lacking in prerecorded tracks. Unfortunately, most of my potential clients have been unwilling to pay for a quartet, and so most of my paid gigs are solo gigs. Maybe in the future, as my stock goes up, I'll have more luck convincing people to hire my group, but right now I need to take the gigs that come my way, and that means a lot of solo work.

I enjoy playing solo gigs, but 3 or more hours of solo jazz guitar is rough on the hands. That's where the backing tracks come in. Some people may consider this cheating. I don't. I'm going to be spending hundreds of hours learning the software, recording every single part, and tweaking everything until it's just right. It's an investment of time. When I'm finally ready to use my prerecorded music in public, I'll have a collection of unique backing tracks that I created with my own sweat and creativity.

One unexpected benefit to creating my own tracks is that I'm becoming a better musician. I just finished recording a backing track for Take Five. To help create a good accompaniment, I listened very closely to some recordings, analyzing the bass lines and deconstructing the drum parts, listening to exactly what the drummer was doing with the hi-hat, kick drum, snare, etc. As I continue to record more backing tracks, I'll be sharpening my listening skills and gaining a deeper understanding of jazz and blues.

I'll always prefer playing with other musicians, but once I've recorded a series of tracks, it'll be handy to have another option.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Plan B: A Pirate's Life for Me?

The church job didn't work out, so we're on to Plan B. I've had Plan B in the back of my mind for over a year, and I've decided to act on it. Upon reflection, I think my Plan B should have been Plan A all along.

Plan B is a cruise ship gig. I feel I would do quite well in a variety of situations: solo singer/guitarist for a cocktail lounge, guitarist with a small combo, or as a guitarist with a house band. The house band provides a variety of music and often backs up special guest artists appearing on the cruise. The house band also requires that you be an excellent sight reader, which is one of my strengths.

Researching these gigs, I've looked into the pros and cons. In my own situation, the pros far outweigh the cons. I'm single with no pets, working as a freelancer, and living in an inexpensive studio apartment. My goal all along has been to become a full time working musician again, and this would be a major step in that direction. Room and board is taken care of, there are exercise facilities, and the schedule in general is fairly light, especially compared to some of the work I've done in the past as an Air Force musician. Even the freelancing can get pretty crazy at times. It would be nice to have a regular performance schedule with days off.

There are cons, too. Because contracts are generally 4-6 months, a lot of "land projects" would have to be put on hold or dropped. I'm not sure what would happen with my music engraving business, although if I found that I really loved playing cruise ships, I wouldn't have any problem with letting the engraving go. InTown Band is a project I've been involved in for years now, and we would have to discuss my role in the band if I started taking cruise jobs. Most likely they would have to find another guitarist and singer, although I would still want to be involved by writing songs for the group.

As I understand it, when you audition for a cruise line, you're not necessarily auditioning for a specific job on a specific ship. Instead, the audition puts you in the system. Later on, you get the call when a job opens up. It could be in a week, or it could be in a few months.

I'll be applying for a passport very soon. There are probably some local cruises I could work without one, but having a passport will qualify me for more jobs. Once I get my passport, I'll stop researching and start auditioning. You never know, next year I may be blogging from a ship.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Losing It #14: Why Run?

A couple days ago, I read a funny status update on Facebook. It went something like this: "When I see a jogger smiling, I'll give it a try." How many runners look like they're having fun? Not many. There's one particular runner I see most mornings, huffing, puffing, shaking his head and willing himself to run up the hill. It looks like every step is agony, yet he runs day after day. Why?

Personally, I don't have any logical reason for running. I've been walking every morning for nearly 6 months. Through diet and exercise, I've steadily lost weight (86 pounds, 37 to go). My resting heart rate has dropped from 90 to 60 beats per minute. I look and feel better than I have in years. Everything has been working great, yet I feel the urge to run. Why? When it sometimes hurts, why?

The short answer is that it feels so good when I stop! But there's a longer answer.

I can only speak for myself,  but one reason I run is because it's real. So much of what I do is spent in the virtual world – in my brain, really – updating my website, sending out performance notices, engraving music, and so forth. I construct a little world in my head as I work at the computer, but if you want a heavy dose of reality, step outside and take a run. There's nothing virtual about running. You feel it right away! You'll feel your muscles working and your heart pounding, and you'll develop a deep appreciation for oxygen. Take a run and you'll quickly discover where your physical limits are. Keep running consistently and soon you'll feel your body getting stronger.

My frame is more suitable for a linebacker than a distance runner, but I prefer endurance activities. You can develop a lot of mental toughness through endurance sports as you keep going and going. It's not far removed from the same mindset you need to develop technique on a musical instrument. You don't see the results right away, but after a time, if you stop and look back, you'll be amazed at how far you've traveled.

At this point, I'm running a lowly 2.8 miles three times a week, broken up here and there by a couple bouts of walking. In another couple weeks, I'll be able to run 3+ miles without a walking break. I'm not stopping there, though. In 2004, as I was starting to learn how to play guitar, I set a goal of becoming a professional level guitarist by 2010. Now, as a beginning runner, my goal is to run a marathon by 2015.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Freedom and Opportunity

A few days ago, I posted on Facebook that "My dog died, I didn't get the job, and I walked out of a crappy gig. So why do I feel so good?" After some reflection, I have an answer: freedom. Yes, I feel disappointment and loss, but there's also a sense that new opportunities are just around the corner.

You can read about my bad gig in my post No Mas! I never thought I could be so angry that I would walk out on a gig. I was ticked off the day it happened, but later I felt good about how I reacted to the situation. In a very real way, I demonstrated that I was worth more than this gig had to offer. I've been playing every gig I can possibly find, partially to gain experience, and partially out of fear that if I'm not filling up my calendar, I might not be as attractive to potential clients. I've decided to be choosier about the gigs I accept to make room for better opportunities.

When I didn't get the music director position at UUMAN (click here for details), I felt an odd mixture of disappointment and…relief. I think I would have enjoyed the job. Everyone seemed nice, I had a great experience there, and it seemed tailor made for me. They said they were looking for someone who wasn't in the traditional classical choir conductor mode, who could teach the congregation how to use the Singing the Journey hymn supplement, and could offer a diversity of music, including world music, folk music, and jazz. Well, I demonstrated that I can do all of that, and I've been a classical musician far longer than I've been a jazz guitarist. Nevertheless, they hired the candidate who conducted with a baton, played a Brahms piano piece for his solo, and had the choir sing a traditional Lutheran "Amen" at the end of the service. It seems the UUMAN music search committee chose to stay within its classical comfort zone.

Knowing that UUMAN chose a candidate who was even more classical than the previous music director after expressing their interest in diversity, I feel a sense of relief at not winning the job. Another reason I feel some relief is that I've been a freelancer for a long time. I haven't had a job in nearly 15 years! I would have done a great job, but it would have been a big adjustment to keep a regular schedule. I would have had to give up a few projects to make room for the UUMAN job. As a matter of fact, last night I played a sweet gig that I would have had to forgo for choir rehearsal. The job would have been nice, but now my schedule remains flexible and open to all possibilities.

The third crappy thing that happened this weekend was that my dog, Bear, died. I played a gig Friday night, and he was fine. I came back to find him motionless. He was in his his usual sleeping position, so I can only assume he died peacefully in his sleep. Bear had slowed down a lot over the past several months, so it wasn't a big shock, but it's still an adjustment to not have him around.

Although I miss Bear, at the same time, some new avenues have opened up. For example, I've often thought about cruise ship gigs. I could find a job playing in a combo, or I could be a solo act in a piano bar setting. I'm also an excellent sight reader, which is a job requirement for the cruise ship house bands that play as back-up for big name performers. The only problem was that I would be gone for 1-2 months at a stretch, and I would have had to figure out what to do about Bear. Now that Bear is no longer with me, I'm beginning to research cruise ship gigs. If it turns out that I like playing cruise ships, I can envision playing two months and coming back to Atlanta for a month off, or even playing a couple months and then spending a month traveling around visiting family (mooching).

I've had the sense that big changes are coming for me. I assumed it was the UUMAN job. Since that didn't pan out, it's obviously something else. It may be a cruise job. It may be some other opportunity that comes out of the blue and smacks me upside the head. Whatever it is, I'm not going to just wait around for something to happen. I believe in creating my own luck. It's no coincidence that most of the "lucky" people in the music business are also the hardest working.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

No Job

I've been adding occasional updates about my interview/audition for the music director job at Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North. Unfortunately, I did not get the job.

My audition went very well, and I enjoyed the experience. My inside source tells me that the other candidate was a classical musician. I'm a little confused by UUMAN's decision because I was told during my interview and subsequent conversations that UUMAN was looking for someone to break out of the traditional classical mode and present more diverse, contemporary music. Still, this isn't about contemporary vs classical. They may have liked the other candidate's experience more, or perhaps they felt he was somehow a better fit with UUMAN's vision. Whoever the winning candidate is, I congratulate him, and I hope that he is able to take UUMAN's music program, which is already good, and make it flourish.

Whatever the reasons for UUMAN choosing the other candidate, I still feel great about my audition. Looking back on the experience, there is not one thing I would have changed. I couldn't have represented myself any better. If a similar position opens up in an Atlanta Unitarian Universalist church, I will be one of the first to apply.

I've spent a lot of time and energy on this interview/audition, and I spent last week recuperating while the other candidate auditioned. While I've been focusing on the job hunt, I haven't spent much time on the gig hunt, so it's time to get back to it and start making calls again.

No Mas!

Today I walked out on a gig. I was to provide solo background music for a cake competition. This was a non-paying gig, but the plus side was that it doubled as a wedding networking event. I've had positive experiences with other networking events, and I've usually booked paid gigs with the people I've met. I had no reason to believe today would be any different.

My first clue that this might not be the ideal gig was when I arrived (an hour early as usual) and no one knew where I was supposed to set up. There was apparently no thought given as to where the FREE background musician should be. It was as if they'd forgotten that I was even going to be there. I was assured that I would have a spot to play and a table to display cards and brochures. Didn't happen.

There was only one area where I could fit, so I carved out a space to play behind some of the vendors. I even found a table that I could use to set out my business cards, not that it did any good. Because I had to set up behind the vendors, there was a physical barrier between me and anyone who might want to pick up one of my cards. My reason for playing the event (networking and advertising) was negated before I even played a single note.

On top of that, I was asked to turn the music down not once, not twice, but three times. You could use any number of adjectives to describe my solo style, but "loud" isn't one of them. The first time I was asked to turn down? No problem. It wouldn't be the first time I've misjudged the volume level, and I'm more than happy to accommodate by lowering the volume. The second time? Annoying. I've never been asked to turn down twice. Even so, I turned down again, even though I could hardly hear myself. After I was told to turn it down a third time, I came to the conclusion that if the event staff could hear me at all, it must mean that I'm too loud. As a background musician, I understand all about playing at a low volume level, but it has to be heard to some degree, or I may as well not even be there. My music is soft and understated, but there's an art to what I do. It ain't Muzak.

I was playing for free, and it was not worth my time to continue playing at an inaudible level for three more hours behind a physical barricade. You either want music or you don't, and it seemed to me that they didn't want me. After being told to turn down for the third time, I finished my song, packed my gear, and left. The vendors, who were sitting directly in front of my amp, were enjoying my music and were quite surprised to learn that I was too loud.

I'm easygoing. I get along with just about everyone I've ever met. I'm accommodating, and as long as I'm treated with respect, I'll go the extra mile to help you out. But I have a switch that you don't want to flip. I left without making a scene. A couple vendors asked where I was going, so I explained, and they understood. As a matter of fact, one of them was so upset that she told me she was going to complain on my behalf. I'm thankful that none of the event staff tried to stop me, because my low simmer could very well have come to a full boil.

Not to be arrogant, but I think I'm pretty damned good at what I do. I don't have blazing technique, but I can make my guitar sing, and my voice isn't half bad, either. Not having played the guitar for very long, I've been taking every playing opportunity that comes up, simply for the experience. Now it's time to cut back on the "for exposure" gigs and make room for better opportunities.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Losing It #13: Steady On

I've lost over 80 pounds so far. I started at 323. This morning I weighed 242, and I'm getting closer and closer to my goal of 200 pounds. This is a time that I have to be steady and stick with the plan. In the past, when I've reached this weight, for some reason I've often let it slide and started packing on the pounds again.

The last time I went on a weight loss campaign, I made it down to 235 before I gave it up. I didn't give up right away. It started slowly. I had started running again, and I told myself that I could handle a pint of Ben and Jerry's once a week. I justified the weekly indulgence by figuring that running would magically melt the extra calories. I stopped losing weight, but at least with the running, I wasn't gaining any weight. Then I caught a nasty cold and was too weak to run for about a week. Of course, I wasn't too weak to eat ice cream! After a week of non-exercise, I had lost momentum. Soon I stopped exercising altogether and started eating more junk: ice cream, chips, and fast food. A year later, I was even heavier than before.

I also experienced some frustration with my running a couple years ago. I could feel myself getting faster. I began to think that I could recapture my glory days and maybe even come out of nowhere in local races to place in my age group. One morning, as I was feeling particularly fast, two chatting high school girls blew by me like I was standing still. Talk about a reality check! Instead of dealing with the fact that I wasn't nearly as fast as I use to be, I started to lose the motivation to run.

This time around, I don't plan on making the same mistakes.

  • I know that ice cream is my Achilles heel. As much as I love the stuff, not a bit of ice cream has passed my lips for nearly half a year. So I'm running again and sticking to good eating habits.
  • I've gotten over the fact that I don't run fast anymore. I'm content to enjoy the exercise, and I'm focused on running lightly and easily. If a flock of gossiping high school girls passes me on the road, good for them.
  • If I get sick and can't run for a while, that's okay. I can walk. If it turns out that years of obesity have left my knees in a sorry state, I can walk. I enjoy walking almost as much as running.
The biggest mistake I made the last time I tried to lose weight was trying to do it all by myself. Aside from gigs and rehearsals, I'm a hermit. I live alone, and I prefer to do most of my activities alone. I exercise alone, too. Although I spend a lot of time by myself, that doesn't mean I have to be alone in my weight loss campaign. This time I have a lot of people behind me. I've posted fitness updates regularly on Facebook and in this blog, and in return I've received lots of support. Not only that, but many of my friends have started losing weight, too. Even though we're not dieting and exercising together in person, I feel like we're together in spirit.

This is the point where I typically hit the wall, but I'm determined not to let that happen again. I just need to be aware of my tendencies and to know that, recluse that I am, I get by a little help from my friends.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Audition

I've just lasted through what must be the longest, most involved interview process ever devised for a quarter time job. The job is music director for Unitarian Universalist Metro Atlanta North, or UUMAN (pronounced like "human"). If I get the job, I'll be directing the choir, putting together instrumental groups for services, taking part in the planning of worship services, and in general overseeing the music at UUMAN.

After being one of two finalists selected from the interviews, I rehearsed the choir, met with a handful of choir members for lunch, and then participated in this morning's Sunday service (conducting the choir, singing a solo, and leading the hymns). If you factor in preparation time, interviews, this morning's service, and driving, I've probably spent over 15 hours preparing for this 10 hour per week job.

Fifteen hours is a lot of time to spend proving that you're ready for a quarter time position, but I've enjoyed the process. For the first time in my life, I actually enjoyed a job interview. The choir and instrumentalists were a joy to work with, and I met a lot of nice people this week.

Overall, I feel terrific about my audition. I wrote the arrangement for the choral anthem and recruited a handful of instrumentalists from the congregation to complement the choir. Last Wednesday's rehearsal went quite well, and the choir sang superbly this morning. The instrumentalists were enthusiastic about being asked to play, and they did a great job. I can't say enough good things about the piano accompanist, who played beautifully and was absolutely great to work with. My solo was well received.

My audition is over. This week, it's the other person's turn to go through the wringer. Although I'm happy with how I performed musically, the job isn't just about musicianship. It's also about how well I work with the choir, the staff, various committees, and the minister. I have a good feeling about this job. If it turns out I don't win it, it won't be because I had a bad audition. As a matter of fact, this is probably the best audition I've had in my life. There may be intangibles that come into play such as personality or general experience. They may see something in the other candidate that clicks with UUMAN and makes them a better fit.

There's nothing I can do about all that. All I can do now is congratulate myself on a good audition, and then kick back, relax, and wait for the results. UUMAN wants to have a new music director in place by September 20, so I'll hear back from them soon enough.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Losing It #12: Running Man

I'm officially hooked on running again. After walking off the weight for five months, I began running again. I'm not running a lot: just Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I'm combining walking and running. For now, it's about half and half: a combined total of two miles running and two miles walking.

The first week I began running was painful, but it was a good kind of painful, if you can believe such a thing. I've developed a certain amount of strength though taking long walks (4-8 miles), but running is more intense. By the end of the week, I felt myself getting a bit stronger.

Today, after two weeks of running, something magical happened. Running felt easy. My legs felt great, and I wasn't breathing much harder than I breathe when I walk fast. Even the hills didn't feel so bad. My footsteps were light, and I felt like I was just gliding along. There were times I didn't want to stop. I did make myself stop, though, from time to time. I've dropped 80 pounds, but I still have 43 to go, so I'm still heavy for a runner. Running is stressful enough without the excess weight. I'm very careful to take walking breaks to prevent injury. Eventually, I'll be able to run three miles at a stretch, and then we'll see how it goes from there.

The best part about running is that I enjoy it. When I first step out the door, my reason for running is to continue to lose weight. Once I'm warmed up, I'm running because it's fun. I was a fairly fast runner in my glory days. I may never be fast again, but I don't care. I lope along at a happy glide, and it feels great.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Learn Tunes


Joe Pass was one of the best jazz guitarists, period, and he's one of my main musical inspirations. When asked what a developing guitarist should practice, he responded with "learn tunes." In other words, all you need to know is contained in the jazz repertoire. Now I suspect that Joe spent plenty of time practicing licks and scales, but I think he meant that you should spent most of your time learning the repertoire, because the licks and scales are all there in the music.

Lately I've gotten away from learning tunes. I've been spending a lot of time working on technique, especially scales, arpeggios, scale patterns, licks, and pick speed. There's nothing wrong with this. It's a necessity at my stage of development. While I'm not setting the world on fire, my technique has definitely improved over the past several months, but I've drifted away from learning tunes. It's time for a course correction.

When I was a classical trombonist, I played a lot of etudes. An etude is a piece of music written for study, not necessarily for performance. An etude is meant to help the player focus on one or two aspects of playing. For developing legato technique on trombone, you absolutely have to work through the Rochut Melodious Etudes for Trombone. And then there are the Blazhevich Clef Studies that were written specifically to help (or force) the trombone player to be comfortable reading bass, tenor, and alto clefs.

From now on, jazz melodies will be my etudes. Today, I started working on Joy Spring. I've been in love with this melody since the first time I heard it. It's tricky. My single line technique will improve as I get this melody under my fingers. My improvisation will improve as I learn to navigate the chord changes. I'm not going to stop playing scales, patterns, and licks, but I'm going to renew my focus on learning tunes.

In case you haven't heard Joe Pass, click here for a YouTube clip of Joe Pass performing Joe's Blues.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Losing It #11: Plateau

The bad news is that I've lost very little weight over the last two weeks. The good news is that my pants have loosened, and I've had to tighten my belt one more notch.

About 6 weeks ago, I started a strength-building routine: crunches, push-ups, and curls. I've added a little bit of muscle to my frame. If I add a few pounds of muscle while burning the same weight in fat, the number on the scale will read the same, even as my clothes fit better. This would explain looser pants in spite of minimal weight loss. An added benefit to adding muscle is that it requires extra calories for your body to retain muscle mass. In other words, having more muscle helps you burn fat. While the numbers on the scale have barely budged over the last couple weeks, in the long run, my extra muscle will turn me into a fat burning machine!

So far, I've lost over 70 pounds through careful diet and consistent exercise, and that's how I'll lose the remaining 50.

If you've lost a lot of weight but find yourself at a plateau, don't worry. You'll be fine. Just keep doing what you're doing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Losing It #10: Running Man (sort of)

I ran a quarter mile today. I realize that I haven't set any endurance records, but considering that I weighed 323 pounds only four months ago, I can be proud of this. I've lost over 70 pounds from walking, but lately I've had the itch to start running again. I wave to the runners on my daily walk, and part my heart runs with them.

My body has gone through a remarkable change over the past few months. The most noticeable change is on the outside, as I continue to shrink, but I also feel a big change on the inside as my body adjusts to my increasing physical demands. When I began walking, I was weary and footsore after a 30-minute walk. My body soon adjusted, and I was able to increase the length of my daily walk. Today I walk 4 miles on weekdays and 8 miles on weekends.

The next logical step after walking is running. I'd like to dive right into running, but because I'm still heavy, I have to be careful. My legs and heart have been strengthened by taking long walks, but my joints and tendons aren't quite ready for long runs. Last week I began introducing a very short run into my daily walk. When I say a very short run, I'm talking about a whopping 100 feet. This is to prepare my joints for the added stress of running. The plan is to very, very gradually increase the length of my run. I'm not in a hurry. I'm not preparing for a race. There's no deadline. I'm feeling my way through this. I'm gradually increasing distance as my body adjusts.

Today I ran a quarter mile without discomfort. As a matter of fact, I wasn't breathing much harder than when I walk. I'll stick with a quarter mile for the next couple weeks, let my body adjust, and then add a little more. Assuming all goes well, I should be running regularly by November or December.

Back in my Air Force days, I was quite the runner…not world class by any means, but pretty fast. I trained for speed over medium distances and clocked some pretty decent times at local 5K and 10K runs. This time around, I'm not planning to train for speed. Those days are past. When I'm running again, it'll be purely for health and pleasure.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Interview

My last "real" job was as the head of the graphics department for the Mark Foster Music Company back in 1998 or so. This overstates the case. I was the graphics department, and I didn't do anything fancy. My two main jobs were to create ads for choral music trade journals and to create printing plates. I've been a freelance music engraver since then, and more recently I've been a freelance guitarist and singer.

For the first time in over a decade, I've applied for a job. This is a quarter time position as director of music at a Unitarian Universalist church in Atlanta. With a 10 hour per week time commitment, money is not the key factor here. Last year, I was interim music director at the Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided I would send a resume the next time a similar job opened up. Last month I saw a notice for this position, and I sent my resume immediately.

My interview was today. I was only invited to the interview yesterday, which was both good and bad. The downside was that I had very little time to prepare. The upside was that I didn't have time to get nervous and obsessive about it. The interview went quite well. I felt I had good rapport with the minister and the search committee. I didn't have time to anticipate questions, so my answers were off the cuff and heartfelt. I've never felt so comfortable and "myself" at a job interview. Part of that may be due to my increasing confidence as a performer, but mostly I think it was my attitude about the interview. I didn't try to provide the "right" answer to their questions. I presented myself openly and honestly, leaving it up to them to decide if I was what they were looking for. They seemed to have a good feeling about me, and I have a good feeling about them.

They are interviewing a few more candidates. For round two, 2-3 candidates will be invited to audition. Each candidate will lead a choir rehearsal and then lead the choir (and the music in general) for a Sunday service. I feel confident that I'll be invited to the audition round, but I won't know anything for certain until next week.

I'll be looking at some music that I would like to rehearse with the choir. If I'm invited to audition on short notice, I'll be ready. If I'm not invited to audition, well, time spent studying music is never wasted. Aside from studying some musical scores, this week will be business as usual: practicing, music engraving, rehearsing, and scaring up gigs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Losing It #9: Strength and Stretching

In my blogs about losing weight (70 pounds so far!), I often write about walking, but walking isn't my only exercise. I also stretch and strengthen.

What I'm about to write isn't exactly top secret. You can read about it just about anywhere, but since you're here now, you might as well hear it from me.

There are three basic types of exercises: aerobic, strengthening, and stretching. Aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can improve your overall stamina and heart health. My choice of aerobic exercise, walking, is what I write about most often, and it's the key exercise in my weight loss routine.

Aerobic exercise is great for burning fat, but strengthening exercises are also a great help. When you perform strength exercises on a regular basis, you add muscle. The coolest thing about this, for weight loss, is that increasing your muscle muscle mass increases your metabolism. In other words, simply by having more muscle, you burn more fat, even if you're just, say, blogging at your computer. Back in my glory days, I was into bodybuilding, but there's no need to spend hours at the gym. Today, my strength routine is very basic: crunches, push-ups, and dumbbell curls. I don't need a gym, and the only equipment I require is a light set of dumbbells.

Women, if you're afraid of bulking up, don't be. For the average woman, you have to do a lot of heavy lifting before you even begin to look bulky. Also, for both men and women, if you're looking to build big muscles, you'll want to lift heavy weights with fewer repetitions. If you're looking to tone your muscles, you'll want to lift lighter weights with more repetitions. Me? I'm not looking to recapture my bodybuilder physique. I'm using lighter weights and high repetitions so that I'll have some muscle tone when I reach my target weight.

Stretching doesn't increase fat burning, but it helps prevent injury. I have a bad back, and stretching exercises my hamstrings and butt helps to keep my back loose. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I keep meaning to take up yoga. Many, many people have recommended yoga to me. I haven't started it yet, but my stretching routine is largely based on some yoga exercises my ex-wife used to perform.

There's a really good book on stretching titled, oddly enough, Stretching. I highly recommend it.

If you want to lose weight, focus on aerobic exercise. Get out there and run, hike, walk, swim, cycle, and dance. For overall fitness, don't forget to strengthen and stretch.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Change Jar Principle

Like many of you, I have a change jar. I toss my loose change in it and don't think about it too much. It starts with an empty jar, then a handful of coins, slowly building up over time. After a year or two, I take it to one of those Coinstar machines. Depending on how long it's been since I last emptied out the change jar, I could have between $100-200.

Sometimes it seems like changes in our life come all at once, and sometimes I suppose they do. For the most part, though, I think these big events are a result of incremental changes or a series of choices we've made over time. Weight loss is a prime example. As of today, I have lost 70 pounds (with 53 still to lose). It didn't happen overnight. Over the last few months, every single day, I've made the choice to go for a long walk and eat healthy foods. Each day, I lose a few ounces – spare change. Every single time I make the choice to exercise and watch my diet, I add a little more change to that change jar. Over the course of a week, I'll lose 2-4 pounds. Weeks turn into months. Ounces turn into pounds. Pounds turn into tens of pounds. Assuming I continue making the same choices, I'll lose 123 pounds and hit my target weight sometime in December.

My fledgling career as a jazz musician is another example of incremental changes adding up over time. Six years ago, I was a beginning guitar player. Today, while I'm not earning enough to make a living at it yet, I'm performing quite a bit and sometimes (hold onto your seats) I'm getting paid for it. That's quite a jump for someone who didn't know a single guitar chord six years ago, but there have been a lot of choices and changes in between. The most important choice is to spend time practicing every day, usually 3-5 hours. You can't expect to land regular gigs until you've reached a certain level on your instrument. Other choices have included jumping at every opportunity to perform or rehearse with others. If I'm available, I always say yes if I'm asked to sub in a rehearsal with a big band. It doesn't matter that I'm not paid. What matters is that I'm gaining experience and networking with other musicians, some of whom may be in a position to hire or recommend me at a later date. I also play a whole bunch of non-paid gigs at restaurants and coffee shops. Again, it doesn't matter that I'm not paid. What matters is that I'm gaining performance experience, developing a repertoire, and occasionally meeting customers who may hire me to play at their party or wedding. Just a couple days ago, I booked a solo gig because someone heard me playing with On the Cool Side three months ago at a free gig. When I played that "nothing" gig, I put a little change in the change jar, and three months later I was hired to play for a VIP reception at the Decatur Book Festival, where I may very well meet other people who would like to hire me.

Someday, maybe in the next year, maybe in five or ten years, I may catch a break. Maybe I'll land a lucrative steady gig. Maybe I'll make a recording that sells well. Maybe I'll be hired to play in a name band. Or maybe I'll simply find that I'm extremely busy with a calendar full of well paid gigs. Whatever big thing suddenly happens, it'll only happen because I've been preparing for that moment, adding a little bit to my change jar every day through practicing and performing.

Maybe you want to lose weight, start a new career, go back to school, run a marathon, quit smoking, or climb a mountain. If there's a goal you want to accomplish, don't be discouraged if it's going to take you a long time to get there. Instead, use it as motivation. You already know it's not going to happen at once, so take small, easy actions. Every day, do something that will help you reach your goal, no matter how small it seems. Every coin adds a little bit to the pile.

Put a little change in the change jar, starting today.

A couple years ago, InTown Band (then Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey) cowrote a song called Change Jar. You can listen to it on our MySpace page.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I Sing

I'm singing a lot these days. As a matter of fact, I rarely play a purely instrumental gig. It wasn't always this way. Before I injured my lip, all of my professional life as a trombone player was spent performing instrumental music. When I took up guitar, it was the same. I've always thought of myself as an instrumentalist, and I came into singing reluctantly. Actually, that's not entirely true. I've enjoyed singing in choirs from time to time, but I've never considered myself a solo singer until recently.

Although I've been an instrumentalist most of my life, I've always been more attracted to singers. As a trombone player, I tried to emulate the expressiveness of a good singer. As a trombone teacher, I would often sing to my students to demonstrate a point, and I would sing to myself while practicing to help develop a better sense of phrasing.

This singing aesthetic carried over when I began playing jazz guitar. Sure, I listen to jazz guitar players, but I listen to a LOT of jazz singers. My collection of Ella Fitzgerald recordings is enormous! I listen to jazz singers for the same reason I used to listen to classical singers: to learn style and phrasing. Phrasing is something that guitar players often overlook. Our phrases aren't limited by our breathing, and as a result, many guitar players (and piano players) tend to play improvised solos in run-on sentences. I like to play my guitar solos like a singer, with shorter, more natural phrasing.

Whenever I learn a new song on guitar, I always learn the words right along with the melody and chords. Again, this helps with phrasing. Even if I'm playing a song as a guitar instrumental, I feel that knowing the words helps me put extra meaning into my playing. With this approach to playing guitar, I suppose it was inevitable that I would begin singing in public as a soloist.

To be honest, the main reason I started singing more often is because the tip jar fills up faster when there's a singer! Another reason I started singing is that it makes me more marketable. Most people prefer to listen to a singer rather than a solo guitarist.

I've since discovered that I truly enjoy singing these great jazz songs for an audience. I love, love, LOVE jazz songs, and it's fun to share these songs with others. Although I started solo singing for utilitarian reasons, the real reason I sing now is because I love it.

Here are a couple YouTube videos with singing:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Classical and Jazz

I have to admit that when I was in college, studying classical trombone, I looked down my nose at the jazzers. Maybe college has changed these days, but back in the dark ages, when I was an undergrad at the University of Illinois (1984-1988), there were clear factions in the music school. We classical musicians tended to dismiss jazzers as an inferior species, and I'm sure the jazzers held some similar notion of us. I had a small taste of the jazz world, playing bass trombone in some of the jazz bands, but I was never a full fledged member. Although I held myself in higher regard than those mere jazz mortals, I was secretly jealous of their ability to improvise.

It took living in the real world to figure out that neither kind of music is "better." It's all a matter of taste and preference. As Ellington said, there are only two types of music: good and bad.

In my experience, the biggest difference between classical and jazz is improvisation. There can be a certain amount of improvisation in classical music, but nothing like what you'll find in jazz. In small instrumental settings, the improvisation is often more important than the original melody. The emphasis is on the process of making music. The classical composer sits down and writes out the music in detail. When you listen to a live jazz performance, you're witnessing the musicians make it up as they go along. Sometimes they bomb, and sometimes it's pure magic. To me, playing jazz is often like stepping off a cliff and trusting that a bridge will appear.

There is less emphasis on music reading for jazz players. This can be a detriment. I've heard some jazz players joke that they read just enough so that it doesn't get in the way. Frankly, this sounds like an excuse for not learning to read as well as you could. I've never heard a good sight-reader complain that they read too well. Classical musicians, on the other hand, read extremely well. Their job is to stick to the script, playing the music note for note, with all the correct rhythms, dynamics, articulations, and anything else that's written. If you're a jazzer, you can get away with not being a good reader if you only play in small group settings, where you're expected to play around with the melody and make up your own accompaniment, but if you're going to play in a big band, you're going to need to be able to read, and that goes for guitar players, too. Even though I haven't been playing guitar very long, I'm the first call sub for a couple big bands in Atlanta, simply because I can read down the parts.

Although I'm a jazz guitar player now, I still draw on my experience as a classical trombonist. Sight-reading is probably the best example. Guitar players tend not to be very good readers, but this is my greatest strength. There are plenty of guitar players in town who can play faster, know more licks, and have a bigger repertoire, but I'd wager there are very few who can sight-read like I can. I've only been playing guitar for six years. Eventually, my technique is going to catch up with my reading ability. When it does, watch out!

Ironically, even though I reached a much higher level of playing on the trombone than I have reached thus far on the guitar, I'm a better improviser on the guitar than I ever was as a trombone player. Maybe I was too uptight as a trombonist. I was afraid of sounding bad, and when you're learning to improvise, you're going to sound plenty bad for a while. When I first started learning how to improvise on the guitar, I already knew I was going to sound bad at first, so it didn't matter. My self-consciousness was gone, and I simply allowed myself to sound bad until I started sounding better!

Whatever differences there may be in the music, I've found both classical and jazz musicians to be the same in one respect. For the most part, the musicians I've met are friendly and generous of spirit. It doesn't matter if you're donning a tux or a beret, reading note for note or playing it loose. What matters is that you play to the best of your ability, be supportive of whoever is playing the melody, and sing out with all your heart when it's your turn to lead. Classical or jazz, if it sounds good, it is good.

Losing It #8: Vocal Health

So far I've lost 66 pounds. I have 57 pounds to go before I reach my target weight. Through this process, I've experienced many positive changes. I look and feel better. My knees don't bother me as much. I have more confidence in my personal life and as a performer.

What I didn't realize was that my singing would improve with my weight loss. The exercise certainly helps. I have more stamina for long gigs, and I have better breath support. I think it's mainly the change in diet that has helped strengthen my voice. During the past few years, I've had a slight, constant cough. I couldn't breathe too deeply for fear of inducing a coughing fit. The less air I could take in, the less control I had over phrasing and pitch.

The following foods are bad for your vocal health: salty foods, fried foods, acidic foods (i.e. pizza sauce), and milk and dairy isn't so great, either. At my peak weight, I was eating lots of chips, ice cream, pizza, and fried foods. Hmm, does anyone see a correlation?

My diet is a lot cleaner these days: baked foods instead of fried, salads instead of french fries, and chips and ice cream aren't even in the picture. I changed my diet to lose weight, but it sure was a nice surprise to find that it's also helping to strengthen my singing voice.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Short Recording Session

This weekend, InTown Band had a short, four-hour recording session at Earthshaking Music. It was indeed brief. Although we reserved a four-hour block of studio time, only half of it was spent actually recording music. We spent about an hour setting up, and we spent another hour of time after recording to get a rough mix (balancing the volume levels of the instruments and voices). That left two hours to record. Amazingly, we knocked out seven songs in two hours, which is quite a feat if you consider that we rehearsed a bit, talked through a few things, and so forth.

I couldn't be happier with the result. We recorded nearly everything in one take, and we just had a few minor problems to fix along the way. Most recordings these days are highly overdubbed. Someone will record the rhythm parts first (to a click track), then someone else may overdub guitar or piano parts, and eventually the vocals will be added. It's a very precise way of recording, but it's also easy to create recordings that sound artificial. InTown Band basically created a live recording. We didn't add any special effects after the fact, and we didn't overdub layers of instruments. We wanted to capture our live sound, and we succeeded. What you'll hear on the recording is how we sound when we play live and in person, and I'm so happy with the way it turned out.

We still have work to do on the project. We'll most likely reserve another block of studio time to fix a few small things and then fine tune the mix. In another month or two, we'll have seven songs available for download, and we plan on recording a full album by the end of the year.

InTown Band is such a fun group. I love everybody in the band. We have a great time rehearsing and performing, and I feel we have a lot to offer with our original music. This short recording is a big step for us, and I hope it's just the beginning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Losing It #7: Halfway Home

I've lost 60 pounds since April 11, when I decided to lose weight once and for all. I still have 60 pounds to go before I reach my target weight of 200 pounds. The way things are going, I'm on target to reach my goal sometime in December. When I bit the bullet on April 11 and stepped on the scale for the first time in years, I was dearly hoping I wouldn't weigh over 300 pounds. My heart sank when I saw that I weighed 323. That was not a fun moment, but sometimes it's best to look truth in the face and just deal with it.

Many good things have happened since I started walking and watching my diet: a shrinking waistline, compliments from my friends, improved physical fitness, less pain in my knees, and greater self confidence. I've also noticed that others seem to be encouraged by my efforts. Many of my friends have either started or renewed their own exercise programs. It's a good feeling not only to be losing weight for myself, but also to know that I'm helping to motivate others to do the same. My story may help inspire others to exercise, but they in turn keep me motivated.

I wish I could play the martyr and write about how difficult this process has been for me, but to be honest, it hasn't been difficult at all. That's not to say that it's easy as pie (mmm…pie). Once I honestly and truly made the decision to lose weight, the rest fell into place. I'm an analytical person. To me, the process of losing weight is a numbers game. As long as I'm burning more calories than I consume, I'm losing weight.

The trick to weight loss is to make it a routine instead of something "special" that you have to endure until you've hit your target weight. I don't do anything crazy. I walk every morning for an hour. I restrict my calories but don't starve myself, and I avoid sugar. I don't keep junk food at home. I weigh myself every Sunday morning to monitor my progress. It's pretty simple. Once I've reached the 200 pound weight, I'll keep this routine. The only difference is that I'll be able to eat a bigger dinner and occasionally splurge on a treat…but I'll never again keep junk food in the house!