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Installment #6 - Taking Inventory

When learning any worthy subject there are times when it seems as though you aren't progressing one bit. Perhaps you're putting in practice time but you're stuck on something that you don't "get." Or maybe you're playing a gig or a rehearsal, and you just can't seem to break out of your standard bag of tricks. Or perhaps you're just not feeling inspired.

Even if your practicing or playing is going very well there's a good chance that you'll find value in this exercise - taking inventory. In the retail business taking inventory involves taking everything in the store off the shelves and out of the storeroom and counting it, which tells you which things are selling and which are not, what you need to re-order, and so on. Crucial to running a business, it also appears in the general lexicon as "taking stock," meaning to evaluate your options.

What I'm talking about doing is the same, except that the "goods" that you'll be inventorying consist of what you know how to play on your instrument. It's most helpful to document this process with whatever media works best for you - a notebook of some kind (preferably one with a lot of pages), music paper, a tape recorder or mini-disk player - and simply start listing what you know how to play. Songs are an easy place to start. How many songs can you list - ones you know all the way through? How about ones that you can play parts of? You might write the titles out and use a rating system for how well you know them, such as a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 meaning barely at all and 5 near flawless. But in actuality, you can start your inventory with anything - chords, scales, favorite licks, solos that you've transcribed - whatever will get you started on this path. I suggest once you begin this undertaking that you stay with it for several days to a couple of weeks, because the results might not seem obvious at first, but will be more than worth the effort if you persist.

Some things to think about:

* Try and remember when you didn't play the guitar at all. Compare that memory to your current inventory.

* Does thinking about all the things you already know how to play give you any ideas for new things to play? Can you pretend all these songs, licks, chords, scales, and techniques are guests at a very interesting party? What would they say to each other?

* Does thinking about and perhaps playing your entire "repertoire" make obvious any areas that need work, something you've been neglecting?

* Can you think of any other advantages that I haven't mentioned?

As you're focusing on these and other thoughts, take the time to write down or speak your impressions. This is a tried and true technique for helping you get unstuck in your musical routine - or any routine for that matter.

For those of you interested in learning more about ruts and why they occur I suggest a great little book by George Leonard called "Mastery."

Last, whether your inventory is three songs or three hundred, one scale or dozens, be thankful for what you know. You might call it "counting your blessings."

Until next week, happy practicing!