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 April 14, 2016

By  alswainger


Better is what you make it..

Better  could mean all sorts of things...

It doesn't inherently mean faster, more complicated, louder or more expensive.

It doesn't inherently mean slower, less complicated, quieter or cheaper.

It doesn't inherently mean more familiar.

It doesn't inherently mean less familiar.

It can mean any of those things to individuals , small groups of people or large groups of people but I'll stick my neck out and say not everyone at once.

All of those things are probably going to be considered better at some point during a person's life with regard to something.

The important thing is that it must create a perception of increased value to the person taking the measurement.

We like to think that there are 'absolute' measurements for perceiving 'better'. We set rules in place to decide this for us and often accept them unthinkingly. There are places where this can work but breaks down fast once there's a disagreement about what better means. In the end it's entirely subjective

Welcome to ten minutes inside my brain...

Since I've sat here I've had to make decisions about which coffee would be better, whether to sit downstairs or upstairs, where to sit when I get there, whether to ask the guy who brought my coffee how to log on to the wi-fi, whether to write about those thought processes in this article.

Unfortunately for you I have...

​Of limited seating, because the place is busy, I opt for a low table with a sofa. It has a socket next to it. If I choose to plug my laptop in that would be better.

The guy arrives with my coffee and I ask how to log on to the wi-fi.

(In the previous place where I ate I wanted water but didn't want to buy any. I could see they had glasses on the side but also water for sale so I was unsure whether tap water was an option. I chose not to ask thinking it would be better not to open myself up to the potential embarrassment of asking for something that wasn't on offer. I hoped that I would be able to deduce an answer from the behaviour of other customers. This didn't happen though and one person was using a provided glass to drink purchased coke from - furthering my uncertainty. On my way to the toilet as I was leaving I noticed a fridge containing the bottles of tap water I had been unable to discern during my meal. My life would have been better if I had just asked)...

In this fresh situation I have asked. I feel my choice was better than last time and, temporarily at least, I've become more like the sort of person I would like to be. In brief - better.

Shortly afterwards more seating choices become available.

I now have a choice of :

Staying where I am - the least hassle but I am slouched over the laptop and sat at an angle because of the camber of the cushions. This is uncomfortable but I'll also lose access to the socket...

...Moving to a table with regular chairs but next to a group of reasonably noisy people. The chairs  and the higher table will be better for my posture but the noise made by the people will be more disruptive to my thought processes...

...Or move to a small table in the window with a stool. I choose this option because I fancy looking out of the window. I perceive this as better than not being able to look out of a window. Once I've moved my stuff and sit down I realise that the table legs are really close together and I can't squeeze my legs underneath. I can rotate the table though so now I have just one leg in front of me and I can put my legs either side of it comfortably . This is better. Doing so also reveals that the table is wonky and dips under pressure to one side. Overall though my position is better than it was a few minutes earlier despite not being better to the degree I had anticipated.

Hardly mind blowing stuff and I feel you'd be quite fair in telling me that it was outright boring. A great many people would probably go on to tell me I'm WAY over thinking it all and my life would be better without doing so. My position is that I'm doing all that thinking anyway on a subconscious level and I've just chosen to bring it to the surface as an awareness exercise. Which, to me, is better than not doing so. On this occasion anyway...

However, all of the decisions I've just described about making my life better are subject to this particular instance. If I came back tomorrow my decisions might well be different - I would need to adapt to a slightly alternate set of parameters. Another person in the same situation would probably make different choices. They would still perceive themselves as making choices to better their experience though, consciously or not.

​So how does any of this help in situations that actually matter to me?

I'm a musician. I want to be a better musician. I have an idea of what I'd like to sound like, the sort of music that I want to play, the sort of musicians that I'd like to play it with, the sort of venues that I'd like to play in. All of these things give me something to aspire to. They are also fluid. Until I achieve any of these things they provide a whole canon of things that I perceive I need to work towards to achieve them.

Today it might be working with a metronome in this way, or that way, or another way. Tomorrow it might be working out exactly how I want to play two notes in succession - using my fingers, index first, middle first, pull- off, slide in, slide up to both notes, use a pick, swell into the first note etc. In those instances I'm going to work on my consistency and range of options.  I can probably transfer those skills to a range of different styles of music.

If I want to work on my jazz though I'd be better off working on this chord change than that one. That tune, rather than this one. Listening more to this player than that one.

All of that is cool for me being a bedroom musician but I need real world experience too. Can I function in the same way with the stress of an audience watching me? Now that other musicians are involved can I still do the things that I practiced or are they going to put me off? Can I work out how to adapt the ideas I worked on so that they fit better with what the other players would like to do?

I might be great at those things but no-one has ever heard of me outside the one pub I get to play at in my home town so I need to work out how to address that. I could build a website, go to a jam session, pick up the phone and hustle for a gig, make a youtube video, put up posters in the library. All of those things would help make me better achieve my goals too. All of those things also require a huge number of skills that I can slowly work on to make me better.

Do I want to specialise in some areas or get a grasp of a wide range of things. Which options do I think are better?

Am I at exactly the same stage as I was yesterday with everything or did I work on one (or more) of all the many, many things I said I wanted to achieve in my life?

​Are you better than you were yesterday?

Better is what you make it.

What can you do to be better today?


​Al has performed, recorded and taught all over the country and internationally for more than 25 years.

Highlights include sessions, tours and workshops with :

Peter King, Grice, Paul Jones, P.P. Arnold, Scott Hamilton, Siobhan McCrudden, Gary Bamford, Gilad Atzmon, Mike Outram, Alan Barnes, Ant Law and many more as well as h​is own projects :

Pointless Beauty, Biophosmos, Snow Giants and Mahatmosphere.

As an educator he has taught for schools, colleges and privately for more than 25 years and has a BA (Hons) / PGCE in Music.

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