Making it Work: Performing When Physically Compromised, or Again with the Cracks. . .

My fingers are patched up and I made it through a couple hours of rehearsing this morning.  The thumb splits reopened but the crack in the left middle finger held.  I’ve resealed the splits and reinforced the middle finger crack with a liquid bandage that I started applying yesterday.  I have another rehearsal tonight of about three hours, one tomorrow night, Friday night and then a gig opening for The Tubes Saturday night.  With the liquid bandage I think I’ll be all right and not get too bloody.  The good news is that I just had my physical, along with my bloodwork coming back in.  No blood borne pathogens here, which is what I thought but it’s always good to have that type of opinion backed by science to prove it to be fact.  Oh, and I have a TV gig tomorrow afternoon as well, a taping session of three tunes that’s part of a Valentine’s Day program featuring Chicago area blues acts.  It’s at the Comcast Studios in Waukegan, Illinois, so here’s to that.

It wasn’t as cold in the basement this morning as it was last Thursday when the splits popped open on my thumb.  Playing in cooler environments provides me with some physical challenges.  For one thing, when the temperature is creeping under sixty degrees my hands stay quite dry, as well as the skin staying cold.  This creates a situation where the skin isn’t as flexible as it is in warmer temperatures, which leads to a greater potential for damaging it as occurred last week.  Additionally, the cooler it gets the colder the hands get no matter how hard the fingers are working.  What normally presents no speed issues suddenly breeds them as my hands simply never adequately warm up.  This also can increase the potential for acquiring a repetitive stress injury, because the muscles aren’t working in an optimal environment for relaxed movement.  Cold tends to exacerbate stiff tendons and muscles creating more tension than normally present, as well.

Right around sixty degrees used to be fine for me, but I’m getting older and my circulation isn’t what it used to be.  I have gigged outdoors when the temperatures have dropped into the low fifties, upper forties, which is downright unpleasant for a string player or any other player who can’t perform with gloves.  When I was in the southwest gigging, there were many outdoor gigs that started out at a comfortable temperature but had dropped pretty low after the sun went down and time spun along.  This was in the late fall and early winter, then early spring.  We did a lot of outdoor gigs during that time frame.  It’s pleasant to begin with, and many of the places have tall propane space heaters spread out across the patios, which keeps the folks outside eating and drinking for the evening, so you do your best to stay warm and play your heart out even if your fingers are starting to go numb.

I no longer live in the southwest.  Up here in the Chicago area, the outdoor gigs are over by the time October rolls in.  The restaurants that have music and patio dining start moving things inside as the weather starts getting dicey, so inside is the place to be.  The rehearsal areas are another thing, though, particularly if you’re not long on paying rent for a rehearsal space.  Band members’ basements are the preferred locations in this case, but they’re often not the warmest areas, particularly in the older homes like mine.  It’s still warmer than the garage with a kerosene heater though, and I’ve done plenty of time in those as well.  There, it can get painful after awhile though and the concrete flooring never really does warm up enough for my feet to not feel like ice blocks.  The basement is much better if the rest of the family can deal with the additional “noise.”

I get cracks every winter regardless of where I rehearse though, so it’s just something I have to deal with.  We all have something that we’ve simply got to play through, and we do what we can to insure that the job gets done.  For instance, Johnny A, an incredible guitarist who does awesome instrumental rock/lounge music has scoliosis, curvature of the spine.  Standing with his guitar strapped to his body for performance purposes causes him a great deal of pain, so he sits either on a stool or a chair for his performances.  It’s what works for him, so it’s what works best for the audience as well because he gives a great concert when he’s not in pain.  He and I share this issue, although mine isn’t as bad as his.  In my case I use the chair for rehearsals and gigs where I don’t have any room to move around.  If I’m stuck in one spot wedged in between the drummer and someone else all night, I’m in agony the next day.  Other people have other issues that they deal with as well.

The key to all of this is finding a way that makes the situation doable, like Johnny A with his chair, or sealing my cracked fingertips in as many coats of dab on bandage that will stay put.  There’s always going to be something that has the potential to create an impediment to a solid performance, and part of a performer’s responsibility is finding a way through the problem that delivers the goods expected.  Whether it’s summer heat, too much sweat gunking up the hands, mosquitos or whatever else the situation throws at you, it’s up to you to solve it one way or another, meet the commitment, and play your heart out regardless.  Now, it’s about time for another coat of liquid bandage. . .



Off Topic: The Social Media Mire

Social Media has become quite a pervasive entity in people’s lives.  We open accounts with the goal of finding and keeping up with friends that we’ve lost track of, to make new friends with shared interests, or to promote our businesses.  The bands I’m in use Facebook to promote their shows, as do thousands of other groups, artists, writers, dancers, and anyone who wants to be someone.  As people spend more and more time on these outlets, their lives and beliefs are being influenced whether they believe it or not.  Over the past few years I’ve watched the information that is being passed along, and have observed the willingness of folks to believe almost anything they see there, as long as it fits their preconceptions, and reinforces their personal beliefs.  Better yet, if it plays to their fears it becomes even more believable.  Combining this with the alt. right’s destruction of the public’s faith in the “main stream media” has created a conspiracy theorist’s dream come true, an open audience that will entertain accepting something as factual, that has absolutely no connection to truth, let alone correlation to it.

I used to view social media as a place where I could virtually hang with the peeps, and it still is to a certain extent.  Through Facebook, for instance, I’m in contact with many people from my past that I had lost touch with over the years and many over many moves from one part of the country to another.  Despite being a writer, I’ve never been much of a letter writer and although I’ve done better with email.   Facebook brings an element of immediacy to the connection that isn’t there with email.  You also can compartmentalize your interactions, without having to commit to full conversations.  This gives me a feeling of connection with these folks that I value, but in reality I don’t have to invest much effort to maintain the connection and neither do they.  In this aspect the entire connection is somewhat misleading in that it too, is virtual.  I’m not really interacting with these folks on any concretely meaningful level aside from maybe allowing myself and the people I’m following an opportunity to not feel isolated, even if in reality we are.

From my perspective this is one of the major negative issues with social media, the blurring of reality and fantasy, which extends to the quality of information that is being presented to its users.  People post meme after meme, attaching meaning to what is mostly a bumper sticker approach to communication.  Some of them are funny, which is fine because that is what they are meant to be, but all too frequently they’ve become rallying points for solidarity with some political or politico-religious statements where no-one bothers to check the veracity of the posts.  I’ve seen statements accepted as fact that any high school English student should be able to discern to be based on false premises through very light research and when presented with the factual information the response was, “well, it sounds like something he/she would have done. . .”  And that was the tenor; the person didn’t care about the facts.

Repetition is one of the ways that people convince others to believe things that aren’t factual, and social media is one of the largest purveyors of this type of communication.  There are laws about truth in advertising, and in advertising subliminal messaging is illegal in the US.  Repetition of misinformation, however, with the purpose to mislead the public isn’t ethically right, but it’s also not illegal and essentially that is one of the grand loopholes in the entire social media experience.  People are being misled on social media everyday by the millions.  People see the same thing over and over and eventually it starts to influence their beliefs.  They trust their friends who are reposting things that they have seen posted by other folks who’ve seen it somewhere on their feed and reposted it, so they accept it as fact without bothering to check the veracity of the so called information being presented.  Much of this type of information’s sources are not listed or made available, or is listed but the source is questionable at best due to either bias or shoddy reporting.  The more often it is seen and repeated, the more it worms into the beliefs of the folks reading or seeing it regardless of it’s actual credibility.

Yes, we are being manipulated every time we log onto social media, and it’s not by our actual friends or contacts, although they may unknowingly be contributing to the issue through reposting things.  We now know that Russia influenced our most recent election in the US in part through using social media to manipulate the American people’s beliefs about the candidates.  They ran a misinformation campaign on social media to support the individual they wanted to run the US for the next four years, someone who is a committed social media user himself, launching destructive twitter post after twitter post despite not even being in office yet.  If you choose not to believe that this is the case, just think about how a lie about you, or someone you know, was spread and ended up damaging that person on a personal level, or that person’s reputation because enough people believed it to make it accepted as fact among the majority of people around that person.  The remarkable thing about this is how easy it is to convince people to believe a lie, and then once they’ve bought into it, how difficult it is to make them believe the truth.


Tinkering: Minor Guitar Customization

Today I’m going to switch out my American Telecaster’s stock pickguard and Twisted Tele neck pickup with a Seymour Duncan 59’ Model humbucker and a new pearloid pickguard from Warmoth.  I got the pickup at Rainbow guitars in Tucson, Arizona after confirming that I wouldn’t need to rout out the body to install the humbucker.  All in all it should be an easy switch and while I will lose some of the characteristic Tele twang, I will gain a much much quieter guitar.  The Tele pickups tend to be noisy, which I find a bit on the annoying side despite loving the classic Tele sound.  I could have dropped a stacked pickup in the neck and preserved a more traditional Tele tone, but this way I’m going to get more power out of the neck as well so as far as that goes it’s a win.

I have a tendency to tinker with my guitars until I get them how I want them.  Some instruments are easier to adapt than others and I personally find Fender Strats and Teles to be some of the easier instruments to make changes on, particularly the American Standard series, which ceased production this year.  In more recent years these instruments are routed to accept a variety of pickups, primarily humbuckers and single coils, which opens up a range of possibilities when it comes down to personal customization without making any “permanent” changes in the structure of the bodies.  This ensures that the guitar can be returned to an original “stock” configuration at any time, provided you keep the original parts.

The American series also comes with a tilt adjust neck.  This provides for a very even string level up and down the fretboard when combined with the dual flex truss rod.  If the frets are installed and finished correctly, it is possible to set up these instruments with a flat fretboard and the strings virtually paralleling the board at an even height from the nut to the end of the fretboard.  This provides a fast clean playing experience that can cater to a reasonably wide range of personal tastes, once again without any “permanent” changes made to the instrument.  The tilt-adjust feature also eliminates using shimming material to make the adjustments.  Without tilt-adjust, in order to change the pitch of the neck, the neck must be removed from the body, a shim must be made, and then the instrument needs to be reassembled in order to check if it has reached the desired pitch, then repeated until satisfied.  This is time consuming.

Set neck instruments, like Gibsons, don’t have the tilt adjust feature.  Once the neck is glued in, its pitch in relation to the body is fixed.  Most of their electric guitars provide for adjustment of string angle through adjusting the bridge height, and often tailpiece as well.  While one can change out pickups, and tailor wiring to one’s desires, the options are not as wide, particularly when trying to avoid altering the body.  They are also somewhat less forgiving because there is quite a bit more exposed finish areas than found on most Fenders.  Access to the switching and wiring is also more spread out than on Fenders, in some ways.  It is possible to do most of the wiring of a Strat off of the guitar body itself, because the pickups and switch are all mounted on the pickguard.  After that it’s just the ground and the jack that need to be soldered and then it all drops in.  This isn’t the case with most Gibsons.  If you want to get the pot spacing right it often involves mounting everything and then doing the wiring while working in a cramped cavity and trying not to mark the finish anywhere.  It’s doable, of course, but attention to detail is a must because there are the added factors.

Once I learned how to set up my own instruments and basic wiring dos and don’ts, I’ve only taken my guitars to someone else when a much more difficult task was required, like a fret job.  I can do a fret job, but I know my limits and at this point doing a good refret/dressing is something I’d prefer to have a pro do.  It’s not something that I’m willing to accept as good enough for government work.  I’ve known folks who weren’t upset by a fret buzz here or there, but I’m not one of them.  So, today I tinker once again, and I’m hoping for a nice clean result, with no hum or buzz.  Time to get at it!


The Importance of Cross Training In Music

As a musician on the local level it is a very good practice to become a well-rounded player, particularly if you want to work with any regularity.  This becomes even more important if your goal is to significantly add to your earning potential.  It doesn’t mean that you need to be an expert in all genres, but at the very least you should be conversant with your instrument in several different genres.  This opens up the possibility of playing in variety bands, which is the primary type of group hired for corporate gigs and/or weddings, in other words the better paying gigs.  This doesn’t mean that you can’t aspire to being the go to player for blues in the area or, rock, country or whatever.  Everyone has a specific area where they’re in their prime environment, their specialty as it were.  But if you’re in it for the long haul, and at the very least to supplement your income, it is in your best interests as a player to branch out.

There are many benefits to reaching beyond your initial comfort zone.  For one, whatever you learn, and learn well, becomes integrated into your musical language.  For instance, if you understand what makes a decent solo and the vocabulary thereof, you might find yourself intermixing some aspects of this into your approach in another genre, like blues or rock.  This can provide a different perspective in how you approach your solos that can start to make you stand out from the usual assembly of licks that might comprise someone else’s blues solo.  Robben Ford is an excellent example of a player who is highly conversant in blues, jazz and rock forms.  He has in fact mastered all three, and while he is perfectly capable of delivering a high octane scorching blues solo he often digs into his multifaceted background to bring jazz and rock influences into his solos and choice of material.  In doing so he has created his own vocabulary which is quite rich in chord voicings, phrasing and delivery.  When you hear a Robben Ford solo, you know who you’re dealing with.

Listening is also an incredibly valuable practice to improve as a musician, and once again it is important to have an eclectic approach to what you listen to.  It is very important to be an active listener as well as a passive one.  Most of us listen to a ton of music throughout our days, but most of this is actually passive listening.  We’re listening to background music; it’s a soundtrack for our other work, exercise, or whatever we’re doing at the moment.  It slips in and out of our immediate attention, but mostly stays in the background.  This is passive listening; listening for fun.  Active listening is when the music is the absolute focal point.  You’re listening with a purpose, to understand what is going on in the tune, how it is structured, how the lyrics work or don’t and why, what the instrumentalist is doing while the vocalist is working, where the solos are and their shapes and colors.  All of these things, and more, lead to a better understanding of the art form, leading us to learn from the experience of hearing a piece of music.

So, how does listening play a part in becoming a more well-rounded player?  If we both actively and passively listen to a wide variety of musical genres it helps to create an inner pool of knowledge.  This is where we start to learn the characteristics that make up the vocabulary of the many different styles of music that we might encounter as a performer.  It enriches our background, and gives us so much more to draw on.  It exposes us to other areas that might become additional focal points of interest, and in doing so helps to ensure that as musicians our art form is a lifelong learning process.  Even a blues bass player can learn and employ what he or she has learned from listening to the orchestral works of J. S. Bach.  The man wrote beautifully constructed bass lines that serve the same purpose as a beautifully constructed blues bass line.  From looking at Bach’s bass lines, the blues bassist will learn about the values of contrary movement which will make his or her bass lines more interesting to hear, as well as to play, just as an example.

If you have a broad background to draw upon, the chances of working more, as well as maintaining interest in the art, increase dramatically.  People do get bored from too much repetition or too few challenges.  When you seek out knowledge of differing musical styles, the learning process is engaged, your repertoire increases, and your musical potential does as well.  If you want to even be a semi-pro player, it’s going to take work on your part as well as a dedication to both your art and your craft.  If you take a gig with a variety band you’re going to be crossing genres, which can both provide for an interesting gig as well as a challenging one.  You might face jazz, country, rock, blues, funk and R&B all in the same gig.  You don’t have to be Wes Montgomery, Vince Gill, Geddy Lee, Buddy Guy, and Otis Redding to do it all, but you will need to be able to represent the genres with a certain level of dexterity to successfully pull the gig off.


My Amp Just Died Halfway through the Gig: Now What?

It happens to us all at some point.  We’ve showed up at the venue, set up to play, hit the sound check and find that our amp has somehow died.  I’m a firm believer in being prepared for gigs but for most of us carrying a spare head, combo amp, or some other small refrigerator sized back up isn’t feasible either due to space in our vehicle or the expense involved.  I tend to go with a minimalist’s attitude that less is better, between my aging back, smaller car and narrower wallet, but if my amp dies during a show I’ve got to come up with a solution, otherwise the show is blown, my bandmates are less than happy, the venue owner is even less happy, and everyone involved loses cash.  Often there’s a written contract involved as well, and there aren’t provisions built in for a night with faulty equipment, or missing equipment.

Sometimes it’s an effects pedal, and for something that simple it’s not a crisis, but when it’s an amp or instrument, then there’s a real problem.  For bass players it’s actually less of a problem than for other instruments, particularly if there is a good PA system at the venue or being supplied to the venue.  In this case the bassist can simply go direct, get a good mix in the monitors and mains, and away you go.  It does really help, however if the bass player happens to have a good direct box to run through in the event of an amp failure.  Tech 21 and Radial make excellent DIs for bass players that fit in a gig bag pocket, can run on batteries, and can bridge that gap really well.  It’s not quite the same as your actual rig, but if you’re in a jam they will do the trick in a pinch.  I have a Tech 21 DI that I’ve used for this type of situation, as well as when I’ve had to fly somewhere else without my gear after playing a gig elsewhere.  You can get a decent tone and response from them with a little tweaking between the sound guy and the bass player.

Acoustic instruments are also easy fixes.  In fact most acoustic players are pretty flexible and are used to dealing with mics vs. on board electronics, vs. DIs or amplifiers.  Acoustic players more often than not are running into the board of the PA system, either through a direct box or just plugging in.  The instrument that usually can cause the most consternation is the electric guitar.  There are some companies, like Tech 21, who do make a DI designed specifically for the electric guitar.  Some guitarists use them or something like the Line 6 Pod.  These will do in a pinch, but for most guitarists it yields less than satisfying results.  I haven’t found a way that I’m satisfied with when trying to run my electric guitars directly into a mixing board regardless of whether I have been using a solid state or tube amp.  The instrument’s tone seems to lack body, but that’s just my take on it and perhaps I simply haven’t found the right combination for me.

Small things are usually no big deal.  We bring extra strings, batteries, cables, patch cords, and a plethora of other items as well as the tools we need for changing strings and taking care of other minor maintenance issues that might arise.  Bass players tend to go lighter in some ways.  It’s extraordinarily rare for a bass player to break a string, and it’s not at all unusual for a bass player to bring a single instrument for local gigging.  For touring purposes there’s usually a back up, but not so much for the local warriors.  Guitarists usually bring more than one guitar, particularly rock guitarists.  Sometimes it’s for tonal reasons, but let’s face it, some types of music are more conducive to string breakage than others.  Plus there’s the amount of time required to change a string.  Some guitars are designed in such a way that it’s fairly quick, but when there’s a Floyd Rose tremolo involved it’s a much more complicated process where a back up guitar really makes a ton of sense.

Regardless of what instrument one plays there are always considerations to be taken into account when it comes to choosing what to bring and what to leave behind on the gig.  When you’re relying on a piece of equipment the size of a refrigerator to produce your sound, your amp, it’s a good idea to take into account that at some point that appliance is going to fail and have a plan for what to do if it does so on a gig.  Spend some time exploring options like those mentioned above before buying a bigger vehicle to haul around twice the amount of equipment than you need.  Look into some direct boxes at your local music stores and see if they’ll let you run them into a PA to check the tonal response possible through them.  They might save you some cash and wear on your back as well!


Making Your Own Luck

This past Saturday night I played a gig in a bar north of Chicago as part of a blues/rock quartet. I played bass. The other instrumentation was pretty much the standard format I’ve been playing with for the past four years or so, guitar, keys and drums. There wasn’t much of a crowd, but we had the people who were there up and dancing for most of the night until it was time to pack up and head home. The owner and bar help were happy and so were the customers. We collected our pay, parted ways cheerfully and I was home by a little after 2 a.m. When we started at 8:40 things were sparse, but we made the music and brought it together, which is what professionals do even when it looks like a losing bet. You never know what is going to happen, or who is going to show up, so you do your best regardless.

We made our own luck with the situation we were given because we delivered the goods regardless of how many people were there. This meant that the people who were present responded and we pulled them from the room where the bar was into the one where the band was set up. We were fortunate that the place was set up with a large open area between the two rooms. Some places I’ve performed in, quite a few of them really, aren’t set up this way and the bar area is almost cut off from the dance floor and band stand. The places with that set up generally are ones that weren’t designed to be bars, and are often a couple of store fronts that have been rented and combined to produce a larger capacity. This can create a difficult situation for bands performing in these venues. People like to have easy access to their libations.

You also never know who is going to show up where you’re playing. This may sound like a cliché but as with most clichés there is a kernel of truth there. I have an acquaintance who is a very skilled guitarist who lives on the east coast. He and his wife have a duo, kind of a Tuck and Patti type of thing where she sings and he plays. They play restaurants, corporate gigs and various other events together. They were playing somewhere a couple of weekends ago and in walked Stevie Wonder who was so taken with what they were doing he asked if he could sit in with them. My friend posted footage of one of the tunes they did together on Facebook and it was clear that the three of them were having a great time together. Will it lead to them moving up in musical circles? Maybe yes, or maybe no, but it certainly made for a cherished memory that they’ll have for the rest of their lives.

Granted, we’ve all done gigs in tiny little towns where the only folks who are present are locals who don’t have anywhere else to go. I was in a band in Peoria, Illinois that specialized in doing gigs in tiny farming communities where there would be only one or two establishments at a crossroads or two street town. They were fun gigs and the audiences were always appreciative. They were also almost always tiny clubs where the crowd was made up of dedicated regulars. We’d play our hearts out just the same, regardless of who showed up or didn’t for that matter, and we’d get asked back because we did it. It really doesn’t matter, you perform every time to the best you are capable.

Many of us do, however, have stories like my friend’s though, enough so that we should all listen to them and heed them well. After the movie “Walk the Line” came out I was playing with a cowboy rock and roll band. I was loading my bass rig into a club in Texas owned at the time by Willie Nelson’s stage manager, and there sitting alone at a table was Joaquin Phoenix. I was busy, but we locked eyes and nodded hello to each other and I finished my load in. You really never know and you really don’t want to be surprised on a night when you’ve decided nobody is there so why work it. You work it every time you open your case and set up to play. It’s what you do and who you are, so whatever you do, don’t mail it in.

Criticism: A Vital Part of the Learning Experience

I once had a cat who was a music critic. I was maybe 10 or 11 and had been taking guitar lessons for a couple years. I had cruised through the first four or five Mel Bay Method books in the first year and had started classical lessons in the second. I was working on some easy Bach, some Renaissance lute music, the Carcassi Method, Fernando Sor and the like. My father had followed along with me and was working on some similar pieces. The cat was really funny about the whole thing. When I’d play he’d come into the room and curl up in my guitar case, hanging out with me while I worked through my daily practice. When my dad did his daily practice the cat always left the room, often with his tail twitching.

My dog likes to hang out with me when I practice today and he’s definitely not the critic that my cat was so many years ago. George just wants to be with me, his pack leader, so he comes in and hangs out until I get too loud for him or he wants to go over to the much softer couch in the living room. I do know though that he hates noise, particularly loud noise, and he tries to avoid being anywhere near it, so I guess I’m still doing ok with the music making if he’s hanging out. He does interrupt me from time to time, shoving his nose under my hand while I’m running scales because he’d rather have his ears rubbed than listen to the up down cycle. Can’t say I blame him on that too much. Most of the time I’d rather rub his ears than run scales anyway. But the work still needs to be done in one way or another.

Criticism, whether it is from one of our pets, a loved one, someone we respect or someone we don’t even know, is something that we all need to learn to deal with. We need to learn how to accept criticism that is meant to help us, constructive criticism, and ignore that which is ignorant or spiteful. We need to be able to accept praise gracefully, even if we feel we haven’t really earned it, and accept uncomfortable points just as gracefully. The learning process in any field always involves application of what we’ve learned and then evaluation of what we’ve done with the knowledge. It helps us discern what we need to work harder on, what we can do to fix a problem, and different approaches to the same or similar problem. Some criticism is designed to be destructive and we need to learn how to identify that criticism and differentiate it from that which is intended to help us become better than we were before. Ignore that which harms and embrace that which helps.

My pets couldn’t and can’t really communicate anything other than support or indifference, but they were and are sincere. Due to this I try to keep their response in mind because they have to listen to me. Other criticism I try to welcome as much as I can, and I try to be as open to it as I can, even after being a musician for 45 years.   When I stop learning from the process, then there is no opportunity for growth and I want to keep on growing until the day I die. However, you can’t solely rely on the criticism of others; you need to learn to be able to take an objective look at what you are doing, evaluate it, then recognize the shortcomings and create a plan to improve them. So, you must also be your own critic, particularly when you reach the point where you are no longer actively studying under another musician. The hard part with this is to learn to recognize and give credit to yourself for what you’ve done well and to not berate yourself for failures or mistakes. Good teachers give credit where it is deserved and then focus on what can be a learning opportunity. They encourage even as they provided valuable critical feedback. This is what you need to do for yourself as well.

Learning to accept praise and criticism are both parts of becoming a better performer and a better musician. Whether it’s paying attention to the behavioral patterns of your pets while you are playing, engaging with your audience during and after a performance, working with a teacher, or coaching yourself, being able to handle, interpret and apply critical analysis is vital to becoming all you can be as a professional in any field. It is an incredibly vital part of the learning process and as such should be fully embraced and practiced on a regular basis. Now where did my dog go. . .