Riffin' on GTD - Next Action Associates

Bass Guitar

Earlier in the month I took a week off, as I do every year, to join a group of about 80 musicians who gather to play jazz music in the hills of Surrey here in England. It’s an intense week, about 14 hours a day for seven days, filled with rehearsals, workshops, impromptu concerts, communal meals, and lots of wonderful music. The group is a mix of professional and not-so professional musicians on all variety of instruments from saxophones to trumpeters to vocalists. The bass is my “axe” (a bit of jazz lingo there).

Mostly I view this week as a chance to indulge in my love of the music and to engage very different parts of the brain than I use in the 9-to-5. But this week it occurred to me to see whether GTD principles could be helpfully applied during my jazz retreat, to generate better results.

The framework that came to mind was The Natural Planning Model. In our seminars and coaching we contend that as human beings we are planning animals; that we plan constantly. The Natural Planning Model simply makes explicit what we do when we plan, giving us the opportunity to ensure that our thinking has been as comprehensive and refined as possible.

As I was getting ready to play a tune with a small ensemble one evening, I ran through the model in my mind:

First consideration – purpose and principles.

Why am I up here? What’s the purpose of the bass in this ensemble? What principles are important to my performance here?

Well, in jazz, the bass is primarily about supporting the other instruments, especially during their improvised solos. With that in mind, let’s make sure my playing is steady (but swinging, natch – this is jazz after all). On my solo, I can let rip a bit, so the underlying principles are more about making what I’m playing melodic and interesting.

Second consideration – what would wild success look like on this song?

It only took me a second to come up with this.  The guy who arranges the get-together every year is a professional trumpeter named Gabriel, and if he really likes what he hears from the stage you’ll hear him say “yeah, man” in his distinctive baritone. Wild success = “yeah, man.”

Third – brainstorming.

I had a look through the music in front of me as I brainstormed. As a jazz bassist you’re generally not given much detail about a song – just the chords usually – and your job is to improvise a bass line based on those foundations. I had had a rehearsal with the other bass players earlier in the day, and had learned some interesting note progressions – any of that to apply here? Should I play bits of the melody during my solo? The bass doesn’t generally do that, so  that could add some unexpected colour.

Fourth – organising.

Alright, the drummer is getting ready to count the song off, so time to get organised. I’ll insert that riff from this morning here, the first four bars of the melody in my solo. Off we go.

Fifth – what are next actions?

As I played, I was making dozens of next action decisions, namely, which notes to play. But, this being jazz, most of those decisions were made in the moment, not planned in a traditional sense. That said, I found the organising that I had done very helpful – the melody I threw into my solo got several appreciative smiles from the crowd. Also, my mind kept going back to the principles – keep it steady, support the other musicians, make sure it’s swinging. Also, because I had done a bit of organising beforehand, I found my head was clearer, which meant a better performance.

In case you’re wondering about the outcome: about half way through my solo I heard a distinctive baritone from the balcony: “yeah, man”.




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