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Mark Lettieri on playing with Snarky Puppy and life as a touring musician

mark lettieri

Photo courtesy of Alexander Ariff

Mark Lettieri is one of the three guitar players of Grammy Award-winning band Snarky Puppy. If you have never heard of this band, head over to Youtube and check them out, you won’t regret.

But don’t forget to come back!

Mark Lettieri is a busy guy. As a session player he works with many different artists: Erykah Badu, Phillip Phillips or Tamela Mann. He has also released two instrumental albums under his own name and currently is working on his third album.

I was amazed by Mark’s guitar skills the first time I saw him playing. His unique style incorporates many genres and influences from Eddie Van Halen to Wayne Krantz. His solid rhythmic foundation gives his guitar solos almost “danceable” qualities. To my ears he sounds very fresh and innovative.

My goal for this interview was to uncover some “secret” strategies that Mark uses to develop his extraordinary guitar skills. We were talking about his guitar practice routine, creativity and the importance of talent for your growth as a musician.

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I can’t get myself to practice guitar

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I was upset. It was 8:48 AM and I was still lying in bed.

Last night plans were little bit different: I wanted to wake up early, get my guitar practice done and do a little songwriting.

But none of that was happening since I was not able to get up.

“Screw that,” I told to myself and I threw the blanket away.

I was furious.

“This is ridiculous,why can’t I get myself to practice in the morning? “

You would not want to meet me that morning. I was a wreck.

Even though I had all the drive and hunger for learning and improving myself, I was not following through. The person that I met in the mirror every morning was not the same motivated person that went to bed the day before.

I knew that motivation was not my problem; I was eager to learn, practice and compose, but somehow I was not able to realize this in the morning. At that time, I loved my bed more than I loved my guitar. I used to be an early riser but then life happened and I found myself getting up later and later. And the fact that I was sleeping a lot was not helping much – I didn’t feel energized at all.

The problem was that by the time I was ready to start playing and practicing, it was too late to do what I had intended because there was all this other stuff that must get done. So instead of having a focused practice session, I was just rushing through everything; suddenly there was so much I would like to do.

As I was thinking about all this, I was finally calming down a little bit. I took few deep breaths to feel more relaxed. “Being pissed about this situation won’t help so I rather get myself together. It is what it is, if I don’t like it, I am the one who can change it.”

So I made myself a cup of coffee, grabbed a pen and piece of paper and started to think about my current situation.

Why am I not able to wake up when the alarm goes off? Why do I procrastinate on the stuff that matters the most to me? Where did I lose my discipline and commitment?

Answering these questions made me realize that in order to change my current situation I don’t need to make some heroic changes. I don’t have to wake up at 3 AM to get where I want to get. I just need to do a couple of changes to my daily routine so the important stuff gets done as soon as possible.

From past experience I knew that massive change can be accomplished by applying few small changes and improving just few things. That’s how compound effect works.

As I was considering what changes do I need to make, I remembered a quote by Stanford psychologist B.J. Fogg:

There’s just one way to radically change your behavior: radically change your environment.

So simple and easy.

Instead of motivating myself, which would be useless in my situation since I had all the motivation that I needed, I started to look for ways how could I improve my environment in a way that would support my actions. And it didn’t take long to find bunch of them.

As you probably know, most actions that we do on a day to day basis are habitual, that means we do them on auto-pilot. If some of these actions are not helpful and we want to change them, the easiest way is to manipulate our environment so the unwanted behaviors are impossible to do. Think, not having internet connection in a place where you need to focus.

On the contrary, the behaviors that we would like to do more should be very easy to do.

Again, B.J.Fogg:

Goals are harmful unless they guide you to make specific behaviors easier to do. Don’t focus your motivation on doing Behavior X. Instead, focus on making Behavior X easier to do.

Based on B.J. Fogg’s advice here are four rules that I’ve incorporated to get my guitar practice under control again:

  • Have a dedicated place for your guitar practice session
  • Decide WHEN you are going to practice in advance
  • Decide WHAT you are going to practice in advance
  • Make EVERYTHING ready the day before

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