Q & A with Leo Babauta of Zen Habits

by guitarkadia on February 24, 2009

in Interviews, Non-Guitar Dosage

leoFor those of you who don’t know who he is (yes, the 5 of you) Leo Babauta is the author of the extremely popular, Zen Habits. If that title alone doesn’t give you an idea what he writes about, you ought to check out his starter guide page.

Why Leo for Guitarkadia? First of all, if you read his ‘about page’ it will inspire you no matter who you are, musician or not. Secondly, his work and writing focus on an aspect of life, if not the only, and that is ‘clarity’. Sometimes you get clarity by simplifying, sometimes by doing less, and sometimes by refocusing. I think he is the right person to talk about the power of less. He has written a book about.

Now I don’t need to tell you how all these things would make sense to you as a guitar player. Or…how the guitar makes sense to non-guitar players. It’s just that, it does. How about we talk guitar with Leo?

Leo Babauta: [Zen Habits] [The Power of Less] [The Power of Less Blog] [Twitter]

G: What kind of music were you listening to growing up? What are you
listening to these days? What’s your top 3 favorite guitar albums, if you
have any?

LB: I was a fan of the Beatles, music from the 60s, Bob Dylan, Dire
Straights, Tracy Chapman. Today, I like mellow music like Jack
Johnson, Snow Patrol, Ben Harper, Feist as well as some rock like
Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, the Spoons, Yeah
Yeah Yeahs, the Killers, the Ting Tings and Weezer.

G: What is your favorite instrument and why do you like it? Do you play

LB: I love guitar! I’m also a fan of the cello. I don’t play any
instrument, though I still want to learn guitar — my dad plays (as an
amateur) and played to us when I was a kid.


G: What do most people not understand about Zen Habits and The Power of Less?

LB: The most important parts of my philosophy relate to small things:
always start small, take baby steps, improve gradually, focus on less,
simplify, and do one thing at a time. When you’ve grasped these simple
concepts, anything is possible.

G: What habits do you think guitar players need to form to become better focused towards their goals?

LB: I’d say beginner guitar players probably need to get into the habit of
playing regularly — set aside a time each day and make it a habit.
For more experienced players, who have a lot of other goals, I’d
recommend focusing on one goal at a time. You’ll be much more
effective with them, and accomplish them more regularly. Complete one
goal, move on to the next.

G: Can one compare the practice of writing and blogging to practicing the
guitar? What key elements make for fruitful practice time?

LB: Both writing and playing are creative expressions, and both take hard
work. It’s important to learn to be in the moment when doing either —
clear away other distractions, learn to focus only on what you’re
doing, really pour yourself into it, until the world around you
disappears. It’s the most effective way to do anything, especially
something creative, and it’s a lot more fulfilling to work this way as

G: How has music played a part in your life, esp. during the changes you’ve
made in the past few years?

Music, for me, is inspiration. It inspires me when I write — and in
fact inspires me to write. It inspires me when I run. It brings peace
to my life at times, and other times excitement. It moves my soul and
brings happiness.

G: If you were a guitar, what type of guitar would you be? Which guitar
player would be perfect for you? And what would be your favorite track from
the first album?

LB: Definitely an acoustic guitar, although I like all kinds. My favorite
guitar players are probably Jack Johnson and Mark Knopfler (of Dire
Straits), although I like so many that it’s hard to choose. My
favorite track? Gosh, it’s so hard to decide! Right now I think I’d
choose “Breakdown” from Jack Johnson, although tomorrow I might choose
something else. 🙂

Like this interview? Check out some more over here. [Interview with Iron Horse, Mar 2nd]

Kelly February 24, 2009 at 3:45 pm

Very cool interview – relevant to SO many things. Thanks, Emon!

emon February 24, 2009 at 4:25 pm

Thank you, Kelly!

Dee February 25, 2009 at 11:57 am

A guitar blogger wouldn’t normally think of interviewing Leo… but as you said.. ‘the power of less’ doesn’t only make sense to musicians, it actually makes sense in every way. Thanks for the great interview!

Dustin @ Beating the Grind February 27, 2009 at 10:16 am

As a regular reader of Zen Habits a blogger myself and a guitar player this interview was a fun read!

I know from the work I’ve put into playing guitar over the past 15 years that to be a good guitar player you must play consistently each and every day. On top of that you really need to study scales, harmony, ear training and songwriting.

Thanks for the interview!

Sebastian Varga March 5, 2009 at 6:21 am

Nice Interview and although Leo is not a guitar player his tips are absolutely right. I want to add some more specific ones to his tips:

– Find one or two good guitars and stick with them. Don’t always look for better ones. The ones you have are most of the times alright. Mark Knopfler will sound great on an 500$ guitar, not only on the 50,000 $ axe you always dreamed of. Put your energy in playing.
– Focus on playing. I often got side tracked in figuring out which kind of pick I should play. Or what sort of strings I should use. If you can’t decide, play without a pick. Use the strings everyone is using. The moment someone from the audience will stand up and say: “your music is wonderful because I can hear you play xyz-strings…” I will start caring about those particular strings… 🙂
– No effects while practicing. Effects are great in a show and to give your songs the extra little bit of edge. But if you put all your effort and skill into dealing with the effects your playing will suffer.
– Practice on an acoustic guitar. An acoustic guitar is merciless to sloppy playing.

Kyle October 12, 2009 at 9:10 pm

It’s great to interview those who aren’t musicians once in awhile. That way you get a totally different perspective on the subject.

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