I play what we can play, not me. I never play what I can play. I’m always playing way over and above what I can play.”

~ Miles Davis

When this guy was in the room, I played better.

We first met Randolf Arriola when I was  about 17 years old. My bandmates and I saved up enough money to go into a recording studio (recall that this was in the late 1990’s when home recording equipment was not yet readily available) to attempt to demo some of our songs. Back then, Randolf was working as an assistant sound engineer with Freddy, who owns this suave  studio*. Frankly, we weren’t so sure we could afford recording there.

Fast forward a few weeks, we abandoned recording at Freddy’s studio. In gist, he made us sound horrible. He said with some confidence, “I can make you sound like Collective Soul.”  We said, “What?”  We collectively didn’t want to sound like them. It was not what we had in mind. We were smothered by bands like the Verve, Radiohead, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, etc. Not Collective Soul.

Instead, we bailed out of the formal recording studio and we ended up at Randolf’s tiny room where he lived with his parents in a two-bed room apartment. His bedroom could fit a single bed, a 16 channel mixing, some rack mount stuff, a handful of guitars, and a PC with a monitor. That’s it.

As for the humans, we could fit about 3 to 4 other people in there. Randolf would be sitting on a stool designated for him to face the screen, while the rest of us took turns to sit beside him to review the tracks that we were recording. Forgot about “rockin’ in a free world” and head banging recklessly. There was literally no room for that. With all the equipment around us, we were sardines in a tin can.

We stuck with Randolf for years to come thereafter. He ended up not only becoming our sound engineer and co-producer, he also became our mentor, collaborator, and session guitarist. He was our Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois is to U2, all packed into one person. I mean, this was guy knew every detail about music, from the gears, song craft, repairing instruments, modifying stomp boxes, producing, sound engineer… He was his own company.

The truth is, when he was around us, he raised the bar of our performance. I mean, we were by no means U2 (or collective soul for that matter). The point is that we ended up playing better than we can. (Check out Randolf performing with us at the Esplanade in Singapore 6 years ago).

I believe this came from Randolf’s deep devotion to the craft. And he has this uncanny ability to be so specific about what we can do to push our songs, ourselves, individually and collectively to the next level.

We spent so many nights talking about music, listening to music and riffing about it. I was introduced to a plethora of wide range of music from my bandmates and Randolf.  He personified music. I learned so much about the psychology behind music from him, and how to simplify from the BS and get to the heart of things.

He was critical, but not criticising. He pushed us, but never made us feel small.

Instead, he made us feel like the hero on our hero’s journey.

Combined with some home-brewed 4 and 8 track records we made on our own and Randolf’s tiny home studio recordings, we released an album together. (We were not in the top of the charts,  nor were we expecting to. We just loved music making. In fact, after some time the album got so painful a process that we just wanted to get it out of the way!). In no small ways, it was a  life lesson still embedded in me more than a decade later.

I picked up two key takeaways from my musical journey: 

1. Seek out a few people who can guide me in specific areas,

2.  Stay close to someone who is better than you.

Randolf is a freakin’ brilliant musician in his own right. Watch him do his magic with real-time live looping.

Here’s Randolf featured in TedX:

This speaks to  our work as therapists.

We need a good coach. We need someone who we can help us raise the bar of our performance, and help us become better versions of ourselves (not a copy of the supervisor/coach).

This made me seek out clinicians who are better than me. People who can teach me and guide me. Early on,  I decided that I’m going to be a perpetual student. No shame.

Who do you seek out to raise the bar in your development as a therapist? Do you get specific directives on what you can work on that can leverage on your effectiveness, and not just some theory talk or  vague “case consultation”?

Stay tuned for more on this topic of clinical supervision and coaching. (Or simply signup on the right sidebar for to receive hassle-free updates in your inbox from Frontiers)

You might also be interested in these past posts:

The Scandal of Clinical Supervision: Here’s the Shocker (Part 1 of 2)

The Scandal of Clinical Supervision: How to Resolve It (Part 2 of 2)

Clinical Practice vs. Deliberate Practice: Why Your Years of Experience Doesn’t Get You Better

p/s: My mentor Scott Miller wrote recently on this common topic as well.

*Note: In order to protect his privacy, Freddy is not his real name. Freddy was after all kind enough to entertain a bunch of kids like us in his recording studio.

Love to hear your more from you about who this person who guided you in your personal &/or  professional life.

Til then,

 Daryl Chow, Ph.D.