Do you feel like this sometimes? Then this article is for you. The problem is that developing your technique is a very slow process in the beginning and all there is, is beginning! Nothing really delivers like you thought it would, until it suddenly does.
TWO THINGS YOU MUST KNOW TO MAKE IT
Please internalize and memorize the key points of this article. They are essential to developing your technique to the highest level. (If that is what you want) There are two distinct insights you must to have in order to stay clear of the worst kind of frustration: The kind that makes us give up forever. You might find the first point depressing and discouraging but once you are over that, there is a chance that you will recommit to your goals of mastering the techniques of your instrument at an alien like level. The point is this:
Key point one:
It takes as much time to master the technical aspect of playing guitar – as everything else that enables you to play music.
So if you look at all the other skills you need in order to become a well rounded musician like mastering scales, arpeggios music theory, song writing, rhythm, chords and you put the time needed to learn all that into one group – then an equally large group consists only of right and left hand technique.
Whether this “techniques-group” is the same size as the “all the other things needed to play music” or even larger depends on what musical style you are trying to master. If you are a rock player, expect the techniques part to be twice as big as the other group. If you are a jazz or jazz fusion player and aim to become a master in this field, expect to spend as much practice time on technique as you do on all the other things.
In jazz you need as much focus, time and energy for your techniques to be fully developed as you do on all other things that allows you to play great music.
ACCEPT AND RECOMMIT
Is this depressing news to you? It might be, depending on what your ideas were about this when you started reading this article. But once you have come to terms with this fact. Once it’s ok, then you might be ready to take on the challenge with a new and stronger resolve.
This does not mean that you have to spend ten years mastering the technique of alternate picking for instance. You can bury that challenge after one or two years. And learn a ton of related techniques in the same time period as well. You can learn to master legato or hammer-ons and pull-offs much faster than that. For me, the technical aspect of playing guitar took up at least 80% of my focus for 2-3 years. I was still getting better at everything else, but in a haphazard way with no special focus on it.
And yes, after this period of time I wasn’t really a very good guitar player because so many of my other skills were underdeveloped. But developing them to the same level as my technical abilities was a true walk in the park in comparison and it didn’t take me very long.
SELECTIVE HEARING IS KEY
But you must close your ears to the voices that tell you that there is something special about people who have the skills you want, because that is pure BS. Feed your passion by committing completely to learning this at mastery level in your lifetime or die trying. Losing hope and giving up takes your life away from you or at least diminishes it because there is something you think you cannot do anymore. Something that’s “a waste of time” for you. but it’s a flat out lie. Period. You can learn to do anything in this area.
At the end of your life regret will not come so much from the things you did, but from the things you failed to do.
FREEDOM OR DEATH PLEASE
That’s what Braveheart spoke about in his speech to his peasant army facing the well equipped british war machine in the film of the same name: You can give up and run away from the challenge. Run away from that magical idea that you should be able to learn to play at an incredible level. Lay down your weapons and run. Because you can fight and you may fail. “And dying in your bed many years from now, would you be willing to trade all the days from this day to that for one chance, just one chance to come back here and tell your enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom! *1”
We get tired of fighting ourselves in the battle for outstanding skills and we turn away. We surrender to frustration and hopelessness. Our enemy is the comfortable release in giving up. In not having to recommit and try again anymore. Come on… Just close that door forever and there will be peace and your world will be forever smaller. Please get this: At the end of your life you will perhaps regret a couple of things that you did, but those are nothing compared to the regret you can potentially feel about the things you failed to do.
“Energy and persistence conquer all things”
IS IT REALLY WORTH IT?
If you think I am exaggerating the importance of mastering your instrument you might be right. No kidding. Right for you. You might realize that reaching for this level of mastery is not for you at all. You might conclude that playing so darn fast isn’t really worth it and that focusing on all the other aspects of playing music is much more rewarding. And you might be so very right! There is no objective truth about this. And spending over fifty percent of your time focusing on this relatively small aspect of playing music isn’t necessarily an intelligent thing to do unless your favorite musical genre is Flamenco or “shredding” in general.
But if you feel excited thinking about the apparent magnitude of the challenge and you feel an urge to find the highest spot in town, stand there and scream “I WILL NOT GO QUIETLY INTO THE NIGHT!” *2 Then perhaps you will be the happiest facing all the frustration and disappointment once more and recommit to this project of mastery. And if you do, and do it again and again, then you will arrive at your destination. You will win through.
FROM BEGINNER TO INTERMEDIATE TO TOTAL MASTERY
Key point two:
You must spend an inordinate amount of energy to produce very little results.
In his book “From good to great” Jim Collins explains a phenomenon of business growth that is very interesting to aspiring masters in any field: There seems to be a pattern of how most companies develop from being a good company to being a great company.
The term “great” means a sudden explosion in growth. This is the dream of any investor: To buy cheap stocks in what looks like a mediocre company and then to suddenly see it explode off the charts making several hundred times the investment.
What Jim collins found was that these companies basically spend years working away at it every day. Climbing the alleged ladder of success one turtle speed step at a time. They deliver a good solid product to happy customers and then, after a long period of minimal but consistent growth, the company explodes of the charts as momentum catches on.
This is exactly what that process looks like for you: You are a beginner for a short period of time but then you seem to be an intermediate player forever. When there is progress it is not revolutionary, it is small and seemingly insignificant. You seem to have to fight for every little piece of land you acquire. And apparently there is no end to it.
Note: If you have been hanging around on the intermediate level “forever” break out of it by using focus and concentration.
Reaching for mastery is like spending a full day plucking fruit only to get a few drops of juice
But this is how it is. You spend an inordinate amount of energy producing very little results. Like spending a full day plucking fruit only to get a few drops of juice. And then at some point your development explodes. How soon this happens is dependent on how much you focus and concentrate your life and energy around this project but that is another discussion. Use every insight, method and strategy you find in my articles and keep pushing.
BELIEF IN YOURSELF ISN’T ENOUGH
But all this doesn’t mean that you should just “believe in yourself no matter what.” Believe in yourself yes, because anything else is not intelligent. There really is no actual and factual reason to give up because anyone can do this. But belief isn’t enough. You must be constantly improving your method a little bit. Constantly refining your practice schedule and your focus. And when you test new methods and approaches to practicing, give it time.
If you want to test my TV-practice method of getting everything right at every pick stroke, sometimes playing painstakingly slow, you have to give it your full commitment several hours a day for at least four weeks – preferably eight. Time is an essential part of every practice equation, so make sure you have plenty of it in there before you start evaluating whether it works or not.
“The big talent is persistence”
Octavia E. Butler
I know that none of this is easy. But once you have what you want, you are going to hit yourself on the head and go: “If it wasn’t for all the frustration this would have been so easy and pleasurable!!!” Because that’s the truth of it. Our greatest obstacle to anything we want is almost always ourselves. Knowing that does not mean that you can just stop being frustrated. And it certainly does not mean that you are stupid if you do. It just means that you are human. All you can do is to keep reminding yourself of this fact and keep seeking inspiration to overcome it.
See you on the other side of intermediate.
*1 Quote from the film Braveheart by Mel Gibson
*2 From the film Independence Day by Roland Emmerich