Sunday, August 26, 2007

A Great Post...

...from a guitar forum that is making the rounds on the uke boards. Good advice to those who are frustrated with their playing.


Let me throw my hat in the ring on this common debate for the ages and specifically target what seems to be the crux of your question, which to me revolves around your frustration of not being able to pick up things on the guitar as quickly as you like. I see between 65 and 75 students a week on a one-to-one basis, the majority being "baby boomers" in their 40s and 50s. Your "being humbled" is the most common thing I deal with from week to week with my adult age students. You're far from being alone, as I'm sure you're well aware of by reading similar threads from other adult students and players on this forum.

I become a psychologist and therapist as well as a guitar teacher each week, that's just the reality of the situation. Having said that, there's no question you can become passable and beyond at any point on the guitar, because I've seen it happen numerous times; re-read the posts by Leo, Dave and Brian which echo that point. Here's my approach in working with all my students, particularly students in their 40s and 50s.

PATIENCE: The only students that don't succeed at all in my five decades of guitar teaching are impatient learners. I call it the "magic wand" students. They want to learn everything in a month, with the expectations of just having it all happen magically with very little effort. These type of students have usually been to anywhere from two to seven other teachers and wonder what's wrong with these teachers, without taking an honest look in the mirror. They usually have short attention spans and want to learn five different styles right away. Occasionally I can turn this type of student around with some tough love, but often than not, their impatience sinks their ship, not only for guitar, but usually for most other life ventures as well. The patient student realizes the journey and always reaches their playing goals. That student accepts the time period involved and is content from beginning to end.

PERSEVERANCE: Keep at it at all costs;don't get lazy. Make yourself a practice schedule routine that's consistent and practical. Like physical exercisee, pace yourself, don't over-practice. You can only do so much physically in a reasonable amount of time allotment daily; also you burn out mentally and frustration sets in. Start your practice routine by playing a couple of tunes you can play in your sleep, then get down to work and devote the majority of your practice time to what you are WEAK at. End your regimen with a tune or two that you can play in your sleep to remind yourself that you're a player.

PERSPIRATION: I lean heavily towards the Ernest Hemingway philosophy: "Learning is 99% perspiration...1% inspiration." Just put in the hard work on a consistent basis, staying patient and persistent and good things will happen on a gradual basis. There's no substitute for the hard work and effort you need to apply. In the case of music, you've got to play with others at a certain point. Your learning curve will increase at a faster rate. If you're doing solo guitar stuff, then get out and do open mics, a gig or just play to loved ones in your respective households. It'll help you memorize material, increase your confidence and help your playing self esteem.

PSYCHE: Here's the big one! Most adult age students who are either starting or returning to playing guitar on a regular basis, psyche themselves out. As Mike pointed out: "you have to have the mindset of a kid." Absolute fact. The teenage students you are so blown away by have NO FEAR! They simply go for it, without worrying about making mistakes, clanking a string or what the theory involved is. No doubt, as has been pointed out, they have more time, more physical agility, they started younger, etc., but most adult students defeat themselves mentally before they start.

Here are some of the ongoing issues and how I address them:

"I should be farther along at this by now." it's a PHYSICAL process that simply takes time to develop with finger independence, eye and hand coordination, the synchronization of two hands, etc. Just remember, everyone you admire sounded just like you after playing the first three to six months. Put into perspective the number of years those players you admire have practiced and played beyond your current playing time allotment. Your intellect will help you down the road, but initially you're dealing with physical barriers.

"I suck." No you don't, that's just a way of saying you have crappy self esteem. Anyone on this forum can show anybody else something on the guitar and learn something.

"I have no rhythm" or "I play like a white guy." I cringe at these statements. Everybody has rhythm, you just have to work at it and then gain playing experience with others; sure, it can take a while, but it's there, whether you believe it or not.

"He's godlike" No, he or she is not! They're just great players that have worked their asses off to excel at what they have accomplished. All "godlike" players will be the first to tell you: Yeah, I know a lot and can play well, but the more I know, the more I realize how much I don't know. These tend to be the most humble players who realize how far they have gotten, but appreciate how many other musical tributaries are out there. They'll be the first to squirm about being called "godlike. " Right, you'll probably never reach those heights, but it should inspire you to woodshed and reach the next rung of your own musical journey.

"What's that buzz?" Don't worry about a small buzz. Keep playing. If you obsess on every little ambient sound, you'll never get through playing a piece. If there's major fretting problems, then stop and slow down to a reasonable playing speed.

"I've got to understand everything before I play." No you don't. Get the physical coordination down, play songs, have fun and worry about the theory down the road.

Overall, don't beat yourself up, don't think too much, don't be intimidated, don't worry what you hear someone else do. In time, you will have your small victories and maybe even a couple of 15 minutes of fame moments. Remember, you started late in the game, so keep in perspective the amount of time and gig experience lifetime players have had in comparison to you. Keep your chin up and set your own goals with confidence and enjoyment.


Sara said...

Good tips but I'm no longer a frustrated weekend with the strumming video and I'm already kicking out the jams! Bo Diddley and syncopated strums are my favorites, but not ready for some of the other ones. Just thought you'd appreciate a POSITIVE comment by yours truly.


Charlotte said...

That's a great post. I need to print that out and put it in my uke songbook.

Shane said...

Sorry to go off topic, but I'm not sure how else to get my question answered other than to hijack this thread:

Is there a vetting process for new songs at uke jam? That is, should I ask someone first (hey, how about song X?), or should I just show up with a stack of photocopies?

And, if the answer is to just bring photocopies: if a song has lots of verses, would you prefer two pages of bigger font (10pt) or one page of smaller font (8pt)?