Let’s face it: as much as we’d like to believe we’re different, in reality, most of us are just normal folks.
We didn’t exit the womb with uncanny musical abilities. We don’t master skills in a day that take most people years.
Sure, we may take to some things more easily than others. But at the end of the day, we’re just ordinary average Joe’s.
So how can we ever become exceptional? How can we rise above our averageness and make the music we want to hear?
The answer, of course, is time.
Time is the unsung hero of all mastery. Anyone who’s masterful at anything has invested loads of time into it. (I think it was curmudgeon violinist Isaac Stern who recounted a woman gushing, “I would give my life to play like you do!” to which he replied, “Lady, that’s exactly what I did.”)
But how can we stick with it long enough to get good? In the moment, when we’re hyper-aware of our current limitations, mastery can seem impossibly far off. How can we keep showing up when everything’s so hard?
In an interview with Alec Baldwin, radio personality Ira Glass described the gap between our tastes and our abilities. He said that we often start something because we have a sense of what’s good. But as we work on it, that same sense tells us how bad at it we are. So there’s a gap between what we can do and what we know is good. And the trick to getting good is to stay alive within that gap.
So how do we do that? How do we stay on the straight and true?
One of the keys to lifelong growth on guitar is recognizing the fact that while growth is lifelong, our experiences are daily.
We can enjoy the small successes that come with daily practice. Showing up, focusing on our hands and sounds can lift our moods and have us feeling good. We have little revelations and breakthroughs.
And it’s these small daily rewards that can sustain us for the long term. We just have to notice and celebrate them.
“Not quitting” is a drag when the only prize is far down the road. But when our metrics for success are good feelings and interesting discoveries, “Not quitting” becomes “Keep Going”. Instead of pushing, we’re pulled forward.
People of mediocre ability sometimes achieve outstanding success because they don’t know when to quit.
George Allen (football coach)
Hi, I’m Allen Mathews.
I started as a folk guitarist, then fell in love with classical guitar in my 20’s. Despite a lot of practice and schooling, I still couldn’t get my music to flow well. I struggled with excess tension. My music sounded forced. And my hands and body were often sore. I got frustrated, and couldn’t see the way forward. Then, over the next decade, I studied with two stellar teachers – one focused on the technical, and one on the musical (he was a concert pianist). In time, I came to discover a new set of formulas and movements. These brought new life and vitality to my practice. Now I help guitarists find more comfort and flow in their music, so they play more beautifully. Click here for a sample formula.
This is the ideal starting position for me. As a relative beginner with no teacher this is helping me enormously in developing good technique and not falling into bad habits. I no longer feel (A) That it's a struggle to learn a new piece and (B) That I am alone in my endeavors. My advice is to try The Woodshed program. It is fantastic and will not only bring up your playing but his explanations of musical concepts as you go along put things into perspective.
Your GCS site and The Woodshed community are really super! I am glad I finally joined in, and smacking myself for waiting so long. Thanks again!
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