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)
About Allen Mathews
Allen Mathews learned guitar as an adult, and has been a full-time guitar teacher for almost two decades to students age 4 to 96. He has taught classical guitar at Reed College and Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, and has been a guest lecturer and clinician at schools and universities throughout the U.S. Allen is often praised for his creative teaching abilities, and his dedication to helping adults learn classical guitar. He has a popular Youtube Channel offering regular classical guitar tutorials, and has gained fans worldwide for his weekly emails and articles at ClassicalGuitarShed.com.
Allen, your website and teaching methods are excellent. You have an easy going yet encouraging way of inspiring people to learn and practice their art. And you are always accessible to your students to personally answer questions. I appreciate ... that personal touch. The course on reading rhythm and playing higher up the neck I found particularly helpful. God bless you and many thanks.
I have to say after over 12 months of one-on-one training with a teacher before joining The Woodshed, this is the first time that I feel I’m making technical progress.
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