Artist Michael John Bobak on Practicing Outside the Comfort Zone

Tuesday Quotes are short explorations of music, life, and the daily endeavor of practicing classical guitar. Find more here.

“All progress takes place outside the comfort zone.”

Michael John Bobak

To learn and grow most quickly, we can seek the very edge of our current ability.

To practice, we need to find challenge, but not too much challenge. It needs to be hard, but not too hard. We should be able to succeed, but only if we give our complete attention and energy.

When the challenge is too easy, we become bored. This often happens when we play guitar only for fun.

While it’s great to play for relaxation and entertainment, this only goes so far. Eventually, we grow tired of doing the “same old stuff”. Without proper challenge, we don’t enjoy it as much as we could.

So we need meaningful work. We need to strive and stretch. We need ride the edge, and not know for certain whether we’ll succeed or not. It’s this element of danger that brings the thrill.

But what do we do when we go too far outside of our comfort zone? We may feel overwhelmed. We may get discouraged. We may feel hopeless or defeated.

When this happens, we need only take a short break.

Marcus Aurelius wrote about this in his personal journal:

Nowhere you can go is more peaceful, more free of interruptions, than your own soul…Retreat to consult your own soul and then return to face what awaits you.”

When we return, we can adjust the challenge to rebuild our confidence. We can slow down, or reduce complexity.

Then, as we can, we can flirt with the other side of the ledge.

Over time, as we meet challenge after challenge, we push our abilities further and further. We get better. What used to be impossible becomes our new comfort zone. And so we find new challenges.

By learning this way, music never becomes easier. It’s always hard. But the challenges change. They become greater and we are more able to meet them. We play at a higher level.

But learning at any level, from beginner to master, feels about the same, so long as we stay just outside the comfort zone.

Allen Mathews

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 other stellar teachers – one focused on the technical movements, 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.

Hi Allen,
First public performance ever! I am up to Level 1E in The Woodshed program. It is certainly mega helpful.

-Peter Graham

I am a 61 year old physician, reconnecting with the classical guitar after a hiatus of nearly 40 years. After a couple of weeks [in the program], I’m now producing a much clearer, yet somehow more mellow and beautiful sound. It was really good to feel it happening in my hand, and that it felt more comfortable and somehow “right”, compared to the way I had played before (“curved picking”). The fog started to lift and I found that I was remembering more, and it felt great (also a bit of a relief!), giving me confidence to keep going. Thank you for making your course available - your love of music and the guitar shines through the teaching. I am very happy I found and registered with CGS.

-Brian Davey

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