Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Players Mind - potholes on the road to mastery

I thought that from time to time, it may be helpful to share what goes through my mind while on the road to learning guitar. We all have these feelings and no matter your level, they remain shockingly similar. By airing out some of these thoughts and epiphanies, it may help provide you all with some insights. I sure as heck would have liked to know that even advanced players have the same frustrations as I! So I will try to fairly regularly do a series of "A Players Mind..." type posts. Here is the first on mastery.

I used to think mastery was some sort of born-in thing.... I spent some time analyzing the lifestyle and habits of a couple players I personally know, who are world-class. What I discovered was a very distinct similarity. It wasn't WHAT they learned, it was HOW they learned.

Firstly, they played ALL THE TIME. Well so did I...or did I? As I thought about it, I don't remember these guys at ONE SINGLE party during high school. They were cool guys who must have known about all the cool happenings, yet they weren't there?? Hmmm.

Secondly, when they practiced, they played MUSIC all the time... lifting other players' songs by the hundreds. All ears, no TAB. While I was running scales, and doing exercises that I believed -- scratch that -- that I was TOLD would move me towards mastery, THEY were playing pretty much only music. TONS OF IT. Upon reflection, is it really a surprise that when they play, they just seem more "musical" than me?

My biggest personal obstacle these days is that I fight with periods of "mindless" playing. On recording playback, I can actually HEAR me 'thinking'. When it happens, my playing falls out of the pocket rhythmically and the musical content goes to shiz. Well, DUH!!! I spent all that time mindlessly running scales.

The best part: I TAUGHT myself to play like that!

Why am I surprised??? You always hear people saying "develop your muscle memory" and all that. That's what I thought I was doing! What a pile of dung. What I was ACTUALLY doing was teaching myself to play in a disengaged state. Brutal.

I stopped all that over a year ago and my playing and phrasing has changed a LOT - to the positive. No more mindless playing - EVER. Even if I pick up the guitar for two seconds, I set up a tempo in my head first and I set up some kind of musical phrase. It has been a hard habit to break, but it is breaking slowly.

I am on the path to rectifying that now, but there was a LOT of wasted time. It is EASY to get distracted during the process. You spend so long staring at the one tree, that you fail to see the forest. Music is that forest.

Who cares about you!? Where does that leave us?
Yeah, yeah. I am getting to it!

"Those guys" (masters) were:
  • Willing to sacrifice everything: their time, memories, relationships - EVERYTHING in the name of music
  • They were playing music all the time, minimal exercises. When they were doing exercise, they made music out of them
  • When they weren't playing, they were discussing, listening to, seeking out music. Hanging with MANY other musicians and generally 'geeking out' on it
So it all boils down to dedication and singular focus. Of course I can't play like they do. I didn't give to it what they did! 

I don't feel much better...
Well you should! I'm sure you are thinking, "Man, I'm not willing to give up everything for guitar", it should be empowering. It means it IS there for you if you want it badly enough. Personally, I would rather think this than some cop-out such as, "I guess I wasn't born with it". You can master this thing, but you gotta' give into all of it. You will get precisely what you put into it. NO MORE, NO LESS. Don't whine about not having some "God Given Talent". You're basically stating that the possibilities are impossible. The good news: I've removed this excuse we have all hidden behind.

Sounds nice but I already put everything into it and I am not a master...
Do you deem yourself at a higher level than other guitarists? This could be your folly. In my travels I have met more than a few musicians. Many of them buy into their own press. Many of them have been the best in every circle they travel in. Many of them have studied far more than me. Most of these cats have written books on playing, taught hundreds of people... maybe at a college level of loftier perches. Perhaps this is you, yet you haven't developed into the 'master' you want to be.

During this self-validating process, a massive ego has built up; an ego which is unwilling to validate another's perspectives or truly hear themselves as they play.  Anyone of a lower level is unworthy to comment or offer anything of value. Oh, and "I CERTAINLY wouldn't play with THAT player - they suck"

If this or the paragraph's title resonated with how you felt as you read this article, perhaps this is you. This is pointless because people like this CAN'T see themselves this way. It's a protection device.

Listen up Yoda, There is SOMETHING that is holding you back. So drop all the attitude, get a little humble for a second and do some soul searching. Because there is a REASON you are not where you want to be. Perhaps it is that you are "always right" - except this time! Get humble and learn to learn from everybody. Even a very beginner has something of value you could learn. Stop thinking about this 'concept' or 'this scale over this chord' or the worst being 'correct'. Mostly: STOP BEING 'RIGHT' ALL THE TIME. We are all wrong at times. Make a musical statement. One full of feeling and passion.

A musician needs to be an open portal; open to all the beauty and inspiration of the world around us. This is what connects to people - not correctness. Where you place your mind is a HUGE part of the finished product. Ya' gotta have ... wait for it ... a *Players Mind!

*very clever the way I tied in the title, huh? So proud : )

1 comment:

  1. "Look!

    Listen to this! Properly! And please stop trying to move around in time to the pulse. Don't you get it? The #9? The way it's dropped into that Lydian line? Just before the transition to Ebm9#5add11?"

    Yeah....I was in a conversation with a player with this attitude....once! :).


    Great stuff, Jeremy. I too have figured stuff out along the lines you write about. It took a while, but it's never too late.