Hopefully, what I’ve learned about patience while fishing has transferred to my guitar playing and teaching. Over the past five years or so my playing has progressed more rapidly than it had over the previous twenty, which is very gratifying. Lots of reasons for this, not the least of which is that I keep a much more open mind these days about what constitutes “good” music, or music that is worth putting effort into. Playing every Saturday morning for three years at the Daily Brew has certainly helped. But I’ve also learned to not give up on a piece of music that may have seemed impossible the first time I tried playing it.
This is something that I do my best to convey to my students. Some “get it,” some don’t. A few have gotten quite frustrated and I think secretly they don’t believe me when I tell them that practice, and most importantly, the acceptance that mistakes will be made – perhaps for a long time – will sooner or later lead to success. I know this is difficult because when a student is in his or her lesson and we’re playing a piece of music together my playing tends to cover up some of mistakes the student is making. This is much more palatable than when the student is sitting alone at home (and perhaps a family member is listening in another room!) and those mistakes just seem to happen over and over in spite of one’s best efforts.
Barre chords may be the biggest source of frustration in learning to play the guitar and always test the student’s patience. Every single guitarist in the history of the instrument has struggled with them; I know I certainly did. I try to convey to my students the importance of the mechanics of playing them (dropping the wrist, straight barring finger, thumb centered behind the neck, separation of other fingers) but that is just the starting point. I truly believe that teaching someone to play barre chords is rather like teaching someone to ride a bike: you can explain the mechanics perfectly but ultimately it comes down to the person finding that perfect balance point on their own. Falling down comes with it, no getting around that.
A very few students have something of a breakthrough moment – almost suddenly and for no apparent reason a technique or a chord seems to work. But for most it’s a gradual process with the percentage of success gradually increasing. This is where patience really plays a part. You have to hold onto those small successes, build on them, and look back at when there was no success at all for the psychological benefit. Keeping things in perspective builds confidence, and confidence reinforces patience.
As time passed in my fishing endeavors I began to catch more fish until I got to the point that in spite of the results on a daily basis I was confident I was doing everything right. There are times when I pick up the guitar and try a hard piece of music and it just seems it will never sound decent. Then the best thing to do is either put the guitar down for an hour or so and then come back to it, or play something I know I can play reasonably well. The point is – I have confidence in the knowledge that at least from a technical standpoint I’m playing correctly even if the end result is less than satisfactory. Sooner or later, I tell myself. And you know what? Sooner or later that piece of music comes out pretty damn good!
Peace & good music,