It ran in our local paper last week. The young writer is a musician himself so he knew the right questions to ask, which resulted in a good story I think. It was fun to reflect on my musical journey and helped put things in perspective. Overall, it made me realize I’m pretty much in exactly the place I should be, musically speaking. I’ve felt that way for a while now but the story helped affirm what I’ve been feeling. This was quite liberating! But for years, decades in fact, part of me lamented not being able to conquer certain playing styles and technical aspects of the guitar that I thought I should be able to do. Goodbye to all that.
Along the same lines was a seemingly unrelated event about a week ago. My wife and I attended our 50th high school reunion. It was great to catch up with people we hadn’t seen in all those years and exchange stories new and old. We realized on the way home as we discussed conversations and observations that here was another example of being just where we should be, both mentally and physically.
Young musicians who see the whole world ahead of them often fall into the idea that no matter how well they play, it’s never quite enough. Channeling that feeling into something positive is a big task for many people. By positive I mean being able to say: no, I’m not the player I want to be but I am going to stay on task and rejoice in accomplishments big and small. Negative feelings come with allowing frustration to mount and impatience to overwhelm the little things like proper technique and regular, focused practice. That’s when a player gets “stuck” and advancement comes to a halt. Many a time I’ve had students who come to me complaining they just can’t get to the next level and almost without exception it is immediately obvious that for whatever reason they never dealt with the little things like steady rhythm, clean playing and breaking songs down to their vital components. In other words, almost was good enough. For a while, anyway.
Here’s where it gets a bit sticky. I try to never put an absolute outside edge age-wise on a student’s potential but there is no denying that physical limitations, and yes, mental and cognitive capacity have an ever-increasing impact on the learning process when playing the guitar. My job as a guitar teacher of older students is to find the balance between aspirations and potential, all the while being as positive as I can.
What I hope happens is that the older student realizes and accepts those limitations. No way am I going to say, no, you will never be able to play that piece of music as well as you’d like. This serves no purpose. But as long as I present pieces that I feel a student CAN master to the greater degree and work with them to get to that point, I’ve done what I set out to do. Positive feedback is absolutely vital, especially if that older student comes to a realization based on experience about his or her potential. I try to steer them toward rational definition of success and how to accept that based on its own merit.
Which brings me back to my own situation. I know in my heart of hearts that I’m playing better now than I ever have. I’m not a young man, however, and there will come a time that my fingers will not respond to my commands as well as they do now. That time may be sooner than I wish it would be….probably will be, in fact. So I rejoice in what I can play and it usually feels really good and quite satisfying. I accept my limitations at least as far as the Big Picture is concerned. Sure, there are plenty of songs that I wish I could play and hope I can at some point. The effort is worthwhile as I can now understand the reward, the result of successes and failures over the 50-plus years I’ve been playing.
I guess all I’m really saying is that as much as I appreciate positive comments from listeners, their approval is not nearly as important as it once was. My playing is what it is and even if I were never to play in front of an audience or students again, I know that I would thoroughly enjoy something about playing the guitar even in solitude.
Peace & good music,