1. A Big Picture reality: No matter how long you play, weeks, months, years…. It is going to hurt the tips of your fingers. As time passes you will develop calluses and the muscles in your fingers and hands will grow stronger but the best you can really hope for is that amount of time you can play in any one session will increase before you just have to stop. Way back when in my college days I had a few late night jam sessions when a finger or two actually bled from non-stop playing (those days are long gone!) but you know what? It was glorious and it made me a better player. I’ve read many accounts of the Beatles in their days in Hamburg before they were famous when they were expected to play two 4-hour sets a day, seven days a week, for months. And that made them the tight, seasoned band they were when they broke on the scene. I’m not saying a guitar student needs to abuse him or herself, just that “you reap what you sew.” Sore fingertips and stiff fingers are part of the price we pay. Sorry, but that is just the truth. A beginner who is not experiencing some degree of discomfort probably isn’t practicing enough.
2. You will go through peaks and valleys. Although I generally don’t like sports analogies, think about hitters in the Major Leagues. For someone to stay hot throughout a season or even for more than a few weeks is very rare thing. There will be periods of time in your playing when things seem almost easy and sometimes a light bulb will go off and you’ll make a great stride. There will also be times when you will feel like you’re not progressing at all, no matter the amount of effort. That can be extremely discouraging, especially for younger students. Adults come to me from time to time with a different but related problem - they have feel like they’ve been playing the same things for years. Part of my job is to assess how much of what they know will contribute to helping them advance, and how much should be put on the back shelf. The trick, I think, to getting through those valleys is to not put value judgements on what you already know how to play pretty well. Take the time to go back and play things that give you satisfaction no matter how simple or even “wrong” in terms of technique they may be. That will give you the energy to keep moving through that valley because I promise, there is an opposite side that you will reach, sooner or later.
3. It is vital to keep an open mind regarding what constitutes “good” music. I admit to struggling with this even now although I hope I’m way more tolerant and accepting than I used to be. I’m not saying you have to like a certain type of music that is something you wouldn’t listen to casually under most circumstances, just accept the idea that there are viable and important aspects of just about anything you hear. Professionals like the great Paul Simon know this and he has incorporated the music Africa, Brazil, Peruvian Inca music and much more into his fabulous albums. Whether they be melodic or rhythmic concepts, we can never stop learning from other styles and cultures.
4. Playing in front of ANYONE else will always be both gratifying and a little bit terrifying. Let’s face it – performing music whether it be on an instrument or singing is a very “naked” thing. You’re putting it out there, even if it’s just for your partner or best friend. No matter how confident you are about your playing there is always risk; risk of some degree or failure, risk of being subtly or not so subtly mocked. I have a sign in my studio right above the area in which I teach that reads: “I played it so much better at home!” I want them to know I’ve heard that dozens if not hundreds of times. No big deal if a few mistakes are made. The process can and will be gratifying though, sooner or later. It all depends on not being to down on yourself and for God’s sake, don’t compare your own playing to an artist you admire or even your teacher. At some point they were in exactly the same place you are. And any other critiques or comments you may hear often reflect some degree of jealousy that the critic doesn’t have the guts to try something like playing the guitar themselves!
5. There will always be a better guitar you wish you owned. I’ve known players who have stuck with the same instrument for years, decades…. Even their entire lives. But those are rare birds. We call the malady “getting GAS”: Guitar Acquisition Syndrome! I suffer from it all too often. In my case it’s the perpetual search for the Perfect Guitar – that hasn’t been built yet and probably never will be. But in most people’s guitar playing lives it’s often more of a practical solution to a problem, i.e., that guitar you bought and thought it would be “the One” turns out to have some deficiency or another that you didn’t notice right away. This is not a bad thing at all because it means you’re becoming a better and more sophisticated guitarist. Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, if you truly love guitars as I do, there is no cure for GAS.
I’ll post the next five of my Realities very soon.
Peace & good music,