Days 9, 10, 11, 12 – Slowing Down to Go Fast

A long time ago, when I started playing, an instructor told me, “Use the metronome. Go slow! Start at 60 BPM and play 8th notes until you play them with clarity. Then jump 5 BPM per iteration until you can play at 200 BPM with no mistakes.” He told me this would take time. I tried this for about 3 days until I could no longer bear playing slowly. I didn’t feel like I was making progress and I felt like I played with more mistakes than I did when I played by feel. Furthermore, I found myself always tense.Guitar playing wasn’t fun, it was painful.

I felt like a failure despite the fact I could otherwise play the guitar decently. My instructor had convinced me that unless I’d learn to take my time, play with accuracy, and through this slow pace learn the neck (rather than memorize tablature), I’d be a solid guitar player.  Because I could play Silent Lucidity, Stairway to Heaven, Tears in Heaven and several other songs decently, I felt I was a solid guitar player already.  I, however, despite my best efforts, remained stuck.  I refused to do the things most instructors, books, and guitar players would tell you to do — study the guitar!

I didn’t know what study the guitar meant.

As far as I new, it meant slow down.  Slowing down is key to a lot of things, but I’ve come to learn that studying the guitar boils down to getting technique under my fingers and theory in my head so that I can get my hands to do what I want, when I want, and where I want.  I must admit that studying guitar, despite its espoused value, was not something I did well. I spent most of my time learning songs and noodling. There’s some value to this, yes, but because I wasn’t doing right things, I lacked the chops that would otherwise allow me to play the way I envisioned myself playing.

Progress these past two weeks has been better than expected. I’ve been committed to picking up the guitar every day.  With the exception of one day in the past two weeks, I’ve had guitar in hand every day — most days for an hour or more. What’s been crazy is the passion I’ve had for playing. In the past, I could easily walk by my guitar in favor of something else, with the understanding that I’d come back to it later.  Later seldom happened, however.

Not only am I picking up the guitar every day and spending time with it, I’ve become increasingly structured in my practice regimen. Every day I spend time working on technique, theory, and repertoire.  I work on them in this order.  I limit the material I play through each phase of practice so that I can work on it slowly and intently.  I’m very methodical about playing perfectly.  I aim to both pick and fret every note precisely; no buzzes, no missed notes, no muted strings.

This degree of attention has allowed me to become more relaxed.  As a result, I’m playing faster and more fluidly than I’ve ever played — in just two weeks. Because I’m paying close attention to learning the fretboard and the theory that underlies it, my fingers go where my mind and ears tell them to go.  This has never previously been my reality.  I’d always relied on the memorization of tabs over long hours of practice. Now, when my mind hears something, my fingers know how to follow.  I don’t have a seamless ability to do this yet, but the mere fact that I can hear things in my head and put them to work on the fretboard is a major accomplishment.

I can’t express to you how much I wish I had listened to my instructor(s) years ago. To dwell on this, however, would be fruitless and could, in the long run, be self-defeating. I’m simply enjoying the fact that I feel like I understand what I’m doing.  I feel like I know how to shape the path toward becoming a competent, performance-worthy guitar player.

10/30, 10/31, 11/1, 11/2, 11/3, and 11/4 Time: 8 hours

Total Time: 20 hours

Time Remaining: 9,980 hours

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