Inspiration: Paul McCartney – Blackbird

Blackbird is a song I’ve recently added to my repertoire. I’m still using tab to learn a lot of stuff because I just don’t have the time to learn things by ear. A lot of the tabs out there, for purchase and in the public domain, are all over the place in terms of their takes on this song. The fun in learning to play this song has been to use the tabs as a reference point and the recordings and my understanding of chord shapes and theory to make this the most playable for my hands.

I’m learning to play quite a number of songs right now, most influenced by fingerpicking. While I aim to be diversified in my attack of the strings, I much prefer fingerpicking over a pick. I like that my fingers can be in a variety of places doing a variety of things, as opposed to using a pick. I also like the fatter sound I get out of the strings when I use my fingers. I tend to incorporate Travis picking into my playing, but also use my thumb and index finger to achieve an alternate picking technique when I want to play various licks that require a narrower focus.

On another note, I’m hoping to purchase an audio interface soon so that I can begin to document my progress. I currently spend time recording myself with the awful camera mic that comes with my Logitech webcam. While the camera, itself, does an adequate job of recording quality video, the mic leaves little to be desired.

Despite the fact I’m recording for myself right now, nerves get in the way. My brain becomes a jumbled mess and my fingers don’t work as they should – there’s a disconnect between brain and fingers when camera rolls. Ongoing practice and reflection while playing in this capacity will (hopefully) help me overcome the mental blocks I experience.

Anyway, time to practice. I’ve got several days (including today) that I’ll have to document tonight. By the time I’m done practicing today, I’ll have somewhere between 8-10 hours of practice these past four days.  Yay, me!

Masterclass: Tommy Emmanuel – Thumbpicking

I got turned on to Tommy Emmanuel several years ago. In what context, I don’t remember. But what I do remember is being drawn to his high-energy virtuosity.  His playing blew me away. As a fan of fingerpicking technique (I much prefer the fingers over a pick), I appreciate what he teaches in this video. As a re-learner of guitar, I’m more keenly appreciative of what he says between 10:00 and 10:45 of the video. What follows is an excerpt of what he says during these forty-five seconds:

“…keep it simple as long as possible, don’t try and rush ahead to more difficult songs just because you think it might be more exciting, you’ve got to give yourself a chance to build up this technique and to understand it — this is all new stuff…”

-Tommy Emmanuel, Thumbpicking Masterclass

While what he says is nothing new to me, for whatever reason at this stage in my life it finally makes sense. I’ve now touched on the value of going slow to go fast several times. In the past, I used to think I was trading-off the frustration of practicing slowly for the frustration of trying to tackle a challenging song. I always erred on the side of tackling the challenging song. I’m not sure, ultimately, that the fruits born from this tree were more ripe and tasteful than the fruits born from the other tree. I’m beginning to experience, however, that the tree rooted in slow, deliberate practice while grounded in technique and theory is already having a profound impact on my playing.

What I love most about this video, and why I’m sharing, is just how elegant Tommy Emmanuel’s instruction is given his virtuosity. I’ve seldom seen such instructional clarity from some who just “gets it”. Whether you’re a fan of fingerpicking, great instruction, Tommy Emmanuel, phenomenal guitar playing or some combination thereof, here’s something for you to enjoy.

Make it a phenomenal day!

Why Guitar 10,000?

30-Years of (Almost) Nothing

I picked up my first guitar nearly 30-years ago.

I loved the adulation my dormies received when they played guitar at random gatherings.  I loved the hero-worship received by the guitar players who played in bands at our university’s student union building.  Most of all, I loved the seemingly endless possibilities the guitar provided me as a prospective student of the instrument. All of this I wanted to experience!

That was 30-years ago.

I still love the instrument.  I love the creativity that abounds in varieties of players I’ve been exposed to over the years: Jimi Hendrix, Randy Rhoads, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eddie Van Halen, Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, John Mayer, and more.  The list of influences is endless and the aforementioned players offer only a limited glimpse into the variety of players – well-known and obscure – who have both entertained me and influenced me over the years.

Despite my love for the instrument I’ve struggled to take it seriously as a player.  I’ve played in fits and starts, incapable of dedicating myself to the time and consistency required to achieve any level of proficiency.  I’ve taken lessons several times hoping to find inspiration.  While I’ve had some amazing (and sometimes not so amazing) teachers, I’ve failed to live up to my end of the teacher-student agreement (teacher teaches and inspires, student practices and grows).

Over the years, I’ve purchased a variety of (nice) guitars and gadgets in hopes of being inspired to play.  Any degree of inspiration incurred as a result of a new purchase, however, was fleeting at best.  So, now I sit atop a collection of guitars, amps, effects, and more that collect dust in the varieties of locations throughout the house where the gear sits.  This, however, was not my plan…not what was intended when I picked up my first guitar some 30-years ago.

About 15-years ago I decided I wanted to play guitar in a small band, or as a solo artist, when I retired from my career as an educator. I have no delusions of grandeur related to these aspirations, I simply want to remain connected to people in some capacity as I grow old.  I have always believed that music is a means in which to connect with people.

Despite my aspirations to entertain people in retirement, I find myself getting closer and closer to retirement and non-committal to practicing the instrument.  This strategy doesn’t bode well for my retirement dreams.  I learned several years ago, too, that hope and wonder are not great strategies for achieving anything.  What I need is a plan. What I need is to get up off my ass and get playing!

10,000-Hours or 10,000-Experiments?
Several years ago I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers.  It was in Outliers that I learned about the 10,000-hour rule.  The premise of the 10,000-hour rule is that you need 10,000-hours of deliberate practice to become a world-class performer in any field.

I was intrigued!  Could it really be so simple?  Could I become a world-class guitar player with a mere 10,000-hours worth of practice?  “Is this all that differentiates the greats from the also-ran”, I asked myself?  Seems too good to be true.  I also wondered, “Is the 10,000-hour rule really a rule or a plan or is it more of a construct?”

In recent years, the 10,000-hour rule has been derided as too simplistic.  It has been criticized for providing minimal variance in performance in a variety of fields, particularly those fields that are rapidly changing.  The 10,000-hour rule is quickly being supplanted by the 10,000-experiment rule.

The premise of the 10,000-experiment rule is that you’re constantly looking for ways in which to collect data about the world around you, rather than simply performing a repetitive, though deliberate, task.  The ongoing collection of, and reflection on, the varieties of data you collect throughout the day lead to growth, particularly in fields that are rapidly changing.

Music, however, is not rapidly changing.

Couldn’t it be argued that attainment of world-class performance (in whatever field you aspire to achieve such levels) is really a combination of the two. After all, both frameworks take many years to practice.  Furthermore, could it not be assumed that the data collection and reflection required by 10,000-experiments lends itself to designing deliberate practice sessions within the 10,000 framework?  Does one really exist in isolation of the other or do they lend themselves to one another?  I believe it’s the latter.

Grand Experiment, New Beginnings, and Future Dreams
I’m a science teacher by trade.  I spend days on end teaching my students to be keen observers of nature, great collectors of evidence, and effective communicators of the evidence they’ve collected and analyzed.  What’s more, I teach them how to act on their findings…how to take next steps.

I’ve decided to put my teaching into practice as a prospective, performance-worthy guitar player.  I’ve decided that I want to experiment on myself and my future plans; I want to document my practice over the course of  10,000-hours to determine whether or not I can become a competent, performance-worthy performer.  This aim is further served by the public accountability I’ll hold myself to in the context of this experiment.

While over the course of the past 30-years I’ve amassed several hundred hours of playing time, I start over today as a novice player, clock at zero hours of practice time.

I’m only 14-years or so away from retirement (I’m 51-years old).  As such, I don’t know if I’ll achieve 10,000-hours by the time I reach 65-years old.  I do, however, aspire to amass a quantity and quality of practice hours over this span that lead to my retirement dreams.  I plan to document this journey here in these pages and in a variety of other platforms as well.

I look forward to this experiment.  I look forward to documenting this journey.  I look forward to the prospect of living my dreams in my future retirement.