Days 16, 17, 18, 19 – Lack of Discipline Equals Little Progress

I wouldn’t say I made little progress the past four days. I didn’t, however, make the kind of progress I was expecting to make. Lots of distractions and no plan of attack took me all over the place. I did play, really I did. A lot! But I didn’t get out of my time what I put into it. Or did I?

I don’t mean to imply that I got 10-hours worth of progress out of my 10-hours of playing. I didn’t. I, perhaps, had a net gain of 1 – 2 hours of progress out of my 10-hours worth of playing. Quantity does not equal quantity and lack of discipline equals little progress.

I decided these past four days (I had an extended weekend due to Veteran’s Day and caring for my wife) to inundate myself with a myriad of distractions, all of which will pay dividends at some point, some sooner than later.

The distractions (in no particular order):

  • Getting my Blues Junior amp situated (I haven’t played on this in a long, long time)
  • Playing around with my Line 6 POD X3 Live effects board (I haven’t played with this in a long, long time and never figured out how to use it)
  • Setting up my Boss RC-3 Looping Station (I haven’t played with this much at all and certainly not for a long time)
  • Figuring out how to best record video until I get adequate audio input devices
  • Introducing new songs/progressions
  • Playing with each of my five guitars (mostly resulted in noodling rather than practice – I did land on my Martin OMC-15E)
  • Trying a variety of new picks to find one I like (I much prefer fingerpicking to strumming, but need to diversify my approach)
  • Tried to teach myself how to use a thumb pick (useful at some point, no doubt, but slow and clunky right now)

There you go, eight distractions in 10-hours results in my net gain of 2-hours progress. I don’t know if that’s a mathematically sound equation, but that’s how I feel. Being a teacher, I should know better than anyone that seat time doesn’t equal learning. Intentional use of time (as well as several other controllable factors) equals learning over time. All of these will pay dividends, as stated above, but need to be strategically built into my practice schedule.

What did come out of this is some quality time with my wife as she sat by my side while I played.

So, what have I learned these past few weeks?

Aside from re-acquainting myself with guitar, I’ve learned that guitar practice is for guitar practice; not trying out amps or picks or guitars. Trying new things is certainly an important part of growth, but I don’t want to sacrifice the benefits of quality, structured time for trial and error. Trial and error should and will have its place, but after I’ve met daily practice goals.

I’ve also learned that I work better when I set goals. My only goal going into this weekend was to practice 2 – 4 hours per day. That’s it. No musical goals. No technical goals. No measurable goals, period!

Moving forward, I’ll structure my time as I had previously structured my time. Monday through Friday, I’ll adhere to a regimen that includes finger mobility, technique, theory, and repertoire. I’ll mix it up to make sure that I’m working a couple of different things in these contexts throughout the week, but not becoming diversified to the point that I’m sacrificing growth at the expense of variety.

Moving forward, barring the occasional unforeseen circumstances, I’ll practice 2-hours per day and spend additional time on Saturdays and Sundays with the further experimentation.

What else have I learned?

  • Slow is best, but I hate slow and am most prone to error when I work slowly (but slow is best)
  • I hate recording video of myself, but it’s been hugely beneficial
    • Beneficial for helping me overcome nerves
    • Beneficial for getting outside myself to see things that I do well and things I need to improve upon
  • I’m dead set on achieving this goal
    • I’m three weeks in and still strongly committed to achieving my retirement dream
  • My retirement goal will only be achieved by setting and working toward smaller, measurable goals

Anyhow…before I get any more redundant, here’s an update on my time thus far (not going to post what I did because it was all over the place).

11/0, 11/11, 11/12, and 11/13 Time: 10 hours

Total Time: 34 hours

Time Remaining: 9,966 hours

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!

Days 14 & 15 – Regression Before Progression (and Stuff)

Got an hour in each of the last two nights. Pretty solid overall, but not great. I don’t know if I had off nights or if I work better when I get an hour warm-up with technical exercises before doing other things. Nonetheless, it felt as though I took a step back. On the other hand, past experience tells me that these bad practices usually mean a gain is soon to come. Gonna look for this to be my reality over the next day or two.

Didn’t get to play today. Well, I got a little bit in before I headed off to school. Noodled around with some finger style blues I’ve been learning. Also worked on creating some melodic runs in the progressions of these finger style blues jams. I love trying to figure out how to make a chord progression more melodic. I often neglect this because I don’t feel I’m very good at it. I should, however, dedicate more time to it so I get better at it. What’s more, the more I play around with it the more I realize I really can do it.

Anyway…had conferences until late this evening so I didn’t get a chance for any prolonged practice tonight. I do, however, have four straight days, starting Saturday, that I should be able to get 2+ hours per day (I’m aiming for 3 – 4 hours each day).

This post is my catharsis for the evening. With that, here’s a run-down of the past couple days.

Agenda for 11/6 and 11/7

  • Warm-ups/Technique
    • 1234, 4321
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • 1234, 2341, 3412, 4123
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up each string starting at high-E
    • 134, 341, 431
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Finger Stretches
      • 12, 13, 14
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) legato up neck
  • Theory
    • Pentatonic Scales
      • Position 1 all twelve roots
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Position 1 – 3 with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Positions 1, 5, 4 (down neck) with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Various blues, rock, and jazz licks derived from pentatonic scales
      • Various scale positions up and down neck
        • 50%, 60%, 75%, 100%
        • practiced until perfected, then 10x each
    • 12-bar blues progressions in keys of A, E, B, D, G
      • Varying strumming patterns
      • 4/4 time at different 80 – 140 bpm
  • Repertoire
    • 12-bar Blues Fingerpicking – Keys of A, E, G

11/6 and 11/7 Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 24 hours

Time Remaining: 9,976 hours

Day 13 – The Profundity of It All

Last night was very profound for me in many ways.

Slow is Fast
Slow, structured practice sessions are paying huge dividends.  While I’ve already elucidated upon this, I must reiterate it. I’m more accurate, more fluid, and feel more musical as a result of my slower-paced, structured practice regimen.  As stated in yesterday’s post, I don’t have a reliance on memorizing tab anymore.  I still use it to get the gist of things as I’m learning, but I’m not thinking: 5 – 8 – 8 (Low-E), 5 – 7 – 7 (A-string), and so on.  I’m hearing the sounds, instead. My fingers are drawn to what I hear versus what number I see.  What a liberating experience.  What a profound realization!

The Power of Support
Last night as I sat here in the office playing guitar, my wife sat beside me (as she does on most days and nights I work in the office).  We have an amazing connection. While we’re fully capable of living life apart from one another, we cherish time together. If what it is we’re doing lends itself to being together, we spend time together. While the time together is nice, what it’s truly indicative of is the level of support she gives me to pursue my playing (and other endeavors).

Michelle, my wife, and I are are each at our second go at marriage.  I’m glad we found each other, as is she. We were meant to have found one another, we most certainly were. We share a love and support of one another that was void from each of our first marriages.

My aim is not to turn this into a sappy love story (though I’m not ashamed to call it that), but to expound on the joy I find in playing as a result of the support she gives me to pursue my retirement dreams of playing guitar professionally. You see, this hadn’t always been my norm — neither the support or the joy.

I started playing guitar well before I met my first wife. I played day and night stealing licks from Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, and Buddy Guy, among others. I had gotten quite good, actually. It was very common for people to hear me playing and ask me who I was listening to. It was always fun to share that it was me who they heard playing.

This period of life, however, was short-lived.

While I won my ex-wife over (in part) with a serenade of a song on my acoustic guitar, her interest in my guitar playing endeavors was short-lived. She saw my guitar playing as a waste of time. She grew tired of me listening to the same songs over and over again in an effort to learn their riffs and licks. She saw my guitar playing as interfering with getting work done around the house, though it never interfered with any of the work I did (time management, interestingly, is something I take great pride in — it’s how I’m capable of achieving the many varieties of things I do). She complained about the noise, despite the fact I often played through headphones plugged into one of my practice amps behind the closed doors of the office that she wasn’t sitting in.

That was a lot of “shes”!

While there’s certainly more I can elaborate on in the context of my ex-wife’s lack of support of my playing, my aim is not to publicly bash her. My aim is merely to present the argument that pursuing one’s passion is challenging when those with whom you share a life don’t support your pursuit of said passion. As a result, my playing became sporadic at best. I completely lost the passion to play and developed the belief that I’d never be able to do anything with it. I started slowly selling off gear. I started preparing myself to move on from playing guitar ever again.

Last night as I was laying in bed reading, I rolled over toward Michelle and said, “Thank you.” She asked, “What for?”  I told her that I was thankful for her support and appreciation of me playing guitar.  Furthermore, I was appreciative of her support of me working to become a professional musician. She responded by saying, “That’s what we do for each other…we support one another.”

When Michelle and I met nearly three and a half years ago, we made a commitment to one another that we’d put each other and our collective relationship first so that we could be the best we could be for our families and friends. This notion was foreign to both of us in the contexts of our previous marriages. This commitment is paying huge dividends for a strong, united relationship in the context of our marriage, our relationships with our children, with family and friends, and in professional lives as educators. This commitment is paying huge dividends in the context of me pursuing my dream of becoming a professional guitar player.

I’ve found a passion for playing guitar again that I haven’t had since I first played some thirty years ago. I could argue that my impending (though still off in the distance) retirement has provided ample pressure to get my act together. While there’s certainly merit to be made for this argument, the freedom and flexibility I’m allowed to be me — to do me — in the context of my relationship with Michelle is more likely the root cause of this inspiration. I’m now allowed to pick up my guitar at any time, day or night and simply play when the inspiration strikes. I’m not condemned or belittled for it, but encouraged.

I never realized the degree(s) to which I could find inspiration and productivity in the context of being allowed to be me. It’s taken a lot of reflection and adaptation these past three and a half years, getting used to being “me” again, but it’s reflection and adaptation that is leading to better outcomes and better experiences.

It’s been a beautiful experience to play guitar again. It’s been beautiful experience to find me again.

What a profound realization!

Agenda for November 5, 2018

  • Warm-Ups/Technique
    • 1234, 4321
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • 1234, 2341, 3412, 4123
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up each string starting at high-E
    • 134, 341, 431
      • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Finger Stretches
      • 12, 13, 14
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) legato up neck
  • Theory
    • Pentatonic Scales
      • Position 1 all twelve roots
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Position 1 – 3 with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
      • Positions 1, 5, 4 (down neck) with legato and slides
        • 8th notes (60, 80, 90, 100, 120 bpm) alternate picking up neck
    • Various blues, rock, and jazz licks derived from pentatonic scales
      • Various scale positions up and down neck
        • 50%, 60%, 75%, 100%
        • practiced until perfected, then 10x each
    • 12-bar blues progressions in keys of A, E, B, D, G
      • Varying strumming patterns
      • 4/4 time at different 80 – 140 bpm
  • Repertoire
    • Everybody Hurts – REM
    • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
    • Take It Easy – Eagles
    • Silent Lucidity – Queensryche
    • Tin Man – America
    • Horse With No Name – America
    • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
    • 12-bar Blues Fingerpicking – Keys of A, E, G

Today’s Time: 2 hours

Total Time: 22 hours

Time Remaining: 9,978 hours

 

Days 5, 6, 7, 8 – Finding Time to Write and Overcoming Motivational Issues

Finding Time to Write
While it’s not been difficult to find time to play guitar, I have found it difficult to find time to write.   I spent this past weekend away from home.  While this didn’t present any hardships finding time to play (I took my Martin backpacker guitar with me), I found it difficult to write — no laptop, no internet connection.

In enjoy the writing.  While I’d venture to guess there’s not a large audience for somebody’s journaling of their guitar learning journey, I still find it cathartic (and necessary) to put my ruminations about the experience in print.  If nothing else, there’s a degree of accountability to myself (and the scant few who come across these pages) to practice (and get better at) playing guitar.

While I’ve not been putting words to print on a daily basis, I’ve been jotting notes along the way.  They keep fresh in my mind the things I’ve practiced and the lessons learned along the way.  What’s more, this journaling has given me a basis upon which to shape the text of this blog.

So, with all of this in mind (assuming anybody is reading these pages), I will make every attempt to write on a daily basis.  However, it’s probably much more realistic that I’ll be posting only several days a week — the bulk of the entries posted during the weekends.

Overcoming Motivational Issues
When I’m deeply passionate about something, I have great capacity to find joy in the process.  A by-product of finding this joy is a deep (and focused) commitment to practicing/learning.  What’s been odd about my guitar journey, however, is the disconnect between my joy of playing guitar and my desire to practice.

Why does any of this matter?  It doesn’t really, though for me it’s been defeating.  You see, my lack of desire to practice stems from a lack of motivation.  Motivation is both fleeting and unreliable.  My lack of motivation can be rooted to some degree in the following:

Practice, on most days, begins with drudgery.

  • Warm-ups suck
  • Dexterity exercises suck
  • Scale practice most often sucks
  • Metronomes suck

I love playing!  But, if I start with playing songs, I get discouraged because I’m not adequately warmed-up enough to appreciate my playing.

  • My hands cramp
  • I’m stiff
  • My tone sucks
  • I make errors in the fretting of notes and chords

What’s a person to do?  Well, I’ve done a few things.  Here’s what they are:

  • I’ve set goals — practice goals, weekly goals, 3-month, 6-month, and 9-month goals.  I measure and adjust accordingly.  I love reaching goals and establishing new ones.  This gives me a feeling of accomplishment.
  • I plan (within some degree of reason) each practice (another topic for another day).
  • Each practice item is a check mark – I’m motivated by check marks, even when I otherwise lack motivation.  Similar to goals, I love checking things off a list.  This gives me a sense of accomplishment.
  • Practicing songs is my reward – good, bad, or otherwise, I love making music.  As much as the preamble to practicing repertoire sucks, I persevere such that I can get to this part of my practice time.

I realize that the aforementioned may be perceived as nothing more than mind games, but they’re mind games that work — for me.

Getting started at guitar practice for me is akin to the days that I’d go on training runs in preparation for marathons and half-marathons.  I loved the marathons and half-marathons.  I, however, hated training runs — at least the first 2-3 miles.  You see, the first two to three miles of every training run were stiff and plodding, kind of like the first 15 – 30 minutes of guitar practice.  I, however, loved the endorphin high and the meditative state I’d achieve after the first few miles.

Now, I don’t get an endorphin high (not yet at least) while playing guitar.  I can, however, reach a meditative state after a while — a state in which things flow with seemingly effortless fluidity.  I get lost in songs.  Calculated movements become less calculated — fingers go where the music tells them to go, as opposed to where my mind had previously strained to direct them.  I feel both competent and confident about my playing when I achieve this state.

As a runner, I overcame the first 2 – 3 mile doldrums by affirming that I was soon to experience the meditative high I so enjoyed.  This often got me out the door in a timely manner and within 15 – 20 minutes of each run I was locked in.  The same self-talk is required of me in picking up the guitar to practice.  While picking up the guitar is not hard for me, picking up the guitar to practice is.  If I don’t pick up the guitar with intention, I know that I’ll soon be noodling on it rather than purposefully growing my chops.

So, prior to picking up the guitar, I run through the following:

  • What my goals for practice are
  • The order of events and how I’ll tackle them
  • The affirmation that after about half-hour to forty-five minutes I’ll be working on repertoire — the part of practice I so enjoy

Mind games?  Perhaps. But, for me, helpful.

Agenda for 10/25, 10/26, 10/27 and 10/28
With all of this talk about practice, I must confess, I didn’t get a chance to practice today (10/29).  I had meetings after school until after 7:00, completed my ballot (it’s election season) and completed the draft of this blog entry.

Nonetheless, I’ve been spending time prior to practice each day honing in on how I want to approach technical development.  The ins-and-outs of this process and its outcomes will be elaborated on in a future post, so I’ll not say too much about all of the exercises I’ve gone through over the past few days.

My repertoire hasn’t changed at this time, so I’ll not be addressing that either.  I have, however, been playing around with a couple of songs I played quite a number of years ago and have been thinking about adding them to my repertoire for no other reason than to broaden my scope and keep things interesting.  The songs?  Silent Lucidity by Queensryche and Tears In Heaven by Eric Clapton.

With that, here are my hours for the past few days:

10/25, 10/26, 10/27 and 10/28 Time: 6 Hours

Total Time: 12 hours

Time Remaining: 9,988 hours

Guitars – Part 1

Here are a couple of my guitars.  I have five of my own.  I had more, but sold some of them off a couple of years ago thinking that I’d never play guitar again.  At the time it was somewhat cathartic as I felt I’d made a definitive decision to move on from guitar, given that I’d not been serious about it in many years.  Needless to say, I’m a bit bummed now that I let go of them.  Live and learn.

Anyway, the first guitar is my baby.  It’s a 1997 Fender American Standard Stratocaster. While I had owned several guitars prior, it was my first nice guitar.  I could tell instantly that there was something to be said for the playability of nicer guitars over cheaper, less expensive guitars.  My dad sent it to the school I was teaching at as a surprise on my 30th birthday.

FenderStrat
1997 Fender American Standard Stratocaster

The next guitar was my most recent purchase.  I picked this guitar up during a post-divorce spending spree (actually, I picked up several guitars).  This is my Takamine P5NC. I have a love/hate relationship with it.  I love the way it feels in my hands and I love the way it looks, but I can’t seem to get a tone out of it I can appreciate.  I know that tone is really in my hands, so I’m fighting it right now to figure it out.  I practice on this guitar more than any of my others because I want to master it.

Takamine
2015 Takamine P5NC

Day 3.5

Not really half a day, but I kinda practiced last night and fully practiced tonight.

Last night, I had a FaceTime conversation with my daughter, who’s away at college.  It was great to talk to her, but after a long day of work the FaceTime conversation distracted me from playing guitar.  Sitting here at my desk, however, it was hard to keep my hands off the guitar while we talked.  I didn’t do anything deliberate; mostly noodling.

I found the distraction of talking while noodling on the guitar a rather interesting experience.  Rather than moving up and down the neck with a focused attention, my hands were moving up and down the neck with a sense of freedom.  There was an ease and comfort I felt, having freed my mind from the fretboard and letting my fingers work. Now, to be fair to anyone who reads these posts, I can’t admit that anything I was doing was too musical.

Despite any real musicality, I was playing the varieties of chords and chord progressions with a great deal of accuracy.  In addition, I was playing through my scale patterns (using a lot of legato and slides to accentuate my practice) with a great deal of fluidity.  Needless to say, it was fun.

The conversation with my daughter, while a distraction from deliberate, mindful practice sparked inspiration.  As I chatted with her, the guitar rang in the background. She hasn’t heard me play guitar in six or seven years.  She asked me, “Are you playing guitar again?”  I told her, “Yeah, I just picked it up again this past weekend.” She responded with an emphatic, “Yay, I’m happy for you!”

I was surprised by her happy, supportive response.  She knows, however, how much I’ve loved guitar but how elusive playing has been for me.  Nonetheless, her emphatic response further spurred my resolve to grind on.

I added a couple of songs to my repertoire today: Tin Man and Horse With No Name, both by America.  The chord progressions themselves aren’t difficult.  The strumming patterns, however, are a bit wonky.  I’ve never been much for trying to implement strict strumming patterns per the artist’s original implementation, but play by feel.  I’ve decided, however, that as I learn guitar this time around, I want to play each song with some sense of authenticity…realism.

I’d like to get the six songs I’ve been practicing locked down over the next month or so. In doing so, I’d like to move on to some more challenging material. But, what I’d really like to do is perform these songs somewhere, with someone else on vocals.

Anyway…here’s what practice looked like today.

Agenda for October 24, 2018

  • Alternate picking exercise
    • E harmonic minor scale on the open E string
    • 16th notes (60, 70, 80, 100 bpm)
  • String skipping exercise
    • Skipping strings through the 6th root minor pentatonic shape
    • 8th notes, (80, 90, 100, 112 bpm)
    • C root, G root, D root, A root, E root, B root
  • Legato exercise
    • Hammer-ons through the 6th root minor pentatonic shape
    • 8th notes, (80, 90, 100, 112 bpm)
    • C root, G root, D root, A root, E root, B root
  • Song Practice
    • Everybody Hurts – REM
    • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
    • Horse With No Name – America
    • Tin Man – America

Today’s Time: 2 hour

Total Time: 4 hours

Time Remaining: 9,996 hours

Day 2

Well, first things first.  I learned that trying to create a blog post on an iPad from the comfort of my bed is a recipe for disaster.  My last post was fraught with typos and formatting issues.  Will certainly have to stick with the desktop as a means in which to document my journey.

It feels good to get two consecutive days of deliberate (mostly deliberate) practice in. Though I haven’t really played in quite some time, I feel like my dexterity is there and my fingers haven’t been too sore. Despite my high level of comfort with the instrument, I’m going to take things slowly.  My son (a bass player, himself) had to remind me to engage with the metronome.  I don’t know how many times I’ve told him that over his years of practice.  The student has now become the teacher.

On another note, got another hour in tonight.  Would have liked to have gotten more in, but I had a late night at school.  Nonetheless, here’s what my practice looked like today.

Agenda for October 22, 2018

  • Alternate picking exercise
    • E harmonic minor scale on the open E string
    • 16th notes, no metronome (need to use one)
  • String skipping exercise
    • Skipping strings through the 6th root minor pentatonic shape
    • 8th notes, no metronome
    • C root, G root, D root, A root, E root, B root
  • Legato exercise
    • Hammer-ons through the 6th root minor pentatonic shape
    • 8th notes, no metronome
    • C root, G root, D root, A root, E root, B root
  • Song Practice
    • Everybody Hurts – REM
    • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran

Today’s Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 2 hours

Time Remaining: 9,998 hours

Day 1

Today was spent primarily setting up the blog.  I did, however, manage to get some practice time.  I got just over an hour on the guitar today.  I tried to be deliberate in my practice, though this is something I’m going to have to get better at.

Agenda for October 21, 2018

  • Warm-up (1234, 4321) up and down neck, across all strings
  • Pentatonic scales (connecting all five positions, no metronome)
  • Song practice
    • Everybody Hurts – REM
    • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
    • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
    • The Best of My Love – Eagles

Today’s Time: 1 hour

Total Time: 1 hour

Time Remaining: 9,999 hours

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.