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

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

Day 4

Well, got a couple of hours under my fingers tonight.  It was a good night.

I didn’t do anything really technical, nor was I very deliberate in my practice.  I simply practiced a lot of songs, over and over and over.

I did video record myself.  It’s an exceedingly awkward process.  The audio quality sucks and the video lags.

I’m using a Logitech HD 1080P camera of some sort to record the video and the audio. I’ll certainly have to figure out how to better capture video if I’m going to post any of my progress.  I don’t mind being scrutinized for the quality of my playing, but I don’t really feel like getting bashed for the quality of the audio and video.

As I stated above, recording yourself is an awkward process.  It’s not so much that I feel uncomfortable in front of the camera, but I’m distracted by both the camera and video playback as I record what I’m doing.  It’ll take some getting used to, but I’ll manage.  It’ll just take some time.

On another note, I realize why I miss playing guitar.  When I was playing guitar consistently for a period of time some years ago, I would experience these moments when I played that were meditative in nature.  I achieved a state of mindfulness, a state of being present in the current moment, tonight.  It’s an amazing feeling.  I’m sure other people have these experiences when they play.  They’re hard to quantify.  For me, the best way to describe what is going on at these moments is deep connectedness and presence.  There’s an insane clarity and comfort that is achieved.

Anyway…tonight was fun.  I blasted through quite a few songs tonight.  Here’s what I played:

Agenda for October 25, 2018

  • Everybody Hurts – REM
  • Thinking Out Loud – Ed Sheeran
  • Take It Easy – Eagles
  • Blackbird – The Beatles
  • Tin Man – America
  • Horse With No Name – America
  • Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen

Today’s Time: 2+ hours

Total Time: 6 hours

Time Remaining: 9,994 hours

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 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.