If we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking ~ Buddhist Proverb
It takes time to learn to play an instrument. As a teacher, I strive to organize and present concepts and material in such a way that I can shorten the time required for my students to comprehend and digest the information they receive. Regardless of how well I do my job, however, no one will learn to play guitar without logging in a lot of practice time – and that practice time must be focused and efficient in order to produce satisfying results.
Ways to Use (or misuse) Time
In studying music, we are called to not only spend time ingraining skills through repetition, but also to devote time to independent problem-solving. Students commonly resist digging for an answer when, in fact, the deepest learning comes from just such effort. If you find yourself saying “I don’t understand” or “I can’t remember” quickly or often, try sitting with the challenge until you are able to find or remember the answer. This type of struggle is exactly what makes testing valuable – it pushes us farther than we might push ourselves. When we train ourselves to not only work through challenges, but to relish them, we boost our capacity for learning.
Another consideration of time as regards learning and practice relates to attention. In The Book of Secrets, Deepak Chopra says “The misuse of time is only a symptom for misplaced attention.” This broad wisdom certainly applies to the study of music and the attention required. For example, many guitar players choose to practice while watching television, hoping to expedite progress in the mechanical areas of guitar playing (building calluses, strengthening the fingers or programming muscle memory) through multi-tasking. What is ignored in this approach is the fundamental function of practice: what you do repeatedly, you will likely continue to do in the same manner. In other words, however you practice is how you will perform. If you practice unconsciously, you will likely play unconsciously in all situations, resulting not only in the production of unsatisfying music to both performer and listener, but also in confusion and anxiety in the performer who is catapulted into a highly aware state when faced with an audience.
Time is also a function of our learning in the choices that we make away from the practice room: when to walk away and how to direct our energy when we do. Learning has a natural cycle of activity and rest and by tuning into and responding to that cycle, we can optimize our investments and our inherent abilities. If we ignore the rest phase of the cycle, we not only suffer from a creative perspective, but we also risk physical injury. Take time away from the guitar to enjoy new experiences, open to fresh ideas and rest your mind and body!
Tenacity will take you far in the study of guitar and in performance goals, as well. If you are tenacious, it means that when you set a goal, you do what it takes to achieve it. Tenacity relates to will, desire and determination.
The emotional energy of tenacity is yang – it is an active energy. In attempting to conquer procrastination or the temptation to jump ship, it is helpful to summon that kind of energy. Make a plan, stay true to a commitment and employ discipline. Keep a practice log. Set regular goals for performance (even if only for a friend or family member) or record yourself. Get on it!
Unlike tenacity, patience is the ability to be still and allow time to work its magic. The emotional energy of patience is yin – passive and yielding. It feels like a soft and willing kind of resignation that is a cousin to surrender.
In order to increase patience, it is helpful to engage in practices such as breathwork or meditation. Learn to emotionally detach from self-judgment and to cultivate the ability to call up positive feelings about your musical expressions at any given point. Consciously enjoy your playing, regardless of your level, and be fully engaged and satisfied, while continuing to put one foot in front of the other.
If we are facing in the right direction
When applying the Buddhist wisdom to learning guitar, it is critical to give attention to every word of the sentence. Many determined people walk for months or years in the wrong direction.
I consider my principal job as a teacher to be to constantly monitor and correct the direction that my students are facing. Determining direction is the part of learning guitar that can be the most frustrating for those who are either without a teacher or are taking lessons from a teacher who is bound to a strict and inflexible curriculum. If you recognize yourself in this description, stop suffering and start seeking the guidance that will point you in the direction that you want to go.
Keep on Walking
The word “keep” is critical. It takes time. It takes more time that you probably bargained for. You may put in the time in increments of thirty minutes or you may log in 5 hours a day, but know that it will take time. One day you will look up from your playing and ask yourself “How did I get here?” The answer is – you kept on walking!