It’s Okay!

I realized last night that I had heard myself say those two words repeatedly throughout my teaching day. When I thought about it, it seemed that we all might do ourselves a lot of good if we developed the habit of frequently telling ourselves “it’s okay!”

The majority of people I have taught tend to screech to a halt when they play a wrong note or when they question the quality or accuracy of some aspect of their playing. Unfortunately, this halting not only disrupts the flow of the performance, it also stops the flow of learning! In order to circumvent this problem, I have developed a habit of anticipating and dissolving the feeling of insecurity before it manifests as the bigger mistake of halting! When I say “it’s okay,” what I am conveying to my student is “I heard it, too, and it’s not a big deal, so you can let it go and continue to move forward.”

There will never be a time when every note you play on the guitar is clear and precise, but there can be a time when your playing is consistently expressive and satisfying. If your goal is to play with expression and to have fun doing it, the best way to achieve that is to practice doing it every time you play. You don’t need to wait until you are good enough. If you can play anything at all, you can do it musically! Just pick the simplest thing you know how to do on the guitar and commit to playing it exquisitely.

Simple is great. but as you progress in your playing, you will inevitably feel challenged. When this happens, you will need to employ problem solving and plenty of practice before you are able to find the flow that you enjoyed in more familiar music. The solution is to patiently follow good practice methods, practicing small bits at a tempo you can handle. And even as you are slogging through your repetitions, remember to go for the musicality. Make that musicality a key component of everything you play and you will enjoy your guitar a lot more – and so will the people who hear you play!

Teaching: The Road to Now

I never get tired of teaching, because, for me, it is an incredibly creative pursuit. There are principles that are important for any guitar teacher to pass on, and in the early years of teaching I saw my job as imparting information and principles.

The lessons I gave in those years focused mostly on the stuff you can get from books or videos – songs, scales, note reading, theory. I quickly discovered that I could continually improve my abilities to impart that information by honing my communication skills and tuning in to the needs, learning styles and responses of each student. Doing so felt creative and my students learned quickly and enjoyed their lessons, but as the years passed, I became bored and convinced that I could give more.  And so I started down a long and enlightening road that I happily expect to never end.

These days I still teach the all important musical principles and information, but what now drives the lesson is the desire to give each individual what is impossible to get from books or videos: how to adjust the hands or body to affect the sound; how to focus the mind or shift a thinking style in order to learn the music more deeply and efficiently; how to abandon the analytical aspects of the music and feel through a song, infusing it with rhythm that is both correct and moving; how to improvise, make up songs or just have fun! The only way for me to do these things is to be 100% present – watching, listening and feeling – and then to allow intuition and creativity to bring forth ideas and processes that create a powerful shift for the student. THAT is remarkably effective and it makes me high every time!

Do the Sun Salutation Every Day

Do the sun salutation every day. It may be a day when the house is cold, one or more appliances are broken and the bills are stacked up on your desk. It may be the next day in a long line of days after you have lost someone you deeply loved. It may be a single day from many that you have striven to overcome physical pain. It may be a day when you feel numbed by the violence on the planet.

Just roll out the mat, light the incense, put on the music. You may complete the first cycle, come back into prayer position and look up to see the sun brightening the tops of the trees. And in that moment, you may experience perfect bliss.


Sharpening the Senses Through Solitude

Want to sharpen your senses and expand your creativity? Try getting away – alone! We all know that stepping away from the demands of our typical schedule is great therapy, but we don’t often look at solitude as a valuable component of that therapy.Through both choice and circumstance, I have come to realize that my nature demands periods of solitude, with only the sounds and energies of Nature as a companion. As I attend to those demands, they grow, like an insatiable hunger.

Each day of quiet that I give to myself sharpens my senses more. During my daily country chores the creaking of the barn door becomes increasingly loud, the banging of the wheelbarrow as it rattles across the rocks is almost deafening and the hot breeze moves through the tree branches as if amplified in a concert hall. Every particle of dust or blade of grass appears bright and bold, as if viewed under a magnifying glass. Scents of plants, animals and the earth itself compete for my attention.

As senses are sharpened, mental chatter subsides, opening the consciousness to clarity. With clarity comes both increased creativity and a deepening sense of peace. The mind empties, creating space for healing and insight.

While it is impossible to thrive or even survive in true solitude, as in “solitary confinement,” experiencing an absence of human company while relishing the vibrancy of Nature is nothing short of bliss. May you enjoy it often!

This rabbit showed up for me today. Can you see him?


Are you passionate about guitar? Even if you wouldn’t describe yourself as passionate about creating music, you probably have deep feelings attached to the experience. After all, it is the emotional aspect of music that inspires and motivates us to listen and play – so what role could detachment possibly play in musicianship?

Ironically, detachment may be the musician’s most valuable tool for achieving artistic success. This does not mean that someone who achieves mastery in detachment will produce dispassionate performances. In fact, the opposite is likely to occur, as detachment invites a level of focus that allows deep emotions to emerge in a musical performance.

How Will It Help?

Learning guitar is challenging, but it shouldn’t be chronically frustrating. If you experience impatience or anxiety about your progress, you may be wasting valuable time and energy on judgment of yourself and your abilities, as opposed to engaging in detached analysis and improvement of the performance. It’s no fun to feel like less of a musician (or even more miserably, less of a person!) because of imperfections in your playing!

Detachment will help you to alleviate disruptive feelings and learn to direct your practice time and energy productively. When you learn to stay focused and disassociated from the ego during practice, you will find that you are only a small step away from accomplishing the same onstage. In other words, detachment can not only help you to learn more efficiently, it can also help you to diminish or eliminate performance anxiety!

How Do You Do It?

The first, and perhaps most important, place to implement detachment is in the practice room, where you have a quiet and private place to develop the ability to witness, critique and correct your work without succumbing to frequent and debilitating emotional responses.

Begin with intention. Before you pick up your guitar, set a goal to listen deeply throughout your practice session and to maintain objectivity in uncovering and improving problem areas. Be relentless in your commitment to this musical goal, which does not allow time for indulging in self judgment and unproductive mental distractions. Remember, every time you respond emotionally to your practice, you have gone off task.

When you first begin the process of practicing with detachment, you may have to do some self-coaching: “Keep moving!” “No criticizing allowed!” “Keep your eye on the ball!” No matter how much coaching is required to keep moving toward your goal, just give it to yourself. You will succeed!

Good Things to Remember

You are not your playing. No one is born a great player and each musician has a unique timetable. It is important to honor yours!

Your playing will never be without “mistakes” – but you may reach a level where those mistakes no longer matter to you or your audience and they may even go unnoticed. The truth is, the less they matter to you, the less they will matter to your audience – and you have control over how much they matter to you!

A sense of humor may be your best ally. Of course, it’s important to continually strive for exceptional technique, tone, melodic content, rhythm and more – but don’t forget to have a good time!

For optimum practice results, follow this guide!

Exercising Patience

Further thoughts on this post (Patience, Tenacity and the Value of TIme)

I did not arrive on this planet with patience – I had to gather it along the way. My nature is to think and move quickly and I easily fall into a rhythm with others who do the same. Slow movers were, for many years, a source of discomfort for me. But a lifetime of conscious work and a plethora of deep experiences transformed my impatient responses and I am far richer for it.

Learning to play guitar taught me patience, but my stubborn habits knocked me around a bit along the way. I was too hard on myself and I hurried so much toward arbitrary goals that I neglected to listen to my physical and emotional bodies. My current mission is to help others avoid beating themselves up as hard and as often as I did. Tenacity, discipline, commitment, all cornerstones of deep learning and musical achievement, have always been mine for the taking and they have served me well. Patience, however, was not an easy fourth cornerstone for me to find and place. It was only with the strength provided by the first three that I managed to succeed.

Teaching guitar presented swift and straightforward lessons in patience. How could I truly give to my students if all I offered them was information? In order to give my students the best of myself, I had to meet them where they were – on all levels of their being. That meant I needed to relentlessly respect the tempo of the individual. As I practiced giving that respect to others, I began learning how to give the same to myself. In time, that gift provided a vital flow of creative and emotional nourishment and became a guide toward a fulfilling life.

Love brings a person to patience and I run on love. Waiting for a child to determine which shoe goes on which foot, a horse to take a long draw from the water bucket or a cat to decide “in or out?” – these are all acts that require surrendering to a tempo that may initially seem tortuous. But the magic of an open heart is that it adjusts quickly and willingly to merge with the pulse of the beloved.

Nature is the best teacher I’ve found for cultivating not only patience, but also an ability to tap into and respond to intuition and creativity. Nature invites us to sacrifice our artificial agendas in order to step into the mystery. I have come to depend on my peaceful country home to provide ongoing comfort and personal lessons.

I love my subdivision road. It takes 6 minutes to go the 2 miles to my house, if you drive it well, which means patiently. Of course, you can arrive in less time, but you not only risk banging the bottom of your vehicle on the rough, unpaved road, you will most certainly miss the albino squirrel, the occasional jackrabbit or the subtly changing view from the high, tight curve in the road.

Those who are in a hurry to get here sometimes report “I love your place, but I don’t like your road.” Of course, I understand that from a certain perspective, the delays can be frustrating and uncomfortable. But from another perspective, every rock in that road is sacred.

If you didn’t have to drive a slow and bumpy 2 miles to get to this place, you wouldn’t find this place at the end of the 2 miles. What is that sublime feeling that washes over you as you make your way up my driveway? It is the absence of traffic noise, the multitudes of unseen wildlife and the whispered wisdom of the trees. It is the non-violence of excessive machinery or hard, formed concrete. It is a history of respect between Human and Nature. It is the most exquisite harmony, complex, yet stunningly simple, and there for all who are patient enough to listen.

My Awesome, Bull-Headed Neighbor

He lives just across the road, but I don’t get to see much of him, as the end of my driveway is not within view of my house. Also, he and his herd have plenty of acres to roam and he doesn’t often graze on my side of his territory. When we met last week, it struck me that although there may be a lot of people who would describe a neighbor as bull-headed, I’m one of the lucky few who can do so with delight and awe!

Could You Repeat That, Please?

Fingerings, chord shapes, lyrics – you learn them one day and the next they’re gone. Maybe you’ve been taught notes on the staff, scale formulas or chord formulas in the past – and maybe more than once – but you can’t seem to retrieve the information or put it to use. It can be pretty frustrating. But the good news is, your frustrations are less likely caused by your musical limitations than they are by unrealistic expectations and a flawed approach to learning.

Perhaps because music making has such a magical quality to it, we tend to forget that the same laws that govern any other type of learning apply to learning music. Regardless of whether we are studying geography, poetry or chord formulas, the key to retaining information is repetition. By using that key effectively, you can immediately and dramatically increase your progress on guitar!

Short-Term vs. Long-Term Memory

Remember cramming for a test in school? Although you may have remembered enough of the information the next morning to pass the exam, how much of that information was still available to you the following week? If you took the same test a month later, your score would certainly be lower yet and with the passing of a year, you might remember little or none of the information.

By devoting yourself to one intense period of study (cramming), you managed to succeed in committing information to short-term memory. Without sufficient repetition, however, the same information never moved into your long-term memory. If, instead, you had reviewed, taught and used that same information repeatedly over a period of time, you would have moved it into long-term memory and probably would have aced the test a year later.

The same principles of short- and long-term memory apply to learning guitar. When you memorize a chord formula, for example, you can easily move it into long-term memory by reviewing it repeatedly and in varied ways and then putting it to use. The more you practice intelligent memory storage, the more efficient your learning becomes!

In order to capitalize on this basic truth about learning, I included worksheets for every concept or skillpresented in A Guitar Player’s Guide to Music Theory, and I urge students to do the worksheets repeatedly. If you are trying to learn from a course or system that doesn’t encourage or allow sufficient repetition, don’t blame yourself for your frustrations – get a new course, system or teacher!

It all comes down to practice, but not just any kind of practice. There are specific ways to practice that will maximize the benefits of repetition.

Take small bits

All aspects of guitar playing, including ear training and theory, become manageable and fun when you break down the material into small bits and then practice sufficiently. Take a small bit, memorize it, then take another. Review both bits before taking a third. Resist the temptation to memorize too much in one session. Instead, walk away when (or before) you perceive a decline in your mental performance. When you return after a break, review the material thoroughly before taking on more.

Review new material on the same day of the lesson

You will save a lot of time and energy by nailing down new information on the same day you first learn it. If you don’t have time to devote a full practice session to the new work, make sure that you at least think through it before the day is done.

Review the material in varied ways and from varied perspectives

Read it, write it, draw it, apply it to other songs or teach it to someone else. If, for example, your goal is to learn the formula for a scale, first study it and then test yourself on it repeatedly by writing it, saying it out loud and finding places to play it on your guitar. Last but not least, teach it!

Log in a sufficient number of correct repetitions

The amount of repetitions required for mechanical skills (exercises, scales, licks, passages) varies according to the complexity of the skill, but will probably be more than you expect. Always remember that the point at which you can correctly play a passage is the point at which your practice should begin – and that only correct repetitions will be beneficial. Once you begin those repetitions, don’t count them, just do them – and then do them some more.

Be prepared to study facts, information and concepts (theory, note recognition, etc.) in varied ways a minimum of six to ten times, with hours or days in between.

Be intentional

If you want to memorize a passage, song or concept, put your attention on doing so. Playing a piece numerous times while gazing at the music will not result in memorization. Instead, make an intention to memorize it and take the proper steps (above) to make it happen.

Clean up your language

Now that you understand the reasons behind your frustration and have some solutions, clean up habitual thoughts or language that drag you down and misdirect your mental and emotional energy. In other words, keep your eye on the ball and practice productive thinking. In expressing your feelings about your guitar progress, for example, avoid the word “should” as in “I should be able to…” Instead, take a minute to realize how far you have come and then get to work!

It’s true that insufficient, incorrect or ineffective practice can hold you back. A big part of my job as a teacher is to identify practice problems for my students and present solutions. But even the most creative solutions invariably depend on the power of repetition!