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.