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?

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

You are not your
. 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

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
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.

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
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
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 skill presented 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!

(Don’t) Finish One Thing Before Starting Another

I tell you: one must still have chaos in
oneself, to give birth to a dancing star – 
Frederick Nietzsche

Face it – some of the well-worn lessons
that are taught both in and out of school are ineffective when it comes to
learning guitar. At the top of the list of aphorisms I reject is “finish
one thing before starting another.” It’s true that a lot of goals, both
small and large, are best achieved through a methodical and sequential
approach. It is also the case that many people feel that their success in
learning is dependent on mastering one concept or skill before considering the
next. Enjoying and playing music, however, is predominantly a right-brain
function, and as such, often calls us to embrace a squirming, out-of-focus and
unfinished picture. Clinging to a linear or graded approach invariably results
in sluggish progress and a lack of musical vitality. If your default learning
style requires you to feel confident and secure through each step of new
territory, maybe it’s time to try something new. Be adventuresome! Jump off the
Can Be Finished?
In the musical world, many things are
impossible to finish. For example, even when a song is performance or
recording-ready, the elements it contains may never be fully explored. When you
have “mastered” the fretboard, music theory or composition, there
will still be new relationships to encounter and songs waiting to be born. So,
the question in study and practice often comes down to: should I stay or should
I go?
Music Theory: A Puzzle

Because music comprehension is best
obtained by studying numerous musical elements and concepts simultaneously, it
is important to be willing to surrender to chaos when learning theory. Know
that with time and patience, the elements come together like the seemingly
unrelated pieces of a puzzle. If you are tenacious in placing the pieces, you
will see how each area feeds an understanding of the others and you will be
rewarded with a picture even before the project is completed.
In order to practice ear training,
for example, you need a language to describe aural relationships in music. That
language is provided by the study of music theory. If you postponed ear
training until you finished studying theory, however, you would never get to
ear training! Likewise, it would be both unsatisfying and unrealistic to postpone
playing your guitar until you had memorized all the notes
on the fretboard or saturated your knowledge of theory and ear training. Even
if you managed to persist on such a miserable course, your progress would
suffer, as the act of playing is itself instructive and using musical knowledge
as you acquire it deepens that knowledge. 
Songs: When It’s Okay to Move On (and When It’s Not)
While some people resist starting a new
song before they have “finished” the old one, others barely start a
song before becoming distracted by another. Both of these tendencies can inhibit
learning and cause frustration in the long-term. In order to determine the optimum time to spend on
learning a song, take an honest look at your personal style and habits. Are you
easily bored or distracted or are you a perfectionist? Do you shy away from
challenges or do you relish them?
It is natural to lose motivation and
consider dropping a piece when, in spite of diligent practice, you find
yourself making little or no progress. If this is a common problem, it’s
important to discover how to become unstuck.  If, however, the “stuck” is a
result of burnout or of attempting a piece that is beyond your level, it’s best
to set it aside. Sometimes it’s just not possible to push through problems in a song until you progress beyond them. Develop your skills systematically through playing
fresh material and you will find that when you return to the problematic piece,
you will take those skills with you.
Even when you don’t feel stuck, it’s a
good idea to overlap songs as you are learning, as opposed to perfecting one
song before beginning another. Striving for perfection can create stress and
sabotage your efforts – and, after all, your idea of perfection is subjective.
Strive instead for correctness.
Playing a piece correctly means that you
can play the correct notes and/or chords and that you play them in time.
Finished tempo isn’t necessary, nor is satisfying expression or tone, but stay committed to your process and
maximize your learning by conquering the basics of a song before leaving it –
and don’t forget to return when the time is right!
Practice Well to Finish Well

Although you may never completely finish
your exploration of music, when you look back over a period of time, you
probably want to feel good about your playing. You can make that happen by
cultivating good practice habits. Choose a broad course of study, but
make and meet small goals on a daily basis. Be present, persistent and patient during your practice
time. And remember that while becoming the musician
you want to become takes logging in plenty of intelligent practice, it helps if
you get comfortable with juggling! 

Patience, Tenacity and the Value of TIme

we are facing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking ~
Buddhist Proverb

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

studying music, we are called to not only spend time ingraining skills through
repetition, but also to devote time to
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.

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.
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!

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.

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!


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.

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

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.

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

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!

The Ideal Student

I enjoy keeping in touch with other teachers, both in my personal relationships and through forums. One topic that often comes up among music
teachers is “the ideal student.” I never contribute to these conversations in any expected way, mostly because I feel that all of my students are ideal students!


Of course, I know that the accepted definition of a good
student is one who is punctual, learns quickly, practices diligently, is
enthusiastic and ambitious and who attends lessons regularly and is prompt with
payment. Those are great qualities in a student – they make my job easy and fun
and I definitely appreciate them – but I don’t feel that a student has to
exhibit any specific qualities from the start of the relationship in order for
both of us to enjoy a satisfying experience. I have grown the most as a teacher
and a person by working through situations that are challenging or
uncomfortable. Can you imagine the thrill I feel when a student who has been
through four, five or more teachers is able to break through to a level of
playing they have sought for years? It is exhilarating to be able to facilitate
that leap for someone who has persisted so diligently in their quest and I am deeply
grateful that they didn’t give up on their goals before reaching my studio!
I start with the basic premise that if someone enrolls in
lessons, they want to learn to play guitar and that no one intentionally limits
his or her ability to do so. My job is to assist my students in reaching their
goals and that means helping them to develop effective approaches to learning, successful
practice habits, positive responses to the process, concentration, confidence,
creativity, coordination, manual strength and dexterity, listening skills,
pitch sense, rhythmic sense and more. In other words, I see a teacher as being
far more than someone who organizes and disseminates information – I see her
also as someone who, by listening and attending to the whole student, is able
to assist, support and fully participate in the process of learning.
As for those “ideal qualities,” I find that by resisting the
temptation to hold them as expectations or requirements, I am able to enjoy
their emergence as a natural part of the process
of learning how to learn. The rewards are rich: I have the opportunity to
practice patience, commitment and creativity and the student learns to make
music! That is a beautiful and gratifying experience that I wouldn’t trade for
all the ready-made “ideal students” in the world.