You Must Have Patience Grasshopper

When I first started learning guitar I was a total practice maniac! I had no real structure to my practice. I just put in the hours and hoped that I got better. And I did. But there was a problem. I practiced something different almost every day. My practice "schedule" changed from one day to the next. One day I would go nuts on one thing, and then the next day I would move onto something else. This created two major negative side effects…

Sore Hands: 

For example, I would often go so berserk on alternate picking exercises that my picking wrist would get incredibly sore. It would be so sore that I couldn't practice alternate picking the next day. So what did I do? I then went crazy with legato exercises. So much so that I wouldn't be able to practice legato the next day. So I went back to my trusty alternate picking. Mmmm…there's a pattern emerging here. :-)

Slower Progress:

Now, don't get me wrong. I progressed faster than any of my friends. But I definitely don't think I progressed at my fastest possible rate. If I had practiced less on an exercise, but did it EVERY day I think my progress would have been much faster. I guess the moral of the story is to temper your enthusiasm with intelligence.

 

Now that I'm a little bit older (and hopefully a little bit wiser!), I've come to realize that the reason why I practiced the way that I did was primarily because of one thing…

I lacked patience.

I definitely had passion. I definitely had discipline with practice. I was definitely was more than willing to make the necessary positive sacrifices to make time for guitar practice. But I wasn't patient. I wanted to master it all…and I wanted to master it yesterday!

 

Some Indicators Of Lacking Patience

As well as practicing in a very inefficient manner I also did the following things…

  1. I tried learning songs that were WAY beyond my current technical level at the time. This caused me to get sore hands and program a lot of tension into my technique. I then had to spend countless hours rebuilding my technique from scratch so that my playing wasn't so tense. And if you've ever had to do this…you know it ain't too fun to do! :-)
  2. I didn't always learn songs from start to finish. I would often start learning a song, practice it for a while, get bored of it, and then move onto the next song. So I ended up knowing bits-and-pieces of a lot of songs.
  3. I had a real resistance to mastering the basics. For example, when I first started playing I wanted to learn all the weird and wonderful scales first before I learnt the minor pentatonic scale!
  4. I would almost never take the time to truly master an exercise, lick and other musical materials.
  5. I had a VERY uneconomical playing technique, but I was totally unwilling to focus on the essential technical basics such as…
    • Reducing the finger pressure that I used to fret notes.
    • Reducing the size of my fretting-hand finger movements.

[SIDE NOTE: These are two of the most important technical things to focus on, but occasionally I'll get guitarists that come to me for lessons who are totally unwilling to spend time on these. I usually stop teaching them if the trend continues, because they are so fundamental to playing guitar well. And because it totally pisses me off if people don't practice what I ask them to practice. :-) ]

I'll stop there. You get the idea. I was an impatient Mo-Fo. My lack of patience slowed down my progress significantly. And because I don't want you to repeat the mistakes I made, here's a little exercise to help you develop the right mindset…

 

Craig's Patience Exercise

Step One: Choose

Choose something that you would like to master. It could be…

  • A guitar lick.
  • A riff.
  • An exercise.
  • A small chunk of a song you're having trouble with.

I recommend choosing something that is within your current technical ability, but will still challenge you. (In other words, don't choose a ridiculously hard Jimi Hendrix lick, if you can't even play a simple blues lick yet!). Choosing something insanely beyond your current level is a great way of getting tendonitis and other problems! (It is also a great way of crushing your confidence and generally feeling crap about your playing!).

Step Two: Set A Speed Goal

Decide on a speed goal for what you chose. Make sure that it is achievable but will still require a LOT of practice to reach it. Ask your guitar tutor for help if you're not sure what a realistic but challenging speed would be.

Step Three: Practice

Practice what you chose for 15 minutes daily until you have reached your speed goal. Keep at it every day…(even if you get sick of practicing it). Just patiently chip away at your goal until you have reached it. By doing this, you are doing something that many guitar players aren't prepared to do. And as a result, you'll get way above average results. (Assuming you know how to practice effectively!).

That's it. That's all you need to do.

Although this patience exercise probably seems really simple to do. I can guarantee that a LOT of guitarists who attempt this exercise it won't follow through. After a few days they'll make totally lame excuses and stop practicing it. They will give up before they truly mastered what they wanted to learn. And if they don't have the patience to master something short and relatively simple. How the heck are they ever going to gain a mastery of more complicated things like full songs or learning to improvise to a high level!

Until next time…work hard at this exercise. And don't forget…you must have patience grasshopper. :-)


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