I’ve been playing guitar for twenty years, but on a very amateur basis. I play it every few weeks maybe and, if i’m honest, haven’t learnt anything new for years. Until now. My new year’s resolution was to at least pick the thing up every day and, amazingly, i’ve actually learnt something. In fact i’ve learnt two things. Who would have thought? Practice really works!
But why is it so hard? Why have i spent twenty years failing to put in the time: if i’d dedicated myself to the cause all that time then today we’d be celebrating my latest album release rather than Bowie’s rather tardy affair. Is it just that i’m lazy? Is it just that i have no talent? Is it just that i try to do twenty other things? Or maybe a bit of a combination of all of these things?
There’s no doubt that it’s hard to learn things: i also started painting in watercolours when i was eighteen and, to my surprise, i find that i’m now quite good. I don’t mean that i’m good in that people would buy my work, but rather in that i can express myself in the way that i want to through the paints. I understand them: i understand how the colours float over the water, i know some tips and tricks, i can generally achieve a result approximately close to that which i desire. And i haven’t achieved this by painting a whole great deal, i’ve achieved it by consistently painting a little bit every month.
So it’s not necessarily a case of blitzing it, but rather being consistent.
I guess that one of the hardest things about learning an instrument is that the vast and yawning gulf between ones own ability and that of someone who is good is so apparent: and there is very little you can do to bridge that gap except to plug away. There are few short cuts to success. So what have i done that’s different? Where did my new found motivation come from?
Two key areas: firstly, i realised that in another twenty years time i actually want to be pretty good (so i’d better get started) and secondly, i’ve taken lessons. Lessons give structure and structure is the thing that can help bridge that gap between incompetence and a platinum disk.
They’re online video lessons: lessons on demand, so they fit with my schedule and give me a sense of accomplishment as i tick them off. Ok, so they’re not great, but it’s a start. Today, after a mere week, i actually feel i’ve learnt two things. Two things in a week makes it a pretty good week.
Some skills take a long time to learn: there are no short cuts to success, but there are ways to help us along the journey. We can map out a route and measure our progress along it. We can provide appropriate challenge and support. We can do things to make the journey easier, but we still rely on the self discipline to practice, practice and practice.