Greets friends! I am back in the oven known as August in New York after a very nice 14 days on the west coast.
An interesting thing happened at a guitar class/lecture/performance and I’d like to share it with you. My good friend Frank teaches an evening guitar class at a college in the Bay Area, and I got to do a Q&A and playing session for one of his classes.
I find it hard to speak and perform in the same setting. It’s like I don’t know whether I am in the left brain or right brain zone. When I finally got down to performing that night, I had what I consider to be an unacceptable memory slip on a tune that I have played a million times – “Billie Jean”. Partially because of the mental zone, but also due to preparation.
Recently I upgraded the chorus to fit the phrasing of the original song better, and the newer different fingering was new enough that it still required conscious control. I had yet to get the new fingering into the subconscious so that the fingers just “go there”.
I don’t think anyone else except Frank knew. My mind went blank for a split second for the fingering of the chorus of the song due to the newness of the fingering. I played the melody with chord forms under it and got right back on…but I thought to myself “I gotta drive this down even deeper into my subconscious – first thing tomorrow!”
I wasn’t angry, did not beat myself up, and the performance was just fine from the audiences point of view. However, this flaw was to be addressed in my next practice sessions.
(There’s nothing like performing to show you what you need to practice 🙂
I decided to use some of the techniques I’ve learned from success coach Brian Tracy to drive this tune deep to the level of never ever botching it ever again. These motivational techniques are nice to “hear” but I decided to use them and see if they worked any differently from standard “practicing”.
Here’s a recent video of Billie Jean live where I am in performance mode! No problems here….just a lot of heat that day:
1) Make it the #1 Priority
Sounds simple, but I made this the #1 priority in my life for a few days. It’s one of my most requested tunes, so it deserves this attention. How often do we know we need to make something a priority and then allow small things to get in the way? This was (and is still) priority #1 until it is bulletproof.
2) Use Positive Self Talk
I carefully guarded my speech and said over and over “I play Billie Jean perfectly. I nail it to the wall. My version of Billie Jean is flawless.”
I gave energy to the positive vision, not the negative. You dig?
I went to sleep visualizing the right left hand fingering. This was hard!!! Every time I woke up out of sleep, I tossed and turned and only visualized the right fingering! I flooded my mind with the right visual.
4) Practice in 15 Minute Time Chunks
Brian Tracy says somewhere that our minds pick up the most at the beginning and end of practice sessions. I practiced for a few days, and for each 15 minute chunk of practice I played the chorus to Billie Jean. 15 minute chunks do more for your mind than an hour straight he says.
That’s it. Practice makes perfect…now get to work!!!! As soon as I hit the post button it’s practice time.
Lyle Robinson says
Awesome Adam…:) Both the text and the music! Church bells in the background threw me for a moment as I thought it was another guitar player “trying” to jam the song with you…great rendition and thank you for that. Take care and all the best.
Yeah, I love the bells….Charles Ives could not have planned it better!
Hey Adam, interesting post, I’ve recently been espousing “play through your mistakes”. Along the lines of “you are going to make a mistake sometime…so rather than purely focus on being mistake-proof, learn how to deal with them.” And you did exactly that; played through when your flubbed it – and nobody noticed except you.
It’s a noble cause, aiming to get it perfect every time, and I think at the ultra-professional end of the scale it is a requirement. But I think, before then, learning how to deal with a brain-drop out so that nobody notices except very astute listeners is very important. Missed melody notes, dropped bass notes, even “oops wrong chord” – all forgivable – but to drop a beat…or even stop and restart at the last juncture; nope, that should never happen.
I tackle this by *always* playing a song, (once it’s past the “learning” phase) from start to finish, fumbling through any mistakes without dropping beats or tempo. You learn a subtle “don’t panic” skill by playing through mistakes; and how to fumble your way through them.
Strive for perfection; but prior to that, know what to do when you aren’t. Perhaps it’s a bit defeatist; perhaps you can’t strive for perfection if you are prepared to accept mistakes. Perhaps that is the difference between a true professional and happy hobbyist – true professional has it perfected, happy hobbyists forgive themselves their mistakes but don’t let those mistakes stop the music.
…but either way, so long as it’s bringing joy, it’s all good! 🙂
Absolutely. Another “skill that must be practiced” is the skill to let go of a mistake and carry on.
It’s the “quarterback” mentality. If you fumble, you still got the rest of the game to play…so get on with it! 🙂
One of the most enlightening lessons I got was watching a video of myself in concert…mistakes were barely noiticeable, but at the time of playing I felt awful.
I try to just take note of what needs to be sharpened for the next practice session, and it’s cool to be on stage and know that any mistakes are not really even there for the crowd.
Additionally, I have noticed that when I sit on the audience side, I am supporting the artist on stage. If they make a mistake, I am pretty forgiving.
Quinn Fitzpatrick says
Thanks for sharing your experience and tips on mistakes and performing. I have a practice related question- when learning a song for the first time do you focus on it to the exclusion of all other material or just make more time for that particular piece in the context of a practice routine?
Thanks for the inspiration.
Paul Owens says
just a question hope you dont mind,
Your books with tabs etc is there also written notes sheet music stlye?
Thanks in advance
And hats off to you
Adam Rafferty says
The DVDs come with tab booklets. Mind you – they are small booklets more for reference and used as an aid with the DVD than “score” type music stand reading.
Printing full size books is prohibitively expensive for all of us.
Notation and tab comes in the booklets.
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Thanks! This is great advice. I’ve been work on “Classical Gas” and I’m going to apply this.
Bob Ginn says
Oh Man, I know what you mean. It is the strangest feeling as I have this happen just practicing and it happens to songs that I have done for years. I would rather forget my Name then any part of a song. It is so frustrating when this happens. I have stared at the fretboard sometimes for 10 seconds and almost have to laugh. I know this part, so where did it go? Here is what I have found happens so many times. It is a life thing. When you have other things going on in your life that are challenging, sometimes they just bleed in and interrupt what you are doing. So, I am now trying to find ways to put those thoughts away for awhile.
your posts are always very inspiring. Incredible how you adress topics I am brooding about and problems I am fighting with in a very practical and intellectual way.
I will instantly follow your recommendations for dealing with mistakes. Thanks!
I am very much looking forward to your next post1
Greetings von Vienna,
john Hughes says
I totally agree with you, that you have to do the things above and in my case it works, I came to guitar playing late in life so memory is a MAJOR issue but following these steps really help me thanks again,
Adam Rafferty says
Nancy Pappas says
That was awesome I can’t help saying that you make playing guitar easy. How having playing for a while I know the to get to the goals one sets for their progress takes time
work and practice . Thanks Adam for these emails and reminders.