Often we hit “plateaus” when we play guitar. We feel that we haven’t been improving.
That’s good! 🙂
To my delight I just started book called “Mastery – The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment” by George Leonard. Mr. Leonard points out the American “war on mastery” – an epidemic of wanting things “quickly and easily”. He then accurately describes the delicious, sweet, long term path to mastery through his story of Aikido.
The path to mastery is not a steady incline; there are growth spurts, and then long plateaus where on the surface “nothing” seems to be happening. At first, the student feels that these plateaus are disheartening and frustrating and wants only the peaks.
It’s only when the student puts his (or her) head back in the work and “slugs it out” or “plods along” and forgets results, that they get back on track. Along comes another “growth spurt” and a plateau and that’s the rhythm of the path. Sooner or later one learns to love the plateaus because one knows the growth is happening whether it’s apparent or not.
On TV and in movies, particularly in America, we are fed images of only the peak experiences, not the work surrounding them. Imagine the ads you see – runners crossing the finish line in victory, a family sitting down at a cozy Holiday dinner, a couple on the beach sipping Pina Coladas, and let’s not forget the lottery and every lure of “making money – fast!”
These are all peaks, no “process”. There is no indication of riding through plateaus, slugging it out and allowing oneself to learn. Why is this? Because it just “doesn’t sell”.
For someone aiming for quick and easy peaks, there will be a depressing “drop off” sooner or later, like a child who has opened the final Christmas present. I can tell you first hand that the truly solid satisfaction comes not from these “peaks”, but from plodding steadily along the path and developing something “real” and “solid” that can’t be taken away from you.
“Peaks” of mine (releasing CDs or DVDs, performing on a huge festival, doing a TV performance, getting a nice magazine spread, or racking up “Youtube Hits”) simply pale in comparison to the joy of the real work.
When I practice, I do it for the love of doing it. I play my scales every day with attention to “form”, relaxation, groove and tone. I run my repertoire for the delicacy and delight of playing with a deep satisfying rhythmic pocket and fingers that perfectly “touch” the strings.
I plod along, day by day – and will do so for my whole life. Day in, day out. That’s what I do. I practice for the love of practicing itself – with no result in mind. This is how I practice guitar.