Welcome to the third installment in our series, Six Steps to Awesome!
At this point, we’ve come to what I believe is the single most important thing you can bring to the table as a guitarist.
What is that single most important thing?
I originally learned it from Jamie Andreas at Guitar Principles and the answer is so simple that it seemed like it couldn’t be true.
Is it talent? Time? Desire and enthusiasm? The willingness to work hard?
Yes, yes, yes and yes. All important.
But there’s one thing that trumps them all.
You have to pay attention.
Awesome Step #3: Pay Attention
It’s here in the conversation that most students look at me and say, “Um…ok.”
I think they’re expecting some sort of cool, top-secret, rock star guitar tip, something that would make everything seem crystal clear. Instead, I give them the Zen master response, which doesn’t clear anything up. At first.
You see, our ability to pay attention gives us the opportunity to solve all problems.
So many students pay so little attention to what they are doing on the guitar – that is, strict attention with complete focus – that they’re not only unable to tell you how to fix a problem, but they’re often unaware that there was a problem in the first place!
Improving on guitar really boils down to our problem-solving abilities:
Making a chord sound clean and clear.
Playing a scale passage in legato fashion.
Using the correct fingering on a riff.
Accurately playing the notes that are written on the TAB.
Making sure that our strum pattern is consistent.
Executing a bend with proper technique.
These are just some of the basic problems that guitarists need to solve.
But there can be no problem-solving without first identifying the problem. And there is no identifying the problem without attention and focus.
Bottom line: Your ability to pay attention is your greatest asset as a learner of anything.
Guitarist, Know Thyself
Here is my personal criteria for paying attention: If I stop you at any point, you should be able to tell me what you just did, with what fingers, and why.
If you can’t tell me these three things, then you’re not really paying attention.
I firmly believe that if you shot a video of me playing guitar for thirty minutes, you could stop it at any point, ask me what I just did and why, and I would be able to answer you definitively.
I feel like I have a pretty strong focus even when playing casually, but that only comes from making attention a priority.
You must be your own best monitor. This way, as you practice guitar, you are also practicing the skill of paying strict attention.
Soon you’ll have such self-awareness that you’ll be consistently in the “attention zone” without even realizing it. At that point, you can quickly and efficiently solve problems as they come along.
[Note: Learning music by ear is a fantastic way to develop your “attention zone”. Check out The Lost Art of Learning by Ear.]
Stop going through the motions and instead bring laser beam focus to your guitar practice.
Those Magical Motions
You know when going through the motions can actually be helpful, though?
After you’ve solved some playing problems with your ninja-level focus.
Then – and only then – can casually performing the movements be worthwhile and, dare I say, even encouraged!
At that point we’re reinforcing the movements, not learning them. And we’re building a connection and comfort level with the instrument by keeping it in our hot little hands.
My ukelele student, Mike Rose, is a professional magician. He once told me that sleight-of-hand card tricks are considered some of the most technically demanding tricks of all. Once they’ve mastered the basic moves, though, magicians simply “fiddle with the cards” . They spend a lot of time with the cards in their hands – going through the motions – which gives them a stronger comfort level with the deck.
All great ballplayers have spent innumerable hours playing catch, dribbling a ball with hands or feet, spinning it on a finger, keeping it up in the air, swinging an imaginary bat or shooting an imaginary ball. It’s all about reinforcing the movements and developing a comfort level by simply keeping the ball in your hands.
You can do the same with your guitar.
Once you’ve solved some problems by paying attention, go ahead and casually practice changing chords while watching TV. Work on your fingerpicking technique on your leg while you sit at a red light. Practice your scale fingerings while you wait at the dentist.
However you do it, go through the motions with a purpose.
Being awesome doesn’t happen by accident. Pay attention at a deep level to make real, meaningful progress.
If you’re bringing laser beam focus to your practice, then I’ll see you at Awesome Step #4: Be Consistent. Cheers!
QUESTION: Do you make paying attention a priority? Or do you find yourself going through the motions more often than not? Leave me a comment below!