Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race. – Calvin Coolidge
Ryan Sullivan – or “Sully” as his friends call him – is a beginner guitarist. He’s an adult student in his mid-30s, has a family, and owns his own business. Earlier this year he decided to take the plunge and fulfill his dream of learning to play guitar, so he called yours truly. (A brilliant decision, if I may say so. 🙂
Anyway, Sully and I have been powering through private sessions since the spring but it hasn’t always been an easy road. Although he loves music, he had never played an instrument before and had no real idea how lessons worked. Much to his surprise, Sully also didn’t seem to be particularly “natural” in the music learning process – as he would admit to you, everything was a struggle, from the fingering of chords to strumming in rhythm to understanding TAB notation on paper. He thought it would come to him much more easily, but every day was a battle.
What Sully does have in his favor, however, is serious determination and an inordinate amount of self-confidence (he once ran a marathon without actually training for it, if that gives you an idea). Although I sometimes wondered if he would give up, given the number of times that he seemed discouraged at his lack of discernible progress (at least to him; I could tell we were improving in baby steps), he always told me, “I’m in it to win it, JB.”
So while we waited for that first major “breakthrough”, I did what I could to keep lessons positive. I suggested that he stay patient; I reminded him that everyone “gets it” in their own time, but that it would happen one day; I made sure that he recognized improvements and didn’t dwell on perceived failures; and I kept nudging us forward, lesson after lesson. (We also make sure to laugh. A lot.)
This past Monday evening, Sully finally had a real breakthrough on John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses”. We worked it diligently until he was playing the entire intro, with a sliding single-note riff and a syncopated strum pattern in rhythm and in time. Needless to say, he was pretty psyched. Then today, I got this message:
“So I dusted off some old stuff we worked on at the beginning just to see if I’ve truly improved. I printed “Margaritaville” off of my iPhone app and played the entire song with no problem. I was in shock. I couldn’t even change chords last time I was playing that. Then I pulled out “House of the Rising Sun” and played the entire thing – again, no problem. I would have rather stuck a fork in my eye last time I was grinding thru that song.
I actually have really come a long way. I relate it to someone trying to lose weight. They may not notice it themselves because they see themselves everyday. It’s only when they run into someone they haven’t seen in a few months when they realize they’ve lost 20lbs.
I’ve been playing “Pink Houses” a lot and have Shinedown’s “Second Chance” down pat already. My wife is shocked. It’s becoming very addicting for me. I want to learn a lot of new songs, then realize there’s a chord I don’t know….mostly the dreaded barre chords. Needless to say I need to grind through those so I can keep progressing. For next Monday night, I’m thinking some “Sweet Home Alabama”…?
Thanks for everything, JB. I may be a guitar ninja after all.”
The take-home points: Persistence and determination are the elements most critical to your success. Not talent, not genius, and not education. If you recognize your own guitar adventures in Sully’s story, just stick to it and be patient…and the music will come in its own time.
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