Monday, November 17, 2008

Taking it slow

My thumb needs a break. I've been learning "sweet child of mine" and my hand it getting cramps! I got the intro down tonight, but looking ahead to the solo... that's going to take some time. It's been a while since I've learned a "hard" song, and my "hard" I mean one that takes more than an hour to learn. It's good for me though. My hand is cramped because I just played the intro about 700 times in a row. I don't have the studies to back this up, but my high school band teacher told me that our muscle memory will develop faster for a task if it's done the exact same way over and over. The speed isn't that important, it's the movements that are. He told us if you try to play something hard up to speed right away but keep making mistakes it will actually slow your progress since you're planting the wrong way to play it in your brain as well as the right way. He was big on playing it slow until you can do it right, then bringing it up to speed. Like I said I don't know the science behind it, but it's always seemed right to me. Sweet child of mine is at 126 bpm so I started at 80 until I could play it right, then moved up 5 bmp until I was at 130 (overachiever!) I'll probably do it every day this week and after that it will magically be in my hands and I won't have to think about it anymore.

*grabs his soap box and steps up* So much of guitar is about time. Talent will get you so far, after that it's about work and putting in the hours. Think of how good of a player you were 5 years ago compared to now. You'll be that much better in 5 more years if you keep at it. I hate to blame "culture" but our culture really worships youth. I play with a bass player who just turned 48 and he's a MONSTER player - because of the time he's put into it. If you think you can't rock when you're over 25 you obviously missed The Who on their reunion tour. I hope to be playing windmills when I'm 80 or 120 or however old Pete Townshend is now. They say it takes 10,000 hours to master a craft. In fact, I just came across this great article everyone should read. It's mostly about Bill Joy who is big in the computer world, but it applies to any craft. Here's an except from the article:

In the early 90s, the psychologist K Anders Ericsson and two colleagues set up shop at Berlin's elite Academy of Music. With the help of the academy's professors, they divided the school's violinists into three groups. The first group were the stars, the students with the potential to become world-class soloists. The second were those judged to be merely "good". The third were students who were unlikely ever to play professionally, and intended to be music teachers in the school system. All the violinists were then asked the same question. Over the course of your career, ever since you first picked up the violin, how many hours have you practised?

Everyone, from all three groups, started playing at roughly the same time - around the age of five. In those first few years, everyone practised roughly the same amount - about two or three hours a week. But around the age of eight real differences started to emerge. The students who would end up as the best in their class began to practise more than everyone else: six hours a week by age nine, eight by age 12, 16 a week by age 14, and up and up, until by the age of 20 they were practising well over 30 hours a week. By the age of 20, the elite performers had all totalled 10,000 hours of practice over the course of their lives. The merely good students had totalled, by contrast, 8,000 hours, and the future music teachers just over 4,000 hours.

The curious thing about Ericsson's study is that he and his colleagues couldn't find any "naturals" - musicians who could float effortlessly to the top while practising a fraction of the time that their peers did. Nor could they find "grinds", people who worked harder than everyone else and yet just didn't have what it takes to break into the top ranks. Their research suggested that once you have enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. That's it. What's more, the people at the very top don't just work much harder than everyone else. They work much, much harder.


*steps off his soap box and goes back to practicing*

... and I intended to write about the noise my EQ was making lately. That got off subject fast...


lespaulplayerdoctor said...

Random thoughts from me: Practice- definitely! I am feeling it. When you asked "where were you 5 years ago?" My response: "awesome!"
Now, I stink compared to then. Difference? THe practice time. I devote all my free time now to studying for boards etc... and I can tell my guitar playing has gone downhill.

Also, on "hard" Songs: to grow, you HAVE to be challenged. When our band tried to play "Mighty to Save", I could NOT do that little intro with the dual delays. It was a stretch. Simple part, but a huge stretch for me. Took a couple of weeks to train my fingers to reach that far. I guess thats my gripe in the church- too many musical cliche's. I feel I can learn any worship song 5 mins before we go on.
Good post- i needed the challenge!

David said...

I think it's all about the little victories. Too often we reaching to be somewhere over THERE and we are not appreciating where we are at the moment. One thing I've learned in my 20+ years of playing guitar, working in studios, etc. has been that often, on first listen, I can't even hear the coolness in what I've done. When my band (The BlackTails) records these days I know better than to listen critically to anything that I lay down in that session simply because I don't hear it clearly. In my mind it always should be more like someone else (BB, Stevie, Django, etc)., but when I go back to it a few days later I can more easily see and appreciate my playing for what it is and not what it should be.

I think the same thing applies to practicing. If I'm copping a phrase or solo, etc. it will take some time for that phrase to really work it's way into my playing in a natural way. So I just have to go on autopilot, soak up as much as possible and take it slow as you say.

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