Just Do It
Most of us have things that we know we really should do… little nagging voice in the back of our minds that tell us that we 'can't keep ignoring it… but 'it's so hard to get started and even harder to complete… Just. Do. It?
What holds us back from doing things we know we should do? Most commonly (in guitar and maybe more broadly) the problem seems to be not really understanding why we should put effort into something when there may be an instantly gratifying lazy subpar alternative.
When you decide to commit to something (be it practice, study or exercise) it REALLY helps to have a really clear and defined purpose in mind - making sure that your chosen activity will help you reach your goal is likely to be one of the main motivational tools you have to help you stay on track.
I recall many times being given exercises by a teacher and told to work on them ''because'' – and guess what? I hardly did them! But when I started studying with people who explained the ''why'' as well as the ''what'', I found myself working with greater dedication and concentration.
'It's one thing that I really try to emphasize in my teaching work, and when I made the actual ''realization'' of how important the ''why'' was, there was an almost immediate improvement in my students' practice schedule adherence. I went through every exercise I had prescribed and explained exactly what the benefits were of each area of study, and why it should be performed or done in a certain way.
That knowledge empowered the students to be able to think and explore the work in their own way – even change and adapt to fit their own style but with maintaining the ''essence'' of the exercise.
'Let's look at a few common examples of things people avoid through not understanding the ''why''.
Scale Practice. I doubt that there are many people excited when it comes up on the practice schedule, but 'it's got a whole bunch of benefits. The primary one is about coordinating the two hands and making sure the synchronicity of the fretting and picking is as perfect as can be. There are many secondary benefits too, finger dexterity, programming the scale shape to fall naturally under the fingers, alternate picking development, playing in time with a metronome, quality of notes… and more.
So it has benefits… but WHY should you do it? If your hands are synchronized enough for you to play the music you like and express yourself, you might find you get more benefit working on something else! I find this kind of practice very beneficial to ''get my sync on'' when 'I've had some days off too. But be sure to ask WHY!
Music Theory. Another of those evergreen topics many love to avoid! 'I've always enjoyed the math behind the music, but even if you 'don't like it from the deeper understanding perspective, 'it's one of those things that has such wide-reaching benefits for your overall musicality that 'it's sometimes hard to define one thing – but define it you must. You can look at an end goal like you would like to be able to do a harmonic analysis of a song or solo, or something more immediate like understanding the chords in a key, or chord construction… think about what you need to know and then use that to be your driving force!
I recently launched a new Music Theory course on my website and am spending a lot of time making sure that the 'why' is clear and helping the new students stay on track with it. All those with a clear goal find sticking to the program a lot easier than those that are there because they feel ''they should'' be working on it. I think theory study is richly rewarding, but there are many examples of great guitar players that 'don't know or study theory – so you need to find your own ''why''.
Notes on the fretboard. Oh man, this one drives me crazy! On every other instrument, people learn the notes as a first thing, but on guitar, many people just never seem to get around to it! Do they need to? Like music theory 'it's one of those things with a vast array of benefits, and it will be very helpful if you clearly define your own 'why'. Could be that you want to know where all the root notes are for your blues solos, could be that 'you'd like to do more chord manipulation or it could be about understanding the notes you play and how to move licks to other parts of the neck. There are SO many benefits here – but again – you need to find your own ''why''!
Doing things ''because someone said so'' should not be good enough! As well as improving your focus, you are likely to get greater benefit from the activity itself. By practising the right things, the right way, you stand the best chance of success in reaching your goal, whatever it is! Happy trails!
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