“They have learned nothing, and forgotten nothing”. This famous statement was uttered by the great Prime Minister of France, Lord Tallyrand, as he gave his estimation of the Royal Family, the House of Bourbon. This included King Louis the XVI and his famous wife, Marie Antoinette, who literally lost their heads due to the above mentioned personality trait articulated so poignantly and perceptively by Tallyrand.
I have always loved this statement, because it describes a powerful human mind-set that dominates a great many people, to greater and lesser extents. In its full flower, it describes someone who goes through life blissfully impervious to all influences that would act in any way to cause them to examine and evaluate themselves, and then to compare the results of that evaluation to a higher standard. Another way of describing this is to say that some folks are not interested in developing themselves, love to take the easy way out, and are sure to be the same in all ways twenty years from now.
Unfortunately, this describes a lot of guitar players! There are many guitar players who, year after year, and decade after decade, do not get any better. They play just as badly now as they did ten and twenty years ago. Oh, they may play a lot more songs, but they continue to stumble over the same parts. For people who are getting no wiser as they age, and guitarists getting no better as the years go by, there is one common reason: they are never subjected to the Crucible Of Correction.
Every Strength Is A Weakness
Each person is a combination of qualities. Some people are more in touch with their emotions than others, some people are stronger intellectually, some are gifted physically, and everyone is some combination of the basic characteristics that go into being human. Guitar players are like that too. Some are very expressive musically, and some are very strong in the area of natural technique, and most players have these qualities in various proportions. Some guitar students find being organized and disciplined in practice easy, others find it a challenge. People also vary in their ability to concentrate, or how well they handle frustration. We all have our strengths and weaknesses.
It is easy and common to focus on our strengths and neglect our weaknesses. A mentally based person who likes to read and remembers lots of facts about many subjects will often be considered “smart”. They will build their personality around this, and will make it the foundation of how they relate to other people. I have met many people like this, and very often they share another personality trait – they are absolute imbeciles when it comes to being aware of themselves and what is going on inside them!
They live in their heads, they have very little insight into their own emotional life, and very little understanding of “what makes them tick”. They are often in conflict with themselves and others because of the inability to see beyond their own thinking. They may even hold the emotional dimension of life in contempt, placing intellect over feeling. They will criticize others who are more emotionally based, and use their intellectual powers to make a case for their disdain. They use their strength to defend against their weakness. Thus, their strength becomes a weakness.
It is okay to be like this if you never plan on growing as a person. If you are interested in learning new abilities and constantly improving yourself in every way possible, then you are going to have to learn to know and understand your whole self, the good and the bad, the weak and the strong. In fact, it is through knowing and working with our weaknesses that the greatest growth comes.
Real Life, Gruesome Stories!
I hear from guitar students every day. I hear their sad stories of desperation about fulfilling a lifelong dream of playing the guitar, and their frustration and even anger over spending lots of years and lots of money and getting nothing for it. They invariably think it is their fault, “I’m not talented on guitar” they say. Sometimes they add this charming insight, provided courtesy of their teacher ..........”Even my teacher told me I’m not learning because I just don’t have the talent”.
GuitarPrinciples has played the role of “Student Advocate” since our founding in 1998. I have written extensively on the subject of guitar education, explaining the basic realities of learning and teaching guitar to the multitudes of suffering students out there. Here are a few of the hundreds of stories I've heard............
“I took lessons in the 60’s at 9 years old. He was probably a pretty good teacher, but I think I was among many youngsters who were in the category of minimal potential. He yelled at me on occasion and eventually I came to dread the lessons.”....Denny
“I started taking lessons almost a year ago and think that the first 6 months were almost a total waste of time. My teacher and I were definitely not on the same page. My lessons with this particular teacher were more like ‘monkey see, monkey do’ and I was the monkey. Up to now I feel like I’ve been spinning my wheels while up against a brick wall.”....Donna
“I’ve got 3 beautiful guitars, almost every guitar book in the world, been playing at the guitar for almost 10 years, currently studying with a local player and don’t think I can play one song completely.”....Ray
Here is my response to such sad stories...........
“IF you know about Guitar Principles and are smart enough to see the difference between my guitar teaching and everything else out there.....then.....the only reason you will not get what you want this time round is if you do NOT have the necessary amount of interaction with me. If you have never checked in with me for an evaluation, if you do not get my corrections and use them, you will not succeed. If you do get my corrections and use them, you will succeed. It is as simple as that!”....Jamie
Yes, it is true that in each of these cases, the student is a victim of teachers who do not know how to teach. The necessary information and guidance was not placed in front of them. But there is something else – even after the necessary information and guidance is given to a student, it is very possible for them to have trouble learning guitar. In fact, some students will find themselves making as little progress as they did before someone gave them the tools of success they need. Why is this?
Guitar is one of the most, if not the most, difficult instruments to learn. There are so many things that can go wrong it is almost inconceivable that a student is going to get everything right as they work on a new skill. If the hundreds of wrong things students do in every practice session is not corrected, slow growth, or distorted growth, or no growth for the student is the result.
Entering The Crucible
Students who become involved with me as a teacher find that “taking guitar lessons” is a very different experience than it was in the past.
Yes, they will finally be given all the information and guidance they need to succeed. But they are also going to have many demands placed on them. They are going to be told things like “Take this one measure of music that you practiced badly this week and re-do it. Play it super slow and watch your fingers like a hawk, and work it up with the metronome, making sure it is perfect every time”.
They will be told “You are not paying enough attention.” Or, “You are not following my directions, re-do this correctly this time, 50 times a day.” Finally, they will be told, “Shoot a video of yourself playing this piece, and submit it to me for my review and corrections.” After I review it and give my corrections, they will be told “Now make me another video, and let’s see the progress”.
Yes, these students will quickly see that lessons with me are going to be enormously more demanding than in the past. And they will decide, as every student does, whether they are going to accept these demands. And when they do (fortunately, most students do!), they will begin to see other things as well, usually for the first time in their lives. They will see themselves able to play whole songs, pieces and solos well, even “as good as the record”. They will feel a new sense of confidence and accomplishment as guitar players. They will feel, for the first time in their guitar playing lives, that they know what to do to make their playing better every time they sit down “to practice”.
Best of all, they will see a new vision of their future as guitar players. They will realize that they can literally become as good as they want to be on guitar, if they are willing to pay the price in time and effort.
As In Life, So In Guitar
Life corrects us. At least, it tries to. “To correct” means to make better, and the diligent observer of life will discover that Life is an intelligent process that acts to deliver to each person living it the conditions and experiences they need in order to grow and develop as human beings. They will also notice that it is not easy. Life is a hard, demanding school. It may or may not punish us for being bad, but it never fails to punish us for being stupid and lazy. Life truly gives us what we truly deserve. The trick is to understand it on its own terms.
The older a person gets, and the less correction they allow from life and all it contains, the more static, desperate, weak and unhappy they will be. They will become stronger in their strengths until strength becomes rigidity, instead of establishing the balance that creates harmony in our lives. When we understand this process called Life, when we are dedicated to our own growth and self-actualization, we will submit to the crucible of correction that the unending problems that life offer us. We will dig ever more deeply into ourselves to find the power and intelligence we need to handle the unceasing movement of life, and we will find it. We will use the challenges of life and make them work for us. As our life advances, we will become powerful and happy people.
And so it is with guitar players. Every mistake we make is our teacher in disguise. Every problem we encounter as we attempt to increase our abilities as musicians and guitar players is a challenge that when understood and faced with intelligence, courage, and energy, leads to a higher level of ability and satisfaction with the guitar. When frustration is allowed to dominate and defeat us, we leave our place of power, and no longer have a chance of accessing the resources within and without that could lead us to a better place.
I am one of those resources. When you submit to the transforming power of the crucible of correction that is generated between a competent teacher and a sincere student, you will be put in touch with the power you have within you. More and more, you will become capable of correcting yourself in your guitar practice. You will embrace your areas of weakness, knowing you will conquer them and constantly transform your playing for the better. You will become a powerful and happy guitar player!
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