February 25, 2021

Patience and guitar practice

Imagine a farmer who has planted his field with corn on Sunday. On Monday, he comes to check his field and sees no corn growing. He starts stamping his feet and swearing at the soil, saying it is no good and does not have the potential to grow corn. He decides to give up being a farmer. We would all agree that this farmer, who has lost his patience so completely, is also quite ignorant.

He is ignorant of the laws that govern the growing of corn. He does not understand the time frame involved, or the level of consistent care required to grow a crop of corn. We would also agree that this ridiculous example probably does not occur, no farmer is that dumb! But, when it comes to guitar players, I can tell you, it happens all the time!

You Can’t Get Patience, It Just Happens 

I am going to show you that there really is no such thing as “having patience.” Patience is something that is there when other things are there. Patience is there when knowledge and understanding are there. If knowledge and understanding is not there, if ignorance is there, as in the case of the farmer above, then patience will not be there either.

I say this because I am sick and tired of hearing guitar students say “I get frustrated when I practice. I have no patience.” No, it is not patience they lack, it is knowledge and understanding. of how to practice guitar. The farmer who wants to grow a crop of corn needs to understand the cause and effect relationship of all the elements involved in doing that. He needs to understand about preparing the soil, watering the seeds, and how, over time, these seeds will germinate and grow into corn.

He needs to understand that his job is merely to cooperate intelligently with a set of natural forces that have their own power, work their own magic, and do it on their own timetable for the most part. Of course, there are things he can do to optimize the conditions in which these forces are working so that they are more powerful and produce better and perhaps even somewhat faster results. This is all part of being a good farmer.

Growing A Guitar Player 

It is the same for guitar players. When we sit down to practice, we are working with, or against, a set of natural forces. They are as natural as the ones that grow corn. If we understand these forces, if we know how to work with them, we will always see our skills growing day by day, as a result of the efforts we make.

This will happen as surely as the good farmer watching his corn grow over time. No part of the process will surprise or dismay us. We will not expect things to happen that are impossible to happen, and we will not prevent things from happening by doing the wrong things.

We will not have hissy fits because we are not seeing results, because when we know how to practice correctly, we will always see results. We will not need any patience, because there will be nothing to become impatient about.

The Patience Of A Saint 

There is an old saying used to describe particularly obnoxious people. We say “he would try the patience of a saint.” We usually think of saints as extremely patient people – they never “lose it,”no matter how frustrating things get.

Well, when I practice, there are times when I do nothing but fail, over and over, hundreds, even thousands of times. Often, I am trying to do something, and I just can’t do it. I may think I have it down solid, and I go to record it, and it falls apart! Do I start yelling? Do I start crying? No, I don’t. And believe me, I’m no saint!

Except when it comes to guitar. Maybe with guitar I am a saint because I never lose it. When I have a problem, I study it. Whatever it is, whatever has happened, whatever I have just messed up that I thought I had solid, I study it, objectively, like a scientist. I try with all my powers to understand the cause and effect relationship of how I am practicing this music, and how I am attempting to do it, including fingering, positioning, etc.

I begin to experiment with new approaches based on my investigations. I do this because I know there is a cause and effect relationship between my efforts and my results. If it’s not working, then there is something I am not seeing yet, and instead of “losing my patience” I focus my attention more strongly, I look more closely to see what I am missing.

Saint Jamie 

Many students have said to me over the years, as I sit and watch them attempt to do something correctly for the hundredth time “You’re so patient”. They feel bad because they think they are subjecting me to a frustrating experience as I watch them screw up over and over.

However, I am not frustrated. They may be frustrated but I am not. I understand the process. I do not take my attention off the process. I am focusing on telling them what they are doing wrong each time, and how to refine their next attempt, and get closer to the goal. Finally, we reach the goal, if I have to sit there for a half an hour on one measure of music with a student (which I have done countless times),

I will do that, and they will be far better guitar player because of it. So, it is true, in my own practice, and in my teaching, I have the patience of a saint. In all other areas of life, not so much! And I can tell you, I never fail. It may take me weeks, months, or years, but I always get what I want.

My attitude, which looks to others like “patience” is simply a result of my knowledge of the process in which I am engaged, that’s all.

The Definition of Patience 

And so, we can define “patience” in this way:

Patience is a state of relaxed, alert, and expectant composure that derives from engaging in a goal directed activity of which we have complete knowledge and understanding of the cause and effect dynamics of that process. 

That’s it. That is what patience is. 

To put it in simple language, “patience” is what you get when you are smart about what you are doing, and “impatience” is what you get when you are ignorant!

Patience is characterized by a continuation of effort toward a goal, based on our understanding of what necessary efforts must be made, and impatience is surrender, the ceasing of our efforts because we simply don’t know what to do.

For this reason, I say to all sincere seekers of guitar playing ability: learn the science of correct practice. Empower yourself with the knowledge and understanding of the laws that control how the fingers learn to make the movements called “playing the guitar.” If you do, you may very well have people tell you they see a halo around your head when you are practicing guitar. After awhile, you will certainly have people tell you that you play like an angel

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  1. So what you're saying is if I'm impatient, then I'm an ignorant fool, is that it? I don't appreciate this at all. I look for a solution to my years of pain only to get insulted for my "flaw." I reject this.

      1. Apologies, but I think I'll look elsewhere for solutions that don't make me feel less than for having a problem in the first place. I may have issues with patience, but I am not ignorant, stupid, or a fool. Thank you for your other insights, though, and have a good night.

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