Knowing the gap between where my technique level is now, and where I want to be, is discouraging. What can I do?
Iíve received this same basic question in many different forms. It is often triggered by the advanced level of Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar. I guess itís a natural enough thing for anyone who really wants that high degree of technical facility on the guitar, yet doesnít see it happening fast enough. Well, there are several things that may "turn you around" and get you seeing things from a more enjoyable and productive angle. It may take a little thought and introspection, but itís fairly painless. Itís just a matter of a little thinking and reframing things in your mind...
First of all, recognize that you are where you are. No more, no less. You have all the skills, abilities, and insights which you have developed through your past practicing and playing. Accept this for the present moment, because you cannot change it. It is your present reality and it is perfect: it is the precise culmination of everything that has gone before.
But at the same time, realize that you do have the power to shape your future. It may take some work, but that which is within your imagination is within your grasp. Your goal is attainable. And it is attainable by you. Others have achieved it. And given the right approaches and the right determination, nothing can stop you from achieving it, too.
OK, so you can do it if you set your mind to it. But your improvement seems so slow! Well, thatís a different problem. Maybe you need to keep searching for new practice approaches to find what really works for you. Iíve literally seen players (prior students of mine) accomplish with 5 minutes of effective practice things that they worked on all week long but never mastered. So slow improvement is a different problem, and itís a solvable problem. (See 7. Building speed and confidence.) Thatís one angle.
Or maybe youíre just too focused on looking for your own improvement. Itís a lot like watching an hour hand move, you know. It moves, but it can be very frustrating if youíve got nothing else to think about. So read the previous point (14. Iíve reached a plateau and I donít see any more improvement) and try the suggestions there. Maybe you need to discover some new musical inspirations, too. See 1. The key to success and 2. Balance vs burn-out. Thatís another angle.
That will probably solve the dilemma for most of you. But if youíre still discouraged, what you are really saying is you want the accomplishment without the effort. You want the reward without the investment. Well, Iíll be damned! Welcome to the club! Donít we all? Wouldnít that be nice? But it ainít gonna happen! The only way to develop a skill like guitar playing is with the right inspiration and the right effort.
Well, in any case, we have resolved that with the right inspiration and effort, you will arrive at your desired destination, eventually. You just donít know exactly when youíll get there.
Feeling better yet? If not, I have another question for you: Is the glass half empty, or half full?
Sit back for just a minute and appreciate all that you have accomplished. Too often, we take for granted what we have. What about all the skills that you have mastered? Not everyone can play guitar, you know. Donít always focus on the part of the glass that remains empty. Appreciate the part that is full, too.
To take this to its extreme (still thoroughly valid, though), how about considering the fact that you arenít paralyzed and have any ability to play guitar at all? How about the fact that you are alive in a time when the electric guitar exists? Or that you live in a society that is prosperous enough that people like you and I can do things like play music, rather than rummage for food all day for mere survival? Or that youíre not sold into slave labor in a third-world country? It could always be a lot worse.
So what was that trifle you were wondering about earlier? Oh, yeah. You were feeling down because you wanted to achieve something significant, and it seemed hard. Isnít it a great thing to even have the opportunity to try to reach your goals? Wouldnít life be boring if there were no challenges? Thank heaven for a life in which you can be inspired, set a goal, and then set off to make it happen.
A little psycho-babble that works...
Iíve got one more semantic trick up my sleeve for you. Letís try framing the situation in terms of an analogy. Letís say you start out in New York City--a beginner--and you imagine your ultimate goal is Los Angeles--mastery. But youíve never been there before. So you know what your destination is, but you donít know exactly how far it is, when you will arrive there, or what it will look like there, or anywhere along the way for that matter.
So you hit the road. You learn a few chords, then your first song. Now, weíll say, youíre in Philadelphia. Then you get into your first band. Now youíve reached Columbus, Ohio. Then you start writing your own songs, and youíve make it to St. Louis. You finally master speed picking and youíre in Denver. Each small goal lines up and brings you closer to your ultimate destination.
But when you get to Colorado, you might decide that youíre really happy there and see no need to continue on. Or you might get all the way to LA and see Tokyo on the horizon, and keep right on going westward. You see, there really is no ultimate goal. The goals come and go. When you reach one, you just set another. It is the direction in which you are headed thatís important. So there is no real point where you can say "I have now succeeded," except some arbitrary point that you pick for yourself. Direction is a lifetime endeavor. We are always moving, always developing, always setting new sights and new goals.
What Iím saying is that guitar playing, like life itself, is a process. Itís not a destination. So donít judge things in black and white, saying "Iíve not reached what I want, therefore Iím not yet successful." Success is a process. Think in terms of success being a daily habit. A successful day is a day in which you take some actions or learn some things that move you in your chosen direction. A successful day is a day in which you have done something that puts you a little closer to your next goal.
Not only is this approach more reflective of reality, it is far more useful. It produces enthusiasm. It is inspirational. It makes us feel good. And when we feel good, by seeing success and not failure, we help ourselves along the path of accomplishment. And ultimately, we become the architects of our own happiness and success.
Accept the present moment. You are where you are. But you do have the power to create the future. Your goals are attainable. Others have done it and so can you, with the right approaches. Slow improvement is a solvable problem. A temporary lack of inspiration is also a solvable problem. In fact, every problem is a solvable problem, given the right approach and the right amount of time. Life is a process. Success is a process. A successful day is one in which you do or learn something that moves you in the right direction. Also, give yourself credit for what you have accomplished already, and be grateful for the opportunities you do have. Take even half of all this stuff to heart, and this problem will simply evaporate.