My son had a school event this weekend at the Arkansas School for Mathematics, Sciences and the Arts in Hot Springs.
While they were learning the ins and outs of building robots, I was desperately trying to find my happy place. Without a guitar in hand and no iPod, I was reduced to scanning the room for interesting things to stare at and ponder...
These are really old chairs...
This must be the junk room, look at all the monitors with sticky notes on them...
That's a cool Yoda poster...
And as I read the poster, which had Yoda quotes about the force, I thought how relevant they were to learning how to play a musical instrument.
So - reach out with the force and feel the power of Guitar Master Yoda!
photo source www.askhg.com
Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try.
When you practice, look at your material (exercises, etudes, tunes, etc) as something you will learn how to do, and do well, to help you grow as a musician.
Do not think this way "I'll try to learn that new solo, but if it is too hard, I'm just going to jam on a blues. That's easy and fun".
Practice time is too precious to waste on things that will not move you closer to your goals. Make sure what you practice is in line with what you want to do and then work with purpose toward mastering the material.
"DO", as Master Yoda would say.
A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind.
When you practice, you must be committed and focused in order to truly learn the material. Every musician has had practice sessions where they are engaged and focused, as well as sessions when they are thinking about everything but practicing. And every musician will tell you the focused practice sessions are those where they progressed the most.
Or as one teacher once told me, "you find your playing will suck less".
So whether you are a glass half full (I'm better) or half empty (Hey, i suck less than I did yesterday), focusing during pracitce is where you get the bang for the buck.
Work with yourself in this case. If your attention span is 20 minutes, work hard for 20 minutes then break. If you can go longer, great. Whatever your attention span is, commit that time to your practice session and focus 100% on your practice material.
Control, control. You must learn control.
We've had our hand and ears since birth. And in most cases, they will do exactly what we want them to do. When it comes time to learning how to play a musical instrument, they decide they are in control of us.
It doesn't matter what you are working on, a scale passage, new drop 2 chord voicings, a walking bass line, etc., speed will only come after accuracy. You must practice slowly to train your fingers and ears to play and hear the material.
If you do not have enough control to play something slowly, you cannot expect to have anymore control when you play at tempo.
Have you ever said to yourself, or your teacher, "I can play it fast, I just can't play it slow"? I have, a long time ago, in a state far, far away. In reality, if you can't play something slowly, it is most likely a counting issue. You're having trouble counting and playing precisely where you should. In order to play it faster, you have to rely on "feel", which can fail you when it comes time to play the piece for others or with a band.
Slow down, gain control. Then build up to where you want to be.
You must unlearn what you have learned
There will come a time where you find an easier or more efficient way of playing something that you have spent hours and hours practicing (sometimes years). You will find this more often when you are self-taught.
When you find a better or more efficient way of playing something, first determine if you use it in your playing. There is no use spending practice time relearning something you will not use. On the other hand, if you will use it, learn both how to play it and analyze why it is better than your current technique.
It seems that changing old ways is sometimes harder than learning it originaly. By going slowly and analyzing why the new technique/method is better, you train your fingers and brain at the same time.
Take it slowly, because both your brain and fingers will want to continue their old ways. And as always, once you have it down, make it musical.
Mind what you have learned, save you it can
Can you play F# lydian dominant? Can you play all inversions of a half diminished chord, on all string sets?
We often get so hung up on what we don't know that we fail to see that we already have the tools we need to make music. The trick is knowing how, and when, to use what you know.
We often see students that have worked hard on their chops and have some basic things going, like the ability to play their pentatonic scale patterns and change keys, a few different grips for their major/minor/7th chords and some rhythm skills.
But for some reason, they do not feel ready to start playing with other people, be it in a band or a jam session.
When you learn the physical part of playing something (scale pattern, chord grip, etc.), next work on applying it.
For example, you know how to use the root position A minor pentatonic scale over an A minor chord. If the chord was D minor instead, can you move the scale up and play it in D? If so, you have to ability to play over any minor chord you come across using one pattern.
Now, how about using D minor pentatonic over a C minor chord? It works and gives you the chord tones for a Cmin6/11 chord. What about that same scale over an Fmaj7 chord? Still works. How about D minor over a Cmaj9 chord? Yep, one scale pattern can be used with several chords.
In this case, the theory of "why" is secondary to having the ability to see that your tools can be used in more ways than you think they can. And until you have a better understanding interval relationships (the dreaded theory part), your ear can help you with the notes that sound good and those that are not so hot.
If you have a few things going and can play them with ease, make the jump and start playing with others.
Learn you will, young padawan, when you follow the teachings of Master Yoda.