11. November 2009 18:04
My first guitar teacher at college, Lauren Passarell, taught me a number of things that I am still learning years after the fact.
After carefully eyeing my picking hand, she faulted it for being inflexible. She prescribed several pieces which made use of the floating, string-skipping picking hand that is necessary for versatility and large leaps. A natural skeptic, I wondered if the effort of changing my technique was worth it, or if the “setback” would somehow slow me down. Many musicians, particularly those who have achieved some level of comfort with a playing style, are reluctant to try new techniques, fearing that it will render their current technique worthless. Months later, I discovered the problem on my own – and returned to her prescription. Now, years later, I am happy to say I have conquered this difficulty. However, I do face many more. I have a bad habit of practicing within my “comfort zone”, even though I am fully aware that two hours of discomfort is probably more effective than 8 hours of comfort.
My current goal is to lay out all of the techniques and concepts that I really don’t want to work on, things that make me feel uncomfortable or weak, and practice them relentlessly, going so far as to forbid any familiar activity for the duration of four weeks. If my playing is significantly changed in that time, I will know I have found another keystone on my path to mastery.
Lauren taught me another important lesson. My usual attitude as a student was that I must push as hard as I can against the wall. Occasionally, I would express my patient frustration to teachers and mentors. Having a need to organize the Universe, I told Lauren that I knew I would get X good if I practiced X amount of hours. For those of us who train ourselves to have high expectations and work hard to achieve them, we tend to want others to validate this view, even going so far as to expect that anyone we respect or admire will share this method. However, Lauren’s response shocked me. She said that it wasn’t the amount of time spent practicing or even how badly I wanted mastery. She told me that if I focus and have the right mindset, these things will find me, instead. The conversation took a turn into quantum physics, and we talked about ever-fascinating concept that light can be constrained as both a wave and a particle, and the view among many physicists that the expectations of the observer can affect the outcome of the observed. She called this a “wavicle”, and when we parted for that lesson (which was one of our last), she left me with this: “Control the wavicles!”