Why Can't I Get Anywhere Trying To Learn?

By Jamey Andreas (www.guitarprinciples.com)

A recent letter:

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Dear Jamey:
I am 47 years old and about 8 months ago I decided that I wanted to learn to play the guitar. I am on my fourth teacher now and cannot play any better now than when I first began playing. I have had your book for about 4 months, and I have read it twice and, I have attempted to apply your principles to my practice but I just have not so far been able to make much forward progress in improvement.

To your knowledge, is there someone who just cannot play the guitar, have you known or have tried to teach such a person?

I practice on the average faithfully about an hour a day, everyday. I practice what my teacher has given me for that week in order to get it right, and then I will work on some piece from a book that I have bought and I have a lot of books, but so far no ability. I feel that after 8 months I should be able to play something, I should not be stumbling around as if my head were in a sack.

Maybe none of this makes any sense to you because you would need to watch me to draw some conclusions - but if you think I am wasting my time with the guitar because a light should have come on by now, I would like to hear that too. I enjoy guitar music and listen to many CDs that are only guitar music - I really want to play but I have not been able to get my ability to introduce itself to my desire.

No need to print this letter on your web site, just a return response would do just fine.

Thanks Jamey

P.B.

Okay P.B., I hear you talking. And, as you can see, I do want to print your letter in my newsletter. Your story is one I have heard probably a thousand times, and I have met people in your condition consistently throughout my teaching career. I have a number of responses to letters that say what yours says. First, I get sad. Then, I get mad. As time goes on, it sticks in my head, obsessing me. Before I know it, I can't sleep at night (okay, maybe I'm exaggerating a little!.) Anyway, it gets to the point where I feel I have to try to do something about it. No one who is making a sincere daily effort to learn the guitar should be experiencing the lack of results you are experiencing. It is an absolute shame, plain and simple. It is also unnecessary, because the fact is, yes, any normally functioning person CAN learn to play, that's it, period, end of story. There ARE reasons why people end up in your condition, but they are all bad reasons.

As I always say, if you are taking lessons, and you are doing what your teacher tells you, and you are getting nowhere, then it is your teachers fault. He or she is not pointing out to you what you are doing wrong in your approach, it's as simple as that. Because your teacher is not teaching you properly, you are left, essentially, to try to guide the path of your own development, which you are not prepared to do. Your teacher, not giving you the real instruction and hands on guidance you need, is simply supplying information to you. That is the lowest level of teaching there is. It is also the easiest, requiring the least amount of effort on the part of the teacher, which is why it is so prevalent. You might as well be sitting and reading a pile of guitar books by yourself. If you were sitting in front of me each week, you would learn, guaranteed.

It's too bad teachers don't get paid according to the real quality of what they are doing, and the real quantity of the results they produce. There would be a lot of starving guitar teachers out there!

To put it succinctly, NO, it is not true that the reason you are stuck is that you have no ability. The purpose of practice is to DEVELOP ability. The reason you are stuck is because the thing you don't have is the ABILITY TO PRACTICE so that you CAN develop playing ability! What you don't have are the STUDY SKILLS necessary to effectively perform the processes associated with developing new motor skills. You should not be investigating whether or not you have the ability to play the guitar. You should be infinitely suspicious of your ability to practice. If you knew how to practice, you would develop the ability to play, it's as simple as that.

Unfortunately, you are not infinitely suspicious of your ability to practice. In fact, I don't think you are even mildly suspicious! So, I am going to try to put you on "high alert" about the matter. It SHOULD be your teachers job to instruct you in proper practice, but as I well know from my experience and the hundreds of letters I get on the subject, many teachers simply are unable and uninterested in doing so.

What you, and everyone, needs to understand is this. Playing the guitar to the level that would begin to give musical satisfaction is not that big a deal. It is really pretty elementary stuff, developing the initial flexibility to manipulate the fingers into various shapes on the fingerboard, and make the movements smoothly to a beat. It is no big deal at all. I NEVER fail to achieve that with anyone who I see over a period of time. UNLESS, and this is a big UNLESS, they don't really do what I tell them to do, IN THE WAY I tell them to do it. (You, for instance CANNOT be doing the Foundation Exercises in my book, following my instructions to the letter, and applying yourself every day. Please let me know if you believe you are).

No, I strongly suspect you are not doing what I tell you to do in my book. Your words " I have attempted to apply your Principles", tell me that. As Yoda said in Star Wars, "there is no try, there is only do". Unfortunately, you think whatever it is you did do was "trying", well, it may have been "trying" something, but it wasn't trying to do what I tell you to do in my book. Now, it is true, (and many people have remarked on this), my book is very intense, it requires a whole lot from the student, as does my personal teaching. There are people who read it and kind of just sit there with their mouths hanging open unable to move, unable to begin. Knowing how to begin is an essential study skill in itself. For many people, there is a learning curve that must take place over time to bring them from where they are, to where they must be (in terms of focus and study skills) in order to effectively use my book.

But, don't worry. This also is no big deal. It simply means that a few things need to be done, including a more accessible approach for you and others in your situation. Yes, I deal with such people all the time, and yes, I always teach them to play, because in person, I can always find that accessible approach AND I can use the energy needed to break through the persons obstacles of ignorance (lack of correct knowledge and understanding) and obstacles of unawareness (inability to muster the proper level of Attention and Intention needed during practicing).

It's like threading a needle before you use it to sew with. It sometimes takes exceptionally clear vision and a steady hand to get that thread through the hole in the needle, especially if it is very small hole. But, once you do, you are off and running, ready to sew up a storm. You're needle needs this kind of precision to get that thread through so you can get started. Once that happens, you'll be on your way to becoming a tailor!

The first thing I do with people is show them where and how what they are presently doing is ineffective, or limited. There are some people who are doing things SO wrong, that they need an EXTREME amount of direction. If you were to see me teaching someone, you would see me constantly grabbing their hands, fingers, arms; moving their legs, jumping up and down, and occasionally screaming. You would hear me taking things apart for that person, in terms of the "missing piece of the playing puzzle" that was keeping them stuck.

Unfortunately for you, no one is grabbing your hands, no one is jumping up and down and screaming.

The fact is, yes, the only way I can absolutely, guaranteed, fix up someone in your situation, which I will hereby dub the "Non-Starters", is to have that personal physical contact. Long distance is another matter, because I cannot, for instance, point out to you that tensed up shoulder you are ignoring while you try to control your fingers. BUT, I am going to try. I am going to put up a series of lessons for "Non-Starters". I am going to use the materials I use with young children, and with cases where people just aren't able to get to "first base" in playing.

Go to this page, and look it over.

This first lesson is like baby food, but don't underestimate it. It requires only one simple chord, and the ability to strum a steady beat while tapping the foot and singing. But, there are people trying to do more complicated things who can't even do this, and we must discover all the missing pieces, so we must start this way. You will also find other instructions at the end of the lesson, directing you to go and study the 4 Lessons on Rhythm I have posted at HotFrets, in the free area. Everyone, by the way, should study these, as they clear up a lot of the root mis-conceptions people have concerning rhythmic concepts.

We need to find what pieces of the playing puzzle are missing in your case, so, nothing is taken for granted here. This lesson will serve as a "checking mechanism", to make sure there are no simple skills whose presence is taken for granted, but which are, in fact, missing.

Now, let me tell you a few things you are not doing concerning my book.

1) You are not following a written out practice schedule every day, which includes all my Foundation Exercises, done exactly as described.

2) You are not setting specific, obtainable and appropriate goals, week by week, and working to achieve them. Learning is a step by step process, and must be treated as such , no matter what the subject being studied.

3) You are not developing and discovering the sensations of the Light Finger and the Heavy Arm in the context of the Crutch Exercises in my book.

4) You are not doing proper No Tempo Practice and becoming aware of the real state of muscular tension you are allowing during practice.

5) You are not following the Basic Practice Approach for these and other exercises.

Here are a couple of other things I suspect are true also:

1) You have not read all the essays in my Getting Better section, and taking all the advice to heart, using it to guide your practice approach.

2) You have not spent time in the Forum on my site, getting to know the actions and attitudes of excellent practicers like Eric K who runs the Forum, and the other players who are posting great questions and insights on a daily basis. Many of these people are facing the same problems that you face, and you would learn a lot from reading about how they deal with it. Also, they would be very happy to hold your hand through as you work to deal with various obstacles to development.

P.B., and all other NonStarters reading this, make an honest assessment of your efforts, and see how you can begin to change things for the better by using all the insights and resources I have provided here.

Copyright 2001 Jamey Andreas.

Fans of Jamey Andreas, make sure you check out Jamey's exclusive article, "Left Hand Form & Development For Guitarists," classic Questions & Answers from the famous "GuitarPrinciples" Newsletter. Jamey answers questions related to left hand form and development which applies to all styles of electric and acoustic guitar. The topics covered include: Thumb Position & Movement, Training of the Little Finger, Difference Between Classical & Electric Position, Making Bar Chords Easy, Developing "Finger Lowness," and Strengthening Weak Joints. The knowledge and insight contained in this collection is essential for any player, of any level or style, who wants a deep understanding of how to develop a left hand on guitar that functions at full capacity.

'Left Hand Form & Development For Guitarists' is available exclusively at TrueFire.

Jamey's exclusive essays and music are available at truefire.com.

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