Practice Guitar Out On The Edge

Screen Shot 2015-02-20 at 1.24.46 pmIn the book ‘Bounce’ the author (Matthew Syed) talks about how high level success comes from thousands of hours of practice. Top chess players for example would have studied the game for 10,000 hours or more. By study I don’t mean just play but actually study possible moves and consequences. 

Are you willing to fall?

Syed makes the point that it’s not the number of years but the amount of concentrated practice you have done. In another study on ice skaters it was found that you could predict the success of a skater by the number of falls they had during practice. Apparently Shizuka Arakawa the 2006 Olympic champion topped the count with more than 20,000. The point is that real practice happens out on the edge not in your comfort zone. This explains why our driving skills don’t improve much after about the first 5 years. It also explains why many guitarists don’t improve.

Stepping outside of my teaching comfort zone

I made a habit with my guitar teaching to step outside my comfort zone. Sometimes by choice, sometimes by circumstance. For example most guitar teachers happily stick to private teaching 30 or 40 students for decades. Very early on I stepped out of my home and went commercial and began hiring other teachers and building music schools. My motivation was driven by a desire to learn from other teachers. This meant I got far more experience (practice) outside of my comfort zone than your typical guitar teacher. From my early 20’s I was working with hundreds of students and parents every week. So if an average guitar teacher with 50 private students were to teach for 25 years with a dropout rate of 20% per year they would have seen only about 500 students in that time. I on the other hand saw more than 10,000 students in that same time. This meant far more experience, problem solving and improving my teaching and program. This is what led me to group teaching. In the late 90’s I knew I had done the private thing. I was getting comfortable so it was time to once again step out of my comfort zone.

Fail and learn

When I started group teaching it was VERY uncomfortable. I really wanted to just go back to private teaching because it felt easy but I pushed on. There were embarrassing moments, failures and plenty of doubt in my mind but somehow I persisted. By 2003 I could see the clear benefits of group teaching for both myself and my students. They learnt faster due to group inertia, they were more likely to push through the tough times because of the encouragement from classmates, they learnt to play in time with others and generally had greater confidence to play in front of others. In late 2005 I launched G4 GUITAR which is now an international franchise with locations in Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and United States.

Step into it

What I am saying here is that to be a successful guitarist you must practice out on the edge of your ability. Like the skaters you must be willing to fall many times. If you are not failing you are not learning and growing. Just step into it and practice the things you find difficult and challenging.


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