Coach Bill Walsh of the 49ers took his team from last on the ladder to first in just 3 years. The fastest turn around in the history of the game. He achieved this remarkable feat by implementing what he called his ‘standard of performance’. The first stage was discipline. For example players could not sit down on the field during practice, there was no profanity allowed, players had to give maximum effort and commitment, show good sportsmanship, keep the locker room neat and clean and were not allowed to smoke or fight.
How does stage one apply to guitar players?
If you are serious about playing guitar you must start with discipline. This means the discipline to practice everyday without excuses, the discipline to practice the hard stuff, the discipline to give 100% every time you practice and the discipline to stay committed for the long term. This won’t be easy but thats what make its exciting. Most guitar students overlook the discipline diving straight into the actual playing. That works fine while you are motivated but motivation has a bad habit of being inconsistent. In other words you can’t rely on motivation. Discipline is your insurance against your changing levels of motivation.
Stage 2 Focusing on skills
In the case of the 49ers the quarterbacks were drilled on where and how to hold the ball, lineman were drilled on 30 separate drills and practice sessions were scheduled to the minute. This was all about instilling excellence in the players. Coach Bill Walsh believed that if the players take care of the details the score will take care of itself. In fact he told the players to ignore the score and focus on sticking to the basics. Drilling players on the basic skills was his secret weapon. Most coaches over think it and go looking for the clever play that will catch the opposite team off guard. This can certainly work until you come up against a team coached by someone like Bill Walsh. They were so well drilled on the basics that they rarely left themselves vulnerable to any kind of surprise attack.
How do guitar players apply this approach to skills?
The majority of guitar players largely neglect skills practice and focus mostly on playing songs. This is understandable because the songs are generally the reason they decided to take up learning guitar in the first place. I would explain to students that focusing on songs while neglecting skills is like football players who only ever scrummage and never drill down on the fundamental skills. For any modern sports coach spending the majority of time on drills (the skills of the game) makes perfect sense but, the average person prefers to just follow their natural urges i.e. scrummage. Great coaches teach their players to fight those urges and drill down on the skills. UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would get his players to run drills without an actual basketball. He felt the ball was a distraction. When we isolate skills we can more easily identify and fix problems. When you are only learning songs you will often neglect your technique because your focus is on getting the song down. Guitar skills are like tools. By spending time keeping them sharp, the job of learning songs becomes easier and usually more accurate.
Stage 3 The Game
The final stage of course for the football player is playing the game. The discipline ensures they consistently turned up to training and the skills ensure they are ready for the game. One must still gain experience playing the game but not near as much as you might think. While experience is valuable its also overrated. I have many years of driving experience but it doesn’t make me a better driver than a 21 year old who has been doing advance driving training for 2 years. In fact, its more likely I will be over confident because I think my 30 years makes me a better driver.
The guitar player’s game
The game for guitar players is songs. We are all anxious to play songs much like the teenager who is anxious to drive a car. A car by comparison is easy.This is because they are designed to be easy plus few people are trying to become formula one drivers. We simply want to get from A to B. Guitar by comparison is challenging. Most people want to play songs recorded by guitarists with years of experience. The skills to play those songs will take time and require the necessary skills to execute. This in turn means the skills should get more attention. The more you focus on skills the easier it will be to learn songs. Its worth noting that songs will come and go. The songs you want to play today are unlikely to be the songs you want to play in 5 years or even one year from now. Focusing on skills will allow you to easily learn new songs in the future. Yes the game is playing songs but the focus should be on discipline and skills.