If you’ve ever had insomnia and turned on a television, you’ve probably seen info-mercials that are based on success formulas. “I made $1,000,000 in recycling and you can too!” The selling point is that if you emulate what successful people have done, you will get the same results they did.
The problem with this idea is that the “one size fits all” mentality for success rarely seems to work.
One possible reason for this is that so many factors go into “success”, it’s difficult to glean all of the components that go into helping make someone successful.
For example, as a guitarist, I could watch an instructional video of someone playing a guitar lick quickly, learn all of the notes being played, practice diligently and still not be able to get the lick sounding the same because of any one of a number of factors (hand tension, timing, phrasing, string thickness etc.)
While it’s easy to look for successful models and try to emulate that success, it can be even more informative to look at what doesn’t work and model a path against failure.
You can read a book about Donald Trump and still be no closer to achieving his level of success. In contrast, if you watch the television show Intervention and see someone who’s short-circuited their career by being a full blown drug addict, you can decide not to follow their example and make a conscious step towards being the person you want to become.
Lessons from an error-filled methodology
When I first started playing guitar I spent a lot of time working on the solos in songs I was playing. As a commonality, the solos in these songs were all fast and required substantial technique. I assumed that if I just learned the notes, I could get the solos up to speed eventually. My practicing “method” was to just play these licks for hours on end to get them as fast as I could.
In this process, as soon as I could play the notes I would try to play them faster (which was actually much faster than I really could accurately play them). In addition to making things sloppy, it also made my hands overly tense as I was trying to play outside of the realm of my ability and this tension carried over into my playing. I eventually could get the speed of the notes, but there was a lack of clarity and most certainly, a lack of fluidity.
It goes without saying – this is not how you want to practice something.
In conjunction with writing my instructional books, I watched every guitar instructional video I could get my hands on to see how my methods stacked up. Here’s what I found:
Very few people can teach material to others well.
The amount of information that was misleading or wrong was shocking. It occurred to me that many people are poor teachers because they either don’t know the material at a deep enough level to explain it to someone else or because they have no concept of how to relate that material to other people. This makes the job of the student that much harder, because the student has to sort out what the teacher is trying to say rather than what is actually being said.
Ignorance is contagious.
Ignorance is viral. It spreads quickly and easily and once infected, it can be a difficult process to overcome. In my own case, the problems I developed by “practicing” in the wrong way have taken years to try to fix and is still an ongoing process. (This speaks to both why it’s important to learn things the right way the first time and how difficult it is to overcome bad habits).
If you take this to a YouTube level – you’ll find many people who play a lot of notes but can’t play them well. Sometimes there’s no concept of phrasing. You see out of tune, out of time bends with no control followed by a flurry of notes hiding under a ton of effects. I’ve seen the tension I talked about above from trying to play too fast too quickly in a lot of online videos. The notes are kind of there but only in a holographic way. You get the feeling that if you were to put a metronome down on a table and drop the tempo by 1/2 that whatever the person was playing would completely fall out of the pocket or more likely completely fall apart.
Observing and reflecting on people getting things wrong, can inspire you to see elements of weakness in yourself and correct them.
When I see someone play badly, I try to figure out why it’s bad and then try to see if there’s something I can take away from it to develop my own playing. Maybe it’s a simple observation like, “Ok I really need to work on my vibrato!” – but I try to make each observation a lesson.
How not to do things also directly relates to goals. It’s about looking at an outcome and saying, “if I do not want a specific outcome to happen what steps do I need to take?” Its advantage over merely examining how to do things is that it gets your hands dirty and forces you to come into contact with the nitty-gritty behind various processes. In this way, it may help you come to a deeper understanding of what you’re trying to do and how to go about doing it.
Thanks for reading!