Inspiring Story About Practicing Without Practice (Effort).
We all love stories.
Here’s a really good one for you.
The following true story will in many ways give you new ideas to experiment with and will tremendously boost your progress if you apply it to your own guitar practice.
Book “The Music Lesson”
Earlier this year, I read the book “The Music Lesson” by Victor Wooten. Victor is one of THE top foremost bass players on the planet. While his amazing book might initially come across as “hokey” because of the way he presents things, the musical topics he discusses in the book are for real.
I am glad to say that one of the things he talks about in his book, happened to me 4-5 years ago. That is what this following story is about.
Steve Morse and “Tumeni Notes”
I have always been a huge Steve Morse fan. Steve is one of my all-time, top 10 favorite guitar players. (Sharing the same first place along with, in no particular order: Guthrie Govan, Pat Metheny, Greg Howe, Ritchie Kotzen, Carl Verheyen, Scott Henderson, Stanley Jordan, Steve Lukather, and Shawn Lane)
Many years ago, before I went to Berklee, I decided to take on learning Steve Morse’s “Tumeni Notes” as a technique practice piece. Later, when I entered Berklee College of Music, many of my teachers praised me for my fluid technical performance of “Tumeni Notes”. I was at that time, one of the few known guitar students at Berklee who could pull off that song up to level.
For a measly 6 bars of music. There was one short section in the song that I could not for the life of me, ever get past 160bpm. It’s the melody that starts at 21 seconds into the song and ends at 28 secs. I was stuck on this 7-second, 6-bar short melody.
Pretty crazy, right? The only part I could NOT play in the song, was a lousy 7 seconds long haha.
Now: anyone who knows me, knows me for being very “driven”, “disciplined” and “focused”. I’ve been called “Mr. Efficiency” and “Mr. Self-Discipline” before by friends.
I get things done, and I get them done efficiently, and in a timely manner.
That was not the case this time
Steve plays Tumeni Notes at 208bpm. I was stuck forever at 160bpm. I was more determined than ever to reach Steve’s speed.
I spent almost a year and a half practicing these 7 seconds of music every day.
At least an hour a day.
Yes, you read that right: “An hour a day”.
Yes: “I did that for a year and a half”.
I did not skip days. (Remember: I am “Mr. Self-Discipline”… and “driven”).
To give you an idea of what I mean when I say I am “Focused”:
I cued the song in my Amazing Slowdowner software, starting at about 1 second before the 7-second melody. At the end of the 7 second musical fragment, I hit my space bar twice in rapid succession, so it immediately started again from the cue point. So go figure how many times I practiced that short fragment in the course of 1 hour:
- 7 seconds of music,
- + 1 second lead in,
- + let’s say 1 second to hit my space bar twice,
- Adds up to 9 seconds total.
- 3600 seconds in 1 hour divided by 9 seconds (length of the repetitive cycle) =
- 400 repetitions in 1 hour.
- Times 1 year and a half (which equals give or take 540 days) of daily 1-hour practice
- = 216,000 repetitions. (Practicing the musical fragment 1 hour a day, for 1 ½ years).
I did not let my self-confidence waver: I KNEW I was going to get this down, just like I always do with everything through sheer, mind power, preparation, and persistence.
A year and a half… and about 216,000 repetitions later…
I was STILL EXACTLY where I was a year and a half before. Still stuck at 160bpm.
I didn’t progress one damn bit.
All this time I had literally done everything “right”.
I had focused, I had persisted, I had been diligent, I had been disciplined, positive, consistent, I had practiced it very slowly and I had very gradually built it up with my metronome to my max speed.
Stuck forever at 160bpm
And that max speed, to my dismay: was 160bpm, and no matter how hard I tried, I could not get it past 160bpm without it sounding like a complete mess of wrong string hits and uncoordinated hands. After a year and a half, I was still 48bpm short of Steve’s blistering tempo.
After that year and a half, somehow Einstein’s quote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results” crossed my mind. (Better late than never, right?)
That magical flash of insight that hit me, lead me to a decision that would instantly get me the results I had not been able to attain for so long.
I was about to hit jackpot, oddly enough, without any extra guitar practice at all.
So guess what that 1 unbelievable decision was, that instantly gave me the result I had always wanted????
Which decision could I possibly have made, that led to such extraordinarily improved results that even I would think the person who tells me this story, would be making this story up.
A decision which led me to suddenly being able to play that song snippet at least 50bpm faster, and just as clean as the original recording, in only a couple more months’ time, WITHOUT any practice?
A decision that unexpectedly skyrocketed my technical facility on the guitar to super shredder without practicing?
Did I simply decide to focus deeper? To experiment with different metronome settings? To apply some revolutionary practice approach?
To practice harder… more?
To play more different technique exercises?
No none of that at all.
To not practice at all anymore. (Well, at least not on that song)
I decided to put that song on a hold for the next 3 months.
“Tumeni Notes” was banned from my guitar practice.
I did not listen to it, I did not practice it, I did not even practice any guitar technique exercises anymore.
So, what did I do then?
I decided to spend 10-15 minutes a day, sitting in my comfy chair, relaxing my whole body from head to toe, and emptying my mind of any thinking.
Then I imagined being with Steve Morse on stage, joking with him, and then the count off, and then we both played Tumeni Notes together, in front of an audience.
I vividly imagined how super happy I felt to be on stage with one of my guitar heroes. I felt the joy of playing his great music with him. My fingers were flying all over the place, effortlessly finding all the right notes, at breakneck speed, flawless execution.
In my mind’s eye, it all seemed effortless, sounded amazing. I felt the amazing joy of performing a very challenging song, so flawlessly in front of an audience. Then as the ending note fades out, high-fiving Steve, the audience jumps to their feet for a standing ovation.
I did that every day: 15 minutes tops, for about 3 months.
About 3 months later, I somehow suddenly decided to play Tumeni Notes.
Some intuition, feeling, or inclination, told me it was time to hit it.
After about 15 minutes of warm-up, till my hands found one another, I then started the song.
At full speed this time, right off the bat.
To my utter amazement: as the song progressed, I effortlessly played through the 7 seconds I had never been able to pull off before at full speed. My mind was blown.
But that is not the end of it!
Being totally amazed and in complete astonishment: I decided to push the boundaries just for fun. I sped up the recording in my Amazing Slowdowner, beyond the original tempo.
Yes: faster than the original.
Not only did I break through the 160bpm barrier I had been stuck on for years, but I could also get past Steve’s 208bpm
I kept pushing, till the first signs of sloppiness starting showing up, which was at a tempo way beyond the original 208bpm I had never been able to break.
I made 10 times more progress in the 3 months I did not play, than in the prior 18 months, I practiced diligently every day.
Some of The Lessons This Taught Me
My guess is that there are very important lessons that can be learned from this experience.
- “Mastery” is the outcome of how much you relax, not the result of how much you push yourself.
- Self-discipline will only get you so far. It is the tool of a manager. Surrender to your inner power and inner wisdom. Trusting that your body and mind will know what to do and will get the job done, is the method of a leader.
- If you stop wanting something too much, it automatically comes to you.
- Space, air, silence, stillness, and deep breathing: are everything.
- Your inner, deeper intelligence is master of your body, it does not need your willpower.
- Just blindly believing with all your heart and without any doubt that you can totally do something, will get you there faster than hard work.
- You don’t need to push. You need to do the opposite.
- Never underestimate the power of meditation or visualization.
- Stillness gives strength and control
- Don’t try so hard: just be.
- Everything is mental, even technical command on the guitar. Your dexterity, your coordination between both hands, your speed, your physical endurance, are all mental constructs, not physical ones. Your body will do what your mind programs it to do.
- Research in neuroscience shows evidence that the same neurons in your brain fire off when you merely visualize and imagine a certain activity as if you would be actually physically engaging in that activity. That is why, the act of imagining yourself playing very technically challenging guitar parts, will help you improve in the performance of these parts even if you are not physically practicing them on guitar.
- Since everything is mental, that means that you can do whatever you make yourself believe you can do
- Your practice time will never be fully 100% efficient and effective if you only incorporate focus, discipline, self-awareness, persistence, and enthusiasm. There is something far more important that should be at the core of your practice: mastery of your mental world. The tools you use to access those mental powers are:
- The really good part is: none of this is limited to guitar playing. It works in all areas of your life. Or like the famous Zen saying goes: “Through 1 thing, know 10,000 things”. The guitar is our path to enlightenment from where we can learn everything there is to know about ourselves, life, and the Universe.
b. emptying your mind,
c. visualization, and
d. a deep trust and belief that your mind will find a way to make it work, regardless of whether or not you engage in the intense practice.
Hit me up anytime at email@example.com if you have any questions, or if you would like to book a lesson.
These free lessons are cool, but you will never experience the progress, joy, and results that my students experience in lessons when you’re learning by yourself from blogs and videos.
That is why people take lessons: way better results and progress, much more complete information, exposed to way more creative ideas than you can get from a blog or YouTube video.
There is only so much that self-study can accomplish.
If you want to see amazing results and progress in your guitar playing, buy your first lesson here and get started ASAP.
You’ll impress your friends and loved ones in no time with your guitar playing!
Consider donating any small amount to help me keep this blog going.
Thank you for your support!