The Art of Following Directions for Success

The Art of Following Directions for Success.

I’ve had one of these weird/interesting/odd (and thank god, pretty rare to happen) experiences again this week, with a beginning student who rather practices things “his way” thinking “his way is better”, rather than following my practice directions.

So what do you know: he’s sharing, his 5th lesson in, that “he feels he has not been progressing much in past weeks”. 🙂

Errrr… yeah… hmmm… why would THAT be?

It doesn’t matter if you’re a top level scientist, world-class engineer, or just super ridiculously intelligent: you’re still not a guitar teacher.

There are certain very specific learning stages a student goes through that require very specific approaches, that need to be handled, trained, communicated, and followed in a specific way to ensure that you get through that stage in the least amount of time with the least amount of effort.

Only a teacher who went through years of training, study, and experience would know all this AND be able to pull it all off too.

The student, pays a lesson fee, so he wouldn’t have to waste his time and talent acquiring those knowledge and skills a teacher worked so hard to attain.

So why would you pay for lessons, and then not take advantage of all the amazing things a top-teacher gets to offer you, that you are paying the money for?

If you’re a complete beginning guitar student who wishes to see better results, the lessons embedded in the response I wrote that student, will help you see much better results, faster progress, and higher levels of accuracy in no time.

The intermediate or advanced student who has gotten stuck in her ways, will discover some ways to become a blank sheet again that soaks up knowledge as a sponge, without any resistance of beliefs interfering with the learning process.

“Fast and Sloppy”.

That student, his 3rd lesson with me, almost can’t pull of any of the things he learned in past 2 weeks, things that ANY of my students ALWAYS can pull off in their 3rd lesson.

That’s ok.
Maybe he didn’t have any time to pick up his guitar? Maybe he was too busy? Maybe…

Turns out: upon checking in with him about how he does things at home, I found out that the reason for the minimal progress, is that he was not following practice directions I very clearly and easily outlined, explained, and even wrote out.

That is one of the reasons why my students always progress much better and why they see much better results than students of other teachers: I write down detailed practice directions on the homework page after every lesson.

That student’s reasoning for practicing “his” way rather than the way it was outlined for him:

He felt: “Accuracy is important”. (That is a belief, not necessarily a fact, as we’ll discuss at the end of this blog)
I need to first practice things super slowly so I get my fingers accurately in the perfect spots when I switch chords.

He said the slowed down versions I had given him for the songs we had covered (Lenny Kravitz Fly Away, Tom Petty’s “Free Falling”, Sweet Home Alabama,…) were a bit too fast.
So he decided to NOT play along with the slowed down songs, against me stressing the importance of this for his progress.

Unfortunately: the approach he chose to adopt, which is 180 degrees contrary to how I told him he should practice, is not the best nor is it the fastest way to improve accuracy in chord switching for beginners.

I wrote following response, after he said: “I still don’t think that “fast and sloppy” is the best way”

First off: the way that student said that exact thing, shows that communication is more than anything about LISTENING first and foremost!

You are not really listening to what is being taught or said, if you’re taking in the words filtered through a closed off, biased mind, that distorts and reduces the shared lessons and the message, to something that it is not.

It is safe to say, that is prob EXACTLY what that student did, when he said ” I still don’t think that “fast and sloppy” is the best way”.
After all: as you will see in following response, this is 180 degrees the opposite of what I had REALLY said/taught in his prior lesson.

I responded:

It is not only not the best way: it’s a terrible approach.

Which is why I’ve never advocated you should practice that way, and which is why we’re not doing that in the lesson either.
If that were the best way, I would never have emailed you slowed down versions of many of the songs we did so far. (I would just have had you play every song we covered so far at full speed)

But there is one approach that is even worse than that, at the level you are currently at, which is:

Playing very slowly by yourself without the song, taking little pauses between chords if the switch is a bit challenging.

As I talked about in previous lessons: THAT approach you’ve been using, is actually why you feel like you have not been progressing much.

(That and skipping lesson weeks isn’t helping either. Skipping lesson weeks is another reason why people would feel that way, because very little to no progress happens in a week when there is no lesson. It is what it is: you can’t skip lessons and then be surprised you don’t see progress).

However: If you try the approach we discussed, then you will see that slow progress and not seeing optimum results will resolve itself.
It’s one of the benefits one gets from studying with a really great teacher AND following his directions.

So what is the approach that gets beginning students to be able to switch chords quickly, effortlessly and accurately in no time at all?

Well.. It’s not “fast and sloppy”…
Again, think about it: If THAT were the approach I advocated, why would I have given you slowed down versions of many of the songs we’ve covered so far?

No, the way to get amazing results right from the beginning:
Play just a bit faster than what you’re capable off, fixing things as you’re going, doing every possible effort to try to get it as clean as you can while playing, without stopping.

It’s like P90x’s Tony Horton says: “Do your best, forget the rest”
I like Tony. I like the things he says.
There are reasons why he is so successful. It’s not a coincidence. He pushed himself, he kept going, he kept pushing.
He didn’t just stop to take his time and take it easy and overanalyze things.

And YES… it IS like working out.
You are NOT going to get results if you just switch chords whenever you feel like, without pushing yourself as hard as you can to get to that next chord as fast as possible.

The song you play along with is your private trainer, right there with you.
It doesn’t stop, it keeps going. It’s unforgiving. It clearly tells you every single time you switched late, or went off in timing, or had a finger on a wrong string or fret.

Your job is keeping up as well as you can, doing all you can to keep hitting that next chord, over and again.

Playing super slowly all by yourself without the song, constantly stopping between chords, is NOT doing your best!

When ARE you doing your best?

When you play along with the song and you try to keep up, given of course that the song has to be at a tempo that is only slightly faster than what you can pull off well. There is of course no point in trying to play a song that is way too fast for your skill level.
THAT is what Amazing Slowdowner was invented for. It solves that problem.

Amazing Slow Downer

You make mistakes, you keep pushing, you keep going, you don’t waste time on negativity about how your chords don’t look perfect. Get it perfect next time, or the time after. There will always be a next time to do it better or nail it, cause chords tend to keep reappearing over and again in the same song.

But as you keep playing, you will notice that as the song keeps playing and minutes pass, your chord fingerings are starting to get a little better every time you hit that chord.

Needless to say: not going to happen if you don’t follow those directions.

THAT is how a beginning student progresses the fastest

Why?

Because if you focus right now (meaning: “as a complete beginner”) on playing perfect, accurate and clean, you are not focusing on the right thing. (you will continue not seeing progress that way)

There are a billion real life examples where it is taken as given that one will achieve much more and much better results when one focuses on “getting it going” first, not on trying to do it “perfect/clean” first.

  1. Software developers don’t wait to release their new products till it’s perfect.

    They release the 01 version, and there are 02, 03, 04 etc versions.
    They focus on getting results, getting it out, getting it accomplished, and on getting it perfect later.

    Apple, Windows, Dell, etc: same approach used by all these super mega successful, wealthy business men and businesses.

  2. World famous authors have a 2nd, and a 3rd, and a 4th edition etc.

    They develop, and get results and progress now.
    They get it perfect later.

  3. People who become top sportsmen in any field, in the beginning of their development, spend much more time on developing strength, endurance, and skills before they start focusing on getting the technique perfected.

    What is the point of focusing on technique, if you don’t have the muscles or strength (endurance, flexibility…) yet to pull off the technicalities anyway?

  4. Infants speak before they pronounce perfectly.

    They mimic and babble their first words: and then LATER get the pronunciation better and better as a logical result of their mouth muscles developing through babbling/speaking.

  5. People who learn a new language, learn words and sentences (meaning “skills”) first before they start focusing on grammar and the absolutely perfect pronunciation. You learn words/vocabulary first.

    You can’t perfect your French pronunciation if you don’t first know yet how to say anything at all in French.

  6. People who want to learn how to cook and don’t know anything about cooking: learn the basics first, and learn how to do things. They don’t first focus on refined techniques and technicalities.

  7. I can give examples till I turn blue in the face. 🙂

Engineering is probably the only field in life, where it pays off and is oftentimes necessary to get things perfect the FIRST time.
Yet, even engineers keep perfecting things as plans keep evolving and calculations keep improving. They need something there to perfect before they can start perfecting it.

So back to “Why” questions.

Bringing this back to learning an instrument: Why do you not get any progress or results when you focus on playing clean, controlled and perfect as a complete beginner?

Answer:

Because you don’t have the hand muscles to pull that off.
You don’t have the strength/agility/flexibility yet that will enable you to switch chords well and hence play perfectly clean.

Why?

Because you have not been developing your hand muscles, finger flexibility and brain neural pathways enough yet to be able to play with perfect technique or to be able to switch quickly enough to achieve clean playing.

How well and clean you can play, is the results of how well your fingers do what you want them to do.

If your fingers without all too much effort do what you want them to do – BINGO – you will play clean and accurate, WITHOUT ever having wasted time on trying to play clean and accurate.

Why (have your hand muscles not developed enough…)?

Because… you didn’t follow directions!!!

Because your hand muscles (meaning: strength, endurance, flexibility….) don’t develop by playing slowly or by stopping when there is a lesser easy chord change.
If you want results (faster progress), you can only get that if you focus on the right things first.

In this stage in your learning and path: accuracy is the by product of finger/hand/muscle control and strength.

Meaning: accuracy is automatically and naturally gonna happen as your hands get stronger.
Meaning: accuracy is the wrong thing to focus on at the level you are at.

STRENGTH IS what should be practiced!!!

Focusing on accuracy instead of on developing the skills necessary to switch chords and control your fingers, is what is delaying your progress.

You would have been able to play very clean and accurate already weeks ago, if you had worked your hand muscles harder. (which is one of the huge benefits you strumming along with a song without stopping).

Accuracy is the result of having fingers and hands that do what you want them to do.

You see, what is the point of focusing on “perfect clean technique”, if you’re still at the stage where your hands and fingers don’t do at all yet what you want them to do?

Possible Lessons To be Learned from the Above

  1. Following directions will save you time.
  2. If you want progress, follow directions.
  3. There are beliefs, and there’s facts.

    Your beliefs won’t get you anywhere. On the contrary, they could be hindering you.

    The above student example shows a prime example of someone who shoots himself in the foot because he is so stuck in his beliefs about how “he thinks” things should be done, that he has a hard time opening up to the way that would give him much better results – even in the face of the terrible results he is getting doing things his way.

  4. You can’t learn with a closed mind.

    In order to learn, you need to be open to new ideas, approaches, viewpoints and so on. You also need to trust: trust your teacher, trust that you might not know as much as well as you think you do. Trust the process, trust the flow.

  5. “Your way” is not a good way if it doesn’t get results.

    Feeling the need to “do things your way” when the poor results show evidence that your way is not working and the teacher’s way IS, is not unlike “needing to be in control” or “putting up resistance”.

  6. Experience as a guitar and music teacher taught me, that problems as the above, almost always ONLY happen with really really intelligent people.

    Music is not engineering and it is not science.
    It can easily be overanalyzed. THAT is where the problems usually start.
    Stop thinking… start playing!
    Stop analyzing… start doing!

    Move your arm, hit strings, mission accomplished.

  7. Different things are more important at different stages.

    Complete beginner –> strength trumps accuracy.

    Intermediate & Advanced –> accuracy before anything.

  8. It’s not your job to know that. That is what a pro teacher is for.
  9. If you make it your job to know that: you are unfocused. Practice instead and become a better guitarist.
    Only make this your job, if you want your job description to read: “Pro Guitar & Music Teacher”

  10. Lastly: this above shows why people who learn from Youtube or videos never become amazing guitarists.

    There’s a billion billion educational subtleties like the one described in this blog, that people who learn from YouTube are not even aware off, that they are missing out on, and that are slowing them down in ways that would never happen with a teacher.

  11. Taking lessons is an investment.

    Time is money and life is short.

    Paying for lessons is an investment.
    It’s an investment in saving a huge amount of time, gaining better results, knowing how to do more, and sound better with much less effort in much lesser time, which opens up more time to discover and experience more different and richer life/musical experiences, and so much more.

    BUT… that is only true…
    if you actually do what your teacher tells you to do.
    If you don’t follow your teacher’s directions, then…

    what you’re really doing is: self-study.

    Self-study is not an investment, it’s an expense.
    You’re expending your time, talent and energy, for mediocre results at best and very little return.
    As a result: you end up paying way more in wasted time, results, effort, and energy at much greater cost than what investing in lessons cost.

  12. There is a reason why top world-class performers and ridiculously successful or wealthy people in any field, from athletics, to business to art, to investing, to finance to media and so on… ALL seek out coaches.

    Hell.. even Michael Jackson was still taking vocal lessons with Seth Riggs only weeks before he passed.

    But…

    Think about it – There’s even more important reasons why those people actually also diligently follow AND apply the advice of those coaches.

  13. One thing I can tell you with 100% certainty based on +26 years of teaching, or +50,000 hours of teaching at a very high level, is that you also will have way more fun in your practicing guitar at home, when you do so following your teacher’s directions, rather than doing it your own way.

    The reason why students who practice exactly the way their teacher told them to, have way more fun, is for another blog.

    Maybe next week’s blog. 🙂

    Conclusion

    Hit me up anytime at [email protected] 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 and results learning from blogs and videos, that my students experience in lessons.
    There’s also much more cool stuff you can do with substitution pairs, and way more possibilities than can be covered in a video or blog.

    That is why people take lessons: way better results and progress, much more complete information, way more creative ideas they learn in lessons than you can get from a blog.
    There is only so much that self-study can accomplish.

    Keep me informed on your progress. You can hit me up in the comments section below.
    If you like this blog: give it a rating and feel free to give me any feedback.
    I believe everything can always improve. I’d gladly implement your suggestions and ideas.

    Be on the look out for more blogs about guitar, music, songwriting and music education.
    You’re on your way to becoming a great guitar player.
    Have fun! 🙂


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