Looking Back: 2nd Month

Whatever discouraging, lingering doubts I had about my inability to fret chords and play them clean and clear were quickly being abated by problem solving, persistence, and repetitive practice. Encouragement and support from my music teacher, stronger hands and digits, and tougher calluses on the finger tips were motivating factors to plow through a dry patch of technical obstacles. I reminded myself that reading standard music notation and playing single notes has been unencumbered by technical difficulties, and any fumbles in this area were the result of momentary lapses in my concentration (cranium flatus).

My second month of lessons appeared to be an incremental improvement over the previous month, but I knew I could do much better and felt like I wasn’t giving a 100 percent. Maybe I needed to practice more and/or get more serious. My daily practice regime had already been consisting of two 45 minute sessions:

Warm up—5 minutes

  • G Minor Pentatonic Scale, 5 times each at different bpm.

Scales—20 minutes

  • C Major Scale
  • Chromatic Scales
  • Pentatonic Scales

Chords—20 minutes

  • Pulse (shape and strum on and off) G7, C7, and D7 chords
  • Strum 12 bars in 4/4 time.

In between sessions I studied music theory, performed ear training exercises, and practiced active listening of selected music. I easily devoted three to four hours to the pursuit of music, but I still was unsatisfied. I began to research practice methodologies used by performing classical musicians. Man, did I ever feel like I had a very long road ahead of me. I discovered a methodology called deliberate practice, an organized, goal-based approach to instrument practice and performance. My practice regime appeared to be organized and goal-based, but it desperately needed some serious tweaking if I desired to optimize my practice time.

While my practice regime appeared orderly with definite goals, it lacked specific target areas where performance issues were creating barriers to advancement that required a deliberate, focused approach to treating the problem, and for me that was fingering chords at one extreme and smoothly shifting between them at the opposite end. I also needed to target difficult passages involving phrase transitions spanning two or three strings, when in such situations I would invariably lose focus of where my fingers were over the fretboard. If I messed up notes here and there, my inclination was to stop and start from the beginning of the song again until I got it right, rather than increase my practice efficiency by targeting the affected phrase and repeating it until I was satisfied that it was correct and comforting to the ear.

This was one of those situations where having a music sensei became indispensable by communicating my difficulties and presenting a solution set for his consideration and constructive feedback. It was reassuring that he explained I was on the right path and offered additional insights into making practice efficient and productive. Figuratively speaking, I concluded my 2nd month of lessons and practice on a high note.

I want to get the most out of my practice, thinking that I need to work smarter not harder. My frustration [lies in] learning to play the G7, C7, D7 [chords without errors]. Repetition wasn’t working, keeping the chord shape until my fingers either broke or went numb wasn’t working, and waiting for it all to just happen was naively wishful thinking. I’ve been experimenting for the past four days where I fingered each chord note separately, moving between the notes from each chord, one note and finger at a time. I performed this exercise until my fret hand fatigued. Today I can finger the chords and move between them, though far, far from clean and smooth. I still have to look at the fret board, string buzz makes me cringe…

—Excerpt from my Music Journal

September 26, 2012