Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - November 2015

Monday, November 2, 2015

It Looks Easy - Expectation Bias and You

  Something of a role-reversal has occurred just recently I've observed.

"Historically", the Fancy Technical Lick the guitar hero du jour would execute would be considered something of an unreachable, ephemeral level of ability.   This person would be revered for his or her accomplishment.

 However, in the YouTube age, one gets to see basically anything taken apart (perhaps in dubious fashion) and presented as mere mathematical pieces, to be assembled at home by the viewer like a piece of musical Ikea furniture.

Mistake #1:  "If that guy I've never heard of on YouTube can do it, obviously anyone can do it".

 If anyone has had the same background and practice habits as said Anonymous Average Musician, maybe.  If a person cannot presently knows they cannot play or fully comprehend something they are seeing someone else do - then they can't make that call.

 "Here's a video of Some Guy at a playground basketball court, almost dunking from the free throw line.   Oh, he shows the steps involved.  If Some Guy can do what Michael Jordan can do, then so can I!".


 But not after just watching a video, taking the right number of steps in the right shoes, lifting your arm at the right time.  Maybe the goal was a foot or so lower.  Maybe the free throw line was a little closer.  Maybe the guy is taller than you.

 If your goal is to be a good basketball player, watching one video and running and jumping at the free throw line is a complete waste of your time.

 Yet, this is exactly effectively what I see a lot of people wanting to be a good guitar player doing these days.

 Mistake #2: "I've been doing this for almost 2 weeks!  I should be able to play this phrase/section/song by now!"

 Again - if you can't, and you think you should be able to - does that make sense?  Can you evaluate the veracity of your conclusion?

 YouTube gives the impression one can shortcut the learning process.  It's really more like short circuiting it, by making a connection that doesn't make sense.  As it turns out, the planet is huge, enormous, there are a gazillion good guitar players living on it.   When a person plays something in front of you who isn't a Big Time Music Star, that doesn't mean either what they're playing is easier than you think it is/was.   It means you're getting a preview.  It's like people speculating on what the story line of the new Star Wars movie is going to be by seeing the poster or the trailer.  You can do that, and you might end up getting one or two things sort of right.  But you are not going to be able to claim you know what the movie is about without sitting in the theater the whole time like everyone else. There isn't a Cliff Notes version. 

 It takes time, a lot of time.  Time to consolidate hundreds of things at a non-specific point later in time.  How you progress through that consolidation determines how long it takes, but chances are there are many things to bring together you can't perceive.  Minute things about technique, and how you hear things.

 I once encountered a guy that claimed he knew how to play a VanHalen song, and proceeded to show me.  Inexplicably, he began to play a mangled version of "La Cucaracha".   I said "ok, hey, how about playing that VanHalen song?" at which point he said that was it, "Come On Baby Finish What You Started".  After some musical forensic detective work, I deduced how he came to this notion that what he was playing was the VanHalen song.  Someone had shown him a part of it wrong.  He tried to fill in the rest, and proceeded to practice something that was so far removed from the actual song I couldn't recognize it.

 Along the way he picked up some bad habits, and his sense of timing was skewed after effectively practicing what he was perceiving improperly to begin with.  He not only wasted his time jumping into something improperly, he basically made himself worse as a musician!

 I'm not saying everyone is likely to do that, but the warning is that if you do what is effectively a shortcut, what you're short cutting is going to inevitably bring you down.  There are things that you can watch visibly get better in a few days, but most aspects of playing takes multiple weeks and months to see improvement, and some can evolve over years (like vibrato).  Don't be a Luke Skywalker, you must have patience.

 Seriously, patience.  I am often told, every week, "you have a lot of patience to teach!" which I do, but also consider that if that is the case - maybe that has something to do with why I have the resources and capacity to be the guitar teacher?  A large portion of what I do is trying to convey the gravitas of what I ask a student to practice.  You will definitely get better if you have the patience to practice properly - it's almost impossible not to! 

Mistake #3: "Look at those 4 year old kids playing guitar perfectly!  Guitar is easy!"

 No.  Those are North Korean kids who have been trained to mime playing to a recording perfectly by rehearsing all day long, the same thing, every day of their short lives. Hopefully you can do as well if you decided to do that for a year or two, 10 hours a day, for a bowl of porridge.