Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - The Fragility of Initial Conditions

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Fragility of Initial Conditions


I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.

Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear - From Frank Herbert's Dune Book Series

© 1965 and 1984 Frank Herbert

Initiate Guitar Student Litany

"I haven't played a note before in my life".
"I played around with it when I was younger but never learned anything"
"I had an uncle that showed me some chords when I was little, but I forgot them"
"I don't really know anything"
"I don't know if I can play or not"
"I don't have rhythm, I may be wasting my time"
"I bet you never taught someone as old as me"
"I know a few chords but that's all"
"I tried to learn but I couldn't"
"I can't move my fingers fast enough"
"I don't think I'm strong enough"
"I don't have any patience so I don't know if I can learn"
"I had this laying around since Christmas but I haven't tried it"
"I had this all of my life, it was my father's guitar in college but I haven't picked it up until now"
"I don't think I'm very musical"
"I don't have any idea what I'm doing"
"I know how to play this chord but that's all"
"I don't know how to tune it or anything"
"I bought this years ago but never tried playing it"
"I tried piano when I was a kid but gave it up"
"I have small fingers, I don't know if I can play"
"I tried years ago but put it down"
"I played clarinet in school but never anything else"
"I played recorder but that doesn't count"
"I don't know if I'll be any good or not"

 For starters - pun intended - I'll be the judge of all of the above, and more along those lines that I've heard. Buried in most of these responses I've heard to the question "have you played an instrument before?" is of course self-doubt.  The problem is, YOU don't know, literally.  You WON'T know, at least for a few weeks at a minimum, maybe even for a year or more.  Because...

 If you've not really played the instrument, or an instrument before, you're a "beginner".  Before you learn to write you have to learn to hold the pencil, use the eraser, form the letters.  You can't make a judgement call on how good of a novelist you'll be if you literally can't read or write yet. 

 You'll be a beginner for probably longer than you want to be (of course), and unlike every other guitar teacher on the planet I'm not going to say otherwise.  Except, if you TRY to do things "right" you WILL get better.  You can't help but to get better. 

 You'll be a rote beginner until you pass a certain threshold where you gain some control over each finger, and can allow that to turn into muscle memory.  That takes more time than most people in reality want to take, it's very frustrating for MOST people initially. 

 It's something everyone passes through.  The initial, nascent phase of playing is a period where despite what I'll tell you in lessons that you're on track, you'll think and feel it's not working. 

 At which point I have to say as the expert in the room, "you don't have any experience in which to make that call".  

1) Learning to play an instrument, for real, is something that requires more concentration than 99% of the people I encounter have ever had to do, continuously before.

2) Learning to play an instrument requires integration of many different human elements, mental and physical, on a scale you've never had to do before.

 Which is why everyone should try to learn to play an instrument!  It fully engages your mind, and might help you learn a skill that actually can be applied to other life experiences.  Concentration, focus, kinesthetic awareness, mind management. But at first, you don't know if you're "getting it" or not!  The first phase is very steep if done properly, but always pays off.  Any shortcuts will be a hindrance maybe forever.  The first phase is intimidating only because of the fear of failure. 

 I wish I could take Frank Herbert's fictional "Litany Against Fear" in it's totality, I fear a lot.  From having watched thousands of people learn to play something I know they thought they "probably" couldn't do I've lost a lot of fear relative to basically anything involving a learning process.  

 But you don't know if you can "play the guitar" until you try, and try for real.  Know that some people are completely, literally shocked by what has to be learned/accomplished; people that are professionals in other fields.  It doesn't mean they can't do it, it means their life experience has not given them the ability to contrast the process with anything they've done before.  In some cases, even after this "first phase" I'm referencing is past, or long, past, the vastness of what playing an instrument, becoming a musician incorporates can suddenly intimidate some people.  In this situation appreciating the cultural significance of the undertaking, and acquiring that sense of proportion I've alluded to can be an immensely satisfying thing.  Be a fully realized human!

 It's a challenge, but almost everyone that is a "beginner" that comes to me tends to say the same thing, and has the same doubts and reticence about TRYING.  There is no reason for that!  You won't know until AFTER you have tried.

No comments:

Post a Comment