Guitar Lessons by Chip McDonald - April 2022

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Golfers Make Good Guitar Students?

  The Augusta National has just passed in my hometown.

Golf equivalent of a perfectly preserved 1968 Marshall plexi

 Which makes this post a bit late, but now that I'm "here", I'd like to say:

 Golfers make for good guitar students!

 They usually have a more humble attitude towards expectations upon starting.  Perhaps because you're always humbled playing golf, but it's good to know where the target is, but not to expect to reach it next week.  Or next month.  Or next year.  Golfers seem to have a better grasp on the long view.  

 Which is good for playing and making music.  Reflexive immediacy, expecting things NOW has wrecked modern society: nothing worth doing is easy.  Music has been devalued monetarily, but it still plays a role in the daily lives of most everybody; it's a significant thing that takes time to learn as a skill, craft, and to create.

 Golfers also seem to have a good awareness of practice concepts.  There isn't one overriding method in golf, many approaches to honing skills, and in different aspects.  Which of course translates to learning to play the guitar.  Some people try to "learn" to play guitar the way some people play Putt Putt: just wack the ball hard and it will hopefully bounce off some things, maybe a clown and an orange barrier, and somehow careen into the hole.

 Which is comical, but as I'm writing that I'm realizing there is profound truth in that.  If you watch people play Putt Putt/miniature golf, some just can't help but to just randomly "wack" the ball. It's a waste of time, but they can't help themselves.  Why are they bothering to do an activity in such a ridiculous fashion?

 Because it worked one time!   

 They got a crazy dopamine kick off of it, and tied to the "success" the feedback loop created means they try to recreate the moment again... and again... and again.  They're not getting better, they're not increasing their skills, they're not scoring - they're wasting time.

  Maybe a complete novice somewhere got a hole in one first time out playing real golf.  But probably not....

 On guitar, it's similarly deceptive as the miniature golf accidental hole in one, AND more involved than the real golf hole in one.  But the same feedback loop applies: the novice accidentally knocks out something they didn't expect.  Maybe for the first time they play something that sounds "pro", or recognizable. 

 They get that reinforcing dopamine kick.  Which is good!  It should act as impetus to play more!  But unfortunately - and I think this is a byproduct of 21st century society - that experience is interpreted as "I did that easy, it took little effort; I can do it again, recreate this experience endlessly, with the same effortless ease!".

 Furthermore, what wrecks the new student is seeing a gazillion people on Youtube seemingly pulling things off with effortless ease!

 As a guitar teach I see this phenomenon in a lot of people, and it's difficult to combat.  It's an unseen aspect of teaching guitar that is tenuous, hopefully I'm able to help people with that.  Watching Youtube certainly doesn't help, it's creating a negative feedback loop as described above, whether people realize it or not. 

Golfers realize watching doesn't make them better, they know pretty clearly they have to DO, they have to practice/play as much as possible.

 "But that's not fun!" some will say.

 That's the problem: not realizing the value in what you're doing.  It should be perceived as a lot of fun.  You're learning to do something that only a tiny, tiny portion of the population of the whole planet can do.  Unlike golf, something in every day life for everybody, almost a constant.  It should be thought of as "I'm at Amen Corner, and I just made a chip shot in a situation Tiger Woods did".   Except in golf, you can't replicate that experience without being a member of the Augusta National and have extraordinary golf skills.  
 On the other hand, you *can* replicate a phrase Brian May played in Bohemian Rhapsody, or a riff Billy Gibbons played.  Without leaving your house, and you can show your buddies you can do it, and you can build on millions of such examples the rest of your life.

 But you're probably never going to make a hole in one in Augusta.  Knowing that creates a good attitude towards learning to play an instrument.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Another New York Times Piece on Guitar?


 This time an oblique swipe at guitar solos.

 It's curious that they seem to like to write articles implying "this thing I'm writing about, heh heh heh, we all know is passe.... but *I* know what cool about it, I'm be self-referentially cool by telling you".  

"It's easy to dismiss the guitar solo as an outdate, macho institution"

 Pretty much the Rolling Stone formula of non-musicians being critical of POPULAR musician's choices.  It's an inclusive trick: because you're reading their article, you're included in their Hip Circle.  

 Meanwhile I'm trundling along giving guitar lessons, in which wanting to learn to play solos is anything but dead.