When Practice Makes Poison



Friends of mine have two young boys – ages 9 and 6 – who are learning the piano. One day, before they came over to my house with the kids, the Mom said to me “You’re into music. Why don’t you tell the kids that you really wish that you could play the piano…if they knew that maybe they wouldn’t mind practicing so much.”

Usually, I’m a horrible influence on children, (“Let’s eat paint!” “Go pin the tail on your brother”, “Christmas is cancelled” etc.) but this time I felt that I could do some good, because I could relate to their predicament. They hated to practice. Heck, I hate to ‘practice’. But an interesting thing happened when they came over to my place.

When they showed up, we exchanged pleasantries and I told the mom that I’d show her why the kids didn’t feel like practicing. We all walked into my little basement jam studio and I asked the kids if they wanted to be Rock Stars. They jumped at the chance – taking turns on the drums and the guitars that I had pumped through a Line 6 amp with the distortion turned on really dirty. The two of them jammed like crazy – with HUGE smiles on their faces – until I called the police and had them arrested.

OK, that last part didn’t happen…but they did play for about an hour straight and I didn’t once see their smiles fade.

I then asked them to play the piano. They said that they didn’t know anything without their books. Their books were for practicing.

What’s the point of learning an instrument if not to play it? Those boys knew nothing about the guitar or the drums, but they experienced a moment of playing despite the fact that they were only making “noise”. To them, it was music. To them, it was magical. To us, it sounded like the disemboweling of a cat set to a misfiring engine. But to them, they were rock stars.

The moral of this story is quite simple. Play.

Do you need to learn chords and scales and songs and all of that…of course. But don’t forget in all of your practicing that the reason that you’re doing all of this is to make music. And probably to get laid. But definitely to make music. And here’s the magical part…it only has to sound like music to you.

So, in the interest of being just a touch informative, here is a list of a few ways to keep things fun while you learn.

  1. 1)Know what you want. When you first start to play, pick 3 simple songs that YOU would like to learn. It’s a lot more gratifying to learn “Every Rose Has It’s Thorn” than to learn “Row Row Row Your Boat”. (OK, the example is subjective, but you get the point.) The reason for 3 songs is to give yourself variety within your ‘practicing’.
  2. 2)Don’t lose sight of your goal. Let your goal be the music. Create a playlist of the songs that you’re learning. Put the playlist on repeat, and play along with it. Once you hear the same ‘music’ come from the guitar as the song, you’ll be hooked! Plus, it will train you to change chords in time.
  3. 3)Switch it up. Once you’ve learned each of those songs, it’s time to add some new ones. Repeat the process.
  4. 4)Jam with friends. If your playing is starting to plateau, play as much as you can with others. You’ll learn new songs, new riffs, and new techniques – all without “practice”. Instead, you’ll learn by doing.
  5. 5)Get the blues. Whether it’s BB King, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy or any other true blues musician, get some of that music, and after you’re done practicing chords, or scales, or whatever it is that you’re learning, give yourself some time to play along with it. Experiment with leads. Get yourself lost in the music.
  6. 6)Use the web. The fact that you’re reading this says that you’re comfortable checking out sites like loudguitars.com to improve your playing. Be sure to have your guitar in your hand when you’re here, as you may want to play along with some of the tutorials. Do the same with youtube when learning songs.
  7. 7)Play. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how you play or what you play, it just matters that you play. And the more you play, the more fun you’ll have playing. And the more fun you have, the more you’ll want to play. This is the beginning of a fantastic cycle!

So, what’s the difference between practicing and doing?

The difference is perception. Yes, you can practice in the traditional way, but you can also practice by doing. Remember, most of the time we don’t “practice” things that we enjoy. We do them, and by doing them repeatedly, we get better at them.

Have you ever picked someone up in a bar by saying “Hey baby, why don’t we go back to my place so I can ‘practice’ sex with you?”

Seriously, if you have, I’d love to hear the story…

To find out more about Steve, click HERE

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