Monday, May 12, 2014

Baby Steps

I recently read this article by Bryan Baker, an acclaimed guitarist. In it he says,

"From the ages of 12-18 I practiced nothing but scales for 12 hours daily with no breaks, with no time for anything, and slept for 4 hours nightly. For 6 years."

After reading that article, I had a mini-meltdown. I said to myself, "What?! I've been doing this all wrong. I'm going to dedicate the next 6 years to the guitar, and only eating and sleeping will interrupt my practice time!"

The next day I planned on practicing for twelve hours. Well, after much grinding of the teeth and furrowing of the brows, I made it to 4 hours, and then I caved to watch "How I Met Your Mother". As I watched Ted Mosby be his charismatic self, I wondered if this sacrifice was worth the reward?

The second day I didn't practice at all, because I was too burnt out from the previous day.

I needed a new plan of action, a philosophy for practicing my craft. Thankfully, I stumbled upon this article by Adam Rafferty, best known for his funky finger style. I found gems that felt good to me as I read, such as:

"It’s cool to imagine the life of an artist, but gang, let’s get real. We are all human. We all have limits.

Practicing for hours and hours might make you feel like you are living up to this myth of the musical super-hero, but you can injure yourself physically by overdoing it and end up having to stop playing for months."

Later in the article he goes on to say,

"Practicing mindfully and correctly is much more important than simply racking up mindless hours of practice time.

Don’t believe all the BS stories about 'so and so’s endless practice.' It’s just a story which is used to sell you stuff.

What you are not hearing is the endless stories about musicians with carpal tunnel syndrome that go along with them.

Never practice past the point where your body is telling you to stop. It’s not weight lifting, and a hand injury can totally put your playing out of commission.

It’s ok to say  'I’m done for today.'

I practice many hours a week, but I take time off and rest, and stretch, and sleep enough, and breathe deep and drink enough water.

If anything ever twinges, feels tight – I stop playing and rest up.  Often I want to “keep going”  but I know to stop if the body says stop.

In other words – I know when to call it a day."

I think that this is sage advice! He continues with a few words about "ego":

"Anytime I try to 'be the best' there’s a problem….

'I' becomes the focus rather than 'the music'. Then comes tension, competition, worry, shortness of breath, and all that ego crap.

Get 2 people functioning like that, team them up on stage, and it becomes a pissing contest.

When I am focused on the music, groove, beauty of melody and sound, my body always feels fine.

Everything’s ok and in balance.

Whenever the EGO takes over, the body feels tight, and nothing feels good musically.

So – be a giver, rather than a taker

Dunno if this applies to you, check it for yourself!  If you feel tense, scared and short of breath – really take a look and see….are you working on music or are you working on being great?

(Feeling like you suck is also the EGO….)"

Whatever your craft it, it's important to make sure you are enjoying the journey just as much as the dream of where you'll finally be someday, otherwise, what's the point?

I stopped pressuring myself to be the best. I stopped listening to my ego.

Sure, practicing is challenging sometimes, and I don't quit just because it's challenging, but I do make sure that I'm enjoying the process of learning and growing. If I need a break, I allow myself to take one!

Without external pressures, I can take little, baby steps each day that lead me closer and closer to my goals. I'm happy because I can tell I'm improving, but I'm not killing myself in the process.

You don't need to take these huge leaps in progress. If you consistently step up to the plate each day and improve little by little, you're a success in my book.

I've learned two things:

1) I don't have to hurry.
2) I have plenty of time to improve.

Since, I've implemented this new mindset, I diligently practice an hour a day in between writing blogs and making jewelry. I enjoy the time I spend with my guitar, and I'm giddy with excitement because those 16th notes I've been tapping near the body of the guitar are getting bloody fast!

Happy playing, writing, singing, drawing, painting, and dreaming!



  1. First off... did Bryan Baker go to school? Because I don't know how a teenager could possibly have 12 hours of time in a day to practice guitar. Ha!

    These are great lessons, though. You really do need to have a balance in life so that you don't get burned out!

  2. As a music major in university, these are also things I've come across and learned... and I actually did get injured in my first year from practicing too much, and from playing with too much tension. I can still play, though only about two hours per day, and mindful practice was a skill I learned by necessity. And thanks to that, I can learn as difficult music as my peers, but spend half as much time practicing. And I get to have a social life and other hobbies too!

  3. It shall not go unnoticed that in your last blog you mentioned you were taking guitar lessons again!!! What a smile this put on my face. Almost a sense of pride(sorry, dorky). With all you have accomplished and done musically in the past what, 15 years?! Countless albums, Countless tours, Countless writing, Countless co-writing, Countless creating and creations...All musicians and artist need to take note of this fact. Your enthusiasm and continual self recreation is really special. And.... your pretty funny, too. Your blogposts always leave me with hundreds of thoughts and ideas. I think you need a podcast/talk show!!!