Welcome to the second installment in our series, The Six Points of Awesome!
In this series of articles, we’re going to explore the six elements that will bring your guitar playing closer to Status: Awesome. But remember that these points can apply to anything you want to learn and master – whether it be driving a car, making an omelette or juggling chainsaws – so please read on with that in mind. (Especially if you plan on juggling chainsaws…:)
If you haven’t read the first part yet – Make the Commitment – then go ahead and do that now, since it all starts with being committed.
This second installment is all about finding a mentor – your own personal Mr. Miyagi, if you will. Someone to help coach you to awesome status and give you the benefit of his or her experiences and expertise.
Sir Isaac Newton – regarded as perhaps the greatest and most influential scientist in history – was famously asked how he became so, well, brilliant. He replied, “Whatever I have learned in this life, it is because I have stood on the shoulders of giants.” A humble dude, that Sir Isaac.
So let’s follow Newton’s lead and find some giants of our own. Pick a hero – or two, or ten – and imitate them. Do what they do, listen to the music they listen to, practice the way they practice. Let them be your mentors.
Awesome Point #2: Find a Mentor
So where do you find your Mr. Miyagi?
Well, sometimes the answer is simple: you look around your neighborhood, you ask around, you network, you get a referral. Maybe you just search Google. One of these methods is likely how you found me.
But here’s the interesting thing about mentors: You don’t even have to know them personally to derive the benefits of their experience! And with the Internet at your fingertips, finding quality mentoring is easier than ever.
Heck, I’ve got some mentors that don’t even know they are my mentors. I’ve only just connected with Jamie Andreas in a very small way this year (Facebook, ‘natch), but I’ve been learning from her work for years. I had my first “A-ha!” moments about teaching while reading her essays and I’ve probably learned more about quality instruction from her than I did in four years of college. I’ve never met British guitar tutor, Nick Minion, either, but I’ve stolen some of his best ideas and use them regularly! You’ll read more about their teaching concepts in later installments of this series.
Local musicians, famous musicians, teachers, friends – it doesn’t matter. I strive to stay curious and to keep my eyes and ears open. I soak up as much as possible and have faith that it will eventually make its way into my guitar playing.
One of the ways I’ve learned so much about other players is through books and magazines. Guitar Player magazine was my bible for many years, at least since the late 1970s – you can find interviews, articles and lessons from a wide variety of guitarists. But any guitar magazine or book will help you find a mentor – you just have to search it out. My current fave magazine is Guitar Techniques, out of the UK.
It will be awfully difficult to stand on the shoulders of giants, to be mentored, if you are not open to learning. So the underlying idea behind Awesome Point #2 is to be humble.
As the Zen master would say, “Carry an empty cup”, and strive to fill it with new ideas. If you believe your cup is already full, then you shut yourself off to new learning. Keep a beginner’s mind no matter how advanced you become.
It is easy for the intermediate and advanced player to lose his or her grasp on humility – after all, they’ve come a long way and have achieved many great things on the guitar. But a true master knows that you just keep putting one foot in front of the other – there is no end to the discovery. As Jamie Andreas titled her book, “The deeper I go, the deeper it gets.” True that.
And be keenly aware that you can learn from anyone at anytime. My students learn from me but I also learn from them! They turn me on to great music, their questions or challenges inspire new teaching methods, and sometimes they show me a cool new guitar lick – we learn together. One of the first pieces I ever wrote for my website was Two Red Chairs and it clearly states my views on humility and openness in the guitar studio. As soon as you feel that only you are “the teacher” and only the other person is “the student”, then the reciprocal vibe that you’re trying to accomplish is sabotaged. You might even say that we are constantly mentoring and being mentored.
Be truly open and watch your playing soar.
This next element resides comfortably next to “Be Humble”.
When you find a mentor, please do what they suggest and follow their lead. When you hire a mentor (like me), don’t waste your money: Do what I ask you to do. I’ve devoted my life to the guitar and I humbly submit that I can play it at a fairly high level. You do not – yet. Embrace this concept and be coachable.
Don’t make all sorts of “executive decisions” like, “I know you said to practice this thing here…but I thought my time might be better served practicing this other thing over there.” Ugh. Consider that perhaps I see the big picture and you do not – yet. Don’t dismiss anything I’ve told you unless it legitimately hurts you to play it (then don’t do it and talk to me about it at our next session).
Sometimes that big picture involves focusing on something rudimentary and working it to death. Because I know where we’re ultimately headed, I see the value in this, while you may not – yet. When Miyagi told Daniel to “Wax on, wax off”, he was teaching him fundamental discipline and underlying principles of movement. He knew that if young Dan could do this simple task very well and stay focused, that it would benefit him greatly down the line, since more complex tasks require even greater discipline to master. Miyagi was a boss.
So please do what I ask and trust our process. I’m here to guide you toward success, not failure. You trust me, right? Right? Then why aren’t you listening to me???
Open Your Ears
Reading or talking about music is great, but music is first and foremost about listening, so go listen!
Want to play jazz? Listen to jazz masters. The same is true for rock, metal, blues, folk, fingerstyle, reggae, country, klezmer, Celtic, bluegrass, classical, etc. Listen to great players with intensity and concentration, not just casually. Engage yourself in the music.
Try to imitate the sounds, the attitude, and the technique. I spent the vast majority of my formative guitar years playing along with recordings and trying desperately to match what I heard Jimi Hendrix or Eric Clapton or Stevie Ray Vaughan do. Plus, it’s a lot more fun to play to a recording than to the walls!
And learning by ear is a great way to be mentored by the best of the best. Want to improve your songwriting? Learn that Beatles tune by ear (as well as you can) and pick it apart. Study it, analyze it, try to draw some conclusions as to why Paul made the 4 chord minor, or why John rhymed the third line instead of the second.
Immerse yourself in great music and you will be inspired. Humbled. Elevated.
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I hope this gives you some food for thought. Remember that being awesome doesn’t happen by accident, so go get yourself a Miyagi, grasshopper! Next up is Awesome Point #3: Pay Attention…
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See you next time!