Before I proceed any further, I want to make sure the person who inspired this post is acknowledged. His name is Griff Hamlin and he has produced several DVD based learn-at-home guitar courses. I’m currently studying his Blues Guitar Unleashed (BGU) course. Let me say that I am very impressed with his course material and I believe it to be worth every penny I paid for it. Griff has my undying respect and admiration for turning his dreams into goals and his goals into reality. Griff, if you’re reading this, thank you, thank you and thank you!
This isn’t a plug for his products, although I’m quite happy to offer a plug to anyone thinking about buying a learn at home guitar course. I heartily endorse them. Along with the purchase of any of his courses, he sends along frequent mailings of his own musings and observations of the learning process. About six weeks after I purchased his BGU I received an email from him with the subject Beware of Shiny Objects. In it he describes his own distraction by “shiny objects.” In the course of this email, his shiny objects are guitar stompboxes. He then goes on to warn students about having one course and searching the internet for more guitar courses. While it certainly could be seen as self-serving, after all he does sell guitar courses over the internet, it’s obvious that he isn’t against using other course material in addition to his. He doesn’t quite make the point I expected in the message, but I suspect that’s in the interest of not being preachy. What he doesn’t quite get around to mentioning is commitment, goals and the importance of goal setting.
Now, I’m not exactly the guru of goals, so don’t get me wrong. This post is more a case of “I am starting to get it,” rather than one of “Here’s what I’m doing and you should too!” At the ripe old age of 58, “I am beginning to realize something I wish I had discovered 45 years ago.” Since I decided to resume a life long yearning to play the guitar, I have been running on the momentum of a dream… Wanting to play the guitar. But I’ve been going about it the wrong way, even with this course in my DVD player and on my music stand.
I started off like gangbusters, practicing an hour or more every day for a couple of months. Then I started getting distracted by shiny objects. My first guitar learning shiny object is Griff’s own forum supporting his music courses. It’s a great tool to have a community of other pickers working in the same direction. The support among the members is extremely good. But what I’ve fallen victim is actually thinking that just showing up will make me a better player. It won’t. The real meat of the forums, the course related sections have seen little of me. Two sections have become major time sponges for me. One is The Lounge, where you can post about anything you want, a social bull session. The other is the section on gear. Debating the merits of hip-hop music in The Lounge or finding out how many guys have Epiphone/Gibson Les Paul Goldtops will not make me a better guitarist. In fact, the time I spend there, I am stealing from the time I have to practice. It’s a shiny object. I’m doing it because it’s more entertaining than pentatonic scales. But then the evening is gone and I’ve learned nothing of consequence. This is no one’s fault but my own. I lack the discipline necessary in order to pursue my goal!
So I let the shiny objects of the forum lead me in a new direction, GAS or Guitar Acquisition Syndrome. I saw many shiny objects. Now I have to answer the question, “Considering I haven’t played in public since some time in 1973, do I really need to have 10 guitars sitting here in my music room? Do I really need 3 amplifiers? Do I need 2 different distortion “stompboxes?” The answer is of course, “NO!” Has buying any of this equipment (other than the first guitar and amp) made me a better guitar player? “Hell NO!” Does the fact that I have 3 other adjunct guitar courses sitting on my desk make me a better guitar player? No, especially since they aren’t even opened yet. All it does is add to the number of shiny objects. Yet, I still find myself looking through every email from Guitar Center and Musician Friend. Is there anything there that will immediately turn me into a better player if I buy it. No, I can’t buy myself more practice, more talent, more dedication or more skill!
There is nothing wrong with the shiny objects themselves. It’s just that I cannot let them distract me and become the focus of my efforts.
The only thing that will turn me into a better guitar player is practice and a purpose. Without a purpose, even practicing will eventually hit a brick wall. A purpose means GOALS! When I was young and playing in garage bands, I wanted to make a living playing an instrument (mainly keyboards back then). I wanted to be a rock star. I wanted to get laid! But those really weren’t goals. Those were dreams. Some came true. Others, not so much.
Now, I’m 58 years old and trying to pick up where I left off. Why? Well, I certainly don’t expect to make a living by playing. I have no illusions about being a nearly 60 year old rock and roll sensation. The ones who are 60 year old rock stars got to be that way when they were in their teens or twenties and stuck with it. And I’m happily married for nearly 30 years, so the groupie thing has no appeal. Why am I doing it? Initially it was because I wanted to be 20 again, but that’s not only a dream, but an impossible fantasy. But I’m still motivated, so what am I working towards? Sitting in a 10X12 room playing pentatonic scales all evening on 6 different guitars certainly isn’t making it. Why am I doing it? I’ve asked that question of myself a lot.
First and foremost, I want to prove to myself that I can do it. But what is it I can do to prove that? I’ve been sitting here for nearly 6 months. My wife says I sound a lot better than I did, but to me, I sound the same. A little faster, a little less sloppy, but basically unchanged. How do I measure my improvement? GOALS! Exactly what every motivational speaker I’ve ever heard over the last 40 years has told me. But for the first time in my life, I suddenly get it! I need a measurement of performance, improvement, success…. Whatever you want to call it, I need it.
Some long forgotten motivational speaker I listened to once said, “Goals are dreams with a deadline.” Suddenly I understand that! I’ve spent uncounted hours in my music room practicing and practicing, with no yardstick to measure my progress. Yeah, I know I’m playing better than 6 months ago, but I can’t quantify it. How much longer do I without some concrete evidence of improvement before I simply give up out of frustration? The answer is GOALS!
So here are some goals… Dreams actually, because I haven’t yet put a timeline on them.
1. To make a recording of each lesson as I complete it, so I can listen to my ability improve.
2. Answer a few challenges in the “Other Member Recordings” and post something, good bad or ugly to the BGU forums.
3. Become confident enough to visit an Open Mic Night at a local bar.
4. Organize, co-organize or at least participate in a local jam of other members from the BGU forum.
5. Attend and appear onstage at the BGU LIve event in 2012 (if it happens).
Right now, these are all dreams, because they don’t have dates attached to them. with the exception of BGU Live 2012, which will have a date. My next blog entry will associate timelines with the dreams I choose to turn into goals. They may get re-arranged, some more added, some dropped. If I don’t make them all by the date, I’ll re-schedule. But when I put a date to something that will be my commitment to it.
And for now 10 guitars IS enough!