It always seems like our heroes are on some other plane of existence, doesn’t it? What magic elixir did these guys and gals drink to transcend them to such incredible musical heights?
As someone who has been doing this for awhile, but is still very much so on the never-ending journey to new techniques, sounds, and proficiency, one similar thing between these masters seems to keep popping up, as much as I’d hate for it to.
You’d think I’d be excited to find this secret, but unfortunately, it’s not quite what we all want to hear, and I have a feeling we all are aware of it, and we just don’t want to admit it to ourselves:
These masters have their fundamentals, “the boring stuff,” RIDICUOLOUSLY down.
I think today, a lot of people are always looking for the one quick fix, and we tend to get a little bogged down when we realize “the old fashion way” still holds so true.
Especially once we as musicians start to break out of the beginners’ territory and delve into practicing more advanced things, I think a lot of us are guilty of forgetting, or even purposefully foregoing the most basic things we need for mastering our instrument.
I have read multiple times some of my favorite musicians, especially ones in the jazz world, reply to the obligatory question “What should I be practicing?” with a simple, and sometimes even one word answer: “the basics.”
I think we all as musicians have encountered “crossing the threshold” when it comes to really internalizing a particular idea or sound into our repertoire, like a scale, for instance. What I mean by that is after a certain point of practice, you see that idea as an extension of you. I once had a professor routinely say “practice this until it becomes something else.” I know that sounds a little bizarre to the uninitiated, but when you experience it, there’s no real better way to describe it.
One thing I’ve been finding in my own playing as of late is that these thresholds don’t only come once. Once a scale or idea becomes “something else” there is still even more work you can do to gradually learn how to put that fundamental into your own voice, turning that “something else” into a new “something else.”
This, I believe is how all of these great masters seem to be on that “other level.” They’ve crossed so many thresholds with their fundamentals that they can fully and completely use them to create their voice and sound with ease.
Again, it’s just like learning how to talk. At first, you didn’t have all of the skills necessary to express an idea, but after awhile, not only could you very articulately express that idea, you can do so without having to think much about it. Having a conversation with your friend isn’t really a huge mental load on you.
We use our speech non-stop, however, so it was easy to get our practice time in. These masters just kept working on these fundamentals, and applying them, until they were as easy to use as it was to ask your friend to pick you up at 8.
The real trick here is learning to love the journey. Yes, sometimes “going back to the basics” doesn’t sound like the most glamorous or fun way to improve, and I myself am guilty of being bogged down by that from time to time, but it’s vital. Learn to love the challenge and the path that you’re on, without totally hating yourself for not being at your goal. Realize this is the most tested and most successful method to becoming the musician you want to be.
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Guitar Instructor, Co-Owner
Falls Music School