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A Secret of Success


By Chad Crawford

PMI Blues Guitar Instructor



Catchy title, eh? Notice I said “A secret”, as opposed to “THE secret”. The truth is, there are many elements that contribute to success in any endeavor. They are not really secrets either, they just seem that way to people who have not grasped them yet. We are going to discuss one “secret” in this article that will be of great value to you as you strive to improve your skills on the guitar. This will also apply to about anything else you do in life for that matter.

Now, I am going to guess when you saw the title of the article you might have been expecting I was going to provide some kind of short cut that would make it easy to improve your guitar skills in a very short time. Did you? Well, sorry about that. No such luck. About the closest you are going to get to that ideal is “find a great instructor”. Unfortunately there are no easy ways to become a musician, there are only more effective and less effective methods.

So by now you are asking if I would just shut up and get to the secret? OK. I am going to ease into it with some explanation, then lay it on you.

The Foundation of Success

If you want a straightforward bottom line about becoming a competent musician, the key concept is WORK. If you are one of these who has believed that it is all about “natural talent” I hope I can dissuade you of that view. I won’t go deep into that topic in this article, but if you want to check it out for yourself you can do some research on some of your favorite musicians and how they got to be great.

Now, if you have been a human being long enough you have probably figured something out: we don’t like work much. Work is HARD and BORING. We would much rather play, right? As humans we all have an inherent aversion to work. This is called LAZINESS. If there is any one thing that is most likely to derail your aspirations to become a competent musician, it is laziness. Laziness comes out in many forms, some very obvious and some not so obvious. The obvious ones are such as this, “I would rather watch TV than practice boring exercises on guitar”. The less obvious ones might be along these lines, “ I need to practice my harmonic minor scales, but it is more fun to just blast away on the Pentatonic Minor I already know, so I will do that for 30 minutes and practice Harmonic Minor for 2 minutes. Then I will tell my instructor I practiced Harmonic Minor for 32 minutes.” Or how about this, “I really need to practice, but I will instead squander two precious hours having dinner and spending quality time with my family”.

Ok, maybe that last one is a bit too extreme for you who are not REALLY committed just yet! Don’t worry, you don’t have to be that radical to get pretty good on the guitar. The point is that laziness is a deadly enemy to progress. It comes out in many ways and is always on your shoulder, whispering to you - take it easy, go the easier route, find a less hard way to do this, take a short cut, if I had any talent this would not be hard so I might as well give up, etc. We must overcome this if we are to succeed. So, you might be thinking the answer is discipline, right? Well, yes. However, laziness is a VERY POWERFUL and SNEAKY internal adversary and the truth is most of us do not have the wits or the kind of internal discipline we need to overcome it – by ourselves.

And there in that last phrase is an age-old, very powerful secret of success, utilized by nations, armies, corporate leaders, athletic coaches, and other kinds of team leaders across times, places, and cultures. It is powerful enough to squash the roaring demon of laziness into a pile of ash.

Do you see it yet?

The Secret Revealed!

Imagine this. You are on the football team and the coach passes out a sheet at the beginning of the week. On the sheet is the list of all the agonizing physical torture he wants you to inflict on yourself this week. Since he knows you want to be a winner he trusts you to see to this, meeting adjourned, see you next week. You go home and look over the list while you are watching TV and eating donuts. If you are especially self-disciplined you might even memorize the contents of the list. You may even go out and run a half mile until you get winded and it starts hurting your legs. Then you give up. After all it is 90 degrees outside and this is boring, and besides who will know or care if you cheat? Besides (here is the deadliest dart of them all) I will have more time for this tomorrow.

Do you think a football team would get very far with this approach to preparation? No, of course not. The coach knows that. That is why you are going to stay at the field with all the rest of the team and torture yourself under the observation of the coach and the peer pressure of the rest of the team. And when you do this, you get big results like you would never see on your own.

Hopefully by now you are seeing the principle that I am getting at, but if not, I will spell it out plainly here. The “secret” I am speaking of is COMMUNITY. You may hear it called teamwork or work group or network or some other name, but the basic concept is the same – the most effective way to combat laziness is to be part of a social network where you are inherently held accountable for your work. Attachment to a social network will provide negative feedback in the form of embarrassment if you fail to perform, and positive feedback in the form of praise and respect when you do perform. In addition, we all tend to have a competitive instinct and we will almost automatically try to out do the people around us. Furthermore, we have an internal mechanism that feels obligation to meet the expectations of our peers - not let them down. And again, it is built into us to derive great satisfaction from being part of a special group defined by our unique endeavors. So we have all these very powerful motivators sitting inside us, ready to do battle on our behalf against our arch-enemy laziness. These are the same motivators that have brought victory to armies, athletic teams, companies, political and social movements, the list goes on and on. You have this SAME POWER in you simply by being born! These motivators are dead and useless until exposed to a group environment, then they RAGE UP and START FIGHTING!

Make it work for You!

So you have something to do here. You have all this power inside but it is up to you to get it activated. How do you do this? Well, you need to get involved with other musicians. Take lessons from an instructor. Tell your family and friends that you are learning to play guitar and you are serious about it and you will not accept less of yourself than success. Try to get a friendly hobby band together if possible, or just hang out and jam as much as you can with other friends who are musicians. If you are in church you can see if they will let you join as a future back-up musician while you are learning, then you sit in on the weekly practice and try to play along. There are a hundred ways, but you need to do something to get yourself involved in some kind of group setting.

For my actively enrolled students I offer access to a private Internet forum. Internet forums have become explosively popular in the last decade and there are many opportunities for networking this way. However, it will do no good to look over the forums from time to time. You have to get involved. You have to get known in an environment where people are doing the same thing you are doing. You have to engage in friendly competition with people at your same level (you do not have to state this, it will happen automatically. I do not recommend telling people you want to compete with them until you know them really well). You have to let people know what your goals are and what you are doing to get there. You must show interest in their goals and progress and thus build mutual respect and goodwill. It will come back to you many times over (besides being the right thing to do anyway).

This attachment to a group is CRITICAL, I can not over-emphasize this. It will keep you working through the many times when it will be hard, boring, and frustrating. If you fail to get involved this way, your chances of succeeding are greatly reduced. I encourage you to look around and find a way to get involved somewhere.

Best wishes with your endeavors.

Copyright 2008 J. Chad Crawford



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