Thursday, September 25, 2008


"The world we have made, as a result of the level of thinking we have done thus far, creates problems we cannot solve at the same level of thinking at which we created them." - Albert Einstien

Far too often we are told as children not to be boastful, not to get our hopes up. Unfortunately, this often leads us to have low expectations of ourselves. I've seen it far too often in my myself and in even my best students. We don't believe we can do certain things. We can even feel good talking about our problems.

One may practice every published study, every exercise, practice 10 hours a day, go to hundreds of teachers, and yet not improve very much because of a negative mental ruling state. If you don't expect to get better, you won't. You have to expect it. You have to see yourself playing well in your mind, believe it to be possible, and expect that it will come.

This is not wishful thinking. This gets the subconscious mind into a position where it starts to look for answers. Expect to find the answers you seek and they will begin to come. Too often we don't expect the good we desire. We focus on the present reality as a fixed Truth. Our present is only the effect of our past thoughts and feelings.

Begin to watch any thought or statement which describes yourself or your relationship to the guitar. When you think or say "I can't do ________" or "I'm not talented" or "I can't memorize" or "The guitar is difficult" etc. - realize that you are programming your mind. It doesn't matter how many years you've had these issues - start changing the way you think and things will start to change. There's no reason we can't do what we want other than the belief that we can't. Whether you believe something is true or not - you are right.

Realize that what you expect and see clearly in your mind will come to you with time. Your visions, when backed by unwavering faith are just like physical seeds. They will grow if they are taken care of and protected. Don't let another person (or yourself) tell you you're wrong because you've never been able to do it before. Don't let the past decide your future. Use the will to stay focused on your vision. Napoleon once said "I see only the objective, the obstacle must give way".

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Law of Polarity

The Law of Polarity states that everything in the physical universe has an opposite - such as Negative-Positive, Up-Down, Hot-Cold, etc.

One of my favorite discovery (practice) techniques is to use this Law to rethink how I play and listen.

here are some examples -

1. listen to the notes / listen to the silences

2. listen to the attack of each note / listen to the sustain of each note

3. feel the fingers press onto the fretboard / feel the fingers lift off of the fretboard

4. feel the fingers pluck the strings / feel the fingers release

Most of the time, we tend to think and listen in habitual ways. By using the Law of Polarity, we can develop more awareness - which leads to better playing.

For example, we can be so concentrated on plucking the strings that we don't think about the release before and after the pluck. This is one of the reasons why we have unwanted tension. Focus on releasing.

With the left hand, we may think only about the act of pressing onto the fretboard. The fingers do not lift fully, because we are more concerned with the next press. Again, this creates unwanted tension and fatigue. Focus on lifting.

In listening, the attack is the most obvious part of the note, but even more important is the "body" of the note. Hear and feel the rest of the note - listen carefully to the decay.

We sometimes think of silence as a gap between the (more important) notes. Silence is where all sound is born and dies. The more meaning you give to silence, the more meaning your notes will have. We want to cultivate a deep reverence for it.

Monday, September 8, 2008

The Body as Teacher

It is very important for us to look to nature for the laws of effortless movement. Nature doesn't try, it just does. Your body is part of that nature.

In a recent development in my teaching I have been encouraging my students to compare their motions when playing and when not playing the guitar. It's a simple awareness exercise to feel if our motion is natural or constricted.

For example, take your right hand and hold it in front of you in a relaxed manner. Now move your fingers rapidly back and forth in the form of an arpeggio pattern - perhaps PAMI. Don't try to move them with large motions, just move them playfully and effortlessly. Is it difficult to do this? Most likely it is not. You'll probably find that it is very easy to move the fingers quickly and fluidly. This is natural motion.

Now take the same arpeggio pattern and perform it on the guitar at the same speed. Do you notice the introduction of tension into the fingers? Do you notice an inner tightening? Do you notice a feeling of "trying" entering into the technique? If so, then this motion is constricted. Don't worry about trying to relax the motion - just feel the constriction fully in the hand and body. Keep going back and forth between the two types of motions - on the guitar, and away from the guitar. Feel the difference between both with great interest.

With time and patience, you'll notice that the body will start to apply the natural motion when playing the guitar. Why? Because the natural motion becomes a clear and penetrating idea. Any clear idea can be learned.

This comparison exercise has become so effective for me, that I now practice about half of my technique on the guitar, and the other half away from the guitar. Every time I feel a restriction in my technique, I check the motion away from the guitar to see and feel the difference. It's amazing to notice the amount of stress we can put into the simplest movements. We create unecessary difficulties this way. Awareness is the key to change.

The body already knows how to move beautifully. We want to study what it does in its natural, effortless state. It's your greatest teacher.