When I started lessons, I began to practice even more, 5
or 6 hours a day. As a result of this, and because I did
have some degree of "natural talent" (which I will
define later), I got pretty good pretty fast. My teacher
was amazed, and used to show me off to everybody, as I
had become his "star pupil". He would always say, "Tell
them how much you practice."
Now the funny thing is, I would always lie about it, and
tell them "oh, 2 hours a day". I didn't want them to
know I practiced so much. I thought " I don't want them
to know how much I work at it, I'd rather let them think
I'm some kind of genius". I used to get really afraid
someone would realize how much I worked at it, then I'd
just be like everybody else.
Now, I do forgive myself for this character flaw,
because I understand why I felt this way. I grew up in a
big family, and there was only so much attention to go
around (and being someone who would spend a lot of time
on stage in later life, I needed a whole lot, by
nature). This was the first time in my life I ever stood
out at anything, and had people pay so much attention to
me, and make me feel special. It was a good gig, and I
didn't want to blow it by having them find out I'm just
a common slob like everybody else. No, I'm special. I
just picked this thing up, and got divinely inspired.
Some maybe more. But very few had the burning desire
I had. Very few were practicing the number of hours I
did, even from the beginning. Very few seemed to have
the almost desperate need in their life for this thing
we call playing the guitar.
So I saw that there is literally a whole lot of natural
talent around. But there isn't a whole lot of love,
dedication, and "hard work".
I started to see how immature, and downright incorrect
my old way of thinking was, when I was trying to be a
Superhero. I began to realize how beautiful a thing it
was that someone would love and need something as
beautiful as playing the guitar, that they would give so
much of themselves to it. I certainly thought it was
beautiful whenever I saw my students do it, and I still
do. I was beginning to see that love, dedication, and
hard work were the really "special" things. (Of course,
it has never felt like "work" to me. It is called
"playing" the guitar, isn't it?)
You Expect Me To Practice Only 5 Hours a Week!!??
It took me a while to understand why all people who said
they wanted to play the guitar didn't spend most of
their day doing it. I remember being in high school, and
filling out the form for getting extra credit for taking
music lessons. Mine said you had to practice at least 5
hours a week to qualify. I raised my hand and said,
"Excuse me, I think there's a mistake on mine. It says
you only have to practice 5 hours a week, shouldn't that
be 5 hours a day." I couldn't understand the concept of
only practicing 5 hours a week! Boy, did I learn
different when I started teaching full time!
Now as the years have gone by, I have become much more
tolerant. I can accept the fact that there are people in
this world who want to play the guitar, and yet only
want to practice maybe a half an hour a day, or
whatever. I also realized that these are the people who
are probably not planning on becoming professionals, and
that's okay. There is a place in the world for people
like this, although the world would probably be a better
place if more people spent most of their day playing the
guitar. But of course, professionals do need some
people who just like to listen, and admire how special
we "full-timers" are.
In all seriousness though, I am always moved when I see
so many people, school teachers, landscapers, office
workers, mothers and fathers, make such a commitment to
keep up their efforts to learn to play this instrument,
in the midst of otherwise very full and demanding lives.
Maybe they only get to practice 20 minutes a day, but it
is very important to them, and they make sacrifices to
keep it in their lives and have it grow. That's one
reason I have made a specialty of showing these people
how to get the most out of the time they put in.
Okay, So What Is "Natural Talent"?
Natural Talent is a pre-disposition in the mind and the
body, to do the right thing. When a person who has
natural talent for singing hears someone sing, their
body and mind "know" what that person is doing to get
that sound. And their body/mind knows how to do it too,
or how to begin moving in that direction. (They don't
have to know this consciously, that is "know what they
know, and how they know it, they just "know"). Some
people come in for lessons, and they "tend" to do
everything right, from sitting comfortably with the
instrument, to positioning and using the fingers. Some
people do everything wrong, and must be shown,
painstakingly and minutely, exactly what to do. These
people are the ones I have learned most from, about
teaching and about playing.
Understand that everyone falls somewhere in between the
two extremes of total clueless ness, and being a genius.
Yes, I have some talent, as do many people. If I didn't
work really hard, it would have got me nowhere. I needed
a whole lot of education to go with that talent. So did
Beethoven, who studied with Haydn, and so did Bach, who
spent his life copying out the music of composers he
admired, in order to study their work. So did Eric
Clapton, who spent years copying every blues record he
Don't Worry If You Think You Don't Have Any.
I have, as I said, some natural talent for guitar, but I
sure don't have it for singing. When it comes to
singing, my head is on backwards. Whatever the right
thing to do is, I'll do the opposite. I don't need
"Singing for Dummies", I need "Singing for Retards!"
But guess what? I get paid every week now for singing,
and people compliment me all the time on my voice. That
is because I tried my hardest with many teachers over
the years, and slowly began to "get it". Not as fast as
someone with natural talent, but I discovered how to
express myself with my voice, make a sound that was
pleasing and not ugly or strained, and fulfill my desire
and need to sing. I also found that I could move people
with my singing, and transfer my emotion to them, which
is what music is all about.
And that is the good news. With the right approach, any
one can learn anything. I have proven this as far as
playing the guitar goes, for myself and for my students,
many of whom have had their "heads on backwards." In
fact, the more you really try, the more "Natural Talent"
you will discover in yourself. It is like having a
little voice in your head guiding you in the right
direction if you will listen. I have found the more I
listen, the louder that voice gets, and I hear it more
Having "talent" is not the primary factor in whether or
not you will become a good or great player. Your burning
desire and desperate need to play, coupled with the
correct understanding and approach, are the most
important things you must have.
There are lots of people with talent, but not a lot who
allow their desire to grow, and become powerful. If you
can allow yourself to feel this need and desire, and use
the power of that to overcome all the obstacles you
might encounter along the way, you will find all the
talent you need to be the player you are meant to be.