The Music of Mastery


My son Alex and I recently started taking guitar lessons. We’ve made attempts at it in the past; but online videos, DVDs, and instruction manuals just didn’t do the trick. We’ve only had two or three lessons to this point and we’re both excited about our progress. Even though we’re just at the beginning of this journey, I’ve already made a few observations that I believe apply to mastering any new skill.

Getting started is the hardest part. The first time you pick up a guitar, it feels awkward. Everything is new. You really have to think about where your fingers should go – and it hurts. In the beginning, your finger tips are sensitive. They aren’t used to the pressure it takes to properly play the notes. But with time, your fingers develop calluses. With regular practice, the movements that felt so foreign start becoming second nature. The thing is though, you have to fight through that initial phase. Mastery is the result of practicing until new becomes normal.

Focus on mastering the fundamentals. There are hundreds of different chords, strumming patterns, and combinations of each that one can play on the guitar. Looking at the volume of techniques that are possible is overwhelming. But most popular songs can be played with four to seven basic chords. It makes sense then to spend time practicing these basics before moving on to more complex skills. Use the 80/20 rule to your advantage. Mastery is the result of perfecting a few key behaviors.

Personal instruction trumps going it alone. Alex and I struggled during our attempts to learn guitar on our own. He didn’t have the discipline to stick to a regular practice schedule and I wasn’t sure if I was using the right technique. Now that we attend lessons with a personal instructor, things are different. We have someone who suggests a course of action, models proper technique, and holds us accountable for sticking to the plan. Mastery is the result of partnership with someone invested in your success.

Mastering a new skill set can be intimidating, frustrating, and exhausting. It can also be very rewarding. I don’t expect to be playing Carnegie Hall any time soon; but that’s ok. Strumming with my son around a campfire is more my style anyway.

What new skill would you like to master?

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