Understanding and Allowing the Step by Step Process
You must understand that your ability to effectively change bad habits is going to depend completely upon how deeply and truly you understand the fundamental mechanics of the process of playing the guitar, and the process of “practicing” the guitar, meaning the actual process of how we teach the mind and body new things. If you do not have a sufficiently deep understanding of these things, you will not be able to change bad habits.
I hope you realize the importance of what I just said! I suggest you read it over a few times, and think about it. I suggest you take some serious time right now, and in the next days and weeks to size yourself up, and answer this question “Do I feel like I have a sufficient understanding of the mechanics of playing the guitar so that I know how to practice in a way that will “change bad habits”, which means “solve problems” which really means “fix bad things about my playing”.
And the reason I am saying this is because so many people write to me and ask me the simple, basic question “how do I change this bad habit of mine”? Or, they may be asking the question in reverse. They may ask a question like “how can I play faster”, which is really saying “how can I get rid of the elements of my present playing technique (a bad habit) that are preventing me from playing as fast as other people play”, so it is really the same question.
So my point is this: if you do not have sufficient understanding of how things work, of what really happens when you sit down to practice, then you will not be able to change bad habits. So if this is the case, there is no answer to such a question. The answer to this question, for a person without the sufficient understanding is “you can’t change that bad habit”.
Then, of course, the real answer, the necessary next step, is to go and GET that understanding, and learn how to do the kind of practice that is based on that understanding. THEN, we can talk.
So, the real answer to the question is ” the way you get to be able to change bad habits is by understanding how you got them in the first place”. If you can understand that Muscle Memory put that bad habit there, while you were busy spending hours practicing with your shoulder tense, or your wrist and hand tensed up, then you will see that Muscle Memory will also change, or rather, allow you to REPLACE the bad habit with a new, and better one. If, that is, you know how to summon the mental focus necessary to make that happen, if you know how to become aware of, and stay aware of, what you were not aware of before.
Now understand this. It is often extremely difficult for me to get results from a person sitting in front of me, to get them to REALLY have this mental intensity, pay that much attention, and keep doing that in their daily practice at home. It can be extremely difficult to get someone to REALLY be aware of what they are actually doing when they play, even what they actually sound like! And I have no hope of getting results with someone if I cannot move them to that level of intensity.
That is why I am always so happy when someone writes and tells me of progress they are making using my methods. It proves to me that people CAN be moved to that intensity long-distance, as it were.
But I am going through all this to really drive a point home to all the people with one of the “how can I change bad habits” type questions. You can’t, unless the level of your understanding of all aspects of the process is sufficiently deep! So make sure it is, and continue to deepen it. The way to do that is to educate yourself, by reading my writings, and any other sources you discover that are out there, and also to constantly THINK for yourself, experiment, observe, draw conclusions, and re-experiment in your practice.
It just happens ( the devil made me do it) !!!
There is a statement that students will often exclaim, and it is a big tip-off that they DO NOT HAVE the sufficiently deep understanding that I am referring to. That statement is, when referring to some bad behavior a finger may be exhibiting, “I can’t help it, it just happens by itself”.
This statement shows that the person is the unfortunate victim of the dynamics of the practice process, such as Muscle Memory, instead of being the master of those dynamics, so that Muscle Memory is put to work for us, instead of against us. The person who has the necessary understanding MAKES the right thing happen because they can do two things: they can summon the strong Intention and Attention (mental focus) necessary to make the correct thing happen, and they can have the stillness of mind and body required to do real No Tempo Practice and Posing, which will erase old muscle memory and replace it with new, improved muscle memory.
A strong mental focus, and the stillness of mind and body I am talking about, make your practice sufficiently deep, sufficiently powerful to change bad habits, or in fact, acquire good ones. I call this “the bottom of your practice”. If the bottom of your practice is not deep enough, your practice will have no effect. Essentially, most of what I do with students is simply to deepen the bottom of their practice for them, and try to get them to be able to keep it that deep for themselves.
So, if you have that “it just happens” feeling, well, now you know what it really means, and what to do about it.
Take Things In The Proper Order
Once you have begun to get this deep understanding, you will be able to take certain aspects of playing the guitar in their proper order. You are not going to address the issue of how your hands and fingers function until you have addressed the issue of something more fundamental, like how you sit with the instrument, and how aware you are of your body in general while playing. If you don’t know that the way you are sitting and positioning your arms is forcing you to tense muscles needed to play, you will always be working with a handicap that limits your progress. Unfortunately, I have found this to be the case MOST of the time with players.
The remedy here is to CONSTANTLY EXAMINE the fundamentals of your playing. Your sitting, hand positions, finger action, pick action, etc. Observe, think, analyze, experiment, repeat the process in every practice session. DO NOT TAKE THE FUNDAMENTALS FOR GRANTED.
Once your understanding of the mechanics of playing and practicing are sufficiently deep to allow you to see things in the right order of importance, and you have addressed the necessary fundamentals, begin to get specific about the other elements of playing technique. Whatever level of player you are, begin to get a clear focus on your weak areas, and BE SPECIFIC!
Always Set The Proper Next Goal
Once you are able to get this specific, see into the heart of some flaw in your technique, and are able to approach it in a fundamental and effective manner, it is now just a matter of continuing that process, and setting one goal after another.
When you work on a fundamental, such as the one described above, you make it a project that may last anywhere from a month, to several months, or even a year. You hammer at that aspect of your technique relentlessly. You do whatever exercises you know that will help, if properly practiced. You make up exercises that will help, if properly practiced. You use the actual passage that gave rise to the whole “investigation”. You take note of and measure your progress and results.
Once you see that bad habit begin to weaken, and new habits come through in your playing, you ask yourself, “ok, what is the next worst thing about my playing, what is the next fundamental aspect of playing that is underlying various trouble spots in my repertoire”. Find it, and go after it.
Get and Keep the Correct Attitude
The final point I want to make in considering the subject of changing bad habits, which is another way of saying creating Vertical Growth as players, is the adoption and full acceptance of the CORRECT ATTITUDE of someone desiring to achieve their full potential. And that is the attitude of ABSOLUTE OPENNESS about yourself, about you as a guitar player, and about the endless possibilities of things you have yet to learn. Here are the attributes of someone who has this correct attitude:
They don’t get upset when they discover some major flaw in their playing, they become curious and interested.
They don’t feel sorry for themselves when they begin to clearly see the source of some problem in playing, and realize that it could have been avoided if someone pointed it out, or they had noticed it themselves (that tensed up shoulder they have been playing with for years). They are thankful that they finally see it, and resolve to set about integrating the new awareness into all their playing, right away. They are in fact, happy, every time they begin to become aware of how wrong they have been about some aspect of their playing and practicing approach.
Whenever I have one of my “wow, what an idiot I’ve been” moments, I am always very happy. Now I know I am on the verge of becoming an even better player than I am now. How could that upset me.
And this is something all of you can say at such times. Make sure you do. Make sure you keep the feeling of excitement and gratitude if you read something, by me or someone else, and it makes you realize that you have been missing something in your understanding and approach to the guitar. Do not get whinny and negative because something has come along to upset the nice opinion you have managed to create and maintain about yourself as a guitarist!
And make sure you maintain that attitude of excitement, discovery and gratitude every day on your path of development as a guitarist, musician and artist. It is an endless journey, and those who have gone farthest know that best.