Simple Thoughts On Playing Guitar And Happiness
by Tomas Michaud
I have to admit that my first motivation for playing guitar was not to express the music in me. It was probably more like most guys… I wanted to impress the ladies. I also remember thinking it would help me feel like I belonged somewhere. My thinking was that if I could play in a band I would be a “member” of the band. It would be like my tribe, my pack… I would belong.
Of Course Reality Wasn’t Quite The Same As Fantasy.
In my mind you pick up the guitar, fool around for awhile, and before you know it you're playing like Jimmy Hendrix. Heck, he could do it stoned and behind his back. Certainly I could play simple rhythm guitar well enough to join a band within a few months…sober. I know it may sound silly now, but it made sense at the time.
Then when I finally did get my first band going it wasn’t all fun and games like they made it look on stage. We actually had to WORK to sound good together (even though my standard of good was much lower back then). And to make matters worse, we didn’t always agree on… well, anything! We’d disagree about what songs to play, how long to practice, how long the drum solo should be, who should be the loudest… even who should be in the band. It looked so easy when “The Who” played together. Of course we all know better now after reading about the band’s blowouts and player overdoses. It wasn’t really all peace and tranquility backstage.
What’s It Really About Anyways?
After years of practicing and playing the idea to “impress the ladies” has been replaced with taking the trash out without being asked, and I’ve come to realize that “belonging” is actually not all it’s cracked up to be. But as life would have it I’ve found that there was something bigger and better hidden in the secret desire to be a rock star. What! What could be better than being a rock star?
Henry David Thoreau eluded to this fairly eloquently when he wrote, “If one advances confidently in the direction of one's dreams, and endeavors to live the life which one has imagined, one will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
Here’s my working understanding of this phrase – if we take time to discern what we want to do with our lives and act on it, even little by little, we will “meet with success unexpected in common hours.” But exactly what is this “success”? We’ve all had the experience of having a goal, or at least an intention, and achieving it. This certainly brings a sense of enjoyment, and perhaps even a kind of temporary happiness. Maybe being “happy” is continuously setting and achieving a series of these goals?
There’s two things that don’t ring true about this statement. One, we don’t always get what we aim for. Does that mean we are “unhappy” when we don’t achieve a goal?
I recently missed my 10 week goal to double my picado (finger picking) speed. I definitely felt embarrassed to show up in a video with no clothes on, but I knew I was stretching. I think if we do achieve every goal we set we’re probably aiming too low.
We Never Quite Get “There”
Secondly, no matter what you achieve you and I are programed to go for more. I’ve particularly found this with playing guitar. I originally thought I’d be happy playing basic rhythm guitar. Maybe I was… for a little while. Soon I began thinking how much fun it would be to take a solo. I was happy playing rock'n'roll for years, but then traveled to Spain and saw 12 years olds playing incredible exotic flamenco riffs on the street in Seville. Again I was pushed myself out of my comfort zone by beginning to learn a different style of guitar. There doesn’t seem to be an end to this… and I’m not saying it’s a bad thing. In fact that’s what makes life an exciting adventure.
So What's The Secret?
I think the closest thing there is to a “key to happiness” is this – live on a day to day, even minute by minute basis, being true to who you are and what’s important to you. The well-known motivational author Earl Nightingale put it this way, “We are at our very best, and we are happiest, when we are fully engaged in work we enjoy on the journey toward the goal we’ve established for ourselves. It gives meaning to our time off and comfort to our sleep.”
The first couple of things that pop up in my mind is “but I have to make a living” and “there’s not enough time”. Does something like that come up for you? Of course no one can do and be everything. But really, when I search a little deeper and listen to that small, still voice inside me I know that’s not really what’s going on. I don’t need to do more than is humanly possible to be true to myself. Actually, when I’ve taken time to explore a little deeper I’ve found it’s looks and smells more like some kind of fear. Could it be fear of trying and failing? Fear I’ll find out I’m not really enough? Fear I’ll find out the truth – I’m flawed and can’t ever be the person I’ve dared to imagine?
The Simplest Solution Is Best
I’m no psychotherapist, and sometimes trying too hard to figure out my inner workings is just too much for me. But I do believe that oftentimes the simplest solution is the best. If you find you have a passion, or even a persistent desire to do something (like play guitar :)) why not just go for it. Step by step, little by little, one day at time.
No one but you knows what’s really inside your heart. Only you can decide if you’re spending your precious little time here on earth in the best way for you. Once my mentor Jack Canfield told me that “the universe will not give you a dream that you could not achieve in some way”. Follow along with me for just a minute.
When he told me this I didn’t quite get it because it seems to me that I have all kinds of dreams that I will not and perhaps don’t even intend to achieve. Then I changed it around a little and asked myself “what if I act as if I can achieve whatever I dream and intend to achieve”? What would happen? The answer I came up with is that I would try a lot more things that I wanted to do. Even if I didn’t achieve what I intended I’d feel more alive. The other thing I realized is that if I acted as if I could be successful the acting would look different. I would try harder, persist longer, and look for solutions instead of reasons why I couldn’t do it.
Here’s an example applied to playing guitar. What do people who play awesome guitar all have in common? You’re right, they PRACTICE. They practice regularly and consistently. I know this seems pretty obvious, but try this on for 2 minutes. Imagine a super cool Genie dressed in the newest fashion appeared in your living room and, with a sly smile, handed you a glowing magic certificate. This certificate guaranteed you will, without any doubt, play beautiful awesome guitar (and you believed it).
This certificate actually described how your hands would move fluidly from one chord to another. Beautiful music would flow from your guitar. People would gather around to hear you play. You can see the people tap their feet and sway their bodies to your rhythm. Your fingers would move from note to note, up and down the neck, guided by the music you hear in your mind. And it would all be effortless and joyful.
All of this will be yours, but there’s just one stipulation: This amazing ability (substitute talent, gift, etc.) is absolutely guaranteed if you apply one simple law of how the human mind and body function. You would perform the movements involved in playing guitar over and over, slowly at first, regularly, consistently and over a period of time. You would keep this up long enough to materialize the promise on the certificate.
A little grumbling is okay. You could even “fall off the horse” occasionally if you want 🙂
But remember, you are guaranteed to play awesome guitar. How many times would you fall off the horse if you knew it was really waiting for you? It’s just about putting in the number of hours.
This is what I mean by “acting as if”. If I truly believed the thing I wanted is waiting for me, it would be much easier to “make” the time. If I actually did the hours I couldn’t fail.
On one hand I couldn’t help but get better, and the chances of being really good get better by the day. But perhaps more importantly by “doing it” I am living my dream. By playing the guitar I am being a guitar player. And every time I sit down to work on some aspect of playing guitar I am on the Guitar Player journey. No matter what level of the path I’m on, I am living the journey.
Some days will sound better. Some worst. It might even flow some days and I’ll get occasional breakthroughs. There will always be something else to learn. That’s the Guitar Player journey. In fact that’s actually the ride I signed up for. It’s process that matters. It’s the difference between sitting on the sidelines and being in the game.
So How Does Playing Guitar Help You Rule Your World?
If you are reading this it’s likely that one of your dreams is to play guitar, at least competently if not awesomely (I’m not sure that’s a word). When you get both feet in the game in one area it affects your entire life. Little by little you gain patience, focus, concentration and confidence. Once you see some success it becomes a model for more success. You will realize you are not flawed… you are created just the way you are supposed to be. The struggle is just a part of the adventure. It’s not a message to stop because you’re not talented, it’s any opportunity to dig deep and really live your life.
There will be ups and downs, but slowly you’ll find a little more spring in your step. You’ll notice a small spark when you wake in the morning. Some day you’ll remember you almost nailed the song you’re working on and feel joy. And one day, when you look down and realize you’re strumming your guitar smoothly and easily, without you having to think about it, you’ll begin to ponder “what else would I like to experience in my life that I’ve been afraid to try?”. Then you’ll know that you can rule your world.
[box] “Don’t worry about failures, worry about the chances you miss when you don’t even try.” — Jack Canfield[/box]
Tell Us What You Think - Please Comment Below!
We would love to hear your comments and questions. What specific things are you struggling with while learning guitar?