Saturday, April 22, 2006

Rule Number Two

It Is Always Simpler Than It Seems. This is rule number two. It doesn't matter what I do, what I have to learn, what I need to accomplish, this second rule of my personal operating system has always and in every case proven to be absolute. Some people call it the "AHA!" moment, or the "instant of recognition". I prefer honesty, no matter how painful or humiliating. I call it the "come-to-my-senses-quit-spinning-my-wheels-and-realize-that-I think-I'm-smarter-than-how-simple-this-is" moment.

To illustrate this, let me tell you what has happened in EVERY case when I teach the basic fingering for a two octave major scale to a guitar student. Now, first of all, beginners have a habit of pointing whichever fingers are not actively playing a note at the sky or across the room, anywhere but the fingerboard. I remedy this by assigning simple mechanical exercises which, if attended to, will allow the fingers to adopt "motor memory" and assume the proper positioning to play notes as opposed to pointing out of the window. Invariably, during the process of choreographing the "steps" required to finger the scale, the student says something like, "I can't do it" or "this is so hard". That's when i pull out this little bit of information that is so obvious and yet seems like such a dark secret. The guitar, like all musical instruments, was invented, developed and manufactured BY humans to be manipulated (from "mano" or hand, therefore handled or hand-led) BY humans! If you hold the guitar by the neck like a baseball bat as if you were choosing up sides on the playground, you're more than halfway home. I ask the student, "How could the guitar possibly evolve through the years as something more difficult to manipulate than a video game?" Enter the "AHA!" moment.

But that's never the end of it. In my years of teaching, i've found that, by and large, the more intelligent the student, the more fertile the ground for "AHA!" moments. "Smart" people just seem to have a propensity for over-thinking. Sometimes I start a lesson by having the student play a simple scale or chord progression as a warm-up while reciting rule number two in rhythm. It doesn't really work...but it's fun to watch.

As a father, teacher and musician, I've found rule number two to be an invaluable tool. When faced with a prohibition against something like playing with knives or gunpowder or leaping off of the roof into a pile of leaves, a child may complain "that's not fair". My answer would be, "It's very simple...LIFE isn't fair, get used to that simple fact and you'll have an easier time of it." When your car won't start after you crank the engine for fifteen minutes, running down the battery, remember that it's really very simple, your car is BROKEN! And unless you are a mechanic, no amount of wire jiggling, tire kicking or colorful language spouting, no matter how much fun it is, will get the car started. Think simple, call for help.

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