My youngest daughter is 13, and unlike many 13 years ago she still subjects us to a constant barrage of irrelevant questions, kind of like when she was only 5.
Most of the time this is delightful as her questions can be about absolutely anything, some of them are infuriatingly irrelevant (“What do you think the cat’s favourite colour is? I think it’s yellow, what do you think?”) to ones you have no idea how to answer “who invented the spoon?” and some that quite often cause discussion and debate in the house… for example “Who’s idea was Brexit?”. And then there are the ones that utterly destroy my day… On Saturday I was in full flow with a good friend talking about the finer points of David Gilmour’s and Pink Floyd’s music (I was playing the guitar and he was on Piano), having a lovely time discussing Michael Kaman’s addition of the sus2 in place of the minor 3rd in the root under the second solo of Comfortably Numb, we have since discovered is most prominent in the live versions within “Pulse” and “Delicate Sound Of Thunder”, but that’s another story) when she destroyed my day with a simple “How many hours do you think you’ve played the guitar, Dad?”
This stopped me dead in my tracks as I’d never thought about it before. So, I reached for my phone and broke open the calculator. I started playing when I was about 8 or 9 and I’m now 46 (ouch), so that means I’ve been playing for about 37 years. Bloody hell, look at that number. That’s ridiculous. I took into consideration that as a kid I played all the time, I worked in a guitar shop for 6 years, played in many bands up to 4-5 nights a week and also the 10 year period of when I went to University which immediately preceded getting married and starting a family (in which I barely played at all) and up to the work I do for Wampler, we estimated that I was, on average, playing around 5.5 hours per week…. Which, if I am being honest, is a little on the low side. Based on the basic formula this means (at minimum) I’ve played the guitar for 10,582 hours in my life (5.5 x 52 x 36).
I was initially really impressed with this, felt like I’d reached some kind of personal milestone I previously wasn’t aware of until, until my Piano playing friend Dave (who is somewhat of an academic and has a PhD in music composition) said “You’re an expert then!”. Obviously, my self-deprecation instinct took over and I laughed and said something along the lines, bit in a much more coarse fashion, of “Go away” to much laughter… and he said “Seriously, there’s been a study saying that if you practice something for 10,000 hours, you can be classed as an expert”. I was horrified by this, as although I am comfortable with my playing I’ve met FAR too many players who could legitimately be called an expert to consider myself to be in that category… So, once again, the phone was reached for and I googled “10,000 hours expert” and the first thing that came up was Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book “Outliers” that says “the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill, is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing the correct way, for a total of around 10,000 hours”.
I was delighted by this as I was 100% of the hook. Purely because of the section of that sentence that says “a matter of practicing the correct way”… If I think about it, and be honest, my “a matter of practicing the correct way” runs at about 10 hours maximum over those 36 years. I’ve never practiced despite regularly receiving ‘the look’ from Tom Quayle when he’s asked me what I am working on right now, because I simply just don’t practice. I work out songs and then I play them. Sometimes, if the song is a bugger to play (for example, we’ve started to do Brad Paisley’s Nervous Breakdown with the band and it’s taking some time to get up to speed and work out the solos), I will work on it to get the speed and accuracy up, but I’ve never practiced properly. Never thought “I need to think about that properly and practice” or anything, I just get it (eventually) and then move on to the next challenge.
That delight of being off the hook lasted for about 10 minutes until I started to think about this properly, again. Have I wasted 36 years of my life playing the guitar and NOT actually practicing properly? If I had practiced in a structured way would I be the guitarist I want to be? Can I be arsed to practice? Am I too old? Is that why I play the guitar?
In order to think about this, I need to remember why I play the guitar in the first place. When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was play along with my favourite songs. I was lucky enough to be born with fast fingers so it seemed that once I got my head round playing the guitar I could easily play the music I was into at the time… Iron Maiden, AC/DC, etc. and when Satriani hit I would pretty well be able to play most of it straight away but had to do quite a lot of work on the Vai stuff, as his writing tends to be a little more lateral in construction and his lines simply didn’t make sense, but I could get there quick enough not to worry about it and I could pass myself off as being able to play it, providing people didn’t listen hard enough… This was good enough for me, at the time. This kinda changed when I discovered Brent Mason and proper country picking, as I had to do some work, but that was basically repetition and rethinking the physicality, not practice. To this day, I’ve only ever had about 4 official lessons in my life (because I wanted to be that cool guy who could say “I don’t take lessons, all this is me”… yeah, I was a dick) and since I’ve grown up I’ve never had the money or the time to change that attitude.
This is all going to change now, I want to play like the person who has put in as many hours as I have. So, this week, I’ve had a proper guitar lesson with my current favourite player and we talked about chord construction and playing according to intervals instead of scales and boxes… I doubt I’ll keep to a practice regime, but I’m going to give it the best shot I can!