Why Taking Your Guitar Playing to the Next Level May Require Starting Over

Pluck the third string. Not like that. Take your hand away from the guitar. Scratch your knee, keeping the fingertip in contact with the surface of your leg the whole time.  That is how your index finger should move. Now, pluck the third string. No, not like that! Take your hand away from the guitar…

The person speaking was renowned guitar professor Adam Holzman. The person who could not seem to move his index finger correctly was me.

I was a freshman in college at the time.  I had played classical guitar since I was 12 years old. I had studied with good guitar teachers during high school and had played in master classes for artists such as David Russell and Pepe Romero. My repertoire included pieces like Asturias and Capricho Árabe. I had won a youth guitar competition.

But in my first semester of university study, my guitar professor made me rebuild my technique from the ground up. I spent weeks working on single finger movements. It was frustrating. Demoralizing. I began to question my choice of music as a major. When I was finally permitted to do simple arpeggios, it felt like an accomplishment. Through my freshman and sophomore years, my professor guided me in retracing steps I had taken previously. It was not until my junior year of university study that I was allowed to play the level of pieces I had played in high school.

It was painful at the time, but I now see the value of the process. Here are three benefits I experienced as a result of starting over:

  1. Creating New Habits – It is hard to change gradually without lapsing into the old way of doing things. The process of rebuilding my technique allowed me to create new patterns of thought and movement. I needed a solid foundation and secure habits instead of the incomplete foundation and inconsistent habits I had built previously.
  1. Understanding Why – By examining every small movement intently, I learned why certain types of muscle and joint movement are more effective than others. I also learned to analyze interpretive decisions with intensity and attention to detail. Developing a rationale for every movement and expressive choice became hugely helpful in my continued musical development. In addition, the habit of making decisions with a clear sense of purpose and intentionality has served me well in many areas of life.
  1. Avoiding Overconfidence – The restart helped me to see how much I still had to learn. John Wooden once said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” I came into college thinking I knew a lot; I graduated from college knowing how much I still needed to learn.

Have you restarted your musical development in order to gain greater mastery? If you are in the middle of doing this right now, be patient. While the process may be uncomfortable, solidifying the foundation is often a precursor to greater heights of achievement.

Question: Have you benefited from reexamining your fundamental skills? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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