What’s really, really important?

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What’s really, really important?

Somehow, in this post I have managed to tie in Marcel Proust, Winston Churchill, and your practice habits… it may be a little vague now, but I hope you will be with me by the end.

Over the last few days I have reached out to some of the subscribers on the Classical Guitar Corner mailing list. I hadn’t heard from these guitarists in a while, and I was wondering if they were still interested in learning classical guitar online. After receiving the replies, I started to see a trend. One that you might resonate with.

Apart from the few that had moved on from guitar, or those who simply weren’t interested anymore, the vast majority of people said the same thing:

“I just don’t have the time”

“Life keeps getting in the way”

or, “I will start up again once I have space to breathe”

These are common responses. Kind of like the answer you give when an acquaintance asks you how things are going “busy!” you say.

But I don’t believe them.

What I believe is that the underlying answer is: Music isn’t important enough to me to make time for it. 

It is the same way people speak when they do or do not make a purchase. They are not making a commentary on the price, they are saying this is, or is not, valuable to me.

I see two possibilities here.

1.Music and art is just not that important to you. There are other things in life that you deem more important, and therefore you dedicate time to those other, more important things. I like this answer a lot. It is true, and it is clear. The second possibility, however, gets me a little agitated.

2. Music and art is  important to you, but your dedication and prioritization have been overrun by habit. 

Habit seems like an unlikely subject to overrun anything. It is more of a passive ongoing fog that develops over time. And that is exactly my point. Like unkept weeds, if we are mindless with our habitual activities, we can become distracted and distanced from our core personalities.

Marcel Proust in his epic work À la recherche du temps perdu (In search of lost time) presents his thesis that habit and art are opposing forces. One being a state of mindless wandering and the other, awake and appreciative.

Alain de Botton describes it far better than I ever could in his book How Proust Can Change Your Life.

“For Proust, the great artists deserve acclaim because they show us the world in a way that is fresh, appreciative, and alive… The opposite of art, for Proust, is something he calls habit. For Proust, much of life is ruined for us by a blanket or shroud of familiarity that descends between us and everything that matters. It dulls our senses and stops us appreciating everything, from the beauty of a sunset to our work and our friends.

Children don’t suffer from habit, which is why they get excited by some very key but simple things — like puddles, jumping on the bed, sand, and fresh bread. But we adults get ineluctably spoiled, which is why we seek ever more powerful stimulants, like fame and love.

The trick, in Proust’s eyes, is to recover the powers of appreciation of a child in adulthood, to strip the veil of habit and therefore to start to look upon daily life with a new and more grateful sensitivity.

This, for Proust, is what one group in the population does all the time: artists. Artists are people who strip habit away and return life to its deserved glory.”

I fear that the constant clouding of habit becomes something harder to shed as our world gets more complex. More things vie for our attention, and what is really important to us gets pushed aside.

What habits do we have?

  • Work
  • Family responsibilities
  • Relaxation and distraction (Facebook, Netflix)
  • Socializing
  • etc.

If you are a little contrarian (like I am) then you might be thinking: “Simon, those are important things, I can’t get rid of any of those.”

I agree, they are important. But they are the kind of things that will get in the way of art and music. And, if art and music is really important to you, then you are denying yourself something valuable.

In the case of work, I am reminded by a quote often attributed (perhaps erroneously) to Winston Churchill. When asked during WWII why he was not going to cut funding to the arts he replied:“Then what are we fighting for?”

This is a timely quote, as the National Endowments for the Arts is in the process of being defunded to pay for military expansion in the United States… but let’s not get distracted on a macro level.

For you, you need to ask what you are working for. Why are you giving up your time to make money? Is it to traverse your week habitually or is it so that you can afford time to make music and art?

In the case of family responsibilities, many of you commit your time taking care of others, being present with family. Clearly an important task, but would it not be better done with a fuller heart? A satiated soul?

Perhaps the most insidious example of habit lives within the technological world we inhabit. Machines and media have become so good at distracting us it is like we are all a little ADHD. After hours on our devices we wonder where our time went. All that we do know is that the time was wasted.

 

Finding out what is really important to you

Like I said before, if art and music isn’t that important to you, and that is why you don’t make time for it? Fair enough.

But how can we know if it is important to us? If it is worth prioritizing over other things. Only you can know that, but I hope that I can provide a simple exercise to help commune with yourself.

The exercise I have for you is incredibly simple, it will take less than five minutes, and with those five minutes you could mould the rest of your week, month, or year in a vastly different direction. I urge you to do the exercise, I have done it multiple times now and it is always surprises me.

  1. Take a piece of paper and write down all the things you do in a week. Really think about this. How exactly do you spend your time? Write down a comprehensive list of all the activities in a single column.
  2. Once you have completed your list, go through it and cross off everything that isn’t important to you. It might seem important to others, or to society, but if it isn’t important to you, cross it off. 
  3. With the remaining items, make a new list. This list is comprised of activities that matter to you, things that are important. 
  4. With that second list, go through it again, and select three to five activities that are the most important out of all of them. Cross out everything else, and make a third list with your results.

What’s in your list? Is music there?

If it is, are you making time for it?

 

Have time vs. Make Time

Nobody has time. It is merely a matter of prioritizing your activities i.e. making time.

 

If music is important to you, make time for it. 

 

 

2017-03-20T03:19:50+00:00 55 Comments

55 Comments

  1. John March 20, 2017 at 2:03 am - Reply

    I liked your post but I knew it didn’t apply to me because the guitar is about all I do. I kept reading and it made me wonder why I was so dedicated. But I realized that I am not dedicated. Rather, I just want to do it: feel it in my hands, hear just the right sound, work to get my fingers to do exactly what I want them to do. And then there is the smell of the wood when I open the case. So, art and priorities? Never think of them; too busy with the guitar itself.

    I find the guitar so difficult that I can’t imagine my getting anywhere with it if I had to make time for it. On the other hand, there is that story about John Williams’ practicing only 1/2 hour a day. With all that extra time I suppose he could have become a brain surgeon and astronaut.

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards

    • Simon March 20, 2017 at 5:03 am - Reply

      Hi John,

      Good to hear from you! I share a similar experience to the dedication/obsession you describe (and I also love the smell of the guitar!) but in recent years I have struggled a bit to maintain the same level of dedication that I had while I was a full time student. I have found this little exercise helpful. I often do a short version in notebooks when I can. It helps me keep on track.

    • Dianne March 20, 2017 at 7:57 pm - Reply

      Love your comments John…why I do it too

  2. Peter March 20, 2017 at 2:03 am - Reply

    Ironically by habit with all words thrown at me every day I only skimmed your blog; gisted it was well worth in detail later. Only because of beauty of Layenda Asturias and some haunting strums heard at Williamsburg do I keep going.

  3. Steve March 20, 2017 at 2:11 am - Reply

    The first thing I do each morning, before I even get dressed, is sit down with my guitar & a cup of coffee. I start with some technical exercises to warm up (20min?), then 20min on the new piece I’m learning with perhaps 5min on 2-3 troublesome bars, and finally 20min refreshing myself on previous work. This gets the essentials out of the way, before life’s events steal me away. If I have time later in the day, I may pick up the guitar and noodle around. But that only happens once or twice a week.
    What keeps me from more online study? I travel a fair amount and internet access is sporadic. When I’m going to be in one place for a few months I try to find a local teacher for weekly lessons. I find the personal interaction more helpful, even if it is more expensive.

    • Simon March 20, 2017 at 5:01 am - Reply

      Hi Steve, that sounds like a great practice ritual and I totally agree that whatever works for your own learning style is the best.

  4. Bill Weisberger March 20, 2017 at 2:16 am - Reply

    Thanks for this great post. I appreciate the sentiment, and I am one of your visitors and newsletter subscribers who has this exact issue – too much to do, not enough time to practice. I’ll do your exercise tonight before I go to bed, and continue thinking about my priorities. Thanks for the perspective.

  5. Bob Vasquez March 20, 2017 at 2:38 am - Reply

    I enjoyed and concurred with your thoughts. Each one of us, though, seeks something different in life and my interests might vary a bit from the, let me say, average guitar student. I love practicing and playing classical guitar. My big challenge right now is Bach’s Six Cello Suites (I’m only on No. 1). I also have in queue, Bach’s 15 Two-Part Inventions and his Lute works. The other love of mine is music itself. I study, read, analyze, re-write about musical concepts. I read every morning from one to two hours about music theory, form, structure, harmony, etc., etc., and I love it, too. I’ve decided that concepts, such as, the Circle of Fifths is a waste of time, as I can explain what the Circle purports to teach better. I’ve done away with matrices, fan shapes, kinked lines and every manner of “graphics” that attempts to explain music. When people find out that I’m “into” music, they ask, “What do you play?” I say, “music”. Then, they say, “I meant what instrument do you play?” To me, knowing “music” is paramount. In short, my “practice” is both “studying about music” and “practicing classical guitar”.

  6. Victor March 20, 2017 at 3:25 am - Reply

    I think my habits are the other way around.
    The weeds keep staring at me, like asking when are you going to do the weeding?.
    On my advanced years (retired), sometimes I ask myself: Why I bother learning guitar, is so hard, I can’t see making progress, .
    My answer of course, what else I do to fill my time?
    Is challenging, yes, so I think after a few years I am really in love with it, I touch it everyday, feeling and hearing it (even if not perfect), and hopefully one day improvements will show, or die trying.
    Cheers

    • Simon March 20, 2017 at 4:58 am - Reply

      Hi Victor,

      Thanks for sharing your story. It reminds me a bit of the quote by the famous cellist, Pablo Casals who at the age of 81 was asked why he continued to practice: “Because I think I am making progress” he said.

  7. Junko Tobin March 20, 2017 at 3:31 am - Reply

    Practicing guitar is very important to me. I do practice at least 2 hours in the morning every day and I practice duets with my partner usually twice a week for 3 to 4 hours. I have lesson with my guitar instructor for 1 hour for duet and 30 minutes for solo music once every two weeks. I also practice ukulele in the evenings. I seldom watch TV or video, just listens to some podcasts since I have insomnia. I go to aerobics class 3 times a week which are very important to keep me sane. I walk or bike when weather permits and do gardening during summer, I paint or make collage, listento music and try to read but doing less so because of failing eye sight. All these activities are very important to me, but by far, time wise, practicing guitar is weighted very heavily in my current life. I am so in love with guitar.

  8. John Pooley March 20, 2017 at 4:36 am - Reply

    That’s all very well, Simon, but the reality is that many of us have had to spend a good deal of our time, just making a living in order to keep body and soul together. Your perspective is somewhat different, because you are a professional musician/teacher, so you can devote as much time as you think fit or appropriate, to your chosen field of endeavour. That’s great for you, but life doesn’t always work out as we hope it will, so compromises have to be made. It is a tad presumptuous of you to preach at those of us who, for whatever reason, are not as fortunate as yourself.

    Best wishes,

    John. (Wollongong NSW Australia).

    • Simon March 20, 2017 at 4:55 am - Reply

      Hi John,

      Thanks for your comment, and I hear what you are saying. I don’t mean to come across as preachy, but I understand how it might be read that way. I try my best to be clear in my writing but perhaps I fell short. The intention here is to offer some inspiration to check in on priorities, to re-focus on what is important to us in case it has become obscured by other habits. By no means do I presume to know everyone’s situation, but I hope for some people it will prove a positive exercise, whether priorities are musical or not.

      Best wishes,
      Simon

    • Andrew May 9, 2017 at 8:34 pm - Reply

      Simon, you’re not preachy in the slightest. John’s complaints are completely unjustified and I suggest you disregard them.

    • Jack Rodenburg August 22, 2017 at 12:03 pm - Reply

      I wondered where guitar playing was on the list of John Pooley. Motivation is hard to do in a busy live and easy to loose it for ever. Where I work we have a guitar club with a small group. We work 6 months on a set of new tunes to perform in the summer or Christmas and that is a way to keep you really motivated in a busy life.

  9. Anne Hamilton March 20, 2017 at 8:18 am - Reply

    Thanks for the inspiring article Simon. As well as enjoying my own guitar practice I teach quite a few adults and children. I find my adult students quite dedicated to their practice. What I find more worrying is that some children today say they have no time for practice. Some say they have too many other activities to fit into their week. They enjoy their lessons and show promise and ability yet between lessons they are not inspired to practice. Have you or any of your subscribers any advice for how to encourage them? (Personally I think the parents should do more to assist but I am afraid of “preaching” to them) Best wishes, Anne (Scotland)

  10. Tony March 20, 2017 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Thanks Simon am going to give it thought. Kind regards tony

  11. Alan March 20, 2017 at 10:43 am - Reply

    Interesting , I always have difficulty with the word “art” what is art? As far as a musical instrument is concerned you either play music to some level, you are a musician who earns a living from their playing and/or you are a composer of music. When a composers work becomes art I suspect is when it is completely new as opposed to a tweeked copy or a variation.
    As I, like some others am retired having time most days is not the problem it is music, what should I be playing. I gave up daily practice of the classical guitar about ten years ago only picking up occasionally. About three years ago I started on the tenor ukulele but find myself reverting to classical pieces or jazz. I had hoped for creativity rather than playing through one piece after another in search of the illusive art. So the missing element I suspect is fun, the kid jumping in a puddle or on the bed for the first time.

    • Simon March 20, 2017 at 2:32 pm - Reply

      Hi Alan, thanks for the message I love how you express yourself here.

      Proust found that “art” (and I agree the term is ambiguous) was something that helps us momentarily live in the present. It wakes us up from daily life and provides a glimpse of something more precious and special.

      This idea reminds me of when we travel. When we travel we often look on simple things with wonder. A street sign in another language, a new way of preparing coffee, or a slightly different kind of toilet. These moments are memorable in travel because we don’t have time to make them mundane.

      Art, be it music, fine art, theatre, poetry or otherwise, has this ability to pierce normality and wake us up from our day to day.

      Pursuing these moments can become quite addictive, and I wonder if it might be the reason behind an artists’ sense of vocation.

      For amateur musicians I think the joy can be a mix of things. The first being a heightened sense of appreciation when listening, and the second being involvement in the process when they play themselves. Come to think of it, amateur or not, this is a big part of any musicians’ joy!

      • db March 21, 2017 at 12:41 am - Reply

        I have always enjoyed seeing the skillful practice their profession. They make art, as you suggest, Simon, by being fully present and in the moment of their work.

  12. peter March 20, 2017 at 11:18 am - Reply

    Hi Simon, just one comment to make about practice i can play that now but not yesterday peter.

  13. Susan March 20, 2017 at 12:25 pm - Reply

    It’s true we all have only 24 hours in a day, and we decide how to use them no matter how much we protest that our time expenditures are dictated. We set our priorities every moment with what we do. I’m learning classical guitar to have music in my life. I don’t have music, but I value it. Only I don’t value it enough to listen and engage in it. In the car, I listen to podcasts. While I’m cooking, I look at youtube cooking videos. Choices. My husband will pick up his guitar in any spare moment; while I’m taking a shower or fixing dinner, whenever. He is always listening to music and people talking about music, and he’s always looking at guitars and people talking about guitars. It’s choices. Maybe I don’t desire that level of commitment, but I want something, some music.

  14. db March 20, 2017 at 12:53 pm - Reply

    Simon,

    I agree with your premise: we have to find out what is important to us and then learn how to focus on those things without distraction. This will bring us the greatest joy in our lives. Some might see what you are saying as an either/or proposition, but it is not. Even in very important things, such as our work, there are practices or habits that waste time, keeping us from completing our work tasks quickly and efficiently, and therefore keeping us from the rest of our priorities. This is especially true when we try to “multi-task.”

    Another way to get at what is important to you is to keep a gratitude journal. When we think about what we are grateful for, we start to identify something that is of value to us. If we only think about what we did in the past week, we might miss something that is very important to us but neglected. When we know what is important to us and we take the time to examine how we spend our time, as you suggest with your exercise, we can begin to decide how to “make” time for music.

    There are many things that put demands on our time, things we must do. But if you devoted just 5% of your time each day to something you really loved, you would be gifting yourself 1.2 hours toward that endeavor (or 45 minutes if you only wanted to count your waking hours).

    My family helped me rediscover my love for making music when they gave me a left handed guitar to compensate for an injury to my left hand that made it too difficult to press the fingerboard. In my gratitude (and for my joy) I try to play daily and to improve. This is a propiority for me. CGC and this community are great tools to help me along the way. Thank you, Simon, and the CGC community.

  15. Ken D March 20, 2017 at 12:56 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this Simon. I’ve been a musician in some form or another all my life, and have gone through numerous cycles of musical energy and activity, followed by stepping away from music for a period of time.

    One reason I joined CGC was to help me focus by following a specific structured curriculum with goals. Hopefully I can keep on track with my music – but I have bookmarked this post just in case! :-)

    Ken

  16. Ronin March 20, 2017 at 2:42 pm - Reply

    Thank you for the thoughtful article. There are a few of us that literally don’t have more than 15-30 minutes to spare a few times a day. I am raising two grandchildren while at the same time caring for my wife’s elderly parents and working part time so my time is extremely limited. What would be beneficial are tips or teaching techniques that are geared toward 15 minute sessions. This is the only way I can play and for the most part my guitar is always on my chair so that when I do sit down to relax i pick it up however, I find it difficult to apply any valuable techniques in that short period.
    Thanks

  17. James F Mottram March 20, 2017 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Great post, Simon. Having played music and having engaged in thoughtful daily practice for most of my life, the activity became not only a habit but also a necessity for my well-being. When the pressures of building a business and supporting a young family became overwhelming, I occasionally stepped back from participating in rehearsal and performances but usually found a way to practice on a regular basis. Now that I am retired after a full business career, I have the luxury of being able to control my priorities doing what is important to me. So much else in life is improved when my mind is engaged on a daily basis with finding solutions to the wonderfully infinite challenges that the world of music offers. Your suggestion to write down a list of what matters to us and focus on those pursuits is excellent. Even on busy days when we are scrambling just to “make it through”, we can usually find a few minutes to work on some element of our music routine. On days when we may be marooned away from our instruments, it is possible to mentally go through scale, study fingerings, ponder music theory, etc.
    I like your Churchill quote. How apt for our times, eh?

  18. Marcus M. Blake March 20, 2017 at 5:09 pm - Reply

    Hello Simon:

    I totally get it; depending on your job or your personal predispositions making a conscious decision on things to include in your life is the only thing you can do to live life in a balanced manner. Yes, music is important to me, whether listening to it or in my case making it at my unpracticed Grade 7 level.

    The guitar is unforgiving especially for one who is not a player by ear and scheduling time for practice with mind, ears and fingers set on ‘perfect practice’ is necessary to improve technique and speed with enjoyment coming where individual interpretation can be applied to a piece or just playing around with a piece or scale run.

    Life does get in the way but as with being a good driver – focus on where you want to go and not on what you may potentially crash into. Those things which you cannot avoid? Nudge them out of the way expertly with your bumper, stop check/address damages and get back behind the steering wheel and get back on course.

    That’s all I have to say about that.

    I hope to get more on track with this journey. I have not been engaged with ‘ perfect practice’ enough lately and I find your question most lime and the resulting personal introspection most welcome.

    Marcus Magnus

  19. Linda Tsardakas March 20, 2017 at 8:16 pm - Reply

    This is a great discussion. As db wrote, some might see what you are saying as an either/or situation, but I don’t see that way. Everyone should take as much time as they can – if they want – to put music in their lives. Depending on one’s work load, that may be more or less – I know that myself. But if we can make regular practice a part of our life when starting to learn an instrument, if we can add it to our daily schedule as much as drinking coffee or tea in the morning, we won’t want to miss the feeling of holding a guitar in our arms. Even when the workload is high, a bit of music can clear the mind and that itself is worth the time! Music is a wonderful way to enrich life.

  20. Joy Soobrayen March 20, 2017 at 8:30 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,
    Thank you for this inspiring article. I’m a lover of the classical guitar since I was a young boy. But I didn’t have the opportunity nor anybody to teach me at that time. Now I live for this instrument. I practice each time I can and I do make time for music. When I’m not practising I listen to classical guitar virtuosos’ music. My guitar is my best friend so to speak. I need advice on how to make the most of my practice time. I’m looking forward to joining CGC as a member to perfect my knowledge and skills in the art. I wish you well. Cheers!

  21. David Spiegelberg March 20, 2017 at 8:32 pm - Reply

    Hi Simon,

    Thanks for introducing me to a new author, Proust, and some of his work.

    I really like what you said. What I like even more is that your words can be applied to just about anything in life, not just music and classical guitar.

    David

  22. David Haven March 20, 2017 at 9:04 pm - Reply

    Thanks for your perspective Simon and I do agree with you and I only wish that I could spend more time with my guitar and music. As it is for me at least it’s usually a struggle to get a few minutes of practice in each day but I usually can somehow squeeze at least 30 minutes a day and sometimes a little more but my mind and my heart are mostly on music every day. Dr. Mario Abril, a very talented guitarist and arranger told me once about playing the guitar, “If you want to do it you will ” That is true. My perspective is that what I am is a guitarist and musician but what I do to keep the wolf away is something different. I am very happy for those who are able to make their living in music! I have a friend who has his doctorate in music composition but he makes his living as a network administrator. Who he is is a musician and composer what he does is different. Thank you for your wonderful podcast and thank you for caring! David

  23. Bill Gifford March 20, 2017 at 11:36 pm - Reply

    Exactly my sentiments there Simon. I managed to get there through sheer dedication and a huge amount of application. Only took me some 40 + years and still continues today What made the difference in my case was perhaps the total lack of any teaching or training facilities. No one in my background played any instrument nor engaged with others that did, so its been a pretty solitary path for me. Plenty of people around now that all want to be rock stars or singer/song writers but a complete absence of classical guitar continues. My attempts at trying to introduce some of this into grade schools ( where it should start) has only met with a solid brick wall and when I inquired about why there was so much lack of interest ( read that as overt opposition) I was told “ïts too hard” and “we don’t have trained teachers”. So not much is going to change there unfortunately.
    In my case, the desire to be able to play this instrument has never waned, despite the lack of support. I’ve always managed to make some time available ( yes, thats prioritizing) for continual study and practice. Being self taught does also help sort out where your personal priorities lie as well. Maybe the following generations just have too many quick options ( read that as distractions) and as such lack can’t gain sufficient focus or dedication to practice. I have ( 4) children and (9) grandchildren and despite many attempts at encouraging all of them in their time, I remain the only player within these extended families.

    Kind regards

    Bill Gifford

  24. Adrian Hunter March 21, 2017 at 12:44 am - Reply

    Thanks Simon, and everyone else for an enlivening discussion.

    But before all you Proustians drift away in a Gauloise haze, there’s a twist to the habit story.

    Proust did indeed praise the virtues of ‘defamiliarisation’ over the dead weight of stale habit. But he was also smart enough to recognise that some habits were full of nourishment, and as the novel goes on, these special habits gather in significance. Probably the best word in English for them is ‘rituals’. There’s a world of difference in the metaphors Proust employs to distinguish the two. Habit is all surface, as Simon suggests, like a patina that dulls the look and sense of things. Rituals are life-giving, connecting us to one another across time: they link the past to the present and future. To play Sor with a full heart is to share in a ritual. So too is struggling with descending slurs: you’re not the first, and you won’t be the last.

    Cheers,
    Adrian

  25. Arka March 21, 2017 at 8:53 am - Reply

    Hey there (from Canaries Islands-where i live,)…im thanxfull -and want to say thank you to this beautiful guitar community!! it is rather small (we are two) or unexistant on the island (as far as i couldn’t subscribe to the local school- no places or no teacher!?)…well im glad to hear all your impressions, it nourrishes my life’s perceptions!!

  26. Mark Jentsch March 21, 2017 at 9:45 am - Reply

    Perhaps I’m being a bit contrarian Simon. I find it is neither about the music or the art at this stage. I accept that this is hard work. P’raps the best I can hope for, artistically, is to entertain the grandchildren. What I do get though, is the opportunity to be selfish with my time, occasionally impress by self when an exercise comes together, and revel in a space where nothing else matters. If I can put myself in that space I’m in bliss. Maybe one day Twinkle Twinkle won’t sound like Baa Baa Black Sheep, but until then every moment spent hacking at the guitar will still be rapturous. Thanks for providing the vehicle to get me there.

    • Tony B March 21, 2017 at 5:10 pm - Reply

      Agree totally! Well written. I am sure many people have the same feelings.

    • EyeFly March 21, 2017 at 7:28 pm - Reply

      Wow Mark, I couldn’t have said it any better! I enjoy just making noise, because at this point I’m not making music yet, purely for the joy of making it. Like you and others have called it, practice is still ‘work’ for me, but t’s fun work. I have no delusions of anyone ever mistaking me for a musician, except perhaps my mother should she live long enough, but I will have developed a deeper appreciation of beautiful music when I hear it played by talented musicians because of the time I spend trying to learn the craft myself.

  27. 6Strings March 21, 2017 at 3:20 pm - Reply

    Engaging article. It reminded me of a few quotes:

    If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.

    People don’t plan to fail; they fail to plan.

  28. Roger Hyam March 21, 2017 at 4:13 pm - Reply

    I’m reminded of the advice I give to friends who are going to become fathers for the first time. I tell them to write a list of ten things they like doing, cross nine off the list and the remaining one is the one they can hope to get to do one day. All the rest they can forget. If they try to hold onto them all they will just be miserable.

    But seriously very few people get to choose if they spend time making more or less money. They generally have a job that is full time or they are unemployed. It is an on/off switch not a volume control. I’d love to be able to choose to work harder one week or earn a little less the next but it isn’t going to happen.

    I’m a beginner guitarist (just 6 months) but I’m doing a good hour+ a day now that my hands don’t hurt so much. My key is using a Yamaha SLG200N. I live in a flat with my family and I just couldn’t practice if I thought I was disturbing someone. I can practice first thing in the morning before going to work or an hour before bed.

    It is lovely to get your occasional emails but I have enough to learn and do without direct interaction with a teacher – one day maybe. I’m nearly at the end of the first Parkening method book. It will take me a good six months to the do the second. Then I’ll have picked up enough bad habits to keep a teacher busy for years :)

  29. Tony B March 21, 2017 at 5:07 pm - Reply

    Churchill never did say that, but it doesn’t matter, we can understand the sentiment behind it. Whatever we do, we have to prioritise our time and what we do with it. If someone says “I haven’t got the time” when it comes to practice, then if you could turn to them and say “Hey, I’ll give you a million pounds if you can find half an hour a day to practice.” Do you think they could find the time?!
    I wonder if it is more to do with the correct practice. I spent years wasting time playing the same old things over and over again. When I decided to take up classical guitar, about two years or so ago, I decided to have a good look at practice in a new way – and have learned a lot about this from this website. I don’t always stick to it properly, but at least I am aware that practice is WORK and not “playtime”. I don’t look forward to practice, because I am essentially lazy, but once I start I am away and on another planet, concentrating, loving it – however painful it sounds and it doesn’t come easily to me – but I feel I am getting somewhere! Learning an instrument is challenging. I guess that is why most people give up, isn’t it? Not being able to find the time is an excuse, and I agree that the real reason is that music just isn’t as important as other things for many people. Also – I gave up Facebook, Twitter and all that other nonsense. There’s more to life.

  30. Diane White March 22, 2017 at 11:59 am - Reply

    Hello to everyone and thanks to all of you and Simon for this thought provoking discussion.

    It is obvious to me that there are many views and ideas about this topic – probably as many as there are people here to discuss it. I hear and agree with most of you and resonate with many. Having said that, I particularly understand and sympathize with those of you who feel that time and life situations prevent them from following through with their dreams and desires. In my opinion, that can be to a certain extent quite true. But as I have discovered in my life, what is also true, is that in reality there is time in everyone’s day that can be reallocated toward doing something else. I am in no way saying this as a judgment but as a statement of what I have found to be true. Let me explain.

    I will attempt to make a very long tale as short as possible. I have always been that very busy person who had a great love for art and music but always seemed to find something else to do that was “more important” than what my heart wanted to do. I would tell myself that I would get to it tomorrow or next week or… This went on for years with the amount of time not doing these things far exceeding my actually time spent doing them. I sort of squeaked by with these soul practices – seeming to do just enough to keep me from going nuts. Fast forward ahead to eight years ago when I awoke to find myself extremely sick (antibiotic induced Guillaume Barre). I was in severe pain and paralyzed up to my hips. Needless to say this changed my life drastically and forever. My road back toward health has been long and arduous but I find myself currently able to do most things and live a “normal” life. About a year ago (2016 resolution of sorts) I made the decision to reintroduce back into my life the things that I love, the things that had always made my heart sing. I knew that at the time a commitment to learning the guitar would be too much for me so I chose joining a book club and committing to read more classics (which I always loved). I knew I would have to somehow find the time in my very busy life (I was now back to work full time again along with all of life’s other daily responsibilities). What I did worked so well for me that I made the commitment to do it again this year. I decided after many months of contemplation that this year I would commit to learning the guitar, I felt ready for it and signed up on Thanksgiving of last year with the view of getting established in my routine by the first of this year. And that is why I have chosen to write this post, the “getting established in my routine part”.

    Many of you have written that there is just no or very little time. I understand completely how legitimate a statement that is for you and also how frustrating it can be. When I sat myself down to think about how I was going to actually implement a commitment to learning the guitar my biggest obstacle was time. I knew I didn’t want to start this if I was only setting myself up to fail so I needed to work it out before hand and this is what I came up with that had worked so well for me the previous year. As I said at the beginning, everyone with no exceptions, has some time in their day that can be reallocated. The trick to successfully gaining access to it and incorporating something new into ones life is to start with creating the habit as opposed to setting some lofty goal that is, at this time, completely inaccessible. Start small, very small and work up. To try to go from nothing to practicing 1 hour a day is, for most people, impossible and will only set oneself up for frustration and failure. But if you get the habit established first, the rest will fall very nicely into place. So… set a goal that you can 100% commit to (of course, emergencies don’t count here). You want to create a goal that you are not only able to accomplish but are pretty much guaranteed to accomplish. Setting yourself up for failure is not productive. One must set themselves up for success – that both helps to create new habits and feels good at the same time. I had heard that to successfully create a new habit you need about a month so I decided that I would commit 10 minutes each day to the guitar. This was not always practice but anything related to the guitar – changing one string, organizing books, reading… The kicker was that I promised myself that I made time every day with no excuses. I had already decided that I had 10 minutes somewhere in each day that I could reallocate so my next job was to find it. I vowed that I would not go to bed at night before I had my 10 minutes with the guitar. If forgetting is an issue, leaving notes around the house works marvelously. :-) I committed to this routine for 1 month, no excuses. My goal for that month was to create the habit in my life not to become a great musician. Every day I did it was a success and I quickly found that most days I spent more than 10 minutes and felt really happy when I looked at the clock to find a half hour had passed. When the month of 31 successes was over I set a new goal for the next month – a very workable, achievable goal again – however this second month I felt quite confident that I could easily extend the amount of time to 15 minutes each day and added completing the Fundamentals Course to that I completed that month with 31 successes as well. It felt so good and so easy. I continue setting these goals for myself and continue far exceeding my expectations which helps to perpetuate the cycle. Once the habit is establish the rest will follow – the habit is the key. This procedure is also a great way to break habits as well. Just set reasonable, doable goals and the fact that you do them consistently is how it works (like compound interest, it is magic!!!).

    I hope that has helped some of you who find yourselves where I was not too long ago. I wish you all great success!

    Be @ Peace,
    ~ Diane

  31. Andrew Holland March 22, 2017 at 5:08 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article and I enjoyed reading the replies/comments.
    After years of self teaching I plucked up courage to contact a teacher and enjoyed having lessons for a period before having to move away.
    I still play every day but it needs a lot of discipline to start a new piece

  32. Undisciplined and undeserving mother March 25, 2017 at 1:42 pm - Reply

    “Sorry honey” she turns to 18 month old who is sobbing due to 4 year old and 6 year old not feeding her dinner when she is so very hungry, “I will feed you when my soul is full, You too need to learn discipline and wait until Mummy has practiced her scales.”
    Agree with John from Woolangong, too tired to write more. I did not plan to be up three times last night, or the night before. You’d better just unsubscribe me cause I’m obviously not dedicated enough and don’t deserve to be here.

  33. Bonn March 26, 2017 at 2:18 am - Reply

    Wow! You must be reading my mind on this point!

    I can honestly claim to be rationalizing in just this way with most of the points (excuses) that you’ve listed here Simon. Truth is; that my family is taking up more of my time that I’m comfortable with; health issues etc., etc., etc…

    Then there is the fact that I just can’t seem to find a comfortable position to play this lovely guitar of mine. I’ve tried all of my different chairs, sofa but nothing seems to be a good fit. Now, I’ve been eyeing the nice brace that you use; to hold the guitar in the right way without straining my body parts too much, but I really just didn’t want to spend 60+ bucks for one.

    Okay–I spent part of my guitar time looking for a better fit on this and I found one at amazon.com that costs less than half of this:

    TENOR TPGS+ Professional Ergonomic Guitar Rest. This tool is just what I need. It is light weight, and it hold my guitar just ‘so’ so that I’m not constantly fidgeting an fooling around with it- twisting, turning, adjusting: You get this, right?.

    https://www.amazon.com/Professional-Ergonomic-Footstool-Classical-Flamenco/dp/B019MIPZ8M/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1490494558&sr=8-1&keywords=TENOR+TPGS+Professional

    Check it out.

    Now, I have only these other excuses. Hopefully, I’ll work through these before my subscription ends next January!

    :O)

    Best,

    Bonnie

    BTW: Thanks for the pep-talk if that is what this is/was.

  34. Arnie March 28, 2017 at 12:31 pm - Reply

    Simon I am 70 and have been playing classical guitar since the early 1970s. I still struggle to find time for the guitar but I love it so much I will never give it up. I find the classical guitar to be a difficult instrument to learn especially if like myself you are not gifted with natural talent.

    For me to be motivated to practice I need to find a musical piece that really turns me on. Also I will tweak an arrangement to meet my ability. I can’t see giving up on a musical piece that I really like because there are a couple of bars that are just too painful to play. It has to be fun. I no longer feel guilty if I change an arrangement to make it a little easier for me to play.

  35. RKordel March 31, 2017 at 11:39 am - Reply

    Simon,

    I found this thread and wanted to thank everyone who has contributed so far. I think I want to add an additional two cents.

    Let’s start with some background information. I started on CGC in January of 2016 as a result of a new years resolution to spend more time on something that wasn’t “work”. Years ago I was able to play passably well but had “stepped out” for about 30 years when life intervened. .I had made a couple of attempts to resurrect the playing, but all ended after some work change/crisis occurred.

    In the past 15 months, I have missed maybe 20 days of playing guitar total. The reasons for these days are varied, ranging from having a cold to disgust and frustration at breaking a fingernail. At the moment I have completed all of the 1st and 2nd level material and have been “stuck” trying to get my level 2 performance up to snuff.

    I do have a steel stringed guitar and when broken fingernails happen I usually switch over to trying to work on CAGED exercises and a variety of other exercises that will teach me the theory behind the notes.

    Now with that background, CGC presents something of a dilemma if you are using it to measure my involvement. Most days I have about 45 minutes to an hour to devote to the guitar. Given a choice as to what to do with my time I feel that I would rather play than do anything on the site.

    I do try to stop by and genuinely enjoy the conversations (like this one ;-) but there have been weeks when I did not log in at all. This did not mean I did not play.

    So all this is a long way around to saying Simon – I think it is better than you think. I think I represent a number of people who are working and practicing, but not appearing in the backend as taking part because there are only so many hours in the day, and for some of those days all I have time for is to practice.

    Cheers,

    Richard

  36. James Huckson April 3, 2017 at 12:21 am - Reply

    Thank you, Simon. So much food for thought! This is a very timely podcast, as I have taken on post graduate study (part time , online) in a work-related subject. Yes, that is important to me as it concerns a topic I have had a long time interest and passion in and I feel it can make a difference to my life as a whole (not just work-related). However……..music is still very important to me! As the demands of life push and pull me in different directions, music (guitar, double bass) , is always there, perhaps as way to ‘steady the ship’ . Some times , I have to alter musical goals to adapt to the times. Sometimes the intensity of my musical engagement does decrease, but it is always there!
    Thanks for the podcast. It was inspiring. Also, I reckon I will re-read the book, ‘How Proust Can Change Your Life’.
    Cheers,
    James.

  37. Immanuel April 5, 2017 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Hi Simon

    Enjoyed this podcast and agree with your ideas about working out priorities. Not an issue for me guitarwise I play nearly everyday and it’s an important past of how I want to spend my leisure time. I have used an approach similar to yours to look at other issues in my life for example fitness. I attended a course some time back whereby we looked at all aspects of our lives e.g work, family etc and evaluated where we were, where we wanted to be and how we would get there.

  38. Luke April 17, 2017 at 5:35 pm - Reply

    Simon, please can you try and interview Julian Bream…..it would be wonderful.
    I can’t believe you haven’t interviewed him yet and he’s a MUST surely for your podcast!!!!!!!??????

  39. Thomas April 18, 2017 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    I really enjoyed this video, it helped give me a new perspective on what is really important to me. I am twenty three years old, and find it difficult sometimes to just make myself sit down, practice flat out for an hour or two on the guitar. The simple urge to get up, play a game, read a book, or something that stimulates that side of you that likes to have fun is always present. However, I’m find it less and less of a struggle now because I keep a journal, and schedule/book to map out my week. I picked four things that are really, the upmost important to me. Here there are – (My Girlfriend, Music, School, and Work.) I hope by applying this new method of thought that I can really start to progress more in my studies. Thanks again for the wonderful video!

  40. victor guitar April 19, 2017 at 7:56 am - Reply

    practice makes perfect. If your really want to play guitar you can always set your priorities straight. If you have a 9-5 job then do it on weekends. If you really want it’s about time to discipline yourself.

  41. Thomas April 23, 2017 at 10:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this video, it really helped motivate me to practice more! :D

  42. Timothy Burris April 25, 2017 at 2:13 pm - Reply

    In the process of immersing myself in French music when studying (lute) at conservatory, I developed a great passion for the French language and for the works of Emile Zola in particular. In reading about Zola, his style, and method, I came across his motto: Nulla dies sine linea, Latin for ‘not a day without a line’.

    My students are made aware of that motto early on in our lessons–in fact, they might hear that phrase more often than any other over the course of their time with me. (A frequent corollary I use is “5 minutes a day is better than an hour once a week.” Plus, there’s the added advantage that once you’ve started playing, you’re unlikely to stop after five minutes!)

    I also mention the phrase in my initial conversation with prospective students, or in post-concert conversations when people ask me about my life in music. ‘Never a day without a line’ has become my motto, as well. If it’s important to you, you will make time for it. If you make time for it every day, it becomes part of the fabric of your being. A day without music simply is not an option.

    Thanks to Simon for his passionate aural essay on taking (making!) the time to find out what matters to you.

  43. Joannes May 28, 2017 at 5:55 am - Reply

    Hi Simon

    As an artist myself i have seen artists going down the drain pursuing their careers, neglecting their children, aging in complete solitude, abandoned by their family, financially bankrupt.
    I also see the social strong artist who nourish his Art by everything he/she does put brick upon brick to build his/her world.
    for some the brick is a wooden stick for others a silver spoon.
    both started with their passions but few can realise a lifelong career.

    just my thoughts after i listened to your inspirational podcast

    joannes

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