We live in an extraordinary moment in which resources for learning and growing literally surround us. We’re drowning in positive powerful information that we can use to do almost anything.
I was recently re-listening to an audio program called The Maverick Mindset by Dr. John Eliot, who teaches performance psychology at Rice University in Houston, Texas.
In this program, Eliot describes a distinction that I’ve found very, very helpful in my pursuit of guitar excellence.
But First, A Middle School Band Story
I played trombone as a middle school student.
The trombone was my first exposure to playing an instrument.
I began playing the trombone when my family was living near Knoxville, Tennessee. But soon after I started playing the trombone, we moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It was quite a huge change–the school I’d been in back in Tennessee was small and underfunded. Our band amounted to a couple local guys who taught a group of about 15 or 20 students a few times a week. We met in a room that doubled as a storage room for all kinds of out of place school equipment. It wasn’t exactly a symphony orchestra.
In Tulsa, we moved into a school district with plenty of funding and incredible facilities. So, there I was, a member of the Jenks East Middle School band, which was a massive outfit of musical middle schoolers banded together with a qualified music teacher. An honest-to-goodness middle school symphony orchestra.
In that band in Tulsa, Oklahoma, I had several profound musical experiences that planted the seeds that eventually led me to embrace the guitar as my focus.
I recall one particular experience I had while playing in that band in Tulsa that completely and permanently changed my experience of the world.
Now, my partner and I often joke about our lack of epiphany moments as we attempt to become more and more conscious and loving human beings.
However, this instance in middle school band class was really and truly an epiphany for me.
We were playing the theme song to The Magnificent Seven.
The trombone part was triumphant, and I played along with the seven or eight other trombonists in our section as the rest of the band swelled powerfully all around. The percussionists pounded out the driving rhythms while the trumpets, flutes and violins traced the melody over the top of the rhythm instruments–the drummers, the tubas, the cellos, and we the trombones.
We’d been learning to play this piece for a few weeks, so by now all the parts were moving together.
And as we soared through this piece of music together as a symphonic unit, a surge of energy poured through me and for the first time, I met music as a living breathing experience through the whole of my body.
My mind was gone–I was somehow more aware than ever before, no longer identified with just my body or my thinking or my feelings. It was as if the music was playing me instead of the way it usually felt, where I was playing the music.
It was a holy awakening brought on by a 1960′s cinematic western theme song.
And So, We Return To The Training Vs. Trusting Mindset
Ever since that moment in middle school band, I’ve been in hot pursuit of that musical Flow experience.
If you’re drawn to playing the guitar, then my guess is you have had some musical epiphanies of your own. Whether they came through listening to your favorite music or playing your instrument, surely you’ve connected with music in that way that all musicians must if they are to persevere through the many difficulties that arise in the process of learning to play music with relaxed precision.
Here at String Love Guitar, I talk a lot about guitar PRACTICE. I talk about how to practice, how to structure your practice time, how to approach the time you spend practicing the guitar.
What I haven’t talked much about yet is how to throw all that practice crap out the window and surrender to the love of music that led you to start practicing in the first place.
In The Maverick Mindset, Dr. Eliot elucidates the crucial distinction between what he calls the Training Mindset and the Trusting Mindset.
The Training Mindset is what we’re in when we’re practicing the guitar. We’re working hard on the details. We’re using our analytical razor blades to pick apart everything we do on the guitar so that we can put it back together in a better and more efficient way.
We’re mastering the details of music theory, we’re engaging in slow methodical practice, we’re using a metronome to perfect our sense of rhythm, we’re practicing drills and finger meditations over and over and over again.
And all of that absolutely helps you become a better guitar player (and human being, if you’re up for that as well).
However, none of that work matters if, in the process of doing it, you lose touch with your love of playing the guitar.
Nothing will reconnect you more with your love of playing than that state of pure beautiful flow, like the experience I had back in Tulsa, Oklahoma playing the trombone part to the theme song from The Magnificent Seven.
The Trusting Mindset is your key to flow.
How the Trusting Mindset Works
If you’re trying to become a better guitar player through diligent focused practice, I commend you. Perfect Practice will definitely lead you forward into greater guitar glory.
However, the key takeaway from the idea of the Training and Trusting Mindset is that the two approaches need to be in balance. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself in a live performance situation without the ability to let go of all that fine-detail work and just play your heart out.
Where the Training Mindset involves intense focus on the details, the Trusting Mindset involves a state of emptiness–you let all that focus work you’ve done rest in the background, and you simply play. Be present and play–that’s the Trusting Mindset.
Don’t Make the Mistake of Practicing All the Time
Practice is fantastic. If you know how to do it, you have a means of continually improving at your instrument.
However, practice isn’t everything. It’s all just preparation for the Real Deal.
One of the greatest things that ever happened in my guitar development was when I encountered a body of music that I absolutely had to learn how to play. I came upon all this music suddenly, and it lit a fire under me that led me to completely change my entire approach to the guitar. I went from playing most of the time with a pick to playing almost exclusively fingerstyle. I went from playing mostly folk, bluegrass and acoustic rock to playing classical, Brazilian jazz and world guitar music.
You need to discover what that music is for you–the music that will keep you up nights and wake you up early to dive into it and immerse your fingers in its challenges and joys.
The point is for you to have a batch of songs and pieces that you can play at the drop of a hat with total command and confidence.
The Trusting Mindset is all about feeing calm, assured and in complete control of everything you’re playing.
A Few More Specifics of the Trusting Mindset
Just so we’re clear, here are the attributes of the Trusting Mindset: simplicity, clarity, “right-brained,” open, empty, present, aware, engaged, absorbed.
Those moments when you’re completely immersed in your music and almost erased as a separate identity? Pure Trusting Mindset.
Those moments when you’re totally “in the zone” with your music and flowing right along on that amazing wave of harmony? Trusting Mindset.
Those epiphanic instants when you suddenly lose yourself and come to your senses within the open-hearted power of musical beauty? Trusting Mindset.
So, be aware of the possibility of finding your way into the Trusting Mindset. Those amazing flow moments don’t have to be haphazard–you can cultivate them and invite them into your life.
Practice your heart out when you’re practicing. Master those details and hone your playing with total precision.
And then, when it’s time to play, let all that practice stuff go and give everything you’ve got to the moment and your performance.
Don’t expect yourself to be able to just go right into the Trusting Mindset at the drop of a hat unless you’ve spent a lot of time inhabiting it. So, in preparation for your performances, be sure to spend a nice chunk of your time with the guitar actually expressing and exploring all the new capacities you’ve cultivated through your practice time.
I just wanted to be sure you and I are clear about this: no matter how much I discuss the ins and outs of practice here at String Love Guitar, you must make sure you spend plenty of time on your guitar just playing. Enjoying. Being. Trusting.