"I fear not the man who practiced 10,000 kicks once, I fear the man who practiced one kick 10,000 times." - Bruce Lee
I realize my biggest mistake when starting Brazilian Jiu Jitsu was that I thought the person who knew the most techniques would always win. I mean if someone attacks you with one move you can beat them if you know the counter move, and if you had 5 attacks from a position and they only know 4 defenses you'd win....right? So I bought every book, DVD, and online lesson possible and began constructing my "cache of options." Instead of working on my basics (posture, position, pressure, defense) I collected hundreds of "cool moves" like flying submissions and moves I couldn't even pronounce.
Ten years later, I find myself working with the white belts in class and preaching to them against that mindset. "But Mike, isn't there a spinning armbar I can do from here?" *An armbar is a submission hold where the opponent secures one of your arms between their legs forcing it to bend in the wrong direction causing a bad break if you don't tap out (give up.) "Yes," I'll say knowing I'm about to deliver the same advice that used to cause me to roll my eyes, "but do you even know how to hold onto that position? Here, try to armbar me!" He lays on me and then leaps at my far arm in an attempt to prove it can be done. I calmly scoot my body and kick him away with my feet. "How are you going to armbar me if you can't even hold me down in the first place?" They usually understand me by then, unlike my old self. The old me would have just gone back to the books and DVD's, vainly in search of another option.
So I try and bring that philosophy to guitar, and music in general. I realize that I was able to advance quickly in the beginning because I had limited access to techniques (there was no internet let alone Youtube....yes I'm old!). I also became obsessed with playing only a few well-known riffs so all my attention became a laser-like focus and I was able to execute them in a short amount of time. I didn't have a dominant command but people were able to guess the song I was playing and that's kind of a big deal when you're new to guitar.
Now we live in an age where you can look up 1000 guitar techniques in a day. Before you're even able to play a G chord you find yourself watching a video on 8-finger tapping. You wouldn't believe how many people come to me with the ability to play fast but have no idea what they're doing or how to apply it in any situation other than playing alone in their bedroom. I recently had a student play a pretty impressive lead run. I gave him props because I knew it must have taken a lot of time to get his fingers to move so fast. So (in a half-snarky manner) I asked him a few pointed questions. "What's the band playing while you're doing that?" He had no clue. I began playing a chord progression and asked him to solo. He got frustrated and began attempting random licks. One-by-one they all sounded bad over my chords. We switched roles and had him strum the chords while I soloed. I went to one of the easiest scales there is (minor pentatonic) and comfortably improvised. He understood right there that all the fancy licks in the world (although amazing on their own and in the correct context) weren't going to help him at this stage, and that skipping all the "basics" was leading him down a dark path.
In an attempt to inspire my students, I created a mini competition between my drummers (competition seems to be a strong motivator in teenagers). It was a paradiddle contest. I wanted to measure each student's speed and see, not only who was the fastest, but who could improve the most by the end of the month. It's been 3 weeks since we started and sadly it seems like few are really diving into the challenge head-first. What's going on? Should I have included a cash prize? Out of frustration (one of my main motivators) I decided to practice what I preach (pardon the pun) and put an hour a day into my own paradiddle practice. *a paradiddle is a drum sticking pattern where you hit the drum with alternating hands. The pattern is: right, left, right, right and then left, right, left, left. People often say Par-a-di-dle as they play the pattern to stay on track. This would be my "one kick" for the week.
I made some huge breakthroughs on a technique I thought I knew much about. It didn't happen right away but sometime around the second day of monotonous paradiddle'ing I heard a new pattern emerge. (The 'drum gods' only seem to visit once you prove to them that you're willing to repeat a pattern until you have bleeding hands and/or teary eyes.) I played with it a while and soon I was hearing paradiddles in a different way. Flashes of concepts my old drum teacher taught me finally clicked in fully. Even after all these years I was still able to excavate even deeper into an art I'd been doing since the age of 12. I brought my findings back to my students the following week and I think some of them got my point: If this teacher who's played all his life is still able to learn though diligent daily practice, I haven't been coming close to my own potential.
So in closing I urge you to not only listen to me, but countless other practitioners who have decades of experience, and practice one kick (or lick;) 10,000 times and not the other way around. -Mike (the-art-of-guitar)