Just Like Starting Over

My left arm and fingers must be wondering what’s going on. Aside from the usual sore fingertips that always come when you play more than you’re used to, which I completely expected, my left forearm is in an uproar. I believe it’s because I’m using my fourth (pinky) finger more than ever.

I’ve managed to carve out at least an hour for practice every day since before I started lessons this past Tuesday. After making the initial arrangements for lessons back at the beginning of the month, I started to practice very regularly. I hadn’t played very much at all recently, so I knew I’d be rusty. I also wanted to get a practice regimen established ahead of time so that when the lessons began I could focus entirely on the material at hand.

Back in the mid-’90’s, a friend and I went to a Steve Kaufman flatpicking workshop outside of Philadelphia. Over and above all the guitar instruction, what really struck me most at the time was what he had to say about how to practice. When you hear that old saw about how it’s not “practice makes perfect,” but rather that “perfect practice makes perfect,” as far as I can tell they’re talking about Steve Kaufman.

So I set myself to following as much of his advice as I can. I arranged a little space in our guest room where I can leave all my materials out and at-the-ready. I bought a metronome (as well as an assortment of books and CDs — sometimes it’s hard to stop clicking at Amazon.com), and I got to work. In accordance with Steve, I go through a brief warmup period of strumming just to loosen up and get the blood flowing. Then I spend the first half of my practice period playing and tweaking songs and tunes I already know. The last half of the session is for learning new material. Kaufman’s methods go much deeper than that, of course, with methodology directed at exactly how to work on your material and such, but you get the idea. The long and short of it is I got myself into a structured, methodical, logical practice habit.

Then along came the chord forms and exercises from John Carlini.

Practicing an hour every day with the second half of the session given over to new material means I’m working on these chords for a half-hour stretch. Of course I’m seeing progress after just these few days. In fact, I’m already starting to feel comfortable with most of the forms. But it’s a workout in every sense of the word. An hour or two after each session, I can feel it in my left arm; that hurt-but-it’s-a-good-hurt feeling  deep in the muscles. I suppose it’s possible that I felt the same things back in the day when I first started playing, but I don’t recall it.

I can see where this is headed, getting myself accustomed to and comfortable with the entire fingerboard, which is precisely what I need. In many ways, though, it seems like I’m learning a completely different instrument.

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