Two years of guitar and the difference between information and knowledge

I can’t believe it’s been 2 years since I picked up a guitar for the first time. The guitar back then was a Taylor GS-Mini, a 7/8-size steel string guitar that I’d ordered (because pandemic) after tons of research. Conventional internet wisdom said I needed a smaller guitar because I have smaller hands.

I switched that GS Mini for a full-size nylon string classical guitar four months later. My guitar teacher was the one who suggested going for a full-size guitar, and I have no regrets.

It was yet another example of why I have to view conventional wisdom, and practically everything on the internet, with a chunk of salt. Yes, there’s tons of information online, but too much of it comes from people who are parroting information they’ve read elsewhere, not true knowledge. There’s a big difference between having ideas and being able to execute them, and after too many years taking advice from people who only have ideas, I’m getting much better results listening to people who know how to execute and ignoring everyone else.

Reminder #435623 never to read the comments

Five months ago, my guitar teacher encouraged me to attempt the traditional 19th century piece “Spanish Romance,” which I love. I checked out some YouTube videos to get an idea of how different people interpreted it, but like an idiot I read the comments. Someone criticized a video (not the one I linked above) because of the performer’s choppy phrasing. I agreed with that criticism, but the commenter went on to say that “Spanish Romance” is a standard repertoire piece (which it is) that every beginner guitarist knows how to play.

Um, tell me you don’t play guitar without telling me you don’t play guitar.

Yes, “Spanish Romance” is a standard. But a beginner’s piece? I’ve seen comments on tutorials from people who say things like “I’ve been playing two weeks and this is the first song I learned!” which tells me they only got through the first six, maybe eight measures. Measures 7 and 8 have a half barre, not something a beginner would try off the bat but doable with practice. But measures 9 and 10? Oof! I’ve spent hours just on those two measures alone because the index finger has to hold down all six strings while (1) the third fingers curls down to the first string for one note and (2) the pinky stretches four frets to reach another note. All without letting up the pressure on the index finger.

The entire second half of the piece has even more shifts around the neck, barre chords, and finger stretches/contortions that I won’t get into here, but the reason those silly comments have stuck in my head for this long is because it’s such an insult to anyone who invests the effort to learn a new skill. It’s not for the faint-hearted. It’s so much easier to toss out opinions online and sound authoritative without people questioning whether you actually know what you’re talking about.

The knowing-doing gap in the writing world and the tsunami of bad advice

A similar epiphany happened with my writing too. Last year, after struggling with my writing for nearly two decades and fed up with conflicting advice that messed with my head and got me nowhere, I started taking workshops from WMG Publishing, which are run by two writers (Dean Wesley Smith and Kristine Kathryn Rusch). Both of them have decades of experience to back up what they teach. Those workshops were a game-changer for my writing, especially in the craft area. It also opened my eyes to the tsunami of BS in the writing world, which is why I no longer read writing blogs or participate in writing communities except for my local “shut up and write” groups. I’ll let other people chase their tails. I’ve done this long enough to finally recognize the garbage advice for what it is.

It’s tempting to think that information gathering is productive, but after a certain point it’s just a way to procrastinate. It’s a lot less ego-bruising than stepping into the practice arena and facing your shortcomings again and again. But practice is the only way to improve, and the pursuit of excellence can be torturous fun, especially in the moments when you get close to bringing the perfect jewel that exists in your imagination into reality.

Those rare moments are what keep me going for the long haul.