A “duh” moment where I realize I need to kick my ego out of the practice room (again and again)

My guitar teacher told me I’m trying to push my speed too much and not noticing and releasing the tension in my body between notes. That’s why I kept losing control of both my fingers and the pick. She said I was progressing fine on my lessons, but I needed to slow down and be sensitive to any feelings of discomfort, no matter how small, as I played. Then I realized–DUH, no wonder my left forearm was sore! It wasn’t just that I was practicing too long–it was also because I was practicing too intensely. All that muscle tension accumulated because I hadn’t trained my body enough to release it at faster tempos.

Today, I slowed my practice exercises way down, as in playing half notes at 80 BPM again, staying extra focused on keeping my left forearm muscles relaxed as much as possble and guess what? No soreness.

This isn’t the first time my ego got ahead of my body. I dealt with similar pain from playing ukulele, for exactly the same reasons. I’m apparently a slow learner.

How to be More Productive and Focus (+ Free Schedule Maker)

I’d been proud of myself hitting 100 BPM at eighth notes on my exercises but I now know that “accomplishment” rested on a weak foundation, which came back to bite me. This happened when I played drums too, except now I know not only to slow down, but to really notice how every muscle in my body responds and make sure I play with ease before moving up the metronome.

Today was a good reminder that ego has no place in deliberate practice. I played my first note on a stringed instrument of any kind only 10 weeks ago. 5 weeks ago, I didn’t know how to hold a guitar pick, or even a guitar. I need to remember that these are just the first steps in a lifelong adventure. There’s no reason to rush the process, and in fact it’s better not to.

“Little Brown Jug” broke me

I get it, I need to learn simple songs since I’m a beginner, but does every song have to be, well, kind of lame? I was fine with “Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star” because everyone starts with that or “Hot Cross Buns.” Then came “Oh My Darling Clementine” and “Li’l Liza Jane” (I spiced it up with my own lyrics) and after that “Wayfaring Stranger” (I actually liked this song and learned to play in a minor key). I managed to get through “What Did The Deep Sea Say” because singing along to a moderate calypso strum was enough of a challenge to make me forget I was dying inside. I tolerated “On Top of Old Smokey” and “Down in the Valley” to learn how to strum faster. I even got through “Take Me Out To The Ball Game,” especially with Tiger’s Opening Day coming up.

Then “Little Brown Jug” appeared in my next lesson. We’re supposed to learn how to play fast downstrums with accents on beats 2 and 4. The songs after that? “Oh, Susanna” and “Buffalo Gals.”

I just can’t anymore.

It’s been two days and I still haven’t touched “Little Brown Jug.” I’ve practiced the strum technique (it’s not hard), but the song itself makes me want to garrote someone with my C string. It’s not a feeling I want associated with my music practice, and I decided it was time to look around for something that was a better fit.

I’ve wanted to learn fingerstyle playing for a while now. I originally was going to wait until I finished my current strumming lesson plan, but “Little Brown Jug” broke me.

As a palate cleanser, I hunted around and found “Peace Like an Ukulele” by James Hill, which sounded like exactly what I needed. Plus, it was free–you can’t beat that! And the best part is that it’s all played with the thumb, just like when I tune my uke. I love that he wrote it as a simple, meditative piece that sounds harder to play than it actually is.

In case you’re not familiar how innovative James Hill is on the uke, here’s a sample:

It’s time to change gears when the songs themselves make me want to avoid practicing. I’d rather do tedious technique exercises (and I do on my guitar) and learn no songs than do what I’m doing now. Luckily, I found that James Hill has lesson plans that look like they’ll be a better fit (more diverse music, more music theory, and more emphasis on chord melodies). I also plan to sign up for Ukulele Corner Academy to focus on classical music. Yes, classical ukulele is a thing, and I’m so here for it.

I’ll still complete my strumming lessons, but I’ll find my own songs to practice to. That’s not the teacher’s fault, by the way. It’s simply a mismatch of musical tastes. I’m learning how to play, and that’s what really matters.