Shoebox in a Closet

Etude 1 - Picking #1

Every morning of my life when I sit down to practice, I play this study a couple of times. It only takes two minutes.

Then I play it with various fingerings, such as paradiddle: imim-imii, mimi-mimm. Also accents (e/g/ every 3rd, timbale stick patterns, etc.),

This is the first thing I play on the guitar, every morning of my life. A life-long guitarist, I've played another dozen instruments at varying levels of skill. In my 50's I had the honor and pleasure of studying timbales with percussionist and author Jonathan Silverman. We discussed playing primary rhythms like vaqueteo and danzon, had discussions about and studied examples of clave and working with the cowbell. He gave me a series of exercises to do daily.

But the main recommendation was to play straight 8th notes, right-left-right-left. He told me to play each stroke with the exact same speed, volume, attack, and rebound. And the same location: a place on the drum-head the size of a quarter. My goal should be to make every note sound exactly the same, whether left or right. We would get to RLRR, LRLL (paradiddle), and myriad other rudimentary percussion patterns later. But first: Five minutes of simple alternation; RLRLRLRL. Do it for five minutes, he said.

At home, after 30 seconds of Dullsville, I realized I still hadn't come close to consistency in attack. After a minute I realized it was very difficult but I locked in, concentrated and focused, and tried to get it right. After two minutes I wondered if it was even impossible. After 4 minutes I realized it was definitely impossible for me. In the end, after five minutes, I concluded it was impossible for all humans. The next morning I did it again, and my thinking was much the same. It was only after a week that I completely disregarded my error count, and concentrated only on making *this note right*.

Yes, it is impossible. But the quest nonetheless makes us vastly better at consistency. The more we do it, if we are exerting continual focus and concentration on the task, the better we get at focusing. This can be incredibly difficult to do for very long. Frankly, by doing this daily for five minutes, we are primarily working more to produce sustained concentration and focus than for the actual perfection of attack which of course progresses as well. Once we can summon this kind of focus the real work begins, it loses its purported "boring" qualities and can become truly fascinating. It's only boring until you realize what an incredible challenge it is--and rise to the demand!

There is no point in doing this while thinking of your grocery list or errands later in the day. That's the opposite of concentration. People say this is boring, but if you're doing it right, it is the opposite of boring. It is hard, attention-demanding work: not play, but work.