Hah hah! Go hard or go home – a phrase borrowed from various training partners and competitors that I used to hear bandied around a lot when training for and participating in bicycle racing (days long since banished when I realised the risks were relatively high of breaking a collarbone, arm, hand or other fairly important appendage for a guitarist!).
Now this phrase is full of machismo, “I’m harder than nails me” sensibility which is really not what we’re about in learning and crafting our art on the guitar. It’s not that element of the phase that I’m talking about.
What I am talking about is the element of perpetually challenging ones self. Not physically, but mentally and musically. Not taking the easy option to play what is known, but to tease out knots, to sight-read, to develop technique. That is what I mean by “going hard”.
Now I’ve just literally this weekend come out the other side of an extremely busy 6 months or so. This busy-ness has meant I’ve had to cut back on my practice time – that’s ok; there are things one needs to turn ones attention to in life aside from the guitar (believe it or not!) from time to time.
But now is time to climb back on the metaphorical bicycle, and get back into some good solid practice with the guitar again.
So in my practice sessions this weekend I got to thinking about a former training acquaintance of mine on the bike – every couple of weeks I saw him it would be “ah yep, been off the bike a while so just doing something easy“. He was always doing something easy. Never pushing himself, never challenging what he could do. Perpetually using the excuse of having been away and doing something else as a reason to coast and just tap the pedals over.
I thought to myself “I don’t want to be Coaster Guy! I don’t want to use the excuse of just easing into it“. Not that I ever really do or did, to be honest, but I like to check in with myself to make sure I’m not falling into the coasting trap! It’s easily done.
And so I got to thinking of that phrase “go hard or go home“. I got to thinking about it in terms of the challenge it urges one to take every time one straps on a pair of running shoes, steps on a bike, or something else physical and I applied that to my approach to guitar practice.
I emphasise that this is not about physical challenge (that should never be the case with the guitar), but a mental challenge. Challenging myself to solve at least one issue per session. I’ve said this on many occasion on this blog, but to progress on the guitar (and any other instrument), you’ve got to have some very focussed, deliberate practice to progress. Practice focussing on the bits you can’t do so well yet, and being mindful of how you’re working those knots out as opposed to practicing in mistakes by playing the same thing over and over. And focussing on the bits you can’t pull of so well yet means things being a little bit tough.
I read a great little article this week from the AMEB website about practice, which echoes a lot of the advice and thoughts I expound on this blog. And I enjoyed one paragraph in particular:
Skip the easy stuff!
Let’s face it, we LOVE the easy parts. I love to hear myself fly through the passages I have down pat, only to slam on the brakes when it comes to a new or difficult section. Don’t waste time practising what you can already play well. Go right to the problem sections at the start of your practice time and sort them out first. Just playing the easy parts may be fun but it is not productive. Tackle the hard stuff first!
So now it is time to climb back on the metaphorical bicycle, and get back into some good solid practice with the guitar again. No excuses. So I challenge you to go hard or go home too! Challenge yourself mentally and musically with every session and experience your playing really progress.