Someone that purchased my instructional DVDs called me yesterday to ask a few questions about accompanying. He said he had watched that course a few times since buying it last week and was still confused. I gave him a few tips and then asked him how old he was. He is 14.
At that point, I tried to help him understand something very important. If you want to get good at practically anything, it is going to be a marathon rather than a sprint. At the age of 14, you don’t have to learn accompanying in a week. You don’t have to learn in a week if you are 34 or 64 either.
For some reason, many of us are sprinters. When we go on a diet, we starve ourselves for a day every now and then rather than just eating reasonably all the time. When we exercise, we run six miles in a day once in a while rather than running one mile every day. When we learn, we cram for 10 hours in one day rather than studying one hour a day for ten days.
If you have to take a test tomorrow and need to know a lot of facts that you can promptly forget afterward, cramming might work. But in the area of performing music, it does not work. That is because performing music requires unconscious competence. Cramming will not make you unconsciously competent. Only a marathon approach will–practicing something a little at a time over a long period of time.
The biggest mistake people make with my courses is trying to sprint through them. It does not work that way. I did not learn how to do those things in a few weeks; some of those concepts took me years to learn to do them in an unconsciously competent way. Some of them took decades.
That is not to say that you have to play hours a day for years. You just have to practice a little a day, and over time, the skills will come.
If I had a child working through all my courses, I would plan on going so slow that it would take a few years to get through them all. And the same is really true for adults. Having a five year plan is a good thing. I have ideas about where I want to be in five years too.
That is not to say that you will not see improvement as you go especially if you take your learning in bite-sized chunks. Learn a small progression to the level of unconscious competence and it will be with you for the rest of your life. But even something very small may take a few weeks of drilling to make part of your everyday playing.
That is why you need to follow a very simple rule that someone told me years ago: play every day. I am not telling you how much to play every day, but play every day. I would rather you play 15 minutes a day for a year rather than an intense week at a music camp where you practice for 80 hours.
Don’t be dismayed. Just be realistic about how fast you can learn. The good news is you probably have longer than you think to get concepts down and in the end, the results are worth the time.