After my first guitar lesson at around age 14 I tried for hours each day to play the song Wild Thing. It’s a fairly simple song and can be played with beginner open string chords. Despite my best efforts, I came to the conclusion that switching from a D chord to an A chord was impossible and a day before my lesson, I gave up. I planned to tell my teacher that it simply could not be done.
Then, in my lesson, in front of my teacher, I played it.
It just came together.
What I needed was for all that hard work to cohere in my mind and for the muscles in my fingers to get used to the new challenges. Then, I needed a little rest to process all that new information.
Learning a Bach Partita is no different. It’s more technically difficult than Wild Thing, but those who attempt it are more experienced. The job of learning to play guitar hasn’t changed at all since the first time I picked one up: I just push a little bit past my comfort zone every day, then give myself some time to digest the new gains. The initial results are not always impressive, but they add up quickly.
My son was born premature and he’s still in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). When I watch him try to drink 30ml of formula, it reminds me of my first guitar lesson.
He was born two days ago and he was six-weeks premature. It’s easy to become frustrated when he won’t eat, but then I remember that eating 30ml of formula is literally the most difficult thing he has ever had to do.
He’s trying as hard as I tried when I learned Wild Thing twenty-five years ago, and Partita #3, two years ago. He’s doing his best, he’s listening to his body, and he’s getting a little bit better each day. After each attempt, or each success, he rests, and his next attempt is usually just a little bit better.
Adult challenges can seem more intense though… I have to learn to be a father of two, not just one. My wife and I have to figure out how to both work without any childcare. I have to earn a living in a freelance landscape that will continue to shift in unexpected ways; most of which will not be in my favor. All of this together seems impossible; and I feel like I have to do it all at once, like right now! I can work myself into a minor panic attack just thinking about it…
But then it’s time to go to the NICU and feed my son. When I watch him navigate his challenge, it makes my challenges seem far less daunting; they’re more technically difficult, but I’m also more experienced.
I eventually learned Wild Thing, and Partita #3, and today I could play them with my eyes closed… Ok… I’m still working on Partita #3 but it’s coming along. If I can learn to play music at a professional level one small step at a time, and my son can learn the comparatively simple act of eating by the same method, then this is a good method to accomplish anything.
In fact, “one step at a time” is the only way to accomplish anything.
What separates my son and I in our endeavors is not the difficulty of our challenges, we’re both working at our own maximum capacity. The difference is that I have anxiety for the future and he’s just taking it one bottle at a time.
I think I should try his approach and see how it goes.