Adam Rafferty – Guitar and Spirit

All about music, guitar, spirituality, personal development and being happy

This is How I Practice Guitar


Over the past several weeks I have read some great “social media” and “internet marketing” strategies from the leaders in the field.  While it’s been exhilarating, it’s left me with a hyped up “too much to do” feeling like I’ve had too much Starbucks Coffee.

The “gurus” teach how to sell and market, and try to sell me their stuff on how to sell. Huh?   Their circular logic works with me for a few rounds, but then I ask “has this person every actually done anything of value other than sell and market?”  I like the enthusiasm and techniques, but the over emphasis on hype and results, and under emphasis on “soul” conflicts with my values.

To my delight I just started book called “Mastery – The Keys to Success and Long Term Fulfillment” by George Leonard.  Mr. Leonard points out the American “war on mastery” – an epidemic of wanting things “quickly and easily”.  He then accurately describes the delicious, sweet, long term path to mastery through his story of Aikido.

The path to mastery is not a steady incline; there are growth spurts, and then long plateaus where on the surface “nothing” seems to be happening.  At first, the student feels that these plateaus are disheartening and frustrating and wants only the peaks.

It’s only when the student puts his (or her) head back in the work and “slugs it out” or “plods along” and forgets results, that they get back on track.  Along comes another “growth spurt”  and a plateau and that’s the rhythm of the path.  Sooner or later one learns to love the plateaus because one knows the growth is happening whether it’s apparent or not.

On TV and in movies, particularly in America, we are fed images of only the peak experiences, not the work surrounding them.  Imagine the ads you see – runners crossing the finish line in victory, a family sitting down at a cozy Holiday dinner, a couple on the beach sipping Pina Coladas, and let’s not forget the lottery and every lure of “making money – fast!”

These are all peaks, no “process”.  There is  no indication of riding through plateaus, slugging it out and allowing oneself to learn. Why is this?  Because it just “doesn’t sell”.

For someone aiming for quick and easy peaks, there will be a depressing “drop off” sooner or later, like a child who has opened the final Christmas present.  I can tell you first hand that the truly solid satisfaction comes not from these “peaks”,  but from plodding steadily along the path and developing something “real” and “solid” that can’t be taken away from you.

“Peaks” of mine (releasing CDs or DVDs, performing on a huge festival, doing a TV performance, getting a nice magazine spread, or racking up “Youtube Hits”)  simply pale in comparison to the joy of the real work.

When I practice, I do it for the love of doing it.  I play my scales every day with attention to “form”, relaxation, groove and tone.  I run my repertoire for the delicacy and delight of playing with a deep satisfying rhythmic pocket and fingers that perfectly “touch” the strings.

I plod along, day by day – and will do so for my whole life.  Day in, day out.  That’s what I do.  I practice for the love of practicing itself – with no result in mind.  This is how I practice guitar.

Author: Adam Rafferty

Adam Rafferty. Fingerstyle Guitarist. Recording and Concert Artist. Meditator. Philosopher. Lover of Groove.

7 thoughts on “This is How I Practice Guitar

  1. vey well put.

  2. Hi Adam, who play that music on the Detroit add video ??

    best regard,

  3. Pete Huttlinger has a great DVD on practicing — but yes the motivation to practice can’t always be outcome based — it the trip, not the destination

  4. I totally agree with the plateau comparison. Even after playing for 19 years I still find myself going through peaks and valleys. Sometimes it seems like you are really making some progress and other times not so much.
    I have found that one way to measure your progress is to look at something you couldn’t play in the past (a few months, year) and try to play it. Chances are, you will be able to do it – and quite well – if you have been practicing or playing regularly.
    Two recent examples for me would be my reading chops and technique. A Bach etude that I couldn’t play several months ago is now not so hard. While it is far from perfect, I have still made progress from the very first time I attempted it. Same thing with Coltrane changes. While I can’t play “Countdown” at “Coltrane” speed (and probably never will), the harmonic complexity of the tune is not so daunting to me as it once was and, at a medium to up tempo, I can play some decent lines. Just don’t tell the jazz police.

  5. What a timely reminder! Spot On Adam!Enjoy the process and love the Journey!

  6. Adam, I am a huge Victor Wooten fan(and Adam Rafferty fan) and have his dvd that discusses groove. It has opened up my ears in a way that I never imagined. I bought it for my son who plays bass but I find myself watching it again and again for positive reinforcement. I have a good handle on basic theory and I continue to study but I have changed my approach due to Wooten’s dvd. I am going to order Longo’s dvd for the same reason. The guys on the jazz forum give me grief because I tell them I no longer think about theory when I play. Admittedly I am not where I want to be as a jazz musician but I have made more progress since I let what I have learned get to my fingers without all the tension thinking about theory causes. Question, I bought a Djembe what will I learn from the Longo dvd?

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