When I was 12, I discovered something so fantastic, larger-than-life, and electrifying!
It was the rock band KISS.
It was colorful, loud, and crazy. But maybe even more, my parents hated it! All of a sudden, everything else faded away and I wanted to be one of these super-hero-like rock stars, slinging a guitar down at my knees with long hair blowing in the wind.
But I was an awkward, geeky, and lonely kid with thick glasses. And it was too late, wasn’t it? Didn’t anyone who became famous start when they were four years old?
So, I just consumed the music, learning the history of rock from the library books, magazines, and the radio. New York radio station WPLJ used to have a documentary series on the history of rock and I recorded every episode I could. It was pure gold!
I was itching to play guitar!
At 13, I discovered the Rolling Stones! I started digging the sounds of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and then learned about their influencers, people like John Lee Hooker, Willie Dixon, and Robert Johnson.
[By the way, this has emerged as a major success pattern in my life. New interest? Do a deep historical dive and overview of the major influencers. Get the “meta knowledge” first. The big picture.]
One day, a kid in my neighborhood, Steve Watson, played a school concert with his band. They played “Stairway To Heaven.” I couldn’t believe it! It was like a bolt of lightning went through my whole body.
“If he could do it, then surely I can!
He hasn’t even been playing guitar for more than a year!”
I went home and picked up my Mom’s old nylon string folk guitar and began to teach myself. Since I was already playing alto sax since the fourth grade in the school band, I had some musical training. Plus, I had some guitar lessons at five, but that didn’t last.
I bought the Lennon & McCartney guitar course and started at page one. I was motivated and I started to practice for hours every day. I went through the book page by page and practiced getting each and every exercise and song smooth.
Along the way, I realized that I could get better faster if I didn’t just play the whole thing from start to finish. I could “roll over” those bumpy spots to make them smoother by just doing that isolated part again and again. By practicing the difficult bits, I progressed rapidly.
Within a few months I bought myself a $30 used and battered Hondo Les Paul style electric guitar (with a Tobacco Sunburst) and a cheap amp. I started practicing up to 9 hours a day! I was desperately trying to catch up to “everyone else who started at 5!”
While most kids learn by playing songs, I practiced scales, arpeggios, and exercises. I actually could not play a song from memory until years later!
I wanted to get good fast and I did left-hand-only exercises, followed by right-hand-muted-picking exercises while watching television. It drove the family crazy. I became a practice virtuoso!
I never became that rock star. I was close, in that I was a television host for MTV as one of the first 3 VJs to launch their channel in Asia. I got a publishing deal and toured with my band, and I have had many other adventures in my career.
For a while, I felt like the character Zelig in Woody Allen’s film of the same name. It seems I was always on the edge of a new discovery: desktop publishing, television, MTV, film composing, the Internet, advertising and education.
Each time I reinvented myself, it was with a “practice mindset.”
Today as a private music teacher, I work every day with young students from age 3 to 15. Each lesson is really a lesson in learning how to practice. The actual skill-building does not happen in the lesson. Mastery happens at home in the daily practice. The lesson is where we refine “how to practice.”
I've just written a book on ways to encourage practicing a musical instrument. It's available right now on Amazon and is free as a launch promotion for the next four days. In the book, you'll learn more mindsets for practicing as well 53 tips to make practice fun.
Here's some of the fun, unique and innovative things you will learn:
You can download the book at Amazon.
Thanks for reading and I look forward to your comments.
And thank you to all the great music teachers I've had along the way including: Andy Blackett, Pete Brasch, Seth Shapiro, Dan Converse, Mark Elf, Conrad Cummings, Ron Sadoff, Jim Petrungaro, Pat Castle, Gene Bertoncini, Joe Lovano, and so many more.