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How thinking about air, delivery trucks and pushups can help you become a better guitar player.**

**Or, gosh, a better anything!

Dear NYC Guitar School Student,

 

I know we’re all guitar players…but in order to learn to become better at guitar, for a moment, let’s pretend that instead you want to get REALLY STRONG, with FIRM and SHAPELY MUSCLES. Sound good?

 

Objective: Firm, shapely and strong muscles.

 

What will you do to achieve this objective?
You decide to work out, of course.

 

Lifting Air
You say, “I’m gonna lift so much. I’m gonna start right now. I’m going to lay on my back, and push this air. In fact, every day, I’m gonna lay on my back and slam some air up into the air, ten times in a row. Then I’ll take a break and do it again, ten times. Here’s my workout!

 

Workout: Lift air, 3 sets of 10, daily.

 

What do you suppose your results will be? 
Not much! Your muscles might not even notice anything different–your muscle cells won’t be challenged. They won’t break. And they won’t regrow firmer and stronger.

 

Workout: Lift air. Result: Not much!

 

Lifting Trucks
Since that didn’t work, how about a different workout?
This time, you say “I’m gonna get really strong, so I will lift loaded delivery trucks. In fact, right now I’m going to walk out on the street, I’m going to lay under a truck, and I’m going to push it right into the air! I will do this every day, three sets of 10!

 

Workout: Lift loaded delivery truck, 3 sets of 10, daily.

 

Now what results do you think you’ll get? Will you get super strong?
Of course not! You won’t be able to lift the truck at all! Your muscle cells won’t have the chance to complete a movement. They won’t be challenged. They won’t break. And they won’t regrow firmer and stronger!

 

Workout: Lift delivery truck. Result: The back of your pants and shirt get dirty!

 

Are You Pushing Air? Are You Lifting Trucks?
It’s easy in this example to see that lifting air is too easy to help you get stronger, and lifting trucks is too hard. And everyone reading this will recognize that lifting something in between too easy and too hard will be much more effective for getting buff.

 

At NYC Guitar School we call this intersection of what we can do and what we can’t do “The Sweet Spot”–because if we are working at that level, we can maximize our progress–and that is sweet!

 

For one person, The Sweet Spot might look like this:

For another, The Sweet Spot might look a little different:

 

 

When we think about air and delivery trucks, it’s easy to see that practice needs to be calibrated to maximize improvement.

 

Yet we get this wrong all the time–especially in multifaceted skills like public speaking, learning Spanish and definitely learning guitar! I literally CAN’T give you any catch all recommendations for a proper workout for improving any of these skills, because any workout will be too easy for some people, too hard for others, and just right for only a few.

 

To Find Your Sweet Spot Practice Level, Think “80% Success With Focus”
It turns out that the skill building happens most efficiently when the skill is practiced at a level of difficulty which results in successful execution about 80% of the time–while practicing with full focus. That’s the Sweet Spot.

 

At NYC Guitar School, one of our most important responsibilities as teachers is to coach our students into this zone of improvement, and to calibrate their workouts to keep them in this zone. This vital concept doesn’t just apply to coaching–it applies to self-coaching. Any of us who want to get better at any skill will benefit from understanding the concept of the Sweet Spot and by taking personal responsibility for calibrating our own practice.

 

One size (or workout or practice routine) doesn’t fit all. Here are examples of how to calibrate your practice routine to maximize progress:

 

Lifting Air? If we are succeeding 80% of the time and are barely paying attention, then our workout is TOO EASY. We are “lifting air.” We need to increase the difficulty until our COMPLETE ATTENTION is required to succeed 80% of the time. In guitar, we can do that by: increasing the tempo, raising our standard (example, our form or finger angle), adding singing or standing up, playing with our eyes closed…or even going on to another song or exercise!

 

Lifting Trucks? If we are trying our very best and we only succeed about half the time, then our workout is TOO HARD. We are “lifting trucks.” We need to simplify it so we can succeed around 80% of the time. In guitar, we can do that by: slowing the temp, focusing on fewer measures, separating the strumming and fretting, not singing, or even moving to a simpler song or exercise!
By the way, after years of coaching guitar players, it is clear to me that most people are “lifting trucks”–and often feeling bad about the fact that they are having a hard time. They need to calibrate their exercise by simplifying and slowing down their practice!

 

BONUS: The Sweet Spot Will Make You A Happier Person!
By the way, did you know that according to psychology** the Drive For Mastery (aka the desire to get better at things) is one of the main internal motivators of humans? We love to get better at things! It makes us happy! (Here’s a link to a parenting blog I wrote about that.)

 

It turns out that beating ourselves up for not being able to lift a truck isn’t fun. And negatively comparing ourselves to others who can lift a truck also makes us feel rotten. But focusing on your very own Sweet Spot is really fun. Not only will it maximize your learning progress–but along with your sense of growing mastery you will experience joy and sustained motivation.

 

Where in your life are you lifting air? Are you ready to level up to where you belong? And where in your life are you lifting trucks? Does that really make sense?

 

This week I’m looking forward to re-calibrating my own routines! And as always, I’m so happy to be part of this incredible community, in this wonderful city.

 

On To Greatness!
Dan Emery
Founder, NYC Guitar School

 

 

My Personal Sweet Spot

I get so excited when I can apply the Sweet Spot concept to my own life.  For example, each morning I spend 10 minutes working on my goal of juggling 5 balls.  Since 5 ball runs are too hard for me right now, instead, every morning I practice juggling 3 balls in one hand and 4 balls in a 5 ball pattern for short runs. This is hard–but I can do it!  I can’t wait for my SWEET SPOT to move to the point where I’m practicing 5 balls!

 

(This reminds me of the true story after my brother and I graduated from the University of Idaho, where we had spent most of our time juggling and playing music respectively.  My mother, who had home schooled us, literally broke down in tears as she contemplated what we might do with our lives, sobbing out these immortal words, “I wanted doctors and lawyers–but I got guitarists and jugglers.  What did I do wrong? (sob)”

 

Sadly, I never did become a lawyer–as you know, I ended up starting a guitar school.  And my brother never did become a doctor–although he did co-found Madison Circus Space, Wisconsin’s premier venue for mastering juggling, unicycling, acrobatics, etc.

 

So as an aside to homeschooling parents–if you want your kids to get medical and legal degrees, may I suggest a lot of music and juggling?  Because based on my mom’s experience, a focus on math and writing evidently result in an unwarranted love of the arts!

Dan Emery is dedicated to Coaching Personal Greatness, One Lesson At A Time. He is the founder of NYC’s friendliest and fastest growing guitar schools, New York City Guitar School, Brooklyn Guitar School, Queens Guitar School and NYC Guitar School, East, and the author of the Amazon best-selling Guitar For Absolute Beginners and six other books on learning guitar and deliberate practice. He coaches new entrepreneurs through the Entrepreneurs Organization Accelerator program and especially enjoys helping other Educational Entrepreneurs. He has a Masters in Education from Columbia University Teachers College, extensive performing experience as songwriter and guitarist for The Dan Emery Mystery Band, three kids, and some juggling equipment.

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