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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

Analysis Paralysis

Updated: May 11, 2019

Analysis paralysis or paralysis by analysis is the state of over-analyzing (or over-thinking) a situation to the point of inhibiting the outcome.

In relation to learning the guitar, this commonly happens to left-brain thinkers. The left-brain is the linear-thinking, sequential, logical, analytical part. I call this way of thinking, "L-Mode."

People who are L-Mode dominant are engineers, accountants, doctors, lawyers and such. Their professions require disciplined, linear, step-by-step thinking. L-Mode is concerned about the names of things and how they are organized and codified. It cannot multi-task but can only think about one thing at a time, in order.

The problem is, the human brain is mediocre at best at linear computation. Computers far surpass the human brain at linear processing speed. Playing music - really playing music - requires faster linear computing than the human brain is capable of.

Enter "R-Mode." Right-brain thinking. R-Mode is parallel processing. It is visual, wholistic, and intuits the relationship between things, i.e. pattern recognition. More on that in a minute.

Among other things, L-Mode thinkers have problems with what I call, "clumping."

Clumping is combining data sets in the memory to create more space for new incoming data.

For instance, consider all the data subsumed by the symbol, "D-7."

First, you have the root, "D" and where it's located on the guitar neck (5th string, 5th fret). Then you have the 5th of D (A), which is on the 4th string, 7th fret, the 7th of D (C), the 3rd of D (F) and their respective locations. Some might forego a lot of this detail and just learn the chord shape by rote.

Even then, there's a bunch of data to be processed; fingering, technique issues involved with the barre, the general shape of the chord and not least, the name of the chord.

Eventually, through repetition and visualization, all this data is clumped together into one thing; "D-7" and you are not consciously aware of all the data, you just know, "D-7."

That one thing, "D-7," subsumes a crap-ton of data.

There are 4 other types of 7th chords to learn, each with a massive amount of data subsumed; fingerings, positions on the neck, voicing, names, differences between types and so on.

Then these different types are strung together in scales. It's called, "Scale Tone 7ths." Now you have to learn the scale and combine that data with the 7th chord data. There are 7 different chords in the scale tone schema; the chords are numbered using Roman Numerals that correspond to the scale degrees; I through VII. This is sometimes called the "Nashville Numbering System" but its roots go back to the 1600s with the Roman Numeral and Figured Bass system that came to fruition with Bach.

Then these Scale Tone 7ths are applied to 12 different keys. In each key, all the letter names of the chords are different although the numerical relationships stay the same from key to key - more data.

Then, different progressions are derived from the Scale Tone 7ths; II-V-I, I-VI-II-V-I, I-IV-VII-III-VI-II-V-I.

So for instance a II-V-I progression consists of 3 different chords that contain 4 notes each, built from 3 different roots.

But if you've clumped all the above, it's just II-V-I (think; "Twofiveone"). That's one thing instead of dozens or hundreds of things.

Then, these progressions are strung together in different key schemes; Whole Tone, Chromatic, Minor 3rds, Cycle of 4ths and others; it's these key schemes that are the building blocks of songs.

Don't worry if you didn't understand everything I just said; that's not the point. Try to see the bigger picture here;

The point is that with every step of this process, mountains of individual new "data packets" are introduced.

Because of the L-Brainer's linear default, he tries to keep track of all the data, one packet at a time, by rote - all the names, positions, voicings, etc.

If the old data hasn't been clumped, sooner or later the cache is full; the new data causes a loading, please wait error-message - and the brain locks up/freezes.

The L-Brainer then reboots - starts over - and the same thing happens, over and over.

You gotta quit thinking linearly!

One of the keys to clumping is pattern recognition (R-Mode). Pattern recognition is primarily visual thinking. That's one of the reasons I use fretboard diagrams in my teaching. Fretboard diagrams have a visual correlation to reality. Tab does not; neither does music notation.

  • To be clear, I am not in favor of exclusively using tab. I do favor learning music notation simply because it's in world-wide use and has been for centuries; it allows you to communicate with players of all instruments. Tab only exists in the guitar subculture. And the goal is to know the neck so exhaustively that no fretboard diagrams are necessary.

Every chord, scale, arpeggio etc. has a "shape." I mean a literal shape on the fretboard. Chord progressions have shapes. Entire songs have shapes. Ever hear of the AABA song form? That's a shape.

I had a conversation with an awesome keyboard player on the subject of what he visualized when playing and his answer was, "mountains and valleys."

Keep in mind that the keyboard is linear. An ascending major scale would be played from left to right. The following would be the key of G - it has one sharp (F#); 6 valleys and a mountain:

- - - - - - ^

Another example: The key of Ab has 4 flats (Ab, Bb, Db, Eb); two mountains, a valley, two mountains and two valleys:

^ ^ - ^ ^ - -

Every key has its own topography, so to speak. If you understand the way the keyboard is laid out you can see this - but the point is, when he plays, he's thinking of the keyboard visually, not in terms of note names or key signatures.

The visual content for the guitar is different than the piano but it's the shapes that I visualize when performing - not note names, keys or mathematical relationships. However, I can access all that information at will; it's been clumped, but it's not the conscious, front-of-the-mind thing when I play.

Accessing the L-Mode data - note names, chord names, scale names etc. can slow you down to the point that your brain locks up and the music goes away.

My primary mode of thinking is visual; the note names, mathematical relationships, keys or any other L-Mode material is accessed secondarily - if/when needed.

So how do you clump?

Take a small amount of data and drill, drill, drill, repeat, repeat, repeat. Drill it to the point that you can consistently play it perfectly. Then take another small amount of data and drill, drill, drill, repeat, repeat, repeat. Then combine the two data sets and drill, drill, drill, repeat, repeat, repeat. The two data sets have now become one thing; they've been clumped.

As I said in another blog,

  • "...the importance of daily drilling cannot be overstated. It’s the key to everything. You simply can’t make progress without it. All kinds of things happen automatically if you do it."

The key is the repetition. It's the repetition that causes the L-Mode/R-Mode integration.

If the data stays in L-Mode you will never play real music. You'll be stuck: Analysis Paralysis.


In the next blog I'll talk about the opposite problem:


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