I'm In My Way!
Updated: Oct 15, 2018
Every week my students hear, “Around the Circle, recite names” or “All keys, recite names.”
If you don’t know what “Around the Circle” means don’t worry about it, it’s just a method to ensure that everything is drilled in every key.
“Recite names” means to say the name of the key OUT LOUD (that’s what “recite” means) as you play whatever it is you’re drilling - in every key. The “out loud” part is very important, as I will explain later.
I don’t dictate how much my students practice; I just emphasize that the important thing is that they practice every day, even if it's only for a few minutes. I’ve set up my life so that most days I’m dealing with the guitar in some capacity all day, but I don’t project my own obsession onto my students, I’m willing to work with whatever they can give me.
However, 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.
Let’s say you’re drilling major scales. You can see a video of how to do that here.
If you want to see the entire lesson on major scales - explanatory text with all fingerings given in 6 fretboard diagrams along with 5 demonstration videos - you can find it here for free but you must be a site member and logged in to view.
As you play the scale in every key around the Key Circle, reciting the names of the keys as you play, you’re practicing the major scale in every key, you know the name of every key in which you’re playing, you're covering a huge percentage of the neck and you’re training your ear on several levels simultaneously:
Obviously, you’re training your ear to hear the major scale in every key.
You’re also training your ear to hear cycles of 4ths. You don’t have to know that, or understand what I’m saying, for it to happen automatically - IF - you do the drilling as instructed. The interval of the 4th is one of the most common movements for chords, scales and tonal centers in music. And if you drill as I instruct my students to do, the ear training happens automatically.
Another thing that happens with daily drilling is progress as far as technique is concerned. Technique is physical training. It’s athletic and, as such, the principals of physical training apply. And what’s the main thing you have to do to get in shape and stay in shape? Exercise DAILY!
When you recite names out loud it enhances concentration which programs your brain quicker, with fewer repetitions than it would otherwise.
Another thing that happens when you drill is your brain integrates all these different areas; the intellect (the names and the theory of what’s going on), the ear, the patterns on the fretboard (the visual) and the technique (the physical).
If you don’t do the drilling NONE of it will happen!
Check out this video called Brain Stuff for more detail.
Now I want to talk about another reason to “recite names.” At first you might not see the connection but bear with me.
There is a part of your brain that seems detached. It’s like an observer that sits outside your head and engages in a running monologue or commentary on whatever it is that you’re doing.
In many, many people it tends towards the negative and self-critical. It continuously second-guesses everything you do. It will escalate from specific to general and switch back and forth from 2nd person to 1st person but always winds up in 1st person like so;
“Are you sure you’re playing this scale right? I think it sounds right but I’m not sure. Is this the way Jay told you to practice this? Is this right? Is the fingering correct? I’m not sure this is right. I don’t think you’re getting this. It doesn’t feel like you’re getting any better. Are you even good enough to do this? I must not have the talent to be any good. Well, I’m not getting any better, I should quit; there’s no point in going on and beating my head against a brick wall. I mean, why torture myself?”
It’s obvious that this is a very self-sabotaging script. The truth is, IF you are doing the drilling - daily, as instructed - you ARE getting better whether you feel like it or not. It’s automatic, it's cause-and-effect; it’s strictly mechanical. Do the work, the result will happen - guaranteed!
The concept of “talent” has nothing to do with it. I’ve written in more detail about this in a post called Grunt Work. Please read it if you need to, then be sure to come back and continue this blog post.
So, you need to ignore this self-sabotaging voice.
Easy for me to say, right?
Better yet, that voice needs to shut the hell up!
Is that even possible?
Yes, it is. If you engage the part of your brain that governs speech - that means speaking out loud - it will shut that self-critical monologue down. The minute you stop reciting names out loud the demon may return. It’s different for different people. I assume the more prone you are to engage in that self-critical monologue the more you’ll have to keep reciting names to get loose from it.
In my experience, on top of all the other benefits, for many students this is THE most important reason to recite names - out loud!
So... you must be honest with yourself about the drilling. Don't sandbag, don't half-ass it and then blame "lack of talent" - drill daily, as instructed. Recite names, as instructed.
It’ll help get you outta the way!
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