Revisiting The ‘Too Hard’ Basket
By Michael Gumley
Learning guitar is a lifelong musical journey and like any journey you are bound to come across obstacles, difficult paths or ways that aren’t open to you yet. Seasoned travellers may know the shortcuts, the best holiday spots, and the bad places to avoid while those new to travelling get conned, lost and sometimes even find themselves in difficult situations. The guitar equivalent of this trying to teach yourself a song that is simply too hard for you to play. I am sure you and almost every guitarist has experienced this. You get motivated to learn a cool song you have heard. You look up the tabs or a lesson on the internet and you start learning it with enthusiasm You put some time and effort into learning the intro riff. It sounds awesome and you feel great! Then you go and learn the verse riff. It’s a little more challenging, but you can play it and it kinda sounds like the song. Then you reach the chorus….and it is hard. You spend 10 minutes trying to get the riff down, your fingers don’t want to cooperate, it doesn’t sound like the song and all of a sudden you don’t feel like playing anymore.
So what do you do?
The ‘Too Hard’ Basket
Do you come back to the song tomorrow and work on it for another 10 minutes, and again the next day, and the next day, and the next, until after a few weeks or months you can play the entire song start to finish?
Do you put it in the too hard basket?
If you are like most people, you instantly abandon the song and dismiss it to the too hard basket, never to be played again.
Most people might play the cool part of the song, or the easy part you they can already do. They get better and better at this part but every time they reach the difficult section, they switch to playing something else they can already do.
Does this sound familiar?
Humans are wired to avoid difficult or challenging situations. It’s a survival mechanism from prehistoric times that helps us avoid sabre tooth tigers or hardy conditions not conducive to life. Unfortunately in the modern world it serves to avoid the adversity we would face at the gym, when playing guitar or doing any other activities where we may feel challenged. Specifically in your guitar playing it causes us to cherry pick the easy parts of the songs and then skip the hard parts resulting in us having a whole collection of unfinished songs. When we have a whole collection of unfinished songs it is frustrating for two reasons
Revisiting The ‘ Too Hard’ Basket
- We get stuck at the same level because we aren’t pushing through the adversity and improving our skills 2. We can’t play many (or any) songs from start to finish
The best way to avoid these frustrations is to go back to the too hard basket and finish off a song. This is great for several reasons including
- You finally get to finish off a song 2. You will notice how much you have improved since last time because the riffs will feel easier to learn (the more time in between, the bigger the change you will notice) 3. The difficult sections will likely feel easier too 4. You will improve your skills and technique during the process.
Now you might need to still sink a little bit of time into learning it, but with perseverance you will get it. Perseverance is a skill, and the more you persevere, the better you will get at it, and the greater your ability to work through challenging songs and pieces will be.
Now every now and then you will come across a song that is simply too challenging for your level. This is where having guidance from the right guitar teacher is important because they will lay out study pieces for you that will be challenging yet still enjoyable so that you are always growing and improving.
So here is my challenge to you!
- Make a list of all the songs you have tried learning but gave up on since you began playing guitar 2. Pick one of them out and go back and finish off learning it (the older the better) 3. Reflect upon how much easier it was to learn this time around and how much you have improved since now and the first time you learned it.
Do this exercise and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results! Now that you’ve got the list, go back and finish as many songs as you can. There is bound to be a collection of songs of varying difficulty levels that you can come back to again in a years time and repeat the process. (I’ve got a couple of Dream Theatre songs in my own too hard basket). Some will be easy, some will be mildly challenging, and others will be hard no matter what level you are at.
You can also try this with songs you learned and finished months or even years ago, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that something which took months to learn you can sight – read and play by memory with little to no effort.