Video Transcript (video at end of article):
Hello everyone, this is Dan Vuksanovich at WhyISuckAtGuitar.com, and today’s lesson is called “I Suck at Guitar Because I Can’t Define Why I Suck at Guitar,” otherwise known as “Defining the Problem.” Back when I was an information technology consultant I used to troubleshoot technology problems, and all the work that I did in that area led me to the following conclusion: that defining a problem will get you at least fifty percent of the way to a solution. This lesson is all about how a problem solving methodology can help us to improve at playing the guitar.
Defining the problem is the most basic of all problem solving principles. Consider… is it possible to know the answer when you don’t know what the question is? Is it possible to know the solution when you don’t know what the problem is? Defining the problem is often much harder than finding a solution, that’s why the first prerequisite on this site is not about solving problems, but rather about defining them.
Let me give you an example of defining the problem (that has nothing to do with music) and how important it is. A few months ago I discovered that when my shirts came out of the dryer a lot of them had dark, greasy spots on them. Instead of feeding my obsessive compulsive disorder and turning this into a problem solving exercise, my wife and I made an assumption. We had an old washer/dryer and we were pretty sure that something was wrong with one or both, so we went out and bought a new washer/dryer. But guess what? The spots didn’t go away. It turned out that it was the 3-in-1 detergent/dryer sheets that we had recently started using that were causing the spots. Once we knew what the root cause of this problem was, the solution was easy… just stop using the 3-in-1 detergent/dryer sheets. But in the process we solved the wrong problem and we spent a ton of money on the wrong solution.
So that brings me to the difference between symptoms and root causes. The spots on my shirts were symptoms. The 3-in-1 detergent/dryer sheets were the root cause. A symptom, then, is an effect or result of a root cause or set of multiple root causes. The root cause is the thing that you can either eliminate or change in order to solve a problem.
Let’s relate this to music and talk about a guitar example, and I’ll use something that’s really broad. Let’s say that I’m learning a song and I’m having a lot of trouble playing the solo break in the middle… I’m just no good at it. That’s a symptom. How do we get to the root cause? The important question is “Why?” We may have to ask the question “Why?” over and over and over again, but at the end of it we will end up getting to a root cause. Let’s take a look:
I’m no good at playing this solo. Why? Well, there’s a passage in it that’s really fast and I don’t have the chops to pull off that passage. Why? Because I haven’t trained the muscles in my hands well enough to play at the required speed to make that passage sound like it’s supposed to sound. OK, now we’re getting somewhere, and we can actually go deeper. Once we’ve determined in this case that it’s a physical problem, we can ask ourselves, “Is it my fretting hand… is it my picking hand… is it both?” If it’s your fretting hand, is it a specific finger or set of fingers? Is it your thumb? The point of all this is that the more specific you can be about what the root cause is, the quicker you will be able to solve the problem.
The good news for guitarists is that there really aren’t that many possible root causes, and I’ll go through a few of them here. The first one we already talked about and that’s physical. I physically cannot play the notes the way I need to in order to make a piece of music or a passage sound the way that it’s supposed to sound. Another one would be practice habits… the way I approach practice is not efficient, or I’m not practicing enough. There are musical root causes… I don’t understand the rhythm, or maybe I don’t understand how the phrasing is supposed to work, so when I play this group of notes it sounds… off. There are mental problems. Maybe I’m not memorizing this right. Are there tools I can use to get this passage or this piece of music better memorized so that it’s easier for me to play? There are emotional root causes. Maybe I have stage fright, and maybe I can play this particular passage or piece ten or even a hundred times in a row perfectly when I’m sitting in my bedroom, but when I get in front of people, it all breaks down.
Sometimes solving one problem will uncover another, and that’s OK. That’s actually called progress. If you can solve a problem and in doing so uncover another one, you’re improving at guitar. We’re going to be attacking many common root causes in the lessons on this site, and trust me, I’ve experienced most of them.
For this lesson, your homework is to start thinking like a problem solver. What I want you to do is define at least one problem with your playing. Be as specific as possible and get to at least one root cause. “I can’t play like Steve Vai” is not a root cause… that’s a symptom. Once you’ve defined your root cause, start thinking about how you might go about solving it.
In conclusion I’d like to leave you with this: the lessons on this site are just examples of my own problems and how I went about solving them. The real value for you is to learn how to define and solve your own problems, because at that point you will be an independent guitar player and you can progress at whatever speed you deem necessary.
Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next time at WhyISuckAtGuitar.com.