by Margarette Gress
It’s something we all do. Whether it’s going over our coffee order before ordering from the barista or preparing for a big speech, these little rituals build our confidence and competence in whatever we choose. When I started at Quarter Bend Guitar Studio, I had been practicing guitar for a few months. My practice felt useless and futile, I was hardly building my competence, if at all. What I learned in the next few months helped me grow my confidence and competence in guitar past beginner and took me to auditioning at Berklee School of Music.
Nineteen months ago, I was clueless. I didn’t know what a scale was, I knew two chords (at best), and I certainly did not know how to practice. And yes, there is a wrong way to practice. Let’s go back to that big speech analogy. When you’re prepping your notecards, you don’t practice all the typos and hiccups. You don’t practice two notecards and then grab a snack and start memorizing a different set of notecards. Maybe you do some vocal warm ups before you start, and then you double check for typos, and work through the parts you’re having the most difficulty with before you practice the whole thing. Practicing guitar is a lot like this. Before I started at Quarter Bend, my practice was doing all the “Don’ts”. Practice a chord or two, grab a snack, pick up another song that’s not relevant to my goals. This led me nowhere, except to the internet to look up guitar teachers.
What led me to my Berklee audition was not just pure teenage bullheadedness and guts. It was practice (and in the right way, with the right stuff). Eric had me define my goals and prescribed a hefty practice routine that can be compared to a four-course meal. My daily guitar appetizer consisted of solfege and scale exercises, my second course soup was improvisation over a 12-bar blues progression, and my meaty vegan entrée was a delicious composition called Moto Perpetuo that is over 40 measures of 16th notes at 150 bpm, with a dessert of sight reading (ironically, the worst part of the meal). Each of these elements mixed with various focuses on right and left-hand technique kept things from getting boring, but also built my confidence and competence. This is the power of good practice.
Good practice isn’t just building a routine and doing it once. It requires dedication and willingness to suck at things. If you’re not willing to suck and you’re not dedicated or passionate about what you’re learning, you’re going to move on to other things. This is why Eric had me, and everyone else at Quarter Bend, define our goals and explain why we want to achieve them. This makes your practice relevant, and because it is your goal that you are passionate about, you suddenly have the dedication to practice and the willingness to suck.
This method of practice and goal setting is how I got to my Berklee audition. My defined medium-term goal: Audition at Berklee School of Music. Reasons why I wanted to achieve this: To begin building my career as a musician, learn as much as humanly possible about music and how it all works, and to prove to myself that I could do anything I set my mind to. In the times where “Moto” left me frustrated and exhausted, where my perfectionism and anxiety got the best of me, I remembered my goal and why I wanted it. All the late nights spent practicing and studying weren’t for some faceless musical institution, they were for me to grow my knowledge base about something I am genuinely fascinated by and passionate about. So I picked my self-esteem off the ground, dusted it off, and kept practicing.
All those hours of practice to say that I didn’t get in to Berklee this year. But folks, remember, nineteen months ago I didn’t even know how to tune my guitar. The whole process expanded my competence in music, and my confidence in myself, bigger than I ever thought it would be in just nineteen months. I practiced the art of good practice with my four-course guitar meal, I set my goals, and I achieved them. I would have never, ever, done this without Quarter Bend Guitar Studio and the art of good practice. This method of goal setting and practice has even expanded into my everyday life. Those coffee orders? I have a goal card for that almond milk cappuccino and I am absolutely going to pronounce every word of my order without a stutter.