I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times – Bruce Lee
I’ve played the guitar for more than 12 years now, despite which I am a little better than an amateur.
The main reason is because I have spread my practice too thin. I know bits and pieces of more than a 100 songs – an intro here, an interlude and a solo there. The chord combination to this one, and the lyrics to the other one. All this while though, I never focused on perfecting one song from beginning to the end. I would simply take the easy pickings, get bored and move on.
In the last few months, I decided to change that. I have played and sung the same simple song (Hey There Delilah by the Plain White Ts’ ) over 50 times from beginning to end. Although I expected to get bored (I never listen to a song back-to-back), what I found was quite different. The moment I got somewhere, another challenge presented itself.
First, I had to figure out the chords to the song and the rhythm in which they were picked.
The lyrics followed – I had to learn them by heart so that my mind was freed up for better listening.
I then had to strum and sing at the right tempo by gradually increasing it.
I learnt to hit the right notes and iron out the places where my voice was likely to wander off key.
Now I am faced with three distinct challenges:
– My singing sounds like disjointed bits rather than a coherent whole
– My tempo is likely to waver unless I practice with a metronome
– The strength of my voice diminishes the moment I try to smoothen it out into a coherent flow
I am sure more will emerge as I continue to keep at it.
Playing a simple song over and over pushed me to be a better musician. When I had focused on breadth I used the same set of skills to play a wide variety of songs like an amateur. It was only through depth that I could learn to cultivate a wider repertoire of skills. As learners, we always trade off between the variety of what we play and how many skills we cultivate. While it seems like we are making progress with the former, it is the latter that counts.
Depth beats breadth any day of the week. I wrote a similar post based on my writing experience.