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Learning guitar taught me how to prepare for tough times

Don’t forget that learning to overcome challenges is supposed to be hard

When I first started learning guitar, my teacher was the internet. I read posts on music forums, watched videos on YouTube and searched for different explanations of music theory. It wasn’t until my first lesson at the University that I learned my whole conceptualization of how to play the guitar was wrong. 

Basically, I had been learning guitar in a vacuum. Even if the notes lacked a cohesive rhythm, I couldn’t tell and would just play them where I thought they sounded like they belonged. Perception isn’t reality though, and these notes really belonged to a set rhythm — a rhythm with a preset tempo and metronomic flow, but I just didn’t know how to discern this at first. Because I wasn’t aware of this fundamental aspect of musical composition, I had to re-learn how to play every note in time with a beat. Within a few moments, I had gone from feeling like a somewhat capable guitar player with almost three years of experience all the way back to square one of music lessons. 

I recovered from that shock pretty quickly, but the process that came next was the real challenge. Playing with a metronome was alien, and I struggled with the simplest of exercises. I hated it. At one point during the semester, my instructor was understandably upset with the little to no progress I had made between sessions. He looked at me and said, “This is what I think — I think you try the exercises but you quit because it's hard.” I was really taken aback by this statement because, well, I don’t like to think of myself as a quitter. 

However, I spent a lot of time thinking about my instructor's words and realized he was right. As much as I’d like to think I was at least mediocre at guitar, the addition of rhythm essentially made playing the instrument seem like a completely foreign language to me. Yes, it should’ve been hard to face this obstacle, but I hadn’t let myself stop to acknowledge this new reality. On the other hand, I wasn’t committing myself to my instructor’s teachings, either. In short, I was quitting. 

A few more lessons and a pandemic later, I’m not great, but I’m definitely better. I now refuse to practice without a metronome, and I spend time learning the rhythm of new songs. Even more importantly, however, is that I never forgot that revelation from my teacher in the cramped practice room on the bottom floor of Old Cabell Hall. 

For me, that moment was a wake-up call to a much broader truth — life often gets hard because we’re constantly running into new challenges and different experiences. So what do we do? We adapt, change and learn. But that’s nothing new. What I took away from that experience is how important it is to recognize when we’re facing adversity.

At first, when I was learning to incorporate rhythm into my playing, I never stopped to recognize the difficulty of this fundamental task. Since then, I’ve realized that as we are faced with obstacles, like our latest COVID-19 restrictions or our upcoming round of midterms, it is worth taking the time to reflect and project exactly what we’re about to go through. If you have to stay up all night studying, think about what it’ll physically feel like. 

For example, how will you feel at 2 a.m.? How is it going to feel halfway through? Think about your mental state. If you’re getting ready to go through a tough week, what’s your brain going to be saying by Wednesday? When exactly are you going to be stressed the most?

The point of this exercise is to familiarize yourself with the intimidating experience you’re about to undertake. That way, when you reach these points of exhaustion or stress they won’t come as a surprise, and you can take comfort in the fact that you’ve prepared for those moments. Obviously, there are some situations in which we’re in total epistemological darkness — I mean I can personally tell you from experience that it’s impossible to know what it’s like to hit a golf ball without ever playing golf. That being said, I believe in this exercise because it helps me reaffirm my commitment to my goals. 

So next time you start a new challenge, consider what it’s going to require of you. Then, as you make progress, don’t doubt yourself because it’s hard. Instead, relish in the truth that it is supposed to be hard. I firmly believe whatever goals we might have are accomplishable, but attitude is what makes the difference. In short, reflect, imagine and begin.  

Mario Rosales is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. He can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com.

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