The law of abundance applied to guitar playing

July 7th, 2012

I’ve become a big fan of pop psychology lately, especially in the self-help department.

True, there’re a lot of wacky ideas, you’ll have to separate the wheat from the fluff, but there’s a lot of wisdom in it also.

Take for instance, the concept of abundance.

This is a concept that has floated around since the early 20th century.

It basically says that the universe is abundant, and that everything you need is already out there, provided for by nature.

When I first read it, my initial reaction was skepticism.

If nature is so abundant, why is there so much poverty in the world?

But after having pondered on it for a few years, I realize that the concept is totally rooted in reality.

The reason why some people are rich and why some are poor is because some have recognized the abundance in nature, and learned to tap into it while others haven’t.

That’s all there is to it.

Yes, some people inherited their wealth, but sometime in the past, their ancestors had to create that wealth, and they did it the same way, by tapping into nature’s abundance.

Or some people may have gotten their wealth through ill-begotten means, but that’s still tapping into the abundance, only indirectly and through less scrupulous means.

It may be hard to see how the concept applies to guitar playing, but it does.

To rephrase the question, why is it that some people become good players and others don’t?

The answer is the same; some people have learned to tap into their natural playing ability (their natural guitar abundance) while others haven’t.

We can paraphrase the law of abundance for guitar this way:

Everything you want your guitar playing to be is already there within you; all you have to do is discover it.

In other words, you’re already endowed with the natural abundance of great playing, and all you have to do is find this gift.

The only problem is; nature may be abundant, but that abundance doesn’t come to you automatically, you’ll have to harvest it.

And this is the hard part – harvesting nature’s abundance – because it requires effort.

Picture to yourself some guy living in the middle of a jungle. He’s surrounded by food – there’s wild game in the jungle, fish in the rivers and streams, and wild fruits in the trees.

Can you imagine the guy starving to death?

Yes, he will – if he stays in his jungle hut, and doesn’t go out to harvest all that food.

And this is precisely the problem.

We’re all surrounded by natural abundance, the only problem is that some of us do not bother to go out and harvest this abundance and consequently, remain poor, or even worse, starve to death in the midst of plenty.

Over the years, I’ve met a number of guitarists who seem to think that the only problem with their playing is that they haven’t found the ‘magic formula’ yet.

And so they’re constantly trying to find that magic pill, that special technique, that new trick, and it’s one trend after another, one gimmick after another.

I actually took lessons with one of them.

Every semester, he’d come out with a new technique, a new gimmick. And he was so possessed with the idea of coming up with a magic formula for good playing, he never had time to practice.

It is true that there’re special techniques in guitar playing but you can’t substitute them for practice.

I’ve taught a number of amazing players, and one thing about them is, they are always playing.

One of them always had his guitar with him, it was like an extra appendage. And then there was this other student who was always playing in his truck; every time I saw him in the car park, either waiting for someone or for lectures to start, he would have his guitar in his hand and would be playing it.

There’s just no substitute for practicing.

I’m talking here about serious hardcore practicing, the kind that takes place the whole day long, sitting with your guitar, playing it whenever you get the chance.

This is something many people don’t realize, the tremendous amount of practice that has to take place before you can become a good player.

The second problem with nature’s abundance is that to be successful at harvesting it, you need proper tools and skills.

That’s one thing those pop psychologists forgot to tell you.

Nature may have provided you with a great deal of abundance but it doesn’t make it easy for you to harvest it.

For example, catching a fish for dinner is not easy if you lack a fishing rod, even harder is bringing down a deer without some shooting implement and good shooting skills.

This is where the analogy becomes useful.

To catch wild game successfully, you’ll have to employ the most effective means possible. There’s no point wandering around in the jungle, you’ll never catch any game that way. You’ll have to be totally focused on your prey and employ every means at your disposal to ensnare it.

The same is true of the guitar.

To master the guitar, you must be single-minded in your practicing, and you must employ every means possible to get at your desired results too.

Which brings us to the only thing that matters – getting results.

You see, in hunting for food, the only thing that matters is that you catch it. How you do it is totally irrelevant. (I believe this echoes that famous old Chinese saying about the color of cats being irrelevant to their ability to catch mice.)

And the same is true of playing guitar.

It doesn’t matter how fancy your technique or the theory behind it, if it doesn’t bring your fingers to the strings in time to do their work, it’s simply ineffective and perhaps you need to look elsewhere.

So why take this rather circuitous path to explain something as simple as practicing and doing it correctly (‘correctly’ being the method that produces results)?

Because I think it helps put things in perspective.

Every one of our ideals, (including wealth, including that ‘great guitar technique’) is already materialized, and is out there waiting for us, like some wild game in the jungle.

If you look at it this way, practicing is not just some wild stab in the dark, hoping you’ll find some magic solution one day, it’s a deliberate search/hunt for your guitar virtuosity.

And like any hunt, if you don’t track it down the first time, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, it just means you have to keep on looking.

And like any hunt, if you keep on looking, you will find your prey one day.

That’s the other angle to the law of abundance.

If you search for it long and hard enough, you will find it.

Actually, that’s not a law, it’s a guarantee.

6 Responses to “The law of abundance applied to guitar playing”

  1. Douglas Seth Says:

    Hi Philip,
    Do you feel through deliberate and enough practice, fast scales, arpeggios, etc… are possible for an older person who has damaged their technique through inefficient movements and counterproductive tension? As usual, great post. Thanks!

    All the best,


  2. MdM Says:

    I have noticed that excellent players often laugh when people ask for the “secret”. For me, skill is almost like a house that you build, brick by brick, (maybe more like pebble by pebble for me :)), and that there is no special trick to make those bricks go up–you just have to put them there!
    Miguel de Maria

  3. Philip Hii Says:

    Absolutely. It’s all a matter of having a clear vision of where you want to go and doing everything possible to get there. It will involve unlearning of habits, persistent trying and most importantly, a completely open mind based on getting results and not on blindly following rigid concepts.

  4. Philip Hii Says:

    No special trick. As they say, just a lot of elbow grease.

  5. Ron Murray Says:

    This is a most interesting post because I have been playing the guitar quite seriously for almost 50 years, yet I developed focal dystonia in my right hand, and lost all of the techniques I had developed for virtuoso-level playing. The research into dystonia is starting to catch up with reality, and I found that it was indeed possible to recover. My adoption of Philip Hii’s single-minded pursuit of “light and loose” along with focusing on the fingertips has resulted in several amazing breakthrough’s for me in the past two weeks, and I have no doubt (finally!) that I will not only gain my previous facility, but will go beyond that, and I am well into my 60s. Ironically, I am no longer interested in the “classical” repertoire as such, my entire goal is to once again experience the joy of playing the guitar without limits, be it jazz, flamenco, African music, samba, bossa, Renaissance or what-have-you. I find Philip’s Eastern/martial arts take on playing refreshing and sensible as well. For the first time in many years, I am doing everything I can to make sure I do 5-6 hours of deep, deliberate practicing every day.

  6. Philip Hii Says:

    Ron, that’s great news! All the best in your quest for your natural guitar virtuosity.

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