What would you do if one of your hands became crippled and (almost) unusable? A scary and disturbing thought - I know. But please follow along anyways.
So, your hand doesn’t work anymore the way it used to. What are your options?
- Curse your fate and complain about the unfairness of life?
- Resign and give up your instrument?
- Hope for a miracle?
Nobody could blame you for reacting this way.
There are also these options:
- You could turn towards composing music.
- You could start writing books about music.
- You could take your experiences and start a publishing company - or anything that’s at least related to the field of music.
You could also say, “What the hell, I’ll press forward and do the best I can with what I have left.”
And what you have left could still be enough to let you become one of the greatest, most admired players of all time.
Jean "Django" Reinhardt
That’s how it worked out for Django Reinhardt.
In 1928, when he was only 18 and already considered to be a promising and talented musician, his left-hand ring finger and pinky became debilitated in a freak fire accident.
Devastating and a tragedy for sure.
But it didn’t stop Django from becoming one of the greatest guitar players of all time.
He had an enormous influence not only on guitarists but also on generations of Jazz musicians. Many of his compositions have become standards (Nuages, Minor Swing) and are played to this day.
Even “remote” styles like Psychedelic Rock and Heavy Metal owe a lot to Mr. Reinhardt. Icons like Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath and The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia, who both lost parts of their finger(s) as well, cited Django as an inspiration and role model.
Personally, I find Django’s story incredibly inspiring and motivating, too. It makes me feel more responsibility towards the craft of playing.
I can’t change the amount of talent I’ve started with, but it surely is under my control what I do with the talent I’ve been given and how much I improve and make progress.
If you have that “calling” you do whatever it takes. If you only have 2 working fingers left, then that’s what you use to express yourself. You don’t stop, you move on and make the best with what you’ve got.
Get Rid Of Psychological Baggage
Many players (and I don’t exclude myself) carry a lot of psychological baggage.
- We think we are not good enough.
- We feel like we have little or no talent.
- It’s no use practicing, we won’t get better anyways (so let’s continue flipping the TV channels.)
- Our hands are not big/strong/flexible enough - so we can’t play this.
- We need better equipment - this new amp promises to make us sound better - let’s put it on the credit card.
See, you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment to make music. Yes, it’s fun and it can help, but don’t let the lack of (expensive) equipment be an excuse for not making music with what you’ve already got.
Don’t Wait - Don’t Procrastinate!
We seem to have that tendency to put things off.
"I can’t wait for the day when I'll be a better player. Then I’ll (finally) be able to practice this exercise in all 12 keys."
Uhm, no. You get better by practicing this exercise in all 12 keys while your playing still sucks.
No need to beat yourself up. Just continue while making the necessary adjustments.
And you don’t have to practice everything at once, which is a major contributing factor to procrastination. Simply because you feel overwhelmed and want to avoid that feeling at all cost.
Avoid Overwhelm Like The Plague!
I see this with my students all the time. They are impatient and try too many things at once and then become quickly frustrated because things don’t work the way they wish they worked.
The solution is to set limits and focus on specific areas exclusively. Even at the expense of other areas.
What do I mean?
If you focus on counting your rhythms and making sure they are correct, then it’s “ok” if you mess up the fingering of a passage - or if a wrong note sneaks in. Because your main focus was on the rhythm and you know that you’ll get to the notes/fingerings in your next round.
You can take that concept even further and pro-actively set yourself some limits within your concepts and exercises.
You could limit yourself to using a specific technique, a scale, a rhythmic phrase or a region of your instrument.
Why would you play up and down one string with only one finger? Because you’d learn things that can’t be learned any other way.
The Advancing Guitarist p.11
Mick Goodrick (read my review of the Advancing Guitarist book) calls such deliberate limitations "disadvantage exercises."
Change Your Perspective With Disadvantage Exercises
Fortunately, there’s no need to wait for an accident to create permanent disadvantages for you - it’s much better to voluntarily choose temporary limitations.
The purpose of the disadvantages is to change your perspective. To get a different viewpoint and to experience new situations.
In this way you gain new perspectives and discover things that would have stayed hidden to you. Then you can still decide if those new insights are useful to you or not. If they are, implement and integrate them into your playing.
Check out this short video of monster guitarist Guthrie Govan!
Makes you want to kill that guy, right?
Is it the ultimate goal to be able to play with 1 hand only, so you can simultaneously drink some coffee?
Of course not.
But I think it’s easy to see that even a small percentage of Guthrie’s left hand dexterity, strength and flexibility would prove useful and beneficial in your playing, right?
Create Art Out Of Limitations
You could still create beautiful works of art despite, and sometimes even because of, such limitations.
Have a look at this incredible piece by Felix Blumenfeld. Pianist James Rhodes not only does a great job with the performance, he also has an engaging way of telling a story about Simon Barere performing this piece in a small New York salon with a blind pianist in the audience.
Another (more) famous example out of the Romantic piano repertoire. Chopin’s Etude Op. 10 No. 5 - the so-called “Black Key” etude, because the right hand only plays black keys.
Not too shabby, right? 😉
Read Or Download "The Power Of Setting Limits" - 15 Disadvantage Exercises To Help You Reach The Next Level
- Limits can be empowering.
- Limits can "positively force" you into a direction you would not have thought of - and something beautiful can be the result of it.
- Embrace limits and make them work for you.
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Are You Already Using Disadvantage Exercises?
- How are you using limits to your advantage?
- What little psychological tricks have you found useful?
- What "hacks" have proven most valuable and transformative in your own experience?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.