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Perfect Wrong Notes and Happy Accidents… Bring ‘em!

I came across a great blog post last week from Dan Goodwin that really got me thinking about where my creative mindset was a little more than a year ago, where it is now, and how my guitar playing seems to exude new energy and confidence because I’ve changed how I relate to my instrument.

I no longer worry about gaps in progress,  which used to feel more like ravines I had to crawl out of, rather than an occasional bump in the road.  More importantly, I think the biggest reason I am progressing steadily now, is because I have learned to appreciate and anticipate what Dan calls “happy accidents”.

Dan cites perfectionism, having too many choices and an inability to have fun while creating the biggest reasons for our mental blocks.  Here’s what I’ve learned about myself, the musical process and laughing in the face of these three creativity stumbling blocks.

Perfectionism will stunt musical progress faster than any blister or broken fingernail ever could. Trying to make every note perfect before I played it, only added to my frustration. Worse, because I wouldn’t allow myself to play a “wrong” note I was unable to learn from my mistakes. In his book, “The Perfect Wrong Note: Learning to Trust Your Musical Self” William Westney, encourages all musicians, at all levels of ability, to think of themselves as detectives.

“Be detached–in the best sense.  Avoid the ego-driven emotional roller-coaster of “Yippee—I was great! alternating with Aarrggh—I messed up!  Don’t take the outcomes personally.  This isn’t about our egos. It’s about gathering objective evidence.”

I’ll admit, I am not always great at staying neutral when I practice. It’s just too much fun to let out a hearty ‘Whoo Whoo!’ after nailing a difficult barre chord or finding a nifty lick, while improvising.  But, one thing I do differently is to not allow myself to react to frustration and negativity. The minute fatigue or frustration threaten to revert me to a cranky two-year old, I put the guitar down and leave my practice space.

Having too many choices is a nice predicament to have when you’re trying to decide which ice-cream flavor to fill your sugar cone with, but I agree with Dan, when it comes to improvising, less is more.  Lately some of my biggest Aha’s! have come while focusing on the notes of just two or three strings. It is truly amazing the combinations the fingers will find with a little focused attention.

It seems to go without saying that if we have fun while we create, we will be more productive and happy.  But just like with perfectionism, sometimes we make it difficult to experience joy because we set limitations on our ability to live in the moment.

When I first started lessons, I approached them ambitiously. “I am going to learn guitar in three years and apply for college, so I can get my degree in music therapy,” I told friends and family.  While all well intended, I realize now that my academic goals had little to do with answering that inner voice that lead me down this path in the first place. Now more than three years later, my goals for using music to heal others remain the same, but the timetable has been replaced with a desire to know my guitar as an extension of myself. I’ve come to realize that only through inner mastery and joy will I find the creative answers that will lead to personal and professional fulfillment.

Time to go practice… who knows what kind of happy accident could be waiting to happen?