Home Practice Audio for Advanced Beginners
When we feel a stirring within ourselves towards our better self, that is a good thing! And when we articulate that desire as a resolution, that’s good, too!
But do resolutions “work”?
Yes and no.
Pointing yourself in a direction is always more effective than being aimless, so yeah–a New Year’s resolution is definitely a step in the right direction. And studies show that there is indeed magic to the New Year; New Year’s resolutions are much more likely to be followed through on compared to goals set at other times.
Unfortunately, despite best intentions, by February most New Year’s resolutions have been abandoned. And as a result, instead of being filled with pride and satisfaction, many of us experience discouragement and self-loathing.
Why? Because the way that most people make resolutions is deeply flawed.
But it doesn’t have to be that way!
These Two Mistakes DOOM Resolutions
Researchers and psychologists point to two major errors in setting resolutions.
Resolution Mistake #1: Making a vague resolution.
“I will lose weight” or “I will be happier” or “I will save more money” or even “I will drink more water” or “I will learn guitar” are all too general. The science is clear, resolutions like this set you up for failure, because they are too vague.
Resolution Mistake #2: Making an unsupported outcome resolution.
Outcome goals like “I will lose 30 pounds” or “I will write 5 songs” or “I will write a book” and all-or-nothing resolutions like “I will not eat any added sugar in 2021” or “That’s it–no more Facebook forever” are not totally vague goals–but they also typically fail.
One problem with big outcome goals is that they take focus away from where success actually happens–usually a bunch of smaller steps. The other issue is that the perfect can become the enemy of the good–like the person who messes up their eating plan at lunch and then says “well, screw it–I guess I’ll eat a half gallon of ice cream every meal for the rest of the year.”
So–don’t make a vague resolution. And don’t make an outcome oriented resolution without including a process for getting there.
Now that you know what not to do, here are two powerful strategies for effective resolutions that DO work.
Resolution Success Strategy #1: The Power of a Single Decision
One of the best ways to support a goal is to look for something that you can do once to help reach it.
Want to save more money? Instead of trying to be disciplined every single day, consider setting up an automatic deduction to your savings account every payday–or select a slightly less expensive apartment next time you move, sign up for a savings plan with a company match, or close a credit card.
Want to learn a new instrument or improve your playing? Sign up for an organized class on a regular schedule with an established curriculum. (NYC Guitar School has 30 to choose from.) Or commit to playing at a wedding or event. (When I wanted to learn to play drums, I scheduled a show in a club for one year out with me as a drummer and invited all my friends.)
Commitment contracts. A few years ago I learned about using commitment contracts to agree to a certain behavior. Now, I have a deal with my daughters that if I eat after 9:30pm I have to pay them $26 each. It turns out that saying “no” to giving up 50 bucks is way easier for me than saying “no” to late night snacks–I only had to pay up twice in the past year. My single decision to make this contract several years ago has saved me countless nights of food related willpower.
Sometimes it takes some brainstorming and strategizing to come up with one of these pivot points–but it is worth it, because your one move will dramatically increase your odds of success.
Does the strategy of doing something once feel like cheating, because it reduces your dependence on willpower?
That’s not a bug–that’s a feature!
Resolution Success Strategy #2: Focus On The Process
Another way to get big results is to pay attention to the process of getting to your goal.
This approach really works–compound interest is real and small actions repeated over time have big results. Also, the process can bend without breaking–if you miss a single action, you can just get back on track the next day or week.
Want to play more guitar? Go to class once a week. Or put your guitar next to your desk and play for only five minutes before beginning work.
Want to eat healthier? When you go grocery shopping, don’t buy junk food. If it isn’t in the house, you won’t need to Or instead of thinking about what you won’t eat, decide to eat the proverbial apple a day.
Want to write more? Make a regular writing time. Or commit to creating one new piece of content a week. (I am responsible to the NYC Guitar School team for creating one new piece of content a week–even though I missed multiple deadlines in 2020, I still created over 40 blogs and videos.)
Again, to use this strategy effectively it is absolutely key to invest some time brainstorming. Come up with four or five potential strategies–and then start with only one!
You Can Do It!
If you have a change you want to make in your life that is AWESOME.
Millions of others have also wanted to make a change, quite possibly the very same one that you are contemplating. And guess what?
They succeeded–and so can you!
Start small and work your process. Or think of a single move to leverage your desire and set yourself up for success. Or both!
You can do it!
Good luck and on to greatness,
Dan Emery / Founder, NYC Guitar School
3 BONUS STRATEGIES:
Last summer, my friend Yancey discovered her son’s forgotten bass guitar in the basement. For years it had been exposed to classic Hudson Valley weather: humid summers in the damp cellar followed by dry winters near the furnace. The bass’s electronics survived the mistreatment, but the environmental extremes caused the neck of this poor instrument to warp so much that it no longer played well. 🙁
Even though you haven’t abandoned your beloved guitar in a basement or near the radiator, you should protect it from changes in humidity and temperature. Both can affect a guitar’s playability in the short term and create deeper condition issues in the long term.
There are a few telltale signs of when dryness and humidity are affecting your guitar. For example, if it suddenly sounds kind of buzzy, but you can barre the F chord like an old pro, dry conditions have caused your string action to get too low to the fretboard. If you can barely barre the F chord or the chords further up the neck are near impossible to play, humid conditions may be raising your string action high above the frets. Over the years, this fluctuating environment can cause your guitar’s neck to warp, your soundboard to get hairline cracks, and lift the bridge away from the body.
You can do a few simple things to ensure your guitar doesn’t act up or crack up and stays in tip-top shape.
1. First, understand the humidity conditions in your home and guitar case. Put a hygrometer, a device that measures the level of water vapor in the air, in your guitar case and put one in your practice room. You can get an inexpensive multi-pack of these gauges from Amazon. The ideal relative humidity for guitars is between 45-55%, but some experts say 35-45%. Ultimately, it depends on your guitar and where you live.
2. Keep your guitar in its case when you’re not playing it. The humidity level is usually more stable in the case (your hygrometer will let you know!), and that protects the guitar from changes in the room. If your hygrometer shows that keeping your guitar in the case is no better than leaving it out, consider getting a better case.
3. Use a humidity control system in your guitar case. One solution is the two-way humidification packets, sold by Boveda and D’Addario, which raises humidity in the winter and lowers it in the summer. The sachets are arranged at the headstock and in the soundhole. You might need a couple of sets in the winter because they dry out (the contents get crunchy). But don’t throw them out! They’ll rehydrate in the summer, or you can carefully rehydrate them yourself–check the Internet for suggestions. (manufacturers recommend always buying a fresh set and not rehydrating.)
4. Oil your rosewood and ebony fretboards to prevent cracking, shrinking, and raised frets. Do this every six months or so, such as when you change your strings. Varnished fretboards, usually made from maple, never need to be oiled. Many people like lemon oil, but I find it builds up with finger oils and dirt against the frets. I use D’Addario’s Hydrate Fingerboard Conditioner, which is affordable, and a little goes a long way–in other words, don’t over-oil the fretboard!
My guitar still buzzes!
If you’ve taken steps to control your guitar’s environment, but issues remain, consider bringing it to the repair shop. For example, a high fret might need leveling so strings won’t buzz. Or your truss rod might need adjusting to straighten the neck and improve the string action. Or the saddle might need an adjustment. For an acoustic guitar, the saddle may need to be raised with a shim, sanded down and lowered, or replaced entirely; each solution requires precise measurements. On electric guitars, what’s usually needed for this is a tiny Allen wrench and a proper ruler; with a bit of internet research, you might learn to do it yourself.
One more thing about saddles
Even though I’m careful about maintaining a good humidity level for my acoustic guitars, it does drop quite a bit in the winter. They can’t compete with my apartment’s old wood and plaster, sucking up every ounce of water vapor during the colder months. So I’ve gotten winter and summer saddles that are different heights, and I swap them out when the action gets too low or too high.
If you have a guitar that seems really far gone, there is still hope for it. Yancey’s bass guitar wasn’t a loss. I removed the frets, sanded the neck, and then installed new frets. Now it lives a happy life in the properly humidified oasis of its case, except when my friend Lisa comes over and plays it. 🙂
By day Alex Genadinik is one of the internet’s top online instructors teaching marketing, entrepreneurship, professional skills, and personal development to clients around the globe. In his spare time however, Alex has recently begun pursuing his true artistic passion—becoming a guitar-slinging singer/songwriter who uplifts and inspires others through his music. Explains Alex, “There’s an emotional lift that comes whenever you hear a song that resonates with you. It gives you butterflies and takes you to a magical place. Listening to music that touches me emotionally also inspires me to want to create that feeling for other people as well. I wanted to try my hand at crafting something beautiful and magical too.” Over the last several years Genadinik has written, recorded, and produced on-line videos for many of his songs. I recently had the chance to speak with Alex about his aspirations for his songwriting and for bringing his music to a larger audience.
Vinnie DeMasi: When did you first pick up a guitar?
Alex Genadinik: I started playing many years ago but initially I didn’t progress as far as I hoped. I kind of took an extended pause to concentrate on my career, but just before the COVID shutdown, I resumed studying by taking classes at NYC Guitar School.
Did you start composing your own songs right away?
Yes. It was shortly after I started classes that I began songwriting. My vocal instructor Emily Shrader from NYC Guitar School has been very helpful in teaching me about songwriting.
You actually recorded a duet with her, yes?
Yes. I wrote a song called “Girl with a Pearl Earring” which was inspired by the Johannes Vermeer painting of the same name. I thought the lyrical concept was interesting, but after I recorded it, the music seemed somewhat plain. I hit upon the idea to have a female singer be the voice of the girl in the picture to give the song more dimension, and who better to sing that part than Emily? That came late in the production of the song and it really changed it for the better.
Hear “Girl With the Pearl Earring” here:
Where do you record your songs?
I generally record the basic vocal and guitar tracks in my bedroom, then send them off to my producer Steve Glazer who fills them out with other instruments. I give him a general idea of what I want, then he works his magic!
Who are some songwriters you admire?
I was born in the part of Russia that is now the Ukraine and many of my early influences came from there. One important figure was the late Vladimir Vysotsky who was an influential musician, actor, and poet. He’s kind of like the Russian Bob Dylan. Also in Russia, there is a strong tradition of poetry as artistic expression and this greatly impacted me as an artist. A perfect example of this was the poet/musician Bulat Okudzhava. I’ve actually translated and covered many of his songs in English and you can find links to them on my blog. (Hear Alex’s English versions of Bulat Okudzhava’s songs on his blog Touched by a Song here https://touchedbyasong.com/bulat-okudzhava-poems-and-songs-in-english/. Among American musicians, I’m drawn to people like Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Neil Young, and Johnny Cash—artists who have very deep and meaningful lyrics.
How do you draw inspiration for your songs and lyrics?
When I was in college I learned about the Socratic Dialogue and one of the questions we were asked was “What is Beautiful?” We never really came up with a definitive answer because beauty can be subjective, but it did get me thinking about my own definition of beauty. When I find something I think is beautiful I’m often drawn to write a song about it because what’s beautiful to us as humans is usually inspiring to us as well. An example of this is another song of mine called “Michelangelo” which was also based on a feeling I go from a painting; in this case Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. Not all of my songs are about paintings of course, but I do try to focus on capturing the emotions you might feel when you are moved and inspired by something.
Listen to “Michelangelo” here:
What are your goals as a writer and performer?
I still want to work on my skills as a melody writer and guitarist. I want to evolve and get better because there’s always room for improvement in whatever we do. As for promoting my music, I don’t really think it’s for a mainstream pop audience but I do hope that through my blog and YouTube channel, I’m able to reach people who are interested in the same artistic aesthetics that I am.
What advice would you give to people who want to begin songwriting and putting their music
I’m not sure I’m the person to give advice [laughs]. I still feel like the guy who needs advice! I guess I would say this though—there are challenges that you probably can’t possibly foresee and it will be frustrating at times. Sometimes your ideas won’t work and other times people will criticize your music. As soon as you take it out of the realm of personal enjoyment and open yourself up to an audience you make yourself more vulnerable. My advice would simply be to keep learning and growing, believe in yourself, and be persistent.
For more music and info, visit Alex’s home page at:
I founded NYC’s largest rock-and-roll summer camp back in 2008, when my own kids were small. (They are now 15, 19 and 21.)
Since then, some of our students have signed with major labels, or have become professional musicians or music teachers. But most simply enjoyed playing in bands, writing and arranging songs, performing shows and making friends as they grew up. Either route is awesome. Ultimately, we aren’t trying to help kids be musical stars; we’re trying to help them be their own sort of star.
That’s why our school mission is “Coaching Personal Greatness One Lesson At A Time.” We remind ourselves over and over that we don’t teach guitar…we teach people!
Our students want to grow musically. But they also want to grow socially and creatively, and in confidence and resilience. That kind of growth comes through progressive exposure to achievable challenges, like those found in music and performance groups.
Advancing music skill takes practice. Memorizing parts or lyrics takes time. Learning to listen to other instruments demands focus. It’s risky to voice your opinion in a group with different musical backgrounds or tastes. It’s scary to take the stage and expose yourself. Our students do it all, earning the pride and confidence that come with doing something hard, and the connection and adaptability that come from working with others.
It’s fun, too! Our programs have spawned dozens of independent bands and many deep friendships between kids from different schools and communities.
Want to learn more? Beginners of all ages can get started with a trial private lesson or guitar class. Does your teen already play? Then explore our teen rock band program!
In Spider Man: No Way Home, teenager Peter Parker and his friends have a big problem–and it isn’t a supervillain or a rift in the space time continuum.
It’s worse: they don’t get into their dream college. In fact, it is a desperate attempt to reverse fate and get into that highly selective school which results in a plague of supervillains from other dimensions.
As I sat in the theater with two teenage daughters, I knew all too well that Peter Parker and his friends aren’t the only ones feeling anxiety about getting into college (or more accurately, anxiety about which college). In this movie, art imitates life; according to Pew Research, about 70% of U.S. teens who plan to go to college are anxious about whether they will get into the college of their choice.
Parents are anxious, too. The Let Grow motto “when parents step back, kids step up” sounds good–but when it comes to college, for many parents the stakes seem too high to let go. You probably remember the recent “Varsity Blues” college admissions scandal in which college coaches and test proctors were bribed in an elaborate scam to game the admissions process to elite schools. Those parents were breaking the law–but the NY Times reports that totally legal college consulting is now a multi-billion dollar industry, with tens of thousands of families getting help on everything from essay topics to what activities will look good on a college application.
Why all this fear and anxiety? Psychology Today says heightened parent concerns about which college our kids will attend “reflects parents’ perception that in an increasingly unequal economy, the path to success for their children has narrowed.” Parents love their kids and we want them to be ok–and think that which college they go to will help them.
But let’s take a step back and see what we and our kids really want. And then let’s ask how important which college you go to actually is.
Everyone wants to be happy, right? The Brookings Institute reports that students who attend a “prestigious” school like Yale or Amherst end up no happier than students who attend less selective schools.
If which college you attend doesn’t make you happier, what does? According to a recent Gallup poll, “enduring effects of the college experience on human happiness relate to personal bonds with professors and a sense of ongoing intellectual curiosity.”
So much for happiness. What else do we and our kids want for the future?
According to a PEW research report, we want our school age kids to grow up to be responsible, hardworking and helpful. And teens are concerned with living fulfilled lives–81% want a job they enjoy, and most of them want to know that they are making the world a better place.
Those are beautiful sentiments! But having a job you enjoy depends more on what job you have rather than where you went to college–and being hardworking depends more on, uh, how hard you work.
But…I know what you’re thinking right now. Because as a dad worried about whether my kids will be able to put a roof over their heads, I thought about it too!
What about the Benjamins?
First of all, let’s not kid around. As awesome as the trades can be, that Brookings Institute report makes it clear that college grads have “higher wages, better health, greater job security, more interesting work and greater personal autonomy” on average than people who don’t graduate from college.
But what college you go to matters way less for future income than which specific program you attend. When the Foundation for Research On Equal Opportunity did a comprehensive analysis on the ROI (or Return On Investment, the change in expected lifetime earnings less the cost of education) on almost 30,000 degrees, they found that every college, including the most selective, has programs that statistically make students poorer, not richer.
ROI also drops for students who take more than 4 years to graduate–and it really drops for students who don’t finish college. And taking out a student loan for a fancy degree could also be counterproductive; a Magnify Money study of Financial Reserve data shows that millennials with student debt have only 25% of the net worth of those who graduate debt free.
There are a lot of ways that teens can positively affect their future earnings and wealth that don’t relate to which college they go to–like what career path they choose, how hardworking and motivated they are, how well they work with others and help others, and whether they get a savings and investing habit.
Our kids–and us–are being sold an illusion–the idea that getting into a particular college is more important than their characters and actions. It’s a lie that sustains an expensive college consulting industry and predatory student loan industry, inflates tuition, pressures high school kids to have superficial experiences and activities, exacerbates inequality by loading up high-achieving poor kids with student loans, and contributes to immense anxiety and cynicism in kids and parents.
Want to be happy in college? Do things that make you happy, like being curious and grateful, finding professors and classmates who you can learn from, and contributing to others. Want to make money and become wealthy? Pick your program with wide open eyes, learn good financial habits, and avoid student loans unless you’re crystal clear on how they’ll be paid off–and be sure to be hard working and dependable!
If even a superhero like Spiderman has a hard time fighting the illusion that what college you get into matters more than who you are and what you do, then as mere mortals our work is cut out for us. But here are a few suggestions to help your teen (and you) have a healthier view of attending college.
Read this article with your teen. Ask them what kind of a life they want to live emotionally, professionally and financially. Then, encourage them to explore schools and majors on the FREOPP database for a look behind the curtain. Watch the non-partisan (featuring voices ranging from AOC to Dave Ramsey) Borrowed Future documentary about student loans.
And over and over again remind them that what they seem to be isn’t as important as who they are and what they do. Their best plan for high school is the same as their best plan for life–have fun and do their best! They’ll be fine.
Teens are anxious about college: https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2019/02/20/most-u-s-teens-see-anxiety-and-depression-as-a-major-problem-among-their-peers
Why are parents scared about college: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-money-and-parenting/201903/why-are-parents-so-scared-about-college
Varsity blues scandal: https://www.bestcolleges.com/blog/operation-varsity-blues-college-admissions-scandal/
Multi-billion dollar college consulting industry: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/13/us/college-admissions-consultants.html
TIME magazine Pew poll: “And the Quality Most Parents Want to Teach Their Children Is …”
What moms want for their babies:
Mindshare survey of teens:
Where you go to college doesn’t affect your happiness: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/up-front/2014/05/20/harvard-said-no-be-happy/
A majority of teens are worried about the cost of higher education
A comprehensive study on the Return On Investment by college and program: https://freopp.org/is-college-worth-it-a-comprehensive-return-on-investment-analysis-1b2ad17f84c8
Oh yes and student loans: https://www.magnifymoney.com/blog/news/student-debt-kills-millennials-average-net-worth/
Money isn’t everything, but:
Motivation, not college choice, leads to higher achievement:
I founded NYC’s largest rock and roll summer camp. While some of our students have gone on to get signed to major labels, tour with cool bands, and become professional musicians, most just had fun playing in bands, made music and friends, and went on non-musical endeavors while continuing to enjoy music as a hobby.
Both routes are awesome!
Ultimately, we aren’t trying to help kids be stars–we’re trying to help them have fun, be social, and get better at writing and playing music. But lately I’ve noticed a couple trends in original teen songwriters that I think deserve some discussion, because they are interfering with fun, confidence and skill development in our teens.
I call the first one “Must Release-itis”, the overwhelming feeling that you must release your music publicly. I call the other one “Can’t Release-itis”, which is the feeling that your music can never be good enough to share. These both have the same root cause–comparing ourselves to others.
Let’s break them down.
MUST RELEASE-ITIS: The overwhelming feeling that you must share your music publicly.
A few decades ago, the only way to record music was to book an expensive professional studio. But now, anybody with a laptop can easily record and share music. And they do! In 2021 over 60,000 tracks a day were uploaded to Spotify alone. Millions more were added to Soundcloud, Audiomack, YouTube, Bandcamp and other sites.
So it is no wonder that when a teen writes a song, a well meaning parent or friend will say “hey–you should release that. Like so-and-so from your school did.”
Cue comparison anxiety.
Unfortunately, that can instantly throw a teen into a state of comparison. Instead of staying in the fun and creativity of writing and learning, now they are thinking about how many “likes” their song will get, whether people will criticize them, or are even wondering if their song will become a viral sensation–even if it’s one of their very first songs or tracks.
Give yourself a chance to be a beginner if that is what you are! Don’t worry, 60,000 original songs are going to be uploaded to the internet today, yours will not be missed! Instead, just have fun playing and practicing. Both will bring you pleasure–and skill.
And when a friend or parent says “you should release that”, just laugh and say “maybe later. Right now I’m just learning and having fun.”
(Don’t worry, the internet will still be there later when you change your mind.)
Now, on to the flip side of the comparison trap.
CAN’T RELEASE-ITIS: The overwhelming feeling that your music is not good enough to share.
The ease of uploading music ironically also discourages experienced young songwriters and producers from releasing music even when they are more than ready.
I know a skilled teenage songwriter who has written dozens of great songs and has extensive production skills, but even after weeks or months of recording and mixing isn’t able to say “good enough”. This student may endlessly tweak the EQ on a snare, modify the side chain compression on the vocal track, or repeatedly rewrite a lyric–all to avoid actually releasing a song.
That student isn’t crazy. Often, teenagers who put a lot of time into playing, writing and producing music have developed an ear which allows them to hear the difference between their work and that of The Weeknd, Billie Eilish, Ghost or one thousand other pro artists, and they can be very hard on themselves for the difference.
They are also all too aware of how many other songs are being released, and are afraid that their song won’t receive positive attention (the dreaded “under 1,000 plays”) or will even get negative attention–criticism.
They are right on all counts.
Research shows over and over again that the best way to get better at any creative art is through repetition. After all, the artists you admire most typically wrote and produced scores or even hundreds of tracks before becoming famous–or are working with producers or songwriters who did the same.
Perfection is literally unattainable. You CAN’T write a perfect song or record a perfect track. But you can only approach it with lots of practice! Here’s a great quote to remember:
“Don’t Be Afraid Of Perfection–You Will Never Attain It” — Salvador Dali
So instead of trying to release one perfect song over six months, instead write 24–then record 12 and release 6. Or more!
Every song will increase your capabilities. Those extra songs also increase your odds of getting more listeners–and some of them will be better than that original song you were stuck on.
You’ve heard the quote that “the more love you give the more you have.”
The same is true of creativity. The more you create, the more creativity you have! You have an infinite number of songs inside you. So don’t hold back–because the only thing that stops creativity is stopping.
I’m sorry to report what you already know: you can’t please everyone.
Luckily, success in music has more to do with connecting with people who enjoy what you do than with placating critics. In the meantime, one of your best moves is to connect with other songwriters, who can give you honest and supportive feedback as you improve–and remind you that you are the one who is creating and putting something out into the world, not the critics!
Music is a tough game to be commercially successful at. For example, just 1 out of 140 artists on Spotify makes more than $10,000 in royalties a year. But that still means there are tens of thousands of people who are having fun and making a career in music. And if music is your hobby, it doesn’t matter how much money you’re making, because you’re doing it for fun.
Either way, as an aspiring pro or a happy amateur, the same strategy applies: Finish good work, share it, and then go on to more good work!
Picking up your guitar or opening your Digital Audio Workstation is a great way to experience joy and to express your feelings–and making music with another person is an incredible way to connect with others. Recognizing that outside forces can make us feel pressure to release music, to not release music–or both– gives us the opportunity to set that pressure aside, and just make some music!
Our summer camp program is designed so that campers grow as musicians and as people in our time together. Playing music with others and performing on stage is one of the most exciting and transformative experiences for a young musician (or any musician!)
We empower campers by challenging them to collaborate, compromise, and overcome obstacles as they play music together, build their skills, and prepare for an EPIC show. Check out our programs and how you, too, can join in on a summer of fun!
I’m excited that Lenore Skenazy, the enthusiastic and entertaining founder of Free Range Kids and a co-founder of Let Grow, will be soon be speaking to the NYCGS team and community on the topic of “Always Helping Kids Is Hurting Them.”
My wife and I have felt aligned with the Let Grow motto (“when parents step back, kids step up”) since our children were small, and the stories and resources from organizations like Free Range Kids have helped encourage us as parents.
In preparation for Lenore’s visit, I decided to ask my kids (now they are 21, 18 and 15):
“What are you glad that we did as parents to give you more freedom and responsibility than other kids? And why?”
Here’s the resulting list along with notes on how our family approached them or how it felt from my point of view as Dad, in the hopes that it might be useful to parents of teens and younger kids–and with the caveat that every parent, family and kid are different–including at different ages!
(The truth is that even when her walks were rationally and statistically quite safe, she wasn’t the only one expanding her comfort zone–I had to overcome my own worry.)
(I’m glad he remembers it this way. I think he might have underestimated how hard it is for me to keep my brilliant advice to myself–or how annoyed my teens got when I couldn’t help myself from volunteering it!)
(I do think there are times when calling another parent is literally a “good call.” But as I’ve aged as a parent, I’ve decided that usually the best way I can help my kids with social conflict is to ask questions and listen, share my own relevant experiences and to ask “so, what do you think you’ll do?”)
A few more “stepping back” success reports from our offspring:
(This might not be for everyone–but it ended up being one of the most positive parts of our family culture. My wife and I told our kids that money for non-essentials, from snacks to video game consoles to cell phones was their responsibility. That meant they worked–first with small jobs at home from the “job board”, then moving on from dog walking or helping neighbors to working at summer camps and weekend or afterschool jobs.)
I notice a common theme. It’s ownership. Teens are sometimes scared to be in charge of their life–but they also like it, and they feel proud and capable when they handle things on their own.
There’s no perfect way to parent, and every family is different. In those past moments of parenting, we didn’t know how things would turn out–and we still don’t. But I’m glad we’ve imperfectly tried to give our kids the room to grow into their own awesome capacities. And I’m glad that they’re glad.
Because when parents step back, kids really do step up.
(For best results PRINT THE “BULLETPROOF YOUR RESOLUTION” PDF OUT NOW and use it as you read the blog post.)
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Every January we get lots of calls from students who are making a New Year’s resolution to play guitar. That’s awesome–it’s always a good time to make your dreams come true!
But I’ve realized that the students who are most successful in learning or improving guitar skills in each New Year are the ones who began thinking about their goals and strategy before waking on January 1st!
So this year I’m giving you science backed tips to successfully learn guitar–or reach any other goal RIGHT NOW.
Don’t wait until January to start thinking about what you want in the new year.
Below is a research backed guide to planning a resolution and making it bulletproof. It includes a detailed worksheet..so my advice is to print this article out, and then close your phone and computer and start reading and writing.
You can download and print a PDF of the worksheet here.
Where do you want to go and what is your initial idea for how to get there? France on a boat? Mars on a rocket ship?
Everything starts with recognizing what you want to do or who you want to be, and getting a first idea of an activity that you have confidence will get you there if you maintain it.
There are many proven ways to maximize your chances of maintaining your new activity and reaching your goal. Most people who reach their goals don’t use all of these approaches at the same time–but if you use even one, two, or a few of them you’ll dramatically improve your odds.
As you read through this section, fill out your worksheet! (You printed it out, right?)
Your goal is to be a “real guitar player”, and you believe that if you take a class and then practice guitar daily, over time the magic will happen.
You want to play at family holidays, make friends jamming with others, and enjoy progressing in a hobby you’ve always dreamed of, so learning and practicing guitar is absolutely aligned with your music and family loving self!
You’ve decided that a great marker of progress toward being a “real guitar player” would be to play a song at your brother’s wedding reception. And your basic practice session will be about 25 minutes long, starting with a standard warmup up, then practicing new material from your last lesson, and finishing with playing a song from your expanding back catalog.
You’ve decided to play guitar in the morning, right after you make your coffee.
You’ve set up your guitar stand in the kitchen right next to the coffee machine and your guitar notebook is on the table.
Since you know that “the Instagram” is a competing morning habit, you plug your phone into the bathroom outlet each night, resulting in better sleep and an ability to focus on guitar–and you’re not going to unplug it until after your guitar practice is done.
You have a weekly lesson with a teacher, a regular Sunday afternoon practice session with a friend, and as mentioned you’ve committed to playing a song at your brother’s wedding reception. Oh–and you also took advantage of NYC Guitar School’s one-year membership discount to pay for an entire year of lessons in advance. (Now that’s commitment!)
Your classmates and your practice session with a friend motivate you to keep up with other guitar loving humans.
Every day you practice you put a cool guitar sticker on your wall calendar every day you practice…and you also have a binder full of the songs you can play and you write the number of songs on the front of the folder.
Sometimes you’ve run late in the morning– so you decide that if you don’t have time to play your 25 minute practice session, you’ll at least play your 5 minute warmup to maintain momentum. And breaking a string would put a crimp in your practice, so you order an extra set of strings just in case.
You have an energizing routine to start your morning practice sessions…place your fresh cup of coffee on the table, open your guitar notebook, pick up your guitar, take a single delicious sip of coffee, and then scream “Hello, Cleveland!” as you imagine beginning your warmup in front of your screaming fans.
Once a week you open your guitar notebook and brainstorm ways to make your rituals, practice habits, songs, etc. even more effective, and to remind yourself of how much you want to play guitar.
YOU CAN DO IT WORKSHEET
Build An Ironclad Plan To Reach Your Goal! (*Not Just For Guitar*)
If you want something so bad that you’re considering making a resolution to make it happen, then you need to spend 15 minutes getting real and concrete about how you’re going to do it. Here’s a series of science-backed questions to help you bulletproof your goal. After you complete this worksheet, you can incorporate your most valuable ideas into your plan.
“Well begun is half done.”Aristotle
NOTE: You have to want it.
To do all this stuff, you gotta want it. So go back to the beginning and remind yourself of your intention. Cherish that flame. Shelter it. Feed it. It’s the most precious thing.
“Obstacles cannot crush me. Every obstacle yields to stern resolve. He who is fixed to a star does not change his mind.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
NOTE: Consistency will yield incredible observable results. But the unseen results may be even bigger.
What will happen if you maintain your activities towards your goals?
“The heights by great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept, were toiling upward in the night.” — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
WARNING: Start small.
If you try to establish too many new goals or habits at once, it is easy to get overwhelmed and stop everything. Of course this approach will certainly work in multiple domains…but take your time. Establish one activity or habit at a time, before moving on to the next.
WARNING: It’s not about the streak.
Don’t confuse your goal with your habit. If your goal is “learning to play guitar” and your activity to reach that goal is “practicing guitar every day”, don’t get upset or give up if you miss a day.
WARNING: One day you will wake up and not feel motivated by your goal.
It’s totally normal to wake up one day and think “Being the person I want to be? Meh. I could take it or leave it.”
That is so normal. It would be crazy to think that a feeling you have some or most of the time (like “I want to play guitar” or “I want to save more” or “I want to eat better” etc.) would also be a feeling that you have all of the time. Who feels the same all the time? Nobody!
Cars run low on gas. Bodies run low on fuel. And dreams run low on motivation.
That’s why you need to fill up your car with gas, eat healthy food to fuel your body, and continually re-visit your desires and motivation to fuel your dream.
Plan ahead for a moment of low motivation, and understand that it is probably just a moment, nothing more. What will you do in that moment? And in the meantime, keep refueling your motivation tank with good information, positive fantasies, social support and anything else that helps!
These are five of my favorite books about consistency. The first three are directly about reaching goals through thoughtful habits. The fourth is about an incredible (and incredibly consistent) coach, and the fifth is about a felon who discovered the power of goals and consistent habits in turning his life around.
The Compound Effect: Jumpstart Your Income, Your Life, Your Success by Darren Hardy.
Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones by James Clear
With Winning In Mind by Lanny Bassham
You Haven’t Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden’s Teaching Principles and Practices by Swen Nater & Ronald Gallimore
The Upside Of Fear by Weldon Long
I’m passionate about guitar–and I’m super passionate about self-improvement, practice routines and being an effective parent to my three kids. To my surprise, when I started writing blogs about those topics, they received way more engagement (and student signups) than the previous posts about scales and barre chords. So, here’s another parenting blog from a guitar school founder and guitar playing dad!
Our kids may be learning music–but they are also preparing for the bigger “all the world’s a stage” stage of adult life. To get ready for life, they need to practice meeting life resistance. Ideally while enjoying themselves.
Some of this preparation can happen in the classroom. But much of it can’t–or won’t.
And that is where parents come in.
Over the years, my wife and I have tried to help our three kids gain confidence and skill by encouraging or expecting them to take mass transit alone, go for walks, learn to swim and drive, earn their own pocket money, spend unsupervised time at home or with other kids, etc.
The school can’t do that.
There are other things the school can’t or won’t do. For example, our kids went to an elementary and middle school where children were not allowed to run on the playground because of a fear of lawsuits–and “indoor recess” during inclement weather consisted of watching videos.
Have you heard the old adage “change what you can and accept what you can’t?” My spouse helped create a PTA led indoor recess with board games, legos, and even some jump roping instead of videos. That was good.
But the complicated school/legal/district system was not going to let our kids run at outdoor recess! That, in our view, was bad.
Since we believed that children need to run (and climb, chase, fall down, etc.) to be healthy we became responsible for making sure our children had the chance to experience the thrills and mild risks of being physically active without undue supervision.
At the end of the day, we were the ones responsible, not the school.
Later, our kids got the incredible opportunity to go to a high school with caring and skilled teachers (including my English teacher spouse), great facilities, and a competent and devoted administration. That was good.
But this school had a problem which more and more schools have. While the student body was as kind and thoughtful as the faculty, the school environment was a political echo chamber, featuring few challenges to the dominant ideological world view, and an unfortunate lack of nuance in some discussions. That is, in our view, bad. (Even though we agreed with many of the prevailing viewpoints.)
Since we believed that children are stronger when they are exposed to strong conflicting arguments, and that questioning convention and making up your own mind are virtues that make people more capable (as well as more fun to hang out with) we chose to be responsible for making sure that our kids get some extra education in these areas.
We knew this wasn’t going to happen by accident. It had to be a priority.
I shared my worries with my kids. I said, “I am concerned that you are getting a one-sided view of the world, and I want to make sure you’re able to hear and examine different perspectives.”
One basic step to help our kids get a wider perspective was to encourage them to read books about kids from different situations, like the famous I Am Malala (by a teenage girl who was nearly killed by the Taliban as she fought for the right to be educated) or Red Scarf Girl (about a teenage girl growing up during the Cultural Revolution in China).
Since our children were small, we’ve also often posted a “value of the month” (like courage, reliability or kindness) in our kitchen, along with fun or inspiring quotes. As our concerns about unhealthy messages in education grew, we added something to the other side of the quote board–the “3 Untruths” popularized by Jonathan Haidt and Greg Lukianoff: “What doesn’t kill you makes you weaker”; “always trust your feelings”; and “life is a battle between good people and evil people”. This handy reference of bad advice is useful during dinner table conversations about ideas coming home from the internet–or school.
Here’s a picture of our quote board. (Right now the other side, which we change out from time to time, is entitled “Freedom Of Expression” with quotes from Frederick Douglas, George Orwell, Maya Angelou, Judy Blume and Oscar Wilde.)
As our three kids got older (I now have 2 teens and a 20 year old), I’ve also shared many podcasts and videos with my kids from various points of view. I joined a non-partisan group dedicated to “depolarizing America” called Braver Angels and attended virtual events with people with very different politics from around the America–and with one of my daughters. And I encouraged that daughter to enroll in a pilot program for high school students from BridgeUSA which brings together students from “across the ideological spectrum for constructive dialogue.”
One activity we especially enjoy is watching documentaries together. Not only is this a fun way to spend time together, but because we alternate choosing the film, both of us get to be challenged and learn. (Her most recent choice was a movie about climate change called “Cowspiracy”. Mine was “Borrowed Future”, an expose of the awfulness of the student loan industry.)
Oh yes, we’re doing a lot.
And a couple things are clear.
One is that my kids have and will have different perspectives than I do. That’s understandable–they are independent people. That’s OK with me. In fact, they’ve already changed my own mind about certain issues.(I’ve even been known to ask my son for his voting recommendations, since he’s typically better informed than I am!) I’m not just raising kids–I’m gaining valuable sounding boards!
But another thing that is clear is that school isn’t going to be the only place where they will be exposed to polarization and groupthink. Any skills they learn now about thinking critically and independently are going to come in handy for the rest of their lives.
I remember getting into an argument with one of my small children once, and losing my temper. And afterwards my wife said “one of you is going to have to be the adult–and it isn’t going to be the 10 year old.”
Wow. Good point. I’ve never forgotten that.
We’ve been lucky to send our kids to good schools with committed teachers and administrators who are sincerely working to make the world a better place. But no matter what a school is like, it would be very surprising if there wasn’t some dissonance between the values of some of the practices or people at the school and those of the parents. That’s going to be true whether you’re a “blue” or a “red” (as we say in Braver Angels), and whether your concerns are educational, political, or other.
There’s a gap. And in the middle of that gap is your child.
Now…who will be the parent?
Dan Emery, Founder NYC Guitar School
P.S. Here are a couple of resources I’ve found to be helpful as I strive to raise independent kids:
LetGrow https://letgrow.org/ Resources for raising independent kids from very young to teen (motto: “When Adults Step Back, Kids Step Up”)
Heterodox Academy: https://heterodoxacademy.org/ A resource for teachers, administrators and educators (and a great mailing list for parents to get on)
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