"Lucky is the child who learns how to work
Blessed is the man who remembers how to play"
Working and playing are two essentials for guitar players; we must know how to do both, and most importantly, how to combine them into one activity. For most people, working and playing are quite separate domains. They do not overlap like they do for guitar players. For most people, work and play do not happen in the same place, or at the same time, and certainly not with the same equipment; it is either computer keyboard or tennis racquet, cubicle or golf course. For many people, work is a necessary evil, and "play", whatever form that may take, is the reward they earn for being "good", and doing their work. However, for a fortunate minority of people, work and play are combined in a harmonious blend that makes for a satisfaction in life that cannot be had any other way.
To hate your work, or even to dislike it, is to miss the point of living, it is kind of like a living death. When I was young, I saw people living this way, hating their jobs, and dragging themselves to work. I was determined to not let it happen to me. Fortunately, the guitar came along, and offered the alternative I needed.
The point is not to avoid working. Work is natural for a human being, in fact, it is necessary; it is not possible to be truly happy as an adult without having some kind of "work" as a regular part of our lives. For many people, the appropriate definition of "work" is "something I have to do that I don't want to do". For those who live in the common, polarized state, where work and play never mix, of enduring their job and dreaming of their day off, it is easy to believe that no work, no responsibility, not having to do anything but play all day, or lay around all day, would be heaven! Wrong! Very wrong! We often hear stories of what happens to many people after they retire, after they no longer have to "work". They find that life seems to have lost its meaning. Unless they find something to do, something challenging and fulfilling, their happiness, their energy, and their lives, will begin to go downhill. No, human beings need to work, not just in order to survive, but to thrive, to be happy and fully human. However, we must "own" our work, it must be a form of our self-expression, or it will not feed us.
Equally important is knowing how to play. Even though the two exist side by side for us guitar players, it is still important to understand the difference between them.
Work and play are both forms of activity, but there is a big difference. Essentially, work is activity that is done in order to obtain a goal that exists in the future. Play, on the other hand, is activity whose goal is in the present; there is no concept of, or concern for the future, in play. In play, the goal is the moment itself, and all it contains.
This is why children are so good at play; it is the natural condition of the child to be in the present. The challenge for children is to learn the value of work, the value of engaging in activity that is done for the sake of a future goal. It is often difficult for children to learn this, because so many of the goals they are forced to work for are not goals they themselves really care about. I have met many children who truly have no future oriented goals of their own choosing which would impel them to discover the value and joy of true work. They often remain, even into adulthood, in a childish or adolescent state of only exerting effort when forced to do so, by someone else, or by life's demand to "make a living", and resenting any kind of authority that has the power to make them do things they don't want to do.
The lucky child who is able to choose goals that are reflections of their true nature will learn how to combine the pleasure of play with the power of work. A life of satisfaction and achievement is then possible. The pleasure of play comes from the fact that through play we express what we are, and self-expression is necessary for psychological health. The satisfaction of work comes from the use of our own power to bring about change, and all people need to experience their own power. Whatever you may be doing in your life, if there is no element of play in your work, it is because it is not your work, it is someone else's! They are probably enjoying themselves, but you do not own your work, they do; you are working to achieve their goals! This does not mean that you cannot work for someone else's goal, and have it be your goal as well, but if you are not enjoying yourself, it means this is not what is happening. You have never set goals that are reflections and fulfillments of your true nature, and engaged in the activities that would bring you to those goals. Some folks may even feel unable to conceive of goals that would be reflections of their true nature, but that very serious problem is beyond the scope of this essay. At the very least, we should all understand where we are, and why we are there.
Through play, we express what we are; through work, we change what we are. Both are essential, and both feed each other. As guitarists, we have an ever present and powerful motivation for keeping our ability and desire to express ourselves in play in tip top shape! This is because there is no end to the satisfaction that a musician derives from making music, and that is because of the divine nature of music itself. There is also no end to how far any of us can go in increasing our abilities as guitarists. In play, we express what we are, but by our work, we create more of ourselves to be expressed! Through work, through activity designed to change what we are and what we can do, we intensify the whole enterprise, our play as well as our work.
And this is why we must know how to work, how to engage in activity with the guitar that will achieve future oriented goals. We normally call this "practice". Unfortunately, for many people, their "work" never "works"! They put in the time and effort, but nothing changes. Then of course, the pleasure and desire begin to go out of their relationship to the guitar. That is why GuitarPrinciples focuses so much on teaching students to work, to practice. The urge to play is quite natural, we don't have to learn it, we just have to prevent ourselves from un-learning it! And when the ability to do true work is never learned, the urge and ability to play begins to disappear. When we learn how to work, we empower ourselves to play as well.
As guitarists interested in enjoying ourselves to the fullest, we must make sure we know how to play, how to work, and how to bring the spirit of play into our work. There must be times when we do nothing but play for the sheer joy of playing music, and there must be times when we practice, when we work to improve our abilities. If we are able to actually enjoy the effort of practice for its own sake, if we are able to "play within our practice", we will find ourselves growing at quite a rapid rate. The element of play does indeed begin to come into our practice as we learn how to practice correctly. When we find that we can set goals and accomplish them through practice, the setting of goals, and the constant experimentation and discovery that accompanies correct practice becomes like an exciting game we look forward to playing.
As guitarists we must keep what is valuable from our childhood, the urge and ability to play, and add to that what is valuable and necessary for the adult world. We must know how to work, how to play, and how to combine the two in relative proportions appropriate to our situations. Practice is often work, it is activity that is done for the sake of a future goal, but because that goal is of our own choosing, there is great satisfaction in using our power to achieve it. As the work we do in practice gives us more playing ability, it enhances the quality of our play. We have more to play with, at those times when we wish to engage in that free activity know as play, where, like a horse running for the sake of running and not to get somewhere, we play for the sake of playing, and not to achieve anything beyond the moment.
As guitarists, we have a special opportunity to bring work and play into this harmonious balance. Sometimes, in reading posts in our GuitarPrinciples Forum, I can tell when someone has achieved this, as they tend to say things like "can it get any better than this?!"
Jamie Andreas is a virtuoso classical guitarist from New York.
She started playing guitar at age 14, by 17 she was giving concerts and teaching guitar.
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