I started playing classical guitar during my first year of college, and when I came home that summer, my dad suggested I continue my studies with the guitar professor at UNM. I thought it was a worthwhile idea, so I called him and we agreed to meet.
At our first lesson, after watching me play a piece or two, he said, "Your teacher must be a student of a student of Segovia. Your right-hand technique is badly out of date. It's inefficient, produces inferior tone, and increases the likelihood of injury." He demonstrated what he considered proper right-hand technique, and I could quickly see and hear his point: it made much more sense biomechanically and it did sound better.
When I tried it, it felt deeply unfamiliar. It was immediately clear that I was basically going to have to start over and rebuild my right-hand technique from scratch.
Unsurprisingly, I found the prospect deeply daunting. But at the time I had dreams of pursuing guitar very seriously, and I understood that if I didn't make this change, I'd be putting a ceiling on my abilities as a guitarist.
He gave me a number of exercises to work on. The practice was every bit as tedious as I feared. He had me plucking single notes at a time, following a metronome set at a very slow tempo. It was about as far away from actual music making as you could possibly imagine. At the same time, it demanded serious concentration; there was no phoning it in. To properly produce the stroke, I had to catch the string at the interface of the fingernail and pad of the finger just so, or else the tone suffered. And I needed to learn to be very precise--if I was ever going to play a piece at tempo, I'd have to work until this level of precision became automatic, no matter how fast the figuration in the right hand might be.
As you might imagine, my ego hated this. I went from playing music to devoting entire practice sessions to doing the most rudimentary of exercises. It was deeply humbling.
It wasn't easy, but I stuck it out, and ultimately it paid off. My tone was far better, and I could play faster with less fatigue. I was unequivocally a better guitarist. That ceiling on my abilities was no longer there.
My memory of this episode rose up during the last week as I've confronted the reality of this same basic process with respect to my golf swing. If I'm really interested in improving, I'm going to have to sigh and step up and do the fairly tedious work I described last week. There's just no way around it. And exactly as was the case all those years ago, I have to concentrate to make sure that I'm precise in my practice. There's no sense doing all this work if I'm only going to end up grooving another faulty swing.
As before, my ego doesn't like it. It wants me to be good now. Sadly, it doesn't work that way. The only path forward is to accept with humility the unsexy work that needs to be done.