33. Preparation–The Answer To (Almost) Everything!


A casual examination of any highly skilled person reveals the value of preparation.  Ballplayers, dancers, artists, public speakers, business greats and others all employ endless hours of preparation to achieve their ends. Specifically, they all meticulously prepare each part of their endeavor.  The great basketball coach John Wooden’s  quote ”Failing to prepare is preparing to fail” is apt.  Although it obviously refers to athletic competition, he could easily have been referring to any complex skill.

Time and time again, I see the challenges guitarists of all levels struggle, whether occasionally or constantly, with lack of preparation.  In a performing player it manifests in forgetting the order of sections of a piece, words to a song, dropped notes, wrong chords, tempo issues, etc. In the beginning to intermediate player, it is a relentless companion, especially in the left hand. Remember, when changing between positions and/or chords, the left hand must lead. If you are a little early to a position or chord, the worst thing that can happen is a slight staccato effect, which can be easily addressed. But arriving too late is sure death to any musical piece. Below is an example of a large position shift on the guitar, first with sloppy preparation, then with good preparation.

1. Sloppy preparation:

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2. Same passage, with good preparation:


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See The Big Secret in the beginner section if you need review for changing between chord positions. If you are beyond the beginner stage, always be aware of the balance you must achieve between playing legato (smooth, connected notes) and arriving to the next position as early as possible. Again, more often than not, it is best to err on the side of anticipating movements consciously as much as possible, so that it becomes second nature.

Why is preparation the answer to “almost” everything?

As one progresses on the instrument, a conundrum, or “catch 22” is realized: We see the value of preparation, yet we strive for legato (smooth, connected notes) unless we are INTENTIONALLY playing staccato (short, clipped notes). Good preparation without attention to this means staccato where we DON”T want it!  Even with all the emphasis on preparation, never lose sight of legato as the basic goal. It is easier to make long notes shorter later on than the other way around.

©2012 Jim Greenfield