Coarse and calloused skin is wrapped around the tips of his fingers. He runs his left thumb across them, as he has thousands of times before, mentally reviewing his next song before beginning. The classical guitar sits on his lap, leaning against his chest, more comfortable than any piece of clothing he owns. The sun has long since set, and his audience are slightly tipsy from the sangria on their tables. Smiles and laughs are never too far off, and only a few eyes are drawn to the musician just finding the right moment to begin.
With eyes closed, his right hand gently settles upon the strings and he starts playing. Note after note is perfectly struck, his rough fingers dancing about the fret board. The piece begins to pick up speed and the musician concentrates. A slight smile creeps across his lips as he rolls through a particularly favourite sequence. The crowd is won over and are now listening intently to the crisp tones that are filling the bar. It’s a short song, purely instrumental, but builds from beginning to end, concluding with an intricate and satisfying crescendo.
As the last note is plucked, the musician finally opens his eyes and is happily surprised by the room watching him. The applause begins.
I first picked up a guitar when I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old. At the time, I only wanted to be like my friends, who were all choosing instruments and beginning to learn about music. Since then, I’ve played off and on, not enough to move past beginner songs, but enough to embarrass myself occasionally after a few too many drinks and in front of a non-judgmental audience. That was until a few months ago, at which point the collected hours I’d put in started to reap a slight reward, and I found myself able to play in a way that I, at least, didn’t find too objectionable. Progress had been made and with it, some inspiration to play a bit more and hopefully improve to the next level.
I found a bit more space between the strings.
Of course, the space hasn’t actually changed, but to me, it feels like it has. While I’m playing, my fingers are faster, more precise, so now I’m far more aware of how much space there actually is between the strings of my guitar. What once seemed like millimeters has expanded, making it easier for me to hit the right strings while playing chords and pluck the right notes when needed. The game hasn’t changed, but the way I see the pieces has.
The important point here is that perspective is reality, and often, it’s not that the environment changes at all, but that we change within in, become more capable of understanding it and then manipulating it for our purposes. In this case, it’s simply having more finger dexterity and a deeper understanding of the dimensions of the instrument. In other cases, it could be that the weight of a skateboard under your feet seems lighter, it could be that your fingers get a little closer to the floor while doing yoga, or that your opponent seems like they’re moving just a little bit slower than they were before. In each case, something within the body has adjusted, improved and become more efficient, meaning the mind has an easier time of dealing with the challenges before it.
A beginner will look at the strings and see nothing special at all. The advanced player has spent hours searching for that space, looking through different lenses, of frustration, jubilation, entrancement, and discipline. By searching high and low, the advanced player has found the space; it’s a space that can only be seen in the mind. It’s a space that requires time to find, effort to find, introspection to find. Sometimes you find hints, sometimes sign posts, but everything you do find gives you an microscopic improvement. And they add up.
And so it is; the martial artists finds an extra moment to react; the skateboarder finds a few less ounces of weight to flip; the Yogi’s arms are just a bit longer.
Keep looking for the space between the strings. I promise you’ll find it.
“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.”
~ Jimi Hendrix