Today I will attempt to break down the subject of Mastery, and the journey towards Mastery, in to component pieces and define them. Ideally, when all is said and we are done looking at the parts, they will add up to a cohesive look at what makes Mastery. And this look will allow us to better approach our learning paths, gearing them towards efficient and effective practice.

First, let’s talk about the types of challenges we encounter.




We each come with some ideas and sets of beliefs. We have opinions and feelings about ourselves, the world, our abilities and particularly about our own percieved limits.

We also have our own landscape of emotional cues, triggers and associations.

We have a set of frames that we use to streamline our actional and emotional reactions.

Some of us have things that are knee jerk or almost subconscious in their occurance.

Analytical skills fall in the Mental category. Perception and awareness are related ideas that can grow with our accumulation of experience and the development of skill. Over time, we become more intimately familiar of the fields of our subject. Chess players know boards, Musicians know staves, Athletes know their fields or courts.

A recurring theme in all three categories of challenge will be repetition and the encoding of memory.

In order to achieve greater and greater levels of competency, of fluency in our field, we will have to engrain more aspects of our discipline and with more efficacy. Much of this engrainment and learning comes through intentional practice and repetition. Players don’t rip down minor scales or fly up arpeggios by chance. All of those musicians have worked that skill, that specific activity, for a huge number of repetitions.

The quantity and quality of repetitions will lead to skills that are “muscle memory” or “reflex.”

When you are deeply familiar with your fretboard and the tuning and notes, and you have accomplished so many repetitions over time of your scales – then this memory blue print, this mental template, is always running in the background for you. In a way, your thousands of play throughs of scales builds an innate memory of those shapes and movements. This makes it more effortless when you are using these ideas. Less of your resources will be devoted to the building blocks of your performance, and more of that mental horsepower can be directed in to making more expressive or adventurous choices or taking riskier, narrower paths through the music.

We can take advantage of our mind and our bodies tendencies to take the most obvious route, to make the most common decisions in to ones of our choosing. Want your fingers to grab the right pentatonic note everytime? Drill the heck out of it, slowly at first and then quickly later and come at it from every direction with many, many repetitions.

Not now, or in ten minutes, and probably not tomorrow. But eventually, you will reap the rewards of putting in the repetitions. The concept you have played a million times will be worn deeply in to your brain and your nerves will expect it. You are basicly creating your own custom “hotkeys” or shortcuts, defining what skills you want at the ready and freeing up your perception to focus on more enjoyable and elusive aspects of your activities.

Awareness and Perception are also huge in the Emotional realm.

As individuals, we set our own ideas of what our limits are, and we also face the input of societies ideas: School, parents, church, game clubs, media, television, video, music, advertising – they all have an effect on what we allow ourselves to believe. And often they are the defining features of our self set limits and emotional triggers.

A mean teacher or parent, or a bully, can not only take the sails out of an eager, curious young person, but they can also instill a lower internal bar that we set for ourselves in association with these emotional memories and criticisms.

Part of our path to being among the best, or being the very best, is that we must open and look at our beliefs and ideas about ourselves. We must question our own created narratives and dearest held opinions. In order to be the best, you must dismantle any belief that you can not or will not be the best. We must pull down the barriers we put up inside ourselves. There may even be new, more useful barriers we need to create to succeed, but all of this comes from self analysis. Look outward, enjoy the world, but look inward too.

Examine what makes you angry, sad, disappointed about what you do or about who you tell yourself you are.

Examine why you stop when you stop, learn what holds you back and what limits you currently.

Do you need better focus? A more open approach to your emotional situations? Do you need better equipment?

And very importantly, Do you need better information?

Of course, we often do need better information. And as we are on our paths, we must keep coming back to the realm of the experts, the top achievers, the coaches and analysts and sport scientists. We should at least analyze and consume higher quality information on a regular cycle where we practice and develop our styles and approaches, but then dial much of that in as we learn from and access higher levels of nuance, perception and expertise.

This concludes part one of this blog entry, Components of Mastery, which may become a series in the near future.

I bring all of this up to you, as awareness and understanding of the steps and component parts relevant to our learning fields is crucial to being able to move ahead continuously and without self doubt. As once we know the parts of the activity, or the journey, we can keep coming back and analyzing and improving them. We can better understand the why which will make our choice of “how” more effective. This can save us lifetimes of waste and stream line our path to growth and success.

Until next time, play some notes!

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