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Breaking it down to smaller pieces

One of my guitar heroes is John Petrucci from the band Dream Theater. John is widely recognized as one of the best rock guitar players in the world. He's also composed some of my favorite guitar solos. One of them is in the song "Under A Glass Moon".

The minute long solo is very technical. Mastering it requires timing, flawless technique, and confidence. It's a complex solo that could take months for a seasoned guitar player to master. In order to perform it at John's level (to play it clean, in time, while being relaxed and confident in every note) requires a particular approach in learning it.

One approach to learning this solo is to learn the entire thing, and keep playing it over and over until you've mastered it. This approach will likely not yield the results you seek. By playing the entire solo you don't end up focusing on the specific sections that you may struggle with. Therefore those sections remain messy, and you may not master the entire solo.

John takes a different approach when teaching the solo. Here he talks about one section:

The next thing is to master a sweep, hammer on, pull off combination lick. We'll break into smaller pieces.

In a minute long solo this section lasts for about one second. And yet there is a lot happening in that one second. A lot of technique and nuance that needs attention in order to be well performed. Now if you're approach is playing the entire solo over and over, how much attention are you giving to this one second section? One second as you fly through it.

Instead John recommends isolating this one second, breaking it down to it's core components (getting the timing of the right and left hands, getting the fingering down) and keep play it until you've mastered it. Start slow, build up speed. Then after you've mastered it, continue to the next section.

This idea of breaking it down to smaller pieces has a much broader application. If you want to run a marathon, start by running a mile. If you want to be able to cook a multi-course dinner, start by making an entrée.

The tech world excels in this. Strong product teams seek to break down large problems into smaller pieces, and solving those pieces one at a time. For if you don't break things down, and just go straight into running the marathon, you likely wont get the results you seek.