Twenty Hours to Playing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone”

I have no musical ability what-so-ever.  But, I’ve always wished I could play guitar.  I tried when I was young, but got easily frustrated, and merely ended up playing chord patterns I made up.  I had no discipline at all.  A complete wimp when it came to practicing.  If I had known about the 10,000 hour to greatness theory of practice, I would never have tried at all.

Today a reader, Andreas, posted a comment about a Josh Kaufman TED Talk, “The First 20 Hours – How to Learn Anything” that was far more encouraging.  What Kaufman claimed from his studies is that it takes 20 hours of concentrated practice to get beyond the frustration stage and see encouraging results.  Watch his TED Talk yourself.

Now, that got me to thinking.  I messed around with a guitar back in the 1960s and 1970s, but I didn’t put in 20 hours of concentrated effort at actually learning anything.  Ten years ago I bought a cheap guitar and was going to try again.  I tried a few of times, probably spent less than an hour, and again got frustrated and quit.  The guitar has been sitting on its stand ever since – untouched.  Well, I dusted it a couple of times.

What if I conducted an experiment to test Kaufman’s hypothesis?  Would twenty hours of concerted effort, applying myself in a systematic way, get me past the frustration barrier?  Would just twenty hours get me to a point where I felt like I was getting somewhere?  If Kaufman’s hypothesis is true, I could apply it on all kinds of little ambitions.

Don’t we all give up too easily?  Is twenty hours of good practice the real solution to getting past the frustration barrier?  

To test this idea, I think would need something very specific as my goal.  Playing “Like a Rolling Stone” by Bob Dylan immediately came to mind.  If I could learn to strum the guitar and friends could recognize the song, no matter how badly I played it, I think that might be a good enough proof.  It’s only five chords, so I don’t think I’m being overly ambitious.

Just how much would I have to learn in that twenty hours?  Luckily, the web gives me a tremendous head start.   For example, at e-chords, here is the song with chords and words, and even animations showing the finger positions of the chords:  Like A Rolling Stone – full arrangement

And here are two YouTube videos with guitar teachers.

There seems to be an endless supply of guitar teachers on YouTube teaching “Like a Rolling Stone.”  Some offer music and chord theory with their lessons that just confuses me.  There also seems countless ways to strum the song, as well as many variations for the chords used to play the song.  These kind of details are detrimental at this point.  Kaufman advises in his video to:

  1. Deconstruct the skill
  2. Learn enough to self-correct
  3. Remove practice barriers
  4. Practices at least 20 hours

I think I have deconstructed the skill here already.  All I’ve got to do is put on some new strings on my neglected guitar and practice for twenty hours.  I’ll get back to you in about a month to let you know what happens.

JWH – 1/24/14

2 thoughts on “Twenty Hours to Playing Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone””

  1. This would probably be a lot easier to do with a classical guitar. Getting comfortable with a steel string guitar requires building up callouses on your fingertips. It’s a bit of a Catch-22 — practice is the only way to get callouses, but while your fingers are still tender, it’s difficult to exert enough pressure to chord effectively.

    Of course this is also true to a lesser degree with a classical guitar, plus it will have a bit wider neck than a steel string, which makes chording a bit more difficult. And either way, you may find your left hand cramping up, especially in the beginning. As with most things, there’s a breakthrough point when you finally start getting some positve reinforcement.

    1. Now I know what you mean PaintedJaguar, the steel strings are hard on my fingers. But since I have trouble placing my fingers on the strings of this narrow neck the classical guitar would be much harder stretching my stubby digits across a wider neck. So it’s pain v. contortion.

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