Month: April 2017

Slow Down if you Want to Go Fast, Like Paco de Lucía

Over time, I like to think I have become better at giving a particular moment in time the full attention it deserves.

Let’s take code, for example. One of my favorite code-sayings is “Make it work, and then make it better” (Thanks Pawel). It sounds good on paper, but how often do we really take the time to make it better? Personally, I love making code better – the problem is finding the time to actually justify doing it right. Finding the time to sit there, and not do anything other than improve something you already did. There are so many demands in life, how can we find time to be perfect in everything we do? Surely we have to rush everything.

Actually, I believe the answer to this is to slow down if you want to go fast.

This is Paco de Lucía, one of Spain’s most famous musical exports. He is most known for his picado technique, which refers to the fast passages picked with his index and middle fingers. Paco’s picado was exceptionally loud and bright, with every note sounding out clearly:

How does one practice to be able to execute such complex movements with such indelible accuracy? What kind of secret is this man hiding? Was he part alien? (He passed in 2014, sadly, so we’ll never know).

As almost any musician will tell you, sure, you can feel like you are naturally talented at something, but what makes you skilled is nothing more than putting in the hard work and the practice. My interpretation: when you are talented at a thing, it only means you enjoy doing it enough that you don’t care if you suck. Then, others perceive you as talented because you can do a thing they cannot. You practiced, and now you can do it! Magic.


So why can’t we all play guitar like Paco?

First of all, from the age of five, Paco would practice in his room for 8-12 hours per day.  “I learned the guitar like a child learns to speak,” he said in an interview. If you are new to the guitar, you may feel like 8 hours is an eternity to be holding such a frustrating object. If you are experienced with the guitar and this is the first Paco video you’ve seen, and it makes you want to toss your guitar in the fire and give up, that’s a common reaction too.

My point in all of this is: can you imagine what type of practice you would do for 8-12 hours a day to be able to perform live at the level Paco did? If you told most amateur guitarists to sit and practice something for just 10 minutes, they would be totally off track jamming out an Iron Maiden riff within five seconds, because playing music is fun. Practicing music is an entirely different thing, and it is boring as hell. It’s also what separates the amateurs from the pros.

In music, in code, and in life, sometimes you just have to bear down and do the boring stuff with what feels like blind faith that it will pay off somehow. That faith is innately human: faith in our own natural ability to learn and overcome obstacles, to hone control over our minds and muscles, tacitly aware that real change takes plenty of time, attention and perseverance. If we slow down, we can raise our standards and capture more details, and the more we practice, the more effortless and amazing we’ll be when it’s time to show off what we can do.

My friend Henry (L), Paco de Lucia (center), me (right) in 2004

Rest in peace, Paco.