Rhythm Method

(Listen to this post, here.)

For the past two months, I have been trying to learn how to play the guitar.

It’s always struck me as a fun activity and, since I am pretty good at typing, it seems like a logical next step.

But the odds are not in my favor – this is the third time in about seven years that I have tried to make a go of it.

The first two (failed) attempts involved live, in-person teachers. In both instances, I lasted about six months.

This time, though, I have made two important changes that have me feeling hopeful:

#1. I switched to “fingerstyle” guitar.

This is a style where you pluck the strings with your right hand while playing chords with your left. For a non-singer like me, it instantly felt like a better fit than strumming with a pick.

#2. I purchased an online course.

Taught by a soft-spoken and perpetually cheerful guy named Adam Rafferty, the course includes 8.5 hours of video, broken down into four- or five-minute mini-lessons.

For me, being able to replay the lessons as often as I like and look closely at what the instructor is doing, has proven both more enjoyable and more effective than working with a live teacher.

Like I said, I’m hopeful I will stick with it.

A Steady Rhythm Is Key

When it comes to fingerstyle guitar, one thing Adam has stressed is the importance of learning to keep a steady rhythm with your right thumb regardless of what your four other fingers are up to (AKA, “thumb independence”).

Apparently, the thumb rhythm provides the necessary foundation – if you lose the beat there, everything else quickly goes to hell.

At first, keeping the beat is easy. The initial exercise consists of doing nothing more than plucking a steady 1,2,3,4 with your thumb on one string, over and over again.

But then, as your other fingers insist on getting involved, it becomes harder and harder to keep that steady thumb rhythm going at the same time.

Adam has assured me that with practice, I will develop enough “muscle memory” that the thumb action becomes second nature, leaving my brain free to focus on other things.

For now, though, it’s oddly reminiscent of learning to drive a stick-shift.

Your Newsletter Needs Rhythm Too

Over the past many years, I’ve helped countless solos and small professional service firms launch newsletters.

I always begin by asking the same question: Where’s my check?

But right after that, I ask: When do you intend to publish?

It really doesn’t matter what you pick – third Wednesday of the month, every other Friday, whatever – as long as you pick and stick to something.

Because here is what’s going to happen…

You’re going to publish two or three of these, on time, as planned. Perfect. That’s your thumb rhythm.

But then, in short order, you’ll start wanting to add more “fingers” to the mix: record the newsletter as audio; post it on social media; turn past issues into a book.

All great ideas, unless … you stop publishing the newsletter on time because you’ve gotten too distracted by these and other marketing tactics.

If that happens, as with an independence-lacking, guitar-playing thumb, and as Adam Rafferty would no doubt suggest, everything quickly goes to hell.

Here’s the bottom line.

There are an unlimited number of tactics you can employ in the marketing of your business. On the whole, that’s good news.

The bad news is that if you try and start too many things at once, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and stop doing anything.

So try this instead. Commit to publishing your newsletter – on time, every time. No. Matter. What.

Everything else is extra. 

If you start feeling overwhelmed or just get too busy with life and work, take a break from all the other things until your world calms down.

Because if you want the music to keep on playing, you can’t ever let your thumb stop strumming.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever tried to learn something, failed, and finally succeeded?
  2. If asked, would you be willing to sign the Declaration of Thumb Independence?
  3. What marketing activity do you keep doing, no matter what?

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10 thoughts on “Rhythm Method

  1. Lori

    I knew that a few moments of procrastination, i.e. reading your blog, would give me a chuckle and spur on my motivation to get back to, oh yah, writing my newsletter!

  2. Juliet McKenna

    I do commit to a regular schedule, which has been reduced from monthly to 6x/year- approaching issue 150 after 10+ years. I keep thinking it needs more bells and whistles – maybe the key to consistency is there are none.
    And – my answer to question number 1 – tennis – a surprising covid safe activity when there was literally no other reason to leave the house!

  3. Peter Molloy

    Great analogy Michael.
    I’ve been playing piano and guitar most of my life and I’d be a million times better if I would practice.
    Much the same with newsletters.
    Better to have a monthly newsletter with great quality content than the annoying daily ‘lets push some new product/service’ e-mail blasts I’m daily having to unsubscribe, when I never subscribed in the first place.
    Now time to get out my calendar and make a plan.

  4. Michele E

    Thanks Michael. I needed reassurance that taking time to focus on my launching projects (regular blog, website, etc.) was the right path. I needed to stop taking more courses. I haven’t taken a break in over a year now.


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