“Oh, you play guitar? Can you play ‘This Song’ by ‘That One Guy’?”

Just because I don’t know “Stand by me” doesn’t mean that this guitar solo is sick.

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“Oh, you can’t play it? You’re not that good then.”

Raise your hand if this has happened to you. 

Let me be a bit more specific. Someone finds out you play guitar. Let’s say you’ve played for a while. You play both electric and acoustic. You know how to strum out acoustic ballads and can also pick out a solo or main riff from known ‘70s bands – you know your way around a guitar. You can play plenty of songs that you have chosen to learn, yet when a person who recognizes that a guitar is an instrument in a song asks you if you know how to play a particular song (that you simply haven’t put forth the effort to learn) and you don’t know it, you’re suddenly an old hat. Unfair, right? It’s part of the guitar lifestyle. 

Let me try putting it a different way. What if I found out that you are like to cook. I ask you, “can you make me some meatloaf?” You mention that you never have tried to make meatloaf, and boom! I peg your cooking abilities as lackluster and boring. Unfair, right? You might be one of the best cooks I will ever know. But simply because you did not satisfy my desire you are now unimpressive to me. 

I suppose we’re only as impressive to people as much as the people want to be impressed. 

What?

It makes sense. If someone does not even want to be impressed with someone or something, I doubt that they actually will. It takes an open mind to be impressed by that to which you do not relate. If I work my butt off to learn a guitar solo in a genre that nobody wants to hear, I might be wasting my time if my goal is to impress people. 

Perhaps it’s all about marketing. I mean, you won’t want to try to sell your new EP of Lady Gaga cover songs in a biker bar, no matter how banging “John Wayne” is from her latest album, but that’s another story. 

So what could be the takeaway? Well, that is entirely up to you. Here are some suggestions, though:

  • Don’t judge a guitarist if they don’t know your song
  • If you want to impress the people, give the people what they want. 
  • If you want to impress the lovers of a particular genre, get your content in front of them. 
  • Stop trying to impress everyone. 
  • Do it for yourself.

That last one seems a bit selfish to me, but remember, I’m talking about guitar as a hobby/lifestyle. Do it because you enjoy it, and not to try to impress everyone with your ability. 

Not everyone will care. 

But you should!

If you’re not struggling, your not practicing. 

If improvement is what you seek, challenge is what you need.

Practice should be challenging. If you do not feel challenged while you are playing, then you are not actually practicing; you are just playing. This is fine if you just want to play some guitar to pass the time, but if your goal is to become better at what you are doing then you need to struggle somehow. 

Do not get me wrong, though, rehearsal is essential if you play in front of people and want to sound like you actually know the songs. Rehearsal should come after you have the song down. I am talking about practicing for the sake of skill development. 

Figure out what skill you wish to improve, and focus on that. Most likely you will need to take it slow at first. Use a metronome. I will say that again: use a metronome. It helps you break down the notes and the rhythm to understand what you are trying to play. Speed it up as you find necessary, but the starting speed should be slow. If you cannot hit the notes successfully at a slower speed, your blisteringly fast speed will sound sloppy.

Again, rehearsal and playing are not bad things, but when it comes to improving a skill, specifically with guitar, a decent level of difficulty is needed in order to grow. 

“Cocky as f@$#”

As an experienced musician, it’s difficult to express level of ability without coming off as overconfident or cocky.

I am by no means a “guitar virtuoso”. I am just not. And I am fine with that. Despite having a growth mindset with guitar, I understand my limits due to my available time to practice and commitments to other parts of my life. I understand my current ability level and, for the most part, my future ability level. 

Now that I have said that, let’s get to the point: it is incredibly difficult to describe my guitar playing without sounding, as my wife put it, “cocky as f@$#”. 

I play guitar to be better than I am now. I live by this. I am never done improving, and if I find myself not improving it is because I am not practicing. To me, having fun while playing guitar mostly revolves around playing what I find to be challenging. This usually ends with me studying and practicing a new technique to the point where I end up writing something that uses that technique so that I am being musically creative while incorporating something new and challenging to me. 

Don’t get me wrong, though, I still like to play cover songs. I have been known to play the occasional Wonderwall, but let’s pretend not. 

Anyways, when someone asks me about one of my hobbies, I usually respond with “I play guitar.” This is when I think an image of me playing Wonderwall pops into the head of whomever I just told, and it makes me a little uneasy. So recently I tried to spice things up to be a bit more specific. I said:

“I play guitar so much that I no longer impress my friends and family because it’s so far beyond what they understand.”

-Me (unfortunately)

What. Was. I. Thinking. 

Truthfully, I was being open about something for which I care deeply. I really feel as though I no longer impress my friends and family. As I said before, I study guitar to become better. I constantly want to be better at it. There is always the next thing for me to learn. This does not impress people. People want to hear songs they know and love for the sake of having fun or enjoying a song. They want to sing and dance. They do not want to only witness a guitarist without hearing a song they know and love. The only reason my wife understands sweep picking is because I talk to her and show it to her as I practice it. She understands the work I have put into this technique and can externally appreciate its use within a song. But anybody who does not study guitar or have a significant other that studies guitar probably only listens to songs for familiarity and fun, and not necessarily to study a guitar technique. So while I might be able to learn a popular song for the entertainment of friends, family, or random people at a show, I feel as though I bore anybody when I play or practice a song that involves complicated guitar techniques. This is what inspired me to say the quote from before. The things I study with guitar are actually more advanced things that would probably not be known to non-guitar players, and even now I cannot help to feel cocky while typing it. 

I am not a cocky guitarist. I am hardly a confident guitarist. I work very hard to train myself – probably to the point of perfectionism. I find myself simply labeling myself as a “guitarist” to avoid sounding *gasp* capable on a guitar. I try to remain modest, and never aim towards a cocky attitude while also realizing that I probably spend more time practicing and advancing in guitar than your typical college freshmen bro-dude.