Learning guitar? What if I’m not talented?
Video Transcript And Relevant Links:
Have you ever wondered if you’re talented enough? When I was first learning guitar, that came up for me more than once. I watched experience guitar players do things that I couldn’t imagine my fingers doing. I couldn’t help but think that maybe they had “it” and I didn’t.
There are two things that I came to realize over the years.
- Most people greatly overestimate how much talent (versus practice) is involved in playing guitar. And,
- Everyone who practices gets better. Perhaps some people get better faster, but everyone gets better. Especially if they practice the right things in the right order.
Often the question of talent comes up when I meet with someone who is trying to learn guitar under nearly impossible conditions. I’m talking about watching random YouTube videos or learning from a friend. Or they have a formal instructor that doesn’t have real instructor training or a systematic approach.
When I started playing guitar, I had an instructor who would ask me every week what I wanted to learn. I would usually tell him I wanted to learn some part of a song that I liked. Then we would proceed to work on that part for the lesson. The following week he’d ask me the same thing and we’d start working on something different.
After a while, I realized I wasn’t getting anywhere. Naturally, I blamed myself. I started thinking maybe I just don’t have what it takes.
It wasn't until years later after having several really god instructors that I realized how unrealistic my expectation was. When I had organized, systematic instruction, I made slow but steady progress. Little by little I became a competent guitarist that learned to enjoy practicing and playing with other musicians.
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” –Stephen King
It’s important to keep in mind what your goals for playing guitar are. If your goal is to become the next Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eddie Van Halen, that’s very different than playing for fun or as a hobby. And you’d have to change how you approach learning the guitar.
If you’re competing with world-class guitarists for work and fame, it would be important to consider how much talent was needed.
In either case, what makes a guitarist good or great is practice. If Stevie Ray Vaughn or Eddie Van Halen didn’t practice for hours every day, they wouldn’t be good. “Natural talent” or not.
In fact, most everyone has the ability to play guitar at some level. Busy Adults who learn to play guitar find that it reduces stress, increases self-esteem, and provides an activity as an emotional outlet.
Studies show that even one or two years of learning a musical instrument greatly improves memory and attention, as well as learning abilities across many areas. Why would anyone give up all these benefits just because they don’t believe they can be the next world class virtuoso?
How much talent you have is not an issue. By focusing on whether or not you have “enough talent”, you’re putting attention on something you have no control over. There are so many things you do have control over that will make you a good guitarist!
So if you want to play guitar, don’t concern yourself with whether or not you’re “talented”. Or compare yourself to others. Neither of those will do anything to improve your playing. Instead, focus on the things that will improve your playing!
Here are just a few of the many things you can do something about that will make you a better guitarist…
The power of habit. Some people say practicing takes discipline. While that’s true, it’s more about creating a habit that works for you. Habits are powerful tools after all. If you practice a little bit each day you’ll develop the habit of practicing. This habit will work for you and get you through roadblocks in your playing. You can expand this as you progress.
Persistence. Persistence is somewhat like a muscle. The more you use it the more you get.
Good instruction. Random instruction of any kind just won’t cut it. You want to find good systematic instruction either online or in person. Intentional, structured lesson plans are the best way to learn an instrument. I also think they’re the most fun, since they carry the greatest reward!
Faith. You often can’t see improvement from day-to-day. Just like you might not see a child or a pet grow day-to-day. Because of this, you’ll need a certain amount of faith. Faith that if you keep following the steps and practice regularly, you will continue to improve. After a month, or two, or six, you can look back and see just how far you’ve come.
“Every artist was first an amateur.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Your progress will vary depending on the time you dedicate, your natural talent, and your aptitude for the guitar. How long that takes doesn’t really matter in the big picture. Guitar is about progress. The important thing is that you’re constantly progressing. Not how quickly.
Keep these two things in mind.
- 1) If you practice you will get better.
- 2) Comparing yourself to others won’t help.
I’ve heard people say it will take too long. But think of it this way: playing guitar is a journey, not a destination.
If it takes you five years to play guitar the way you want, you’re going to be five years older either way. You’ll either be five years older and not play guitar. Or if you take quality lessons and practice, you’ll be five years older and play guitar.
Which would you rather have?
Brad Gillis story continued…
Brad and I went on to be friends (sort of). He’s passionate and down to earth. I came to like him. It’s not his fault he’s so damn talented 😉
Since I owned our mutual hometown music store he came to me for help selling some of the guitars that he got from endorsements. We split the money.
About ten years after I first met him he invited me to a local club where he was jamming with members of the Alameda All-Stars, a band he started before fame came knocking.
You’d think that since I was older and wiser things would be different. But after seeing him play I still felt discouraged. He was even better than the first time.
Talking to Brad over the years I came to realize for the first time (but not the last… more on that in another email) that being famous isn't all a bed of roses. Everyone has ups and downs.
I haven't heard from him for many years now. I hope he's doing well and found the inner peace that we all need to deal with life’s turmoil… famous or not.
When he's not making guitar instruction videos or creating more music to record (currently 7 CDs including Beauty and Fire) he's riding his bike along the beach with his dog Marco Polo or traveling to interesting places with his lovely wife Pui.