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On Becoming a Guitarist


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Worth reading! :thu:

 

http://www.eltjohaselhoff.com/lesson_5.htm

 

5.1 Mentality - Again

 

I have several old friends who used to play guitar with me when we were young teenagers. During those years, we were all convinced to be great guitarists one day. The guitar was our future. Today, over twenty years later, most of them don't play guitar anymore. And even though they played as well as I did, twenty tears ago, today they would have a hard time even playing the basic C-roll. Interestingly, many of them are very sorry that they gave up playing guitar. But it was not a conscious decision they made - it just happened. And even though you're never too old to start again, it's clear that they have missed many years during which they could have increased their skills tremendously, and those years will never come back. For most of them, that is a reason not to start playing guitar again.

 

So what went wrong? Why do some people continue to play guitar all their lives, and why do many others stop at a certain point? I don't think it has anything to do with lack of talent, or with frustration. There are certain flatpick solo's played by Tony Rice, that I still cannot play even after fifteen years of intensive practice. This has never frustrated me. Because the pain it takes to learn these very advanced guitar licks, makes even the slightest progress a tremendous source of satisfaction. If one day I can play six notes of Tony Rice's solo in John Hardy, after I managed only five during three years, it will make me feel like I just won a dozen Grammy Awards. A great day!

 

 

5.2 Dangerous Periods in your Life

 

The reason some people give up playing guitar, is because at a certain point in their lives the guitar is not important enough anymore. Over the years, people's priorities change. There are several periods in your life that are dangerous, and I have experienced those periods very consciously. Fortunately, I have overcome them all (so far!).

 

The first Dangerous Period is when you start to have so much homework that you have to study late. This was never a problem to me, as I interrupted my homework every twenty minutes or so to play guitar for a while, or I studied with the guitar on my lap, just for the touch and feel, which I loved (and still do love).

 

University is another Dangerous Period that may happen to some of you. Too much other things to do, not enough sleep, not enough money to buy good strings.

 

Another potential Danger: girlfriends. And of course I should add 'boyfriends', but statistically the male guitarists outnumber the females by a factor of ten. This is not to say that girlfriends are bad for your guitar studies, but some are. I am lucky to have a woman who loves it when I take my guitar and play, and who does not mind when I play the same twelve notes a few hundred times a day, during many months (well, at least she doesn't complain!). But I do remember relationships where the attention I paid to my guitar was interpreted by my girlfriend as a lack of attention to her. Needless to say, that does not help turning you into a great guitarist. These are the moments that people makes choices and set their preferences, and of course the guitar does not always win.

 

Another Dangerous Period: the start of your professional career (when it's not as a guitarist).

 

Probably the most Dangerous Period: when you get kids, particularly when the start to crawl around and you can no longer have your guitars lying about in the living room.

 

Now please don't get me wrong - I am not saying that all the things above are bad or wrong! On the contrary - I have had all of them, and I loved every single moment. But there have been periods where my priorities were set in such a way, that some days I realized I had not played guitar for a long time, and actually very clearly noticed how my speed and skills started to get less. It was my tremendous love for the instrument that always brought me back. Sometimes it was, for example, a guitarist on TV, who made me run up to the attic, get my guitar out of its case, and start a new period. Until the next Dangerous Period started.

 

The take home message of this all is twofold:

 

1. Don't worry that your talents are not sufficient to enjoy playing guitar to the highest level. I you really like to play, you will never give up, and you will get better for the rest of your life. Love for the instrument is the most important thing here, it will carry you beyond any frontier you can imagine.

2. When you like the guitar enough to enjoy playing it, but not enough to survive the Dangerous Periods, odds are high that one day you will realize that you no longer play guitar. Some people don't care, and in that case just forget everything. But like I said earlier, many people become extremely sorry they gave up! If you are afraid to end up in this category, here are a few tips:

 

Hang your guitar(s) in the living room, at a place where you can easily grab them. Don't put them in their cases, or stow them in a room far away in your house. This will guarantee that you use every single lost minute to grab the instrument and play a few chords.

Keep your guitar clean. A clean guitar is more fun to play.

Buy new strings on a regular basis. New strings sound great, play smoothly, and that works very motivating.

Buy a good guitar! Save some money every month until you can afford a good, professional instrument. Once you own one or more of these beauties, it will become a central thing in your life that you cannot ignore.

Keep up your inspiration! Get a couple of good DVDs or CDs and watch/listen often. For example, get Tommy Emmanuel's CD Only and play it in your car whenever you can (warning: you run a serious risk of making a sudden U-turn any moment and race back home to get your guitar!). Put your CD player in the repeat mode. If people traveling with you ask to change the CD after it has played four times in a row tell them to be quiet.

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If I've learned anything from 35 years of being a professional guitarist it would be:

-It's the wrong business if you're in it for the money or glory.
-It's the right business if you can't imagine yourself doing anything else.
-People who tried to do it for a living and quit believe it's impossible and will usually try to convince you of the same. It's easier to pull you down than to face themselves.
-There's no shame in playing music for the sole purpose of earning an income. You're only "selling out" if you hate yourself for doing it. Be clear with yourself WHY you're doing what you're doing!
-There's no glory in playing music purely for art's sake. Most people do it because they can't live with NOT doing it. It's a "calling"
-There's no shame in deciding that music should be more of a "hobby"! Go to a party populated by businessmen and the main topic of conversation is music. Go to a party populated by musicians and the main topic is business.
-At the end of the day, you have to live with the choices you make.

My views tend to appear somewhat unromantic. Having said it all, I think the most important part is living your life in a way that's authentic to what feels right for you. I wake up every day looking foward to what lies ahead, knowing I'm incredibly lucky that I get to do music and call it a job.

If there was one "right way" there would only be one song!

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Virgman,
Thanks, a good read. I've been playing for over 30 yrs non-stop. I'm still driven as hard (if not harder) than I was when I was a teenager. I'm playing faster, harder and louder (in a good way LoL). Funny after reading your article I noticed a lot of the "dangerous periods" were subconsciously side stepped in my life. Example, I didn't go to college because I felt it would take away from guitar playing, I never had kids, being married has its advantages...no girl friend distractions, most of my 15 guitars are hanging on the walls, etc.
In the 30 yrs+ that I have been playing, studying, gigging, I only remember one dangerous period in which my playing really slowed down and I lost some ground. It was a 6 month period during which there was a major construction going on in my den which is the room where all my guitars/amps/recording gear is. I was doing a lot of the work and the guitars had to be packed up. My life took a turn, priorities shifted. I got through it but I do remember being very depressed. Other than that all I can say is that after 30 yrs I still wake up in the morning and the first thing I think of is what I practiced the night before and what I'll work on tonight. I'm a lifer!

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Very interesting post...in my case I've been playing for 30 years..oh lord, I just thought about that!!. For at least 15 years I played regularly in bands trying to "make it", whatever that means...

When I finally was part of a band that made music that people actually bought, albeit in very modest numbers, this coincided with my "other job" taking off in a way that meant I had to seriously think about dull stuff like shelter, food etc. I was also exhausted by the amount of work the band was doing. I seem to remember being stuck on a German motorway for 5 years at least...

So, I pursued my "other job" which I'm very happy about. However, I cannot ever imagine a time when I won't play guitar. I play or practice almost every day and love it more and more as I learn new things.

Guitar is the love of my life, along with the other love of my life who thankfully, is a singer and completely understands my need to practice the same notes over and over and over and over......

My "other job" helps me with deciding which model PRS/Gibson/Fender/Ibanez I might like to own next!!! :-)

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-There's no shame in deciding that music should be more of a "hobby"! Go to a party populated by businessmen and the main topic of conversation is music. Go to a party populated by musicians and the main topic is business.



I can relate to that. It's always been a hobby (a passion really) for me. I find it true what you say about businessmen and parties... Can't speak for musicians since I've never really hung out with any (but I'd like to! :wave:) ...

I've played for about 20 years now... I find as the years go by I play more (about 3-5 hours a night the last few years). It's my "escape".

Ironic really... given how much free time I had when I was younger (compared to now anyway). Guess I didn't need to "escape" back then :)

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Good thread, I have been through each of Virg's dangerous periods, and during young kids period did not touch it for 10 years. During college ran sound for a small touring bar band and found it is not a glorious thing. As for myself, as a teenager used to have Pacso's "old guitarist" which in retospection, became my inspiration...which is "by the time I die I want to be a half-assed acomplished guitarist"...by what standard you ask...by the standard that at least I'm having fun and enjoying it. And currently after 25 years, I am a crappy guitarist by most guitarists' standards, an awesome one by non-guitarists...but for myself, it is one the most treasured part of my day.

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I've started playing around 30 years ago, and passed through all those dangerous stages. But two years ago I realized the need to understand better how to improvise so I started taking private lessons only to find that I knew almost nothing about theory. My problem is that learning new things takes much more effort than before. So my advice for young people is to learn as much as you can when your still young and beer (my other love) hasn't killed too much brain cells yet.
;)

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Hey Ericjake,

Good to see you on this message board.


Regarding the topic, I've been fortunate enough (or determined enough, or passionate enough, or...) to have my career be guitar playing. Since I'm around music all the time, I've never really run into the obstacles the original poster mentioned. I used to skip school to go practice my guitar. Any girlfriends I had up to and including my wife knew that guitar was a passion of mine and respected it. Now that I have a 14 month old kid crawling and walking around, I haven't put up any of the 25+ guitars I have lying around the living room. If he wants to beat on them thats fine with me.

I have seen many of my friends give up playing though, and I've seen the regret in their eyes and heard their excuses, and it always saddens me a bit.

I've also seen people older than myself who have returned to playing after doing in their youth and foresaking it for many years. And that always makes me smile, in reflection of their smiles.


By the way, there is a good book called "Practicing" by Glenn Kurtz that is his life story of pursuing guitar playing with a passion in his youth, then quitting for over a decade as an adult, and returning to it in his late thirties.


- Jasco

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I started as a middle aged person to share a hobby with my child. I sure am inept. Still, its different as an adult. Less goal oriented. I'm not trying to learn some popular song to impress a girlfriend. I notice that I am more relaxed during the day when I practice at night. I think there are some pretty powerful neurological effect to even bad guitar playing.

 

Oddly though, I get satisfaction out of giving my guitar "mojo" My ham-fisted playing breaks in the guitar as well as, or better than, artful playing. I know my guitar has improved even if I haven't. Someday my guitar will have a history and an owner who can utilize it properly. Its comforting in a way.

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I will add another 'dangerous period'. Thats when you realise you are never going to be a rock star or reach the level of playing of your heroes. I think thats why thousands of guitarists who start in their teens give up in their 20's.

I gave up for 10 years. A number of factors were involved but the biggest was realising that I just wasn't a very good musician. The frustration of that made me stop pushing to improve.

I came back to it last year and whilst I'm still a total hack I'm playing better than I ever have. And much more importantly, enjoying it more than ever. I'm happy to be a bedroom hack for the rest of my life.

I do have some regret for the lost years of learning I missed. But in a way its good because it makes me appreciate playing more now.

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Dude,
I jam at almost every opportunity, even after 30 years of playing, for 2 reasons.
First, the guys that i've been jamming with for the last 25 years are a gift to my life.
They are my mentors (but I don't tell them this).
Second, all of us have experienced what we call "F.M." (fookin magic).
It only happens once in a while, but it is a magic that you will know the first time it happens.
I'm thinking that the reason some people abandon the guitar is that they haven't experienced this phenomenon, for whatever reason.

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My dangerous moment came during university and early career and lasted 7 years, highly complicated by having moved to live abroad and having left all my guitars in my home country! :freak:

The opposite liberation moment which made me come back to guitar was when, after something like 2-3 years without touching it once, I picked my Charvel up and was expecting to be completely unable to play it, and instead found it that I could still play: of course, I had lost the speed and the fretboard memory, but a lot was still there, like it was swimming or cycling which you can never completely forget. That revelation told me that even such a long pause had not killed me as a guitarist, and that I was to be reborn if I just didn't think too much about how better I would be had I kept on playing... I'd probably be technically better yeah, but after all nobody in the world would have really cared except me :p

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I've played since I was 15. I'm 47 now.
I was never that talented and I don't have a great ear. When I was in High School I got up on stage once at church to play My Sweet Lord with a friend. I actually played the lead. 8^)

Played off and on thru my 30's.....mostly a frustrated guitarist. I love music enough to never put it down. I had to sell ALL my gear in my late 30's and was guitarless for probably 6 years. About 3 years ago I picked up a pawn shop special and ignited the fire again. I play every day and now have better gear than I ever owned before. I even found the courage to get onstage with a praise band a few times. I wish I had put this much time in with it earlier....because there are no secrets, only time spent trying. Yes, some people have a knack.....but those folks have to put in the hours too.

In the end I feel it is a matter of desire and effort. Not all of us will be a SRV or a Holdsworth or EVH or whoever......but we can ALL learn to make music and be content!

8^)
Wade

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I recently, about 2 years ago, was pulled out of a danger period. I had graduated college and left town to pursue a "legitimate" career and after over 3 years of just fooling around with my guitar in my bedroom, no amp, I was pretty close to just quitting altogether, my other hobby, fishing, was taking over and I didn't know many people in the new town so no bands to play with or people to jam with. Sure, you meet people and talk and do the "yeah, we should jam sometime" conversations that never materialized. Luckily, I fell on really hard times there and moved back closer to home where I've done better employment-wise as well as gotten back in touch with musicians and now play in a band, and have started spending money on guitar again :( double edged sword! It only took me about a year to get back to my previous level of playing in college! It's nice to "relearn" at some point, I think, you can learn more deliberately, less "as it comes". I think I'm a better musician now, for having taken 3 years off. But I'll never know how good I would have been if I never stopped, but I'd still have the same bad habits and reliance on basic musical form, etc.

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Great thread ! I've played all my life. Professionally fo a while. A few years ago a friend of mine became very sick. He loved to sail and, before he died, he told me that his dream when he got better (he didn't) was to sail all the way around this island. After he died it really struck me that life is short and if I have any dreams I'd better pursue them right now. I'd always dreamed of being a way better guitarist than I was, but always thought that I was a talentless shmuck so why even try. I finally realized that this was a really crappy way to look at things and I needed to smarten up. So, for the last ten years I've thrown myself relentlessly into study and practice and, surprise, surprise, it's really paid off. I'm playing things now that I never dreamed I'd be able to do and I am one happy camper.

Like everything, music and guitar is a calling. I'm sure glad it called me....

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By the way, there is a good book called "Practicing" by Glenn Kurtz that is his life story of pursuing guitar playing with a passion in his youth, then quitting for over a decade as an adult, and returning to it in his late thirties.



- Jasco



Great book, the author was a child prodigy on guitar, later a pro and virtuoso. Just walked away from it for twenty years, cold turkey.

Then, just picked up an acoustic, tinkled and ........... well you got to read it.

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Here's another stage I hit:


Taking lessons for several years with a phenomonal teacher. Teacher moves away. New teachers are a-holes who took the joy out of a teenager's playing.


It took 15 years for me to pick it up again.



That can happen but only because YOU quit.

Why go to assh*le teachers? Did you tell your parents about it?

You didn't love it enough at the time.

Don't beat yourself up about. Today is a new day.

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Wonderull thread! I made it through most of the dangerous times, till I hit marriage. My first crashed and burned, a very painfull time. I played lots after that, but when I met my 2nd (of 3) wife I just seemed to quit - I really have no idea why. Then about 15 years later, the desire to play came back as a hunger I could not deny. I have major troubles finding time due to demands of work and home, but the time I can make is pure therapy for me. It means alot to me. Most of the time no one hears me play, I have to play after my wife and son have gone to sleep. I regret the time I lost (and wish I could figure out WHY), but I cherish every moment I get to play now.

}{awk

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I'm new to guitar playing and when I started I was sold a Washburn D47SCE ELECTRIC,I'm now told that I should exchange it for a Blueridge dreadnought.I'm told this is a much better guitar.I'm lost, should I change or keep the Washburn?
Gerry

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I never thought about playing guitar until about 2 months ago.

I'll be 57 this year and haven't played a musical instrument since I gave up the clarinet in 8th grade.

I don't know why I never thought I could do it. I've worked professionally in the sound recording industry (motion pictures) for over 30 years and I'm working with music all the time. I've always loved music. I've always worked with music, I just never thought I could play music. And I always knew that there was something missing from my life.

Now I've found it in the guitar. I don't think I'll ever be a great guitarist, but it doesn't matter. It has literally made my life complete and I have never been happier. I get a real goosebump thrill when I touch my instrument and it comes alive and begins producing beautiful tones.

I do not regret all of the years I missed. Everything happens for a reason. There is a reason I didn't pick up a guitar until March 21st of this year. And there is a reason why it took my HD-28 so long to find me. I don't question that. I'm just grateful that I'm able to still learn something at my age.

But...I do know about Dangerous Times. I am in one right now, but not with guitar. One of the other passions of my life has been aviation. I have been a private pilot for over 15 years, but I haven't flown since I began playing the guitar.

But I have been thinking about good guitar-playing destinations lately, so I think that will all work itself out.

This is a GREAT thread!! :thu:

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I'm new to guitar playing and when I started I was sold a Washburn D47SCE ELECTRIC,I'm now told that I should exchange it for a Blueridge dreadnought.I'm told this is a much better guitar.I'm lost, should I change or keep the Washburn?

Gerry



Hi, Gerry.
If you like the Washburn, keep it. If you like the Blueridge more, trade the Washburn(or, if you have the money, keep the first and buy the second. Why choose ?). This probably sounds like no help at all, but, honestly, everyone has their opinions about what equipment is better and what isn't. Check out the other forums and you'll realize that pretty quickly. Arguments are constantly breaking out. I love Gibsons, but I've got little time for Fenders. Does that mean Fenders are no good ? Nope. It just means that they don't work for me and my tastes. Try explaining to Clapton that Fenders are no good !
Frankly, take anything others say with a healthy dose of salt. With music (and life in general, I guess) it's your opinion that ultimately has to count the most.

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