(Updated from original posting from around 2008.)
I’m a teacher who is totally excited and passionate about what I do. I’ve taught many different subjects over the years in academia and business, but when I started teaching guitar I thought, “This is it! I love this! I have found my life’s work!”
But I’m No Good…
I’m thrilled to be able to bring the joy of making music to peoples’ lives… So, when a student comes to me and says, “Well, I really want to do this but I can’t. I love the guitar but I’m no good. I’ll never be as talented as John Mayer or Eddie Van Halen or Jewel (place your musical idol’s name here)” it’s a bit deflating to me as a teacher, I admit. Maybe it’s true that you won’t reach that level — or maybe not.
The first thing I try to get across to students is that they can do WAY MORE than they ever expect when they first walk into my studio. This is because with the right support and instruction students can FLY – regardless of age or prior experience. And if you’re NOT flying, skill wise or mentally and emotionally with your music, you should look for a teacher who fits you better and gets you excited. We can’t practice for you, but we can and should inspire you and have the skills to help you work through your roadblocks!
But they’re up there and I’m way down here!
Understand that mastery is within reach of everyone. Really! Stop comparing yourself to others. Even if you only master strumming the chords to “Brown Eyed Girl” – when someone asks you to play for them and you do that one simple thing really rock solid GREAT, people will say, “Hey, she’s a really good guitar player! He’s a great singer!” Of course, if you stick with it, you will be able to play much more than that in not a whole lot of time. And you will master more difficult skills.
The keys are patience, accepting where you are now in your journey, and fully expressing your individuality. We are not meant to be clones of great stars. But that doesn’t mean we can’t excel. And if we have a desire and a drive to create music, we are meant to be musicians! (More on this topic later…)
In the mean time, let’s get back to the issue. Having a sense of accomplishment. Measuring progress. Calling and thinking of yourself as a guitar player or musician. The reality is that you CAN play the guitar (or sing, or play drums) – you are already doing it.
When your brain tells you that you can’t be a musician, your brain is WRONG! Stop listening to it.
Instead, try some of these ideas:
1. Create a repertoire section in your notebook. When you learn a song or a small classical piece – anything that you know completely and well start to finish – put it in the repertoire section of your notebook. Review these pieces regularly so you don’t forget them. Involve your teacher if it’s not part of your current routine. And if you are not learning to play anything start to finish even on a simple level, have your teacher work on this with you. You are investing in lessons and should have something to show for your time and effort. I have seen too many students who have studied a year or more and can only play riffs or parts of songs, sometimes less than that.
2. Record yourself. Simple mp3s or a cassette tape are fine for this. Play whatever is in your repertoire. The number, length, and complexity of the songs or pieces doesn’t matter. File these where you can find them and note the date you recorded them. Listen to these recordings 6 to 12 months later with your teacher or on your own. You will be amazed at how much you’ve progressed. Your teacher can help you with recording as well, it’s fun to do this exercise during your lessons.
3. Play with and for other people. Practice performing at home and in lessons. It is wrong to think that just because you have learned the song you know how to perform it. The first obvious step is to play for your teacher. Some teachers have happy fingers – make sure they don’t jump in at this point. It’s all about YOU! Later, or in lessons, you can work on ensemble playing. Next, play for your family and friends. If you truly don’t have anyone else to play for or are still really uncomfortable, try finding other students or teachers where you take lessons. Join a class. This is a GREAT way to meet other people who are at the same level as you and who have the same concerns. Next, find a group you can play with. Again, a class is perfect. Practice groups with other students are also great. I used to like the idea of jam sessions and open stages for beginners but discovered those really aren’t a good intermediate step. They are too infrequent and intimidating for many beginning performers. Set yourself up for success with whatever steps you are comfortable taking. Then build.
4. Teach! Yes, I said teach! The best way to learn a skill is to teach it. This forces you to think about all the little nuances and explain them to others. You can teach a neighbor, a friend, a child, anyone who will sit still long enough for you to show them something. You don’t have to charge in the beginning and you don’t have to want to teach as a career. But you will learn LOADS and get a real sense of accomplishment. You will realize how far you have come as a player.
5. Use a metronome and keep track of the tempo at which you can play songs, pieces, scales, or certain exercises cleanly and accurately. Many teachers put this at the top of their list for measuring progress. I have it a little lower on my list because I find that it’s not a prime motivator especially for beginning and intermediate students and for hobbyists. It can actually contribute to frustration, but your teacher is there to help you work through it.
6. Tell yourself every day – and tell everyone you know – YOU ARE A MUSICIAN!