I remember from my school days how many 'guitar players' filled my classes all telling everyone that would listen that they play guitar. Most of them were only on the level of knowing basic chords and progressions. Not long and you hear 50% say they've sold the guitar and taken up bass guitar. I can honestly say in my last year of school about half of the "musicians" were playing or learning bass. And finally only about 3 or 4 survived and became decent guitarists.
So how does this happen? Why do so many players lose interest? And for those who are learning now, how can you avoid this pitfall and go on to become a versatile well rounded player?
Let's address the root of the problem. Why do people lose interest?
Well, from being there myself at a time, it seems to stem from a number of things.
Firstly, some players expect that they can practice for 10 minutes a day, playing random notes/progressions or picking along to songs and when they fail to see progress they lose interest and motivation. Playing for 10 minutes a day will not see you keeping up with players like Slash, Page, Santana etc.
Secondly, it's the mind frame and lack of creative thinking. When we start playing, a multitude of information is handed to us that go the "Guitar for dummies" books route. Pages upon pages of musical theory and diagrams fill these beginner books, and if you're anything like I was when I started you just shut down because of this information overload. There are ways around musical theory but in the end, having that knowledge is like driving on a brand new piece of road knowing where you're going, as opposed to a gravel road chasing the sun.
But apart from learning this musical theory, many also can't think creatively outside that theoretical box and can't find creative equilibrium immediately when starting.
Thirdly, and something that we are not all in control of is time constraints. I've read that Slash used to practice up to 12 hours a day! I know that personally I don't have that much time on my hands. But unfortunately if we want to progress, we need to put time into our instruments.
Fourth, boredom. Yes, we all want to play blistering solos or beautiful melodies. But getting there means going through practice and exercises that are in their essence actually quite boring. Learning scales can be tedious and the exercise of playing them until you know them by heart is actually boring.
Lastly, a lack of setting goals for ourselves and motivation to achieve those goals. You need to know where you're going, otherwise you will not be determined to get there.
So how do we avoid falling into these traps? I mean there is no set of rules on becoming a good guitar player. But there are things I feel that you must possess from the start to become truly good.
Here is what I feel every prospective guitar-master needs before he even owns a guitar:
1. A true passion for music - No one would want to be a good musician unless they truly love music and appreciate what it gives to you emotionally and spiritually. Apart from the appreciation, you want to be the one making those sounds that give you that feeling. Passion is a must for all musicians.
2. Determination - When you don't become a shredding machine in 2 days, don't sell your guitar and dismiss learning as too difficult. It takes time and a lot of hard work to become a fluent player. Especially for those who don't have massive amounts of time on their hands. But keeping at it, even when you don't progress as fast as you hoped you would, is very important. Don't give up on yourself.
3. The ability to manage time - You need to make time to practice. And you need to do so every day. On a personal note, I keep a guitar close to the bathroom to make nature's calling more productive. Sit and practice while you watch TV. Once your girlfriend/boyfriend tells you, you don't make enough time for her/him, practice some more until they complain about getting no time at all, that means you are practicing to your full potential.
4. Prioritizing - If you'd rather play "GTA V" than practice, don't complain about not becoming as good as you've hoped. Sacrifices will need to be made to become a great player. Sacrifice your non-productive time for practice time.
5. An idol - Yes, if you want to become a great player, you must idolize another great player. Whether it's Jimmy Page, Buckethead or your friend that's better than you, you must have someone to look up to. A guitar-father figure if you will.
6. A goal - Know where you are heading. You can't learn blindly and not know where you want to be. However, even when you reach your goal, remember that music is a lifelong learning curve. You will never know everything there is to know. You can always become better.
7. Rhythm - This was actually supposed to come up earlier in my list, the most basic thing ANY musician needs is rhythm. I know that some will say that if you don't have rhythm it can be learned, well I've never seen anyone successfully "learn" rhythm. If you can't keep a simple beat, you will struggle.
Becoming a well rounded guitar player is a long journey. You will always learn something new along the way. There are countless skills you will need to master, scales, modes, progressions and even setting up your equipment.
But the most important part is never to give up on yourself. Everything takes time and effort. If you can't play scale exercises at 200 bpm after practicing for a day, don't give up. Very few people can progress that quickly.