2 Overlooked Key Pillars In Becoming A Great Guitarist

A detailed explanation of the mental attitude to have and how to apply it while learning guitar at any level.

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By Ryan Duke

Intro

Like any instrument it takes lots of knowledge of the instrument, practice, and time to learn, apply what you've learned and therefore lots of patience. This is common knowledge, but while many striving guitar players and musicians work their tails off, there is this haunting voice in their head(no, not literally) telling them that there is a secret and they don't have it. The fact is that this is kind of true. Very true. Today we will look at two very important elements you will need on your path towards greatness whether it's just to be able play what you want from home or to preform for the masses. These are not all you need, but they are vital. I am calling these pillars because, to have a large fortress you need a strong foundation and stable support to uphold what you're going to build on the top.

So, why do some people seem to just have it? Did they learn from some guru or are they just "gifted"? They may have been taught it and they might be a little "gifted", but that isn't enough. If you think those to be all you need then you either haven't looked hard enough for the answer or you are just unaware of it. I don't say that to say you are stupid. I've missed truths all throughout my life, but that's part of life, you learn as you go. I believe you are ready to learn. Do you believe you are ready? Even if you don't feel like you are, you're reading and that is a good sign this is the right time.

Now, for some of you, there is something important I have to follow up that last paragraph with. If you learn as you go, then why have you been stuck in the same spot for a very long time? It could be that you stopped learning, but I doubt that was your original intention. You may have stopped applying what you already know and as a result stopped learning further on your instrument. For a lot of people, once they "know" something they think they have it all figured out and it should just magically work. Everyone does this from time to time, but some do it a lot. Don't be that kind of musician. The greats all had mentors, teachers, or they were asking the greats before them for the answers. Walking in their footsteps as close as humanly possible; immersing themselves in greatness and finding it rubbing off on them.

Getting deeper - the next steps toward a breakthrough

I imagine and hope that at this point in the article you are thinking a little about the journey you've taken, the progress you made, when you made it, and when you had pitfalls. If you aren't thinking about it, then stop for a couple minutes and think about it. Write these thoughts down. All the details, dates, and correlations they have to one another. I say write it down so, you see it with your eyes and refer back to it in the future. It wouldn't hurt to start a guitar journal of your journey. Not the kind of journal where you pour out your feelings(you can do that if you want), but a journal where you keep a record of your progress. There is value in seeing that what you've been doing is or ins't working. Looking at the journal can jar you a little. It will let you know your inconsistencies in discipline to practice. It will show you that you should probably change up your routine or get a routine. If you want the truth, it's going to hurt a little.

One of the overlooked keys is mentioned above, but not clearly explained. I needed to preface it to clearly relay the value of this key. Some common words will give this clarity; humble and hungry. Hungry? Yes, hungry. When you are hungry enough you will find food and certainly eat it. If you want to know the answer then you will find it and eat it, wait, I mean use it. A humble or teachable person is not someone who belittles themselves, but someone who acknowledges their inadequacies and sees the opportunity to learn from others and does learn it for life. Now, I'm sure you're openminded and that's an excellent thing, but lets go beyond that. What I want to be is humble and hungry. I say both of those to bring out a perfect match. A humble person is willing to learn and a hungry person is dying to learn and will learn to the point of it being permanent. They will own it. Knowledge is is a good map, but it's not the journey. As you go on the journey you will grow so much more. Imagine a person looking at a map and saying that they've been everywhere on it. You'd call them a liar. Let's not lie to ourselves anymore.

Now I said a key was mentioned above. I touched on it earlier, "once they "know" something they think they have it all figured out" A humble and hungry person is always looking. Sometimes we fall for the trap that knowledge is the answer. What we often overlook is the foundation or basic skills of our playing. Once we get down our chords, pentatonic scale, etc. we often think we know them and that's all we need. Lets get to the sweep picking! Why? Is that all there is to music? certainly not. I love sweep picking as much as any metal fan, but if you can't play the basics exceptionally then sweep picking isn't going to happen. Have you ever tried to play Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and make it sound passionate and moving? Probably not, because it's a children's song and it's pretty easy to learn and play. I use this song to challenge you. You probably don't connect with it personally unless it reminds you of the safety of childhood you felt as you learned to sing it with Mom. Start playing it without rushing through it. Play it perfectly. Play it passionately. Really mean it and see how it will sound different.

SUMMARY - The 2 Pillars

  • Attitude
  • Stay humble and hungry; don't fall into the trap of thinking you know something because you have knowledge of it.

  • Application
  • Take the knowledge you have and make it yours forever. Do this through taking the basics you've learned and making them so permanent that they sound flawless and pristine.

    Once you can do this then you can move forward to the next level and repeat the process. Think of a car. Everyone always sees and loves the looks, but if the engine is thrown together without precision then it's a lemon. Don't be a lemon guitarist.

    About the Author

    Ryan Duke is a musician, songwriter, and guitar teach in Dayton, OH. He plays progressive metal with a positive message and strives to encourage fellow musicians and students. Visit his music site at www.fortisamor.com and his teaching site at www.daytonguitarlessons.com.

    22 comments sorted by best / new / date

      James Scott
      Interesting article. I think the mental aspects of learning guitar are often overlooked.
      Ryan Duke
      Interesting article. I think the mental aspects of learning guitar are often overlooked.
      They definitely are James. It's a funny thing since your mind is being used the whole time.
      alexi66691
      Very well written. I was disappointed when I realised it was an article and not a book.
      Rovan Deon
      Staying humble and hungry and not falling into the trap of thinking you know something because you have knowledge of it is great advice for any producer or songwriter....It is good to see this brought to light. Signed: The Duke
      Danjo's Guitar
      "Don't be a lemon guitarist." I am going to remember that quote. Very good article. I've been in a weird place musically, and thats some good advice.
      Ty Morgan
      Great article, Ryan! Loved the comparison of great musicianship to a fortress with strong foundational elements. That image will stick with me for life: I also want to congratulate you on being, if not the first, one of the first columnists I've found who talks about humility in a very applicable way! All musicians would do themselves a huge favor by taking this advice very seriously. Totally looking forward to more articles: Off to take the "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" challenge . . . wish me luck!!
      Ryan Duke
      Thanks Ty! I appreciate your words of encouragement. Good luck with TTLS!
      GuitarShredder+
      This was very well-written and I agree with the idea of writing a book on this. It's a very interesting subject and you are obviously very knowledgeable in knowing how to know when you know something. Thank you so much for this. I will not be a lemon guitarist!
      Ryan Duke
      Very well written. I was disappointed when I realised it was an article and not a book.
      A book may come. I've been thinking one through for quite a while. If'd you'd like to be notified of anything else I write or put out you can join my mailing list.
      Shor-T Zero
      Awesome job Ryan, you have a great writing style and I'm glad you touched on this. I actually expected it to be about tips with hand placement and such, but as it has been said, the mental aspect is overlooked. I'm just glad I'm humble with my guitar playing (though this last sentence doesn't make it seem like this is the case). Great stuff, looking forward to more.
      mikesocarras
      Nice writing, I like that you dont beat around the bush and your tone. This is a very important article in any musicians journey. Attitude and application. Nice!
      Dru Silver
      Killer article Ryan, love to see you branching out to this medium and helping a lot of guitar players in the process Keep it up brother, can't wait for the next one.
      Bad Kharmel
      very very good from an emotional "this is how I need to feel" standpoint, although I think people also tend to ignore technique and theory pretty heartily
      BobBlunn
      Great article Ryan! I liked how you touched upon attitude, and mindset. Mindset will undoubtedly affect how you play and sound. And, how you challenged us to do more with less. (Watch any of the blues greats to see how they will squeeze out every bit of soul they can from every note in a simple melody.) Thanks for sharing...
      Ryan Duke
      This was very well-written and I agree with the idea of writing a book on this. It's a very interesting subject and you are obviously very knowledgeable in knowing how to know when you know something. Thank you so much for this. I will not be a lemon guitarist!
      Thank you and you're welcome.
      AJSaw
      I really enjoyed this. Very well written article, I'll keep looking for your work.
      fistofTHEAXIS
      This is why I love Ryan's articles. He keeps it short and yet somehow, every word is important!