What NEVER... Ever to Do With Guitar Mistakes

This (true) story illustrates an extremely important lesson for teaching yourself the guitar, saving yourself time, and cutting down on frustrating mistakes.

Ultimate Guitar

"I had struggled with alternate picking for a very long time. I never thought I could do it." - Paul Gilbert, world-renown guitarist and picking technique expert

Hey it's Johnny,

A word of warning.

I'm about to discuss something that may be disturbing to some people. And share personal details that I've never publicly disclosed before.

But understand this. If this story were not a perfect way to illustrate an extremely important lesson for teaching yourself the guitar, saving yourself time, and cutting down on frustrating mistakes... I would never mention it. Perhaps not even to friends.

Here's a true story...

Years ago, I faced an unfortunate problem.

After having invested a significant sum of money in a business gone wrong in Asia, I returned to the USA with empty pockets and about enough money to live on for the next 1-2 months.

I was desperate and needed a place to stay. And the only affordable option was a cheap, tiny (6' x 8') room inside an old dirty house that smelled like cat urine, with a US veteran roommate in his 60's, still suffering from PTSD from the Korean war, and his dog, a golden retriever that slept all day.

I took it. And I regret to say, this turned out to be a BIG mistake.

You see, out of desperation, I had knowingly IGNORED a number of "warning signs" that, under normal circumstances, would have prevented me from living with a person in such a condition. Not only was this ex-Marine psychologically unstable, moody, and unfriendly... but he would actually invent new ways to start arguments with me - week after week (hiding my stuff, making messes in the kitchen, etc.). In fact, even our other roommate, a tough-as-nails bass player for a metal band in Manhattan, felt extremely uncomfortable around him.

I knew it was bad. And so, for the next several weeks, I focused on one thing and one thing alone: getting a job. So I could move out. I must have sent out hundreds of applications. But each time, I would receive no reply. And the few interviews I did manage to get all eventually ended in brutal rejection.

I didn't think things could get any worse. But as it turned out, I had NO IDEA what I was in store for.

One day, while I was busy looking for work in my room, my disturbed roommate yelled through the door, "I'm coming in to take back what's mine!" Startled and confused, I immediately locked the door. He began banging on it, loudly, and yelling various obscenities at me. Things about the Korean war. The most racially offensive words I'd ever been subjected to.

Finally, I decided to put an end to this. I slowly opened the door, and stepped outside. He was standing right there next to me, buttering a sandwich, with a VERY large butcher knife. I became very tense. He then said something that I'll never forget:

"I don't want to take someone's life again... like I did in the war. I really don't..."

I won't go into detail, but he literally threatened to kill me on the spot. You know, there comes a moment in everyone's life when he senses his meager place in the world, and how tiny, insignificant, and fragile life really is.

This was that moment for me.

And so, faced with the choice of struggling, fighting, and resisting all that the world had shoved in front of my face... I did something that would become the key to success in every undertaking I ever took from that point forward:

I surrendered.

No, I didn't let him walk all over me. But instead of frantically fighting, I simply stopped EMOTIONALLY resisting. I allowed what was happening... to just happen. And quietly observed. And prayed. And waited patiently for the next move to make (very important, and I'll explain later). 

You see, despite how bad the situation looked, I just gave into the fear that I was feeling. And didn't fight it anymore. I allowed it to be there. And no, it wasn't easy. But in that moment, I had discovered something life changing...

The secret to making PROGRESS in anything.

How's that? Let me explain...

So, long story short... I miraculously averted a near fatal situation. And afterwards, I continued to apply this secret to everything I did from that point forward. I did everything within my power to immediately get the hell out of that situation as fast as possible.

The result? 6 months later, EVERYTHING had changed:

  • I landed a lucrative job in my previous field of engineering and unbelievably, my salary nearly DOUBLED from what it was before. 
  • I moved into a 1 bedroom apartment in one of the prime neighborhoods in New York City and never had to see this guy again. 
  • I regained both my health and peace of mind and spent the next year having the time of my life, meeting new quality people, and enjoying the city.
Now you may be wondering...

What does this have to do with playing the guitar?

The answer is this:

Progress, whether it be in guitar, sports, or life in general… always follows the same predictable paths.

Meaning, I can almost guarantee you, there will be moments on your journey of mastering the guitar when you find yourself feeling desperate, frustrated, anxious and alone. Maybe even secretly scared.

Your hands will fight you. You'll struggle. You'll make mistakes. You'll swear you're not cut out for it, and wish you were born with more talent, more skill, and more ability. 

Here's the thing: That's normal.

If you fight, struggle, resist... you lose.

In those moments, you CANNOT let the fearful feeling of not being "good enough" win. You can't let your frustrations take over, and overpower your mind.

Instead, I want you to remember one thing...


Just let it all go wrong. Let your playing continue to stumble. And allow the mistakes to just happen. Don't fight it. Don't resist. Just OBSERVE. And, I'm not kidding, maybe even invite yourself to make that mistake again. Let me say that again, just observe.

What will happen is this:

Your emotions will stop fighting. Your nerves will stop wrestling with you. You'll ease up little by little and eventually, you'll just relax. Then, immediately your rational mind will regain full control. 

And by doing just this, nothing more, the mistakes may even go away. Not always, but you'd be surprised how often this alone will do it. And if not, remaining calm and not fighting your mistakes will at the very least allow you to OBSERVE what is causing them. To locate the root of the problem.

Why? Because when you're relaxed and observing impartially, you'll finally be able to see the "warning signs" that were there all along. And once you can see what's happening, it's all a matter of slowing your practice down and smoothing over these rough edges. Fixing these mistakes over time. In a smart, calculated, rational manner.

I know this sounds surprising, but it absolutely works.

Will this be easy? Not at first.

But is it worth figuring out how to do this? Absolutely. It's worth learning how to control your emotions to avoid continuing down a negative spiral of frustration. It will help in every area of your life. Not to mention your playing will seriously improve faster as a result.

I really hope you'll try it.

And if you want more strategies like this to help transform your guitar playing with less effort and struggle, I have plenty more to share.

Till next time...

Wishing you fun times with your guitar,~Johnny

About the Author:By Johnny No B.S. For more online mentoring and other must-have lessons on learning the guitar, visit www.nobsguitar.com, the best-kept secret of self-taught guitarists from over 117 different countries. Johnny's lessons have appeared on top guitar websites such as Ultimate-Guitar, GuitarNoise, and many others. He has just released a new book titled: "The No B.S. Guitar Advantage: Secret Strategies Most Guitarists Will Never Tell You About To Go From Beginner To Head-turning Guitar Player Faster Than You Ever Thought Possible."

31 comments sorted by best / new / date

    I appreciate the fact that you weren't preachy and trying to shove your agenda down everyone else's throat. Way to go man.
    I like this post a lot. You know even before I was any good. I simply paid attention to my mistakes and sometimes i even found it made a cool sound to me so i would use that sound in my music writing. And fear is a huge thing with people like making mistakes on stage and everything else. But what you have to do is you can't stop in the middle of a show to start over a part you keep pushing forward! And you show that crowd of people the excitement.
    Jacques Nel
    Good article. I've had a similar experience, not as bad or intense as yours though. Thanks for sharing your story and advice. I think where some people get confused is that you shouldn't give up. Just stop that emotional resistance and rather work on yourself and advancing yourself than trying to change everything around you to accommodate you.
    He is right! I discover this 6 months ago i give up fighting trying to be better and after that i just felt like I had to relax and observe... with the time you will be able to play much better
    Reads like an old-style religious tract, especially this bit: "The result? 6 months later, EVERYTHING had changed: ◾I landed a lucrative job in my previous field of engineering and unbelievably, my salary nearly DOUBLED from what it was before..." And most of the replies read like gullible sheep.
    So the author is a well-paid engineer, but still writes guitar lessons and guitar books. Seems legit.
    Yeah, your job should be your only passion in life. You can't have a hobby, that will take your mind off the work.
    Jacques Nel
    I'm an accountant, and I do it too. Not professionally yet, but in my spare time. What's your point?
    I wasn't expecting much out of this, but I came out greatly enjoying it. I've been going through a spurt where I keep messing up the same things all the time and kind of dwelling on it so this is definitely a good thing to read. All around great article!
    "top guitar websites such as Ultimate-Guitar" UG is a top guitar website?
    While the reporting is often shoddy, it is the best tab website on the internet. It has a very active forum for guitarists and a constant stream of users. For all its faults UG is still the top guitar website on the internet. That's why people routinely come here.