Why Aren't You A Better Guitarist? Part 3

After you've learned the twenty concepts you need to become a better guitarist, here're the five things to forget!

Ultimate Guitar

Read the first part here. The second one is available at this location.

It seems strange to me how many incorrect assumptions and teachings there are about becoming a better guitarist. Here are a few things that are often not true.

01. You should be a well rounded player and learn lots of different styles of music to become a good guitarist. This is one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard on the subject. Segovia (the classical guitar master) wasn't well rounded - he didn't waste his time to master jazz or bluegrass for example. Yngwie Malmsteen didn't study intense jazz guitar. Most great jazz guitarists don't study classical guitar or heavy metal guitar. Stevie Ray Vaughn never learned to play fusion or metal. Great country players usually don't study Progressive Rock. Of course there are examples of players that do learn and play in more than one or two styles, but most of the really great guitarists are known for the style they focussed on. They are masters of their style, they are specialists, not a jack-of-all-trades type of player. Don't listen to people who say something like, 'You must learn blues before you can learn heavy metal or classical guitar. You do not have to be well rounded.

The only time one needs to learn lots of different styles of music is because your goals require it. If you truly love a lot of styles and want to learn them all, then go ahead and do that. If you want to be a studio musician or a jobber, then you will need that versatility. Its very hard to be really good at many styles.

02. You should be able to play all the techniques of the guitar. Van Halen did tapping but not with all his fingers as others have done. He didn't play finger style much either, but we still regard him as an important guitarist, the same thing can be said for Vai and many others. Classical guitar master John William's probably doesn't play well with a guitar pick (I am assuming this to be true, I have no proof of it), but he is considered one of the greatest classical guitarists alive today. Skills like improvisation, songwriting and playing with a guitar pick or not going to be high on his list of skills to acquire. This is because classical guitarists generally don't do those things - and don't need to in order to be great at what they do. These players are great players in their own ways and they have spent many years developing their skills. Learning everything about guitar playing would have taken away precious practice time from the things they needed to focus on to reach their goals.

03. Teaching yourself is the best way to be original. This is so obviously false its hard to believe that anyone could actually believe it - yet some people still do. Don't fall into the trap of thinking this is the best way to learn. This is the most close-minded philosophy I can think of. Musical skills are tools. One should want to obtain and master as many of these tools as will be needed to reach your goals. Doing that alone won't work well and even if it does eventually work, it will take 10 times as long! Besides, how will you know if what you are trying to do is original if you don't learn about what has already been done?

04. To be great means I have to be better than everybody else. We already touched on this one above, but it is worth mentioning again here. What matters is reaching your goals, not someone else's goals. Who cares if you are or are not better than someone else? This is not the olympics. Music is the art of expression (or for some people, the science of entertainment).

05. You need natural talent to be a great (or even a good) musician. Don't believe this. It is true that some people possess more natural abilities in one skill or another. For example, some athletes are naturally fast sprinters. Others are great marathon runners. Others can swim faster or longer. Others can jump higher. Others are stronger. Others are smarter. Others have faster reflexes. Others can throw a football better. Others can shoot a basketball better, etc. The point is athletes with great abilities have them usually in one area. For example, Michael Jorden (arguably the world's greatest basketball player of all time) was not very successful when he tried to play baseball (or golf for that matter). Think about athletes in the olympics, they are specialists. They have found their natural ability and developed it to its greatest potential, but that natural ability is usually limited to one skill.

Music is very different from a skill or a sport. There is no such thing as musical skill. There exists only a large set of musical skills. Think about some of the very different types of skills a musician needs to have: a highly developed ear, good physical technique on his/her instrument, heightened creativity, the ability to improvise well, songwriting/composing skills, the ability to play in time, the ability to play with others, the comprehension of music theory, a good memory, the ability to read music, etc. The list goes on and on. Some players have a natural ability to play fast, some have naturally good ears, some have good voices, some are naturally more creative than others, some are natural improvisers, etc. Nobody has natural talent in all of the necessary areas to be a complete musician.

Think about the masters of music. Mozart was probably most naturally gifted in only three of these areas: technical skill, a great ear (perfect pitch), a great musical memory. But he had to work hard at all the other areas of music just like everybody else.

Chopin's natural ability was his ability to improvise. He was the master, but he worked very hard to become the virtuoso pianist that he would later become. Chopin also was the master at small forms, but struggled with large scale forms.

Beethoven probably had no natural ability known to himself for a long time. He didn't even begin composing much until around the age of 30! He was not a child prodigy like Mozart and Chopin were. Beethoven was, of course, a master, but did not enjoy the fruits of any natural talents. He constantly edited his works over and over, trying to perfect them. Mozart, by comparison, very rarely ever edited anything he wrote.

Each of us has some natural ability of some kind. You may already know what yours is or you may not yet discovered it. If being a better musician is not coming easy for you that simply means you are like the rest of us.

In reaching your goals: There are only two real players in this game ....You and Time.

Tom Hess is a professional virtuoso guitarist and teacher. He has toured in many countries through out the world. To find out more check out the official Tom Hess web site.

See Tom Hess on the HolyHell world tour in 2006. Tour dates posted here.

Copyright 2005 by Tom Hess. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

102 comments sorted by best / new / date

    if you guys really like writing why dont you write an article of your own LOL
    What crap, You don't need to be a good guitarist to be a good musician, This hole articale and everything that has been written about being a better guitarist is crap, its musical ability and being a writer that makes you good and no matter how hard you try you can not learn to be creative and write through this crap, Honestly these articales are useless dribble, You have to find what you are in your music and find out what you should play and how you should play it through yourself, You don't learn this from any teacher or any articale, If you want to be good you have to find inspiration in something and try and be creative in whatever you write, If you try hard enough you will be good, You can't be taught to be good at writing or music and its that simple.
    While you may not need to play lots of different styles to be a good musician, it definitely helps to have a variety of skills in your arsenal, because it makes your music more vibrant and original sounding. Just think about it, you've got Jimi Hendrix, who could play jazz, blues and rock, and harpischord as well as guitar, you got George Harrison who could play sitar (imagine Norwegian Wood without a sitar, it wouldn't have been half as good), there's John Frusciante, who can play funk, rock and slide guitar, and System of a Down, who use the influences of Middle Eastern music combined with metal. There are loads of other examples which I can't be arsed listing. Anyway, I don't really like any of the 'great' players you listed who only play one style (I admit I haven't heard of the classical guy) so I guess this probably comes down to opinion.
    Wow, Emergency Kit...Now I hate Tom Hess more!!!!! Im kind of off Nirvana now but I respect Kurt as a musician.
    Joe Satriani taught Steve Vai lessons when he was a teen. Obviously that worked out really well for him. It can either help or hurt, there's no right or wrong answers. I'd suggest trying both, if i could afford lessons, i'd get lessons, until then. I guess it's just me and the internet.
    Emergancy Exit
    here is something i found from Tom Hess's website i just would like to share
    As much as I have never liked or respected Nirvana's singer/songwriter/guitarist Kurt Cobain, I must admit that he was able to express himself fairly well. Despite the fact that Kurt's musical skills were primitive and very limited, one could hear his personality come through his music. It didn't matter that he was not a good guitarist. It didn't matter that his knowledge of music theory was probably close to zero. It also didn't matter that he played out of tune and had an absolutely sloppy guitar technique. Fortunately for him, what he wanted to express didn't require any of the skills that most musicians generally consider to be good and necessary. Had Kurt wanted to express anything more significant or complex he would have been extremely frustrated because he didn't have a lot of musicianship skills beyond what could be heard in his music. So in the end, it worked out well for him and my guess is that he probably wasn't very frustrated with himself musically because he wasn't trying to be a better guitarist, songwriter or singer than anyone else. He didn't make those types of comparisons between himself and the rest of the music world.
    Emergancy Exit
    I never said i was for/against this article i just wanted to clear up what he said alot of people diddint understand what he was saying so i tried to clear up and explain it a little better Cymbaline, there was no need in the name calling i thought i just truley misunderstood you and was about to apollagise for misunderstanding you untill i got to the bottom of youre letter to me and you just asumed that i am " following blindly" and said i was " trulely stupid and pathetic " among other things. i did question what he said and weighed the information like you said you did. Thanks for the information about that book i will be sure to take a look at it next time at my local music store
    Mark Knofler was the guitarist in Dire Straits. He always played fingerstyle, but he realized that he was doing it wrong after releasing about 10 albums. I think Chet Atkins showed him where he was going wrong. He should have got a teacher earlier.
    I didnt really think the article was written well... actually it's not how it was written.. it was what you were saying. Im not gonna talk about the whole thing.. but for example the first section.. "You should be a well rounded player and learn lots of different styles of music to become a good guitarist." i dont know where youve heard that, ive never heard that... ive heard "you should learn a lot of different styles to give yourself a little versatility"... but anyway... being versatile isnt bad... you dont have to learn lots of things, but being exposed to it could potentially expand your musical interest and might help you shape the direction in which you're headed with your music. you dont have to specialize in "everything".. but its good to know a thing or two.
    guitaron wrote: Hey don't criticize the dude, self absorbed or not, take from it what you need and move on. Maybe something useful here and maybe not. LEARN. be kind to the boards man!
    Totally agreed, but on the issue of being more original by having a teacher, this can come true or false. It is just how you take it and how your natural ability and patience brings you in the instrument. Agreed, Slash, Hendrix, etc.. all those men taught themselves a lot of what they know now, but look how many hours they put into their self-teachings. A lot of us do not do that now. As stated before me, Hendrix even went around asking for licks and riffs from other guitarists, and he idolozed B.B. King and tried to immitate B.B. when he was starting out. You can look on the brighter side of having a teacher as well. Having a teacher that is compatent enough to get you where you need to go will get you there quicker, but that is a challenge in itself. A lot of teachers I have went through are in it just to earn a buck. Which is quite sad to see, but if you can find that right teacher, they will get you on the road quicker. Teachers can put you in places to play to open up doors for yourself; to show the world your abilities, but again it's a challenge to find the right teacher. In a way, like trying to find the right people to form a band.
    In reaching your goals: There are only two real players in this game ....You and Time.
    Sometimes I wonder to myself, "How old is too old?" Will I have to remain a "27 year old guitarist" forever to avoid looking retarded on the instrument? Because, you know, there will always be 15 year old kids who play the guitar better than I do.
    Hey don't criticize the dude, self absorbed or not, take from it what you need and move on. Maybe something useful here and maybe not. LEARN. be kind to the boards man!
    He usually posts on these articles..I guess he was too busy crying this time and praising himself. But whatever, if the man is good at guitar good for him.
    Awesome article i couldn't agree more with points 1 and 5. I also checked out your site and watched the "Through the trials" vid you rock man!! \m/
    hey tom, i went to your website and listened to some of your tracks, your friggin amazing!! you must have been playing for quite some time.
    Cymbaline wrote: Go Bati, You took the words right out of my mouth. I touched on a little that Beethoven had perfect pitch since we was kind of a deaf player. He wasn't always deaf but to say he didn't enjoy the fruits of his talent and wasn't famous till the age of thirty is idiocy. By the age of seven he was playing variations on a theme practically improvised for royalty, he only lived to the age of 42 I believe but am not positive.
    Sorry for double-posting, but this post caught my attention. Cymbaline, Beethoven only did live to 42, and he died of lead poisoning. In fact, it was destroying his brain at the time of his death, and it took his hearing, but he could still compose great music. Think of that!
    BLACKRAVEN wrote: "how will you know if what you are trying to do is original if you don't learn about what has already been done?" good point but i am self taught and im origonal enough to be in 2 bands and play recording sessions for a living so dont doubt the self teachings work, after all guitarists like Slash and Tony iommi were never taught by anyone but themselves id say that worked pretty well wouldnt you? otherwise some good points but a bit mixed up, i only mean this as helpfull criticism keep writing dude peace out RAVEN
    Actually Raven, Slash DID get lessons, right from the beginning, at a local guitar store.
    Go Bati, You took the words right out of my mouth. I touched on a little that Beethoven had perfect pitch since we was kind of a deaf player. He wasn't always deaf but to say he didn't enjoy the fruits of his talent and wasn't famous till the age of thirty is idiocy. By the age of seven he was playing variations on a theme practically improvised for royalty, he only lived to the age of 42 I believe but am not positive.
    In reaching your goals: There are only two real players in this game ....You and Time.
    How old is too old?
    I believe everyone should just do what pleases them.... even this article is 'telling' them what to do... besides... those taking classes (not self-thought), they have the interest.... interest to start doing something... just like a self-thought person... btw.. I'm self-thought.. and.... those learning more than two styles.. it's really up 2 u.... as long as u like it... take it up... music is art... u don't NEED it... it's just something desirable... so u'll need interest in it b4 starting something... there's not real 'techniques' to music...
    self teaching along with learning some different styles does help you to find your own sound. Play what you're into (as he said).play with other players, and keep an open mind. everything does come in time. Good article just the same
    Thanks to all of you who posted replies, Some of the negative ones made me laugh, I have to admit.
    First of all, the Article is meant to be self motivating and a wake up call to our self belief. I'm not saying that Self Teaching is bad. I'm saying that teaching yourself without any help is a bad IDEA. I'll take myself as a perfect example. I'm now a much better Guitarist with a teacher than without one. I won't bore you with the details but a teacher can help you reach your goals (small or big) faster. However, there are some unexperienced teachers in this world that mostly do it for money. I've had a teacher before that i quit in less than 4 lessons since felt that i wasn't progressing at all. Mr Tom Hess, has thought thousands of students and was once a frustrated student himself. He has wasted thousands of dollars and aimless years to get where he has today and his suggestion after all those years is finding a teacher who will reach your goals. You can TEACH YOURSELF how to play Guitar but your progress won?t be as sky rocketing as it should be. Of course SELF TAUGHT Guitarists can still become popular in the music industry. But most likely I?ll be much harder for them than someone who has help. Mcdonalds, Microsoft and other big businesses have people help them all the time. Do you think Bill gates could run MICROSOFT by himself? Of course not! He probably has had help to get where he is today. A good teacher has a lot more knowledge than a student does. A teacher will be able to teach you the theory that right way and getting rid of bad habits. Btw, of course if your a teacher you would want to Advertise yourself. But Tom Hess is fairly financial already? How do I know? He?s toured around the world with Holyhell and has his own band Hess. He also has enough private and correspondence students to keep him wealthy enough. He emailed me one time saying he has at least 100+ correspondence students and that?s excluding private students. So wether or not you can him dog shit advertiser and don?t sign up for his lessons it doesn?t really matter. He also is looking for serious students only. In fact, in his interview he only answer the mail he gets from correspondence apply form. You were saying he was just doing it for money? ?You should be a well rounded player and learn lots of different styles of music to become a good guitarist.? It?s a damn statement. I can?t believe people would disagree with him. Ok, it?s NOT bad to learn other styles. That?s what you called common sense. But if you want tour around the world with your Band or whatever and the style presentation is DEATH METAL for example. Why the hell would you want to learn blues, finger picking or country? What Tom Hess was simply saying that learning the style you want to present to the audience will be much faster reaching your goals and saves your many years?think about it. YES there are people who think that Statement is true. Btw, Tom Hess is a Virtsuo Guitarist. Listen to his Opus 2 Album and try playing his stuff. It?s true music comes to opinion. There are some stuff that I listen that in rare occasions I like more than Vai, Ygwnie and Satriani Stuff. But that doesn?t mean being a Virtsuo guitarist will not help you. If you are a better Musician you will be able to create music that you want present better?fact. All I can say is the Article was a great inspiration to the false beliefs that Guitarists have in their system. I myself learnt a few mythbusters??
    oh my god, why are so many people being so mean in these comments?! Tom Hess did his best, if you guys think that he's wrong and you can do a better job then you some up with techniques for teaching guitar and writing about it and write it yourself! i taught myself, and i think that i'm getting along just fine, i can pick up what other people are doing by watching and them trying it myself... but that's just me.. but i do think that in some way, guitarists do need to teach themselves to some extent like, polishing your own sound or abilities.. i can't come up w/ the right words, but i hope ya'll are following me! and about the needing to know different types of music, i totally agree with what he sed about learning what you like, not just learning a buttload of music so your an "accomplished" guitarist. if you like country, and hard rock, and hip hop, or whatever, then play all that! if you only like rock, then just play rock, there are plenty of great rock guitarists to learn from. but yeah, great article, no matter what anyone else sez!
    i gotta say.... tom hess is kinda gay kudos to giter'man tho hehe
    I don't completely agree with this article. I'm just gonna come straight out and say my opinion: Yes it's true that someone without natural talent can be as good as someone with natural talent, but overall, people with natural sparks for an instrument are ALWAYS better than people without them. Let's pretend we have two guitarists... one has been playing for 10 years and is pretty dam awesome. The other has been playing for 5 years and is not as good as the guy with 10 years experience. You CANNOT immediately say that the guy with 10 years experience is better. You always have to compare one's skill with how long they have been playing. But that being said, anyone who wants to be better at their instrument than everyone else is seriously not getting it. PLAY TO HAVE FUN!!
    dude i was on the tiolet on my labtop reading this aricle and man it sucked so bad that after i read it i droped a few cosby kids off at the swimming pool
    Oh, my point should've been, you want to be better; learn anything and everything from guitarists anywhere, any technique from any style can probably be transposed into another one, that's fusion, that's how music evolves, that's how you and your music gets "better". That and practise like a bitch, you want to be the best regardless of any natural ability, or lack of? Practise more than anyone else you know or have heard of. Listen to everything. Draw from it, use it. And Beethoven had a piano teacher from the age of 5 to 12, after the age of 12 he fired him as he had surpassed him cause he practised each day for 6 hours or something equally astounding (an example of teachers or self taught not mattering, just pactise). He was only well known under scholoarship at the age of 30, until then no one knew who he was is all, he was never incredibly successful in his time. Again, I do like your style.
    I don'y understand how you can learn various techinques without learning at least something about varying styles. All those great guitar players probably spent some time playing peices of music from different syles, didn't master them, just looked, so I wouldn't ever argue it's a waste of time to learn varying styles. As for people saying professional guitarists don't have lessons, all the smart ones do, if for nothing else to improve what they have already started. If they don;'t have lessons they will look HARD at other guitarists. The best way to learn is to learn from others, teacher, friend, hobo playing guitar in the street, where ever, regardless of what style they are playing. As for being a "better" guitarist, what's the deffinitiopn of better if not better than other guitarists. Otherwise whats the point of your article? The own goals thing is alright, but why have you set your goals? A Musician expresses himself, hence has no need to be "better". A Guitarist plays guitar well, thus, can get better hoping to become the best. They are two different things, some people are both, some people are one or the other, some are niether, both can be achieved through practise. Well written article, you made your points I just happen to dissagree with alot of them, especially about the varying styles. Saying that though, you've enspired and helped some people, as well as taken the time to try to do this. Good job. Much love
    "Some of the negative ones made me laugh, I have to admit." Me too! Kudos and thanks for the advice!
    i figured out that i wasnt a good guitarist cuz i dont use my pink now i am... well i'm still not good but i'm better.
    ive taught myself everything i know, and i wouldnt have it any other way. sure its good for some ppl to take lessons and learn basics and stuff like that, but u get more out of playing guitar if it all comes from within.
    wait, this guy is a teacher. teachers have to teach many different styles. so this man plays many styles, yet he tells you to only play one? is he retarded? Unil next time.....
    wait a minute, he told people to learn one style, yet he teaches many? seeing as hes a teacher, hes retarded and doesnt kno how to teach... Until next time....
    Angelus Mortem
    There is some merit in teaching yourself, but let's be totally honest here, if you ever watched an instructional video, or read a Tab, you did not do all the work yourself. You had outside input ( be it ever so small ). I tend to agree with the author that we all develop the skills we most need on a prioity basis, that is just common sense. I enjoyed this article, and even if some of you disagree with one point or another contained therein, at least it opened a spirited debate.
    Well, studying other kinds of music may not help, but dabbling in them for new ideas is great.
    There is no such thing as musical skill. There exists only a large set of musical skills. What the **** is this guy on?
    One thing you left out. You did say that yeah guitar is not the olympics. I'm an artistic guy, I'm an actor, and I play guitar and I sing. So I have the Artistic ability, but the following can be said about ANYTHING: Be it an actor, singer, musician or what. No matter how good you are there will always be someone who's better. So don't worry about beating your brother or bestfriend. They maybe good, but there is ALWAYS someone better
    self teaching does help you to find your own sound. But so does playing with other players as it helps to open you up to other styles , something may fit what you're into. Good article just the same.