Last night I went to a local bar to see a friends gig. I'd heard she was pretty good for playing for only a year, but I was blown away by the girls talent. She was a great singer, and was playing effortlessly in front of the crowd. Her set was supposed to run from 6-10 (which to me was astounding.. 4 hours?! ). I saw the list of songs she knew/practiced regularly and it consisted of roughly 30 songs, which got me thinking about my skill as a player.

It dawned on me that I've learned to play riffs, not entire songs. I wouldn't be able to play more than 10 complete songs at most. Starting in 6th grade, I began playing and hope to continue to play for some time. However, for 10 years of playing, I'd say my skills on guitar are a bit lackluster. I've never done any gigs, never really played with a band, so that may be a contributor.

Everyone learns at their own rate, which I understand, but I feel my skill is inadequate for all the gear I have accumulated. I've used purchases of new gear to motivate me to get better and expand my horizons, which has gotten me into new genres of music and such, but for the amount of time/money I've spent I feel I should be more talented.

What's some of your guys ways to learn new material, write your own material, etc? How do you keep focused on one piece, all the way through, before moving onto the next? Help me get better, and maybe learn to play for more than just a bedroom hobby
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You'll only be as good as you'll allow yourself to be. Its ALL ON YOU to practice and decide for how long. No one is going to make you do it. If you want to be an impressive guitarist, your gonna have to put in the time. Even if you dont feel like it. There is no other way. Now go play!
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Same here. Unfortunately, gear and money spent has no relation, let alone influence, on skill or talent. Wouldn't it be nice though?

Talent has something to do with it. Just as with math, some people seem to get it right away, others struggle. For those of us who struggle, focus and discipline are key. But that assumes that you've got nothing else going on in life. And those for whom guitar "is it," they make the time and can get away with it.

I don't know how to play any one complete song. Songs have different parts that require different skills. Some parts of songs simply don't sound interesting to me or are way beyond what I can play. And I guess easy songs, I don't want to learn to begin with. But it would be one way to start. Taking classes also helps. It comes down to forcing yourself to a method, to spending X hours a day working on it and then you'll see the results. It doesn't look like there are shortcuts unfortunately.
Basic goal setting. Where do you want guitar to take you? How soon do you want to get there? Now break it down into manageable steps with a timeline.

For me, music is all about playing live. That means I always need to have about 60 songs that I can play well and are ready to perform. Once you have 60 ready to go you can explore new songs and update your set to keep it fresh. Figure out what your style is and who might be interested in hearing you play and get to work. Start by learning 5 songs well, then 5 more, then 5 more until you are ready.

I know a bunch of players that have no interest in playing live. They prefer to simply work out riffs in their bedroom. Nothing wrong with that if it floats your boat but that is not why I learned to play.
"Your sound is in your hands as much as anything. It's the way you pick, and the way you hold the guitar, more than it is the amp or the guitar you use." -- Stevie Ray Vaughan

"Anybody can play. The note is only 20 percent. The attitude of the motherfucker who plays it is 80 percent." -- Miles Davis

Guthrie on tone: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmohdG9lLqY
Last edited by Cajundaddy at Jul 23, 2015,
I enjoy tinkering around in the bedroom as I never expect to make a career out of playing. Guitar is a hobby and just that; however like Cajundaddy said, I feel that I'd be satisfied being able to play with others or for others. I guess it really does come down to setting my own goals and following through with them.

Thanks for the encouragement everyone
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Practice, practice, then practice some more.

Do you have 'sing-around' groups in your area? Where people sit in a pub and take turns to play songs. Might be worth joining in.

I attend three such groups a month, and it's helped me no end. You learn so much, and get encouragement from others of a similar ability.

I used to be in a band (bass), but it's not the same.
Me? I'm from the other side of the equation. I have talent, but I practice so little that I'll never go anywhere as a pro or amateur. And I'm cool with that, because that isn't why I play.

Put differently: practice is key to improvement, no matter who you are. The only thing talent effects is your rate of progress and limits of potential.
Practice is the only way to get to that level. As others have said, some people learn at different rates. If I compared my self to every 12 year old prodigy out there I would be total crap. I practice 2 hours a day, and just focus on making MY live performance sound good. When I was younger I tended to surround my self with musicians of a higher caliber even if it made me uncomfortable at times. To this day I try to do that and you learn so much that you simply can't from a bedroom practice session. Go outside your comfort zone and push forward. Discipline is also key to reaching that next level of your playing.
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I agree with Cajundaddy it's all about what you want to do as a player. Like him, it's always been about performing to an audience of any size for me. In my case I practice to learn songs to play at gigs. That's 80% of my "practice" time. I'm not usually practicing scales or riffs but whole songs and find which pieces I need to work on. As Sly Stone said "different strokes for different folks". Do what makes you happy.

I was also a little amused that you were surprised about a band playing for four hours. At least in my neck of the woods four hours is the standard in most clubs I play at. That usually means 40-45 minute sets with three 15-20 minute breaks depending on the management. I've been playing a long time and have had situations many times at resort hotels where it was 4 sets in the afternoon a few hours break and another 4 sets later that evening. It's tiring but double pay.
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Last edited by Rickholly74 at Jul 24, 2015,
Playing live makes all the difference.

When I first attacked keyboards, my teachers taught me entire pieces (whether classical or otherwise). There were no "riffs." My first gig was solo, playing four hours for a wedding reception at a Legion Hall. I was eleven and everything was a full song.

When I added guitar, I never had the opportunity to learn "riffs." I was in a band, playing (keyboards) live, and I always had to learn and play full songs, and I just kept learning and adding full songs.

I'm pretty much like Rickholly74 with my experience, in that I started out (with a rock band) playing three to four-hour gigs with a 15 minute break between sets. Before that I played keyboards solo on the same basis (yup, resort hotel bars), often five hours at a crack. The more playing you do, the better you get.

We even had our sets planned out. We were playing a lot of college dances in gyms, and most were three hours or so. The first set everyone was filtering in and checking out who was there, etc., so we did whatever we had to do to get people onto the floor. The second set was absolutely scripted, because we now had a full house and people were watching/listening, and the last song of the second set was spectacular. By the end of it, we had the drum kit lying around the stage, amps pushed over, the whole shot. And I was sitting on the edge of the stage taking bookings. We did more business for upcoming gigs during the break between the second and third sets than at any other time during the week. And then the third set we were largely ignored, as people were grinding, working out who they were going home with and getting ready to leave. By then everyone was hot and sweaty and didn't care and wanted bodily contact. We accommodated. It's how you got booked for the next dance.

The whole business of playing a half hour or 45-minute set of original material - and that was it - was an eyebrow-raiser when I first encountered it, and I considered it pansy-ass fluffery or some kind of battle of the bands..

The thought of a band learning a song together via computer (and never actually playing it in the same room until the gig) just stupified me.
Last edited by dspellman at Jul 23, 2015,
Find what your good at and try to accel in that area. You say this girl is really talented which is probably true but I'm guessing she sings and strums chords? Which is a great combo of skills but I would guess that she spends a lot of time honing in the skills she needs to perform for 4+ hours. It's good to be well rounded but in my opinion your better off to shine in one area of guitar playing then to try to be the best at everything.

I think you need to know what you want to be to really improve. Me personally I strive to be a songwriter that can play some decent solos as well. Do you want to be a songwriter? Do you want to be a guitar god and melt faces with solos? So you wanna be a great singer and play rhythm that accompanies that?

I would also say at the very least you should try your very best to find someone to jam with and obviously getting in a band will speed up your progress.
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i have a different view on this. you are mistaking talent for knowing a bunch of other peoples songs. while not mutually exclusive they aren't the same thing either. the talent end of things is your actual abilty to play the guitar and meet the demands of any given song. learning others songs is just a matter of practice and applying what you know on the guitar.

my goal as a player has always been to be able to play my own music and have my own sound. sure i know a bunch of songs but honestly i don't know 30 songs that i could play perfectly these days either (band days long behind me). no need to judge your "talent" by not knowing a bunch of songs and rather on whether you think you could learn them in a reasonablel amount of time. keep in mind that 30 sogns often takes a while (depending on difficulty). start with say 3 and go from there.
you grow based on the amount of pressure you push upon yourself

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As others said, get yourself out there. Either form/join a band or do some open mics.
For me, nothing gets me more focused or practicing as much as a set date to be on stage.
When I see people way better than me I start practicing harder.
for a while anyway at least.

30 songs does seems like a lot unless they are all pretty basic.

I don't think most bands could do 30 of their own songs at any given time.
I was thinking about this the other day as well. I don't really know that many songs note for note. If I was to sit down and put on a concert I could probably play maybe 5 or 6 tunes. Sad!

I guess all you can do is learn them one by one B.Heath. People learn at different rates and have different skill levels. What may take me 3 months to get down Eddie Van Halen might be able to learn in 2 days. But I can benchpress a lot more than that fella!
Did she play mostly strumming? Or was she playing at a fairly technical level? Does she play any other instruments?
The more you play live the more relaxed you get. Experience and repetition will make you a better player so get out there and do it. I can't say I memorize songs or write out charts and I certainly do not try to clone a song note-for-note. I leave that to the tribute bands that want to emulate certain performers exactly. The most important thing for me is just being very familiar with a song. If I have heard it often enough and understand the arrangement and the key we are playing it in I'm pretty much there. My current partner and I have been working together for 19 years now so we have a large repertoire of songs to choose from. I couldn't possibly memorize that many songs but I don't rely on that. I have a good ear for playing and understanding of chord relationships that mostly came to me through years of playing, making mistakes and just working at it. I can't explain it exactly but I don't consciously think about what the next chord will be or what notes to play I just mentally hear the next chord in my head and 99% of the time I'm right so I just relax and go with it. That may not make sense at all but it just happens for me that way. In my case it's less about having talent and more about the experience. I know from playing with really talented people (those born with something special) that my talent is limited but I have made up for it somewhat with live experience.
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Last edited by Rickholly74 at Jul 24, 2015,
I think playing in a group is one of the most beneficial things a musician can do. Being around other musicians (who are probably better than you or I) can really help to push your boundaries. There is also a big difference between "guitar skill" and "musical ability". Playing alone, I find, hones one's guitar skill, whereas playing in a group tends to focus on musical ability.
It comes down to where you want music to take you. I don't know how to play many songs. When I go to my local shop I make sure the amp I'm trying is as quiet as can be. But every time I set up with a group I impress myself. That's feeling is most excellent.
TL/DR start a band.
Last edited by codykilpatrickk at Jul 24, 2015,