It is my great pleasure to present this guest post from Dan Vuksanovich, who runs the site Why I Suck at Guitar:
It can be daunting for an aspiring rock/metal guitarist to feel adequate these days. There was a time when a few tasty pentatonic licks might turn heads, but the rock guitar game changed forever in the 80’s. The bar was forever raised by the likes of Eddie Van Halen, Yngwie Malmsteen, Joe Satriani, Steve Vai and others. Not all of us can devote our entire lives to becoming the next big thing, so what’s a mere mortal to do?
There’s plenty that we can do as mere mortals, but first let’s lay out a few things that we need to understand first:
- Adequacy is irrelevant – When are we “good enough”? There’s no such thing. “Good enough” for what? “Good enough” according to whom? Steve Vai and Joe Satriani aren’t relaxing by the pool now that they’ve reached the musical promised land of “good enough” because “good enough” doesn’t exist. They’re just playing and getting better because that’s what they do. The same logic applies at the other end of the guitar spectrum. There’s no reason to lock yourself away in the woodshed until you’ve crossed the imaginary “good enough” line, because there is no line. Get out there and play!
- It’s all in your head – Music is not a competition. Sure, there might be a few axe-slinging a-holes out there who think that it is, but we’re going to ignore them. If you think you’re too slow for example, or you don’t know enough scales/arpeggios, the only person putting this pressure on you is… you.
- Making music will make you better – There’s only so much improving that you can do with exercises. The point of all this (if I remember correctly) is to make music, and the great thing about making music is that making music will make you better at making music in ways that doing exercises simply can’t.
Now to the main thrust of the article, which is that anyone can make music:
- The first day you start learning guitar is the day you can start making music. The first chords and notes that you learn can immediately be used to make music.
- As you continue your development, every scale, every arpeggio, every chord progression and every song that you learn or write can advance your ability to make music.
- Yes, there are times when you’ll want to go into the woodshed to improve on some aspect of your technique or acquire a new technical skill, but beware of woodshed-itis, an affliction which can cause your playing to sound like a bunch of exercises. Always come back to making music when you come out of the woodshed.
You might be asking yourself at this point what I mean by “making music.” When I refer to “making music” I’m talking about any manner of expressing yourself on the instrument instead of just doing exercises. This could mean writing a song. It could mean learning a song by a band or composer that you enjoy. It could mean taking a passage from a song that you already know and making it “speak” or “sing” in a way that you haven’t been able to achieve yet. It might mean putting your own guitar solo into a song that you like instead of playing the solo that’s on the recording.
Regardless of your level of musical development, you can make music using whatever tools and skills you have at the moment. Only know one scale? Try to make a melody or a solo using that one scale. Only know a few chords? Try to come up with a cool chord progression or write a song using those few chords. Just started playing a few weeks or months ago? Learn a few easy songs.
Sure, many of us want to improve our basic guitar skills and knowledge, and that’s fine. We should continue to do that. I myself go into the woodshed quite often. We should always remember two things, though: 1) that the ultimate goal of what we’re doing is to make music, and 2) that we don’t have to wait until we’re “good enough” to make music. We can all make music whenever we want.
About the author: Dan Vuksanovich received his Master of Music degree in classical guitar performance from the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University in 1999. He currently teaches and blogs about how to get better at guitar via his website, www.whyisuckatguitar.com.