If Only I Had…. I’ve met many players and had quite a few students who have believed that if only they had a particular instrument, amp, effect, mouthpiece, etc, then it will somehow make everything right in their musical universe and suddenly their playing will progress at an incredible rate. A quality instrument is important. No denying that. But what actually constitutes a quality instrument varies from musician to musician, their current level of ability and also what they are happy with. I’m fortunate to own some very expensive acoustic guitars. I believe there is quite a difference in tonal quality between my Taylor, Cole Clark, Maton and Martin guitars when comparing them to a $150 steel-string that has come out of a factory in China. But some of my students have told me that there is no difference in the tone whatsoever. For them there would be no point in upgrading based solely on sound if they cannot hear a difference. The same goes for playability. Some cheaper instruments play remarkably well. Some do not, and there can be a strong case to upgrade to a better instrument then. I have seen some no-name brand guitars that are unplayable. For not a lot more money the student (or more likely their parent) could have purchased something such as a Valencia nylon string to start with which will be quite reasonable for the price, is in playable condition, will hold its tune and more than adequate for the first year or so of lessons. As the player develops they will start to see the limitations of the instrument and then (once they have shown a commitment to playing) a better instrument can be discussed. I met someone once who had an obsession with a particular guitar model. Hey I’ve been there myself! This guitarist believed he must have a Gibson Flying V and that would allow him to play what he wanted with unprecedented freedom. He sold of a lot of other gear to buy this guitar of his dreams. Did it give him exactly what he wanted in terms of his ability to play, when he already had a perfectly decent guitar that was great to play already? He soon realised that the instrument was secondary to his ability and he needed to put more time into what he already had and not fall for buying into the promise of ‘the magic beans’ that would instantly transform his playing. Work hard, get all you can out of your current instrument and then upgrade when you are ready to do so as a musician.
I’ll Never Be Able To DO That (or listening to someone who tells you this) Negative self-talk is quite common amongst musicians. From experience I struggle with this every day. It doesn’t help when other people decide to also chip in with their opinion (and often these people have no experience as musicians or have not progressed very far if they have) and declare that you will fail. As a kid I was told I would never be any good at the guitar, so don’t even bother trying. Then I was told I would never be good enough to play in a band (and by band I mean our garage band days), then I was told I’d never be good enough to play in a pub or club, never be good enough to study music at uni, never be good enough to be paid for playing anything, never be good enough to play a particular piece or style…and the list goes on. Most of this has come from friends and family who are not musicians and have no idea about what being a musician involves and I’ve let myself listen to it and start to agree at times. We do need to be objective with our abilities. I know there are some pieces that I shall never be able to play, but that is not from lack of ability but physical limitations. There are a few wonderful Tommy Emmanuel pieces that I simply cannot play because Tommy’s hands are much bigger than mine. No matter how much I work at it, I will never have the same reach as Tommy and I accept that. To accomplish anything we need to put in the appropriate amount of time and effort for what we wish to achieve and what our current level of ability is. Some things require a lot of work. Some things I can now make look easy but who knows how many thousands of hours I have put into the guitar to be able to do that. Time, patience and consistent practice will get you to where you want to be.
I Can’t Allow Myself To Make A Mistake. Making mistakes in front of others terrifies me, sometimes to the point of me making a mistake because I am trying so hard not to. I’ve had some epic failures as a musician. Some of them have been really confronting and depressing to deal with at the time. But I’ve learnt so much from them when I’ve gone back and looked at what went wrong and asked why it did. Has it stopped me from achieving anything as a musician? No. When I have been honest with myself I have actually grown from the experience, both as a musician and as a person. Does anyone care about the mistakes I have made? Not really! Probably 99% of people haven’t even realised I did, or they didn’t think anything of it. The ones who have decided to make something of it are normally ego-driven musicians who rubbish everyone else. You see them trolling on the internet on a daily basis. The thing is that most of the trolls don’t ever post videos of their own playing, nor do they actually go out and play in public. So forget them! And if you struggle with stage fright work out why and and how to combat it. We’ll look at this in a later post.
I’m Not Ready How many times do we think this? The truth is we will never be ready. Music is a lifelong journey and we will always improve. Yes we need to be sensible about this. We need to have developed some skills. Those skills can then be tested and refined after we experience using them in a real-life situation. When I was a uni student I played a gig with a group of men in their 70s. All incredibly experienced musicians with very impressive resumes working with some of the biggest and best of the Australian music industry. It was a real challenge. I limped off the stage at the end of the night feeling quite deflated and miserable, convinced I would never play anywhere again. The band’s music director put his arm around me and thanked me for playing, talked to me about all the good things I had done, told to me keep working at it because he had 55 years more experience than I did, and that I shouldn’t be beating myself up for playing a number of tunes live I had never heard before in a style of music I really hadn’t played a lot of. I still feel this way at times. But I push myself through it, grow a little more, learn a little more and be better prepared to do it the next time.
I’ll Never Be As Good As… All musicians of all levels say the same thing. We all have musical heroes and inspirations. All our heroes started exactly where we did, playing in a bedroom or garage, making a ton of mistakes, sounding bad. Dave Grohl from The Foo Fighters has plenty to say about this, from being a kid in a high school band being told to forget it to playing in stadiums around the world. You are going to be the best at being yourself. Find out who you are musically and pursue that. Yes it is good to evaluate your ability against good players and work out how they did something or why they have achieved what they have, but measure your own level of success by comparing where you used to be with where you are now.
A good teacher can help with setting goals and working through challenges. They will have been through it all themselves. If you are interested in taking yourself to another level of musicianship we offer lessons for all popular instruments and vocals. You can read more about lessons on this page, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call the shop on (02) 9520 3044.