by Ryan Mueller
Very recently I was working with a student of mine (we’ll call her Tracy), helping her with her rhythm guitar playing. Rhythm and timing has been a challenge for Tracy since she first started her lessons with me, but she’s passionate about what she’s doing, works hard at it and has made some tremendous progress in a rather short time. I’m super proud of what Tracy’s accomplished on guitar thus far and am 100% confident that if she keeps up the work she’s been putting in, she’s going to grow into an absolutely fantastic musician.
Like many of us who strive to accomplish anything we pursue in life, there are times where Tracy doubts herself and questions how good she can really get on guitar, despite the progress she’s made thus far. We were making up some strumming patterns, and she was daring enough to create one that didn’t have a strum on the first beat. She made a good crack at it but was having trouble understanding where the beginning of the pattern was – a very common challenge many musicians face when they first dabble with rhythmic displacement. Because of this, Tracy had a hard time changing chords at the beginning of each bar, and as a result was getting frustrated and started doubting herself.
What I told Tracy (and am telling you now) is that when moments like this arise, it’s important to take a step back and look at the type of problem you’re actually having in your playing. You may not have thought about it, but the challenges you face in your guitar playing are a direct result of the progress you’ve made thus far. What do I mean by that?
Well, consider this – when you first started playing guitar, what were the things you struggled with? You likely had trouble getting the notes to ring out clearly or struggled to deal with the pain in your fingers. Maybe it was tough for you to strum downstrokes on time, or perhaps you had a hard time holding the guitar while playing altogether!
Now contrast that with the problem Tracy was having – this is a girl who could already play a couple songs, as well as a few simple lead guitar licks. She wasn’t getting bothered by a C chord that won’t ring out clearly – instead it was a rather complicated rhythm that even guitar players more seasoned than her would have to think twice about. This is a problem that complete beginners not only can’t relate to, but don’t even realize exist! The reason for that is because they haven’t built up the skills necessary to guide them towards this challenge the first place.
When you’re working hard at improving your guitar playing, it’s very easy to fixate yourself on the road ahead and forget about how much of the road you’d already traveled since you started your journey. It’s not uncommon for someone to overlook the obstacles they had to overcome in order to play the way they do now, and I’ve admittedly been guilty of this as well. Sometimes I have trouble getting my hands to be perfectly in sync when shredding at very fast speeds and forget that if I wanted to bust out a cool, mid-paced hard rock solo, I could do it with ease!
What the vast majority of growing musicians don’t realize, is that there are going to be hurdles you need to overcome at EVERY stage in your development, even the highest stages. There will be lots of technical challenges, cognitive ones and theoretical ones, but even the technical wizards will still face creative roadblocks that will make it challenging for them to express themselves in the way they really want to in their music. There’s never going to be a point where you reach the end with no room left for improvement anymore – you’ll always be a student in some way; I know I still am.
In times like this, it’s good for you to keep a log of the progress you’ve made on guitar and look back on it every now and then. Remind yourself of where you started and what your playing used to be like, and always put some time aside to celebrate the successes you’ve had. Don’t let your accomplishments go unrecognized – you’ve earned them!
Keep practicing, and remember – have fun!
About The Author:
Ryan Mueller gives guitar lessons in Etobicoke that regularly help musicians feel fulfilled by improving their guitar playing and writing their own original music.