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Perspectives & Considerations for the Practicing Guitarist

I perceive learning guitar like a journey – a journey of perpetual transformation. Along the way there are insights, epiphanies and achievements, but – also struggles and challenges that make the process something akin to a rite of passage. Developing a philosophical approach to practice can be a valuable tool for development, keeping one on the straight and narrow during the tougher periods of honing one’s skills. Below are some thoughts and ideas to take into consideration as you make your way on the journey. These aren’t rules or regulations as such, but rather things to think about as a practicing guitarist.

Define Your Goals

Setting goals is an important aspect of the learning process, defining what we would like to achieve and giving us a clearer picture of the road ahead. In order to define our goals it helps to ask questions. What would I like to achieve with my guitar playing? What needs improving? What techniques would I benefit from incorporating into my playing style? What styles would I like to focus on? etc.

It’s also important to separate what is expected of us from that of our own personal aspirations. It’s no good plodding along doing what you think you should be doing just because somebody else told you it was the “right” thing to do. There are as many paths to take as there are people in the world. Each of us must go our own way. Instinct and intuition are valuable allies in finding and defining direction. Cultivating these two qualities might take practice, particularly if you are used to following the herd, so you should be prepared to isolate yourself from time to time in order to obtain the answers you seek.

This is not to say that all advice from others is counterproductive, just that it’s critical to concentrate your energies on your most important goals and passions. Focusing on the things that require your attention is the way to ascend. There are not enough hours in the day to be scattering your energies, running off on tangents that bring little benefit or personal satisfaction and ultimately lead you away from your path.

It’s also interesting to note that as you master certain techniques, new opportunities will arise and you will find yourself branching out even further, studying new techniques, sounds and styles. New and more difficult obstacles will present themselves. But there are no shortcuts in this process, which is why it is critical not to rush. Let the transformations come of their own accord, in their own time.

Work With Limits, Overcome the Obstacles

Reality is the mirror that shows us as we are. The problem is, a lot of us entertain delusions about ourselves rather than facing up to our weaknesses. Rectifying our shortcomings takes work and dedication. Many guitarists choose to ignore their technical deficiencies and in doing so, progress at a much slower rate than those with the discipline to overcome the obstacles. Technical challenges are always opportunities for growth, so by confronting these we improve and evolve.

Patience and perspective is the key. There isn’t a guitarist in the world today who hasn’t experienced the struggles of building correct and efficient technique. It’s part of the fun of learning! To me it’s a little bit like battle, and only the strongest will overcome and conquer. Having the mental fortitude to endure those times when it’s “just not happening” is essential to reaching the heights and experiencing the joy of accomplishment. Learn to see the positives all around you. Even when things get tough, it’s important to remember that provided you practice properly and consistently you’ll eventually reach the goals to which you aspire. I’ve experienced this myself many times and sometimes it took months, even years, but persistence bore fruit and I eventually achieved what I set out to achieve.

Keep Inspired

The bastion against apathy and negativity is inspiration. Thankfully for most musicians, staying inspired is relatively easy since the volume of music around these days is massive! There are so many interesting styles and sounds to partake of that there’s really no excuse not to be inspired. This is where having a diverse taste in music pays off since it’s exposes one to all sorts of interesting elements that can be incorporated into one’s sound. For example, I love the rhythms and beats found in hip-hop music and love to throw these into my riffs. Music can be likened to cooking. The more ingredients we have at our disposal, the more interesting and flavorsome the “taste” of our creations!

Music can be likened to cooking. The more ingredients we have at our disposal, the more interesting and flavorsome the “taste” of our creations!

It’s also illuminating to study the lives and philosophies of our heroes, and not just the musical ones. I find the comedy of George Carlin and Bill Hicks very inspiring. As an added bonus, laughter reduces tension, which is great for when things aren’t going so well. If you’re getting frustrated in a practice session sometimes the best thing you can do is put the guitar down and do something else. Personally I love to listen to podcasts. Connecting to others in this way is a great tool of distraction to get my mind off things for a while and re-energize. Later, I can come back to the instrument refreshed and ready to go!

Guitar magazines and other instructional materials can be valuable sources of inspiration too. Reading an interview with your favourite guitarist can give you insight into their style and the techniques they employ, inspiring you to practice more. Watching a DVD of your guitar hero ripping it up can light a fire under you, igniting the desire to push your limits. Going out and seeing some bands gives you a firsthand look at what the guitarist is doing. You may also get the opportunity to have a chat with them after the gig, which is a great way to pick their brain and get some tips you can use in your own playing.