6 Reasons You’re Unhappy With Your Guitar Playing WiredGuitarist September 19, 2017 Articles, Tutorials, Uncategorized There are two types of guitar players: people who admit they aren’t always happy with their playing, and liars. No musician has avoided the feeling that they don’t like their musical abilities. Not just technical abilities, but their playing as a whole. Their musicality, their improvisation, their writing, all of it. Part of this is simply the nature of being a creative person, but that doesn’t mean we can’t combat this feeling and keep it from stifling our happiness and progress. Here are the 6 reasons you never seem to be happy with your own playing. You’re Comparing Yourself To Others (The Wrong Way) One of the most discouraging things you can do is compare yourself to other players constantly. Some of this is necessary to improve, and asking yourself how your technique compares to players you want to be like is great for finding areas in your playing you’d like to work on. That being said, there is such a thing as “too much.” If all you do is compare yourself to your heroes you’re always going to feel discouraged. Most of these virtuosos are people who’ve been playing for decades longer than you, who started at a younger age than you, who went to school for their craft, who had incredible mentors, who came from highly musical families, etc. You can’t compare these people to your three years of browsing YouTube tutorials and learning covers and expect your playing to be remotely comparable. Comparing yourself to others is great for finding areas you need to work on, and for establishing motivation and drive. The key to not overdoing this is to focus on your own progress when self-evaluating. We as musicians are sensitive. We have an ego, and it’s fragile. So when we’re looking at our own playing we need to remind ourselves that as musicians we will NEVER forget the things we can’t do yet. So, why keep reminding yourself? You know what you need to work on, so set aside time to build up your confidence and recognize your accomplishments. Finding a balance between “here are all the things I can’t do” and “look at all the things I’ve gotten better at” is essential in promoting positivity while still maintaining that drive to become better. You Don’t Put In The Work (The Right Way) Let’s not beat around the bush here… None of us put in the amount of time and hard work on the instrument that we could be. We all slack off sometimes, cut corners, or just need a day to not be so critical of ourselves. That’s okay, really. But what we’re talking about is not those breaks, it’s about acknowledging that the amount of work we put in is not proportional to the results we want to see. Let that one sink in for a minute. There are two types of this ailment that I see constantly. The first is the obvious one, we practice every day for a few hours, or maybe just a few times a week, and 3 months later we’re still wondering why our alternate picking isn’t on Jason Richardson levels yet. Really? Are you surprised? Compare the amount of time and effort he put into the amount you’ve put in. We’re talking thousands of hours difference between the two of you. Bottom line: we kid ourselves. By doing so, we also kill our own motivation and positivity. Stop expecting those results and start practicing for the sake of simply getting better. All of us are guilty of this scenario… you pick up your guitar, you play for two hours straight, you put it down. 2 hours of solid practice, that’s pretty good for someone who has a full-time job and a family, right? But you didn’t actually practice for two hours. Your guitar was in your hands for that long, but what did you actually do? – Played a few riffs you love – Learned a few bars of a cool song you heard recently – “Noodled around” with some random soloing – Watched a couple YouTube videos – Answered some Facebook messages Great practice session, right? Wrong. It doesn’t matter how much time you put in if you’re not using that time efficiently. Where’s the warm-up? Where’s the metronome work? Where are the backing tracks? Where’s your notebook where you track progress? Where’s your list of goals? Where are all the staples of positive, effective practice? Let’s not kid ourselves anymore, let’s be honest about our practicing. Let’s not just put in the time, but put in the focus. You Don’t Challenge Yourself You may have heard this famous and extremely pertinent quote: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” I can’t think of a more apt description of stunted guitar progress than this. If you’re not giving yourself tougher material to work with, you’re not going to improve. Improvement is about presenting yourself with a small challenge, something just outside of the realm of what you can play comfortably. You work at it, and eventually, it becomes something you can now play comfortably. The process then repeats. Many of us play the same things on the instrument day after day expecting our skills to improve despite not changing anything about the way we practice or the material we choose to work on. Learn a new song, practice those same licks 5bpm faster, play a solo just on one string… if you’re not giving yourself anything challenging to work on then you can’t expect the same amount of progress. You Don’t Set Helpful Goals We know the importance of setting up challenges, but we also make the fatal mistake of not making them realistic and beneficial. “I want to gain 20bpm in my alternate picking this month.” That’s way too high. “I want to be able to play this song 4 times in a row without stopping.” That doesn’t really benefit you in a real-world scenario. “I want to get this song up 1bpm faster.” That’s a very achievable goal, but it doesn’t challenge you enough. We may not set these unhelpful goals in such an explicit terms in our minds, but we do it constantly whether we’re aware of it or not. The only way we can truly improve is by setting goals we know are realistic, and we know can actually benefit us as players. You Don’t Track Your Progress We make progress all the time, but we rarely recognize it. Anyone who has tried to lose weight knows how little difference you see in the mirror every day, but then you compare a recent picture of yourself with a picture from 3 months ago and your progress is suddenly clear again. The same principle applies to guitar playing, if you have no reference to where you were at 6 months ago it becomes extremely difficult to see your progress. When you don’t see that progress in tangible terms you become discouraged thinking you’d made none whatsoever. There are several ways to keep track of your playing. If it’s purely technical ability, a notebook or phone can serve as a reference point for writing down bpm markings on specific licks. However, for most things, your best diary is a video diary. After a practice session film a video on your phone playing all the things you’ve worked on that day. You can even just do this once a week or once a month. This makes the intangible things much more understandable. How do you measure how much better you’ve gotten at improvisation? How much cleaner your muting is? How much better your vibrato sounds? Well, strictly speaking, you can’t. These aren’t things you can write down, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be documented. Video (or even just audio) documentation is key to seeing your own progress, staying positive about your playing, and motivating you to keep going without that negative voice saying “You’ll never get better.” You Haven’t Created Your Own Voice This ties in heavily with our point about comparing yourself to others. We tend to focus so much on how we sound against our heroes that we don’t take the time to find our own voice. You’re never going to be happy with your own playing if all you do is try to sound like somebody else. You’ll never be as good at that sound as them, so you’re always going to fall flat. Take the time to craft a unique voice that’s undeniably yours. Spend time writing things you like the sound of, not things you like because they sound like a specific band or artist. The simplest step you can take to start this process is to take the artist you most want to sound like, write something that sounds like them, and then ask yourself how you can tweak it. Can you use a different technique to play it? Can you use a different scale or mode? Can you play it with a more unique rhythm? Can you move the notes to different string sets to create a different sound? Can you add another layer over or under that part to change the vibe? Everyone with a unique sound took years to craft it, but that’s all the more reason for you to start right now. Try these little steps and you’ll slowly start finding out what your unique voice is, and how you can ultimately be happy with the way YOU sound. You’ve Forgotten What It’s About Music isn’t a competition – with others or with yourself. It’s supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be enjoyable. If you’ve completely lost this aspect of your playing – and I know I’m perfectly guilty of this too – then you need to reevaluate your approach to playing guitar. Remember the first song you learned? Remember how happy you were? How about the time you wrote your first riff? Yeah, it was probably pretty bad in hindsight… but it was so much fun, and you were proud of it. Where did all of that become less important? I completely understand the drive and focus of trying to get the album done, trying to make sure you can play that solo perfectly live, dialing in those tones perfectly, but these goals are never going to go away. There’s no “after this” where magically these goals disappear and NOW you have room to enjoy it. You need to be making room for that enjoyment and happiness in your life. Take a step back. If anyone is in this rut right now, step away from the computer and gain some perspective. Take some time to remember your ENTIRE journey with the instrument. Go back to the very beginning and take yourself through those memories like a story. Remember how you felt at each of these moments, remember what your musical goals and priorities were. … How did they change during each step of your journey? … Where did the fun start to become frustration and work? … What can you do to change that? Once you’re done this exercise, find something within that musical journey that brought you joy. Maybe it’s improvising over a track, or learning a song off the radio. Whatever it is, dedicate some time every practice session to just do that one thing at the end of your practice. Finish your practice sessions with this positivity and watch how it transforms your relationship with the instrument. If every time you touch the guitar it becomes work, you’re going to be stuck in that rut forever. Nurture that relationship and fit some positivity into your music again. Conclusion No matter what happens, we’ll never be 100% happy with our playing. That’s okay, that’s part of music… it’s a journey, not a destination. But what we can do is take the time to make that journey as positive and enjoyable an experience as we can. It encourages us to work hard, but more importantly, it teaches us to be proud of what we’ve done. Isn’t that what really matters? This article was written by Connor Gilkinson, our editor located in Canada.