Nothing makes me want to bang my head to the wall harder than hearing someone insist that natural talent is what makes great guitar players great.
There are three reasons why this claim gets my blood boiling.
- It convinces guitar students who don’t yet know if they have any natural talent or not to quit as soon as they face a challenge. Or a plateau where one doesn’t seem to be making progress for a period of time.
Finding challenges in your practice items means you’re working on things that will improve your playing. And what comes after a plateau, is usually a breakthrough, a period of time where you feel you’re improving very fast.
But if you’re wondering if you have natural talent, rather than learning from the challenge, or waiting the plateau out, you will see it as “evidence” you don’t have natural talent and are likely to quit.
- It’s an insult to musicians who worked hard to gain their skills.
If you tell someone who can play really well that their abilities are the result of genetic luck, you’re dismissing the hours they put in and take pride of.
- It’s untrue. Yes, some people do have a little help from their genes. But hours of high quality guitar practice is what makes even the most genetically gifted guitarists great.
On top of that, your genes are the only thing you cannot change. Why even bother with something that you cannot acquire when there are more important things that you can?
In this lesson we’ll go through some qualities that can be developed and determine how fast you learn the guitar much more than natural talent.
If it’s not natural talent that makes great guitar players great, what is it? Practicing a lot?
Yes, you need to practice a lot and for a long period of time, however you should also keep in mind that not all practice time is made equal.
10 minutes of deliberate, focused practicing achieves much more than an hour of noodling aimlessly on the fretboard.
Thankfully focus is something that can be improved by simply training it.
Next time you practice the guitar:
- Set a specific micro goal you want to achieve with that practice session.
- Focus all your attention on achieving that goal.
- If you can’t do this for a long period of time, start with a short practice session (5 minutes) and increase the duration as your ability to focus gets stronger.
- Don’t be hard on yourself if you occasionally lose focus. We all do. What matters is that you get back to focusing on your goal as soon as you realize it.
Learning the guitar is a long term game that gives short term benefits along the way.
There will be times where you will notice yourself improving during every practice session.
But there will be other times, called plateaus, where you notice no improvement.
This doesn’t mean you’re not improving. If your practiced is focused and regular you improve with every practice session. It simply means that you’re not seeing tangible results.
During a plateau you may need to ask some quality questions such as “Am I practicing the right thing that are in line with my goals?”, “Are there any weaknesses that are holding my strengths back?”
That said, while you may use a plateau to make necessary changes to your practice routines, you may also need to wait it out.
Usually, a plateau is followed by a breakthrough, where dots start getting connected and improvement happens fast.
Note: There may also be times where you feel like your guitar playing is getting worse. For instance if you’re correcting a bad habit in your technique the correct position, though more efficient will feel harder because you were trained in the bad habit.
Your top speed for a particular lick was 120 bpm, and now its 90 bpm.
When this happens, it’s good to keep in mind that though it feels like you’re going backward, you’re actually going forward.
Because once you repeat the lick enough times in the correct position and develop the muscle memory for this position, you can reach a much higher tempo than 120 bpm.
A bad habit is anything that makes your technique less efficient and once you correct it, everything you do goes up a notch, even if it felt like you were going backward for a while.
How does seeing the glass half full help with guitar playing?
Optimistic people don’t just appreciate what they have (ex. The glass is half full) but also predict better outcomes (ex. When the glass becomes empty I’ll be able to find water from another source).
Now, who is more likely to believe he will become a great guitar player, the optimist who thinks his actions will lead to a positive outcome, or the pessimist who thinks his actions will lead to failure?
Who is motivated to practice more?
I’m a very optimistic person and I’m grateful for the trait. However before I try to “sell you” optimism in all areas of life it’s good to know that optimism has potential disadvantages too.
One of them is that an optimist is more likely to take risks.
Predicting positive outcomes made some people wealthy but also crippled others with debt when things went wrong.
It can also get you hurt if you’re racing cars, climbing mountains or even crossing the road.
Guitar practicing is risk free, thus optimism can only help you in this area.
Adopting a guitar practicing mindset that predicts greatness as a result of the hours you’re investing will not only help motivate you to practice more but also keep the fire burning during plateaus.
Guitar greatness is indeed reserved for a few.
Thankfully the greats weren’t chosen prior to their birth.
They’re people who decided they wanted to become great guitar players and did everything that needed to be done to achieve it.
Which is a lot, but achievable if you predict positive outcomes for yourself, are able to focus, and willing to wait for as long as it takes.
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