Saturday, April 13, 2013


A trap which many guitarists have fallen into is the belief that in order to be "good" they must be able to play and sound like other guitarists.

While to a certain extent this is true in that we should be able to play in tune, in time, and know our way around our instruments, the mindset that tells us we must emulate what others have done before us is one that will ultimately limit our creative presence in the world of music.

Allow me to give an extreme example.

Elvis Presley carried something unique.  His DNA was packaged in a way that would make him one of the most popular entertainers in the 20th century.  Today there are many Elvis impersonators who look very much like Elvis, move very much like Elvis, and can sometimes sound very much like Elvis - but they are not Elvis.  In fact, the obvious attempt to mirror someone else puts these impersonators down towards the bottom of the musical food chain.  Is anyone ever going to study these impersonators?  Probably not.

Now apply that to guitar playing.

Wow - he sounds just like Wes Montgomery, or Mark Knopfler, or Chet Atkins, or.....

It IS a great method of learning and growth to figure out how those guitarists who went before us did what they did.   I've transcribed a LOT of guitar solos in my day - and it has been extremely valuable in my path to becoming a better musician.  However, being able to play it just like Chet or Wes is merely an educational experience - one that will help you to graduate from the school of six strings and get a real job.

If you studied the great orators of history and limited your speaking to their quotes ONLY, you would soon be considered a novelty and not taken seriously - even though you were quoting some of the most powerful words in the history of mankind.  On the other hand, if you allowed those deep meaningful quotes to really open your eyes to the truths behind the quotes, you would find yourself seeing things in a new light and creating your own original expressions of insight which would be of much greater depth and quality than those you could have produced prior to your mediation on the words of the masters.


It is much too easy to devalue what we can do on guitar because WE CAN DO IT.  I used to think, "Well, if I can play it, it must not be that good.  I have to be able to play like [insert amazing guitarist here] before my music will really be appreciated."

It is when our eyes are open to the fact that [insert amazing guitarist here] probably can't play exactly like you, AND that what YOU carry is unique and VALUABLE to the world of music, that we really begin to take off and fly.

For you see confidence - not arrogance - makes all the difference.  When you BELIEVE that what you are carrying musically has value, the value of what you carry increases.  Its almost as if you were selling a car and you could get whatever price you put on the car.  Is your car a piece of junk worth $20 or a priceless collectors item?

You and I will never sound the same on guitar.  Even if we learn all the same songs, the same licks, have the same gear, know the same theory - we'll still be different from one another.  That's not only OK, it's an awesome truth which should set us free to create music with a greater sense of our value and decreased sense of comparing ourselves to one another.

So you be you, and I'll be me.

P.S. A friend of mine sent me a link to an interview with Pat Metheny which touches on this topic.  I highly recommend reading the interview as it includes a great deal of insight into the evolution of music.  

Here is the link --> Pat Metheny Interview


Sunday, January 27, 2013

The End Creates The Means

As we travel our paths thru life as musicians it is important to keep the North Star and various stellar constellations  in our vision to guide us along the way.  As we navigate this constantly changing musical landscape, it is too easy for us guitarists to get lost along the way - sidetracked into valuing the "means" more than the "ends".

Obviously, we need to take some time to reflect on what the "ends" are.  What is it we are trying to accomplish as musicians?

Some examples of the "ends" that great musicians have in their vision would be....


What message is it that you are carrying?  We all have one - but perhaps you have never given yourself time to meditate on what your message is.  What is it that you carry?  Hope?  Love?  Peace?  Faith?  Change?  Comfort?  Escape?  Truth?

If our focus is merely on creating sounds void of a message, chances are the music we create will ultimately be thrown in the heap of shallow and forgotten tunes - regardless of how momentarily impressive it may be at the outset.

If our thoughts are only on TRANSMITTING and we neglect to consider the RECEIVING ears of the listeners, we may be only adding to the noise that fills this planet rather than creating MUSIC that really impacts those who have ears to hear.

Even if your music is instrumental - with no lyrics - you are conveying a message to your listeners.  What we value inside of us comes out through our playing.  It is inevitable that the people we are is being revealed and transmitted via the music we make.

All great musicians have a message to deliver.    Weaving this message, this value, this belief into music is what ultimately impacts the circle of listeners which are tuned into your sound.  What is the message you carry?  You have one, whether you know it or not.  Taking time to identify what it is you carry will be a great navigational tool which will keep you from wandering in the wilderness for 40 years trying to reach a promised land that is mere days away. 

Having a solid grounding in knowing what you carry will ultimately guide you thru everything else.


Let's face it.  This world is a tough place to live.  We get bombarded with bad news 24x7.  If we live long enough we experience loss, disappointment, or heartbreak on a personal level.  No one is immune - and this world never takes a break in trying to make life hard.

But then there is music.  That place of incredible escape from life's challenges.  An oasis in the desert.  A meeting place with fellow pilgrims to identify with one another on common ground, find some encouragement and hope - tears and laughter - and at the very least enjoy a moment of escape from the pressures and pitfalls of life.

This may mean playing a concert to thousands, spreading your music around the world thru various media, or sitting in a humble home, porch, or street corner, just playing to bring this light to yourself and perhaps a very small group of listeners.

The size of the audience does not matter.  What does matter is what are you doing with that guitar in your hands.


There are many many "means" that can and should be used to achieve the "ends" discussed above.  A few of them would be...

Musical Chops:  How good can you get around on your instrument?  Can you play well?  Can your hands play what you are hearing in your heart?

Musical Gear:  How good is your guitar?  Your amps, pedals, etc?  Do you have the tools needed to create the sounds you hear inside your head?

Musical Academics:  Do you know music theory?  Do you know the music business?  Do you know the technology used to create music?  Do you have an extensive repertoire?

Musical Connections:  Who are your fellow musicians?  Who can help you create live sound and recordings?  Who can help you get our there and play?

These are all well and good.  However, if your focus is only on the "means" you may find yourself years from now perplexed as to how you could have walked so very far, and yet never reached a destination.


For you see, you can have a great abundance of all the "means" and yet never really create a valuable musical experience.  If all you have are great chops, great gear, great head knowledge, and great connections, then you may be  perplexed as to why it seems the your musical path is sterile and void of meaningful experiences.

Why is it that some minstrels out there who have greatly impacted the world seem to have done so with minimal chops, humble gear, academic ignorance, and seemingly accidental exposure to the folks who can make things happen?

What sets them apart from the thousands of musicians who are diligently practicing and honing their craft?

It is the "ends" that they carry in the core of their being which ultimately helps to navigate a path to relevance in this world.

Having the "end" fixed firmly in your heart will be a compass to help you decide which fork in the road to take, what supplies you need for the journey, and who to travel with.

If all you have are "means," it is unlikely you will find the "end."  But if you are traveling towards the "end" you were created to reach, you will find the selection of the "means" coming naturally to you.

Where is your map leading you?

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