I had planned on publishing a piece I had written a few months ago talking about sound and breaking down non-tertiary harmony, but life took me on a different path, so today I’m going to write a little bit about the journey that one undertakes as a musician. I had the opportunity to speak to a class of guitar students in Easley, South Carolina via webcam and answer some of their questions about the music industry and guitar playing. The class is taught by my buddy Trey who is really doing a good thing for those kids. South Carolina has very competitive marching and symphonic band circuits at the high school, so I think that Trey taking time out of his normal schedule as a band director and his personal life to teach a few kids about the guitar is incredible. The kids had good questions and I felt like I gave them good insight, but one question has lingered with me for a few days and ended up as a recurring theme in a few lessons that I gave this week and in conversations I had with other players.
The question in question was from Trey and spoke from a place of understanding the mindset of a young musician as a band director would. He asked me what advice I would give to a young musician who was discouraged because of they saw themselves as not being where they wanted to be on the instrument compared to their peers. This is something that I dealt with from day one to my days stealing licks from Trey while we were playing guitar in the band room after class to my days in music school and it’s still something I deal with as working musician. Making music, whether you’re a writer or singer or instrumentalist, can be a very introspective and personal thing that comes from a place of surrender and vulnerability and it’s only human to grapple with insecurity.
Something specifically that I dealt with was this looming sense of urgency. I remember reading a book about Led Zeppelin and it talks about Jimmy Page working as an in demand session musician and joining the Yardbirds while all in his early 20’s. At the moment, I felt like an absolute failure because I was working a day job at a crappy Asian restaurant and only gigging a few times a month on a good month with no money in the equation. As I got older, I realized that I didn’t have the perspective at that age to understand the concept of process and that I am ultimately on a path that’s entirely unique to me and my experience. The only person that I’m in direct competition with in regards to both my journey as a guitarist and my goal of making it a career was myself and how hard I was willing to work. There are plenty of youtube shredders who are half my age that can play me under the table, plenty of guitarist who work in the same circuits and with the same people that I work with that have hot licks for days and the newest gear, and reacting to any of that with a sense of jealousy or insecurity is the worst thing you can do. You need to appreciate that everyone else is ultimately on their own path too and that there may have been a time when they felt similarly insecure.
There are important lessons that can be learned from playing an instrument and learning those lessons while on the journey and finding your voice transfer to every aspect of life. Learning an instrument and pursuing it as a craft and art teaches you to be confident, teaches you how to interact with other people, teaches you humility, teaches you gratitude. I always have my eyes and ears open when I’m watching a guitarist because I’ve learned that you can learn from literally anyone. I’ve learned things from students that are brand new to the instrument, things from people at a gear swap meet, things from listening to my friend’s records, and from seeing some of my favorite players in person. If you carry that mindset with you and try to live your whole life as a sponge, you can learn something new about the world from almost any interaction you have. Every person you meet has a unique path that they’re on and a unique perspective on the world around them.
Let the joy of playing music be what pushes you to keep improving, not a sense of inadequacy. Set goals to and have a vision of where you want to be as a player in the next month, six months, or even year. Set aside time to spend with the instrument and learn its ins and outs. Connect with the instrument and use it as a vehicle to bring joy and happiness to your life. Be a friend to the musicians around you and celebrate their success with them, because if you do, odds are they’ll celebrate your success with you in turn. Establish real connections with the people you respect and look up to instead of sniping at them from a guarded place. Lift people up as they move on their path and give back in the same way people gave to you, whether it comes in the form of advice, opportunity, or encouragement.