Gifted. Talented. A freak. Blessed.
We have all heard these words describing an amazing guitarist, and in many cases they are probably warranted. But is that all there is to greatness? A simple lottery of you’re either a gifted player or you’re not? Before I continue let me first say this; yes, I believe some people are born with more of an innate musical ability than others. Likewise, some are natural athletes, scholars or what have you. Simply put, some people ‘feel it’ whilst others do not.
But that is never the end of the story.
Look at any great guitarist and there is a simple and profound story. They play a lot. They are hungry. And in one way or another they have paid their dues.
A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to work at a Joe Satriani clinic. By ‘work’, I mean I handed out info packs at the door, ushered people to seats and sat in the second row to watch the clinic. As a fan, it was incredible to closely watch Joe’s liquid and seemingly effortless legato lines span his fretboard. His harmonic knowledge was impressive and, again, his stretch made extended chords look easy.
At the end of the clinic I was given one more job; to stand with Joe and hand him permanent markers during the meet-and-greet session. I know, right? I must say I quickly became an expert at sizing up what colour marker was required for an autograph. Black guitar…silver marker. Silver guitar…black marker. You get the idea.
Two things stood out to me during the meet and greet. First of all, Joe was incredibly gracious and friendly towards the huge amount of people that lined up for a photo or autograph. I liked this. Second of all, Joe has small hands. He is in fact what many would describe as ‘compact’. As I looked at his hands I wondered if these were the same digits that moments earlier were flying across his Ibanez JS2400. And of course they were. Joe had simply practised. A lot. Untold hours of discovering and refining his technique into a unique voice.
I launched The Guitar Speak Podcast in April 2016 and speaking to my guests has totally reaffirmed the idea that anyone doing anything interesting on the instrument has put in the work.
For example, Michael Dolce regularly tours with big name pop artists, appears on the Australian version of The Voice and is a respected clinician. What does he do on his days off? Organises a jam session. Brett Kingman, Bob Spencer and Peter Northcote – all household names in the Australian guitar community – were all playing and touring in their mid-teens. Michael Fix has picked up three instrumental Golden Guitar awards. He became an ‘overnight success’ after years of sideman work whilst quietly developing his solo fingerstyle chops. David Moyes toured the world as a headline act in Air Supply during the band’s incredible early ‘80s period, but only after relentlessly gigging five nights a week in covers bands in Adelaide.
I know it’s important to network (online and otherwise) and promote ourselves. Likewise, checking out new gear and reviews is fun. But is this stuff making us a better guitarist?
We live in a time when the internet and reality TV create the impression that exposure and celebrity is akin to accomplishment and achievement. But it is not. There are no shortcuts when it comes to developing our skills. Are there more efficient ways to grow? Of course, but what and how to practise is a story for another time. For now, the question is, are we willing to make the efforts that build our craft? The chances are that those musicians we label as gifted, talented, freakish and blessed already have.
Submitted by Matt from Guitarspeak