Guitar taboo subjects – ability, achievement, practice, philosophy…

I’ve got this theory that there’s something you can’t say out loud or post on internet forums without reprisal, and it’s that despite all the practice in the world, some people will be destined never to achieve all or some of the things that they want to do. That could be playing a specific lick, mastering a song or technique, or playing entirely in the style of a famous player whom they like etc..

Using myself as an example – after 20 years of trying, I still can’t play the last part of Eruption very well. Also, I can’t do some stretches that I saw in a magazine column written by George Lynch where he does fast hammers from frets 4 to 5 to 9 on the same string using index, middle, then pinky across the strings.  I also can’t play the interlude part on As Above, So Below from Yngwie’s Rising Force album – despite many years of trying it again and again; I just can’t do the picking pattern required. While these slow realizations are in some way depressing, I’ve accepted it as a fact that I will never be able to do these in the same way that the originals did, and accepted that through watching others on YouTube that there are others who can do these things, but it’s not my destiny to be one of them. I’m not wallowing in self-pity here – it’s a fact and (eventually) I got over it. Some might say ‘well, you didn’t practice hard or long enough’. Maybe so, but I think these people might be over-optimistic in their belief that positive thinking can help you achieve anything. While I think positive thinking, visualization, self-belief and smart goal-setting in combination are some of the most powerful tools humans have in order to succeed, sometimes even they cannot surmount some obstacles.

So – back to the world of Internet forums, positive thinking life coaches, NLP specialists and other psychologists – when someone gets in a funk and lays it bare that they are stuck on something difficult, in a rut, or just about to quit the guitar because they feel crap, the helpful will jump on board and say ‘stay at it dude, practice, practice, practice and you will get there!’ and while this is great, it’s nice that people are supportive of others and may very often be true, it is unavoidable that sometimes, on occasion, it will not be. For starters, there might be physical limitations to what a player can do: in my George Lynch example, my hands are not physically big enough to do that stretch. In the Eruption example, my left hand doesn’t have the stamina to do the dozens of repeated high-speed hammer-ons required for the tapping outro to keep it at tempo till the end. There might be other non-physical musical ability reasons that someone cannot do something – for example poor intrinsic sense of rhythm or pitch, tonedeafness (yes it *does* exist) or some neural wiring that just isn’t there that causes a mental block. It could be a host of other reasons.

In addition to the helpful above (and trust me I believe their words are earnest and I always appreciate it when people post this kind of support) what you do also get sometimes are people who will tell you to try to go your own way; this isn’t always what the OPs want to hear and possibly something they can’t identify with at that stage in their musical development and from what I’ve seen these replies go largely unnoticed (I haven’t posted any of these myself) but I believe that these are amongst some of the wisest and most valuable words that drift through  these threads, which is a shame when so little attention is paid to them.

Also, I’m not saying there’s no value in copying others. Absolutely there is, but for me at least having been doing that for more than 75% of the 25 years I’ve been playing, I have now moved on to wanting to realize the musical vision that is inside of me. Sure – this will be informed by my influences, and copping their tricks and licks for many years has helped guide me to where I am now.  Sure, I hear great licks and still get the urge to cop those licks, or at least try and of course there is a bottomless well of great inspirational music, unique melodies and chord progressions and what not to mine ad infinitum, so I will probably continue to do that to some degree.

I read a magazine interview with Billy Corgan a long time ago and he said something along the lines of that he quickly realized that he wasn’t going to be able to play like Eddie Van-Halen so he decided to focus on his rhythm playing, composing and song writing.  Some people might consider him a successful musician (doesn’t matter – what matters is whether he is happy with what he has achieved).

So to go back to my original thesis that some people will be destined never to achieve all or some of the things that they want to do, well, then there’s nobody saying that you cannot change what those things are along the way to something that is achievable, more personal, unique, individual and more meaningful and with this strategy I do believe that anyone can go forth and realize their aspirations – whether that be multi-platinum Smashing Pumpkins alt-rock recognition with money for nothing and chicks for free, playing Far Beyond The Sun note-for-note and getting 10000 likes on YouTube, or nailing the simple beauty of a couple of notes with well executed vibrato in a line that you thought of yourself, or singing a worship song in church without forgetting that Eb chord in the bridge, or improvising a perfect spontaneous solo of fragile transient melodic beauty and tone in your bedroom that only you heard and was in existence for only the 20 seconds that you played it, but is now lost forever – only you will know.


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