When I was first learning to play, I didn’t have a specific musical direction. I played the rock music I loved, studied classical guitar seriously, and played in jazz band, at school. I wanted to know everything about everything, and read the monthly issues of Guitar Player and Guitar World magazines cover to cover. Everything I read reinforced the feeling that a real pro ought to be able to play just about anything.
This was a good attitude for a hungry teenager. Having a wide musical interest was great musical preparation for a career as a player. When you don’t know what your next gig is going to call for, it helps to have the ability to handle anything that might get thrown at you.
The average casual player has different needs.
I don’t mean to say that it’s not good to be a well-rounded player, because I don’t believe more knowledge ever hurts. But one thing I hear from students over and over is that they feel they’re dabbling without any focus. Some get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information out there. One student told me, “I have hard drives full of gigabytes of guitar lessons, but I still can’t play the way I want to”. This can lead to “option anxiety” and ultimately paralysis. No wonder people get overwhelmed!
If we look at the players that inspired us to pick up a guitar in the first place, though, it seems to me that most of them were stylists. They staked out a musical territory and created a personal sound out of that sonic landscape: a kind of musical home.
This week’s core concept is built on that idea: that while versatility is essential to the pro and has value of its own, it doesn’t have to be your goal from the outset.
The stylists we all admire got to know their musical territory well, and the best mastered the style and sound in a way that set a new standard. But few could play everything with the same level of skill and conviction, and ultimately that’s not what most fans want from an artist anyway. We can fall in love with individual songs, but being a fan means connecting with the musical personality. Developing that personality demands a deeper familiarity of the music you play, a command of nuance and suble detail.
This is hard to develop when you’re skittering across the surface trying to pull information from everywhere. Building real skill takes focus, not just in the sense of concentration on a task but concentration on a style and sound. When you get to know the music in greater detail, you’re going to play it with more conviction and confidence.
So just because your favorite YouTube channel has three hundred lessons on playing in seven different styles, you don’t need to explore them all right away.
Pick a direction first. Find your musical home and get to know it well. This might remain your focus for a lifetime, or it might just be a starting point. If you find you’re losing interest, pick a new direction. But recognize the value in really getting to know the music you play, and stick to it for as long as it feels good. It will make you a better and more confident player in the long run.