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10 Years of Playing Guitar: What I've Learned

Ibanez RGA72QM-TLB guitar

10 years of blood, sweat, and tears.

By this year, I will have been a guitarist for half of my lifetime. Yikes!

In all of that time, music has taught me so much about what life has to offer. It has provided me with a deep sense of joy every time I pick up the guitar. I've also been able to jam with some of the most awesome musicians of my age.

But also, it has provided me with important lessons about how to excel in life.

Here is a taster of some of the life lessons that music has provided me with.

Lesson 1: Quitters never win. Winners never quit.

Learning to play guitar for the first time was a painful, drawn-out process. I had to memorize so many weird chord shapes and patterns, then push my fingers against the strings until they bled before I could dream about making it sound good.

Despite the pain, the idea of quitting never entered my head. I kept learning through my teenage years until my skills improved. The pain gradually softened and the difficult things became easier until they became second nature.

If I had quit playing guitar as a beginner, life would be drastically different. There would have been no concerts to perform, no desire to study music at university, no jamming with other musicians and, as a result, no success of any kind.

Lesson 2: If they can do it, so can I.

If ever a motto is ever worth living by, this is it.

Looking upon my guitar heroes, never did I think "I'll never be able to play that good." I always believed that if they could develop mastery of the guitar, then so could I.

This belief alone resulted in 10 years of persistence to master the guitar. Never would I be able to perform my heroes' pieces for a recital if I lacked the belief in my abilities.

There's a wonderful quote by Napoleon Hill that sums up the power of this motto: "Whatever the mind of man can conceive and believe, it can achieve."

Lesson 3: Delayed gratification is a must.

Hey musicians. Ever gone to the effort of booking a gig, only to discover that only 3 people have shown up to watch you perform? Yep, I know. It's a bummer.

But here's what I believe: everyone must perform that gig and be heartbroken at some point in their life! When this happens, the lesson of delayed gratification appears: the only good way to deal with these failures is to focus on the bigger picture (i.e. the long-term goal).

Through my teenage years until the present day, I have remained focused on my vision for the future. The clearer I can make my vision, the more fulfillment I can receive from it. From this place, I feel compelled to keep striving for better. And only then can I feel influenced to take action.

Of course, the only other option is to quit. That would be easier, right?

Lesson 4: Anxiety is a right bugger.

You walk on stage, guitar in hand. The audience applauds you and awaits your next move. You know what you have to perform. You get ready to play the first note of the piece... Then the brain says "Wait! Let me give you a large dose of anxiety and dread to send you on your way."

This is the dilemma of performance. And it's one that I'm all too familiar with. Although people have commented on my body language as being calm and composed at concerts, my mind is busy dealing with two tasks: playing the music, and not messing up.

This clash sets up the inner war of passion and anxiety in my mind. It's one of the most uncomfortable positions to let your mind be in. Even after 10 years, anxiety still causes trouble. But I find ways to deal with it to reduce its sting.

Lesson 5: Success relies on more than just being a good player.

I feel very grateful to have received the opportunities that have come my way. Most of these have come from word-of-mouth of friends who know about my ability to perform. And to those people, I say 'thank you.'

But none of these opportunities would have been possible if I didn't deliberately put myself out there to begin with. I performed several gigs to empty pubs long before these opportunities came about because I knew that I had to make the effort and create opportunities for myself.

It doesn't matter how good a player you are. Success doesn't just come to you. You have to go out and earn it.

Lesson 6: Music is created through you, not by you.

This is one of the deeper realizations that has occurred in the last few years.

I remember composing a very complex guitar tune one day. As I listened back to it, I was hit with the question "where the hell did that come from?" The composition was so different to anything that came before that I was convinced that it wasn't my own composition.

This led me to speculate that music must be created through me, not by me. As I researched into this possibility, I found that multiple sources would always lead back to this truth.

Anyone skeptical about this point is encouraged to read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He explains it in more depth than I can hope to achieve in a few paragraphs.


So that's it!

These are just some of the many lessons that music has taught me over half of my lifetime.

Be sure to leave a comment below with your opinion on these topics. It'd be good to get some discussion going!

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