Thursday 22 April 2010

How do you know if you are getting any better?

Well it's pretty easy to tell in the early days, you'll start fretting notes without a buzzing noise, it won't take you 30 seconds to fret a chord before you can strum it, and so forth. But what about when you are past all that, you can play a riff or a song, and it felt good. Was it good? Was it in fact fantastic, or was it in fact pretty poor?

First up, especially for my mate Oliver, I've got to say "it doesn't matter, as long as it felt good to you." That's the personal triumph, the win over the challenge. You gave yourself some joy and goodness knows we all need some joy.

But I believe part of getting better is throwing yourself to the wolves, and seeing if they eat you up, or you eat them up. Josh (thanks for the tip Rom, he's an excellent read) would say "Why are guitarists such haters?" and I echo the sentiment. So if you do throw yourself to wolves, be prepared for unconstructive criticism.

And it's hard to take criticism for something that is an outpouring of *you*, it is your emotion, your feelings coming out on the guitar. You are digging deep when you play the guitar to others, you've got your heart on your criticism will equally dig deep. Look, I'll just say it: you're gonna have to get over it. Within that criticism may be positive stuff you can take away with you and learn from, the rest, you are going to have to just let it go. Ignore the negative destructiveness - or stick to the comfort and security of playing purely for your own personal joy.

For me, I was already thick skinned before I started putting stuff out there, thanks to the internet. I had run various site messageboards and often got a "You are an idiot and your stuff is stupid". At first it would ruin my day, and regardless of how many people would rush to my rescue "don't listen to that guy JAW" it was always that knife that stuck, the 99 other positive comments didn't pull it out. Several years before it ceased to have an effect on me.

With youtube I had to get even thicker skinned, there is even more "you" being put up for potential ridicule. I think as you get older you get less sensitive. Thank goodness!

So jump in, put something out there, be upset by haters, then let it go, and in between get some potentially useful feedback. For example, on youtube you might get "Your playing was out of tune" - relisten to it; hey yeah, I never really noticed. I must take more care to correctly tune up. "Your tempo sucks" - relisten to it; I *was* playing fast, and speeding up as I went! I must get over that performance anxiety, and must practice playing against a metronome. "Ha, your face looks funny" - yeah okay, I have guitar face, and you know what - I don't care :)



  1. Oliver Batchelor22 April 2010 at 09:38

    Well it started out as a post about gauging improvement and ended up as a post about haters!

    Surely smoothness and fret buzz are a problem even for even the very best. Then dynamics come into it, how well you can express the piece without "losing it"? How well you can bring out the melody? How long it takes to get a piece to a certain level?

    Youtube has to be a great way to gauge your improvement, look at how you play piece X 2 years ago, compare with now.

    As for haters, all I've received from Youtube is encouragement. Perhaps because mostly other guitarists view my pieces. You on the other hand have a much wider audience, less likely to appreciate how much effort you put in.


  2. Hi Jaw
    Nobobdy but the person playing the guitar knows how much effort went into it,its like saying Naudo is better than Tommy they are both great and put an awful lot of effort in to be that good. JAW you play great i find you a pleasure to listen too thanks.Malc

  3. It may be that the better you are getting, the more criticism you will be facing (the genuine criticism as well as the abuse).
    If you are at the stage of learning to fret notes without the buzzing noise, learning chords...nobody will care about you as a guitarist, you may receive a few encouragements, but more important you will not be seen as threatening, so no reason for haters to turn their attention to you (not yet)!

    If on the other hand if you are Naudo or Tommy Emmanuel, you are so good that haters will not dare (in most cases) criticizing you, that would turn against them, for everybody knows, by just playing a single note, that they are not in the same league.

    But if you are somewhere in the middle, like 99% of guitarists are, trying to improve as much as you can, you WILL come across haters. Unless you emphasize artistic creation rather than technical aspects, and as a result not reveal your true ability, in which case, in doubt, they will prefer to stay quiet.

  4. Just to clarify something: I was talking about artistic creation, but I was not refering to me, I'm not doing much (although I'd like to), and my stuff is not much out there.
    But there are countless guitarists who bring their own personnality to their creations, whether by singing, sonwriting or just developing their own playing style. Even you, Jaw, you may talk a lot about technique, but essentially you try to do your own thing and people respect you for that (and they tolerate the flaws that come with it).
    In a way, the most prone to attract haters is the one who regardless of his skills, has nothing more than technique (or attempts at it) to offer, no substance, no artistic value.