Confessions of a Mediocre Guitar Player



Some people are good at golf. Some people suck at it. Some people say that they suck at it, but then turn out to be pretty good. I hate those people.

With golf, you know where you stand. If you shoot a 70, you rule. If you shoot a 115, you suck.

With guitar, it’s different. It’s subjective. How do you know if you ROCK, or if you SUCK? Or, if like the rest of us, you fall somewhere in between?

I got my first guitar in Christmas of grade 2. Now that sounds really impressive until you hear me play. I’m 39 years old, and I am still only the master of a few chords. I don’t really solo, as my attempts at it are typically really bad. Sometimes I accidentally hit the right notes, and that’s AWESOME! However, since that is the exception to the rule, I’m generally best at just carrying the rhythm. I’ve played at a couple of weddings, a funeral, and just about every campfire that you could shake a marshmallow stick at.

But when will I get good?

I’ll let you know if and when that happens. I’m entirely self taught (if you don’t count the song playing tutorials that I watch online when I have a ‘project’ song!) so my playing tends to plateau until I meet a new person to jam with, or find a new artist to mimick. (One of my next articles will be about this phenomena, and my quest to emulate Jason Mraz. Otherwise known as “Steve’s Man Crush”, according to my wife. But, I digress…)

Like most, I first thought that I’d be “good” when I could play Smoke On the Water. Done. Then, House of the Rising Sun. Conquered. Then, *sigh* Stairway to Heaven. I was happy to have accomplished this, with the caveat that like most novices, “I can play Stairway” does not – even to this day – include the solo, or anything after the “bustle in the hedgerow” (whatever the hell that is).

With every song I’d learn, I’d get a little more confident, a little more brave, and a little more anxious to play for everyone that I’d ever met. I played at family functions. I played at open mic nights. I played at work. Seriously. I was, in a word, annoying. But, I quite enjoyed the feeling of making “music” – even if it were only music to my ears.

I looked up to a lot of guitar players. The ones whose albums I bought like Rik Emmett (Triumph), Kirk Hammett (Metallica), Phil Collen (Def Leppard), and people at school that were WAY better than me. Sometimes, it was inspiring to see how good everyone else was, but often times, it was downright depressing. I remember seeing a private show with Rik Emmett and refusing to touch my guitar for a week afterward. Because really, after witnessing that kind of guitar mastery, what the heck is the point of me to play my crappy 3 chord songs?

What would I have to do to get good?

While I waited to get ‘good’, I broadened my horizons. I started listening to a variety of different players. Stanley Jordan, Joe Satriani and Don Ross to name a few. I love listening to them, and I realize that what they do is pure brilliance. I’ve decided that I would rather appreciate these virtuosos than compare myself to them. In other words, I’ll let the really good players play the really good stuff, and I’ll concentrate on what I can play.

Throughout all the years, I’ve kept playing. I’ve been playing fun songs. Songs that I like. Songs that my friends like. Songs that my wife likes. Songs that I can handle. Songs that I can sing and play. Sure, they’re simple, but they’re music. Sure they’re only 3 or 4 chords, but they’re 3 or 4 chords that I know! The neat thing is, the more I play them, the more I can make them mine.

Then it happened. I was playing at an open mic 3 weeks ago. The place where I was playing was beside the local college, so there were a bunch of young players there. A number of them were up there playing their hearts out – all with varying levels of skill. I admired these kids for the guts it took to play in front of people – even if they were just learning. I appreciate when someone steps up to perform, I know that it’s not easy.

So I got up and did my three songs. I was happy with how they went. When the obligatory applause finished and I sat back down in my seat, I had a sip of beer and felt a tap on my shoulder. I looked, up, and one of the college kids was standing over me. He looked down, and in three words completely floored me.

“Man, you’re good”.

Holy shit.


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