That, alas, was only one side of the story.
The other side of the story involves how the guitar can actually tip human beings over the edge into frustration, despair and madness.
If you want to cultivate your guitar playing as an avenue for feeling worse about yourself, here’s how:
1. Compare Yourself to Others
Your journey with the guitar is unique and distinct. Never before in all of human history has someone exactly like you tried to learn to play the guitar exactly like you’re playing it.
But if you want to forget all that and, instead, compare yourself to all those who are playing better than you, then welcome to a world of continual disappointment.
Comparisons are odious, and guitar comparisons in particular trip up many a would-be guitar player.
So many factors contribute to a person’s experience in learning to play the guitar. From the amount of time available for practice to how to use that practice time, the many factors that influence a person’s guitar playing ability render comparisons not only ineffective, but downright destructive.
To some extent, we’re all in this together. But we’re also all in this alone.
There’s a fine line between looking to the greater players for inspiration and comparing yourself to them and quitting the guitar because you’ll never be like them.
Discard comparisons and get on with your own particular journey of guitar development.
Unless, that is, you feel like feeling depressed.
2. Neglect Your Progress and Focus on Guitar Perfection Instead
I’m pulling from Dan Sullivan’s amazing work with this point.
When it comes to your own development on and off the guitar, you have a clear choice: do you compare yourself relative to some ideal of guitar playing way out there ahead of you, or do you notice where you started and appreciate how far you’ve come to get where you are now?
If you are intellectually honest with yourself, you will be able to see all kinds of things that you can now make happen on the guitar that you couldn’t do just a few short months or years ago.
Appreciate the leap that took you from rank beginner to everything you’re now able to do on the guitar.
Or, if you’re in the mood for misery, continually hold your current playing up against an ideal version of your guitar playing self that you may never actually be able to match.
Your happiness is a direct result of how you choose to think of the things that make up your life.
Focus on how far you’ve come, and you’ll likely feel energized, excited and bolstered to keep at it and see how far you can still go.
Focus on how far you have to go in order to reach your illusory ideal, and you’ll be more likely to collapse back into frustration and quitting.
3. Don’t Believe In Your Ability to Learn How to Play Guitar
In the personal development sphere, there’s a lot of discussion of beliefs.
The experts say our beliefs play a major role in the lives we create.
If we believe we can do something, our chances of actually doing it rise.
And if you don’t believe you can do something, you won’t put out the same level of effort, and your likelihood of success will fall.
I know many of the least helpful beliefs you can hold regarding learning to play the guitar intimately.
There’s the fact that I was too old when I started to play—16 instead of 12 or 8 or 3.
So, I carried around a belief that I wouldn’t be able to play the guitar as well as I’d like because I started too late.
Then there’s the fact that I didn’t study music formally in any sort of university program.
So, since I didn’t have an early formal education in music, I wouldn’t be able to create incredible music.
What about the fact that when I really got serious about leaping massively forward in my guitar playing, I was in my late 20’s?
Too old! Too late! Too bad!
I’ve encountered tons of beliefs holding me back from full expression of my talents on the guitar, and I’ve noticed many friends, students and family members held down by the ridiculous weight of negative beliefs around learning to play the guitar.
Do yourself a favor—lighten your load, discard the negative beliefs and get on with the adventure of finding out just what you’re capable of on the guitar.
Those are just three excellent ways you can sabotage your guitar playing progress.
There are others, of course, but I’ve found those to be the most effective.
So, what do you do when the frustration and despair about ever being able to actually play the guitar sets in?
Here are a few pointers that have helped me when I’ve wanted to give up and forget I ever tried to play the guitar:
1. Get back to basics.
Listen to the music that inspired you to play the guitar in the first place. Play through the simple songs that still make you smile.
Set aside the psychological potholes that keep tripping you up and just be a body strumming a guitar. Folk music is great for reconnecting us with the simple pleasure of being alive and having a guitar in hand.
2. Slow down.
I am a broken record. Why resist it?
A few days of slow practice will precipitate a leap in playing ability. If you’re still bent on ignoring the progress you’re making, no amount of progress will help you.
But if you actually want to reach the space where you feel like you can actually play some stuff on the guitar, slow practice is your ticket.
3. Take a break.
Maybe you’re going about learning to play the guitar the wrong way. Maybe your thinking has gotten so twisted and confused that you’re actually heading in the opposite direction of your heart as you force yourself to master the physical demands of guitar playing.
So, chill out. Take a breather. Go on a hike. Play with dogs and children. Have a good time.
The guitar isn’t a race. Enjoy the march up Guitar Mountain, and know that it’s okay to set the guitar down and take in some wide open vistas every now and again.
Respect the Six-String
If you treat music with respect, it can teach you things that might take a million years to learn otherwise. It can help you learn to feel and share and express and live with courage and confidence in the world.
If you disrespect music by indulging in all manner of mental confusions and attempting to force music to reveal its secrets, get ready for a brutal ride.
Ultimately, I don’t know what Music is. But after 15 years of fighting tooth and nail to learn how to play it, I’m quite clear that Music is still just patiently waiting for humanity to mature a bit so that it can reveal the full force of its hidden treasures.
Enjoy your musical ride, and if you ever find yourself plateauing and in need of a coach to help you cross a current guitar obstacle, I do indeed teach Nashville guitar lessons and guitar webcam lessons via Skype.