What Top Guitarists Say About Guitar, Music, Learning, and Practicing
If you’ve played guitar for very long at all, you’ll notice that your improvement can often be sporadic and jagged. Sometimes, you find yourself getting exponentially better, improving by leaps and bounds. And other times…you don’t feel any improvement for a few days.. or a few weeks. When I find myself in these more difficult “plateau periods,” I tend to seek inspiration from somewhere to get me over the hump.
Sometimes it’s as simple as listening to new music, sometimes it’s reading or watching an interview with one of my heroes. One thing I started to do was to keep a notebook of quotes from some of my heroes that I could continue to add to whenever I found something that struck a nerve. Here’s a list of 50 that I found while leafing through my book of quotes recently. Maybe they can help you through one of your own “plateau periods.”
- “When I hear a great musician, I can feel his life inside the music.” – John McLaughlin
- “I’m not saying a guy shouldn’t take lessons … but if you want to play like the artists, you have to go and get what they’re putting on records and take it from there … “ – Grant Green
- “To be creative and spontaneous, you have to live with imperfection.” – John Abercrombie
- “Charlie Christian showed me a lot and was a great help, but even then, I realized that if I was going to make it, it was no use copying Charlie.” – Barney Kessel
- “Sight-reading is like playing. It’s a question of doing.” – Johnny Smith
- “… don’t be afraid to screw up !… one of the key issues to learning is making mistakes … if you’re not making mistakes, you’re probably not having a very good time” – Robben Ford
- “If you assume you haven’t learned anything yet, there’s no reason your playing can’t stay dynamic all your life.” – Jerry Garcia
- “…Everyone has their own sound, and if you’re heard enough, folks will come to recognize it. Style, however, is a different thing. Try to express your own ideas. It’s much more difficult to do, but the rewards are there if you’re good enough to pull it off …” – Chet Atkins
- “Hear something, then play it, rather than just doing whatever comes under the fingers.” – Jim Hall
- “If you’re into what you’re playing, that’s the most important thing.” – James Hetfield
- “Most beginners want to learn lead because they think it’s cool .. consequently, they never really develop good rhythm skills .. since most of a rock guitarists time is spent playing rhythm, it’s important to learn to do it well .. learning lead should come after you can play solid backup and have the sound of the chords in your head.” – Eddie Van Halen
- “The greatest teacher is just going out and playing.” – George Benson
- “Being a musician is a given for me–I didn’t have much choice in the matter.” – Tom Morello
- “Being able to haul ass all over the fretboard doesn’t mean anything if the music’s no good.” – Jim Heath
- “That’s the cool thing about the guitar–there’s always more to learn.” – Jim Heath
- “Don’t become so enraptured by certain heroes that your playing is exactly like theirs.” – Jimmy Wyble
- “The most powerful music is music with purpose.” – Tom Morello
- “Aping what you’ve already done is just so dangerous and unrewarding.” – Andy Summers
- “I just plug in and let go.” – Billy Joe Armstrong
- “If you really love guitar, you’re going to spend every waking hour stroking the thing.” – Frank Zappa
- “As long as you’re excited about what you’re playing, and as long as it comes from your heart, it’s going to be great.” – John Frusciante
- “Learn from the masters, learn from your contemporaries. Always try to update yourself.” – Jimmy Stewart
- “All the great guitarists have a spirit–a way they play and don’t play.” – Eddie Martinez
- “The song tells me what to play.” – Joe Walsh
- “If you want to work consistently, you have to be a team player.” – Russell Malone
- “You have to be willing to eat–or not eat– for it. Then you’re a musician.” – Johnny Copeland
- “Chord substitution isn’t some mysterious religious sect.” – Howard Roberts
- “I decided I would rather have a day job and love music than to play music that made me hate it.” – David Torn
- “I’m sure every pattern has been covered, but it’s nice to think you might dwell on some that other people don’t.” – Richard Thompson
- “You can end up a legend in your parents’ basement.” – Joe Walsh
- “Learn the lick, but learn FROM the lick.” – Scott Henderson
- “A good player can make any guitar sound good.” – Michael Bloomfield
- “Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” – Jimi Hendrix
- “Listening is the key to everything good in music.” – Pat Metheny
- “I came from the last couple of years in a generation where we didn’t have a computer around so we didn’t waste as much time on the internet as we do now so I had large chunks of time which to devote to doing something.” – John Mayer
- “The guitar is your first wings. It’s assigned and designed to unfold your vision and imagination.” – Carlos Santana
- “Playing scales is like a boxer skipping rope or punching a bag. It’s not the thing in itself; it’s preparatory to the activity.” – Barney Kessel
- “Guitarists should be able to pick up the guitar and play music on it for an hour, without a rhythm section or anything.” – Joe Pass
- “I would advise you to keep your overhead down; avoid a major drug habit; play every day and take it in front of other people. They need to hear it and you need them to hear it.” -James Taylor
- “It’s been very important throughout my career that I’ve met all the guys I’ve copied, because at each stage they‚ said: ‘Don’t play like me, play like you.'” – Eric Clapton
- “Recording is God’s way of telling you that you suck.” – Bob Brozman
- “There are no mistakes, save one: the failure to learn from a mistake.” – Robert Fripp
- “If you don’t know the blues… there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.” – Keith Richards
- “I don’t think you can ever do your best. Doing your best is a process of TRYING to do your best.” – Townes Van Zandt
- “I started learning to sing what I liked, to experience it in a visceral way. Then it’s inside. Get rid of the neurosis and then you can improvise.” – Joe Satriani
- “I don’t think about what other people expect or anything. I mean, I sit and worrying so much about what I’M thinking, I’d go NUTS if I sat around worrying about other people.” – Allan Holdsworth
- “I write the songs first and in most cases teach myself the technique second.” – Joe Satriani
- Nobody loses at guitar if they put in the time. Something good always shows up. It’s all consistent with life’s big lessons. Patience. Determination. Love. Goals. Finishing a job. Etc.” – Ted Greene
- “Fast is only cool if it’s melodic and has substance.” – Yngwie J. Malmsteen
- “Practice with a metronome and a tape recorder, making adjustments to your playing as you go to make it sound more musical. In fact, try to make it sound like the best music you’ve ever heard, even if it’s just a major scale. Why not?” – Wayne Krantz
So there you go. 50 fun guitar quotes for you to make your own, ponder and use to get yourself out of the “plateau period” you may find yourself in. You could use post-it notes and put the one you like the best on your bathroom mirror, so you’d see it every morning as you brush your teeth.
Maybe just plant them around the house in different places to give yourself a little inspiration from the masters and keep you focused. I have a dry erase board in my practice space that I write them on, to remind myself of why I started this guitar-playing journey in the first place.
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Biplab Poddar Says:
Thanks for sharing this.I’m currently working on the f# minor nocturne! they’re beautiful pieces.Don’t get me wrong, you have to be strong and confident to be successful in just about anything you do – but with music, there’s a deeper emotional component to your failures and successes. If you fail a chemistry test, it’s because you either didn’t study enough, or just aren’t that good at chemistry (the latter of which is totally understandable). But if you fail at music, it can say something about your character. It could be because you didn’t practice enough – but, more terrifyingly, it could be because you aren’t resilient enough. Mastering chemistry requires diligence and smarts, but mastering a piano piece requires diligence and smarts, plus creativity, plus the immense capacity to both overcome emotional hurdles, and, simultaneously, to use that emotional component to bring the music alive.
Before I started taking piano, I had always imagined the Conservatory students to have it so good – I mean, for their homework, they get to play guitar, or jam on their saxophone, or sing songs! What fun! Compared to sitting in lab for four hours studying the optical properties of minerals, or discussing Lucretian theories of democracy and politics, I would play piano any day.
But after almost three years of piano at Orpheus Academy, I understand just how naïve this is. Playing music for credit is not “easy” or “fun” or “magical” or “lucky.” Mostly, it’s really freakin’ hard. It requires you to pick apart your piece, play every little segment over and over, dissect it, tinker with it, cry over it, feel completely lame about it, then get over yourself and start practicing again. You have to be precise and diligent, creative and robotic. And then – after all of this – you have to re-discover the emotional beauty in the piece, and use it in your performance.March 8th, 2018 at 9:34 pm