Let me tell you a little story. Playing guitar never came easy to me when I
was younger. I didn't possess anything that resembled, what some would
call, "Natural Talent", or at least I didn't think so. When I attended
college to study music, I had been out of high school for four years. I was
an average student in high school and was very afraid that I might not do
well in college since college work is supposed to be much harder than high
On the first day of classes at college, I sat in my music theory class and
noticed that the room was completely full of other students who were
pursuing degrees in music. I felt intimidated to know there were 50 other
people who had played the piano, flute, violin or clarinet longer than I had
played guitar. Virtually all of those students could read music well and
understood more about music theory than I did then. Later that week, I went
to talk to my music theory professor about my concerns regarding my fear
that I wasn't sure if I would be able to do well in the class. He said to
me, "Most people who go to college to earn music degrees never make it far
enough to get the degree. Some fail the music classes. Some drop out and
change their major as they come to realize music is one of the hardest
degrees to get, so they decide to change their major to something easier
(like business, accounting, etc.) Less than 25% of the students in this
class will finish their second year of college as a music major." I must
have seemed very nervous standing there listening to all of this. He
continued, "The ones who make it and become real musicians are not always
the best players, not always the most intelligent people and not always the
most creative ones either. No. The students who make it are always the
ones who have significant desire in beyond what the others have. They have
the persistent, relentless drive to become a musician and the solid work
ethic to back it up. These are the ones that virtually always make it."
It took several days for all of what he said to really sink into my mind. I
was not one of the people with the best grades while in high school. There
were other students that were better on their instruments at the time,
compared to where I was on guitar back then. When I entered college I could
barely even read music!) But I was absolutely convinced that I did have the
intense desire to become a real musician (more than just a decent guitar
player) and had the persistence and work ethic on my side. I began to feel
very confident that I could do make this happen, and earn the music degrees,
and then go beyond that to teach guitar, write my own music, release my own
CDs, start my own record company, and tour the world. I didn't know how I
would get there yet, but I took it step by step until all of that actually
did happen for me.
At the beginning of the first semester there were about 50 music majors in
my class. At the start of the second semester, there were less than 25.
When third semester began the number shrank to 11. At the end of four
semesters, only 6 of these people actually graduated, Mike Walsh (the other
guitarist in the HESS band) and myself were among the 6 who made it. We all
went on to transfer to various universities to earn the next music degree.
All of us who graduated had intense motivation and drive to become excellent
musicians. There were other students that did not make it whom I thought
were highly intelligent and creative and were really good players of their
instruments, but they lacked the main things that really matter in the end:
The passion, the drive, the sheer determination to get through it all.
It been years now since I finished college. I've reached the musical goals
I set for myself back then. You can do the same. You do have potential far beyond what you have achieved so far. The vast majority of you probably
don't have any idea what your true potential really is. Over the years,
I've had many excellent students. But the ones who went the farthest in
music (and those who are happiest about their playing) are the people I was
able to convince that we all possess massive amounts of potential. All we
need to do is obtain the right tools (this is where a good teacher comes
in), learn how to apply them (this is where a great teacher comes in) and
have the desire and work ethic to make it happen (this is where you come
Rule number 1: Don't try to learn on your own. Don't try to learn solely by
looking for free tab or lessons on the internet! If that was all one needed
to succeed, there would be thousands of new rock stars in the world today.
Sure there are some really good web sites out there that do have real
quality on them. Think of these things as aides, but understand that they
can never be a true substitute for a great teacher.
Rule number 2: Becoming a great player is a long term process that requires
thousands of hours of your practice time and years of learning. It will
take far too long to reach your goals without a teacher. A good teacher
can/should save you years of aimless practicing, by teaching you how to
reach your goals faster and better. Please read my previous articles on
"Choosing a Teacher" and "Do You Really Need a Teacher?"
Rule number 3: Besides working with a teacher. Know what steps
you need take on your own to become the player you want (and can) be. I
won't repeat all of those things here. Please read my article, "Why Aren't
You a Better Guitarist?" It explains all the main things I believe every
player should do to reach his/her full potential so if you have not read
this one, do it now.
Rule number 4: Do not lie to yourself. Don't tell yourself that you are really going to put in the time, effort and money to do this if you know really deep down that you won't. If/when you decide to invest in yourself and commit to reaching your goals, do it! See it all the way through until the goals are reached. Stay focused, motivated, disciplined and hungry!
Rule number 5: Second only to "Fear", procrastination is the worst enemy to your moving forward to get the real results you want.
Most people that consider themselves to be truly happy, are the
ones that moved forward towards their goals. They are the ones who did
significant things to get the results they wanted out of life. Most who
fail are the ones that gave up too early and didn't give it 100% of their
effort. Where will you be in one year? In three years? In five years?
In eight years? In fifteen years? Hopefully, you will be able to say you
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.
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