After investing over two decades into helping guitarists to reach their musical goals, I have identified the five keys required for becoming a truly great guitar player. In this article I will address all five and explain how you can achieve greatness for yourself. The five main keys are:
The 1st key: Out of all five keys, the first one is the easiest to attain. In fact, to get it you do not need to make any effort at all. This is because you already have it. The first key is having the 'potential' to achieve greatness. In fact, everyone possesses this key. Contrary to popular belief, there is no such thing as a guitar player who cannot become great because he/she was not born with 'natural talent'. I've seen this misconception proven wrong every single time I've trained guitarists with average/little talent to transform themselves into incredible players.
The main idea is you and everyone else already has endless potential to become great. However, you will 'not' become great unless you believe in this fact (and take action on your beliefs). Until you believe that you have the potential for greatness, you will simply make excuses and settle for being 'average' at best.
Whether you think you can or can't become great, you are right! After continually accepting certain thoughts and ideas, they become your reality. With this in mind, I have never come across a guitar player who truly aspires to be 'merely average' at best. Additionally, I know that you want to achieve much more than mediocrity... you want to achieve greatness. I know this because you are reading this article right now about becoming a great guitar player.
These are the things we understand up until this point:
1. All guitar players have the potential to achieve greatness.
2. Everyone wants to achieve great things. No one wants to settle for mediocrity.
3. You become what you believe.
So with all this in mind... why do the majority of guitarists never become great? This problem can be resolved by reading about the remaining four keys. In almost every case, guitar players who don't become great 'fail' because they do not utilize all of the remaining keys to their fullest extent. Fortunately, no matter where you are in the process of attaining these keys, you can become great. You can overcome any obstacles in your way. If you have a tendency to make excuses for why you can't do things because you feel like your situation is 'a special case'... drop this habit immediately! Regardless of your specific situation or challenge (even if you feel it really is legitimately different from others' situations/challenges), you can and will overcome it to reach your goal.
The 2nd key: The initial problem that will keep you from becoming great as a guitarist is the fact that you've never actually been presented with a clear definition of what greatness really is. Truth is, being great has nothing to do with the speed at which you can play guitar solos, knowing how to play like your favorite players or developing better musical skills. It's likely that you've heard others describe greatness in this way many times before... but in reality most of these people are not really qualified to tell you these things. You must understand exactly what it means to be great from a core and fundamental level while forgetting about the other superficial things people say.
You must have someone fully demonstrate to you, "This is how you achieve greatness in your guitar practice in order to reach your musical goals." "Here is precisely what true greatness looks like in the way you consciously focus your mental energy during the training process and how this is not the same as merely practicing." "This is what greatness looks like while applying the things you are learning to your guitar playing, performance, improvisation and music writing." "This is what greatness looks like in the form of learning, the methods you use to learn and the order in which you learn everything you want (and need) to master." "Here is how greatness looks as you express yourself musically while accurately conveying specific ideas and emotions in the manner of a true virtuoso." "This is what it looks like when you are quickly achieving greatness in all of these areas at once." The point is: 'every' element of the process of learning guitar can be performed with varying degrees of 'greatness'. You need to learn to be great in all of these pieces so that these pieces add up to make the complete picture of your total musical greatness.
The 3rd key: You must totally understand (with 100% clarity) the things you want to achieve as a guitar player and musician. If you do not understand these things in 'great detail', how will you ever accomplish them? It would be like thinking to yourself, "I want to get my mom a present for her birthday, but I have no idea what she wants or what to get for her. I'm not sure if she wants candles, pictures, a card, a nice blouse, a fishing pole or... a power drill." So the day before her birthday you go up to the mall and walk around for hours until finally you settle for some lame present. Then her birthday arrives and the whole family is there at the dinner table when your mom opens your present... a 15 dollar gift card to a fast food restaurant (that she doesn't even like).
Ok, back to music: When you don't have a clear picture of what it is that you want from guitar, there is no way for you to know which path to take, what material to study or which strategies need to be employed. You must understand the exact things you want to accomplish because this is what will help you identify the choices you need to make and the actions that are required to accomplish your stated goals.
The 4th key: For the small percentage of guitarists who truly understand what greatness looks like as described above, and have determined what they seek to accomplish as well as the road that will get them there, there exists another challenge to overcome.
The truth is, the overwhelming majority of guitar players out there do not believe in themselves, lack confidence, and don't think they have the capacity to dedicate themselves to truly achieving greatness.
So instead of achieving greatness, they give up and return to the habit of always taking the path of least resistance. As a result, they only are able to achieve mediocre results and end up feeling disappointed in themselves because they know deep down that they are not reaching their fullest potential. This makes it even harder for them to do what it takes to become a great guitarist.
The 5th key: If you...
1. Understand the strategies you must to implement in order to achieve it...
2. Understand what greatness looks like in all areas...
3. Have total faith in yourself that you can fulfill your potential and advance forward...
... then you will take action to become the great guitar player you desire to be, can be and 'ought' to be. However, be aware that you can still lose your way, become confused, upset, impatient, or distracted... leaving you back where you started in a mindset of mediocrity. Fact is, it is way easier to give up and accept a life of 'being average' than it is to stay on course and do anything it takes to become great. So why does this happen exactly? Why do so many people give up in their pursuit of greatness and return to their comfort zone (never to accomplish anything truly great)? It is my belief that this occurs when you are lacking someone who is there to inspire you, believe in your capacity to succeed, support you, hold you accountable and help you up in times when you fall flat on your face. You don't have someone there who can empathize with your situation because that person has experienced it many times as well. You must have all five keys to become a great guitarist. You must have someone on your side with tons of experience, who will support you, train you and give you massive amounts of inspiration... a person who will guide you along the correct path and make sure that you remain on that path until achieve the greatness you were destined to achieve.
This article is not a sales message or anything like that. There is nothing being sold here. I simply want to give you insight to help you understand why you have not yet reached the level you want to be at as a guitarist, and what you must do to finally accomplish what you have been destined to achieve since birth - Unstoppable Greatness!
Tom Hess is a professional touring guitarist and recording artist. He teaches, trains and mentors musicians from around the world.