Think of any hobby, past-time or vocation and you will see certain characteristics and traits which are inherent to the individual’s chances of success in their field. You wouldn’t, for example, find a professional sportsperson who hated competition, or a top chef who crumbled under pressure. The same thing applies to guitarists; anybody who wants to achieve anything in the world of music, be that mastering a tricky solo or playing in front of thousands, needs a few special characteristics in order to achieve their goal. Here’s a look at five essential traits every guitarist needs.
As anybody who has picked up a guitar will tell you, it ain’t as easy as good players make it look. From those first hesitant strums of an open chord, to piecing together pentatonics into your first solo, the first few years of learning any instrument are tough. At times to the point of making you wonder why you’re bothering hacking away at your guitar when you could be doing one of the 54,857,298 things which are more interesting than building finger strength using chromatic scales. It’s not like guitarists have epiphany moments either where one day they couldn’t play something to save their life and then the next they’re tearing it up like a boss. Progress is mind-numbingly gradual, often making you wonder if you’re advancing at all. But rest assured; you are. It might not seem like it but keep hammering away because learning an instrument is an investment in your future happiness. Ask any proficient player if they regret those lonely nights trying to nail that first sweep run or Hendrix solo, and you can guarantee the answer is no.
Intertwined with patience is a strong sense of dedication. It could be the novice player pledging to spend her Friday nights with a guitar in her hand instead of going to the pub, or it could be the professional guy about to leave his wife and kids while he heads off on tour for the next six weeks. Great guitarists have all dedicated significant chunks of their life to improving their skills, often when they would rather have been doing anything but. There’s a theory that states to become a master at any skill you need to dedicate 10,000 hours to practicing it. We hate to break it to anyone hoping for a shortcut, but you don’t do anything for 10,000 hours by accident. If you want to be good, you’ve got to earn it.
Creativity is one of those intangible skills which people put on a magic pedestal, available only to the lucky few who have an outlet for it. Nonsense. Anyone can pick up a guitar and piece together a few chords. What is clear however is that, like any skill, creativity is a spectrum and some people are better tuned to it than others. You can tell the guitarists who favour creativity because learning other players’ riffs doesn’t even come close to their to-do lists. But by its very nature a musical instrument is a creative tool, and anyone who plays one has some degree of aptitude at expressing a creative side. The more in tune you are with your creative side, the quicker you’ll progress on your instrument.
It helps in any walk of life to have a healthy degree of curiosity in the world around you. In this context, it means wondering what scale the guy on the record is playing, how they achieved a particular tone, what guitar is she using etc etc. Questioning other people’s techniques encourages you to question your own which, in turn, leads to a natural progression which wouldn’t be otherwise possible. As an example, consider how many players will have their favoured genre (for playing or listening) but will dip in and out of others in order to broaden their musical horizons. The shredder who challenges his or herself by dabbling with freeform jazz, or the bluesman who dips in and out of alt-country to learn some new techniques which can add colour to his chops. Only good things can come from having a look at the world of music beyond your record collection.
Perhaps one of the most important traits to end on. Its the same thing we see in puppies, in small children or in adults at comic conventions; enthusiasm. This is one thing which can’t generally be learnt. You’re either madly excited at the prospect of learning, improving and playing the guitar or you might as well give up. The good news is that, providing it was there to start with, the base enthusiasm never really leaves you. It’s the gift that keeps on giving.