Comparing can be a good thing
Making comparisons between ourselves and other guitarists is very useful in order to progress as musicians. Just about all guitarists have learned from players that they admired. This could be people they knew personally or their rock and roll heroes on old crackly LPs.
We need to identify characteristics, approaches or ‘tricks’ of other players in order to add to our own skillsets. This kind of comparing is healthy and positive.
The dark side
It is very easy, though, for us to make comparisons in negative ways. By this I mean putting other guitarists down in order to make ourselves feel better about our playing. Guitarist envy in other words. It’s easily done and can become something of a habit.
The competitive nature of guitarists?
In my experience drummers and bassists generally show great camaraderie as a group. At jam nights or gigs you often see mutual respect, genuine compliments and helpful advice being exchanged.
Many of us guitarists though, seem to find this a little harder to do, falling prey to guitarist envy, and can be more inclined to pick holes in one another’s playing than to admire it. I was certainly guilty of this in my early years of playing and I know I am not alone.
It was a deeply unpleasant experience for me to see a guitarist who was more advanced than I was. If they happened to be younger than me then it was almost devastating!
Does it help?
Putting down a ‘rival’ guitarist might make us feel slightly better for a moment or two, but it doesn’t do us any favours in the long-term, and certainly doesn’t endear us to other fellow musicians. We all like to be around positive people and we like ourselves better when we are feeling positive too.
If you have found yourself experiencing guitarist envy and putting other guitarists down, don’t feel bad it. But do acknowledge it and make the decision to try not to be that person again.
The next time you’re at a gig watching a guitarist doing their thing, try this: regardless of whether they wipe the floor with you technically or if they are a relative beginner, just try to enjoy the performance for what it is. Try to take something positive away from the experience even if it’s just seeing people having a good time.
Inspiration rather than guitar envy
Use players that are more advanced than you as a bit of healthy competition to keep you motivated but keep the negative voices silent (or at least heavily palm muted!). Do that and the world of live music becomes a slightly nicer place.
If I had realised this sooner than I did, I’m sure that some of these ‘rivals’ would have become my allies and I would probably have learned quite a bit from them in the process.
In the words of Stephen Covey “Taking an axe and chopping your neighbour’s furniture to pieces won’t make your furniture look one bit better!”.
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photo credit: Severin Sadjina via photopin cc
photo credit: Ben Fredericson (xjrlokix) via photopin cc
About the Author:Stuart Bahn is a professional guitarist and guitar educator in London, England.