Question: How many guitar players does it take to change a light bulb?
Answer: Four. One to change the bulb and three to say to each other, "I could do that!"
Recently I was playing my regular gig and a guy came in whom I vaguely recognized. I'm not sure from exactly where, but somehow I seemed to remember he was a musician. He was with a younger person, possibly his son or a younger brother.
They sat nearby for most of one set and I could tell from his body language and the slight sneer on his face that he was, shall we say, less than impressed with my playing. Oh well, I thought. There was a time in my younger days that these kinds of things really bothered me but they don't nearly as much these days. I guess I'm confident enough about my own playing that I don't really care all that much about negative vibes. I know what I know, and as long as I'm playing what I know to the best of my ability that should be enough. Most of the time it is. I know this because I get way, way more positive vibes from folks who are listening. This is gratifying and makes me want to play better.
Still, as I was driving home after the gig that guy's attitude was like an annoying little itch that you can't quite reach. But then I had to admit that some years ago I was very much like him. It got so bad that my close friends and loved ones hated going out with me to hear music because I was so critical - and not afraid to let my opinions be known.
Wish I could say that I had some kind of epiphany that made me change my attitude but it wasn't really like that. It was a gradual process. I think it's called "maturing" (!) The thing is, being hyper critical of other players is not a fault of mine along. Many, many others share it and no doubt it will continue. Why?
Well, my best guess is it has something to do with testosterone. Ever since Elvis shook his hips with a leather-covered D-18 over his shoulder young male guitar players have equated aggressively banging out songs with being tough and competitive. Probably has a lot to do with young ladies screaming and swooning. Many (most?) young guitarists go through a faze when they want to be the BEST, if even on a local level. Yes, even supposedly mellow acoustic players!
What they don't realize for some length of time - and some never do - is that 99% of the audience couldn't care less how fast they can play or how many ways they know how to play a Bbdim7. The only ones who do care are other guitarists - and most likely, most of them are sitting there thinking they can do it better anyway!
In my other life, in the recreational fishing world, we have a saying. "The best fisherman is one who has the most fun." In a lot of ways that equates to guitar playing but the problem is, playing a musical instrument is a very "naked" thing. In a performance setting it's common to have to stifle doubts about your own playing - we all do that, even the so-called best players. You're putting it all out there for the world to see and you can't help but wonder what will happen when you start playing. Then it can't help but get down to the basic question: will the people who are listening like what I do?
You know what? They will! At least all the ones who matter will. If you have doubts about that, go into a bar some night when karaoke is going on. People who can't sing a lick are up there, giving it their all, and their friends are cheering them on and giving them the strength they need. Then watch that person when they're done and go back and sit down. Sure, one of their friends might give them a bit of jive in a good natured way but the others, maybe even complete strangers will tell them how much they liked the performance. That is truly what it's all about: taking a chance, going for it and being willing to accept the give and take.
Does this mean I sit there and cheer for some guy banging out yet another cover of Margaritaville on an out of tune guitar? Well, no. I don't mock him though, or sneer and shake my head like the guy at my gig. Because I know what it takes to get up there. I won't hang around and listen for very long however. Performers watch the audience all the time, even if they appear to be in their own world and if a performer can't hold an audience he should know he has some work to do.
I firmly believe that the only way a musician can truly test him or herself is putting it out there in front of an audience. It might be only a few friends sitting around the back yard on a summer evening or it might be at the local open mike night. Just do it, as the ad says. And have fun!!! And if Joe Cool the Awesome Guitar Player doesn't like it, ask him why HE isn't up there instead?
Peace & good music,