By Jamie Andreas
A guitarist is by nature an emotional sort of
person. I mean, it's such an emotional instrument, I think it
attracts people of a highly sensitive nature, who need to learn
to play so they can express that emotion, so it doesn't drive
them crazy, perhaps!
Because of this, I think we can fall prey to a few psychological
conditions that make our progress as guitarists and musicians
much more difficult than it needs to be. One of these conditions
is the chronic mood of doubt, which manifests itself as the
spoken or unspoken question of "Do I have any Natural Talent
for this?" "Am I kidding myself here, thinking I can
learn to play like these obviously talented players I hear,
who make me feel so inadequate?" Boy, I spent a lot of
time feeling like that. I remember listening to a Segovia recording
of the Bach Bouree in Em, which I was working on at the time.
He played it so fast, and I was so struggling to play it at
even half that speed, that it put me in a serious state of self
Well, I have learned a few things about this subject
of "natural talent", and I think they would be good
and useful things to share with the aspiring players out there.
Too Can Be A Superhero!
My first insight into this "question"
was when I observed how I reacted to my first experience in
taking lessons. I had taught myself guitar for three months
before I began formal lessons. I was practicing for 3 hours
a day by myself, working out of a book called something like
"Teach Yourself Guitar the Easy Way". It was a pretty
decent book, and I learned first position notes, some chords
and some songs. When I started lessons, I started with Mel Bay
# 2, and had a lot of mis-conceptions cleared up, and started
learning a world of things I had no clue about, with the aid
of a very good Jazz style teacher.
When I started lessons, I began to practice even
more, 5 or 6 hours a day. As a result of this, and because I
did have some degree of "natural talent" (which I
will define later), I got pretty good pretty fast. My teacher
was amazed, and used to show me off to everybody, as I had become
his "star pupil". He would always say, "tell
them how much you practice."
Now the funny thing is, I would always lie about
it, and tell them "oh, 2 hours a day". I didn't want
them to know I practiced so much. I thought " I don't want
them to know how much I work at it, I'd rather let them think
I'm some kind of genius". I used to get really afraid someone
would realize how much I worked at it, then I 'd just be like
Now, I do forgive myself for this character flaw,
because I understand why I felt this way. I grew up in a big
family, and there was only so much attention to go around (and
being someone who would spend a lot of time on stage in later
life, I needed a whole lot, by nature). This was the first time
in my life I ever stood out at anything, and had people pay
so much attention to me, and make me feel special. It was a
good gig, and I didn't want to blow it by having them find out
I'm just a common slob like everybody else. No, I'm special.
I just picked this thing up, and got divinely inspired.
Besides, my fondest desire as a child was to
be a super hero, like Superman, or Spiderman. I'd even settle
for Batman! This was the closest I had come to fulfilling that
Being Special Really Means
As I began teaching, I got the opportunity to
see large numbers of people attempting to learn to play, and
I started to really investigate this idea of natural talent.
Was there such a thing, and what were the reasons some people
got really good, and others did not. I saw many people grapple
with the challenges of learning to play, and I realized that
yes, I do have some natural talent, because many of these people
were having such a harder time than I did. But I also noticed
another interesting thing. A very good percentage of the people
I was teaching seemed to have at least as much talent as I did.
Some maybe more. But very few had the burning desire I had.
Very few were practicing the number of hours I did, even from
the beginning. Very few seemed to have the almost desperate
need in their life for this thing we call playing the guitar.
So I saw that there is literally a whole lot
of natural talent around. But there isn't a whole lot of love,
dedication, and "hard work".
I started to see how immature, and downright
incorrect my old way of thinking was, when I was trying to be
a Superhero. I began to realize how beautiful a thing it was
that someone would love and need something as beautiful as playing
the guitar, that they would give so much of themselves to it.
I certainly thought it was beautiful whenever I saw my students
do it, and I still do. I was beginning to see that love, dedication,
and hard work were the really "special" things. (Of
course, it has never felt like "work" to me. It is
called "playing" the guitar, isn't it?)
You Expect Me
To Practice Only 5 Hours a Week!!??
It took me a while to understand why all people
who said they wanted to play the guitar didn't spend most of
their day doing it. I remember being in high school, and filling
out the form for getting extra credit for taking music lessons.
Mine said you had to practice at least 5 hours a week to qualify.
I raised my hand and said, "excuse me, I think there's
a mistake on mine. It says you only have to practice 5 hours
a week, shouldn't that be 5 hours a day." I couldn't understand
the concept of only practicing 5 hours a week! Boy, did I learn
different when I started teaching full time!
Now as the years have gone by, I have become
much more tolerant. I can accept the fact that there are people
in this world who want to play the guitar, and yet only want
to practice maybe ½ an hour a day, or whatever. I also
realized that these are the people who are probably not planning
on becoming professionals, and that's okay. There is a place
in the world for people like this, although the world would
probably be a better place if more people spent most of their
day playing the guitar. But of course, professionals do need
some people who just like to listen, and admire how special
we "full-timers" are.
In all seriousness though, I am always moved
when I see so many people, school teachers, landscapers, office
workers, mothers and fathers, make such a commitment to keep
up their efforts to learn to play this instrument, in the midst
of otherwise very full and demanding lives. Maybe they only
get to practice 20 minutes a day, but it is very important to
them, and they make sacrifices to keep it in their lives and
have it grow. That's one reason I have made a specialty of showing
these people how to get the most out of the time they put in.
Okay, So What
Is "Natural Talent"?
Natural Talent is a pre-disposition in the mind
and the body, to do the right thing. When a person who has natural
talent for singing hears someone sing, their body and mind "know"
what that person is doing to get that sound. And their body/mind
knows how to do it too, or how to begin moving in that direction.
(They don't have to know this consciously, that is "know
what they know, and how they know it, they just "know").
Some people come in for lessons, and they "tend" to
do everything right, from sitting comfortably with the instrument,
to positioning and using the fingers. Some people do everything
wrong, and must be shown, painstakingly and minutely, exactly
what to do. These people are the ones I have learned most from,
about teaching and about playing.
Understand that everyone falls somewhere in between
the two extremes of total cluelessness, and being a genius.
Yes, I have some talent, as do many people. If I didn't work
really hard, it would have got me nowhere. I needed a whole
lot of education to go with that talent. So did Beethoven, who
studied with Haydn, and so did Bach, who spent his life copying
out the music of composers he admired, in order to study their
work. So did Eric Clapton, who spent years copying every blues
record he could find.
Don't Worry If
You Think You Don't Have Any
I have, as I said, some natural talent for guitar,
but I sure don't have it for singing. When it comes to singing,
my head is on backwards. Whatever the right thing to do is,
I'll do the opposite. I don't need "Singing For Dummies",
I need "Singing for Retards!"
But guess what? I get paid every week now for
singing, and people compliment me all the time on my voice.
That is because I tried my hardest with many teachers over the
years, and slowly began to "get it". Not as fast as
someone with natural talent, but I discovered how to express
myself with my voice, make a sound that was pleasing and not
ugly or strained, and fulfill my desire and need to sing. I
also found that I could move people with my singing, and transfer
my emotion to them, which is what music is all about.
And that is the good news. With the right approach,
any one can learn anything. I have proven this as far as playing
the guitar goes, for myself and for my students, many of whom
have had their "heads on backwards." In fact, the
more you really try, the more "Natural Talent" you
will discover in yourself. It is like having a little voice
in your head guiding you in the right direction if you will
listen. I have found the more I listen, the louder that voice
gets, and I hear it more often.
Having "talent" is not the primary
factor in whether or not you will become a good or great player.
Your burning desire and desperate need to play, coupled with
the correct understanding and approach, are the most important
things you must have.
There are lots of people with talent, but not
a lot who allow their desire to grow, and become powerful. If
you can allow yourself to feel this need and desire, and use
the power of that to overcome all the obstacles you might encounter
along the way, you will find all the talent you need to be the
player you are meant to be.