One of the only things you can control in life is whether or not you quit. You get to choose inspiration over intimidation so that you don’t convince yourself to quit before you’ve given learning an instrument a chance.
Many young musicians get tripped up with social media musicians, especially guitar players. They look at what they see on the screen. They listen to what they hear come through the speakers on their computer. Then, dramatically, they want to hurl their guitar into the dumpster outside their house.
When I was growing up, we had guitar magazines. That was it. There weren’t any videos of kid prodigies or doctored reels of people playing at twice the speed they can play. We read articles. We didn’t have hundreds, thousands, or millions of ways to compare ourselves to other players. The only person we could regularly compare ourselves to was our past selves, and there is something powerful about realizing that.
It can be overwhelming to see some kid playing guitar and think, “I’ll never, ever be able to do that.” At that moment, you have a vital choice to make.
Intimidation vs. Inspiration
When you see something that makes you feel like you have a long way to go in your playing proficiency, you can either be intimidated or inspired. But I’ll tell you right now––intimidation is pointless. You will never be that person, and that’s a good thing. Listen, I know that I can never be Eddie Van Halen, because I’m Rob. And that’s okay. You are you, and they are them. That’s good. Otherwise, life would be super boring.
For example, when you choose inspiration over intimidation, you look at musicians’ videos differently. Instead of thinking, “I’ll never be that good,” your thought becomes, “They’ve found their thing, and that’s awesome, and I can also find mine.”
You need to understand, and what will give you hope, is that instruments can be specialized. What do I mean? The guitar, more so than other instruments, is specialized. Not everyone can play multiple styles, and that’s fine. If everyone played the same things or played in the same ways, music would be super boring.
The same principles apply to how we learn. Everyone has a different learning style, including you. Each person also possesses their own specific areas of talent. That is why at my school, Rob’s School of Music, we specialize in creating custom lesson programs for each student. As an educator, it’s my job to get information to each person in a way they can understand.
Don’t let your present ability––which was hard-earned, I’m sure––intimidate you out of progressing on your journey. Think about what it would be like to watch John Mayer learn to play the guitar. Do you think he was amazing right away? No, he had to practice and unfold his talents and develop his style just like any other musician. The great thing about music is that with practice, anyone can learn to create it, even if they don’t have a ton of natural talent.
Sometimes I sit and think about what it would be like if we did have a social-media vault full of videos where John was learning to play the guitar. Wouldn’t that be awesome? When I was young, (I started playing guitar in the mid 90s) we didn’t have access to the same technology available now. So I don’t have much evidence of how I’ve progressed as a musician over the years. But you can keep track of it all!
Your journey is your story, and stories cause powerful points of connection to happen. Stories are dynamic. With a story, you can do just about anything. And right now, you are building your musical story, one note at a time. Don’t let anyone diminish that journey for you, including that intimidating voice in your head that says you can’t.
Allow yourself the space and time to build your own story. We all have a starting point—a genesis. This is your time to allow yourself to learn, to make mistakes, and to become the version of yourself—and nobody else’s—that you want to be.
Managing Expectations and Determining Your Progress
A lot of the time, we aren’t good at measuring the progress we’ve made. It’s also challenging to manage expectations when you’re first starting out. This is why having a teacher/mentor is super helpful. You have someone who knows what you’re trying to learn and can help you set realistic goals. Plus, you have someone in your corner who will help you exit your comfort zone when you’ve gotten better and can level up your playing.
One time I was teaching a guitar student, and she started humming as she was strumming on her guitar. When she sang, it was clear she had a fantastic voice that I had never heard before that moment. She explained that, as a child, her father told her she wasn’t a good singer. It was heartbreaking. I worked with her to write a song about what she had been through.
That song changed her life. At that moment, she overcame the past with such power and force because she found the courage to move forward through her voice: the one thing that people she loved had tried to silence.
Just because someone tells you something doesn’t mean it’s true. If you get feedback and aren’t satisfied with where you are, you can always do the work to level up. Find your power. Find your voice. Once you do that, you can do anything. Choose inspiration. –Rob Spampinato