After playing guitar for nearly 20 years, reaching a pretty high level of playing, releasing a couple of records and meeting a couple of my heroes (Steve Vai and Doro Pesch), I’ve been thinking a little on some of the mistakes I made learning and, where appropriate, how I can rectify those moving forwards.
1. Not Owning a String Winder
This sounds a bit flippant, but seriously. Total game changer for the next time you want to change strings on your guitar.
2. Not Working on my Ear Training
To an extent, this skill can naturally get better with time, but, it is something I really should have worked on when I was younger. Ear training brings a lot of benefits to new and experienced guitar players, not only for working out how to play your favourite songs, but also for your creativity.
When you ‘hear’ an idea in your head, or wake up with an idea you want to get out, you ear training skills will help you get the idea out of your head and onto your guitar quickly.
3. Not Doing Everything I Could to Study with the Best Teacher Possible
This is by no means a criticism of my early teachers. That were great guys and vital to getting me started on my journey. But I did make a couple of mistakes. When I was at university, I had no teacher for 4 years…. which is a pretty long time.
What I should have done, was to research the best possible teacher I could find and do whatever I could to afford taking lessons with them.
4. I Would Trade University for an Apprenticeship
What would be a level up from that… would be to work for that teacher and in exchange get to study with them full time. Can you imagine how much you could learn by finding a great teacher and studying with them full time? I wanted to be a guitar player when I was at university. Studying a 4 year masters in astrophysics was cool, and I did learn a lot… but I use none of it now. Finding a great guitar player, or a composer, or a songwriter; and privately studying with them for four years… that would have been a game changer.
I’m currently working on my situation to be able to do something similar, so that I can study full time with a great teacher.
5. Learning Songwriting
If you want to be creating music, you need to learn songwriting as early as possible. Which doesn’t necessarily mean learning to write entire songs. There are a lot of ways you can work on your songwriting:
- Working on your ability to create variations
- Learning how to harmonise riffs and solos
- Creative application of music theory
- Learning how to write for other instruments e.g. bass parts that don’t just copy the riff
- Study classical pieces, find some principles or lessons, and apply those to your rock / metal songs
- Practising writing top lines
- Practising creative writing
- Working on lyric writing
Note: Read this blog post if you have never written lyrics and want to start
6. Not Growing an Audience
This is possibly the number 1 mistake that I have made. I should have been growing an audience. Being surrounded by social media, growing an audience is… it’s pretty easy. The easiest ways to get started growing an audience:
- Instagram: Post some cool photos a few times a week. You can do short videos too. Photos of your gear, yourself with your gear, videos of what you’re currently practising or what your teacher has set you to do. It’s pretty easy.
- YouTube: If you love learning cover songs, then you can build a decent following on YouTube pretty easily. You record a cover every week, and edit the video to look good. My friend Dan Vasc has built a channel of 20,000 follower on YouTube and is now earning a decent income from it. Pretty badass. Check out his channel here.
- Facebook: Post bits and pieces of whatever
- Start your own website / blog. If you write regularly on your blog, you can start to build traffic from Google. The other benefit of a website is that:
- You own it completely. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter… they may all disappear one day. Your website won’t.
- You can build a mailing list – that you control
- You can use Google Analytics and Facebook Pixel to learn about what is working and what your audience wants
- You can sell stuff on your website
- You can get cheap hosting, use wordpress to get started for free. You can add a store to your website using PayPal buttons or WooCommerce. Pretty cool.
It’s going to be hard to grow an audience when you are starting out, and I’m not really sure it makes any sense to, but once you reach the level where it does make sense, you want to start right away.
Simple Rules for Social Media (I’ve broken all of them)
- Get comfortable posting photos and videos “selfie” style, or at least where the audience can see your face.
- DO NOT post guitar videos from the neck down
- Tidy your room, or the background of the video. Don’t leave loads of crap lying around.
- The goal of Facebook posting is to create a conversation. Ask a question. Write a sentence about what you are doing and ask what others are doing. Post a link to an article you like and start a discussion.
- Instagram? Hashtag. Nice photos. Some videos of you playing.
- Post regularly. Not every post needs to be ground breaking. Some of my most engaged posts have been a simple question or a silly selfie.
This article from Rock Guitar Sensei has some really good tips on how to make a decent guitar video.
Learning Lessons the Hard Way
So those are some of the lessons I’ve learned so far… I’m sure I have a few more to come! Which one did you like best? Which lessons do you think should be added to the list? Comment below