The thing about learning guitar is that it’s up to you what path you take to develop your ability. You could learn “by rote”, meticulously absorbing theory, scales, chords, and then recreating famous songs in intricate detail. Or you could learn a few chords, practice a few patterns and then simply ‘let the music take you where it may’.
I started playing guitar back in the mid-eighties after hearing Eddie Van Halen and Mark Knopfler weave their magic. In rapture at the sheer power of Eddie’s “Pretty Woman” riff, or Knopfler’s “Down to the Waterline” solos, I vowed to learn everything I could about this musical mistress – how those notes across the fretboard ticked, how successive patterns created harmonies, how songs could come to life at my own fingertips.
At some point, I read an interview that Eddie gave. He said that, while you need to learn your basics, very quickly, you need to realize that the most important thing is to discover feeling. How to translate what is in your head into your fingers. Capturing and delivering that feeling is what it’s all about. Knopfler said something similar, that it isn’t about being able to play Sultans of Swing note for note, it’s about learning the basic feel of (any) song, and then delivering the musical message in your own unique voice, but keeping that essential feeling. Sure you’ll mess up sometimes, but you’ll also create some amazing music. This idea has been central to my now 30 year (and counting) journey on the guitar.
And the thing I’ve found is that, life isn’t so different. Whatever you do, it’s critical to learn your instrument, your trade, your vocation. You need to know the language, the movements, the points of emphasis. But at some point, your head has to let go, and your heart has to take over. You have to be able to deliver that message, in your own voice, with your own passion. Sure, it’s scary. Do it anyway. Do your homework, of course, but then commit. Mentally. Emotionally. Put yourself out there. Be willing to fuck up. Win a few. Lose a few. Over time, you’ll win far more. Look at anyone successful, and without exception, you’ll find that’s true.
Live with feeling. Commit. Otherwise, you’re simply wasting time.