Yesterday, I posted Greg Hagan’s answers to two questions about how to become a better guitarist. Greg not only has years of experience using his gifts to honor God, he’s able to articulate what helped him grow as a player. He’s a great example of a life-long learner, described in Proverbs 9:9: “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.” Here are the other two questions I asked Greg to answer.
What 3 practices have most helped you grow as a guitarist?
1. Listening and visualizing the fretboard. As you imagine a guitar part or melody, or listen to a recording, visualize where that would be played on the guitar. Get your guitar and work it out. Little by little you will get to the point where you will know exactly where to start on the guitar to play something just by listening and visualizing.
2. Be a continual, lifelong student. Always listen to learn. Whether the player is older or younger than you or more or less talented than you (in your estimation), listen to learn. I can listen to bad guitar playing and learn something. I can listen to someone on my level and learn all kinds of things. I can listen to a player better than me or who plays a different style and learn so much.
Get your preferences out of the way of your musical ear. Listen and learn. This will also help your ego to stay in check. When the music doesn’t suit your taste, listen to learn. When the attitude or fashion of the musician doesn’t agree with you, listen to learn. When you’re not being given the kind of opportunities that someone else is, listen to learn. If you are over age 35, you better listen to learn or you’ll be stuck in whatever style and approach you currently have. If you’re under 25, listen to learn. Maybe someone can help you achieve your dreams and goals more quickly if you would listen…to learn.
3. Recording and performing. Both help you grow quickly. Practicing on your own retards your development if you are not performing and recording on some level. Music is made to be performed and recorded. Start by recording yourself practicing and look for as many opportunities to play with others as possible. Lots of ideas work in the practice room but when you try them in real life you realize you’re not quite ready to execute them or that maybe you realize the idea wasn’t so great after all.
Even just getting a family member to come listen to you perform a new song or technique in your bedroom will help. I still do this when preparing for an audition. I have my wife come in and I “audition” along with the recording and see how ready I really am. Record yourself and your band. Ask to record a rehearsal at church. Listen to it and evaluate. You don’t have to be high tech. An old “boom Box” with a condenser mic will often record a rehearsal better than your laptop’s mic. Just record and listen. Then go perform. (When I say perform, I’m including playing in worship band. You are not entertaining in that setting, but you are presenting music in front of people, that’s the key idea. Music must be shared with others.)
Anything else you think might be helpful for the guitar players who read my blog?
1. Have your guitar professionally set up and intonated once a year and every time you change string gauge. This will keep it sounding and playing great and in tune. Learn to check and adjust intonation yourself in the interim.
2. Surrender yourself, your life, your talents, gifts, hopes and dreams to the Lord completely. He hasn’t designed a boring, fruitless, disappointing life for you. Quite the opposite. He knows why he gave you these gifts and has a plan to make you a gift to the Body of Christ and to the world. That doesn’t mean fame and fortune, or getting to be the worship leader or worship pastor, or writing hit songs, or having a successful band, or getting to be a professional musician. It means that He has a place for you that no one else can take, and that your soul and spirit are most satisfied in life when you find your fit in God’s Kingdom and design.
Sometimes chasing after the things we want will cause us to miss out on the very things we need. God knows what you need. Pray, read the Bible, and talk to parents and leaders about the dreams you have. Let God speak to you through this and begin to show you his plans for you. This kind of surrender will make you a more effective musician because in every situation your motivation will be to honor God in whatever opportunities you have to play and to find joy in making music. Did you pick up an instrument because you wanted to be famous or because you love making music? Most likely the latter if you’re taking the time to read this interview. Always remember why you started a path. It will keep you focused on enjoying the journey and reaching the destination.