I must confess that I am quite embarrassed by the quality of the videos I’ve put up so far. And by that, I am talking about both the quality of the video (I know that as handy as the webcam built into my MacBook Pro is, it’s really not adequate for a watchable video) and the quality of my playing. Videoing yourself is always a good, if sobering, assessment of one’s skills — and now that I am recording videos regularly I feel that I have a good picture of where I am as a guitarist.
I am not a professional guitarist. I’ve gotten paid for making music in the past but never for my guitar playing. I don’t consider myself to have chops to be a professional right now. That said, I do also think I have the capacity/potential to become one, and I intend to fulfill that capacity. What’s separating me from my goal is time — I simply haven’t put in enough time as a guitarist to fully realize my potential.
So here are my self-assessment of my strengths and weaknesses:
- Guitar-based songwriting: I do feel very strongly about using guitar as a creative tool for writing songs.
- Chords/Voicing: I have room to grow in terms of jazzy chord vocabularies/progressions, but in the realm of rock/pop/folk I use unusual chords, progressions, and voicing.
- Strumming: I feel very confident about creating grooves with my rhythm guitar. I have room to grow in terms of fast funk rhythm and slow, slightly-behind-the-beat in-the-pocket grooving. But when I’m holding down the rhythm guitar, I can make the song/band sound good.
- Vibrato: Not quite at the point of having a signature sound just from distinct vibrato (like B.B. King or Santana) but I have a pretty good command in vibratos. Bend-and-shake needs more practice time, as I don’t have enough strength to do it consistently.
- Melodic guitar solo composing: If I have time to work it out, I feel very good about being able to put together a solo that both fits the song while creating a great contrast from the rest of the song.
- Accuracy: This is where I feel the shortage of woodshedding and performing time really shows. I can’t play anything accurately consistently. Sure, there are things I can play — but I am just not solid enough to play it without making mistakes, every time I play it.
- Speed: I am not one to say faster is better, but I so desire to be able to convey my passion for guitar/music through fast, fiery playing. Alas, I really can’t play fast.
- Ear training: Actually I need to explain — I have “perfect” pitch (or more accurately, pitch recognition ability) so I can figure out and learn other people’s songs super fast. But where I suck is translating what I hear in my head onto the fretboard. If I am singing, I can create great phrases freely. On the guitar, that never translates — I have no idea what are the notes I’m hearing. In some ways I feel like my perfect pitch is in the way of learning how to translate what I hear in my head to my playing.
- Improvising: if I can write well using my guitar, I should be able to improvise — because it’s the same process, just one quicker than the other. But again, my lack of chops and inability to translate notes from my imagination to fingers really limit my improvisation skills. If the tempo’s slow and chord progression is easy, I can do some stuff. But it takes me a lot of trial and error to figure out the phrases I am hearing in my head, and then I have to practice playing it a while before I can pull it off. If I try to stick to the stuff I can execute, then my improvisation gets severely constrained and boring.
In the last year or so I’ve become fairly disciplined about practicing, so I feel that I am probably progressing as fast as I can expect to — given the limited amount of time I can dedicate to practicing. I’ll probably improve in leaps and bounds if I spent more time and/or if I performed publicly on a regular basis. I’ve never been in a situation where I’m part of a band playing regular gigs. I’ve played a number of gigs but bands and songs always kept changing, so I haven’t had the experience of really getting some songs under my fingers.
I yearn for that kind of experience — really taking the time to practice individually, rehearse collectively, and gigging often to really grow into a set of songs. Right now my family and professional priorities dictate that I can’t pursue that level of activity. But I will continue to practice and write on guitar regularly, making the best of things I can do. In time I will up my time on guitar/music and then nothing will stop me from realizing my potential. I can’t wait!
Anyway, I believe that doing an honest self-assessment of yourself as a guitarist is an important activity. If you’re taking lessons, you can discuss your self-assessment with your teacher to see if s/he agrees with you or has suggestions for how to expand your strengths and overcome your weaknesses. One thing to note, though, is that it’s perfectly all right not to correct all your weaknesses — in my opinion it’s more important to have very strong strengths than to be so-so without any real weaknesses. I myself am interested in overcoming my weaknesses listed above (there are other weaknesses/things I can’t do but I didn’t list them b/c I don’t care about them) because they are hindrance to what I want to be as a guitar player. But I have no doubt that most, if not all, of my value as a guitar player will come from my existing strengths, even if I end up overcoming all my weaknesses.
So — where are you as a guitar player. Are you where you want to be?