Tommaso Zillio
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Can You Have No Talent But Still Play Guitar?

Jealousy and laziness are a dangerous combo. The two of them together have what it takes to convince any musician that somehow they are inherently bad at music. They trick you into wondering "Am I talented enough to play the guitar?"

When I was first learning guitar I had very similar questions. I would constantly question my abilities and wonder "Do I have enough talent to do this?" These days I hear the very same questions from my students, whether it is voiced out loud or portrayed in their lack of confidence. Honestly, it is rare for a musician not to have these concerns in the beginning. Actually, if you have never felt this way before than you should be busy practicing, not reading this article!

It is very unfortunate, but many people have given up on playing their instrument due to self-doubt. If you let these doubts and frustrations go unchecked, your practicing time is going to feel pretty unpleasant. You won't be able to enjoy yourself, or enjoy what you play, if you let that voice in your head continue to tell you that you aren't good enough. How can you have fun, or give yourself room to grow, if you only think about if you are talented or not?

So with that, I am going to let you in on a little secret: No one is born with natural talent. This might be hard to believe, but it has been proven to be true through not only my personal experience as a teacher and a player, but also by studies done on other creative and athletic fields.

With that being said, if you have bad joints you probably wouldn't make a great weight lifter(due to the physical restrictions).And if you are 4 feet tall you probably don't have a great chance of playing in the NBA. But as long as you have a brain and a few working fingers, there is no limit to how good of a guitar playing you can become.

Now, since we have debunked the importance of talent when playing guitar, what is important? Years of research tells us you must follow these 3 things to become a good player:

You Must Put In The Time

Despite what you may have convinced yourself to believe, no one is good at guitar the first time they pick it up. It takes a LOT of practice to train your fingers to do what they need to do and to train your brain to think musically. You won't get better at guitar by luck or chance.

To get better at the guitar you have to accept that sometimes (especially at the beginning) you are going to sound bad. Its about embracing mistakes and seeing them as a learning opportunity. At times it might feel impossible, but with enough practice even the toughest licks can begin to feel natural.

Once you begin to notice your improvements (which can easily go overlooked) you might actually start to enjoy challenging yourself. It feels good to accomplish goals and to see yourself get better at something. And because we already agreed that playing music should be fun for you ( as mentioned in the previous point) practice time should be gratifying, not dreadful.

Finding A Quality Teacher Is Essential

I can already hear a few of you furiously typing to tell me about that one incredible guitar player who never had a lesson in their life. I am sure you also want to tell me about the amount of practicing they never did, as well as the amount of theory books they never had to study.

Well here's the thing. When someone is getting praised for their remarkable musicianship, generally the first they want to talk about won't be all the stressful nights it took to get them there. They want their playing to seem effortless (especially in a world that puts such high importance on natural ability).

Just think of the amount of time you could save if you had someone to teach you the proper techniques the first time? Teachers help you to skip the guess work when it comes to practicing. They keep you on your toes and keep you feeling compelled to practice each week. They also help you to accomplish things you never even knew we're possible.

Keep in mind you don't want to hire just anyone to be in charge of your musical education. You want someone that is not only knowledgeable about music, but also about how to teach. It is worth it to take the time to find someone who is going to efficiently and effectively work with you to accomplish your musical goals.

Playing Music Should Be Enjoyable

If getting to spend time on your instrument of choice feels like a burden to you, then you are going to have a tough time finding motivation to play. I mean, why would you be playing in the first place if you didn't actually like it? It is important to have fun playing music so you are excited to get better.

At the same time, don't get too discouraged on the days that you don't play as well as you feel you should have. Learning can't happen without making a few mistakes. And if you don't allow yourself room to make these mistakes, then you aren't going to get very far in your practicing. It is important to take the hard days with the good.

This isn't always as easy as it sounds. Maintaining a good attitude throughout playing takes practice. Sometimes you need to remind yourself what inspired you to play music in the first place.

In Conclusion

So do you need talent to become a good musician? The answer is no, of course not. What you do need is persistence, passion, and the right mentor. While this might seem obvious now, it is sad the amount of people who stop playing due to thinking they aren't good enough or that they can do this all on their own. Self-doubt is a wretched thing, but it can be overcome!

We need someone to state the obvious once in a while to kick our butt into gear. Hopefully this article has worked to quiet that little discouraging voice in your head and remind you that with enough hard work and persistence that truly anything is possible.

@pauljones   3 years ago
Nice article Tommaso, I like what you say about embracing mistakes and seeing them as a learning opportunity. I agree with you-no guitar player got to a great playing level without a lot of effort, and there's no such thing as an amazing guitar player that doesn't practice at all. However, on the other hand, I've seen apsiring musicians at music school that no matter how hard they try, they just lack musical intuition and a tasteful ear. So they may be playing the chords right, but you can always feel there is something missing. And I don't know if that can always be taught or fixed. Still, I think most people is perfectly capable of learning at least the basics of music.
@tommaso-zillio   3 years ago
This is because their teachers don't know how to work with those specific problems. Remember that not all good musicians are good teachers ;)

I do teach for a living and I fix these problems daily. Some of them are actually easy fixes. So far I have not seen anyone who can not become great if they put in time and effort - and I have seen many.
@fl3k   3 years ago
Thx for your article Tommaso! I found it very encouraging. I agree with you in almost everything. However, I believe it is easier for some people to play music or a musical instrument than for others. I have my doubts about if it is an innnate skill or if it is all about education and training. IMHO, an early introduction to music is very important. But, what about people who didn't have contact with music from their childhood? I tell you because I have seem many people who don't seem to improve much and end losing interest in music, even having a good teacher or spending a lot of time and money in guitar classes or practicing...
How can those people be helped to overcome their limitations? Cognitive psychology tell us there are different kinds of "intelligences" and musical is listen amongst them. It is real or fake?
What is clear is some people get it faster than others, but I think is something that can't be hardly measured.

BTW, I liked your video "Carol of the Bells", great playing skills. I think you are a brave man playing your Les Paul in the middle of the snow. :)
@tommaso-zillio   3 years ago
Children in musical families have simply spent more time surrounded by music and seeing how to practice properly. They have no special advantage beyond the fact that they started earlier. This is not only my impression, but what scientific research tells us about musicians.

You can overcome that disadvantage simply practicing more and listening to more music. Yes, it is that simple! ;)

(And... no Les Pauls were harmed in the making of that video ;) )
Savo Kostic
@savo-kostic   3 years ago
Amazing article Tommaso, I really like this topic you are writing about. I totally agree with you about that we don't want to hire just anyone to be in charge of our musical education, but, how will we know who is a quality teacher for beginners? What type of questions we need to ask these potential teachers? Thanks!
@tommaso-zillio   3 years ago
That's really long to explain... but I agree with most of the points made here: