Playing Music is fun, therapeutic, and of course naturally creative. However, there comes a point where one might feel nervous about playing in front of others or even nervous about playing for themselves. With endless streams of curated and edited performances available on social media, there is a kind of removal from the reality of true guitar playing. Its not always easy, it doesn’t always feel fun, therapeutic, or creative. It can feel like dragging a heavy suitcase over a curb, or having one of those dreams where you’re trying to run but you can’t move.
Whilst there is no real method to cultivating confidence, there are a few things that can help you feel more at ‘home’ on the guitar. It all comes down to “just play your guitar lots”, perhaps however it might be more useful to look at some key areas of ‘playing your guitar lots’ that lead to confidence and ease on the guitar.
Whatever it is that you’re playing on guitar, you’re going to be playing music, part of a song, a whole song, a solo, a riff etc. When I started at LickLibrary, Andy James once gave me the sage advice “Proper Prep Prevents P**s Poor Performance” (which was very Andy thing to say!) If you know your parts well, you’ll feel confident. Taking your time working on small sections of a riff or solo, breaking it down any way possible that helps you assimilate the information into your nervous system. Don’t forget your training your body to learn something. Most things get better and more automatic with repetition. If you program the information in well, then you can relax a bit and trust your hands and ears to follow the song.
This is a solid tip, however sometimes if you get lost in the song, things can go off track pretty quickly, which leads me to my next point…
Knowing the notes on the neck, the intervals, your basic chord shapes and scales. (Pentatonic, Major Scale and CAGED Chord shapes) and the theory they represent and how that relates to the song your playing not only leads to more confidence playing guitar, but also helps out when your playing goes off track during a performance. Knowing what key your in, where you are on the fretboard can not only help you learn your parts better, because now you understand the DNA of the music, but you also can improvise your way out of a mistake as you know what other things might work, and/or lead you back to the original part you were intending to play.
You may want your tone to be comfortable to play through, your guitar should feel natural to you. It will sound good if it feels good generally, playing is not only an auditory experience, it’s a touch based experience. The simpler your rig and the more sounds you can get out of it through experimentation the more confident you’ll feel as a guitarist. Then when you add things, they really add to your expression, rather than oversaturate your sound and numb your touch response. Sometimes you can turn up to a gig and your beloved gear isn’t working the way you wanted it to, the venue might make your well honed tone sound like a bee in a jar. So to be able to work with these situations in calm and objective way is very important it you wish to develop confidence. If your tone is working for you, then you’ll relax and play better. If you know how to get out of sticky tone situations by being flexible both technically and taste wise, you’ll be more confident on the guitar.
Our licks might sound amazing through a slightly quiet amp, in another room, however when we first hear our playing through a loud amp, directly in front of the speaker cone, we’re in for a nasty surprise. The transients in the tone are much bigger, the noise of the fingers on the string, everything becomes 100 times more sensitive and noticeable. EQ completely changes at volume. So practicing loud can be helpful, take your gear to a rehearsal room, do plenty of gigs, practice at volume when you can. It’ll change your playing for the better. Get used to the nasty sound of a loud guitar, embrace it. It will then become a lovely sounding loud guitar. If you can’t do this because of the space you practice in, the next best thing to do is use headphones when practicing, use less reveb, delay and gain get used to really hearing what’s going on. Make peace with it and work with it. Be kind to yourself.
Perhaps a few of these points I’ve covered so far equate to challenging yourself. However, here I want to address the importance of technical headroom. If you want to feel confident on the guitar, you need to look at the material you wish to play well and look for material or exercises that might be more challenging. This builds your headroom for technique. I’ve heard somewhere (can’t remember who said it or where I heard it) but when playing live, moving around etc, our technique comes down to 70% or 80%. So it can help to push our threshold regularly, choose challenging songs, riffs or solos, or create variations of things to push your playing. If you wish to play standing up, do all of this standing up, walking around, not looking at the guitar. Good Stress can lead to adaption, so once again, embrace it! Be kind.
So there we have it, 5 tips to become more confident on guitar. The final point really is to feel at home on the guitar, make friends with it, be curious. You’re an explorer in this life, the guitar has been played by many people, but its you who is doing the playing. Its your playing, make a home in it, look after it, care for it. Its not about being better than anyone else, even yourself. If your reading this blog and playing guitar, you have a luxury thing in your life, take care of it. Have fun!