Why Following “Good Guitar Advice” is Usually a Bad Idea

none more blackEverybody’s an expert. No, not really, but from the looks of it, many people would have us believe as much. These days, it seems everybody is an expert, a coach, a teacher, or whatever … and this is true in the guitar playing/instruction arena, too.

Don’t believe me?

Go ahead and announce that you’re going to start playing guitar, begin taking lessons, address some specific problem(s) you’re having with your current playing, etc. Then, go outside, pick up a rock and throw it. You’re likely to hit some “expert” with the fucker, because a bunch of them will come out of the woodwork to give you advice on whatever it is you’ve announced about your guitar playing.

I’m kidding, of course, but barely. It’s that bad.

Actually, I may or may not be joking about pelting these windbags off their high horse with rocks, but I’ll leave that particular course of action to you.

So, what we want to know is: are these people really qualified to give good advice? Ummm … nope, because the majority of them are pretty clueless themselves. You’ll often find “qualifications” like having played the piano, so they think they know about the guitar, too. Or, they know a small handful of chords and that one Clapton lick they copped in the 70s, so they’ve got the right stuff. Maybe they’re my dad’s age, but haven’t gotten any better since they were 15 years old. My personal favorite qualification goes something like “I know a lot of people in bands, so I’ll tell you what you need to know”.

Well, I know some doctors, but you probably don’t want me operating on you any time soon.

Why do people think they can toss around free (and mostly unsolicited) advice like this? And why does anyone listen to their bullshit?

The answer’s actually simple: validation, importance, and acceptance.

We all want these things in some way and in varying degrees, and what better way to get them than by inserting yourself into someone’s situation as a so-called authority figure? As I see it, it breaks down something like this:

  1. Person A finds a (somewhat) receptive ear for their problems and/or plans (validation)
  2. Person B (“expert”) swoops in to save the day and be the hero (importance)
  3. Persons A and B are now in a reciprocal relationship, with each having their own part to play (acceptance for both people)

Does this mean we should never ask questions, voice our concerns, or otherwise express our opinions about the guitar and our relationship to it? No, not at all. We should learn to question damn near everything, although there’s a “trick” to asking, and we should ultimately be asking ourselves the really important stuff anyway.

Does this mean nobody is qualified to help us out, or that everyone in a position to offer such help is a phony? Hell no. There are some ridiculously good players and instructors out there: some of my friends have legit jaw-dropping abilities in both the playing and teaching fields, and much of the real, helpful advice and instruction can be literally life-changing.

But, while we are out there, we’re generally the exception, rather than the rule.

As in most areas of life, shit is more prevalent than substance.

You might ask what harm is done in following some of the bad advice we’re given, especially since it’s generally packaged as “good advice”. I mean, besides tendinitis and similar injuries, what’s the worst that can happen? This post won’t be nearly long enough to detail all the potential harm that can come from taking in such mental sludge, but here are some tips I’ve recently heard, all provided by “experts”:

  1. Press as hard as you can with your fretting hand fingers on the strings and hold them there. – Horrifically bad technique, and a great way to hurt yourself.
  2. Just memorize all the scales and all the chords. – Completely unnecessary, as well as literally impossible for any animal, plant, or mineral.
  3. New guitarists should use only downstrokes when picking, and play on the top 2 or 3 strings only. – Seriously? Who the fuck dreams up this shit, and why?
  4. You should always learn chords first, because scales and other single notes are more “advanced”. – Sure, just like doing 1 thing at a time is always much harder than doing 6.
  5. If you can read music, you can play pretty much anything you want. – Yep, and if you can read comic books, you’re pretty much guaranteed super powers.
  6. Guitar lessons and such are a waste of time; it’s better to do it on your own. – Usually comes from people who own guitars and can never quite nail down that 4-fingered G major chord at the 2nd and 3rd frets.

Don’t believe the hype.

Truthfully, though, the most damaging thing about these “tips” is that many, if not most, people think they’re good. A whole assload of people believe this advice really is good, and believe the people giving it are qualified to do so. I can’t adequately express how harmful this sort of thing really can be, and how far back it will set your guitar playing if you take the bait and buy into it.

We humans are equipped with some accurate bullshit detectors, and even though the alarm sounds when we hear garbage like I listed above, many of us ignore its warning. People go against their gut feeling for a variety of reasons we’ll get into in another post, but for now, just know that it’s an easy trap to fall into. Also, know it’s completely avoidable.

Get in the habit of asking questions about the legitimacy of the advice you’re given.

You can ask the “expert” who’s pontificating, but honestly, that probably won’t do much good, at least directly. After all, they’re not likely to tell you what you need to be doing, then admit to being clueless when pressed on those same points. But … you can ask them to elaborate on their advice, or go deeper on any specifics thereof, then use that B.S. Meter we talked about to gauge the truthfulness of their response.

More importantly, once you’ve got more info to process, ask yourself questions about what you’re hearing. You won’t always know the correct path to follow as a result, but you’ll almost always know what not to do, which can be more useful. Sometimes, doing the opposite of what you’re told will actually yield the best results, so don’t rule out that option either.

Most people don’t know what they want, and even fewer know how to get it.

Yep, this goes for those “experts”, too. Probably even goes double for them. Ask yourself the right questions, learn to trust yourself and gain confidence in your ability to steer your own ship, and you’ll be that much closer to knowing what you really want from your guitar playing, and the best way to get there.

Let those other douchebags blow hot air and feel important: you don’t have to invalidate their need for acceptance by crushing them outright (although, that’s a viable option if you want to), but you damn sure don’t have to buy what they’re selling, either.

As radically ambitious guitarists seeking personal excellence through a results-oriented approach, we don’t have to be “nice” with this tripe, or the people spewing it, either.

Learn to listen to and trust yourself. Don’t believe the hype.

*P.S. – The “experts” also say you need to have an image with every article you write, so today, they’re getting blacked out.*