During one of John Grisham’s recent book tours, Grisham answered questions posed by readers. One reader posed the basic question “How can I become a writer?” I thought Grisham’s response was fantastic. He essentially responded by saying “Do you want to be a writer, or do you want to write?” It was a very thought-provoking answer, and I think the same logic applies to the guitar.
I think most of us got into playing guitar because we wanted to be a guitar player. We were inspired by our favorite guitarist(s), and we picked up the instrument to try and recreate the music that we loved. Moreover, many of us wanted to be a famous guitar hero that other people look up to like we looked up to our heroes. Wanting to be a guitar player is not a bad thing. However, at some point, those of us that stick with the instrument must make the transition from wanting to be a guitar player to wanting to play guitar.
You might be wondering, “What’s the difference?” The distinction is this. Wanting to be a guitar player is an external motivating factor. The focus is on how other people perceive you. By contrast, wanting to play guitar is an internal motivating factor. You are playing guitar because you want to, not because you want others to perceive you as a guitar player. If you want to play the guitar, you will do so even if no one else knows about it. It takes a lot of hours woodshedding in order to be a great guitar player, and most of those hours are spent alone hunched over the guitar. And, spending all that time requires a great desire to play the guitar.
Although I think wanting to play guitar is more important than wanting to be a guitar player, I’m not suggesting that you can’t want to do both. In fact, some of the best artists are those that love the guitar so much, they can’t think of doing anything other than being a guitar player and playing the guitar all the time. The choices are not mutually exclusive. However, I don’t think you can ever be a great guitar player unless you want to play guitar all the time.
matt Stevens says
I just want to play…
Just want to play.
I was ruminating about my own reasons for playing recently, and fall firmly into the “wanting to play guitar” camp. I like my actual career (which is not related to music) and have no aspiration to be a guitar player.
In the end, I think the greatest reason I want to play guitar is that it helps me appreciate the music I listen to that much more.
Great post, Josh! Much food for thought in there…
@Brad – I’m in the same boat. I realized a long time ago that I’m never going to be a professional guitar player, but I still love playing. Playing guitar keeps music at the top of mind and keeps me informed about new artists and new bands.
Thanks for stopping by!
Jeff F says
This is a great post that really rings true. You definitely have to want to play guitar.
However, I disagree that wanting to be a guitar player is an external factor. Sure there are some people who pick up the guitar to impress chicks with the image of being a guitar player (pukes a little bit in mouth)
But the fact of being a guitar player and having the commitment towards excellence and developing your skills is far more an internally motivating factor.
You really do have to have the persistence, motivation, and inspiration all together to make it happen and to make it sustain. There is nothing wrong with cultivating your gifts for the greater good and having a desire to share them with the world.
After all, there would be a lot of sub par music and entertainment (life would suck) if we only had people who want to play music, or want to play football, or want to act sometimes.
@Jeff – Very thoughtful response! I can’t really argue any of your points. Right on…Thanks for stopping by!