Discomfort and the Secret of Guitar Mastery

Acoustic Guitar Playing

Becoming a decent guitar player is surprisingly easy. You just have to play for many hours—whatever music you enjoy—and after a while you’ll turn some heads.

You’ll probably enjoy playing on your own or for friends, and perhaps have some jamming and songwriting fun with friends.

There’s nothing wrong with that path, not everyone has to be a virtuoso, and you certainly don’t need to be one to enjoy what the guitar has to offer.

Becoming a great guitar player is hard. It doesn’t take long for a new student to sound good playing a song, but to really turn heads and prick ears, it takes many hours of focus, repetition, and mastering a variety of skills. But in my opinion, there’s one ability that’s near the top in importance, yet seldom gets mentioned to beginning guitarists.

Make yourself uncomfortable

We get used to routines in life. No matter how bizarre our day-to-day lives are, they eventually make us feel safe and comfortable.

Guitar playing can be the same way. If you learn your first blues lick and practice until it sounds great, you’ll love playing it even more because you’ll feel accomplished sounding so good. You may spend more and more time on that one lick, or ones very similar to it, because it has started to become familiar and feel safe.

In my opinion this is the biggest difference between “good” and “great” guitar players—or “good” and “great” people at anything in life: The great ones become great by finding their weakest or most uncomfortable area, and strengthening it.

The next time you think of or stumble into a skill-set that you think you are “bad at”, view it as an opportunity. If you would love to play better folk guitar, but feel that you’re bad at fingerpicking, don’t avoid it, find some fingerpicking resources and, starting slow and simple, build up those skills (you can give yourself more motivation by finding a great song to learn).

Before you know it, it will be one of your strengths, and you’ll be a better player all around. Many of the best guitarists and other people at the top of their respective fields subscribe to this concept: Challenging yourself is the only way you’ll improve.

I went through all kinds of limiting beliefs about my abilities when I started playing. I vividly remember thinking that I would never be able to fret a single note properly. Later, I thought my fingers just weren’t right for barre chords. Thank heaven I didn’t listen to myself.

Nearly all guitar-related skills are universal, and all it takes is time, focus, and the ability to leave your comfort zone once in a while, so that it will be larger tomorrow. And if you’re starting out or taking guitar lessons, you’ve already proved you can put up with a little discomfort for big rewards down the road.