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Rating Your Ability - By Mark Stefani
One of the most fascinating tendencies of guitar players, bass players, and musicians in general is that of routinely downplaying their talent and ability in the presence of other respected artists. I'm as guilty as anyone of this human failing.
First of all, I might be just a little bit off-base in calling the tendency a "failing," because surely one of the main reasons for it lies in our own ambitious desire to improve as players and see a brighter tomorrow. There's certainly nothing wrong with that at all, but in so doing it's easy to take for granted even the small things that we've managed to accomplish over a period of time. What things are those, you ask? Well, I could cite many, many examples, because it's only natural that a music coach would face this frequently during the course of lessons and conversation. Allow me to elaborate, so you can relate more specifically to what I'm talking about.

For starters, it's pretty common for a player to have developed a skill related to a given style, like being a more competent rock player as opposed to blues, or blues as opposed to jazz, or country as opposed to classical, or... well, you get the idea. If the player in question (i.e. you) has a strong desire to extend their acquired skill to another area, then it's very typical for them to greatly admire and respect those who are already there.

With regards to stylistic goals and viewpoints, one thing I should point out is that the very best players in a given style are usually those who have been obsessive within their path, often avoiding other forms in their own personal quest to be the best rock, blues, jazz, country, or classical player that they can be. As far as I'm concerned, this is a great thing, because it makes those players also the best ones to be influenced by, due to their highly concentrated efforts. I can't imagine where I'd be as a musician without the substantial influences of Wes Montgomery, Oscar Peterson, Jimi Hendrix, Charlie Parker, George Benson, Miles Davis, B.B. King, and so many others, yet each of these legends is best noted for being superb within a certain stylistic niche.

Okay, what about technical or theoretical ability related to the instrument of choice and style? Many players that I coach, for example, are far more skilled with a pick as opposed to their fingers, and sometimes vice versa. Some are clearly more at home on the electric guitar as opposed to the acoustic. Some possess quicker left-hand speed and power than others. Some are decent sight-readers, while others are terrible at it. Some play mainly by ear and know very little theory, while others are exactly the opposite. In every single one of these instances, the tendency is to want the ability that we lack (and see in others), and to occasionally get a little frustrated and depressed that we haven't achieved it. Of course, that's where reality and the work ethic comes in.

So, is the grass really greener on the other side of the fence? That's debatable, because as much as it would be nice to do something as well as someone else, we are all uniquely different, and sometimes even a great player you admire might be staring back at you over the same fence, and thinking the same thing. Hard to believe? Not really.

Now, I won't go so far as to call myself a "great" musician, yet my students are often amazed at what I play, arrange, or compose. The personal irony for me is that I'm just as often impressed by what they do well and take for granted. So work hard, but don't underrate your ability!

Mark Stefani is a guitarist, teacher, writer, and founder of Vision Music, an educational website offering over 600 pages of FREE learning resources, including guitar lessons by top professionals, jam tracks, articles, songs, sheet music, and more. Visit:

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