Ego and Progress on Guitar

An Ego Problem

Ego and Progress on Guitar by Dan Mumm

An Ego Problem

Does your ego get in the way of your progress on the guitar?

One of the main reasons people are drawn to the guitar is the idea of self-actualization.  Because the guitar is a means to express oneself, to see measurable personal growth and to find success in an incredibly competitive space, it’s a beacon to the ambitious.  Of course, this can lead to a bit of a catch 22 that many serious guitarists have to deal with at some point.  This has to do with a little thing we call ego.

When you hear the term “ego” as it relates to guitarists, you probably call up a very specific stereotype in your mind.  The arrogant rock star, lacking self-awareness to the point of absurdity, who constantly reminds everyone of their importance.  But that isn’t what I’m referring to today.

Part of the way in which we are able to accomplish new goals in life is our ability to imagine ourselves doing something that we can’t do yet.  That alone requires a good deal of self-confidence.

On the other hand, you probably know at least a few people who are always down on themselves.  When you make a suggestion to them, they will invariably say things like “what’s the point?” and “I’d just mess it up.”  I’d be willing to bet that those people are not skilled guitarists.

In order to maintain an effective degree of self-confidence there’s a certain amount of ego required.  It’s the sort of thing that leads to visions in your mind that tell you that you’re working towards something that will be important someday.  In order to do this, it becomes necessary to take control of your focus and sometimes control the information that comes into your mind.

For example, if you surround yourself with child prodigies who are a fraction of your age and twice as good at the guitar as you, this might not lend itself to building confidence in your own potential.  Seeing a child prodigy “show you up” from time to time can be a good motivating force but seeing it every day might just feed that sinister (and dishonest) voice that tells you that you’ll never be good enough.

On the other hand, if you simply avoid watching or listening to any player that is better than you as a means to protect your ego, you are committing yourself to absolute failure.

For one thing, without seeing what is new and what is possible, you won’t have any idea of what is necessary to be competitive with your playing.  And, while music is obviously not about competition, on an instrument like the guitar, some degree of competition is important to drive the art forward and to ensure that you are at least keeping up with the basic standards of playing that are expected.   Of course, this only applies if your goal is to be a professional guitarist.

Maybe you need Rocket Fuel

If you constantly avoid “subjecting yourself” to guitarists who are far better than yourself, you also lose out on one of the greatest motivating forces there is.  A little pang of envy from time to time can be seen as the rocket fuel of ambition.  You just have to train yourself to turn discouragement into determination.

All in all, I would say one of the most important things to do when working towards greatness on the guitar is to find balance between that feeling of confidence and discomfort.  Keep yourself “hungry” and challenged, be willing to admit that you have a long way to go to compete and be unwilling to let it stand in your way.

Dan Mumm

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Dan Mumm is a Metal Method instructor and shred master.  Dan has a huge following on Facebook and YouTube.