Agonizing Self-Appraisal

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As a result of my experience in Corona at BGU Live this year, I’ve discovered a few things both about myself and some observations in general that might be of help to anyone who finds they are experiencing similar fears.

I overanalyze everything and frequently suffer from analysis paralysis. In my remaining years, I need to live a bit more in the moment and a little less worried about what the future holds. This applies to a lot more than just playing guitar.

As for the actual competition, If you never play with anyone else, you have no yardstick with which to measure your own progress. This isn’t a case of “I’m better or worse than another player.” It’s just a reference to realize “yeah, I can do this.”

The old adage about being your own worst critic is definitely true. Sitting at home, playing by yourself with nothing but jam tracks, you won’t notice your own improvement. Your own playing isn’t going to sound fresh or original to you most of the time, because you learned and have played those same songs and licks over and over again. When you put them all together, there’s usually no surprise to you because you’ve heard them a hundred times before. They might have sounded fresh when you first heard them, but there is a whole lot of difference from “hey, I have to learn that killer lick”  to you finally owning it.

In listening to others, I hear licks I don’t do, and even some of the licks I do know are strung together differently than I play them. That leads to surprise and excitement listening to others play. You don’t know what they’re going to play next. You may not always know exactly what you’re going to play next, either, but with someone else, the sky is the limit. In other words, your own stuff is going to suck and other people’s stuff is going to sound better than yours. The funny thing is, they are likely to be thinking exactly the same thing when they listen to their own stuff. Just remember when you play that 24 bar solo that even though you’ve heard it a hundred times, most of the people who are listening to it are hearing it for the first time. They are enjoying the freshness and surprise in your solo that you’re not.

In short, you’re probably a better player than you think. It’s probably always going to be that way.

As for the fear of playing in front of other people. I can’t help you much on that. I will be scared the next time I play with and in front of others. The longer I wait, the more anxious I will be. The day after doing the solo with Griff and the band, our trio got up in front of the same group that had petrified me the day before. We did two songs that we had not rehearsed at all. One of the songs we only decided to play about 20 minutes before our turn. No rehearsal and entirely from our memory of how the song goes. Not only was I not nervous, but those last two songs were the most fun ones I had played with our trio the entire weekend.

Most performers get just a little nervous before they start. The more you play in front of people, the less that fear becomes. But the less frequently you do it, the higher that anxiety level will be.

This year, my goal is to find local friends or an open jam and become a regular. I have no doubts that half a dozen live jams will do me more good than sitting in my music room playing along with hundreds of jam tracks. It will be a whole lot more fun, too!


  1. I’m here solely due to Griff’s last email received regarding the SRV rake. After reading your post that he included, I decided to look further.
    If I had the ability to put on paper what I’ve felt in regard to playing guitar, it would be considered plagiarism as you’ve covered it completely.Reading of your experience at BGU Corona caused me to relive my experience at BGU Jam last October here in Maine. I remember Marv introducing himself and saying, “We’ll be playing together and we’ll be playing blah blah blah and blah and oh we’ll blah, O.K.?” while I’m standing there nodding my head trying to spit out, ” ahhh, what was your name again?”. After it was all over and I got home, I decided to analyze the experience and discovered that I am apparently a masochist. Mainly cause I actually went back on Sunday for a repeat.
    Having read your posts and listening to your playing on BGU, I am a little surprised by what you’ve written here. Reading posts in a forum like BGU, you kinda come up with a mental image of the writer and in this case, probably in all cases, it was totally different than the image projected in what you’ve written here.
    I’m glad that I read it and I hope you don’t mind my posting.

    • “Every day I play guitar I think I suck at it. But every day I play, I suck just a little bit less.”
      That’s not a direct quote, but a paraphrase of something I heard Joe Walsh once say. I saw John Fogerty in an interview mention that Creedence Clearwater Revival had half a dozen gold records before he decided his voice really wasn’t awful.

      Just keep plugging away at it and you’ll amaze yourself in how far you will come in a relatively short time. Thanks for the post, Mark!

    • I think many of us feel the same way Mark. The first time playing with people, trying to figure out of we really belong there is humbling to say the least. It gets better the more you do it and after a while the “whirlwind” that hit you the first time doesn’t even show up.

      Check out Paparaptors new Forum – I think you’ll like it.

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