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How To Be The Best You Can Be In Guitar Playing

By Kiran Roy

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One difficult phase of playing the guitar is when you reach a point where you are stuck in a rut, you reach a point where you are not improving. You’ve reached a plateau and finding it difficult to burst through it. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, all face the same problem at some point in time. No matter how hard you are trying to master that 32nd notes peed picking passage, you are unable to get hold of it. Becoming the guitarist you’ve dreamt of is far harder than it looks. But when you are ready to throw in the towel I want you to hold back and realize that you are just about to break through the plateau. If you only fight that last mile when most of the guitar players give up thinking that they would never be able to master it. That is where I want you to not give up like a loser and fight through it. Success awaits you. I promise you that. I remember as an eighteen years old budding lead guitarist and an engineering student, I had reached a fairly decent level by then, I was working on a 120 beats per minute legato pattern in 16 th notes and 32 nd notes combined Song by Joe Satriani). But no matter how hard I tried to get hold of it, for months together, I was just not able to get it. I was getting frustrated thinking I may never be able to master it but deep down I truly wanted to play it very badly so I continued playing it everyday to such an extent that immediately after waking up early in the morning I tried that for 30 minutes before leaving for college, immediately after coming home tried it for half hour before leaving for classes, again 30 minutes before leaving for gym and then finally after coming home in the night a good 6 hours. This routine continued for 3 months with me still not being able to nail it. One day after having a really hard day in college (I was suspended for planting a firecracker in the classroom because I wanted to come home early to practice!) when I came home and plugged in my guitar and started to play, Whoa! I cried out in joy! I realized that i had nailed that piece I had been working on for months day and night! I had busted through that plateau not choosing to give up until I succeed! After that my confidence reached a new level altogether to the extent that I was ready to take on any difficult phrase thereafter. This is what I mean by saying don’t throw in the towel. Success is just round the corner but not realizing that most guitar players choose to take the comfort zone and give up. Nothing is comfortable in life my budding guitarist brothers that is if you choose excellence in life. If you are happy with mediocrity you can choose the comfort path. But excellence is what you are looking at in guitar playing; you have to work terribly hard in order to achieve anything.

So many people and so many of my students across all of my branches ask me, what is the key to your playing and success and how can I play good? Well I have no one answer but there are some concepts that I have stumbled upon by personal experience over the years that can actually help all of you to break that barrier that keeps you from reaching your full potential. My purpose is to help you reach your goals. I want to give back what I did not get. But effort has to be yours. Nobody worked on my behalf; I have painstakingly done it myself over the years. Same applies to you too. You just give me courage and I on my part assure you that I will transform your playing.

Firstly one thing, contrary to popular belief, you have to know that you don’t need to be naturally talented or that it has to be in your blood to become a great guitarist. When I started out, I was always told that I won’t make it as a guitarist as I don’t have it in my blood and that I am not naturally talented enough. I never ever believed them. Take it from me firmly that the only three important things you need to have in your armory is interest, dedication and commitment. I can bet that you’ve never met an amazing guitarist who isn’t passionate about music. And I can also bet that they didn’t get to that level they are at by being apathetic and lazy. They took the bull by the horns to go out and try to learn something new and to make a difference in their playing. They were not happy by whatever they had achieved. They wanted more and they chose to grind themselves in order
to achieve it. I myself locked up myself in my room for hours and hours altogether, all day long practicing guitars, when every regular guy my age were chilling out at Barista, partying, bowling, playing pool and going out for movies! I also skipped all important occasions like Diwali celebrations, New Years Eve when the entire world was partying, locked up myself in my room with my guitar thinking that practicing the piece I am working on is more important than wasting time celebrating when I have yet not reached the level I want to reach in guitar playing. I had also promised myself that the day I reach my goals I would be partying harder than all of these guys put together have ever partied in their lifetime. And Yes I have kept my promise!

Now another thing you need to keep in mind is that the guitarist who dares to challenge himself always takes the risk of failing. That happened to me hence I will explain you that. This is where many musicians lose their battle with low self-esteem and quit. I wouldn’t say that they failed in their effort but it’s just that after just one failure they decided that they would always fail and didn’t pick themselves up ever again. My first lesson I am trying to deliver is that you realize that failures are stepping stones to success, that failure is a part of growth and that it takes many failures to get that elusive success in your quest to be the ultimate guitarist. Through trial and error and countless hours of practice I have a few concepts that I believe every guitarist should try out and do. I repeat ‘Do’. Execute it! Not just read it. Thoughts and attitude are important but in the end it’s what you do that counts in the end. Let’s get started to become the best you can be as a guitarist:

My Tips For Success…

Learn something new

11Educating yourself is the first step to becoming a better guitarist. Whether you choose to believe it or not, there’s always something new to learn and master. If you are currently studying music in a music school, academy or from a seasoned teacher you will find that learning will come easier to you. If not, I highly recommend that you get in a program. While I believe in teaching yourself, I also know from firsthand experience that motivation and encouragement from a teacher is priceless. Once you conquer the subject that you were learning, push yourself to learn something that you’re not quite comfortable with.

Learning within your comfort zone often results in mediocrity. Challenging yourself gets out the best from you and possibilities which you never thought existed emerge. For example the first solo I learnt to play after completing my Mel Bays Grade 2 was ‘November Rain’. But immediately after mastering it I tackled ‘Hangar 18’ by Megadeth knowing very well that I should be doing songs of November Rain’s level. It took me 6 months but I mastered each and every note of all the solos and later even performed it in front of thousands! More solos followed and I was able to tackle them with immaculate ease. So would you.

Make your time count

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Practice! Practice! Practice!

Practicing does not make perfect, it makes permanent! That’s my motto in all aspects of life! Be systematic in your practice approach and devise a gameplan. That makes the time you spend playing your guitar all the more worthwhile. Don’t waste your time fiddling around on your guitar doing random things. Be focused. Dig in and learn something that will aid you on your quest for musical success. Set goals and work towards achieving them. Whether its technique, tricks, or a new song, you can become better just by using your time more wisely. Whatever practice time you have, say 2 hours, create a time table as in half hour doing grades, half hour scales and chords, half hour techniques the rest half hour working on songs or leads.

Listen to more music

All artists and bands have a signature tone and a style of playing. The more music that you are exposed to, the better guitarist you will become, take that from me! Listen to the bands that you enjoy most and draw inspiration from them. Take note of what the musicians are doing in their songs and make a list of the techniques you want to learn. This can be the motivating force that gets you to play your guitar more often. During my growing up years I had a collection of over 500 cassettes and 500 cd’s and I used to listen to music 24/7. Probably that’s why I was called a walking music encyclopedia by my friends because I always seemed to know everything about most of the bands.

Surround yourself with excellence

When you play your guitar with people who are better guitarists, you not only learn from them but feel motivated to push yourself to keep up. At first this idea seems obscure. Why would you expose yourself to that kind of stress? Let’s face it, if there’s one thing that will make you get motivated quickly it’s the fact that people are counting on you. Don’t play with musicians who are arrogant and rude. Embarrassment doesn’t foster self-esteem and will only get you down. The people you want to learn from are patient and understanding. Thats the virtue I completely follow whether I am jamming with fellow musicians or teaching at Guitar Hall. Eventually you will find yourself at their level. It happens faster than you might think.

Ask yourself what you will do when you obtain the skills you want

What do you want to do with what you learn? Perhaps you want to make an album or join a band and play at some local venues. Start planning for it now and use what you currently have. This ties into setting goals but is not to be underestimated. Knowing how you want to use your talent is important. Create a vision and use goals to act on it. Whether you want to play for others, or to the wall in your bedroom, the choice is yours. From a pretty early age I had decided that one day I will start India’s best and biggest music school ever which would cater to far corners of my country and which would make music learning accessible to one and all. That’s because during my formative years as a guitarist there were not many opportunities for me to learn and study music. And that weighed down heavily on my psyche. I desperately wanted to study music from a professional academy which has a plethora of teachers of varied backgrounds and styles. And today when I run the country’s largest chain of music academies with 20 branches, 4200 students, and 45 world class teachers from far corners of the world, you know that this wouldn’t have been possible without having a goal at the first place!

Teach someone how to play guitar

To teach is to learn. If the only chord you know how to play is an F chord, show someone that. Why? Because it reaffirms what you know and solidifies your knowledge. I can tell you from personal experience that I have learned more through teaching than I ever learned through being taught. It forces you out of your comfort zone and when questions are asked, you need to know the answer. I’m a firm believer that anyone can teach someone something if they want to. Give it a shot and see the results for yourself. Don’t forget to call me and tell me the results.

Believe in your ability

You can do anything you put your mind to and if you choose to play guitar well, fat fingers, long fingers or not, you can! Don’t listen to what others say and be true to yourself. This can be hard seeing as we live in a critical society that doesn’t realize how much words can hurt. Keep at it and surround yourself with supportive people. More of a
life lesson than a guitar lesson, but as far as I’m concerned music is intertwined with daily living. Right from the very beginning I was told that I am a good for nothing, that I suck at studies, I suck at sports and extracurricular activities, that i am dull, that I was not intelligent enough to withstand the future, I was kicked out of the class more often than not while in school for not being intelligent enough to answer the teachers questions, when I started playing guitars I was told by my peers (who used to play guitars already) that I don’t have it in me, that it requires natural and extraordinary talent which I don’t possess. But I always had faith in my abilities and today those very people who predicted my future prefer to stay miles away from me as the tightest slap has already been delivered to them a long time back!

You are incomparable

In case you haven’t picked up the hint yet, you are the ultimate guitarist. That’s what I firmly believe in and I say this to every student of Guitar Hall as I believe it from my heart. There is no one like you and there will never be anyone who even comes remotely close to being like you. Integrate who you are into your music and you will never have a shortage of material. Your music will soon form into your own unique tone and style.

Learn what worked for others

Whether you research your favorite guitarist or talk to your guitar teacher, ask others what worked for them. I don’t claim to know all the answers but when everyone puts their heads together, some really neat ideas start to flow. Networking allows you to give and receive at the same time. As I have written before, I was not exposed to a lot of learning opportunities from seasoned teachers when I started out but I learned all the techniques checking out others doing it. And during that time (90’s) there were no internet and Youtube videos at the click of a button like today. I learnt finger tapping checking out countless Van Halen, Randy Rhoads  tab books and magazines I used to buy second hand and listening to the tapes over and over again, legatos and speed picking checking out Guitar World articles and listening to Marty Friedman, Joe Satriani and Paul Gilbert. Bends listening to Eric Johnson. So you get my point!

Crush your weakness

We all know where we lack the most in the guitar realm. For me it was speed picking, but today speed picking constitutes a major part of my playing armory for which I’ve always been complimented. Why? That’s not because I acquired a boon from a fairy one fine night. I spent countless nights working over that aspect of guitar playing taking tips from the best guitarists in the process, who specialize in speed picking. Keep attacking your weak points and you’ll soon see improvement. The secret is never stop seeing problems, work on it and you continually get better over time. You’ll never be stuck without something to do. Take out a sheet of paper and write them down. This seems kiddish writing down small things like schoolboy in your rough book. But No bloke, it worked for me and many a great guitarists.

Then find the resources you need to help you destroy them. It’s not unlike a war, but in the end you always win. I assure you that you will win in the end!I won and I am sure even you would!

Don’t believe what others told you.

You may be surprised to hear that a lot of the advice distributed by half guitarists couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are myths and tokens of cheap advice that get passed along and guitarists like yourself use them only to be like the losers from whom you heard those crap. Try as hard as you like, but you’ll end up realizing that what meets you at the end of the road is failure. To avoid that, let’s look at some of the most common bullshit floating around:

All good players can play all styles

While great in theory; it doesn’t work out in practice. Throughout my playing and teaching career, I have consistently worked on various genres of music trying to become a more versatile guitarist. However, no where will you ever hear me, or any other genuine teacher, say that you should be able to master all genres of music. I have so many students across all of my centers in Mumbai and Pune who come up to me saying “Sir I want to master Jazz, Rock, Heavy Metal and Classical guitars”!
The fact is that it takes a lifetime to master one style. Some take up two genres that mix well together, such as blues and rock, but those genres are the exceptions. You will never hear a neoclassical shred guitarist play country. Many jazz musicians take decades to perfect their craft and even then they still see areas that need improvement.
If you want to be a great guitarist, take the genre and style that you’re passionate about and focus on it. Don’t get distracted with other music. Your guitar heroes are heroes because they mastered a genre. Very few will ever play outside of their specialty and that’s just the reality. After 17 years of playing guitars I am still learning and growing in my genre and I know I have not attained even 25 % of it! So as I said it would take a lifetime to master it!

You either have “it” or you don’t

Biggest bull I have ever heard! I believe all of you have it in yourself and that’s just the fact! It just depends on how much you love guitars and till what extent you are prepared to grind yourself. Let’s face it, some understand music more easily than others.Inspite of being a dull student academically in school, I surprisingly understood music 10 times quicker than my peers. That doesn’t mean that you can’t be as good as the ones who understand music more easily.  Everyone can play guitar, it just depends on the effort and time you want to put in. There are dozens of specialties within music and no one knows all of them from the time they are born. Everything has to be developed and acquired like a martial artist acquires their skill. Perfect pitch is developed, as is technique and originality. While things may come easier to others, remember that we all have our own struggles within music and that we are in it together.

To sound good, you need the best gear

The best gear is nice, and yes, you do sound better. But give any genuine guitarist an ordinary guitar and just see what kind of amazing tone and feel he manages to get out of that crap. That’s because your instrument is only as good as you are.  It’s unnecessary for those who aren’t interested in professional music or are just starting out to purchase expensive gear in the hope that it would make their playing better. Myself owning a series of Guitar Shops across Mumbai and other Cities of Maharashtra, I regularly see beginners asking me “Sir, I want to purchase that expensive guitar you have on display because I have heard you get results more faster by playing those” Beginners love to see the guitar processors at our stores and say, “I want the Rs. 20,000 one.” I have seen this happening for years but the truth is that a guitar and processor of that caliber is useless to someone who can’t play it. I always tell all those beginners to learn on something modest and work their way up. The same applies to all of you too. Not only will the experience be more rewarding, it’s also nicer on the instrument ! In the end, as I told, the guitar is only as good as the person who plays it. I have heard cheap and ordinary guitars sound amazing when played by someone who knew what guitar playing is all about. I have also heard the best guitar and rig sounding extremely pathetic being played by a wannabe guitarist who thought he is already a guitar god! My Guitar Hall teachers always amaze me by the amazing sound and clarity they manage to get even while playing our cheap spare guitars we keep in our academies for rough use. The same applies to you. For those who can afford Rs.25000 guitars, my advice is going for it by all means. Though for the rest of us like you and me, I say save your money and work towards being the ultimate guitarist rather. Today I can buy the most expensive and exclusive guitar in the world and since I myself own the largest chain of guitar shops in India I can pick up just about any guitar in the world from my own store itself! But I still choose to become the ultimate guitarist first and improve myself rather and till this date prefer using my good ol’ 7- String Kramer which I have refurbished and have been using for the past 10 years! I will buy that expensive and exclusive guitar when I think I deserve it. I still don’t think I do!

Now just think carefully about what I say, if you sound good on an ordinary cheap guitar, just imagine how much better will you sound on something that can really produce a good tone?!Fair enough? Reach that level first when you think buying that expensive guitar would make a difference to your playing.

You need to be the most talented to succeed

Very often, as I have already discussed before, we tend to compare ourselves to others. But Listen Carefully Now! The ultimate guitarist is YOU meeting your GOALS and making PROGRESS. There will always be others who sound better in certain areas but who cares? A genuine guitarist does not compare their playing to others Be the person you want to be in music and music will just flow, believe me. Success is measured on how much progress you have made as compared to where you were before and how much progress you are making on a personal level, not how many CD’s you sell or how many sold out concerts you have done. The famous musicians in today’s bollywood or the International Rock circuit often find themselves stressed out, wishing they weren’t so pressured by record labels and a hectic concert schedule. They want to be in your shoes where they have the choice to do what they want to do. I myself miss those days when without a single worry in the world I used to play my guitar and listen to music day and night.

On a parting note remember: Enjoy yourself and the rest will fall in
place. I assure you that! I want you to Win and I know you will Win!But Yes; There’s No Easy Way Out, There’s No Short Cut Home!

About Kiran Roy: (Born October 27, 1980) is an Indian heavy metal guitarist who played with various Indian rock bands and currently the lead guitarist of Heavy Metal band ‘Lust Of Symphony’. He is the founder and owner of India’s largest chain of professional music training academies and guitar shops Guitar Hall – Guitar Academy And Boutique™ .He is well known for his guitar training achievements. A devoted student of Rock lead guitar, Roy often combines his classical music influences with his own heavy metal style. During his early days, he would seek out classical guitar tutors for lessons and spent hours at a stretch practicing. Roy is a major influence on guitar players that emerged in Mumbai his hometown. He is cited as an influence by many of his students and teachers.

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