The Painfully Obvious

You’ve probably heard all the “self help” lines before. Fail fast, work in public, show up every day. I feel like so many of these, as cheesy as they are, apply to learning the guitar. Every once in a while, I love to share my wins on guitar here, as we get better together. But, I think even more important is sharing my losses, and today’s post is all about that.

After a fun jam session, I got to talking with a drummer friend of mine and we’re trying to start a new music project. I’ve been practicing technique, theory and so much more over the past couple of months, and one of the things I haven’t included in my schedule is songwriting. It’s just kind of gone by the wayside, in my attempts to become a more technically proficient player.

Just like anything else in life, if you don’t put in some type of work each week, that part of your life will start to gradually die out and get worse. I’m reading a fantastic book by James Clear right now about habits, and it’s crazy how much better you can get over a year if you develop a new habit, and how much worse you can become if you let something go stagnant.

I sat down over Thanksgiving break and it was painfully obvious how much I’ve let my songwriting muscle atrophy. At first I came up with some truly garbage riffs and song ideas. Having written a bunch of songs over the last 20 years, I was kind of in a state of shock that it wasn’t coming back to me right away.

I wrote idea after idea on the first day, and then put my guitar aside, and went on a long walk. I pulled up at least 10 albums that I wanted to be inspired by, and really tuned in to listening mode. I was carefully hearing what types of chords my favorite players were using, what was the song structure, how many notes were being played, when they used minimalism and lots more.

The next day, I tried to break out of box patterns and play riffs up and down one string - one of the most important things you can practice as a guitarist to visualize the fretboard horizontally. I also broke out my notebook and was more purposeful about what I was trying to do, writing out chord progressions, and target notes I might want to hit.

On the third day I was finally coming up with some ideas I actually liked. I had my guitar, bass, and EZ Drummer going to capture it all.

I’m glad I started incorporating writing back into my schedule. All the riffs and techniques in the world don’t make you an interesting player. It was a nice wake up call that I needed to actually y’know make music with all the stuff I was learning. And writing and recording yourself is SO rewarding, even if the songs are junk.

I look at players like Prince, Rivers Cuomo of Weezer, or evenFrank Zappa whose musical output was so prolific, and can’t help but get inspired. Was everything they ever wrote a gem? Far from it, but by putting in the work to write day after day, they increased their odds of finding something that was magical.

Think of it as the musical lottery. Each time you write a song, you’re punching yourself a new ticket, giving yourself an extra chance that you might find something special.

I hope this post was helpful for you. If you’d like to talk about guitar, music, recording or more, feel free to reach out on Twitter or by emailing me at