Compared to past generations, today's guitarist has a lot more distractions pulling them away from their valuable practice time. And, for those players with an interest in playing guitar as a career, this battle for practice hours can cost them a whole lot more than they might realize.
A trip to the local music store had me cross paths with one of my old guitar player friends this week. He's also a guitar teacher and so our discussion touched upon instruction and the playing level of our current students. We both agreed that we are seeing less guitar students with serious dedication to the instrument than we had during the 1990's. This chance meeting left me wondering about today's guitar student, their goals, their dedication and most of all their time to study.
Compared to 25 - 30 years ago, (when I practiced the most), today's generation of guitar student has probably 5 times (or more) the distractions that I had.
I first began playing guitar at age eight. But, by the age of about thirteen I was really getting into learning. Back then, songs were a huge part of it all, theory was a mystery and I didn't even realize that technique was possible to "study."
In those days, distractions were minimal. If it was a nice day, I was tempted to go outside and ride my bike instead of learning a new song. But, when it came to any type of electronic media device, about all we had was an Atari 2600. Which was fun for about 15 min. Then it went away for a few days until a point when I was just really, really bored.
Television wasn't all that much of a draw either. The town where I grew up in, only had 13 channels. One was weather, one was community programming, another was French and the remaining ten rarely had anything interesting to watch. Add to that, there were no DVD player's and the only place you could watch a movie was at the local movie theater, or at the drive-in. Granted the "Video Cassette Recorder," (VCR) was on it's way in. But, since they were around $700.00 at the time, it would be years before my parents would set out to purchase one.
And, that was pretty much about it for distractions, (aside from girls - of course). Practicing guitar won out against almost anything else that there was to do. All of my friends were heavy into music and most of them played guitar, bass or drums as well. So, jamming was happening more than once per week at someone's house.
When I stop and think about it, back in those times, growing up in that era - it was a fantastic period in respect to having plenty of free time to practice playing music. Television was almost always boring, there was no internet, video games were in their infancy (and could barely hold a players interest) and so this left plenty of 'free time' to practice guitar.
Fast forward thirty years later and it's a very different world.
Today's young practicing musician is so connected to their digital world that they barely have any time for the real world. Practicing guitar competes strongly with all things internet. Whether that's FaceBook, Twitter, Pinterest or Instagram. Social media tops the list of distractions. Then there's the incredible graphics, virtual world and vast detail in all of what is associated with the modern video games, (advanced far beyond from what the Atari 2600 could ever offer).
But it doesn't stop there. Today everyone has their own smartphone connecting them to everyone else with text messages, and social apps. Every 15 - 20 min. (or sooner) there's a chirp, ding or a bleep letting us know about a text, tweet or email message. Unless we shut the phone off entirely, it's tough to get much 'alone time' with our guitar.
Unfortunately, for today's aspiring guitarist, the connection to all things digital and "entertainment" goes far beyond Playstation, X-box, smartphones and tablets. Television has expanded light-years beyond the 'ten' lousy channels I can remember quickly turning off in favor of learning the solo from "Stairway to Heaven," or "Purple Haze."
Let's see, we've got incredible 46 - 52" (or larger) LED televisions to connect up to massive cable, Netflix or satellite bundles. Or, we can can flip on our Blue-ray DVD player and watch a movie in incredible high definition. This is all sounding slightly more appealing than what I was up against as a teenager learning to play guitar. I'm not so sure that if all of these digital temptations had been in my home, I could have easily brushed them aside in favor for learning to perform some new connections on the neck for my Minor arpeggios.
Now, before anyone starts calling me "anti-technology" or something, let me state that I'm not against all of this digital engineering. All I am saying is that the level of opportunity for distraction has increased to epic proportion. And, that means today's serious guitar student has to do some conscious separating from all of it to be able to fit in the hours and hours required for building up their skills.
Perhaps choosing 'not to own' a television, to minimize social media, and /or to drastically limit the time spent within all of these areas will need to be addressed. But what if it has all become too much. What if the next generations and beyond cannot break away from the mass distraction of the digital world? It might mean a lot less musicians pursuing careers in the world of music. Which will mean less guitar players, less live bands, less guitar students and then what? I guess engineers can eventually just build robots to replace us in the long run. Let's hope that it doesn't end up going that way!
- Andrew Wasson