Today I’m happy to share with you a guest post from Dan Vuksanovich…
I never set out to be a sloppy player. I don’t think anyone ever does. When I first started playing the
guitar I had visions of Randy Rhoads and Eddie Van Halen in my head. I was going to be a jaw-dropping,
pyrotechnic-slinging, immortal, history-making axemaster. Little did I know that I was planting the first
seeds of sloppiness before I ever even picked up the instrument.
Along the way I picked up bad habit after bad habit on my way to sloppytown. Here I confess my guitar
missteps for your educational benefit. Behold the recipe for becoming a sloppy player:
- Overreaching – Wanting to be Randy Rhoads right out of the gate caused me to attempt to learn
music that was far too advanced for my skill level at the time. What do you get when you’re an
absolute beginner trying to play the solo from “Crazy Train”? Sloppy playing.
- Impatience – The mere act of attempting to play advanced music too soon was not the whole
problem, but the impatience and unwillingness to do anything other than play note-for-note
transcriptions at the recorded tempo was a killer. Advanced pieces of music can be simplified
and slowed down to make them accessible for intermediate or even beginner level players, but I
had no time for this, and I paid for it in the end with an incalculable number of mistakes.
- Frustration – I hated the sloppy player I had become, but frustration was the worst possible
response. Once frustrated, I would grit my teeth, tense up, and… you guessed it… become even
- Rationalization – Not wanting to admit that I had some problems that I needed to fix let to
rationalization. I came up with a ridiculous number of reasons why being sloppy was OK. My
fingers were too thin. My pinky was too short. I had started playing the guitar too late in life. It
was all BS, but I believed every word of it.
Somehow I made it through college and the conservatory and ultimately earned my Master of Music
degree, but it felt hollow. I was nowhere near the player that I wanted to be, and it tore me up inside. I
eventually quit for a number of years because playing the guitar was pure misery.
In my 30s I cleared my head, vowed to start over and figure out where I’d gone wrong. Based on my
experience, here are some ingredients for becoming a solid player:
- Humility – It’s not listed up there with the recipe for being a sloppy player, but arrogance
definitely played some part as well. It was beyond humbling for me to admit that I had spent
so much time doing things wrong and had probably cost myself a chance at being a successful
professional musician in the process. The admission, however, allowed me to start fresh and
approach the instrument differently than I had in the past.
- Taking Ownership – There’s a lot of information (and misinformation) out there about how to
play and how to get better. It’s surprisingly easy to drown in a sea of conflicting information. In
the end I simply had to decide for myself, based on common sense and logical thought, what
made sense and what didn’t, and adjust accordingly as I went along. Sometimes the answers
aren’t found in your teacher’s studio or on YouTube. Sometimes the answers are inside you and
you just need to ask yourself what they are.
- Enjoying the Process of Learning – In stark contrast to my experiences with the guitar earlier in
life, I now focus on the learning process rather than just the desired outcomes. Sure, one day I’d
still love to be as good as my guitar idols, but if I never get there, it’s OK. It may seem completely
counterintuitive, but the mere act of allowing yourself to fail will make it more likely that you
will succeed. Enjoying the learning process instead of beating myself up for not being Eddie Van
Halen yet has turned my time with the guitar into a completely enjoyable, almost meditative
experience. I’m getting better at an almost alarming rate, especially for someone who’s almost
These days, at the age of 37, I’m still cleaning up all the messes I made of my playing, and I’m having an
absolute blast doing it. The feeling of accomplishment, of overcoming something that has plagued me
for the better part of my life, is unexplainably wonderful.
About the author: Dan Vuksanovich received his Master of Music degree in classical guitar performance
from the Peabody Conservatory of The Johns Hopkins University in 1999. He currently teaches and blogs
about how to get better at guitar via his website, www.whyisuckatguitar.com.