What makes a good guitarist good, and a bad guitarist bad?
Good guitarists, bad guitarists. Do we really need more judgements?
What exactly do judgements do for us? Motivate us to do "better" next time? Inspire us not to fail? To help us work harder at not-sucking at guitar?
I'm not convinced that tethering ourselves to judgements is the best pressure we need to learn guitar.
The problem with judgements like "good" or "bad" is that they require us to be more mentally active than we need to be. It's like having to think about every single muscle that we need to walk around without trusting out legs to do the job for us.
Further, any professional athlete or performing musician will tell you straight-faced that they do their most impressive work when they are utterly oblivious of how well they are doing.
Judgements force you to think, to contrast and compare in real time. Have you ever heard someone say, "It's easy to do when you don't think about it."? That's exactly what I'm talking about.
Judgements force you to think too hard about playing guitar. When you are too mentally active you won't be able to let go and enjoy the fruits of your musical labor.
My suggestion to you is to take any thoughts of good, bad, sucking, being awesome, any judgement at all, and let them go. Consider it, as it's a real pain to be worried about not being good. It makes for terrible musical experiences and adventures.
I bet, however, you are still curious as to what makes a good guitarist good. I think there is one thing that you can count on that makes some guitarists better than others: their ability to communicate.
Communication makes a good guitarist good
Imagine yourself in this scenario:
You have made it to Tokyo in one piece. Your guitar is intact, and you don't know a single person. You go to the most crowded corner in Tokyo, pull out your guitar, and at the absolute top of your lungs started singing A Hard Days Night. Sure, some people will be absolutely horrified at what yore doing and they'd keep their distance. But, will some people stop and sing with you? Most likely, yes! Will a few hang around with you after you play? Most likely, yes! If you've communicated the message of A Hard Day's Night well enough, no doubt you have touched their hearts. You might also have scored some tour guides to show you around Tokyo. Before you know it, you have new friends. You didn't even have to learn Japanese.
I like this story. To me, it proves that people who focus on communicating, musically or otherwise, tend to have the most fun with regards to what they do, who they meet, and what they experience.
What about those really fast guitarists, those people who are superior technically than so many others at playing guitar? Are these people superior musical communicators? Maybe, or maybe not.
I feel that just because a guitarist can play a million notes a minute doesn't mean he or she can communicate musically and get to the heart of the listener.
If you've ever been to a guitar shop where guitarists are showing off, with the amps turned up loud, you've seen these guitarists in action. To these guitarists, communication is standing up on a busy street, saying a bunch of words really quickly with perfect diction and no pauses, and expecting that everyone marvels at how brilliant their speech is. To me, I think it's hard to communicate when I can't slow down, pause to listen, or take a deep breath.
Guitar is a way of communicating. It's a specialized language. Without using too many words, it can help you get right to the heart of the listener. It doesn't take a million notes.
It takes a willingness to put yourself out there and to communicate honestly, directly. The most famous musicians are the ones who communicate in this way, in a way that goes directly to the heart.
I implore you: Think of guitar and of music as a language you can become familiar with in time, a language that you will use to find new friendships with once you're fluent.
Once you're communicating and getting right to the heart of the people around you, you won't care about being good anymore.