jw-recitalIt was the summer of 1992 and I had just graduated from High School.  I had been playing guitar for about a year now and finally felt like I was getting somewhere.  I was currently taking private lessons at M & S Music in Mobile Alabama from a guitar instructor named Mark Habib.  He was a great teacher and was mostly focused on classical guitar but he could definitely play some electric as well.

During this summer, Mark had asked me if I wanted to participate in a Guitar Recital he was putting on.  I was a little scared and intimidated at first, but I thought, sure this would be no problem.  I immediately decided that I would play the master piece that is “Stairway to Heaven” and rock it out!  Without the solo of course, I could only really play chords at this time and I would be playing an acoustic guitar.

I remember practicing quite a bit for this recital and put together my own little arrangement of the classic Zeppelin tune.  I thought I was really going to do well, but of course I was pretty nervous!  The day finally came when I would play the recital and I had been at the beach for a couple of days before this and was now driving back to Mobile to go straight to the recital.

The Big Day

I arrived at the recital a little late but when I walked in, I almost turned and walked directly back out the door.  I looked around and noticed that everyone was dressed up in nice shirts and nice pants and most of these kids were holding classical guitars.  I happened to be wearing cut off olive khaki shorts, flip flops, and a faded Doors t-shirt with a big picture of Jim Morrison on the front with a baseball cap on backwards!  I was a little uncomfortable in this attire to say the least!

I just started saying to myself that it’s ok, you’re still going to play well and that’s all that matters.  I had only been playing for about a year at this point and thought I was pretty good, but I hadn’t really been around many guitar players that could really play, until now.

The first guy gets up there and performs some kind of Beethoven piece that was unbelievable.  Then a few more students proceed to get up and do the same thing.  Then one guy gets up and performs, “Song for George” by Eric Johnson and RIPS IT!  At this point I didn’t even want to get up there and play at all.  These guys were amazing, and here I was, going to get up and play Stairway to Heaven?

I did get up there and stumble through it though.  I was very nervous and messed up quite a bit.  I ended the song with my arrangement by playing the really rocking part at the end with the barre chords.

My hand was shaking badly and the barre chords seemed very difficult to play at this time.  After I finally finished the song, everyone clapped but I didn’t really feel that great about my performance or the whole experience.

The Lesson Learned

I quickly rushed out of the place and proceeded to drive home.

 On that drive home I felt a sense of failure.

I knew that I had only been playing for a year, but man those guys were really good.

Could I ever become that good?

At that point in time I thought that I probably never would.  I did later realize that I needed a lot more practice and much more time, but I did give it a shot and put myself out there for people to see and hear regardless of the outcome.

I’m telling you this story because when you’re learning guitar there will come many points in time when you feel like you will never get where you want to be.  It could be a new style, slide guitar or whatever, but in these moments it is when you must make a commitment to keep on going and keep putting yourself out there again and again.

This will determine how far you will go.

Anyone can keep going when things are easy, but to truly arrive where you want to be, persevering through the difficult times will give you the tools you need to become the player you’ve always dreamed of being.

Stepping out and doing a recital, playing at a jam, making some YouTube recordings and getting yourself out there regardless of the outcome will give you the confidence that is needed for you to become the best player that you can be.

About 4 years after I played at that recital, I put on my own Guitar Recital as a teacher for my own students at Jubilee Music in Fairhope, Al. Here are some pictures from it below.

Destin Participants Me and a Student


When was the last time you put yourself out there for the world to see?

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4 Comments

  1. Good life lesson John. Having seen and heard you play on your Everything Bundle, its hard to imagine that you were once at a point in your craft where you felt a sense of failure. Hard work, determination and putting yourself out there certainly paid off. This story, in conjunction with your DVD lessons, gives novices like me not only hope, but a road map.

  2. Yes Sir John, and if you had in fact walked away from it, there would now have been a lot of your followers/students who would never have benefited from the God given gift to play and teach others the art of playing guitar. Great witnessing lesson here for those who like you said, want to quit when they think they have failed. I think of Abe Lincoln’s failures in life, depression and all he went through before becoming President. Had he given up…

    Blessings to you, keep His light shining in your walk

  3. Hey John, –having just discovered your blog, I’m trying to go through it as I can. I guess opposite to others it caused me to make my latest purchase, not turn me off. For me, things like what you have here, as additional support encourage me to look further into your products.

    Great articles,–helpful.

    This one was interesting in particular. I see you put it up April of ’13.

    I remember sending you an email before this date, asking a bit about stuff like this, in particular about not being able to find folks to jam with, or do like you speak of here. Moreover, that too, quite often, I asked about how to handle, fellow musicians, regardless of how well one does, that provide only criticism (and if you not that good, makes it *really challenging).

    I remember you said something like, you get back what you put out there, as if, if positive *that is what comes back the same way, –it does *not, and was my point; ignoring that, the negative that come nonetheless, for me it seems, puts one in a very small minority of “stick with it”, special folks.

    You don’t comment if anyone but you were hard on yourself in this article; but it seems like regardless of showing folks “were you were” at *that point –you got a good response, since folks realized it was only a moment/milestone check of where you were at that time. And, you did get better, by all accounts.

    I find irony in life that, you did wind up in the “business”, and the other “great ones” (from that period), are doing what now?

    Part of what you emailed me back is correct, put out good stuff and it comes back. However, not dropping what you have a passion for in the face of ridicule regardless of what you put out there — that’s a big life separator; at least on a personal level.

    In all the things I’ve done so far, in life, since 3rd Grade when I got my first “guitar lesson” in public school — if nothing else, I sing to the four walls of the room I play in.

    — And, I think of, e.g. Jimi Hendrix who got booed off the Stage at a “Monkeys” concert, and was laughed out of downtown NYC nightclubs; then, returned from England to be what he always was. He was told he was not a good guitar player, –but, then he was. How does that work? (rhetorical) Another of life’s mysteries I guess.

    Best regards.

  4. I took private classical guitar lessons for three years many years ago strarting when I was 10. My guitar instructor wasn’t the most gracious fellow in the world, but he felt that I was advanced enough to play in a recital that he arranged at his home. The piece that I selected to play was the folk rock tune of Donovan’s “Jennifer Juniper.” I practiced that song for weeks and thought that I had nailed it for my recital. Well, fate came that evening when it was my turn to play before 22 audience members all moms and dads of the other kids (including my own parents) at the recital. I missed verses of “Jennifer Juniper” as I nervously strummed and plucked. My nervousness also yielded to me improperly fretting my notes and making more buzzes than clear notes. When I finished my piece there was a luck warm response from the audience (my parents looked embarrassed) and my guitar instructor looked steamed! After the recital my guitar instructor took me into a den like room in his home and told me how disappointed he was with me. He said that I made him look like a failure as a guitar instructor and that he misjudged me as an advancing guitar student. He told me that I couldn’t even keep rhythm on a wood block if I tried! I think he would’ve really let me have it if hadn’t been for my parents being present and others at the recital. My parents didn’t say a word about the recital the whole way home. It was then and there that I decided to give up the guitar and not look back.

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