5 Ways I’ve Played Myself

DJ Khaled isn’t active on guitar-focused Facebook groups and Reddit threads.

I kind of wish he was.

He might remind us to stop playing ourselves.

The guitar community contains some undeniably intelligent, reasonable individuals, but it has its share of lunacy as well. We can get pretty irrational about some pretty surprising things, from gear preference, to performance rituals.

I’m no exception; in fact, I feel like I’ve gotten weirder than most.

I’d love to hear about the ways you’ve played yourself in a comment, but first, here’s five of mine: 

  1. As a young player endeavoring to teach myself everything, I regularly formed spectacularly inaccurate ideas about music theory. The funniest might be the notion that the major or minor quality of scales or chords might be determined, not by interval relationships, but by their location on the fretboard. Specifically, I used to think that any fret with a dot (think Les Paul copy) was “major,” and any fret without was “minor.” It might have had something to do with all the Drop D I was playing at the time...
  2. There are several good reasons to decide to include a certain pedal on a pedalboard. One of them is not that it’s the same color as your other pedals. For a few years (in a way you may have noticed), I did my best to follow a white/black/grey color scheme on my pedalboard, electing to explore the inclusion of certain pedals because of their chromatic uniformity even before considering their sound. Buying a surf green overdrive helped me kick the habit, and hopefully, I’ll let sound dictate my choices in the future.
  3. A jam is a great way to build relationships with other players, learn licks, and develop feel. What I didn’t know as a newer player is that you can ruin that opportunity by trying too hard to convince the other players that you’re “good.” I’d regularly show up to jams and immediately unleash every piece of my meager collection of showy licks and riffs, only to be dumbfounded by my lack of subsequent invitations.
  4. Tap-tempo is a great feature to have on a delay, especially one without presets. It lets us hang with tempos that fluctuate (which is great), but it also gives us the opportunity to obsess about the sync of our delay to the point of destruction (which is not so great). I’d find myself tap-tempo’ing at the expense of far more important things, like engaging with the audience, tuning, or performing my parts correctly. Sometimes we disguise a frivolous obsession as the desire to "sound our best," and my tap-tempo habit certainly fits the bill. 
  5. In pursuit of “the sound in our heads,” we might find ourselves spending time tweaking our gear to get the most useful sounds possible. Tweaking is usually a good use of time, but we can also fall into danger of thinking that the difference between sounding "good" or "bad" might rest within a miniscule nudge of one control, which isn’t healthy. I’ve spent way too much time tweaking when I should have been practicing, which is especially wasteful considering that practicing actually helps.

Looking back, it’s easy to see all of these behaviors as the silly wastes of time that they were. In the moment, however, it can be a lot more difficult. Periodically asking “Am I playing myself?” might be a good habit to adopt, if only to ensure that we’re giving ourselves the best chance possible to make our music say what we mean.