Bill Frisell's advice to guitarists


Platinum Member
Really good piece by Bill Frisell in Guitar Player magazine. I pared it down here-- the whole thing is great and everyone should read it:

1. Listen
Listening is the number one thing – taking your attention away from yourself.

You need to have your attention away from yourself. I don’t want to be thinking about what I’m doing. I want to be as focused as I can be on the people around me.

It helps me so much to just look at the other people in the band. It sort of opens everything up. It’s such a simple thing but it really helps the music for me.

Listening is such a huge thing. It sounds simple, but it’s a lifelong struggle to really, really listen.

2. Don’t Judge Yourself
What we perceive we’re doing when we play often has hardly anything to do with what’s coming out the front.

At the time you might think, This is the most badass shit I've ever played in my life! And then you listen to a recording and go, "What was I thinking?"

Or, you could be having some crisis in your head like, I just can’t play anything! But when you listen back it’s beautifully formed.

All that stuff in your head – you have to shut it down. The idea is to get rid of all that and just be immersed in the music.

Try not to attach yourself to whatever just happened. You have to be constantly shedding off the idea it was good or bad.

3. Be Present
If you have a really great night, like you’re all high off the gig, you can’t think, That was so great – let’s do that again at the next gig.

The reason it was great is because you were all in the moment and you were responding to whatever was going on around you.

You just have to be as present as you can at all times. It’s the most amazing thing when the whole band is in the moment. It’s like you’re not thinking.

4. Embrace Mistakes
Mistakes are awesome. If you don’t freak out.

It’s not supposed to be a contest. I’m really not into the whole ‘I’m right and you’re wrong’ thing. I mean, let’s try to make something cool with what just happened.

5. Practice is Great (Up to a Point)
I used to think that if you practiced real hard you get to this place where everything is just great all the time. But it’s just not so. The joy is being in the process.

Anyone that says they’ve got it completely together is lying.

I’ve seen that mess with people. You can’t think, I’m going to practice and get to this certain point and then I’m going to do something. Because you’ll never get there.

You can’t wait until you’ve finished something before you get to the music.

8. Destroy Competition
This whole idea that music is about competition – as if someone is better than someone else, or this instrument is harder than that one, like what are you talking about?!

Let’s try to get together and make something good. It’s not a competition.

9. Take Chances
The music gets way higher when everyone in a band feels safe that they can take a chance. It’s a lot better to just go for it than be thinking, I better not try that because I might mess it up.

It might be good or bad, but that’s how you learn. It’s the only way to move ahead.

Skill is great, but there has to be some sort of story behind it. All this technical stuff is nothing if you’re not saying anything with it.

10. Learn to Forget
I know we need to practice our instruments, but you need to be able to shake that off when you’re really trying to play the music.

f I practice all day and have all that stuff in my head later on at the gig it can be detrimental.

Sometimes, you’ll find there’s stuff you can do in practice that you can’t seem to bring into another scenario. You want to take it with you all the time, but it just doesn’t work that way.

When you’re on stage you’re not in your own living room, y’know?

Sonny Rollins (one of my biggest heroes) said that music is happening too fast to be thinking about it while you’re playing.


Silver Member
Not just guitar or music advice, life advice to be a less insecure person. Got to meet him once, he seemed super humble and I believe it because it translates in his music. For people I've encountered in life, music or not, the individuals most critical of others were highly insecure of themselves. I believe if you don't practice these tips in your non-music daily life, it doesn't truly translate to the bandstand and its just an insincere pursuit to just improve musicianship...and that's what I like about this art form, even players who attempt to hide their assholey-ness personality within the music even with talent, music is too transparent to hide facades.