For our latest Q and A, we have Max Chiossi. Although Max is more of a rock player and teacher, I wanted him on the blog because of his focused approach to practising, his interest in the psychology of learning, and his insights on how to use your practice time more effectively.
I actually already had him on a few months ago with our 15 tips from teachers post but now I want to hear his thoughts in more detail.
There are a trillion teachers out there who will teach you how to play songs, but there really aren’t many that teach struggling guitarists about good technique and motivation.
On this blog, I have created plenty of lessons on both – (as well as the fun stuff such as songs), but today I want to hear Max’s thoughts on the learning process, what it takes to succeed and more.
Let’s hear what he has to say….
Tips and advice
Tips you’d like to share with other guitarists?
Don’t try to be the best guitar player. It’s not only a pointless race, but it’s also an unwinnable one. Even if you want to be a professional musician, nobody really cares who’s “the best”.
I was one of those guys who wanted to be the best of the best. At first, it’s alright, it does not affect you that much, and in fact, it motivates you quite a bit. At first …
The problem is that sooner, rather than later, your own mind starts undermining you.
It’s virtually impossible to be the best at anything. There are always so many people that practice the same discipline you do, and there’s so much you can do differently that there’s not even a clear way to measure who’s the best.
Don’t try to be the best, and instead aim to be good enough.
You can’t control your subconscious, but you can abandon the idea of working towards an unreachable goal, so that your subconscious will not punish you for it.
Just practice with intent, have fun, and develop your style and music. It will be much better in the long run.
Greatest ever chord?
Possibly the G open chord. I don’t know why, it’s just a very cool, groovy, and strong chord, full of rock ‘n’ roll spirit.
Best advice for beginner guitarists?
At first, it’s all about finding your way and not getting side-tracked by shiny objects.
There are some shortcuts along the way, but you will still have to find the way to push through the obstacles.
You’ll need to have some time every week just for practice. It’s better if you schedule it, but as long as you can be with the instrument undisturbed, it will work.
General thoughts on learning guitar for our readers.
As a guitar player, you don’t really think too far in time, and instead mostly focus on the here and now.
Although that is fine, it’s not the approach that will give you the best results in the medium to long run. There’s a very good reason for this.
Remember I said that my first favourite player was Kurt Cobain?
If you knew him already, it’s likely you know that he was not a player who was admired for his impeccable technique, or his crazy dissonant melodies with exotic alterations. Far from it. Instead, he pretty much single-handedly invented a new music style which came to be the leading rock style in the 90’s: grunge.
What does this mean? Well, it means a lot, but the short-short version is pretty simple:
Do not focus on learning everything.
You can be very successful without having to learn complex chords with alterations, and you can also be successful without being a virtuoso.
Focus on getting extremely good at a couple of key skills that are relevant to the style you want to play.
Depending on which style, it might involve different techniques, but it will never involve ALL of them. This is not only a huge weight off your back, but it also means you can get away without countless hours of dedication.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you don’t have to work your butt off, but you certainly don’t need to burn the ‘midnight oil’ every time.
I’m a huge advocate of the Pareto Principle in virtually all areas of life, and guitar playing is not an exception.
You can get 80% of success with 20% of the knowledge and techniques, as long as you choose those 20% right and nail them like a b*tch!
Remember that time is all we have, and time wasted, is time you won’t be getting back, so you’d better use it wisely.
Bands and inspiration
Your favourite guitarist?
The first guitarist I started to admire was probably Kurt Cobain, with the runner-up, Slash. I was barely a teen by that time, and I looked up to him because I had become so crazy with Nirvana and his simple but effective style.
Afterwards, when I was 21 or 22, I got to know about Jason Becker, which totally rocked my world. Together with Marty Friedman, whom I already knew from Megadeth, I fell in love with Cacophony’s shreds and weird sounds.
So yeah, I would say Jason Becker is probably my favourite guitarist.
Who’s the best band/artist you have seen live?
I saw Kiss live in my country in 2015. It was great!
I had been a fan of the band for a long time and I knew that their shows were full of theatrics and fireworks. It did not disappoint.
What’s your favourite album?
A difficult question to say the least. My first favourite album was “Nevermind” by Nirvana. I still love that album, but right now there are so many other great albums that it makes it very difficult (almost impossible) to pinpoint a single one.
Favourite song to listen to on a depressing day?
I’ve found that a good way to combat depression and feeling down is with adrenaline, lots of it. That’s why I like to listen to powerful songs when I’m feeling down, and leave the subtle stuff for another day.
Under no circumstances should you listen to anything else that reinforces that depression when you are in a weak spot.
Greatest guitar piece ever recorded?
Best guitar of all time?
I used to be in love with the Sunburst Fender Stratocaster back in my teens.
Though I still like it a lot, I’m more into the Superstrat models now. I’ve grown very fond of Ibanez guitars, and even though I have no specific favourite model, I like the S models.
You as a guitarist
Most difficult thing you’ve ever learned to play on guitar?
“Serrana” by Jason Becker.
What’s the first song/riff you ever learned on guitar?
Difficult to be sure, but I know that as soon as I could play the intro lead of “The Man Who Sold The World” I was blown away.
Hey, come on, I was just a newbie!
Why did you choose to play the guitar?
Like 99% of teens (you know you did too!) we start playing because we want to be cool and popular. Virtually everybody wants to be a rockstar in those years, and it was no different with me.
Of course, I also liked rock music a lot, and I knew that I wanted to learn to play that style as well. There weren’t many bands in my school either, so after I learned to play I had a chance to play at a school end-year party, and it was great fun!
What’s the first guitar you owned?
My first guitar was a borrowed acoustic from a neighbour. I don’t remember who it was, but that guitar helped me a lot.
I played on it for around 5 or 6 months, until I got my first electric. It was a cheap black Samick Stratocaster look-alike.
Never underestimate how far you can get on cheap instruments.
Self-taught or formal lessons?
For around two or three years at first, I went to class with a private teacher.
I’ve had two teachers so far (never close yourself to going back to classes!) and I think all in all I’ve had around 6 years’ worth of classes. The rest has been on my own.
Any unusual tunings you love to use?
One of my guitars is tuned to drop-D, which is not that uncommon.
What was your best ever gig?
Though small, it was at a school end-of-year party; it was just so fun! We set up a small band with a couple of guys as well as the music teacher and his keyboard. I played and sang two Nirvana songs: “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and “Rape Me”.
That last one was pretty hilarious to perform in front of the English teachers!
What’s your most embarrassing moment on stage?
Ever noticed that guitar players don’t just connect their leads straight into the jack? They make a small loop on the back of the strap and then connect it to the jack.
This makes it harder to have an accidental disconnection of the cable if you or someone else happens to step on it while you are moving.
Well…enter myself with my dislike for that loop (it’s awful and I hate it), so I would always connect it right in without thinking twice because I always told myself “it’s pretty easy, just don’t step on it and it’ll be fine”.
…until it was not!
At one time I was playing a gig in a small bar and I did step on the cable and disconnected myself. I had to rush to connect it and catch up with the rest of the band.
From then onwards I decided it was too risky not doing that horrible loop.
Where do you find your inspiration for song ideas?
The two methods in which I usually come up with riffs and melodies might sound pretty obvious for most, but they work:
- Humming melodies off the top of your head. This one is not to be underestimated. Your voice is the best instrument you’ll ever use, so you’d better take advantage of it.
- Combine a couple of ideas from new songs I listen to.
Don’t underestimate what you can do with your phone’s voice recorder when you are out there anywhere and suddenly have a melody in your head. Just sing it and record it on your phone, then later transcribe and use.
Which vocalist would you most like to accompany – Paul Simon, Dave Grohl, Rihanna, Barry Manilow or MC Hammer?
As a Nirvana fan, there’s no doubt I would go with Dave Grohl all the way. I like Foo Fighters too, so that would be quite an honour to be playing with the man himself.
Song to romance your other half with?
Once I played “Always” by Bon Jovi to my girlfriend, and she loved it!
It works. I know!
Band you would most like to tour with?
Iron Maiden, of course.
Which superhero would make the best guitarist?
The Flash, of course. Imagine the sick riffs and licks he could spit out with his amazing speed and co-ordination!
Festival you would most like to play?
As of right now, the Wacken Open Air sounds like a blast! I know two fellow musicians that have already played there; one of them did it twice!
What’s next for you?
I’m working on recording my first solo album. It’s difficult when you are alone, but not impossible. The power of scheduling is fundamental.
I’m also working on my website to teach other guitar players learn their craft quickly.
I hope you all enjoyed that very interesting Q and A. Thanks to Max for taking the time out for the interview.
He makes some really interesting and important points – especially for those of you who are ultra-ambitious. I know most of you just want to play for fun and for your own pleasure, but there are some out there (about 10% of my readers I estimate) who are super driven to play the guitar better than anyone they know.
Having drive and ambition is super important but so is having that drive and ambition for the right reasons.
I also like what Max says about learning things that are relevant. If you browse some other guitar teachers sites/channels, you will often find they teach a lot of different things – often ranging from one extreme to the other – e.g. from fingerstyle to sweep picking and simple blues lead to advanced modal music theory.
Don’t waste your valuable time learning pointless techniques. It is much better to play what you love and develop that with better technique than waste hours learning something you may never use. I made this mistake in the past.
Instead, learn the things relevant to YOU, for which most of you is material covered in my book bundle or at various points on this site.
You can also check out Max’s site for some cool tips on learning, time management for guitarists and more. He shares plenty of useful and interesting ideas that most guitar teachers don’t even consider, or often even realize the importance of.
Also, if you want to romance your partner, remember what Max says, you can’t go wrong with a bit of Bon Jovi!