Becoming a virtuoso

So as this community is mainly about technique i feel a need to ask this question here. Can you really become a virtuoso(and i understand, that this is a very complex term) if you are not a prodigy? So if you start let’s say in your 20s and you are still able to put in many many hours of practice, can you become what is called “virtuoso”? And i’m not even talking about the musicality part of it all, i just mean being able to play fast clean and have a great control over the instrument. What really concerns me personally is that even after finding the right motion(some footage later and in another thread maybe) i still keep sort of losing it after a two day break. So, will it ever become stable? Does starting late mean that you lost your chance of REALLY masterting the instrument?

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I think it’s very possible!

Pretty sure I’ve posted this image before:

Sounds like you’re at what I would consider “conscious competence”, in that you found the right motion, but you have to be very deliberate / focused to replicate it. I think the jump from conscious to unconscious competence is the longest, since you have to wait for your new technique to become second nature.


I guess it really depends on how you are using the term. Within the parameters you laid out, yes, that part is the easiest part. Being objectively good or great in the technical aspect is relatively easy in comparison to the creative aspect. The hardest part is the musicality. Starting late won’t put you at a physical disadvantage, but perhaps it may put you at a slight mental one. When your young the brain is still very malleable, and the connections it makes during these years tend to be one’s that stick throughout the adult life. That’s why the prevailing thought is that it is easier to develop certain skills when you are younger such as music or language. But there is no reason you can’t constantly develop new ones, it just may not happen in the sam way.

The other aspect of this is time. They also say mastery in any one thing takes about 10,000 hrs to achieve. Most children have this sort of time to easily dedicate to a task, and thus may reach that 10,000 hour mark sooner than an adult. Adults have other worries unfortunately that may hinder the ability to put as much time into any one task, and thus that 10,000 hrs is more spread out, making progress seem slower.

In any case, I don’t think it’s unusual to feel like you lose what you gained initially. It will likely be like that for a while, especially if it’s relatively new to you.


Agree with the others. I believe it can be done too. It is a factor of time, practice, effort etc.
Looking at the improvement I have been able to make over the last year with my picking only confirms this in my mind. I have made a lot of gains - but I have put in a lot of practice as well.

If you look at the classical world and the years of dedicated practice that goes into the making of a virtuoso, it is something that takes a lot of work - even for the ones starting young. And I agree it takes more work as you get older - but still achievable if you want to go after it I think :slight_smile:

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I read this news article on my way to work this morning. I think it’s pretty hopeful and insightful. While it doesn’t mention mastery or virtuosity, it still hits on a lot of the subject matter discussed:


You could debate my usage here perhaps since Gilbert is still often considered a prodigy, but he’s talked quite a bit in interviews about how alternate picking did NOT come naturally for him and was something he had to spend a lot of time working at before it started to click. Or, Steve Morse’s ability to alternate pick arpeggios was probably unparalleled in the rock world when he broke out, but that was something where he was already a fairly accomplished player before he decided to learn how to alternate pick pretty much everything, and jokes that he’s now very nearly as fast as he used to be before changing his approach. So, I’d say yeah, it’s possible to pick up the guitar in your 20s and arrive at a pretty high level of technical aptitude, considering some fairly marquee players have made similar evolutions in their own playing well after first picking the guitar up.

Indeed. he said he thought he never would be able to do it, and it was the last thing he developed.

Hey @I_VI_ii_V , the first comment that comes to mind is that “becoming a virtuoso” is a bit of a vague goal, and vague goals are dangerous because it’s hard to know what to do to reach them.

I know I am not addressing the question but I’d reply with another question: what music do you want to play? That music will contain roadblocks, and for each song/solo/improv you work on you’ll have to problem-solve to overcome specific challenges. IMO this will make you a better player. Whether someone will call you a virtuoso at some point along this road is probably irrelevant if you are enjoying yourself playing the music you like :slight_smile:

I think this is pretty much impossible. All the great players out there, including the most revered ones like Shawn Lane, have limitations.

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Just wanted to throw in some non-helpful (i.e. peanut gallery) experience I have with that word “Virtuoso”.

I can’t remember what year it was, but sometime in the late 1990’s Guitar World magazine published an issue with the “100 Greatest Guitarists Of All Time”. The news stand equivalent of today’s click-bait, since we know someone who should have made the list didn’t.

They (thankfully) didn’t rank the players, but they categorized them. “Founding Fathers”, “Jazz Cats” etc. They had this section called “Virtuosos”. I was like “what??? I’ve never heard of half these guys!!!”

But I think that’s what made me aware of players like Vai, Malmsteen and Eric Johnson (etc etc). You have to remember, this was the late 1990’s and in popular music, guitar wasn’t really featured much as a solo instrument. If they were on that list, I bought an album or 2 of theirs.

Looking back, all these years later, it’s sort of funny. I don’t own a single recording of Shawn Lane. I don’t own a single recording of Paul Gilbert (though I do have his instructional video). I have no Vinnie Moore records, Somehow, neither of those guys made the list in that issue!!! I guess that magazine really shaped a lot of what I got into during my formative years.

Come to think of it, Nuno wasn’t in there either. I wonder why I have several Extreme records??? Huh.

Well it just is another indication of how subjective it can be, and what the word means to you. Virtuoso is hard to use in the objective sense.

Anyone may be a virtuoso to someone depending on the criteria.

@joebegly those lists were mostly junk, I don’t think someone even as infamous as Yngwie made a lot of those lists. They still pop up now and then. The lists were usually comprised with a prerequisite of how well known the artist was. So there was a general popularity aspect and you would always find your Hendrix’s Clayton’s and EVH’s, even Prince maybe or The Edge, on them. We’re probably close to the same age. I started playing at 13, in the early - mid 90’s, and I’m originally from the Pacific Northwest to boot so it was a really interesting and weird time to pick up the instrument particularly in that early 90’s transition period and in that geographic location. Radio stations were confusing, and that’s all I had back then to find artists. Sometimes after black hole sun you would hear cliffs of Dover, and pray the jockey would announce who the artist was. Other than that, all I had was occasionally my cousins husband, or a 50 year old burnout named Frank from the music store. Frank was the one who told me to go buy rising force in 1995, something I never would have done otherwise.

I remember I ran to pick up blank video cassette tapes at the tower records the moment MTV announced in 1996 that they were airing an “It Came From The 80’s” special. I sat in front of that tv for three days.

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He was on that one lol! And it actually had plenty of names I had never heard that ended up being pretty influential to me. Holdsworth, McLaughlin, Di Meola, Michael Hedges and Lenny Breau, just to name a few.

I know what you mean though a lot of their lists were silly. Like I said, the news stand version of clickbait lol

You’ve already answered your own question, i.e. the question itself is problematic. What’s a virtuoso? Is Eric Johnson a virtuoso? Because last I checked, he can’t play bluegrass lines with his technique — at least not the way they are typically played. By the same token, elite bluegrass players who can’t do USX motion can’t play EJ lines the way he does either. Does that mean none of these players are virtuosos?

Let’s ask a much more concrete question that actually has practical value:

Can most people learn to execute some technique at a high enough level to play at least a few of the things we think of as being the highest level of “hard” on guitar, like Eric Johnson lines or Gypsy Jazz or bluegrass and so on?

Yes, absolutely, we see it on here all the time.


Let me paraphrase. No.

What do you mean, that it’s not possible?

I think you are joking but I think it’s worth repeating: “becoming a virtuoso” is basically not a real concrete objective, so the question is ill posed in the first place.

In my opinion the only relevant question is how we can best work towards our musical goals.

Since a lot of people automatically equate “virtuoso=speed” it’s worth reminding ourselves what we know about learning how to play fast:

  1. most people without long-term injuries or disabilities seem to already have “enough speed” in both hands
  2. playing fast is about learning how to channel that already available speed into musical applications. Here we provide plenty advice on that
  3. knowledge of the mechanics involved can greatly speed up the learning for step 2

We have several examples of players that were stuck for decades on slow “stringhoppy” motions, and developed speed in the space of a few days just by experimenting and finding a faster motion.

So I think there’s hope for everyone to find a method to play the cool stuff they want to play, you have to work smart and be very clear about your objectives :slight_smile:


I took it as a response to this:

Emphasis on the prodigy part. How many of the people we class as virtuosos weren’t already (at least) monster technicians fairly young? Conversely, can anyone name a well known player that most consider a virtuoso who wasn’t already pretty amazing at a young age?

To that last point, I wish I remembered more details but I read a really interesting bio (a whole book, not some web blog) about John Coltrane that hinted he developed a little late compared to most (and BOY did he develop…he’s one of the most astonishing musicians ever).

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I always compare physical movements to language. If you’re not a native speaker, there is always going to be a barrier to fluidity.

It’s the same with guitar I feel… There is a certain grip you get from learning stuff Young.
Tho I don’t think it’s impossible, but the rewards from putting extreme effort as an adult into guitar are almost… nonexistent.
I, dispite loving guitar, find it incredibly hard to put in serious effort when it’s kind of for nothing…

I know what you mean. It seems like a lot of effort. I’m hell bent on playing stuff that used to give me a fit when I was younger. I now realize the reason I couldn’t play that stuff was not because I didn’t have the technical ability, it’s 100% because I didn’t understand the mechanics I needed.

I feel like I owe it to my younger self, who spent quite literally 100’s of hours toiling away, to revisit those challenging pieces/sections. Is it for nothing? Sort of. I know for a fact I’ll never play live again. It’s just for “me”. It’s a hobby :slight_smile: People have all sorts of hobbies that could be thought of as amounting to “nothing”. I know a guy who collects toy trains. He doesn’t build displays and have the neighborhood over to play around with his stuff or anything. It’s just for him. He enjoys it, just like I enjoy trying to play the fast run in Dream Theatre’s “Another Day” solo :slight_smile:


2 posts were merged into an existing topic: “Another Day” solo

I’m not sure I understand what you mean when you say it’s for nothing?
Do you mean nothing career wise?

I think the biggest barrier you face starting late is free time. If you aren’t in full time education then you’ll likely be working full time.
That’s no reason to not start trying to improve at any age though. It’s not as if you can’t make any improvements just because you didn’t start young.

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