As a self-taught guitar player, I have cobbled together useful advice from many sources, both expert and beginner.
One piece of advice stood out to me as particularly eye-opening, and although it applies directly to guitar playing, I believe it can be immediately applied to the art of conversation.
Famed guitar virtuoso Joe Satriani, a shredding legend that has mastered more techniques than just about anyone, offered some very poignant insight for the casual, self-taught player.
Just watching him play makes me want to immediately quit…damn.
He said that you should be able to play for anyone – women, children, old people, your friends and relatives. To truly be well-rounded, to win the room, to fill the role that many hope you will fill, you must think this way.
My personal favorite type of music is heavy metal, particularly classic stuff like Iron Maiden and older Metallica. Everything else blows.
But I did spend hours and hours learning fretboard melting riffs and licks that took hours, focusing on technique, stamina, and speed.
Then one day some girls that I didn’t know came over to my house with a friend, and they saw my guitar laying in the corner of the room. When I saw them eying it up, and looking at me, I could tell they wanted to hear a song. Then it hit me.
I didn’t know a single song, or even playing technique, that they are likely to enjoy.
Sure, I could get luckily as shit if they turned out to be the rarely seen female-metalhead. When they asked me to play, I just said the thing was out of tune and needed some work done to it.
It’s one thing if you are literally just starting and you can barely play two chords, but I had been playing for about two years – plenty of time to be able to pull together some semblance of a “universal” song. More than enough time to impress a few young women with cowboy chords.
Satch’s wisdom rings true – could you entertain some children with some playful major key songs?
Could you whip out something classical or really old school that your grandparents might enjoy?
Do you know a Christmas song or two that could warm the family gathering?
It immediately dawned on me that this thoughtful and painfully true advice applies to conversation as well. Do you have the patience to maintain a smile and play checkers with a 7-year-old? Could you discuss SpongeBob even if you hadn’t seen a single second of it?
Can you talk to your grandma while she’s sitting next to the fire on a cold winter day? Are you too busy staring at your smartphone to pull it off?
Is a speech to a classroom full of students, about some worldview you have developed, ready for deployment? A supermodel asks you directions on the street – are you poised, or floundering?
I truly believe that no matter where you are, no matter what you’re wearing, no matter what they’re wearing, a conversationalist can thrive. Take the time to listen and respond in kind. Smile often and realize that another person can offer an entire lifetime’s worth of experience.
A small child might rely on you to help them understand this increasingly mad world. The prudent man will not raise their voice or let frustration seep into their body language.
Be well-rounded. Show patience. Talk to anyone.