Arlen Roth

The kind of dedication to the guitar that we really need to be at the top of our game is really something that few are willing to venture. I was fortunate in the sense that in my developing and ensuing years I had such a “natural” drive on the instrument and desire to get better, that it was something I barely noticed; it was more like it was just “breathing” for me, and seemed to simply be the natural course to take. I’m sure it had to do with being so young, and that other “responsibilities” had not yet taken over my life!

But it is true that we must “live to play” before we end up “playing to live.” I guess the real test is to maintain that level of pure dedication to the guitar and our music even after the initial innocence has been lost, and we must face the challenges that life itself has thrown at us. It’s always amazed me to see how so many people who have disabilities and other things standing in their way can really lose themselves in the instrument, and become even better than your average person. It’s proof of the persistence of the human spirit, and how when one door closes, another can open. Hold me back on one count, and I’ll just get better and excel on another.

I can remember back in the days when I had first founded Hot Licks, and we still even only had audio taped lessons before video, I’d get all kinds of thankful letters from people in prison, or in the Armed Forces, who were always telling me how inspired they were, and how when their duties or sentences were done they were going to come out and “be the best guitar player in the world!” This is just the kind of spirit I love to see, and the kind that is truly needed when it comes to real dedication on our instrument of choice.

The reality of having to “play to live” can be a harsh one, but for me, as the little (and BIG!) accomplishments and opportunities continued to grow, I felt like I was naturally “falling into” the actual life of a musician, as opposed to just being someone who had a love affair with the guitar. So always let your development and “timeline” be a natural one, as the music becomes your life, and your life becomes the music. And also remember that music and the guitar, as big as it may be for you, should always remain a part and extension of your life. It will certainly never let you down, and will lead you into nothing but great things!

Gibson.com’s Arlen Roth, affectionately known The King of All Guitar Teachers, is music lesson pioneer and the quintessential guitarist. An accomplished and brilliant musician — and one of the very few who can honestly say he’s done it all — Roth has, over the course of his celebrated 35-year career, played on the world’s grandest stages, accompanied many of the greatest figures in modern music and revolutionized the concept of teaching guitar.