How To Play Guitar With Authority | Make People Take You Seriously

Updated: Jun 18, 2020


"No man has any natural authority over his fellow men." - Jean-Jacques Rousseau

You have been playing guitar for almost a year now.

You already have some nice skills with the guitar.

You can play many of the songs you love.

Some of your friends have even told you that they like how you play.

What's the next step? Well, play in a band, of course!

The problem is that if you have never played live in front of strangers, then you, my friend, are in for a treat.

A good show is not only about good music. It's called a show, not an audition, because there's more to it than just sound.

It's very likely nobody every told you this, though. It's so easy to spot a newbie player onstage because they are like a deer caught in headlights: paralyzed with such a fear that not even Freddy Krugger himself would be able to instill even on a Halloween night.

In this lesson, I'm going to show you what you need to know in order to play with Authority so that people listen to you for real and take you like you want to be taken: like a Badass Rockstar.

 

First of all, it's fair to point out that each audience has its own likes and dislikes, and these should not be challenged. I say should not instead of must not with purpose, and I'll explain that to you in just a moment.

These tend to be a set of invisible, unwritten Laws that emerge in certain groups, which must be met at a bare minimum in order to be part of it. It's fine, you know what I mean.

It's like a game of what frat you belong to. You have to meet their expectations or else they'll kick you out after humilliating you in front of everyone on campus by bathing you in honey and covering you with chicken feathers.

No, I've never suffered anything like that, I just saw it!

Not matter what music sub-culture you belong to, what style you play, how skilled you are, whether you are grass or rock Pokemon, there are four areas you must nail in order to project an image of authority, so that people recognize you mean business.

Because at the end of the day, we all want to be taken seriously and with respect.

Let's start with the most obvious and then move on to more advanced stuff.

 

Your Music

The first step is rather obvious, and it is, in my opinion, the most important.

  • Quality music

Your music must be good. It does not need to be great, but it should be interesting at the very least.

Although this is so obvious, it's most likely the grayer area, since there are no rules as to what makes music good or interesting. However, here are a couple of guidelines you can use to make sure you are on track:

  • Do not copy other musicians

We all have our heroes, I know. Still, it's one thing to admire someone, and another totally different to imitate them too much.

You know the kind, it's those who will start with a cover band, then move on to a tribute band, until finally just openly copying their songs with other lyrics and call them "original music in the style of".

There is much subjectivity in this point, I'm afraid, but know that there is a threshold you eventually cross and all of a sudden it becomes too much, and you've ruined it.

Plus, at least 90% of you will be able to come up with examples off the top of your heads of bands that imitate others, who are always regarded as "sellouts", "thieves", or just outright dishonest.

It's OK to draw inspiration from others, but don't let that get to your head too much. Take your own path, it will be better on the long run, plus:

Pay extra attention to Iñigo, especially if you made the mistake of killing his father.

  • Avoid using the same chords or chord progressions too often

Often times we hear a chord progression and we instantly think of "X" band.

The choice of chord progression is one of those things that can make or break a band, to catapult it to star status or sink it like lead in the sea.

I'm sure you can think of many artists or bands that have gone into oblivion after having a one-hit success. On the other hand, it's very rare that a band can survive for longer than 5 or even 10 years. Yeah, I know, the Rolling Stones are just about immortal at this point.

Here's the thing, guys...sooner rather than later, using the same exact progressions, or even harmonies for the sake of it, will make your music either boring or just about the same to everything else you've already done. Neither of those outcomes is something you want to instill on anyone.

I know what you might be thinking, and yes, I do recognize that most artists have a couple of tricks that give them their personality and style; I'm not saying that is not the case. What I do mean to say is that it's one thing to have a personal style and another completely different thing to have all your songs sound the same.

If you want to use a simple chord formula for the choruses of your songs, that might be OK, but make sure that at the very least you change the chords involved, or even change the progression elsewhere on the song.

  • Consider using odd chords or scale notes on each song

Here's some aspect of music that most people either never considered or were told that it is forbidden, or something just like that.

The truth is that it's highly likely that what you heard is BS. Yes, I'm sorry.

Music Theory was invented to provide context to what music is all about, but music existed long before Theory was even a concept. This on itself should be enough to recognize what is really important.

Not matter how technically skilled you are, the fact remains that music is still something to be experienced with the ear, not the brain. Yes, I know what you are going to say, and I know it's the brain that actually processes the music, yeah, you know what I mean!

Playing in the same tonality, scale, mode, whatever you want to call it, is fine. Still, it's not like you cannot break the rules. In fact, I would argue that it's when you break the rules that music actually becomes interesting.

If your music has all the same sounds, progressions, chords, fills, then after a couple of songs the listener already knows how everything's going to sound like, and even when. I tell you, if there's no surprise at all, then something is missing in your music, up to the point that it ceases to be music and becomes more of a set of rules.

How does it feel when you can anticipate to any birthday party surprise? Not very good, huh?

This topic can be very extensive, but let's just call it a day by saying that you must never be constrained by whatever theory is telling you about what you should and should not play, and instead be open to using whatever it is that you find sounds nice.

  • Experiment with different sound effects

If you have some experience with guitar, more than 6 months, then I would absolutely recommend you experiment with sound processors.

I say sound processors in a broad range, since there are many options out there. You can get stand-alone options, like pedals and multi-effects units, but you can also go with software plugins, which are especially useful for recording.

If you are a rock player like me, it's highly likely you already have an overdrive or distortion pedal. This is great, as it's in the very basis of rock, but it doesn't have to end there.

Do not shy away from other options, like delays, flangers, octavers, harmonizers, among many others. Give yourself at least one shot with all those, since you never know what it is that you might end up liking.

  • Practice your music

This is trivial.

Or is it?

I've had my fair share of experience playing and rehearsing with many people. Most people, for some reason, don't really practice the songs they have to play before they have to play them. Does that sound like a contradiction? Well, it's not.

I've already talked about this on a previous post, where I talked about the "Three Mindsets For Creating A Band", and if you haven't read it yet, I recommend you do so. The short version goes like this:

If you cannot find the time, will, or whatever else you need to practice your songs, you simply cannot play in a band.

This same principle translates to any other situation in which you might find yourself with your guitar. It's not like you would like to be at a campfire with friends and someone hands you over a guitar for you to play something for everyone to sing, and then you start playing any song, but when you get to the chorus you say:

"Wait, guys, the chorus went something like this...hmmm...maybe it was this other chord...or this one..."

If you do, you just killed the vibe right there, and it's not likely to come back. Nobody will take you seriously like that, especially since most people (non guitar players especially) don't care for the technical aspect of the guitar, but do care if you can make them have fun and sing along.

Moral of the story: always have a couple of popular songs in your repertoire, and have them well practiced. They don't have to be too many, just 3 to 5 songs should be enough in case you have to play something in any social event. Oh, and this includes having some basic acoustic guitar skills, even if you are a full-on metalhead like me.

Do you think that if someone where to give an acoustic guitar to someone like John Petrucci on a campsite he wouldn't know what to play? Exactly my point.

  • Be skilled enough, not the best

I've been guilty of this, I'm afraid.

It's especially dangerous for metal guitarists to try to be the best virtuoso player in the whole World (and Beverly Hills), but let me tell you why this is not in your best interest.

First of all, there is the diffuse line of when is it that you are the best of the best? Who do you have to defeat to be so, and how is it that you even defeat another player? This alone should be enough food for thought.

Secondly, the truth is that most music does not require a guitar gimnast to play well. Although there is a certain skill cap for some styles, it's safe to say that a player with one year of experience has enough skill and knowledge to be able to play virtually any kind of music out there.

Even if you are into modern progressive metal (bands like Symphony X or Dragonforce), where the skill cap on lead players is very high, would you rather spend years of your life practicing, with little to no social life as well as other healthy aspects of life, instead of diving all in first and start playing as soon as possible, even if it means playing as a rhythm guitarist?

I've asked this same question to some buddies and the answer is always "dive right in", but for some reason many out there do not do it. Beats me.

Ultimately, what I want you to consider here is that it's better to start playing music reasonably well instead of waiting for who knows how long before actually getting into it, which is something that might even never come.

Start ASAP.

 

Your Body Language

I'm sure you've heard about body language plenty of times these days, as there are so many people talking about it and how it relates to dating, work interviews, and plenty more situations.

Well, guess what? It also plays a major role in how a musician is perceived, especially while performing.

Body Language is often a reflection of your inner self. This is so because our species spent most of our evolution without any form of verbal language, so we somehow evolved for the most part to communicate in a non-verbal way. This is why body language is so important for a musician, as you want your music and your presence to do the talking, not your mouth.

The easiest definition of what body language is, is the visual communication that comes from the different postures your body is set to, which usually include all of your body.

It's easy to say you are a great musician, but it's quite difficult to look like such, and I do not mean here the aesthetical aspect, (although it also plays a role), but rather be perceived as such.

I'm sure you've heard out there the "fake it 'till you make it" advice. Though I do not discard the fact that this might work for some, I'm going to suggest a better approach in this section:

Force it to make it.

In order to add to your Authority as a musician, you need to aquire what is referred to as High-Level body language. These are a specific set of postures that display strength, confidence, status, as well as other many other sought-after qualities.

What we are going to discuss in this section is pretty much universal, although there might be some niche audiences where you can benefit from bending these rules. More on this later.

Let's move on to what kind of body language you should adopt.

  • Adopt Confident Postures

Confident body language can be thought of as each position in which you are exposing your body. Any position in which you are opening your arms and exposing your chest is a good example, but also focusing on the shoulders (slightly leaned back) and back (straight, not hunched over).

These kind of postures instinctively relay the following messages:

  1. You are confident.

  2. You have nothing to hide.

  3. You have something to offer.

Most people prefer are drawn to others who display these traits, so as a musician you can virtually always benefit from this, as it will make your audience pay more attention to you, which is always great.

Of course, body language is not only a matter of the legs, arms, but also facial expressions. You know the kind, those that make wild expressions...

These also play a role, but because they are more complex, we'll not discuss them in this article (though I'll certainly talk about them in the future).

Let's analyze some postures you should avoid:

Posture #1 -- The Hunchback

If at any time you are playing and start hunching over the guitar, it just doesn't look nice.

Apart from the fact that it's not a good position for your back's health, it also looks almost submissive for whoever is watching you, and definitely not a good pose to be in.

Posture #2 -- "I hope they don't see me"

Whenever you are afraid of what others will say about you, you tend to try to hide and be invisible.

Well, let me tell you that unless you are a Guitar Ninja or have Susan Storm's invisibility powers, you are doomed.

Do not try to blend in, and do not try to hide. You are here to be the boss and own it; you are in this to make a hit, so tough it up.

Nobody ever did anything worthwhile by being afraid.

Posture #3 -- Guitar Kisser

It's OK if you like your guitar a lot. Hey, I do too.

However, it looks dorky if you adopt a posture like this:

For anyone looking at you, they will think you are either not seeing well, or you don't remember where you have to place your fingers, and none of those options will be good. Avoid this.

Posture #4 -- The Paranoid

This one is kind of similar to the second posture. The difference lies in what you do with your eyes and face.

Do not stare everywhere looking for signs of approval or disapproval. Do your thing as you know you can, and see the reactions later. If you play your cards right, it should be alright.

Now, let's take a look at some postures that you should adopt:

Posture #5 -- Superman Pose

I'm sure you know the character and how he usually stands. RIP, Christopher Reeve.

This is one of the most acclaimed "power poses". When you adopt this position, it's probably the most confident you'll feel in your life. Unless you suddenly win the lottery, in which case it's off the charts!

Do not be afraid of standing like Christopher did, which you can accomplish like this:

Of course, this posture is not exactly one you would take when actually playing, as you would need both your hands in most cases. Still, you can usually pull this one off either between songs, whenever you let ring a single chord, or when you are waiting for your time to play your part.

Posture #6 -- Shoot the Sky

This one is very used by most guitarists, especially when soloing.

You just point your guitar straight up, be it standing still or on your knees, like His Majesty Slash on the photo.

Apart from the fact that it looks cool AF, it shows that you are confident with your abilities as a guitar player, enough to play in a position that is not exactly the most comfortable but is still great to add a special flourish to your playing.

Posture #7 -- A Good Base

Similar to the Superman Pose, when standing still you can still show confidence without doing much.

Just stand up straight and spread your feet enough to have a strong base on the ground (not too spread apart, though). Your knees should be bent, as having straight legs like a pyramid will look quite awkward. Looking cool!

Posture #8 -- Normal and Relaxed

Up to this point, I've talked about many postures that might seem artificial. If that is the case with you, you can always just let your own body act and you'll likely pull if off. Provided, of course, that you are feeling confident for real.

It might take some practice to feel confident naturally, so at first you might have to control yourself before letting go.

  • Show "Strength"

This one is usually a must, but can also be a wild card in some specific cases.

No, I do not mean literally strength, as in lots of muscles. No, that's not it.

If you are going for the Rockstar look, then you totally must take this into account.

A strong, high-level body language signals primarily both authority and confidence. In short, it will make you own the place upon arrival. It's common to see CEOs and other successful people with power to display these traits, most likely instinctively, as they tend to come with the job.

I know, I know; there is the occasional nerdy guy that has none of this qualities and still manages to pull it off greatly. Yes, but those examples are a dime-a-dozen and fall out of the norm. They are an exception, not the rule.

Think of it in this way: when you walk into a room full of people you don't know, how would you tell who is the boss? Instinctively, we lean towards the one who displays the higher level of body language, that is, usually, the one who is out there in the open talking with everyone, and not the guy who is shy in the corner.

It doesn't matter who actually is the boss, as it's all a matter of perception. As a musician, you don't neccesarily want to be the boss, but you do want to be respected and taken in the same way. In this way, your reach will go up 10-fold.

Depending on the style of music you play and your audience, there are some traits that can work better than others, but there are rough guidelines that you should always consider, such as:

  • Never look down

Looking down on people is often seen as a low-level signal, which includes fear and lack of confidence. Don't do this!

  • No fidgeting

Fidgeting can be a lot, not just biting your fingernails: even tapping your feet or constantly playing with your hair (I don't have that problem). This usually displays nervousness, and it's not good either.

  • Don't be afraid to make eye contact

One thing I do not like about some people is that they never look at you. It's especially rude when someone is giving a presentation, but for musicians it also holds true.

I get it, it's not like I will want Brian May to look directly at me while playing at Wymbledon, sure, but I mean the common guy who's playing guitar for their buddies around a campfire. It's supposed to be fun, so take your time to look at everyone even if it's for just a second, so that you remind them that you know they are here. They will take you much seriously.

If you follow these guidelines, you'll be perceived as a much more competent player.

What say you, Chuck?

Thanks, man!

  • Beware of "The Spotlight Effect"

If you are not a freak of nature, then chances are you are affected by this psychological effect.

The Spotlight Effect is the tendency we Humans have to believe that we are being noticed by others constantly. This ranges from believing that everybody is noticing that your shirt is not ironed, that you are nervous and shaky, or that you forgot to empty the washing machine (it happens!).

Although when performing you will need to draw attention, it's important to know that the rest of the time people won't be focused on you like a hawk, which means you can relax. This, in turn, will make your body language more confident and work in your favor.

It's important to control your message both on- and off-stage. Take it easy.

  • Use Body Language to emphazise your playing

So you are out there playing hard rock.

You are hitting those power chords like a truck.

You are sounding like a rockstar.

...but...

...you are looking something like this:

Like a deer caught in headlights...

You are dead!

Can you tell why?

Well, apart from the fact that nobody likes scared people, there is a huge disconnect between the music you are playing (hard rock) and the image you are projecting (fear).

Hard rock is supposed to be strong, manly, rugged, and powerful; those qualities simply do not go along with that posture.

Yes, people can tell right away, even if it is only subconsciously. They might not be able to tell what it is that looks odd, but they will know something is definitely not right. No bueno.

Of course it's always good to display good body language, but understand that in some contexts it becomes even more critical to make sure that your postures and actions go in line with the music you are playing.

Rugged music demands rugged musicians. It's just how it is. Having any pose that does not show strength and confidence will make you look odd onstage.

Take a look at the band below (Alpha Centauri):

From their clothing to their facial expressions, these guys are doing well on showing they mean business. Nice work!

If you play happy music, like bachata, you'd better be quite happy and funny yourself. You don't necessarily want to look like a bad boy, but you can pull off other styles that would not work on a rock setting.

Check out the following band (Amargue Bachata Quintet):

See the differences with the previous rock band? I hope you do.

Some styles might be more forgiving than others, but it's important to know what's acceptable, what's expected, and what is to be avoided for each style.

A word of caution: although you can sometimes bend the rules here, you have to know very well what you are doing. Unless you are a complete star, it's most likely you won't pull if off, so be careful here.

 

Your Attitude

Of course this was another key area!

You can have the best music in the world, the best appearance and body language, but if your attitude is off, then it's likely you'll crash and burn, like the Titanic (maybe not the burning part, but the crashing one you will).

I would define attitude as the way you handle yourself, your activities, and your stuff. Even though we've seen that many rockstars have these huge incredible lives, full of fun, parties, booze, and plenty of sexual partners (with the occasional unprotected sex), this is actually not what serious musicians should carry their lives like.

The short-short version goes like this:

Do you want to be taken seriously?

Then start by taking yourself seriously!