Something I've noticed about the best musicians that contrasts very sharply with those having less experience is the ability to listen discretely, accurately, minutely.

For example, when I am coaching kids or less experienced players, they may experience a little difficulty hearing the correct note, or the correct interval, or even the exact timing of a phrase. This is not a fault, only a lack of experience and good listening habits. It's especially difficult for newer players, and it's always tough to hear one's self.

Contrarily, very experienced, expert players hear more and better than those who are not such masters. Top tier musicians hear every nuance, every inference in a piece, and they do it with ease. I remember a conversation with Rod Piazza when he 'quoted' a Little Walter passage note-for-note to illustrate a point. I not only didn't imagine his understanding to be so complete and perfect, I was flabbergasted that his playing could go there!

In speaking with a super-experienced guitar player recently, my hunch was confirmed - the 'space' I was hearing in a preferred band's performance he heard. The 'clutter' I heard in another band's cover was noted by him as well. The nuance (or lack of it) of every phrase did not escape his attention.

I notice the same thing in audiences. Those less familiar with Blues music often think of a much broader variety of musical styles a "Blues" whereas an experienced musician will have a highly developed understanding of Blues music - and may also be a more discriminating listener in terms of what a likes.

So I have 2 pieces of advise for newer players:

  1. Practice listening objectively. Whether you have to use a tuner to assure your notes are on pitch, or the acoustics of your bathroom to hear the reflection of your playing, or even recording your playing so you can review it side by side with the target piece, find ways to hear your playing objectively. Also, practice listening. Listen for timing vagaries, pitch variables, and nuance. Then try to play.
  2. Have a more experienced player offer (gentle) critique of your playing. Don't ask him/her to listen to a solo you made up, or your 'style' of vamping over changes. Pick a specific solo to learn and master, and find an experienced player to let you know how close you got. While you're working on that solo piece, record it so you can hear what others hear.