How your idols hold you back

The super stars of the music industry inspires millions to start playing. But they also inspire millions to give up. Most people are completely unaware of what happens when we idolize our role models. But I have encountered the destructive effects of this emotional pitfall time and time again:


We put our role models on a pedestal. We look up to them and view them as special and unique. That’s how they became our idols. But we can’t do one thing without also doing another:

We rarely think of someone as stupid without also seeing ourselves as intelligent.
We rarely think of someone as evil without also seeing ourselves as good.
We rarely think of someone as special without seeing ourselves as less special.

And we can’t put someone on a pedestal without putting ourselves at ground level.

There is absolutely nothing bad about having someone to look up to. Our idols are leaders that show us what’s possible. They show us what we humans can do when we apply ourselves.


The challenge occurs when the looking up to someone becomes a looking down on yourself. This doesn’t mean that you consciously see yourself as a human being of lesser worth, but merely that you don’t expect yourself to ever be able to build the skills of your idols.

And you cannot celebrate the idol and still see yourself as equally capable. Simply because that’s what the idolizing is about: The idol being more and better than you. Instead you practice regularly but never really apply yourself a hundred percent and your passion for music is experienced through your idol’s achievements, not your own.

In this way, we become a special kind of fan to our idols. We don’t just enjoy listening to Elvis, we dress up like him, act like him and sing like him and we enjoy celebrating our idol and the specialness he represents.

Through creating and believing in a special and eternally unique human being, we become a little special and unique, but only because we are his fans. Only because his light shines on us. Not because of us at all. Because of him.

And that is all good! – if you’re an Elvis fan…

Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley
Richard Nixon and Elvis Presley at the White House, 21st of December 1970


The massive sales success of signature model guitars confirms this point. This is our way (guitarists) of dressing up like our idols. Instead of wearing Elvis clothes we wear Joe Pass or Stevie Ray Vaughn guitars and enjoy the magic that seem to rub off.

But it does not build the skills you want, instead it keeps you from them…

[The only way in which our musical role models remain a clean source of inspiration and motivation is if we avoid idolizing them]

And how do you know if your favorite guitarist is a role model or an idol to you? That’s really easy:

If you can listen to people explain why they don’t like your role model or idol, without you getting the least bit upset or defensive, then you know it’s truly a role model and not an idol to you. If you spend a lot of time arguing and defending your role models, you are really defending yourself and your ideals when you could be practicing instead!

“I like avocado, but they have nothing to do with me so I don’t defend avocados when people say they absolutely hate them. Avocados are not idols to me.”

“I also like Elvis since he represents everything I value in life and so I defend him fiercely when someone says they hate him. There’s my idol…”

But this article is not about not being upset of defensive when someone mocks your role model and is not about not buying signature guitars. It’s not even about not turning your role model into an idol. It’s just a description of what tends to happen if you do.


What usually happens when we hear something like this is that we immediately start faking it. The next time someone says something bad about an idol of ours we feel the irritation and the urge to defend him or her, but then we pretend to be unaffected. But we are not! So no real change happened.

The productive way of making a change in this area is to manipulate your brain a little bit. You want to turn your idols into role models and here are some ways in which you can accomplish this:

1. Call them by their first name

From now on, turn Eric Clapton into just “Eric”. Turn Paco De Lucia into just “Paco”. If you do this enough this will move this person closer to your personal world and make them more down-to-earth thus removing some of the specialness. Because we normally call our friends by their first name and our idols by their full name, we can trick our brain to move them towards the friend category.

2. Think of them in everyday situations

Because we only hear from and watch our idols when they are “on” and not when they are “off” – the brain creates an unrealistic image of what this person is like. These people still look like s… in the morning. They still do the things that all mammals do and that does not look very attractive. Take a moment to imagine your favorite idol in everyday, ordinary situations in order to draw them closer to your world, the real world.

3. Imagine yourself sharing tips with your idol

Imagine yourself talking to your idols, but like friends, not like a god and her admirer.  Like two friends exchanging tips on guitar playing – in the future. This future image can both serve as a motivating future situation that might occur when you reach the right skill level, but it also turns the idol into a possible friend. A human being with the same interest as you.

Right now, you can spend 30 seconds on each of the points, take some action right away and start the process. Then write them on a post-it-note and place it so you will notice it when you’re doing the mammal thing in the powder room. One simple two minute action right now – and you have made a real change for the future.

How your idols hold you back

10 thoughts on “How your idols hold you back

  1. Gina says:

    My inspirations Eddie Van Halen and Angus Young are 2 horses of a different color but they inspire me to keep practicing. I don’t put them on a dais. Angus Young’s style is more geared to my current skill set. I could see myself sitting with him and jamming and picking his brain. I know I wouldn’t be nervous. He started out just like you and I!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Johannes says:

    Interesting read, I see your point.
    I have definatly been Idolizing some guitar players. It is a strange process, kind of unfair towards the idolized. The effects on the one who is idolizing concerning practicing behaviours are extremes. You sometimes feel like crap because you compare youself to him. That can be horrible painful, when you personaly identify with your guitar playing skills ( to some degree, we all do that, right?):
    But having an idol will also lead to fanatical practicing excesses. There are these phases, when you are absolutly convinced, that having malmsteen-esque skills will transform you into into something more than you could otherwise ever be. If my idol is a superhero, than i can be a superhero if i just get closer to him, right ?
    Sometimes, thinking like that might not be good for you on a psychological level, but a living with passion feels better than just waiting to grow older.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If you truly believe that you can achieve the same level of skill as the guitar player you look up to – and you feel like practicing all the time, then you’re set! Now you have a problem of a higher quality: Making sure you’re not hurting yourself in the process of practicing.


  3. Dennis Marto says:

    I’m playing guitars for years but thinking that someday I will get the level of Claus Levin is an utopy. Even 10% of what Claus can do is hard to get. Obviously day in day out I didn’t get the right exercises. But Claus you are right. Thinking that your “guitarhero” is “God”, will put yourself in a minor class and remains at the same level. No progressions guaranteed. :-).


    1. If you change the “some day” to “next year” and lean into the project like never before, practicing constantly with or without your guitar all day, while doing other things. Constantly focused on building your skills in what ever way possible then your brain and body will naturally adjust to it by increasing your skills. But you must have intense periods of obsessive focus. It’s better to practice 30 hours in one single week than 30 hours over 30 days. Most people do the latter and develop very slowly as a result. Thanks for the comment!


  4. PB says:

    GOOOD morning, your insights once again spread out far Beyond the “guitar world” and get into the daily living, that’s what makes you, in my opinion, one of the best “web teacher” out there, keep on posting

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My two guitar inspirations are Ace Frehley and Randy Rhoads… I fully admit that I used to idolize Randy Rhoads because his ability seemed so immense that I believed I would never be on that level of skill. This went on for years, until one day I decided to learn the solos to Mr. Crowley. While I cannot yet play them at the tempo that Randy did, I can play them. Now I look at the guitar work of these two inspirations as a source of information – I study what they did to create the music I like so that I can do something similar.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Instead of idolizing my “guitar heroes”, I listened to them and learned from them. This allowed me to gain knowledge from my guitar influences without become a carbon copy of them. The best example of this was studying from a guitar teacher who is known as the “Wizard of Shred”. The writer of this very blog. Claus. The truly awesome thing is that while his guitar playing and his lessons have an obvious Neoclassical influence, his lessons actually fit into my style of guitar playing and taught me more about being myself as a musician than being like Yngwie Malmsteen or anyone else. I highly encourage everyone reading this blog to take lessons from Claus. He can teach you the most important lesson that any guitar teacher can ever teach you- HOW TO BE YOURSELF on your own instrument. ^_^

    Rock on…
    D. Dlak

    Liked by 1 person

  7. For me it is tough not to idolize them. As I have told my friends, I am as good as I should be based on how much and disciplined I practice. So it is not my idol’s or favorite guitar players that are holding me back, it is my priorities and discipline. Thanks to information like these blogs and, ironically if you knew me, playing in a country band, I have been able to grow more in the last two years than in the previous ten. One thing that switching genre’s has done for me is allowed me to learn a whole new method of playing, but also know that my previous rock/blues/jazz roots allow me to be interesting in that genre. I am not as competitive to the point of self deprecation, but rather just excited to learn new ways of playing without the burden have feeling like I SHOULD know them by now.

    Anyway, now with the lessons from people like Claus, I am able to add a bit of speed and metal to my delivery and just enjoy learning without the burden of sounding like Vai or Morse or whoever because what I am playing right now is not the same anyway. Just a cool challenge of finding ways to inject a little metal into Nashville.

    Liked by 1 person

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