One of the things I truly try to stress to students is the fact that you should never try to know too much, too fast. Or a better way to put it is to say, “Be happy with what you already know!” I mean, I can remember maybe only knowing a few riffs or positions on the guitar, and being so overjoyed with that I could even describe it! Of course, I was also learning and developing a great ear at a rapid rate, but I believe in getting the most out of whatever you know at that particular time on the guitar. If you think about it, that’s a great way to keep “moving forward” in your learning process; to always nearly exhaust everything that’s possible within what you know, so you can then move on to the next level.
It’s amazing how simple some folks can stay, and how much they can derive success from it. One time, John Prine actually said to me, “Arlen, can you teach me a new chord so I can write another song?!” If that doesn’t say it all, nothing does! This also follows suit in terms of my ability to teach, because it seems that the minute I knew something on the guitar, I right away wanted to teach it to others! That process also only helps to improve your playing, as I’ve always learned more and more from the act of teaching!
So, in the truest sense of the word, really be happy with what you know. Make as much music as you can with as little need for complexity as possible, and you’ll always make good music. I can even remember instantly writing a song with the first 4-chord progression I knew, and loving it. It’s the creative process you always want to nurture, and training your ear that is the best outcome of any work you do. Always do the best you can, with as little or as much as you know….remember, it’s all in the “plus” column!