There are many paths to a career in music, but the competition can be fierce. Don’t let that put you off though. We are all capable of attaining much greater levels of than we can imagine. In most cases our limitations tend to be psychological rather than physical. These are known as self limiting beliefs. A personal example came from learning to play a classical guitar piece that had wide stretches. I played it to a friend, who commented on how amazing it was that I could play the guitar at all… WITH SUCH SHORT FINGERS!!! From that day onwards I started to struggle with the stretches in all the pieces I played.
I mentioned my concerns to my guitar teacher. Did he think I was capable of one day becoming a concert guitarist? He looked a little surprised at the question. Of course not! Your fingers are far too short. Sadly I believed him, until I realized that I could play more or less anything I wanted, provided I stopped worrying about having small hands. The problem is that if you believe you cannot do something, this then becomes your new reality and can act as a glass ceiling to progress.
It would seem that there are two main paths to becoming a professional guitarist. The first is the academic and traditional route. You start off by learning Spanish or Classical guitar and reading music. You learn to play progressively more difficult pieces and can choose to go through the exam grading system.
Once you achieve grade 8, have your GCSE in music and with certificates in hand, you apply to one of the music colleges and take your degree. Then afterwards, go out and join the unemployment line whilst looking for a job that will actually pay you some money. A few of these students, (and I am talking lottery winning statistics), will go on to become concert guitarists and give recitals to half empty halls, unless they happen to be called John Williams.
Now I know that was a rather gloomy assessment, but my point is that you need to really think about where you see yourself in the future. It is no good becoming really good at climbing the ladder, if it is leaning against the wrong wall.
My recommendation is to start with the end in mind. Where do you see yourself playing in 5 to 10 years time? Who is going to be your audience? If your answer is, just Mum, Dad and a few friends, then you need not worry. However, if you want to earn a living playing, then this is going to be challenging. The problem with classical guitar is that despite its attractive tone and vast repertoire, there are few opportunities open to these guitarists in the commercial world. There are simply no orchestral places for classical guitarists.
A better way forward is to use your knowledge of the classical guitar to then develop skills as a commercial guitarist playing electric as well as acoustic. If you can read music well, you increase the opportunities available for session work, both in the pop and rock recording as well as the broadcast industry. Some cruise ships have house bands that have a seat for a guitarist and there are some positions within the theatre industry, playing in the pit orchestra for modern musicals, for example. You don’t need a college degree to get these jobs, you simply need to be able to demonstrate ability and have experience. If you are lucky, you may find yourself playing in a band that has some chart success, but I would warn against making this the foundation of your career plans.
To sum up. If you are planning on buying a house and starting a family, you may want to consider whether or not the kind of income you can earn later as a professional guitarist is going to be sufficient for your needs. For a fortunate and talented few, there are well paid opportunities, but I would add that the ability to read guitar tabulature is not going to help in any professional guitar post! So learn to read music and start right now!