9 Things Skateboarding Legend Rodney Mullen Can Teach You About Playing Guitar

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Rodney Mullen

Rodney MullenSkateboarding pioneer Rodney Mullen is an artist in the same way that you guitarists reading this are artists. Over decades, he’s invented a vocabulary of skateboarding tricks and techniques that formed an entire style – a testament to his dedication and a perpetually restless, creative spirit.

Check it out: here’s the man doing what he loves.

Mind you, I have no knowledge of skateboarding (except for some childhood stitches), but I was blown away by Mullen’s art. Then a skater friend linked me to a video of Rodney Mullen speaking about creativity and success, and every word spoke to me as a musician.

Endless Creation

“I fell in love with skateboarding because it was individual; there were no teams, there were no captains, there was nothing to perfect. No style that had to be measured. It was completely opposite of what I saw in so many sports. It was creative. And to this day, that’s what I love, that’s always kept me back to it because it’s endless creation.”

Do you feel discouraged when you hear a guitarist who’s got more skill than you? If so, part of you is treating guitar like a competitive sport, like it has winners and losers. There are now so many guitarists on this planet that the instrument has become quite crowded–and because it’s so crowded, in some ways we really are competing to be heard.

There will always be some guitarist who’s better at some technique than you. And somewhere in a bedroom in America or Indonesia or maybe Germany, there’s a dude practicing right now, and pretty soon his fingerboard tapping technique will trump yours.

So what? Seek to express yourself with the guitar, and nobody can touch you.

Guitar is individual. There are no teams, there are no captains.


By repeatedly hyper-extending his leg over decades of skateboarding, Mullen started growing scar tissue in his hip, and the repetitive motion began threatening to grind the head off the bone. So he went to the doctor, learned how the scar tissue grew, and tore it out of himself by putting his leg in the wheel well of his car, grabbing the undercarriage, and putting enough pressure on the joint of his hip to rip the scar tissue–13 nights out of 14, he did this. For two years.

Um, yeah, I guess if Mullen can bring himself to tears by ripping scar tissue from the inside of his hip almost every night for two years, I suppose I can muster the determination to do my theory homework…

Smash the pedestals

“I read about the pros and I thought that they were so good! But…they’re just people. You read about them and they seem like Gods.”

This is true of our favorite guitarists, too. Everybody has their flaws, their struggles, their fears and doubts. The most dangerous thing about idolizing any musician you admire is that it creates an artificial mental barrier between you and them. To be a successful musician, you don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be born with some kind of mark of greatness–you just have to pay your dues, as your idols did.

Love the simple things

A fan of Mullen’s has just scrapped his old career in favor of a new one in a field he loves: computer programming. But he’s frustrated with his entry-level job. Here’s Mullen’s advice:

“Go back to very basic things. No one has it all. You are entering, in one form or another, a very competitive area…. love the simple things. Don’t expect to be put in any special place… nobody’s going to hoist you to the top, no matter what–unless you prove yourself. Learn the movements for the sake of the movements, and love those movements.”

There are times when you may feel discouraged and unappreciated as a guitarist. You may feel like it’s going to take forever to be able to live up to your own ambitions.

Don’t let it bother you–learn to enjoy the struggle of trying to learn those scales, build strength in your hands, and grow a fanbase. Remember when you could only play for a few minutes at a time before your fingertips would start to hurt? What if you had given up then?

Don’t give up now, either. Guitar is a process.

Know what you love

“I grew up on a farm… I was extremely introverted. I only focused more and more on my skating. If there’s one thing I can say, it’s that I found what I loved and I knew it.”

If you love the guitar, show it. Repay it with your time and focus, and the rewards will only get richer.

On the pressure to “Do something with your life”

In a Speech at UCLA:

“[My parents] had a lot of expectations for me. I wasn’t at all what they wanted or expected in terms of what I did with my life and what they gave me. And that was a struggle throughout that probably solidified my character.”

I’m sure that sounds familiar to more than a few of we long-haired rock guitarists.

Success isn’t always good for your music.

“I see so many people with so much talent and all these attributes I wish I had, and they get what they want whether it be money or fame or whatever they idealize… and then they just stop; they won’t run, they won’t chase anymore. And it somehow robs them of the joy of doing what they did.

“Who are you? What is your distinct contribution? That is so valuable whether it gets you anything or not. Trophies? Doesn’t matter. If you know you did it, that’s what keeps you going, you know? Success is illusive.”

On performance and rehearsal

“Some people really rise to competition. When all eyes are on, they do things they could never do… I’m the opposite. I just shut down. So to do well, I had to work extra hard.”

It helps to know whether you are the type that thrives in live situations. If so, get out there as much as you can! If you’re more like Rodney and tend to freeze up when you know people are watching, like him you’ll have to work extra hard, rehearse, and develop performance skills to help you cope.

Love it.

“I can’t wait to wake up and try something new. I can’t sleep at night because I want to try something new.”

Some people never find something they can be this passionate about–if you love music and love the guitar, you’re luckier than much of the population. So crank it up! Stay up late. And keep having a good time.

Quotes from:

Rodney Mullen Interview, 2003 Slamtrick Italy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ekzjzFFE_pY

Rodney Mullen and Tony Hawk Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v2xWBlfr1h0

Rodney Mullen Interview: (Removed from YouTube since this article was posted)

Rodney Mullen at UCLA: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_6MJJMvwO0


Nicholas Tozier

Nicholas Tozier is a book hoarder and songbird from the woods of Maine. In 2012 he made a small cameo in Songwriting Without Boundaries by Berklee professor Pat Pattison, and was named one of CDBaby’s top 10 Songwriting Resources to follow on Twitter.

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