This is a controversial topic but in my experience I have noticed that playing in bands or being a performing artist can slowdown ones growth as a guitar player. I have come to this conclusion from my own experience and also observing several of my students who are regular performers. I was improving my guitar skills at a much slower speed when I was too busy performing compared to when I wasn’t. Same is true for the speed of improvement for my students who are performers vs who don’t.
This may sound quite paradoxical but the reasons are quite straightforward. When one is performing on a regular basis, a lot of the time and effort go into band practice, performance, travelling, sorting out logistics etc. One keeps playing the songs that are being performed for countless times and the growth from such repetition is diminishing and after a threshold, nothing new is learned or no skills get improved from playing those songs. Learning or composing new songs also fall within the comfort zone of the musician. One will use only the skills that are readily available to play the new song. If a new skill is required which is not known to the guitar player, he or she will either find an easier way to play that or completely avoid that. The reason is that acquiring a new skill requires not just a day or two of practice rather months, sometimes even years to get to a point to make it usable for recording. A performing musician doesn’t have the time or motivation to invest so much time to this and would rather perform or write songs as opposed to spending so much time learning something new or fixing a technical flaw of playing. The return from that is not immediate and we human beings are naturally driven by short term benefits over any long term ones.
I have noticed that with all my students who perform. They are just not interested (even if they say they are) to practice and fix any of the technical problems they have in their playing. Nor are they quick to learn new skills or new musical concepts as there is less time for that and more for playing/performing/writing songs. Same was true for me, when I was performing on a regular basis, I felt I was making big gains in my playing but on the hindsight, I know that I was not really making much of a progress and my playing was stuck at a certain level.
Of course few good things come from performance such as the ability to play with other musicians, stage smartness when performing live, the ability to interact with the audience etc and one can’t master these aspects by playing alone in his/her bedroom. The moral of all of this is that if you are not performing and genuinely working on your skills, technique and musical understanding, don’t think you are falling behind to someone who performs on a regular basis. You are actually making big gains if you do effective practice and working with an experienced mentor. If you are a performing artist, knowing these facts that performance can slowdown your growth as a musician, you can use this knowledge to ensure that despite all the business, you are dedicating some time everyday doing your own practice outside your involvement with the band. Practice that is solely dedicated to your playing and has nothing to do with the songs you perform. That way, you can enjoy the best of both worlds!