When I was young, I was often more impressed by a guitarist's chops than by the notes they were actually playing. I bought a Buddy Guy CD when I was about 14 and my favorite cut was "Let Me Love You Baby" because he played some sporadic bursts of notes on the guitar. I couldn't play those notes that fast, so he must be good. I had no idea what the blues were all about. Now I hear a cut like "I Cry And Sing The Blues" and am blown away by the few notes he plays between "Blues all in my bloodstream / Blues all in my home / Blues all in my soul" at just the right moments.
So what gives?
Beginners' initial task is to learn facility. Learn your scales, play them in a variety of patterns at blistering speeds. Transcribe solos or learn repertoire that challenges your technique, such as Coltrane's "Giant Steps" or the Bach cello suites. Just get the damn notes right. This part is easy to teach, easy to put on paper.
Difficult passages of music well executed are impressive. You have to put in hours of practice. The most novice listener understands this. So when you tell a 14 year old white kid from the suburbs to check out Buddy Guy, he's going to look for the parts he can understand. Lots of notes.
At some point, and I don't know if it's because of age or some sort of inner awakening, the task becomes getting the feeling right. Now you have to revisit the Coltrane and Bach passages and find the music behind those notes. Find the blues. This is the stuff that can't be taught.
I remember getting a solid grip on bebop, sometime after moving to Indiana as everything I'd absorbed at UNT started to make sense. It was like a switch went off in my head, and all of a sudden I could speak the language fluently. I'd go to a session and somebody would call a Charlie Parker tune and I'd tear that shit up. Rapid fire guitar. Yawn.
That's when I realized my journey as a musician had only just begun. Now I was a guitar player, but not a musician.
I figure I'll be working on getting the feeling right for the next 50 years, if I live that long. It's an exercise in patience. The only way to practice is to listen. Listen to others, then really listen to yourself. Transcribe feel, find the blues, play with nuance.