September 06, 2006
Originally Posted Januray 30 2006
I've played a lot of guitars lately that sell for less than $200 and play like a dream. Ask jimbo about the one I picked out for him as an emergency back-up to his Gibson. I haven't heard him complain yet. I wish that I had started on one of those decent guitars. Learning to play would have been so much easier that way. Some people say that suffering builds strong character. If that's true, I ought to have character out the wazoo from playing that Silvertone.
After I taught myself to play some chords and strum with a flat pick, I decided that I wanted to learn how to finger-pick, too. I was heavily influenced by Paul Simon and Gordon Lightfoot in those days, so I listened to what they did and tried to copy it.
I had a cheap stereo in my room and my turntable had a 16 2/3 RPM setting on it. I played 33 1/3 RPM records on the 16 2/3 setting so that I could hear the individual notes better than at actual speed. No shit--- that's how I learned to finger-pick.
I also played drums at the time in a famous Rock & Roll band called "Snake and the Reptiles." Richard English was our lead guitar player (his nickname was "Snake," hence the name of the band) and I used to watch carefully everything he played on his Fender Mustang. After band practice or after a gig, I went home and tried to copy what he did.
Later, I was lucky enough to meet some pretty good guitar players and I learned a lot from them, too. The key ingredient to the entire process was simple: I really WANTED to learn to play guitar and I worked my ass off at it.
Here is my advice for beginners:
1) Start with a decent guitar. Learning to play is difficult enough without handicapping yourself with a Chinese Torture Contraption for an instrument. You don't have to spend a ton of money to buy a good guitar today, so get one to start with.
2) Be patient. If you can't handle frustration, don't even THINK about learning to play ANY musical instrument. Remember what my daddy always told me: "If it was easy, any asshole could do it." As a baby, you crawled before you walked and you walked before you ran. It's the same process when you pick up a guitar for the first time. You didn't learn to run overnight and you won't learn to play guitar overnight, either. (Even if you DO sleep with your guitar under your bed.
3) PRACTICE!!! Taking a lesson once a week isn't enough. Play until your fingers hurt, then play some more. Repeat. Then repeat again.
4) Never be shy about sitting down to play with people who are a lot better than you are. You can learn a lot that way. Also, I've seldom met guitar players who weren't willing to help a beginner, because they remember what those days were like themselves.
5) Study music theory. I played clarinet in my school band for a couple of years and I was fortunate to have a good teacher who believed in pounding music theory into my young head. Music is downright mathematical once you understand how it's put together.
Okay, that's enough. I think I'm working on my lesson plans by blogging when I should have a guitar in my hands. I've got a "Guitar For Beginners" DVD I need to watch a few more times before I start my first class. (I'm hoping to be a GOOD teacher.) Besides, I shouldn't be giving this stuff away for free when I can get paid for doing it.
If you want to learn to play guitar, sign up for one of my classes.
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