Gut Rumbles

September 06, 2006

Originally Posted Januray 30 2006

Playing Guitar

Since I am soon to become a teacher, I've been thinking a lot about how I learned to play guitar. I've never had a formal lesson in my life. I started with a Mel Bay chord book and a $19 Silvertone guitar (with a neck like a pine log, heavy-gauge Black Diamond strings and action that was pure torture). That's how I know about the "WANT TO" factor. If I learned to play on the monstrosity I started with, I had to want it bad. I DID, too.

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.


... I think I actually learned how to play, albeit it rather poorly, on or around the day he died ...

Just curious, Sam, or anybody who reads this .... did his lessons ever materialize?

Posted by: erica on September 6, 2006 02:30 PM

I'm late to what you are doing, but reposting Rob's analyses is a wonderful idea. In My Humble Opinion, Rob was the brainiest blogger extant. His vacuum will not quite ever be filled, a lesson about individuality and the human's confrontation with reality, imho. Yet he persists.

Posted by: Ga-ne-sha on September 6, 2006 11:29 PM

Rob called me from Willie's store. "Jimbo, I found you a guitar. It's a beauty and plays like a dream." He played it over the phone.


I loved it from the first time I put my hands on it, but now it is very special to me.


Posted by: Jim - PRS on September 7, 2006 04:41 AM

I always wanted to see him play in person. Didn't happen, but Da Goddess still has the mp3s at the top of her sidebar for those who want to hear him play.

My Door is Always Open.

Long Black Veil.

Still makes me a little misty to listen. He was a fine musician.

Posted by: Libby on September 7, 2006 06:15 PM

Erica, he did not ever teach anyone , Cat

Posted by: Catfish on September 7, 2006 11:06 PM

I did "Long Black Veil" in Jekyll, and Rob and his brother Dave did the harmony parts. I remember joking at the end of the tune, "Well, that one's ready for wax".


Posted by: Jim - PRS on September 8, 2006 05:49 AM

We had set it up for Rob to give guitar and mandolin lessons at my house in conjunction with my store, but he was constantly ill in one manner or another after he got out of Willingway. I have played with Rob and his brother Dave since the early seventies.I loved playing with Rob every chance I could get. When he lived two houses down from me on the mini farm we played at least twice a week and some times more often than that. It was great to have a friend and musician the caliber of Rob to play with every day. We had some great jams with lots of other musicians at his and my houses during that same period. I thought that the picking party after his memorial service was quite approriate. He would have loved it.

Posted by: Willy on September 8, 2006 08:53 AM

All of your comments merit a million "... Just Damns."

I saw some excellent footage of the picking party, with Dave leading John Prine's "Souvenirs" ... it was breathtaking ... especially given - I thought, at least - the resemblance between the two.

I like to think that Rob's spirit, or sumthin', was most definitely there that day ... and I certainly can't imagine a better way for a guy like Rob to have been sent off ... sounds as close as one could get these days to the Viking funeral he wrote that he wanted.

Posted by: erica on September 9, 2006 01:48 PM
Post a comment

*Note: If you are commenting on an older entry, your
comment will not appear until it has been approved.
Do not resubmit it.