I don’t have a good intro, so I’m just gonna tell you what I’m gonna do! I’m going to tell you some truth. You won’t like it. If you think I’m wrong, prove it. Prove to me you’re going to learn to play the guitar by learning to play.
Here’s a sorta lesson type thing.
Some Sort of Fancy Title!
I get asked about learning to play the guitar, with great frequency. I’d estimate I get asked about, or someone tells me they plan to, four or five times per week – and that’s just online. I gotta sorta-family member that tells me this every day, sometimes twice a day.
I’m skeptical. I’m very skeptical. You’re more likely to spend too much money, or too little money, and you’re gonna end up with a wall hanger. It’s okay, guitars make great decoration. Then you get married, your decoration goes into storage, and you lament having never actually put the hours in to learn how to play the guitar.
First, don’t buy an expensive guitar. Don’t buy a cheap guitar, either. The cheapest you can go is Ibanez. Well, in that quality line. They’re playable across the price spectrum.
Don’t come to me with your 7 year old child and a $25 Box Store ‘kids guitar’ and tell me that you promised your kid that I’d give them lessons. It will not be a pretty scene and your child will almost certainly be embarrassed for you.
I have taught people to play. No, I will not teach you how to play. Not a chance. No, you can’t come here and study at my feet. No, I don’t care how good you think I am – nor do I give a shit that you think I’m wise, devilishly handsome, and have a penis that people should sing odes to. I’m still not going to teach you how to play guitar.
I will teach some people, but not you.
You do not want me as a teacher. I’m not nice.
Second, I recommend that you start with classical, flamenco, or American folk. Yes, I’m aware of the difficulty of those genres. Yes, I know you can get a chord book and a bunch of songs. That’s fine. It’s just not learning guitar.
It’s also a horrible path to learning to play the guitar. You’ll learn all sorts of horrible habits that you’re going to need to unlearn just to get good.
In the short period between Christmas of 1968 and taking lessons officially, starting just two or three weeks later, I bought a “Teach Yourself Guitar” book and a chord bible. All these years later, I still have the tendency to use three fingers to make an A chord, instead of using the barre and learning to make it clean and the E ring true.
I can’t unlearn it. It makes some songs much more difficult because I’ve learned bad form. I’ve tried. I can force myself to forget and learn a song that way. I can barre that thing clean. I just don’t do it if I get sloppy or if I’m just noddling around the fretboard.
That’s a bad habit. Don’t learn them and you won’t have to forget them.
Third, it’s all about muscle memory. That’s why I say practice. I’m going to do some math!
A low estimate is that I average 2 hours per day, for fifty years. It’s a low estimate, it’s actually probably closer to three or maybe four.
2x365x50 = 36,500.
On weekends, I may have a guitar in my hand (throughout my life) 6 hours per day. When I was younger, I may have put eight hours in – every day that I could.
It’s not an unrealistic estimate to say that I have 40,000 hours of practice/playing. I usually aim for 1/2 my playing time to be practice time. That’s doing drills, running scales, doing chord progressions in different places, and things like that. I’ll practice different attacks for hours.
I wasn’t born being able to play guitar. I was born and then developed an interest in music, and then a passion for playing. I wanted to get good, so I devoted a good part of my life to mastering the instrument. I didn’t start with any more skill than you have.
In fact, I was a pretty shitty player. I figure it was a decade before I was even any good. Sadly, I performed long before that decade was out. Let me just apologize for that now.
Fourth, as i mentioned above, it takes countless hours of your life – if you want to master your instrument. If you’re fine just learning a few chords, you can do that and get good at that. Hell, you might even be able to play those chords better than me! However, I can tell you *why* they are harmonic chords and *why* they are the way they are.
As I have mentioned, I have a current student. You know what I made her demonstrate? Lots of interest and continued asking without me encouraging her. I told her no, many times. Eventually, she picked up the guitar on her own and started playing with it. I showed her a few things and then she came back a few days later, repeated what I’d shown her, and asked for something new.
Now, the damned hoodlum has claimed two of my guitars and is eyeballing a very, very nice old Les Paul Studio. Meh… I’ll probably give it to her. I’m a sucker for a pouting face that looks on with askance. I’ll figure out one that I don’t have an attachment to and pass it on to her – but only after she’s been at it for years. Right now, she plays an Ibanez SomeModelNumber acoustic/electric and a Yamaha Classic Grand Concert. The GC is a bit pricey to learn on, but I had nothing better to loan and she’s since claimed it as her own.
She took PRS Private Stock model off the rack. I was a nervous wreck. It’s my mistake. She asked if she could play it. I thought she was pointing at the McCarty SG 594 beside it. She was not. She’s maybe a three month student and I’ve not yet taught her a single song. I probably won’t even attempt to teach her a song for another three months.
Why? Because I don’t believe her. Well, I believe what she says is what she believes, but I don’t believe her. She says she wants to master the art and learn everything there is to know about the guitar. (In redneck teen-girl speak, so throw in fewer “Rs” and an ayuh. Just kidding. I treat her as though she’s my own daughter and I’m not even shagging the mother!)
I don’t believe you, either. When you say you’re going to learn to play guitar, I roll my eyes. I’m polite and I encourage you to do so – but I sure as fuck don’t believe you. Let’s just say that the statistics bear this out.
You might think you’re going to learn – but you’ll find out that it’s difficult and sometimes even painful. (Yet another reason to start on nylons.)
Finally, if you are going to do it – hurry up and do it. You’re running out of time. Life is short, play hard and learn everything. Do everything to the best of your ability and fuck ’em if they can’t take a joke. (This has been a surprisingly successful model to live my life by. I’m really not that complicated.)
Practice! I want two hours a day out of you. If you can only play for 30 minutes a day, set half that time to learning a new skill. Do that whole skill until you master it. Learn an attack. Learn different harmonic techniques. Learn to modulate the sound with your fretting hand. Learn to mute. Learn to do a chord clean. Do JUST that for half the time you’re sitting there with a guitar in your hands. Most importantly, do it every single day. Even when you don’t want to.
You CAN do this. It’s just going to take some time, effort, and dedication.
I’m not writing this to dissuade you. I’m writing it because I’m hoping you have the time, effort, and dedication to master the art of guitar playing. Hell, I’d prefer it if you went and bought a great guitar and then gave it up three months later. That’s how I filled a goodly portion of my collection!
Seriously, don’t spend $2,500 on your first guitar. I’m the only one on the planet that will give you near retail price for it. You’re gonna get like $250 in a pawn shop. (I gotta stop telling people this. This is how you end up with a giant guitar collection.)
In fact, from buying guitars that people quit playing, and buying from other collectors, that’s how I have often gotten many of my guitars. New guitarists are great for the serious players. They’re always selling shit. In a great internal conflict, I’m sorta overjoyed when someone with nice gear says, “I quit!”
“So, umm… How much for that amp?” Sometimes, that’s responded to with a hearty middle finger. That’s when you know they didn’t really quit. Also, no… I won’t sell your guitar back to you. I don’t sell guitars. Y’all can buy that amp back at the same price, however. I have too many amps already!
I mince no words. I’m pretty horrible and you’re gonna suck as a guitarist until you play long enough to get good. Do it. Don’t just tell me you’re going to do it. Impress me. Impress yourself. Learn a skill that will last you a life time. The guitar is great, because you get out of it exactly what you put into it. It only lets you down when you let it down.
Anyhow, thanks for reading this. I hope you get something from it. I’m going to publish this as a post and then, maybe, later publish it as its own page – with some of that there fancy editin’ stuff. Maybe… Seriously, time is lacking. It’s 08:00 on Sunday when I write this. I love that schedule feature. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song! (Preferably one with a bitchin’ solo.)