You know damned well what you were getting into when you opened this.
Don’t blame me.
My creativity bone is still broken and I’ve decided that it was probably broken because I wasn’t having much fun. Well, it’s my site and I’m gonna have fun.
The other choice was going back to a Lessons About Performing that I wrote, and finishing that. I’ve got a few more slots to fill with that series, but I just don’t feel like writing it.
Don’t worry. I’ll get to it. It will have a finish! (Maybe…)
So, you know the drill… I’m pretty baked and I’m just going to write about what I want to write about. Today, I want to talk about another aspect of learning to play guitar, because I think some things need to be said.
What’s your actual goal?
You know, there are many fantastic guitarists that can’t read a bit of sheet music, or even tab?
Well, do you know what those people are? They’re exceptions. Unless you’re exceptional, it’s probably a good idea to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing.
But, do you actually want to perform with other musicians who read music or do session work?
If the answer is no, it’s possible for you to get by with out putting the time and effort in.
It’s possible for you to just have fun with only a few chords. Ain’t gotta learn much more than that to play a ton of Dead songs and passably fake hundreds more. Learn a few lead parts and you can passably entertain as a sole performing artist.
I think a fairly apt description is paint-by-numbers.
Sure, that’s pretty easy stuff – but have you seen some made by people who were actually good at it? They look nothing like my cartoonish childhood attempts at paint-by-number. They’re pretty damned good.
Here… I’ll show you…
Mine pretty much come out as impressionistic paintings, probably because I lost some paints along the way.
At the same time, there are three things I can draw really well. I sketch a pretty mean hand. But, I sure as shit couldn’t make that painting come out that nice, without a lot of learning. I might never be good at it and my previous experiences suggests that’s true.
So, playing tab is a bit like painting-by-numbers. It helps a lot if you know what you’re doing, but you can do just fine without it. I know quite a few people who play by ear and do so remarkably well.
I don’t prefer to. I consider that sloppy and expect better from my bandmates. There are exceptions where it’s okay to leave the script. It’s knowing when those exceptions should be that really matters. You can run a few songs together, extend a solo, or turn that same old Freebird into a 15 minute encore like a tired (but much loved) cliche.
That’s allowed. We do allow ourselves some indulgences, but that’s the exception and they’re usually quite well rehearsed.
So, there’s a whole spectrum…
Where do you want the guitar to take you? What’s your actual end goal?
Where you want to end up is how you decide the path you should take.
I won’t even say that my way is the right way. I will say that doing it my way has better odds at getting paid. There are also many other benefits, including a large number of people who come see you – even if they mostly forgot your name by Monday.
But, is that your goal?
If that’s not your goal, then do what you want and don’t let me tell you any different. You don’t have to do all that.
I will push folks towards it. It’s my own bias. I will urge every player to try to master their instrument. I will urge every player to understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. I would urge every player to develop good habits instead of trying to spending a lifetime unlearning bad habits.
But, it really depends on what your goals are. If you just want to learn to play a dozen songs passably well, you can even do that. You won’t even need to learn to read tab to do it, at least not with any great proficiency.
Everyone has a tuner, but I still urge people to learn to tune their guitar to itself, and to another instrument. I still urge people to learn how to tune with harmonics. You don’t need to learn that. You can just use a tuner and be right – every time. Which is why I say use a tuner, by the way.
I still strongly believe that people should learn classical guitar, acoustic of course, in the traditional manner. I think that should be the foundation, because it has, in my experience, made moving to other genres pretty easy.
I will say that the electric guitar is very different from an acoustic, so you may not even want to learn to ever play an acoustic. You don’t have to.
You never have to pick up an acoustic and learn it. You never have to learn music theory. You never have to even learn the layout of your fingerboard.
I’m still going to urge that you do all those things, and more. It has been my experience that doing so will open many doors to you. You will experience many things you’d have otherwise never experienced.
I usually take at least one guitar with me when I travel. There’s always a set that has an open seat, somewhere. You don’t even have to speak the same spoken language, because you share the language of music. Sometimes, they’ll even know the English words and you end up doing a Journey cover at a cafe in some city’s Little Greece – and they know the words!
It’s a beautiful journey and you can make music a very big part of your life.
Having been on this journey, this grand misadventure that left me sore, tired, and with good stories… How the hell can I not urge someone to do it?
It’s a lot of damned work and odds are not in your favor with regards to making any serious money at it. It’s possible to make a good income, but that’s relatively unlikely – and I’ve posted the actual numbers before. I have shown you the data, of exactly how poor these job prospects are for performing musicians! It’s horrible…
But, it’s also awesome…
Man, the benefits are pretty good. Sometimes, people will randomly give you drugs. Sometimes, they’ll sit right there and feed ’em to you, pretty much. I’ve seen more titties than a bouncer at a strip bar.
Well, that’s a slight exaggeration. I’ve seen a whole lot of titties, however.
Shit, I’ve played in bars where a couple (more than once) just started having sex in the corner. I’ve seen so many bandmates nude or in the act of coitus. It’s not nearly as much fun as it sounds like it is.
I guess this ties back to music being best when shared.
But, that’s not required. I bet the world’s greatest guitarist is some unknown 12 year old kid who has played guitar in their basement for the past 7 years. That wouldn’t even remotely surprise me.
You’ll see some great shit as a musician, including finding unknown people who are insanely good. Wait until you sit a bluegrass set at an open mic night. I’m not kidding. That’s where I’ve seen the greatest concentration of good guitar players.
In college, one of my buddy’s sisters had an exchange student from the USSR. He played guitar – and wasn’t all that bad. We taught him Born In the USA. I sometimes wonder if us doing so meant he went to Siberia. This was during the Cold War, obviously.
It’s an awesome ride and to experience playing with other people is probably one of the greatest joys a musician can experience. Performing for other people is pretty awesome, as well. Getting paid to do so is even more awesome.
Hell, you can stand on a street corner and play – and someone will give you money. I’ve had people hear my playing and decide to come join in playing with me. I’ve made great friends, had many wonderful relationships, and still have great relationships with many more.
They’re things I’d have not experienced, if it weren’t for being able to play my guitar well.
So, what’s your goal? What do you want to experience?
Finally, I’m not even a little sorry that I wrote this. Nope. Once again, I ain’t even gonna proofread it. I’m probably about over my pissy fit and ready to get back to writing soon. Until then, you’re stuck with this – or the one article that I’ve had in the queue for a long time. (It’s not very good.)
I hope you at least find it interesting. If not, check back tomorrow. Or not… The title should let you know exactly what you’re in for. I’ll get past this soon enough. Until next time…
Shut up and play us a song!