My mother used to holler down to the basement: “Stop! Stop!” You see, I was 15 and had spent my paper route money on an Epiphone steel string guitar and only knew how to play two chords: Em and Am.
So, I’d go back and forth on these two easy chords for what must have seemed like hours to my mother. I just banged away trying to make it sound like Neil Young or Justin Hayward.
Evidently it wasn’t working. When even your mother doesn’t like it, you know it’s bad.
That is how my musical quest to master the guitar began. It has been a very long, and mostly slow process, but now I can play the darn thing!
From Zero To One Hundred In Too Many Years
Have you ever felt like you were never going to become as good a guitar player as you dreamed of? Of course you have, we all have, and probably still do feel that way! Truth is, learning to play the guitar is a never-ending journey. So relax a bit and enjoy the ride!
Looking back, I think I approached this in a backward way. Rather than actually allowing myself to be taught (AKA instructions or lessons), I decided to go my own way and learn by doing. Not that this is a bad method, but, as even the best discover, at some point you need to be taught by others.
After my initial basement jam sessions with my imagination I went to college and met Brent, a good flatpicker from Ohio. He introduced me to the music of Doc Watson and bluegrass; I was blown away and was drooling to be able to play like that.
Brent played in a pretty good local bluegrass band and knew what he was doing; it was in his blood from childhood. Not me though; he tried to show me licks and runs, but all I managed was the G-run and how to play “Ripple”, by the Grateful Dead.
Enter The Thought Police And Creativity Killers
In my teen years I had a Christian conversion experience (which I really needed and benefitted from, and still do). However, in my search for a community that was actually trying to make the world a better place I ended up in a fundamentalist church where outside music was basically banned. Nobody actually said so, but everyone knew not to listen to or play “worldly” music.
Somehow I didn’t think Doc Watson, Celtic, and bluegrass music was all that worldly. I mean, it is folk music, music of the people, by the people and for the people. It was mostly about the tunes anyway and these tunes are certainly not going to seduce anyone away from being a virtuous believer!
My love of music, and guitar in particular, put me at odds with the hierarchy and so I had to just pursue my playing quietly at home. Once in a while I would meet a like-minded church member with whom I could play, but the frowns and glares killed any enjoyment. Sad, but true.
I Finally Figured Out How To Get Better At Playing Guitar
One Saturday I took a trip to a local music store to see if there was any instructional material there to help me. You see, a friend invited me to a bluegrass jam session and I discovered that I knew a lot of licks and pieces of tunes, but could not actually play one alone, much less sing and play. I needed to learn more.
I found a great guide by the awesome guitarist, Dan Crary and noticed it was for intermediate players. I thought that was me, after all, I’d been playing the thing for a long time. When I tried playing along with the cd the only note I got right was the last one: G!
Soon I learned about Homespun tapes and discovered an entire world of instructional material that was inexpensive and easy to use. I immediately bought a Doc Watson and Steve Kauffman program and set about learning. As much as I loved this session, it was still too advanced, so I got the Steve Kaufman Parking Lot Pickers set and finally started making real progress, as a beginner.
Jamming Your Way To Becoming A Better Guitarist
Now that I could at least “hold my own” and sing and play a little bit I started venturing out to some local guitar jams. I was lucky; we had several good ones close to home and they were open to players of all levels.
When I got up the courage to sing and play for the first time I was so nervous! I’d practiced “Blue Ridge Mountain Blues”, Doc Watson style and was confident. I did pretty well, except for singing out of tune on the chorus and crashing halfway through. But, it was a big step and I have not looked back since.
I went to as many jams as I could manage, often lurking in the background and trying to learn from the others. When I noticed something in my playing was lacking, such as the time I was told that I was “dragging”, I tried to improve by practicing. In that case the nasty metronome was the answer.
Jams have their own etiquette and it is important to learn and respect this. People who continually step on other’s toes are soon avoided. I’ve seen it happen and violated a few unspoken rules myself, and was told so by my friends. Jam etiquette is a topic for another time, however.
Now it’s time to take your guitar playing to the next level
I want to help you take your guitar playing to the next level by providing you with a plan and an instructor. If you are serious about mastering the guitar, this is the fastest way and the least frustrating. It is also the most fun and you will begin meeting people you never even knew existed.
Sure, we all know about the ton of free videos on the internet. I’ve used them and learned quite a bit myself. But there is no substitute for following a plan that has worked for many others just like you. Some might think you will just become some kind of copycat, robotic, trained monkey of a guitar player. That’s bullshit!
In reality, you really can’t develop your own distinctive style until you master at least the basics. You have to get some of the mechanics down correctly in order to lay a good foundation for later improvisation and jamming.
Anybody can learn a bunch of riffs and licks, like I did, but it isn’t really music. Making music is art and you need a solid foundation to truly make progress. There is no better way than following a plan, a curriculum if you will. But the best part of the plan is that you actually get an instructor that you can interact with.
Let me explain about the instructor: my instructor is a master guitarist. I watch him play on video and can loop it to play along over and over and over and over again. Once I get it, I can record myself and he listens to it, gives tips and advice in another video sent to me, personally. How cool is that? I can listen and watch it as much as I want.
I could go on and on about this cool way to learn how to play and master guitar. The first thing he showed me was how to hold the guitar, duh? Turns out I was holding it wrong! I kid you not. My volume increased dramatically simply by moving it away from my body. A well meaning friend had instructed me to hold it close against my body so I could feel the music, which made sense. Trouble was, people were always complaining that they couldn’t hear me. As soon as I moved the body of the guitar away from mine the volume increased. Try it. Now I get complaints that I’m too loud! Go figure.