Last week I had lunch with a classmate who was a close friend during my growing up years. I was reminded of how much an inspiration he was to me after I first heard him play at elementary school. And reminiscing about our journey as kids trying to learn how to play guitar, I remembered how excited I was to figure out a top 40 hit or a riff from some player I really liked. As a raw beginner, it was so challenging to try and understand how the song went, not to mention the difficulty of figuring out the chord voicing and whether or not a capo was being used, or if the guitar was de-tuned, or even something more foreign to my fledgling ears.
How Badly Did I Want To Learn?
As long as I can remember (as far back as 4 or 5 years old), certain kinds of music would just grab my soul; almost an instant resonating with the beats and rhythms, and particularly the sound of the guitar. And it wasn’t simply an appreciation or enjoyment of the medium, but it seemed like an instant connection with the instrument and what it could feel like to hold it and strum it and hear the sound of the strings. But it wasn’t until I was 8 years old that I got my first guitar. There is a post about that experience on the site as well. Just do a search on ‘first guitar’.
So by then, the desire to play occupied my thoughts. It became more important than anything else I can remember. Countless hours were spent, listening to a little transistor radio with just a small arsenal of chords (that my Dad taught me) and trying my hardest to learn melodies, at best inefficiently on one string. I would learn as much as I could, but had to wait until the song was played again on the radio, then try and take up where I left off. I had to learn to be a quick study in order to make progress.
When I got a ‘stereo’ record player for my 17th birthday, I would camp out in my bedroom, picking up the needle and trying to place it precisely in the right location to listen to the song over and over again until I could sort of make out the lick or the chords. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I just wanted to do it; all the time.
Back then, there weren’t many other ways to learn popular songs. We didn’t have anything for recording but reel-to-reel tape. There was 8 track, but it was pretty new technology and you couldn’t record on it. Cassette recorders weren’t quite available yet.
I actually got pretty good at figuring out how to play songs and riffs; and even learning them the way they were played on the record. It didn’t matter how hard it was. I just wanted to play that badly.
A History Lesson
I didn’t realize until later, that this way of learning songs would make it more simple to do as an adult. Because we don’t have to throw away any guitar knowledge we get as we learn, our ears are progressively trained to identify voicing and segments of patterns, so songs and riffs are much easier to mimic. That skill was fixed in my mind before I turned 20.
For the young player going forward, I would encourage making the best use of your time before going to college, getting a job, marrying and having kids of your own. It’s more (not less) difficult to carve out the time to practice when we’re older.
How Do We Do It Today?
Are you kidding me? In today’s reality you can learn a guitar style for virtually any genre that exists; completely…… free. Obviously, this isn’t new information. There are countless videos, notation (even for more complex pieces), chord charts, online chord spellers (this is huge), teaching sites, even recorders that will slow down a riff without changing the pitch, and music theory concepts. You can specialize or become a virtuoso without leaving your home.
So, do you want it badly enough? It’s right in front of you, go get it for crying out loud!
Until next time…
Bill Maxwell has over forty years of guitar playing experience and over twenty years of teaching students how to master the fretboard.