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I Used To Think...

Thursday, August 18, 2011
This is a promoted topic from our Student Support Forum. The author is slwiegel and the post has become one of the most encouraging posts we have for beginners to keep practicing. Thanks slwiegel for your post and permission to promote it to the blog.

I Used To Think...

by slwiegel

...that I was too old to play guitar. But in doing research on how to learn to play guitar I came across a forum with a codgety old timer who goes by the handle JWells. I am only nearing fifty - he has me by several years and plays well. I now realize what a silly excuse that was.

...that the fingers on my left hand were going to fall off after working on "simple" excercises in Session 1. I mean, it takes a lot of pressure to hold down that string - surely there is some simpler way to accomplish this. Now the only thing that bothers me are full note bends on the bottom string - and I have to play a lot of them to have any discomfort.

...that my fingers and mind would never be able to play the songs in Session 1 at 60 bpm. I mean, I had to THINK about every movement, what exactly is that note I see, where is that note I am supposed to play, when is that beat going to hit, dang missed it again, now I have less time to find the next note. I now play Jingle Bells and Ode to Joy at any speed I choose in five different places on the guitar.

...that because my goal was to be a bedroom blues player I didn't really need to spend any time learning how to read music. I mean, the great blues players SURELY never learned to read music - and there are lots of tabs out there. Session 4 was a bit torturous for me because of this attitude. I did think that I had chosen the wrong course more than once during this period. I now know that understanding musical syntax was a critical first step for me to be able to understand the music that I hear on a daily basis. Without notes - you won't have understandable scales; without scales you will never gain an appreciation for intervals and the relationships between notes; without this musical understanding - you will simply be one of those guys who, when he hears a cool new riff, has to ask "Hey - how do you play that." While I am still early in my journey with the guitar - I can now watch Steve play lots of different things and UNDERSTAND exactly what he is doing musically (I still can't play some of it though...). I can hear and UNDERSTAND exactly which power chords are used in my favorite rock songs. WOW - Using Steve's method I don't need Tab, I just need to play a little faster, cleaner and add more embellishments.

...that I would never get control over my pinky. It wouldn't even play notes on the fourth fret - how did Steve expect me to play notes on the fifth fret with it? I mean, was Steve seriously insane when he first announced in the course that eventually that pinky would cover not one - but two different frets that far away from its current comfort zone of hanging right next to my ring finger and flying randomly away from the fretboard when I thought too hard about it? My pinky is a champion contributor to my playing at this point in time and now reaches five frets - six if I move down to fret five as a root. I would have never believed this when I started having problems stretching and controlling my pinky.

...that I would never get a clean G chord. But then it became Dm. But then it became B7. But then it became barre chords. But then it became E2 and G2. Now I understand that the only thing keeping me from playing any chord cleanly is an appropriate amount of practice and sometimes stretching exercises.

...that scales were so boring I didn't need to play them. I now play pentatonic, blues, and Three Note on a String scales for warmup and love every minute of it. On a daily basis I am building a better understanding of music through scales. On a daily basis I am building useful speed through scales. On a daily basis I am building a better understanding of where the notes are on the fretboard. Dorian, Locrian, Lydian, et al used to be less than useful names for poorly understood concepts - I now see how they make the exact same notes behave differently. I used to fret (pun intended) about where to stop a bend at. I now stop it at the appropriate interval of the scale nearly automatically. I couldn't have changed my understanding of where to stop a bend without months of playing scales and familiarizing myself with the notes and intervals.


I could go on and on about what I have discovered over the past two years while learning to play the guitar. But my real purpose for posting this long boring stuff is to hopefully help someone else on their journey. I had a lot of doubts about my abilities, I had a lot of doubts about the course, but in the end I have pretty much faithfully followed through what Steve has suggested, in the order that he has suggested, and have become a guitar player in only two years.

So, if you are currently sitting there thinking one of these thoughts:

"I can't do this…"

"This is boring... I just wanna play a song"

"John plays well and doesn't know how to read music, so why should I waste my time…"

Let me assure you that you can learn how to play correctly. It takes time and perseverance more than any other thing to learn how to play guitar. You must build strength, muscle memory, and reflexes that do not come overnight. You must build an understanding of the structure of music. These things only come through constant repetition and exposure - and it takes both physical and mental perseverance to get there.

So my biggest tip to the newbies - no matter where you are at, work hard to advance to the next level. Don't let any of the excuses that your body or mind throw in front of you deter you from your goal of becoming a guitar player. The physical and mental skills that Steve teaches make playing guitar a LOT easier in the long run. The bad thing is that you will never see the truth in that statement until you are at a point where the truth of that statement no longer matters.
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