Guitar Learning

The things I have learned that are obvious in retrospect:

10. Learning guitar is a journey, not a means to an end. There is a guy that plays in our praise team at church that can just to marvelous things with his guitar. I can't even describe it. He makes the instrument sing, making it another voice in the ensemble rather than just an accompanying sound and rhythm. His skill just amazes and humbles me. And yet, to hear him talk of musicians he's met, I realize that he feels like he's in the same boat as me. He talks of being amazed and humbled by the abilities of others and he is far from being done in his quest in learning more.

9. Guitarists share their knowledge. Unlike other hobbies, and perhaps other musicians, I've yet to meet a guitarist who isn't willing to take a moment and answer the question "how did you do that?" I may not always understand what they've shown me, but I always appreciate it when friends and strangers alike take their time.

8. Everybody has problems with the F chord when beginning. I remember when I first read about barre chords and realized that, if I just learn how to do one, then I can move it up and down the neck and have dozens of chords at my disposal. Well, as we all know, it isn't as simple as all that. It's true that those dozen of chords are available, but it won't come as easily as all that. I've since learned of several guitarists, including professionals, that never learned barre shapes and more than a few who use alternative tunings to avoid the dreaded F. This is a learning curve for everybody.

7. Dings are not the end of the world. Like most guitarists, I would prefer a blemish free instrument. The first ding I got, I thought my world would end. I hadn't even caused it. It happened during the period of time I was laid up with my broken leg. My guitar really needed to have the strings changed and a friend offered to do so when he came by for a visit. When he retrieved my guitar, he didn't see that the case was unlatched. Bang! The drop left a ding about the size of a pencil eraser on the treble side of the upper bout. Doug was about beside himself and I was pretty put out as well. But, accidents happen and I immediately realized that it was bound to happen sooner or later. Now, whenever I see that ding, I don't think of the accident, I think of the day a friend came to visit.

6. The price of a guitar isn't what makes one happy. I have a plywood guitar. No, it isn't going to sound like a solid top and it certainly isn't going to sound like a custom build. But I really like the sound of my Art & Lutherie Folk. I can honestly say that I am not envious of the more expensive guitars my friends have nor do I have the dreaded GAS (Guitar Acquisition Syndrome). I'm happy with what I have and to go beyond would be, for me, a waste of my hard earned dollar. I don't begrudge any friend or any player that has a more expensive piece or think they've spent too much. Some play semi-professionally. Others have been blessed with the means to buy at a higher scale. I am very happy for them. Someday I would like a third guitar, probably a solid top dred, but I'm in no hurry.

5. Not everyone is going to be as enthused about guitars as I am. Even friends who play guitars. Even though I am approaching two years since I learned my first chord, it is still very new and exciting. Having had a musical life before guitar, I'm vaguely aware of what possibilities there are out there to still learn. It is easy for me to become a fanatic and want everyone to share in my excitement. However, not everyone is going to want to hear me play. Not everyone will want to endure listening to me noodle. And, more to the point, not all of my guitar playing friends will have the same level of interest that I have right now--perhaps it's old hat for them now, or perhaps it doesn't mean the same thing to them as it does to me. Learning to curb my enthusiasm and choose when and where to play goes a long way in earning respect as a player.

4. Get a good set up. A bad guitar can possibly be tweaked to be a decent guitar. A good guitar can definitely be adjusted to be a great guitar. A bad guitar forces the player to adjust to the instrument. A good set up adjusts the instrument to the player. But, I'm cautious of who I have work on my guitar. The shop were I purchased my guitar has a set up and repair service. I might trust them with simple repairs or nut replacement. But, when I asked about setting up the guitar to adjust the action, their response was to "crank down the truss rod." Well, I've read enough to know that's not the right way to do it. I have had great luck in taking my guitars into a local luthier. A little pricier and a little longer wait, but worth it.

3. Changing strings can be fun. It used to drive me nuts. Trying to keep the pins in, keeping the coils on the machine heads nice and neat. Bah! However, after learning some of the basic skills in doing so, I now look forward to changing strings. I look forward to it in an almost "Zen and the art of Guitar Maintenance" sort of way. It gives me a chance to, pardon the pun, unwind. I take the time to look over every inch of the instrument, wipe down all the fingerprints and clean out the frets. I've realized that it isn't a race to get it over and done with as soon as possible. It's a chance to forget everything else and focus in on one task. And the end result is guaranteed to be an improvement on what I started with.

2. Music is moving. Well duh. Still, I am constantly surprised at hearing my emotions in the chords, rhythms, syncopation, volume, tempo, harmonies and vibrations flowing forth from my guitar. All too often I'm not even consciously aware of what I'm feeling until I hear it. Playing has been, at times, a gift from God in getting me through some hard times. Other times it is just a joy to play because it just makes me happy.

1. Playing guitar is fun. It wasn't always. Looking through this list and I can remember times along the way I didn't know or believe or want to believe what I've just written. That guitar playing is fun is definitely one of them. At times, playing, or more to the point, learning to play, is nothing more than an exercise in pure frustration. Trying to hit that C chord cleanly after a G can still give me fits. But, with time and practice, I have come to the point that I know each time I pick up Jane or Patrick, I will make music. I may not achieve my goals for the time. I may not be able to push past the barriers I have in my skills. But, what I can do, is sufficient, if I let it be so.

1 Comment:

  1. Alkelda the Gleeful said...
    My guitar teachers reassured me that if I persevered, I'd get the barre chords. Barring chords isn't one of those "Practice 80 times and you'll have it in your muscle memory" maneuvers. I'm finally getting them, and now am working on incorporating them into songs smoothly. Are barre chords worth the focus and energy? For me, definitely. And yet, it's okay for a guitarist to decide that s/he's happy to hang out on the first three frets (without a capo). My guitar teacher told me, "Lucinda Williams doesn't play barre chords."

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