I’ve been playing guitar for over 42 years. One would think that after all this time, I should be some sort of virtuoso guitarist, able to spin in and out of lead lines without thinking. I can do that with some stuff, but not everything. Frankly though, I focus much more on rhythm playing and playing against vocals or other instruments so that my guitar playing is integrated with the presentation of a song; whether I’m playing solo or with a band.
I’ve never had any formal training in guitar, and the breadth of my musical education includes 6 months of piano lessons. That doesn’t mean I don’t know much about music – I do – but my learning has been much more interactive and organic and osmotic as opposed to academic. I’ve studied a bit of music theory and harmonic structure, but all on my own, as I was driven to learn these things. For me, while I do believe that I would’ve benefited from formal training, I don’t know if at this point in my life as I have devoted my life to making music that having a formal musical background would have made any difference.
The point to me sharing this isn’t an attempt to give myself a backhanded compliment. It’s simply to communicate that I went my own way with learning how to play guitar and make music; irrespective of whether it was the right way or the wrong way of doing things. I’m happy with how I’ve learned, though I’m never satisfied with my playing and performance as I’m driven to constantly improve, which brings me to the crux of this article.
I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve heard unsolicited advice on learning guitar that invariably began with “You should do such and such to learn guitar.” We guitar players are an opinionated lot, that’s for sure. Of course, there have been some people with whom I interacted who have given me great advice or recommended some fantastic resources for learning guitar, and I’ve followed that advice and have only gotten better because of it. But to be honest, being self-aware, I’ve always known my limitations, be they due to time constraints, personal issues, or just life in general, so I’ve just gone with flow and learned as I could. It also meant that – especially with all the things I’m involved in besides music – regular lessons just wouldn’t worked for me.
In all my years of playing and learning guitar, I’ve come to realize that there is no secret method for learning guitar; pretty much any method will work. If you learn best in a structured, academic way, then go for it. If you’re like me and just want to do it organically, that’s also valid. But that said, whatever method you choose won’t matter a bit if you don’t practice. I’ve taken on several adult students in the past who have wanted to learn guitar. They’ve all been busy professionals, and they all lasted about two months before I discontinued the lessons. It wasn’t about being harsh or mean or frustrated. I was just honest with them and told them that I didn’t want to take their money if they weren’t not moving forward.
The only way to move forward is to practice what you learn.
For me, I play at least a half hour a day, maybe more if I can swing it, and I gig at least twice a week, year-round. Most of the time when I practice, I’m not really trying new things, but I spend a lot of time honing the skills I have. My thought is that I’d rather be great at fewer things than mediocre at many things.