So ... You Wanna Play Guitar, Huh?
(12 Apr 02)
First, know this: I'm not an "instructor" ... nor do my tutorials attempt to comprise a "course of study." I only wish to present a series of articles that convey the things I have garnered, through my own personal experience, which may be considered to be of value to other players ... just another way of "giving something back."
Whether you are really serious about becoming an accomplished professional, or just want to play for fun ... if acoustic guitar techniques are what you're after, my site may bring you information that you may not be able to find anywhere else. My focus has been on acoustic instruments -- and only acoustic instruments -- for more than 3 decades. I don't mean to boast by writing articles, either ... actually, I don't consider myself much of a "guitarist" or "musician" -- though I've received high praise from some of the best -- it's just that I don't think much about the mechanics behind guitar techniques, or about the music theory behind the glory of a particular riff ... I just like to play.
For starters, I'm not one for imitating others. No big deal - I'm not putting the idea down, I just happen to prefer interpretation over impersonation. The only time I ever wanted to play a song EXACTLY the way I heard it, involved a song by Leslie West (Mountain) ... it was in an open tuning ... it was an instrumental ... it was 1970 ... and it was one of the most complicated pieces I'd ever heard. I don't remember the name of the song, but it wouldn't be hard to find -- it's the only acoustic instrumental to be found on any of Mountain's albums, as far as I know. I kind of wanted to prove to myself that I could pull off the "musician" thing and play, note for note, exactly as Leslie did. And I did. It took me about 3 days. Bravo, Alan...
How I Started ...
I started playing when I was 12 or 13, using a standard tuning ... E-A-D-G-B-E. The first 8 hours of playing involved me writing my first song. It was rather on the involuntary side ... and I didn't have a clue about what I was doing! -- I just strummed the top 3 strings (...G-B-E) while I placed my index finger on the 1st string/3rd fret ... strum a little ... then, the 2nd string/1st fret ... strum a little ... etc., etc.
FOR THE RECORD:
Fat - - - - -Thin
It was really quite silly, but nonetheless, I had a great time! And, I wrote a beautiful song about Janet Kinlin ... titled "Four O'Clock Blues" -- mostly 'cause it was 4 a.m., and we had just "broken up." Next thing I did was buy some song books ... Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and some obscure stuff I discovered, called "Blues" - with songs by guys with funny names, like "Muddy Waters" and "Lead Belly" -- where I learned some really cool techniques, like "hammering on" and "pulling off." But the reason I bought them was the "pictures" of chord fingerings that were placed above the lyrics -- right where the chord changes occurred. That made a lot of sense to me. You're familiar with those "pictures" right? ... the ones that look like this:
When The Student Is Ready, The Teacher Will Appear
It's funny how you always wind up talking to another musician who has the answers to the questions you've most recently been carrying around with you. I met a guy at Rutgers University once, who played like a god! A true "musicians' musician." He played his guitar in a wheelchair ... and he was missing TWO fingers on his LEFT hand! ... think about THAT and then just TRY to complain about the five you're sporting! I could write a book (as the saying goes) about the musicians who've captivated me in such significant ways. But, I guess my point is, there are no obstacles but yourself ... and your next "lesson" is *usually* staring you right in the face.
I had teachers of another sort, too ... from some really cool TV shows on "educational TV" ... Channel 13 in New Jersey ("the 7th channel" -- we're talkin' 1966, '67, '68) ... Pete Seeger had a show -- I remember seeing a very young Dylan on that show, talking about playing and writing. Andres Segovia had a show too, or made appearances on a show, that taught classical guitar -- I watched that one religiously! And lastly, I remember a girl who taped a show out at KCET, in Los Angeles -- I think her name was Laura Weber -- she had a sort of mischievous smile ... and taught folk, rock, and blues guitar techniques. Man, I learned a lot from her!
If the idea of formal, structured lessons turns you off ... as it does me ... you can conduct your own concentrated search for the "bearers of information" that God will surely send your way. Whether it's through a website, a television show, an instructional video, or best of all, a player who is more advanced than you are ... your next step up the ladder of learning shouldn't be too hard to find.
I met a most wonderful artist years ago ... Ronnie Ostrow. Ronnie was very actively teaching fingerstyle guitar and performing his original songs in the New York/New Jersey area, with a rather large following. We were good friends and spent a lot of quality time together. One day he picked up his guitar and played the most amazing song I had *ever* heard him play ... I mean, I was slayed! I said, "WHEN did you write that, Ronnie?!!" And he replied, "Just now..." with that very special ex-Trapist-Monk grin of his. And then he went on to make a very interesting statement ... he said, "Alan, how would you like it if I decided to teach you absolutely everything I know about being an artist?" I said, "Man ... I cherish it!" And he immediately replied, "Okay, I want you to be here every Thursday at exactly 2 p.m. ... and if you are ever even one minute late the whole deal is off.... NOW, how do you feel about it?" I said, "Like crap!" He put his guitar down with that same grin and said, "Let's go get us a cup of coffee."