I'm not cut out to be a guitar teacher for two reasons. First, even after 25+ years I
don't consider myself qualified, but that's just me. I guess it's tough to feel like a
teacher when I have so much more to learn about this instrument myself.
Second, I can't teach someone how to play guitar unless they're willing to take
the time and learn the basics, and that requires patience. Patience is a hard
thing to muster when you want instant results.
I was lucky. When I was eight my parents were taking me to piano lessons, then
at nine I began playing guitar, all the while beating on a set of drums my father
had bought for me from a neighbor. I had an early start, so I had the basics out
of the way by the time I turned 15 and was ready to start doing some cool things,
like playing along with all my Rush, Van Halen and AC/DC albums. I played
those records so much I learned them front to back.
Later on, a few years after high school I had a guy come around that wanted to
learn how to play guitar. He had all the gear, the coolest guitars (better than
mine), and great effects pedals. When he showed up with all his stuff for the first
lesson he was perplexed when I had him plug into his amp direct, and play on
the clean channel.
He brought a cassette with him of Metallica songs he wanted to learn,
specifically the leads. We listened for a few minutes and I told him that in order
to play that stuff he was best off starting with some basics to build his ability
before he actually tackled the lead work.
He didn't have the patience to get the basics out of the way, and as a result, he
was locked in a frustrating position. He was at an age where he wanted to show
off by playing the cool stuff, but didn't have the skills to do it. He was just
learning how to properly finger some chords.
I had him practicing some scales, and just basic patterns to get his fingers
familiar with various motions that would later become second nature. I also kept
him working on his fingering for chords so he could develop that ability as well.
I think he came back for two or three more lessons. That was it. He wanted to do
leads and I wasn't teaching him leads.
Over the years I spoke with other guitarists who were also teachers, and when I
asked them how they approached this kind of situation more than one said
something like, "I teach them the leads, that's what they want to know."
While I agree that just playing the guitar in any way can help develop skills, I
think potential is limited by focusing on one task instead of the big guitar picture.
It's like painting a picture without first really practicing with a paint loaded
brush. You can't appreciate what makes it happen, you only see happening.
As I mentioned earlier, I started with the basics. Maybe not everything, but
certainly enough to prepare me for solid playing at an earlier age. I don't
consider myself an expert, but I know that the basics helped me figure the rest
out, and helped me to understand what I was hearing and playing.
In a previous article I urged young guitarists to "just play" and worry about the
details later. Just playing is key to being a great guitarist. It's essential to use
the instrument regularly, regardless of how well you know your way around it. But
this suggestion takes into consideration that you already know the basics. You
always need some clue, some basis from which to start your journey. And
believe me, being a guitar player is a journey, but you have to practice, and be
It's like that famous line from "The Karate Kid", "Wax on, wax off." It's boring, and
it's tiring, but the results are awesome. Start learning now, and keep learning for the
rest of your life.
Drew Vics is a guitarist living in New Jersey who has been playing rock music for about 25 years. His most recent influences are guitarists such as Mark Knopfler and James Taylor.
His self produced, debut CD, "No More Waiting" was entirely recorded, mixed and manufactured in his basement digital studio
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