In this ultra-modern world its a known fact that 97%*** of the population will state (upon questioning) that they “play a little guitar”. That means if you intend to become a guitarist – pro, semi-pro, weekend warrior, avid hobbyist or otherwise – you will be swelling the already bloated ranks of the the guitar playing nation. Why do so many people gravitate to the guitar? Well, for one, nobody ever got a house in the Hollywood Hills and solid gold rocket-car for playing a contra bassoon solo. Moreover, its hard to find another instrument that will instantly give you the cache of ‘rockstar cool’ that throwing a six-string around your neck will afford you. And therein lies the problem. For the majority of stringbenders out there its about style over substance.
In many ways the guitar lends itself to a quick learning process. If one can overcome some initial physical challenges with regard to technique then a basic proficiency will rapidly follow. Chords in the first position (often called “Cowboy Chords”) have distinct shapes on the fretboard. As such, learning these can be an easy process of rote memorization wherein no real musical information is gleaned. If one aspires a little higher and develops the rigorous hand strength necessary to play Major and Minor barre chords and a first position pentatonic scale then it’s off the races with regard to ones playing (but again, one’s understanding of things musical frequently stays at a stand still). This is due in part to the ‘magic’ of moveable chord forms and scales on the guitar.
This is where development arrests for the vast majority of would be guitarists. The next step – from guitarist to musician is never made. Rather than investing time understanding intervals, they spend time learning SRV licks from a YouTube lesson (more on this in a later blog). This is usually followed by inevitable frustration when they find a song that isn’t a I-IV-V (or some variant) in the key of ‘G’, ‘A’, or ‘E’.
This is the point of development where the vast majority of guitar players reside. Because their understanding of the instrument is rooted in the visual and the regurgitation of shapes and patterns learning more sophisticated concepts -the really cool stuff that sets good guitarists apart (the kind you want to listen to)- will prove too difficult because their technical skills have accelerated far beyond their musical understanding of the instrument. At this point, going back and trying to develop these remedial skills all too often proves to be an excruciating exercise in aggravation and frustration as the attempt is made to unlearn bad habits e.g. thinking of chord shapes and fret numbers instead of notes!
We haven’t even begun to broach the issue of rhythm!
Now, you may say: “I don’t need to know how to read music, play jazz chords, or solo like Angus Van Hendrix to play the guitar! I just like to strum some tunes and sing a little. I don’t need to live up to your ridiculous standards or pretentious notions!”
Fair enough. If you’re a home player who plays for fun, relaxation, and to torment loved ones then I agree.
But if you intend to take you’re playing beyond that I beg of you…
To Be Continued in Part 2
*** we have no empirical data to support this statistic.