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Learning Guitar, Off the Grid

Thursday, September 04, 2008 - 01:30 PM

Guitar Neck When I was 10, my parents bought me a guitar for my birthday. Or maybe it was Christmas – the two are really close together and I wasn’t always clear on which event was being celebrated. Anyway, it was a cheapo acoustic guitar, but I was excited to have it. Then the question was, how do I learn to play it? There was no money for actual lessons, but my mom had spotted a TV listing (on public TV, naturally) for a show called “Learn The Guitar” or something equally enticing. So I dutifully tried tuning in so I could learn to play. And ran into two problems: one, the series was in progress and the teacher was demonstrating how to play a chord change, which was fine if you knew where the single notes were and knew what a chord was – but I didn’t know any of that. And two, it turned out I was left-handed. (As I am in an unpredictable number of things, even though I was taught to write and throw righty.) So my guitar strings were upside down. Defeated, I put the guitar in the basement.

Unfortunately, my room was in the basement too, so putting the guitar there didn’t really have the desired effect, as the guitar sat in a corner mocking my inability to even hold it correctly. Eventually, I decided that if I could learn to write with my right hand I could learn the guitar right-handed too. But by that time the TV series was gone, so I did the next best thing – I got one of those Mel Bay Guitar books. I also drew a representation of the 6 strings on paper, and figured out what each note on each fret was (the book only covered the first 5 frets), so that I could play scales up and down the fretboard.

I believe that I learned more about the workings of music (“music theory” sounds too highfalutin’ for this) that way than I would’ve if I’d simply taken lessons in the neighborhood, where I’d get the usual chords and stuff. I say this because when I got to college the other kids who played guitars and who’d had lessons didn’t seem to understand, say, how to make a diminished chord, or what effect it might have. But when I started playing classical pieces on the guitar, I found my fingering technique was a matter of trial and error and more error.

Now, I find you can learn the guitar, or the piano, or many other musical instruments, online. Andrew Furmanczyk, who teaches piano lessons on YouTube, even includes music theory. I wish I’d had that opportunity as a kid. I know there are things I missed out on because I didn’t take proper lessons. And it probably would’ve made things easier, at least at the beginning stages of learning. But I also think there’s a lot to be said for figuring things out yourself, and for learning at your own pace.

Actually, YouTube lessons make it possible to go at your own pace… hey, if I had time, maybe I could finally learn the piano. Thanks Andrew!

Tell us: What do you think about online music instruction? A good idea, or a good way to learn badly? (photo credit: arbitrary.marks/flickr)

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