Did I tell you that I quit guitar lessons?
I did. I pulled Lily out of guitar too. She wasn’t practicing or really getting it and I wasn’t practicing. My motivation was low, low. It didn’t feel like I was making any progress at all and I just didn’t feel like it.
Because I am who I am, I obsessed over this. I tried to figure out why I lost motivation. Then I started looking at articles online about how to practice, what to practice to get better, and, most recently, how to pick a guitar teacher.
I’m not going to trash my guitar teacher. The failures were more my fault than they were his. My nebulous goal of “learn to play the guitar” couldn’t have helped him in developing a lesson plan or even in giving me things to work on. So, he taught me songs. And then there was Lily. I was happy to take lessons with her but I think it held me back because of just how much the teacher had to concentrate on her during the lesson.
For my birthday, I got a fancy new guitar. I was a little overwhelmed when I got it. It’s no great feat of humility to say I can’t play the guitar. I didn’t feel guilty about the money spent on the guitar. It didn’t put us in the poor-house, between gift cards and small amounts I’d been saving since Christmas. It’s just a really nice guitar and it deserves someone who can play.
Lesson learned, I signed up for lessons at the place I got the guitar. But, with my new research in hand, I had to come up with a plan. A mission statement, for lack of a better term, for my new teacher. I realized that it’s his job to teach me what I want to learn but the onus is on me to figure out what that is and communicate that to him.
Figuring out that that was my job was the easy part. The hard part was in figuring out what I wanted out of guitar playing. I hear amazing things all the time and I want to be able to do them. From finger-style like Tony McManus to shredding solos like you’d hear on an Iron Maiden song. Not to mention all the cool and amazing things you hear from jazz guys like Stanley Jordan or blues guys like Robert Cray.
But one of the important things in learning like this is that if you go too broad, it’s hard to master anything. So I had to go for a critical few. Once I thought about it enough, I decided where I want to be. I want to be able to put on a backing track and improvise. I want to be able to create solos and play them. I want to be able to just play like that. So, I took that, a list of my capabilities, my guitar, a case of the jitters, and a small hope with me to my first guitar lesson with the new guitar teacher.
By the end of the first lesson, he’d convinced me that, not only can I learn to play, I can already play just a little. He laid down a rhythm section and, with a few pointers from him and knowledge of the A-minor pentatonic scale, I played.
I’m not going to say that it was innovative or beautiful stuff that I would be proud to play in front of a crowd. But it was playing. And it was music. And it was fun. He gave me some fingering exercises to work on to improve my familiarity with the scale, and improve my technique. I struggled with those exercises, but they’re coming more easily. In the intervening weeks, I’ve learned how to move around the neck to use different keys. We’ve worked on rhythm, learning how to play a 12-bar blues — in the beginning, it was just in the first position, but we worked on moving that around the neck. I’ve learned a small amount of the theory of improvisation, like the A-A-B-A sequence to give a sort of shape to what I am playing. Again, my technique isn’t where I want it to be, but I have ideas, I can practice, and I’m having fun.
Considering that guitar is something that I started partially because it was something that I couldn’t do and had no leg up for any reason, I really like where I’m going with it.