Thursday, January 13, 2011

Guit-Starting At the Top

By Greg Shelley

So the student keeps playing the same lick from his favorite band.  He plays it very poorly because it is beyond his ability.  He stumbles over the notes.  Then he plays the wrong notes with the wrong rhythm.  He generally destroys any meaning or feel of the lick.  What's worse, he keeps practicing it wrong so he is sure to learn all of the poor technique and habits to apply to anything else he might try.  It is clear.  He wants to start at the top.

Just imagine you suddenly wanted to learn to ski and you skip the beginner slopes.  You go right to the high, steep suicide slopes.  People watch as you come rolling and bouncing down the hill. And they think: "Hmm, he is not much of a skier, maybe he should try to stand up on his skis first." But you just keep riding that lift up there, and crashing down again.  You get injured.  Eventually, you give up and go back to your bicycle or something; or, you learn that you should try the bunny slope for a while and work your way up over time.

But with guitar, unlike skiing, you don't get injured if you stink at it--unless somebody hits you on the head and tells you to quit playing.  But really, you can sit in your bedroom playing terribly for years and not realize it.  I get students in my studio all the time who have actually done this for 20 years.  They tell me they have realized this after half of a lifetime.  Then they tell me they need to start at the bottom and work their way up--as if I didn't know this.  In just a few months of step by step lessons and practice, they are amazed at what they can play.  They often say: "I should have done this years ago."

Everybody would like to skip right to the hit songs and hot licks of the day.  Sometimes the songs or licks can be worked into the lesson nicely--because some hit songs are very easy--but most of the time they are something they are not ready for.  It's okay to have dreams and aspirations as long as you understand the steps it takes to get there.

If a young girl wants to play the fast rhythm guitar parts of Taylor Swift, it is always good to be able to play a few chords first and strum them at a steady 2 or 4 beat.  You might be surprised how many people do not understand that in order to strum a fast subdivided chord song you actually have to be able to play a chord first.  Really, people often can't make that connection.  I was actually the same way when I was a beginning guitarist.  I wanted to play the Beatles song, Revolution, but I couldn't even make a couple of chords.  I actually had to learn that--I HAD TO LEARN.  My teacher was patient and kept re-directing me back to the lesson at hand.

This "I want it now" mentality can be attributed to the age we live in.  Computers give us what we want at the click of a mouse.  We hit a button and the music plays.  We watch MTV and it looks so easy.  We see American Idol and they make it all look spontaneous and sudden, without seeing the years of practice and study it may have taken.

But I keep re-directing students onto a steady, methodical approach.  Learn the chords, learn the notes, play songs you CAN play first.  It is truly a joy to watch the student develop this way.  More importantly, the knowledge and skills they learn last a lifetime.

Copyright Ó 2010 Greg Shelley,  all rights reserved

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