It’s not about the talent in your family, the size of your hands or whether or not you look like Sheryl Crow. Learning an instrument is about desire and sweat. Period. Eric Clapton started just where you did, holding a guitar and feeling like he had five thumbs.
I hear from a lot of prospective students who say things like “No one else in my family plays … I don’t read music … I’m not sure I have talent … I’m only a beginner …”
Let’s look at each one of those.
No one else in my family plays
No one else in my family makes killer guacamole either – however, put me in a room with a dozen ripe avocados, limes, salt and cilantro and darlin’, I can make your whole family weep with joy.
Musical ability is a learned skill. You don’t leap out of the womb with a guitar. (And how painful would that be for your mother?) Sure, it may help if you heard Grandma plucking out tunes on her banjo while you were growing up but it doesn’t define whether or not you can be a good musician.
I don’t read music
The beauty of playing a guitar and other stringed instruments is that you don’t have to read music. Knowing how to read chord diagrams and tab is helpful, however. Easier too. Instead of translating – let’s see, that’s a D note, where do I find that on the guitar? – chord diagrams and tab show you where to put your fingers. It’s like paint-by-numbers for the fingers.
A chord diagram shows you the top of the fret board and exactly where your fingers go, like reading a map. Tablature has one line for each string. The number tells you what fret. So, if you’re looking at guitar tab and you see the number 2 on the top line, it means you press down the first string on the second fret. (“First string” is the one on the bottom, nearest the floor.) No translation necessary.
Reading music is a good skill to have, don’t get me wrong, but if you just want to sit around the campfire and strum Joni Mitchell tunes or play some licks in a blues jam, a knowledge of chord diagrams and tab is all you need.
I’m not sure I have talent
Talent, schmalent! If you really want to play music and if you practice, you’ll get it. Sure, there’s that rare quality that people like Clapton have but we don’t all make music to produce Grammy award winning albums. (And winning a Grammy’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Don’t get me started.) I’ve had students who at the beginning didn’t even know how to hold the guitar; in the end, they could play “Blackbird.” They really wanted it and they worked for it. Simple.
I’m only a beginner
So you expected to start with Hendrix solos right away? You start learning to drive one day and expect to win the Indy 500 the next day? You can definitely work yourself up to that (if you don’t wind up in a fiery crash). That’s one of the cool things about playing an instrument. If you mess up, no one dies.
And one more thing … okay, three
You need a decent instrument and good instruction materials. A good teacher can help, too. I teach via Skype – contact me. I teach guitar, mandolin, ukulele and songwriting. I’ve played the guitar for 40 years and taught for 10. If you live in Ottawa, Ontario, you can come to my studio.