One year ago, I bought a cheap nylon guitar from Second and Charles to practice on. This actually was the third guitar I ever owned, but I had never even learned a single chord before that day. The first one was a steel-stringed acoustic that I got as a Christmas present from my grandparents years before. Admittedly, I would have appreciated much more now than I did then. Ah, what a fool I was. The second was a very cheap, very heavy used black electric of some unknown make that I bought in high school. At the time, I was convinced I would be able to start a metal band in no time. As you may have guessed, that didn’t work.
I’m not a hundred percent sure why I bought the guitar, but it turned out to be a great choice. I had just come back from a contracting gig in VA, and my other employer ended up not taking me back, so I had a couple of months of unemployment before it was time to go contracting again. I ended up with almost literally nothing to do but sit around and “play” guitar all day. I use the word play not in the context of someone who plays music, but in the way that a toddler plays with one of those tiny Peanuts pianos.
I’ll save the guitar-specific advice for a video later, but the first takeaway here is definitely the most important. When you start something new, you are going to suck, and you are going to suck for a pretty long time. I will reiterate- this is the most important thing that you need to know when starting anything, whether it’s playing an instrument, writing, running a blog (hmm, seems like there’s a theme here, better switch it up,) painting, singing, or pretty much anything else for that matter. I personally don’t believe talent exists- it’s an excuse for people who can’t do something to make themselves feel better for not trying.
Hold on! Don’t freak out- it’s a good thing. If talent doesn’t exist, then that means there’s nothing separating you from Eddie Van Halen, John Petrucci, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Tosin Abasi except for practice. Well, shit- that’s the catch, you just have to practice. However, I have never been much of one for practice, and especially not one for lessons. I took a piano class for a few months in college but stopped going when the lessons took the fun out of it. It’s a shame, because I actually really liked playing the piano until then.
With that thought in mind, I was determined to figure out how to play guitar by myself, in a way that made it fun. The guitar I bought came with a book that had all kinds of crazy stuff in it like clawhammer picking and jazz chords (which are insane and mind-boggling), but the only part I cared about were the basic open chords. It took the better part of the first two months to get the open chords down, but once you get that, you can start trying to play a lot of stuff. This is the next big takeaway: playing vs practice.
I don’t practice the guitar- at least, I try not to. Sometimes, when you’re learning something tricky like alternate picking or scales, you’re going to have to actually practice repetitively. That’s just the way it works. Most of the time, though, I just play around with it- try doing a song you like, or improvising on top of the recording. Making up your own songs is fun, or adding little flourishes and stuff to a simple melody. The mentality difference is important, and it’s the reason I hated piano class yet ended up loving learning guitar. When you see what you’re doing as practice, more often than not, it’s a chore. However, play is fun, and you should figure out how to have fun with what you’re doing, otherwise, why do it?
I always like to go hang out in music stores- even before I could play anything, it was just something I enjoyed. One of the cooler moments in the past year was when I went to the great ProSound Music in Colorado Springs. I was checking out the acoustics and trying to play the intro to Hotel California (poorly,) when one of the guys that worked in the shop came up and started to play the rhythm section. I had never played with another person, let alone someone who knew what they were doing, and that was just such a great feeling. If you’re interested in learning an instrument, know that the fun of playing with another person is one of the coolest things in the world.
Another important thing I figured out in the past year: when you’re learning something new, you have to wax and wane. Expand outward- try a song with weird chords or something else challenging. Then, focus on just doing that new thing as well and possible, until you can incorporate that new thing seamlessly into your repertoire. Once you can do the new thing well, without having to force it, then you can keep moving forward.
The biggest non-guitar takeaway here is definitely this thought: what do you wish you started a year ago? After teaching myself guitar for a year, I’m realizing how much time I wasted in my life not learning something useful. Think about how much time you spend watching TV (trick question because you can practice guitar at the same time,) scrolling through Facebook (hopefully because you’re looking at the MasterSelf page,) or doing something else mindless. Now imagine that you spent all that time learning a skill or improving yourself. I personally think you would be amazed with yourself if you only knew what you were really capable of.
With that in mind, go find a hobby! Learn a skill, play with an instrument, and get ready to suck at it. Eventually, you’ll be good, because everyone sucks at first. I look forward to seeing where we’re at next year!
[Video Coming Soon]