VAN DYKE: Get a Guitar Teacher…NOW!
Have you ever taken guitar lessons? I have. I took lessons when I was a kid for a few months. All I remember is learning the notes and playing Happy Birthday and other simple melodies. I never made it to chords. The strings hurt my fingers and the songs were boring, so I lost interest pretty quick. My teacher was nice, but he just did not make it very much fun. He just followed the book and the kiddie songs that were in there. I know now that the basic stuff is important, but I think if my teacher would have showed me a little more how the basics relate to an actual song that I may have heard before, I would have stuck with it. Maybe. I still remember most of those lame songs, so I guess it was not a total loss. Especially now that I have kids.
I would say that I am pretty much self-taught on the guitar. That would not really be true, though. The fact is that my first real guitar teacher was the band Black Sabbath. The monster riffs of Tony Iommi were something I needed to learn how to play. I noodled around trying to learn them every day. Then, I happened to find a Black Sabbath song book in a music store and the floodgates opened through the magic of tablature. Tablature is a method of music notation that uses six lines to represent the strings of the guitar, and uses numbers placed on the lines to represent which frets of the guitar to place your fingers on. If you know proper fingering for chords, it is very simple to read and use. If you don’t, it is a little tougher, I guess.
Being a lazy person, I tended to only learn the parts that I liked from songs. This is something that continued throughout my teenage years. I would hear a part of a song that I thought was cool and I would learn just that part. This was all on electric guitar, by the way. Once I had an electric, the acoustic guitar became a decoration. This is why real guitar teachers are important.
Now that I am old, I realize that it was a mistake not to go take lessons again when my interest in the guitar returned. A good teacher would not have accepted my learning just the cool parts. He or she would have made me practice until I had the complete song down. At least, I would hope so. So, what makes a good guitar teacher? I have no idea. I would think someone who genuinely loved music and the guitar, for starters, would be best.
My ideal teacher would be a practicing musician, either in a band, or a solo artist, or whatever. They would ask me to bring in one song every week that I wanted to learn and they would bring in a song they wanted me to learn as well. In between going over the two songs, we would discuss music theory, scales, chords, you know, the boring stuff. We would rotate acoustic and electric lessons at whatever interval worked the best. Preferably, the teacher would have a soundproof room for lessons with a stocked refrigerator, a collection of the world’s finest guitars, and nice comfy seats. But that is just a dream.
Recently, one of the best guitar teachers in town decided it was time to step away from teaching for a while. I won’t get into details, but that is an important lesson in and of itself. A good teacher will not ‘phone it in’ or teach if they would rather be doing something else. They will not cheat their students out of the joy of music just to make a few extra bucks. I know it was difficult for this person to walk away, but if you are not true to what you believe, you are nothing. And this person is something special for being so classy and respectful. Thanks for the lessons…
All of the music stores in town offer guitar lessons. I have heard good things about them all. Do not be afraid to shop around for the teacher that fits you best. Think about what it is you want to learn and how you want to learn it. It would not be a bad idea to write it down, if you are forgetful like me. If you want to learn the guitar, there is no time like the present even for an old doofus like myself.
If you are a veteran, please look up six string heroes (http://www.facebook.com/sixstringheroes). It is an organization that provides free lessons and guitars for veterans of any age. Actually, look them up even if you are not a veteran and consider making a donation. Every little bit helps to buy strings, picks, and other accessories.
There are lots of fantastic players in the area. Go see them in person as often as you can. Not all of them give lessons, but it never hurts to ask. Also, make sure to get to at least one Blues in the District event this year. There will be some serious guitar playing going on down there.
Don Van Dyke
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