No Lesson Too Late For The Learnin’…
But Make Some Brilliant Mistakes Along The Way!
Last week I talked about how a professional setup of your guitar(s) is really important. I was thinking about that and it occurred to me the phrase probably most often heard by the great pros at the locally owned guitar shop I frequent is “Can you lower the action a little?” They’ve certainly heard it from me, and are far too polite to roll their eyes when I say it. Guitarists just starting out love to have that action low because it’s way easier on the fingertips to fret notes. First, by a “low action” I mean an adjustment to the neck that brings the strings closer in relation to the frets/fretboard, in theory making it easier to “fret” a note and reducing sore fingertips as you begin playing. Maybe it’s true in practice as well, but I think it’s also easier to get a lot of “fret buzz” and dead string sound. For me, that’s because I’m naturally lazy and if a low action is doing some of the work for me, I won’t try as hard to improve my fretting hand technique. Things to work on, and there’s always something, but that “something” is worth it if it makes playing less sloppy. Guitars can be pretty forgiving, but, like life, there’s a limit to the forgiveness of bad habits.
I also talk a lot about locally owned guitar shops, and you’ll hear that phrase a lot here. First, small businesses are struggling more over the last year or so, but I believe (for what it’s worth) they’re a vital part of a healthy community. Second, you can learn a lot in them. There are several guitar shops/music stores in my town, and I’ve spent time in most of them. The one I’ve settled on is run by a couple of fellas that are guitar wizards (at least it seems like that!). As important as their skill is, I’ve probably benefitted more from just talking with them. They know things, and they’re not hesitant to share what they know. I’ve visited larger chain stores and always felt like I was kinda bothering them if I didn’t just buy something immediately and leave. Just my experience, your mileage may vary.
The first time I walked into that locally owned guitar shop, I was just looking around, but in response to the friendly “Can I help you find something?”, I asked not about guitars, but “Do you know anyone who gives guitar lessons?” The answer was “Absolutely!” It turns out they had a room set aside for lessons taught by a local fellow and set me up with his number. Just as last week I wrote about how important a professional guitar set up is, I also can’t stress enough how important lessons are. I had taken a semester of beginning guitar at a local community college, which was helpful, but nothing was as important to improvement as private lessons. The guy I take lessons from is a professional musician himself, with a music education, plays in several bands and teaches at local universities. He teaches, yes, but the most important thing is he doesn’t just teach, he makes sure I learn.
That, I think, is the most critical attribute to look for in a guitar instructor - if that person is teaching, but isn’t making sure you’re learning, find someone else who does. I was lucky, I hit that sweet spot on the first try, but don’t settle for less yourself!
I hope this newsletter is helpful to you on your journey. Let me know in the comments if you have questions, and I’ll answer as best I can in a future newsletter or at least point you to where I think you can find the answer.
Bonus round: The title of this particular newsletter is a play on some lyrics found in a song by one of the greats in folk/Americana. If you know who and what song, let everyone know in the comments - I’ll confirm answers in next week’s newsletter.
Cheers, and keep playing!!