My friendâ€™s fifteen-year old nephew is up from Florida. In fact, he and his mom were at the Fourth of July Bash. Being the only fifteen-year old in attendance, he brought his guitar with him to occupy his time. His guitar is a Strat knockoff, but it played nicely and sounded OK through one of those tiny carry-around amps. The problem was that he really couldnâ€™t play. Turns out that he is trying to learn some stuff from a book with no one to give him any pointers.
Heâ€™s a nice kid (and can draw and paint like a professional artist), but heâ€™s very, very quiet and shy. So I sat with him for about ten minutes and showed him how to play a few basic chords. I said, â€œToo bad you donâ€™t live up here, I could teach you how to play that thing. You wonâ€™t be Chet Atkins or Eric Clapton, but youâ€™ll be able to play damned near any song.â€ Because he is so shy, he surprised me when he said that he would be here for three more weeks and asked whether I would be able to give him â€œa couple lessons.â€
I said, â€œOf course, I will, but letâ€™s not call them â€˜lessons,â€™ because that sounds too much like school. How about we get together and play a bit, and Iâ€™ll show you some stuff.â€
Well, tonight, I got around to bringing him over the house. After about two hours, I had him playing basic open chords and doing twelve bar blues tunes using bar chords. His fingering is still a little clumsy, but that will straighten itself out with more playing. He really wants to learn, so I am certain that this week he will play hell out of the stuff I showed him.
Iâ€™ve â€œtaughtâ€ at least two other people to play well enough to drag the axe to a party and have fun with it. If you have an ear for music (you absolutely must be able to hear when you are screwing up) and a basic sense of rhythm, itâ€™s not that hard to play well enough to get by. Once I teach him a couple basic hand positions and a few variations on that theme, the world will be his oyster. He should be able to play damned near anything.
I hope to have two more sessions with him before he goes home.
For what itâ€™s worth, I think that it is better to first learn to have fun PLAYING the instrument and to be completely comfortable with it before proceeding with the rigors of real music study. Iâ€™ve never known anyone who had any fun struggling along following the notes to â€œLittle Brown Jugâ€ from a Mel Bay guitar instruction book.
I view the process of learning to play a musical instrument to be much like learning to drive a car with a standard transmission. Learning to drive a stick shift right off the bat is a bitch. It is better to first learn on an automatic so that you can become comfortable driving the car. Then, once youâ€™re at home behind the wheel, you can concentrate on learning how to shift without having to worry about keeping the car on the road, stopping and the rest of the skills necessary to pilot a moving car.
I am determined to send that young man back to Florida as a passable guitar player. If he wants to proceed from there, he can find a real teacher.