The big question for many amateur guitarists is a tricky one to answer. What is the best way of learning to play the guitar to an acceptable standard? It depends, of course, on the guitarist. Some people learn well from books, and figure out the rest of the way themselves. Others go to a guitar teacher who will show them the correct techniques and help them to start making music the way they’ve always wanted. And then there are the guitarists who are entirely self-taught, who have picked up the guitar, played around with it and, over time, have become competent and more.
No single way of learning will make you a “better” guitarist. In fact, many of the best guitarists around have mixed and matched their methods of learning so they can get the exact sound they want. This way of doing things makes a lot of sense, of course, but then you will find some other guitarists who find it more comfortable to stick with the one method. When it really comes down to it, the most important thing about learning the guitar is that you do feel comfortable.
Some people feel that the self-taught guitarist will make the most impressive music, because they have learned from within. Others will say that the one who has learned from a teacher will have taken in more influences, while still others will claim that the one who has learned by the book is more likely to be note-perfect. However, there are many people who have no idea how their favorite guitarist learnt because it simply doesn’t matter – personal style and emotion tends to win out anyway.
A number of the most talented musicians in the world share a particular tale of woe. All of the years that they spent standing in front of screaming crowds, playing amplified instruments in venues that may well have been somewhat cramped, comes to a fairly obvious conclusion. When you ask them their name they won’t be able to tell you. Not because they are drunk or on drugs, but because they are pretty much deaf. It is something that can be hard to avoid, if you are going to play the big shows, or if you simply enjoy playing loud.
Many guitarists spend at least a few nights a week standing in front of an amplifier that is taller than they are. Even though they wear earplugs to dampen the noise, that is still not dissimilar to standing in front of a jumbo jet as it prepares for take-off. And when they are playing loud in a small venue – which a lot of bands do on the way up – the sound reverberates right back at them. It can’t be good for the ears. So is there any way to avoid this? Well, simply sticking to best practice is a wise idea. Don’t play seven days a week – in fact, three nights in a row is considered a bit much by some.
Earplugs are more than advisable, as is standing further away from the amps. Another tip would be to play a bit quieter – but that is considered a mortal insult by any guitarist worthy of the title.
When learning to play any instrument, and not least the guitar, it is fairly common to imagine yourself in a position where you play to be heard by a crowd. From the moment you decide to learn the instrument to the first time you play a gig, you will picture the event in your mind again and again. The thing is that when it actually happens, it will probably have very little in common with what you imagine. The other thing is that you’ll struggle to remember much of it, even if you don’t partake in the “rock ’n’ roll lifestyle” which leaves dents in some memories.
You can plan and practice and dream in the preparation for a debut gig, but when the time comes to play it will feel strangely unreal. All those months you have spent getting the basics down will not really prepare you for what you are about to do. Most likely, you will feel nervous. But then the practice that you have been doing will come to fruition in the form of muscle memory. When pressed to perform, you will rise to the occasion. As soon as you got up to play, you will be heading back to your seat before you know it. And when someone asks you afterwards how you feel it went, you’ll have to ask them the same question.
Even the people who seem like they were born to perform remember very little about their first gig. Adrenaline is a stimulant that does not need to be drank or smoked, it will course through your veins regardless. And it is a heady one, too.