I’ve been a guitar owner since about 2003. I’ve been a guitar player since, well, about now.

When I first bought my guitar, I was convinced that I could teach myself to play it. After all, I could already read music. It was just a matter of finding a suitable instruction book and putting in the practice time. I bought the Hal Leonard Guitar Method book and began working my way through. Generally, that book was decent, and I learned the notes on the strings, some chords, and was able to begin playing a few songs. It taught my left hand (the chord-fingering hand) how to play the guitar. But it didn’t really teach my right hand (the strumming and plucking hand) what to do.

My instruction book also couldn’t critique my playing, correct my form, or tell me when it was time to move to the next exercise. It didn’t give me any encouragement. It didn’t give me tips on how to practice more effectively. It couldn’t play duets with me. Heck, it couldn’t even crack jokes with me. And it couldn’t show me how to play the music I really wanted to play.

I bought more books, hoping to fill some of these cracks in my guitar education, but none of them were really that helpful. You see, I wanted to be able to play like James Taylor. Or John Denver. Maybe even Jim Croce. And I couldn’t find any instructional materials that were really very effective in showing me how to play like I wanted to play.

I’d been telling myself that I really didn’t want to commit to the cost and time commitment of actual guitar lessons, but it was obvious that I was going to need some help if I wanted to play like James Taylor. So I began searching for a teacher. It wasn’t hard to find some names–the internet is a wonderful resource, after all. Choosing a teacher was an entirely different matter, though. Finally, I found Charlie. His web site explained exactly what he taught, how he taught, and what he expected from students. I wanted to learn how to play fingerstyle guitar, and not only did he teach it, he was also good at it.

So I got in touch with Charlie, and we met for a sample lesson. We talked a little about my experience level and what I wanted to learn, and he got me going with some simple fingerpicking arpeggio arrangements of America the Beautiful and Sunshine on My Shoulders. We set up a biweekly lesson schedule, and I went home to practice.

As the lessons passed, Charlie kept me busy learning new songs and new techniques. Practically all the songs I played were arrangements that he had done for his students. In a matter of a few weeks I was playing Dust in the Wind and This Land is Your Land. As I progressed further, Charlie gave me reasonably interesting arrangements of songs like The Last Thing On My Mind, Don’t Think Twice (It’s Alright), Freight Train, Deep River Blues, and Amazing Grace. Each song provided some new challenges for me, and Charlie provided the encouragement and motivation to keep practicing them.

I was definitely getting better, and I was definitely getting closer to my goal of being able to play like James Taylor. Now both my hands were learning how to play the guitar. And Charlie was doing all those things for me that the instruction book couldn’t.

The story ends here, for now, but I can’t emphasize this enough: if you want to learn how to play the guitar, find a suitable teacher. A good teacher will ask you about your guitar-playing goals, will tailor your lessons to help you achieve those goals, and will strive to make your lessons as interesting and enjoyable as possible by providing you with interesting music to learn and by giving you encouragement every step of the way.

Oh–and get this–if you practice, you get better. Imagine that.

One thought on “Lessons in Learning

  1. I agree. I myself learnt with a teacher, but last year when my son wanted to learn how to play the guitar I thought he may be better off teaching himself. I bought him a guitar and a nice instruction book, but now, one year later, I see this was a mistake. He did not have enough motivation to learn by himself, and to say the truth it is a difficult task. Now I am looking for a good teacher for him.

    Debbie, The Left Handed Guitar Place


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