Re-Learning To Play Guitar – A Personal Journey

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by unixfish, Sep 30, 2019.

  1. unixfish

    unixfish Poster Extraordinaire

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    I have been playing guitar for about 40 years. "Playing" is a bit of a misnomer, however. I never really took it seriously, and just would pick up a guitar, bang out a few riffs for a few minutes, and put it back down, most of the time un-amplified. I spent 20 years when the kids were young when I did not play at all for years at a time.

    About two years ago, I came to a few realizations.
    • Even though I know music from playing in band / orchestra through college, I never learned music on the guitar.
    • I never learned notes on the guitar neck. I would play riffs like "power chord, largest string, second fret, to power chord, second largest string, fourth fret". I never put together F# and C# chords.
    • I never learned a song beginning to end. I knew a few bar riff of a ton of songs, but nothing beginning to end.
    • Guitar was a distraction from being an analyst tech-based data-hound; I was resisting the distraction of the guitar becoming a project. I did not need more data to pound and consume; I needed a break.
    • Playing in band / orchestra for 10 years, we learned scales - all 12 of them - but only major scales. No minor scales. No pentatonic scales (that would not make sense there). No scale modes (oh, natural minor on the 6 note! Cool!)
    • I took guitar lessons in my 20s. They taught me major scales, but not minor. I only started to learn minor scales 5 years ago, on my own. No lights went off, but some things started to make a bit more sense.
    • Pentatonic scale? What are those? Well, I learned what those are only a few years ago. Wow, I missed a ton.
    • Why do I keep dropping picks when I play? Man that bugger is hard to hold on to.
    • I know music; I can read music; I know a decent amount of theory. I cannot read music and play it on guitar, though. I just never applied music / theory to the guitar.
    I called teacher about two years ago, and started lessons; he was in the process of relocating, so I knew this would be a short term, 3 to 5 month thing. He started me onto using pentatonic scale patterns for soloing. His biggest criticism was "Quit thinking and just play!" Yeah, thinking about each note and where it fit and what it was and where it was in the pattern before playing it was exhausting. Learn the patterns; play from that. The light is stating to go on. Unfortunately, I work two jobs, so weekly lessons were a bit much, as I just didn't get the time to practice consistently.

    What I learned from the lessons was to put a folder together, and start learning songs. However, once my lessons ended, I started to fall back into old habits. If I ever wanted to get better, I needed to be more disciplined; but this discipline needed to fit into when I had time (yeah, yeah, yeah, make the time and all that...) I looked on-line, and found a course I thought I would like; the free example courses worked for me, so I paid for a full course. One time charge, unlimited access, not that much money. Bingo. You know 90% of the challenge with lessons is finding someone / something you gel with, even if the information is the same across multiple places. I found one that worked well enough for me.

    This course starts from almost ground zero. I decided to go through it all, and not skip anything. Maybe there were some nuggets of wisdom I had not thought about.

    Sure enough, there was. A lot of review, some new ways to look at things, etc. I still could not hold onto a pick for more than a minute before I dropped it or had to stop and re-grab. Then one of the lessons at the end of the intro material was an overview on "How to hold a guitar pick".

    I was doing it wrong. My method worked, just not well. So, what the heck, as long as I am on this journey, I may as well correct old habits and mistakes. So I started holding the pick the right way.

    [Deity]. Was. That. Hard.

    [Deity]. Is. It. Still. A. Challenge.

    I am still re-learning how to use my right hand, and how to time it with my left. However, I can play exercises now without losing my pick, but I'm still not playing as cleanly as I'd like.

    Part of the course is doing 15 minutes of "exercises" - chromatic-style runs up and strings, pentatonic trills, "muting and mashing" pentatonics, vibrato, etc. with a metronome to "keep you honest". You log your progress, and speed it up just a little bit every day. I started slow to get comfortable with the new picking style. This has really been challenging my technique for picking - and helping to regain coordination. Not really fun per se, but necessary to start to have fun again. I still don’t turn on my amp for most of this; that may be a mistake, but is good enough for now.

    I am now starting to get into improvising using the pentatonic patterns with the "blues note" flatted 5th added as a passing filler. All those solos that I could never imagine playing are starting to make sense. Just putting some fill notes in or a solo is starting to make sense. It's about time.

    None of that would work with major scales; well, at least I would not been able to make that leap. I guess I can “hear” what is going on, but just could never put it into the context of the guitar neck. Now I hear a solo, and can start to understand the offshoot of a pentatonic and how all that works. I am one of those people that need to understand how something works before applying it. I often need a longer start-up time, then once the foundation is there, I can make quick progress.

    It has been tough re-learning technique after 40 years. It has been tough pushing myself, after 12 hours of tech work, then preparing and cleaning up after meals, to pull out the guitar and practice technique and not "play". But, it is helping - a lot. Even if I am not getting to it every day.

    A lot of this I should have learned decades ago - I just never did. Pull out a guitar, bang a few riffs, put it back down. Bad habits, but ones that kept me sane many times when I wanted to do harm to an employer.

    So, where do I go from here? I don't know. "Learn to play", then maybe find some people to get together and play for fun? Maybe join a band? What do I do when I am on-call? Why am I worrying about this now?

    Is anyone else going through this, or am I the only pretender here? (Yeah, I know I’m not, but...)
     
  2. telemnemonics

    telemnemonics Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    Time time time is of the essence!
    Damn it sucks to need to start over but it's beautiful to start over nonetheless!

    Running off to work and will try to read your whole post when I get there, but wanted to post that I just today set up hi hats, ride cymbal and snare in my garage and sat down and recorded a few minutes "re-learning" drums.
     
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  3. Tim S

    Tim S Tele-Holic

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    A lot of your self-description sounds familiar to me. You are certainly not alone.

    The difference is you actually did the work while the rest of us (well, I anyway) continue to procrastinate.

    Congrats! You gave me something to aspire to.
     
  4. Ironwolf

    Ironwolf Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

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    Curiosity requires I ask what is the course you are working with? It sounds like a good one.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2019
  5. P Thought

    P Thought Poster Extraordinaire Ad Free Member

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    Yo
     
  6. matmosphere

    matmosphere Tele-Holic

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    I’m interested to hear what coarse you’re using as well.

    I recently stopped working temporarily and am trying to find something to help me improve my skills.
     
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  7. magicfingers99

    magicfingers99 Friend of Leo's

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    I'd have to say give up on the guitar, and become a novelist, you've got a great knack for typing....
     
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  8. Bergy

    Bergy Tele-Holic

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    Hmmm, a few thoughts...

    If yer dropping picks...in recent years they've started making picks with textures on em that are super-grippy. I used to drop a lot of picks and tried using Gorilla Snot for a while. Since I started using Dunlop Max Traction picks I drop them much less often. There are several different companies making picks like that. Another thing that might help, using a thinner pick. Seems like I feel more recoil from strumming in my right hand when I use a thick pick.

    If you are getting overwhelmed learning the notes on the fretboard, make sure you are breaking it down into bite-sized-chunks...i.e. don't try to learn all the notes of the guitar at one time. Start on the 6th string, learn the first 12 frets then move to the 5th string and so on...If you start with the lower strings, you will at least be able to place your root position power chords, and your E and A form barre chords. You can play vasts amounts of material with those chords correctly placed.

    Another thing that might help to keep in mind...the musical alphabet has 2 omissions. There is no B# (AKA Cb) and there is no E# (AKA Fb). When you're deducing those notes along the fretboard make sure to keep those 2 omissions in mind. That is why you get double dots at the 12th fret and not the 14th fret.

    That minor pentatonic scale is the sound of a lot of famous guitar solos. I question the wisdom of emphasizing the major scale first with the average electric guitar student. Usually the instructors I've seen who are teaching the major scale very intensely to everyone... haven't played much guitar outside of an academic/lesson context. Not only is the pentatonic scale more closely associated with the sounds of rock/blues/country guitar playing, there are also fewer notes in a pentatonic scale than a major scale. It is a bit easier to learn first. Once you can play that scale, a 7 note scale is way easier to visualize over the top of that pentatonic skeleton. People spend hours learning all those major scale patterns and wind up confused as to why that doesn't sound like any of the famous solos they've come to love. Quite often its those solos that inspired them to play guitar in the first place.

    You can even use that same minor pentatonic scale to sound like a major scale. With most of the guitar playing I've grown up with; if you hear something that sounds like a major scale, it is just as likely they are still using a minor pentatonic scale to achieve that sound. Here is how that works...if you are playing a song in A and want to sound more majory using that same minor pentatonic scale...find an A note on your 6th string, then move that note away from your body 3 frets along the low E-string. Starting your home-position minor pentatonic scale from that note will give you "happier" blues sounds. Think Allman Brothers sounds on stuff like "Jessica." Lotsa country music is played in that position, too.

    Regarding learning full songs...what kind of stuff do you like to play? A lot of times people will pick tunes that turn out to be surprisingly complicated and then get frustrated trying to navigate the form. You want something kinda slow (its great if you can strum along to the recording) that doesn't have a bunch of chords. It is also great when you can use 1 strumming pattern for an entire tune. A lot of folks think they have to improvise strumming patterns constantly throughout a tune...that is not usually helpful when you are functioning as a member of the rhythm section (like drums and bass).

    Tunes I've suggest to folks for learning the entire tune;

    Take It Easy - The Eagles
    Smells Like Teen Spirit - Nirvana
    Bad Moon Rising - CCR
    Amie - Pure Prairie League
    Rocky Mountain High - John Denver
    Good Riddance - Green Day
    Heart of Gold - Neil Young
    Wonderwall - Oasis
    Ain't No Sunshine - Bill Withers
    Blue on Black - Kenny Wayne Shepard
    Little By Little - Susan Tedeschi

    Learning how to play a 12 bar blues is also a good way to gain an understanding of all those roman numerals you hear musicians yelling at each other on stage sometimes. That is basically the tendencies of certain chords to go in certain orders.
     
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  9. Ducerro

    Ducerro Tele-Meister

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    I can assure you, YOU are not the only one. Matter of fact, I'm often referred to as the "great pretender" round these parts! :cool:
     
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  10. unixfish

    unixfish Poster Extraordinaire

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    @Ironwolf @matmosphere

    The course I signed up for was the Texas Blues Mastery course at Guitar Mastery Method (https://www.guitarmasterymethod.com/). Texas blues / 12 bar course with soloing and rhythm exercises. Like I said above, it starts pretty basic and runs through it all. It does not go deep into theory (at least not as far into it as I am), so it's a good course for a lot of people.

    I went through their blues soloing heat-map - that mini session did a good job of splitting the pentationics into bite-sized chunks, and laid out a good road map for playing in the "first position / G-position" with a few notes added on top. They way that was broken out worked for me.

    I know 12-bar / Texas blues is not everything, but that is a basis that can reach out over most music genres. It seemed like a good starting point; I figure if you are comfortable with blues soloing / blues playing, you can get through most other stuff with a few adjustments.

    I did shut off their Email announcements - they run specials on just about everything all the time. I got full access to this course - on sale - for less than a C note; they have a 2 week money back guarantee (maybe more than 2 weeks?) if you are not satisfied. I feel I'm getting good value from that, and at less than $100, even if I did not get much from it, it really isn't that much money (at least for me). Charlie is a Kiwi and young; the accent is fun, but not hard to understand. One of the things I like is his guitar is not loud in the videos. He will play a passage, then turn off the distortion, and play clean at a volume that is easy to hear his voice over. How many times do we get videos of people shredding with mega gain to the point you cannot hear notes or what they are saying? He gets that - low gain to show you what you will learn, then with discussion and clean, low volume to show you how. Great approach.

    I think you can google guitar master method on YouTube and get some of their free content to get a feel.
     
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  11. Ironwolf

    Ironwolf Poster Extraordinaire Gold Supporter

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    Thanks. Appreciate the info.
     
  12. idjster

    idjster VERY grateful member Ad Free Member

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    My problem, after returning to guitar after a long hiatus, is having the motivation to do any real serious work with it. When I was playing at first, for years, the gigs and having someone to play with motivated me, having to work to keep up with others and perform well. Now, not gigging and not having friends who play, I just seem to find other things to do and I'm not motivated in any serious way. I took a few lessons to get started in the beginning but then got sick and the motivation just up and left. I still greatly love music, and I noodle around on my own, but the urge to get better has left me. I guess I should be grateful for what I have 'cus it's not like I was any great shakes to begin with! :cool:
     
  13. unixfish

    unixfish Poster Extraordinaire

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    Charlie Wallace is his name - which I should have remembered, since my daughter got her undergrad degree at Baldwin Wallace University. D'oh.
     
  14. dreamingtele

    dreamingtele Friend of Leo's

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    I'm in the same page as you..

    I called a guitar teacher because I wanted to learn jazz-blues.. we went at it for a few weeks but when my son was born, I just struggle with the time, I do hope I can go back and taking the guitar seriously.. Im racking up some serious professional grade guitars and I cant even play them properly!
     
  15. SecretSquirrel

    SecretSquirrel Friend of Leo's Ad Free Member

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    Great post, Unixfish. I'm inspired to take some lessons, it's been too many years since I had a teacher, and while I'm a moderately 'advanced' player, I could use some fresh input from someone else's experience. Plus, it'll force me to practice.
     
  16. Lawdawg

    Lawdawg Tele-Holic

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    Yup, I'm in a very similar boat. I was probably a bit further along back in my frequent playing days, when I could play the majority of stuff I wanted to learn, but I never really understood what was going on with the guitar. Although I knew theory and musical notation from my classical piano days, I never applied it to guitar and had only the most rudimentary knowledge of the fretboard. The rest was all by ear and experimentation.

    Coming back after many years of infrequent playing I've been focusing on learning triads and deconstructing chord shapes and have found that to be fruitful ground to actually understanding what I'm playing. I've also been playing more scales and modes, less for practical playing purposes, but more as a cross picking dexterity exercise. Again, I'm still totally basic at this, and practice time is very much at a premium these days.

    We're in this together brother!
     
  17. DekeDog

    DekeDog Tele-Meister

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    Two things. The first is what Bruce Lee and Charlie Parker said, which was basically: learn it, then forget it. Learn what you've pounded into your head, then let that become intuitive. When I asked two jazz musicians what they thought about when they improvised, the first said, "Chocolate ice cream." The other said, "Music is a language, and I just say what I want to say."

    The second is: learn intervals. Intervals are the building blocks for chords, scales, and modes. Learn where they fall on the fretboard. Learn what they sound like.

    Let me also say that if you know a major scale, you already know the minor scale. They are the same thing. They contain the same notes. EVERYTHING is based on the major scale. The pentatonic scale, major or minor is based on the major scale. The phrygian mode is based on the major scale. A diminished scale is based on the major scale. A melodic minor scale is based on a major scale.

    The last point I want to make is that nothing comes easy. What is required is time spent playing the instrument and listening. You learn faster and better if you make efficient use of your practice time. Repetition is your friend, but so is variation. Use both. If you take lessons, stop taking for periods to apply what you've learned to your playing. Learn how to teach yourself how to learn.
     
    Last edited: Sep 30, 2019
  18. Guran

    Guran Friend of Leo's

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    This is good advice, but it is not "using a minor pentatonic". Moving it down three frets, as described, turns it into the major pentatonic of the same root. The pattern is the same, but it is now major. Generally speaking...

    Example: A minor pentatonic starting at fifth fret. Move it down to second fret and you have A major pentatonic. The root note A has moved within the pattern though, and can now be found at third string, second fret, and first and sixth strings, fifth fret. Sure, you could also call it F# minor pentatonic, but if you use it to achieve a major sound over a progression in A, then I see no reason to call it anything else than A major pentatonic.
     
  19. moosie

    moosie Doctor of Teleocity Ad Free Member

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    @unixfish, I can definitely understand the need to build a foundation before proceeding with anything. When I was working as a software developer, I'd think of it as 'wallowing in the data'. My boss would think of it as f*ing off. But then after a long time apparently getting nowhere, it would all come to me in a flash, the whole architecture. And I'd bang it out...

    I do everything this way, not really by choice. All depth, no breadth. Can't approach anything casually. It's both my weakness and my strength. I'm guessing you get that...
     
  20. unixfish

    unixfish Poster Extraordinaire

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    Spot on. You just described me pretty well.
     
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