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can "anyone" learn to play guitar?

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In reply to an earlier post on Jan 12, 2010 12:31:20 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 12, 2010 12:41:47 PM PST
Swamp Rat says:
Well done, M. Waters.
Glad to hear a good report. The end most certainly justifies the means; and any road that gets you there is the right road.

It's a wonderful life if you don't weaken; fortune favors the brave; God hates a coward; etc. ad nauseum.
Again, well done.


P.S. As you may have noticed from my previous opinionated posts, I believe that the misinformation vastly outnumbers the accurate information. This applies to lyrics as well to a lesser degree, so please remember while practicing the fine song "Blowin' in the Wind" that no matter what anyone tells you, the following lyric does NOT appear anywhere in said song:

"The ants are my friends, baloney Indian . . . "

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 13, 2010 2:53:02 PM PST
dukeofearl says:
MW: I, too, picked up a guitar to try and learn at 54, though I had played in high school. I think its going well. I don't want to do an advertisement, but "Learn and Master Guitar" and are both very good learning tools that you can follow at your own speed. A couple of the instructors on jamplay are our age or therabouts, so I think that may help me relate to them. Good luck. If you enjoy it, do it, if not, don't, do not put yourself through this much aggravation unless you like it.

Posted on Jan 15, 2010 6:22:35 AM PST
"How much time and effort should I put into learning to play before giving up? How long did you try before you could make some kind of music?"

Beg pardon if the following has already been said by someone else here (haven't read the entire log).

I bet most people who take guitar lessons -- a conventional method of music study -- don't get too far. And most who do get far don't get there by such a method. A lot of the emphasis I've seen in guitar lesson programs is "music lesson" in general, not "guitar lesson" in specific. The staff, notation, etc. I understand some of the greatest guitarists in rock (guys like Hendrix, etc.) don't/didn't know how to read music ...

Unlike orchestra instruments -- strings, brass, woodwinds etc. -- popular guitar styles, and basic playing, is not rooted in sheet music notation. The emphasis in these "guitar method" books is probably kina diversionary (toward selling product and service at the music store).

SUGGESTED METHOD TO LEARN GUITAR: make friends with people who play guitar, at almost any skill level. Hang out with 'em, and bring your guitar. Learn what little bits and snippets any and all of them have to show and tell.

Most guys I know who play guitar well got their skills by this kind of informal socializing goofing off approach. It will likely get you a lot further ... and without paying some teacher to press you through a Mel Bay book.

Incidentally, one of the worst things about those "learn to play guitar" method books: total focus on left hand (fretboard hand), to the utter neglect of the right hand (strumming, picking). No coincidence, 90% of roadblocks to further progress most guitar players encounter have to do with right hand technique .... a dirty but unguarded secret of the guitar playing realm.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 15, 2010 8:47:45 PM PST
Pete says:
Just thought I'd throw my two sense in on your comment, N. Perz. I am physically impaired, I have spastic cerebral palsy. Lucky for me it only affected my legs. So instead of standing to play, I sit and play. I agree that the practice part can be a bit of a drag. But once you get it out and start to strum a few chords and learn where your fingers need to go, it should get easier with time and the pain in the fingers that you feel should fade away. So unless your mentally impaired or physically impaired where you can't use your hands for whatever reason, I say try and try again to get it. There is even a website,, that will take you through the steps of playing.

Posted on Jan 15, 2010 10:38:14 PM PST
Nexxus says:
I'm 58 years old and I just started learning how to play. I decided to teach myself to see if I could learn in a way that best suited me. I shopped around for an inexpensive travel guitar (low volume) to start with. I bought the Ernie Ball books because I liked his teaching method as well as using free online lessons. What has helped me the most was learning to use an anchor finger when switching chords and do not lift your hand too high when changig chords. I also practice changing chords while I sit on the couch watching TV, but I don't strum, just change chords. You can also plot out a route your fingers need to tale from one chord to the next for a song. Lastly there is no rush. Keep a a steady slow beat while learning. There is no need to rush, just keep the beat consistant. If it takes 4 seconds for the hardest changes then take 4 seconds for all changes until 4 seconds become 3 then 2 etc. Doing this has helped me a great deal. Try the couch/TV practice sessions it works.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2010 11:27:14 AM PST
Your biggest enemy is the enemy within, my best friends in the sixties were all superstar household names "guitar gods" I try to learn when Mick Jagger was beginning to learn guitar and whilst he made progress I lagged hopelessly behind and for years and years was totally discouraged. It took the late Ike Turner to shake me out of it and tell me "You can do it, make it your own" and I strangled the psychic censor, and then it happened the music came through - original and amazing - I could not learn the regular way played and still play "the wrong way" that is in a totally unconventional Richie Havens way and it's a fabulous thrill. If I were you I would challenge the defeatist notion that "I cannot do this, it's hopeless etc" Search and you will find but beware of instruction it all too often makes people become mediocre people who can only play other people's songs in a mediocre fashion that is to say they have no sound of their own. It is the same with art. Some things have to be discovered inwardly as it were.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2010 11:37:36 AM PST
R. Strong says:
You're absolutely right. No two people paint the same with a paint brush. Well said. Happy for you that you found yourself within.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 30, 2010 2:40:05 PM PST
Slurrp says:
100 hours is too much for you huh? you should quit; youre probably going to die soon anyway. youll have plenty of time in heaven to learn the harp.

Posted on Jan 30, 2010 3:19:26 PM PST
[Deleted by Amazon on Apr 21, 2011 9:14:34 AM PDT]

Posted on Jan 31, 2010 6:49:27 AM PST
R. Dalby says:
My two cents: I started playing the acoustic guitar when I was fifteen years old. Never stuck with it but picked it up now and then and am very proficient at the basic chords. The acoustic guitar never turned me on. I LOVE electric guitar, but for some unknown, (but surely ridiculous reasons), never got one. Well, I just turned 61 and got my electric guitar. Now I know what they mean when they say practice can be fun. I had never done anything but strum chords, had never touched a pick. I'm having more fun now than ever. I am learning the pentatonic scales and I love it! I reach plateaus where I think I just can't get this, but one day it just comes together and the feeling is unbeatable.

M. Waters, I guess my two cents is: in addition to the GREAT advice posted here, for me the difference between now and the last forty-five years is learning a type of music that you love, that totally turns you on. When I started in the early 60's, I took lessons from someone who had already attained a bit of success in folk music. His belief was that everyone had to learn folk music and, hey, what did I know? Problem is I never was turned on by folk music, I just didn't FEEL it. I'd listen to blues or rock guitarists and literally would feel it so much I'd get tears in my eyes. (And still do.) Now I kick myself for never pursuing that love. If you love it, stick with it, M. Focus on whatever progress you make, be it little or great.

SWAMP RAT: I love your posts. You have helped me in ways you don't even know.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 31, 2010 11:31:16 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 31, 2010 1:44:47 PM PST
Swamp Rat says:
R. Dalby,
Thank you very much for your comment.
I dunno if this will be useful or interesting, but let me share the following. I got my first guitar at age sixteen, and for some reason that shall never be revealed in a very short time I could play better than my wildest dreams . . . I was unaccustomed to such success to say the least, since nothing like this had EVER happened to me before.
Now, at age sixty, the mystery continues. After a while I retreated from my potential and hid my candle under a bushel so to speak . . . I left L.A. and never looked back, hitchhiked around the country and busked for a while, and mostly spent my life touring in small time bands or playing little dives in the boondocks and and stayed out of cities. I did not think of the future and enjoyed the country life.
Being a "guitar savant" ruined all other aspects of my life for sure, but I am still thankful and am not complaining. For me, the fat lady has not sung yet.

When I read the posts here of unfulfilled aspirations from so many on this blog, I often wonder why I can do what I do and you guys remain unfulfilled in this area.
I went through the same thing as many of you only with vocals. I had no talent at all for it, even though I could play like an ace and was doing gigs full-time and some recording sessions in Hollywood by age eighteen.
I was performing and recording with some very good singers, and I could not sing to save my life. I tried, but I really stunk and I have the tapes to prove it.

I played so well and sang so poorly that I read the handwriting on the wall and never tried to sing again until many years later, and then not at all out of love or hope but out of frustration and extreme anger at a union official who told me once when I had a legitimate grievance against a bandleader (a good ole boy) "if you don't like it, then start your own band (and get a haircut)". Here I was paying union dues and when I got screwed, I got told to go to hell since I was an outsider and the bandleader was one of the clique. I was so angry I DID start my own band and sang horribly, reading lyrics off a music stand, but I didn't care. I was so used to trading on my gifted playing that it got me through until I wised up and started hiring vocalists, although I still kept singing a little. . . and the rest is rock and roll (or country) history. I eventually got better. But I did not get there through optimistic perseverance or faith or love of music. It was more spite than anything else. Funny how things work out.
Nowadays I sing fine, and I am living proof that talent helps but is NOT a prerequisite for achievement (it just makes it a lot easier if you have it). I will never be a great vocalist, and that is fine since for years I never thought I could do it at all, yet I was playing as good as I could ever imagine on guitar and pretty much always could.

Now I was in the right place at the right time to learn from some of the best players there were in L.A. in the late sixties, but that does not explain why I learned so quickly and achieved so much . . . it certainly did not happen for me on piano (and still has not, although I can play a bit nowadays) and for sure not with vocals. Like death and the opposite gender, I guess some things are not meant to be understood.
So forgive the long post, but to you who wish you could play in a way you will never achieve, be thankful that sometimes you do not always get what you want. It is truly a give and take world, methinks . . . and you pay one way or another for what you have. Playing guitar ruined my life and yet it is my saving grace. But to play as you wish you could is not necessarily what you think it may be in the real world . . . but then I overdid it, and made a career of it, so maybe I am not qualified to comment. But selling the thing you love best for money does have its drawbacks . . .
Again, I am thankful and feel the pain of you all that cannot do what I can do. The irony is that I do not appreciate my gift as I should. You guys help me with that very much, in ways you do not even know . . .

I learned to teach as I learned to play. I was surrounded by great players/teachers.
In my late teens I had a job as a janitor and gopher at The Ash Grove School of Traditional Folk Music every Sunday at a major folk club (the rest of the week), then in Hollywood (now the club is reincarnated on the Santa Monica pier after burning down in Hollywood years ago). Anyway, this does not explain why I sang so poorly and played so well . . . but it explains only where I stole my licks . . . (e.g: Taj Mahal taught harp and slide there.) I could attend all the shows for free during the week, and wound up performing there eventually in a jug band, opening for bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins.

SInce I have no way of knowing if any of my highly opinionated remarks (or anyone else's) have been of significant help to M. Waters (the original poster here), again I appreciate your good words, R. Dalby.


Posted on Jan 31, 2010 12:38:00 PM PST
Jimmy James says:
A beautiful, heartfelt, and honest post; thank you, Swamp Rat...

Posted on Jan 31, 2010 1:29:54 PM PST
R. Strong says:
Swamp Rat,
Your post almost brought tears to my eyes. Beautifully written and with such honesty!
Music comes natural to me, so I know if I gave it more effort I could do better. At my age I don't have any particular goals except to simply enjoy it all, so I'm happy enough. My heart break was having lost my voice to surgery. I always had a great voice (bragging) but can no longer hit the notes. A double gift is gone, but such is life. I'm substituting the harmonica, which I think I play well, but I can't seem to grasp the two together for some reason.
Thanks for lovely post. I, too, have learned from you.

Posted on Jan 31, 2010 1:49:43 PM PST
Swamp Rat says:
Thanks for the good words.
Very glad to be of service.

Posted on Feb 1, 2010 11:06:05 AM PST
Paul S. says:
There are so many resources available on the internet, I do think that anyone, anyone who can stick with something, can learn to play guitar.

One thing that I'd suggest, in addition to private guitar lessons or if not... there some Australian dude named Justin Sandercoe (sp?) who has a very extensive free video course... and he often answers question in live video chats on Ustream... is a software package called Guitar Pro 5. It makes learning songs (and learning to read music in the process) pretty effortless. It's like having a band to play along with at any time of the day or night. Plus, there are thousands upon thousands of Guitarpro format songs floating around on the internet. Chances are, any song you want to learn as been arranged by someone in GP format and uploaded.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 1, 2010 5:13:02 PM PST
Jimmy James says:
Hey Swamp Rat:

Speaking of LA studio players in the late '60s-early 70s, did you know Hugh McCracken, Howard Roberts, or Tommy Tedesco...?? I feel like I'm playing "What's My Line?" or "To Tell The Truth." Ok, i'll take a guess: are you Ry Cooder ??

Posted on Feb 1, 2010 5:53:18 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 1, 2010 5:56:27 PM PST
Swamp Rat says:
I regrettably didn't know any of the guys you listed...(I was gone from L.A. long before 1970.)
I was and remain strictly a small time guy in the business . . . never met Ry.
Thanks for asking . . .

Posted on Feb 3, 2010 9:02:16 PM PST
I just have fallen in love with the guitar. I'm 74 and have been playing everyday for 9 months. For me I'm not going to be a rock star, nor a singer so I have not interest in playing cordes. i read music and once i learned the notes on the Guitar it became a real joy. I play by my self and to play the melody line of the song is a blast. I purchased 5 easy fake books from amazon and this has made the whole trip fun. They are songs that i know and love and they are written in the key of C. Anyhow I'm loving the trip and maybe you too could enjoy this path and forget about being a rock star.
If you don't enjoy the trip get out of the car.

Posted on Feb 3, 2010 9:21:42 PM PST
D. Mok says:
You can play however you like! B.B. King, after 60 years of playing, still admits freely that he can't play rhythm guitar (rightly or wrongly, nobody knows), and can't sing and play at the same time. We still have a heck of a good time listening to him.

How and what we play matters less; what matters is that we mean it, we have something to say, and we know and embrace our strengths and weaknesses.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2010 2:40:22 PM PST
Have you tried Guitar Hero or Rock Band? These might improve your sense of rhythm, then go back to practicing chords.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2010 5:19:50 PM PST
D. Mok says:
Actually, the guitar portion of Guitar Hero does almost nothing for real guitar skills.

First of all, the neck of the controller is actually huge -- far thicker than pretty much any guitar neck I've played, and I enjoy "baseball-bat" necks.

Secondly, the five buttons are much farther apart than the frets on full-size guitars. And they are aligned only lengthwise of the neck.

Third, the right hand moves far less than on a real guitar.

Fourth, the sound you make is not related to your fingers -- just the timing is -- and guitar is a very touch-sensitive instrument.

The one portion of those music games that actually helps train for the real-life counterpart is the drumkit. The co-ordination required to play the game actually functions fairly similarly to practising on a pad.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 4, 2010 6:04:13 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 4, 2010 6:06:52 PM PST
GaryShawn says:
Play and learn the guitar for fun. There is an excellent CD ROM that progresses you through using real songs and accompanies you. You have to treat it like a fun hobby, not traing for a job and you will slowly start to understand it. There is a great little book about the path to learning the guitar called Zen Guitar...It explains why learning guitar needs a Beginners Mind always....
If you can see it as a journey and not a will have fun..
Good Luck..
.eMedia Guitar Method v5Zen Guitar

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 5, 2010 5:47:54 PM PST
Sorry to hear your difficulty. However, everything takes a lot of practice. Some people pick it up faster than others. My approach for you would be to either play partial chords that is the tonic note and the 5th tone,( two note chords, like the rockers and metal players do. Some call these power chords. The advantage is you don't have to learn 2 different chords for the same tonic note,that is example an A major and an A minor chord, you could just play the A power chord(2 note chord, hold the A note,5th fret , 6 string and the E note, 7th fret,5th string).

The other alternative to learning chord changes is to retune your guitar to a chord , whatever you like , if you sing in the key of G tune it to a G chord, the the other chords should not be that much harder than in standard tuning.

Have Fun Roy

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 6, 2010 6:53:33 AM PST
T. J. Bahn says:
The source Paul mentions is, and it's excellent. I'm one of the 50+ plus guys who have been chronically unable to play or at least unwilling to stay with it long enough. I'm using justinguitar's beginner course. Any suggestions about the pre-callous phase of guitar playing, other than just suck it up and deal with it? This is the point when many just bail out, but I'm determined this time not to.

Posted on Feb 6, 2010 10:42:27 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 6, 2010 12:03:15 PM PST
Swamp Rat says:
T.J. Bahn (et al),
I recommend a nylon string guitar to start, regardless of where you intend to end up.

In my earlier posts I elaborated on the importance of personal (not group) instruction in the early phases, and finding the right teacher . . . a very difficult task.
I see a lot of contradictory and well-intended misinformation in this thread. I find this also to be true in virtually all "one size fits all" instruction materials.
Be careful, here there be dragons.
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