The Right TurnClyde Experiences - Chapter Two / How did I learn to play guitar and why

I tried and failed with guitar twice! - Now, on my third attempt and with the help of the internet and Rocksmith 2014 I’ve pushed through that first year (or two!) ‘pain and frustration’ barrier. There’s no going back now. I am no longer a twice thwarted guitarist - I am loving it.

1988 aged 20 I lived in West London and found myself in London’s famous Denmark Street gazing at a cool looking Japanese Les Paul copy that looked just like the one on ZZ Top’s early bluesy album cover. Somehow this guitar found its way home with me along with a Peavey Rage 158 practice amp. However I was living in a barrack room at the time and felt very self conscious of my loud crappy playing. I had a friend who was learning acoustic guitar at about the same time, taking lessons from Celtic guitarist Peter Chalmers. He progressed with finger style really quickly and through him and Peter I discovered folk and country blues. I lost interest in the electric guitar in favour of my harmonica with which I’d jam with my mate. I was able to practice harmonica throughout the day (even when I was working) so eventually the unused guitar/amp combo got part exchanged for a decrepit old VW beetle.

About a decade later, I somehow acquired a cheap Yamaha dreadnaught acoustic and resolved to follow in my old friends footsteps. However formal lessons weren’t my thing and I didn’t progress much beyond a few chords before disaster struck. Glastonbury festival; some drunk sprawled onto my tent, flattening both it and my guitar inside :’-(

Wind forward another 20 years; in the mean time I had never lost my passion for music and had tried my hand at a number of different instruments. I learned that if I stick at it, it takes me about seven years at whatever I try to get ‘good enough’ to please myself and non-musician listeners - Harmonica, Flute/Tinwhistle, Bodhran.
I was ‘struggling’ with a mandolin I had been left by an emigrating friend. There is the internet now and I found myself viewing blues guitar lessons with way more enthusiasm than mandolin lessons. I also came across the Rocksmith guitar trainer/game and it was this that motivated me to attempt the guitar again. I found an old unwanted electric guitar on freecycle and this time I stuck at it. In two years I have progressed faster and farther than I ever imagined possible back in analog times. I can fingerpick and improvise albeit at a basic level. I play along with friends now and have guitar buddy who complains that I’m gotten ”annoyingly good” in just the same way as I regarded my old friend decades before.

What I’ve learned is that (1) making practice a habitual routine, like meditation or yoga, really pays off over time. I make sure I pick that thing up every day. Even if it’s just 15 minutes to run through a tune once. (2) I’ve learned to recognise when I come to a plateau - I used to think “That’s it, this is as far as I can progress. I’m never going to get any better, I’m a musical failure. I don’t have The “Gift” of music” I know now to KEEP GOING! Rome wasn’t built in a day. So I change things about a bit; switch from acoustic to electric or back, focus on chords or melody; spend some time on theory (I got a little midi keyboard for this); I listen to different genres for inspiration.

A plateau always ends in breakthrough. I can’t say this enough. It is ALL about practice, patience, practice, persistence and practice, NOT talent! - I try to be kind to myself, forgive my mistakes (glide through them) and not compare myself to the professionals or so-called prodigies (they’ve all put in countless more hours than us and it’s not a contest anyhow!).

This is what motivates me to stick at it. I know from the experience of learning other instruments, that so long as I keep pushing there’s always the next breakthrough to look forward to.

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