Thursday, 22 October 2009

Teach Yourself Guitar: Progress So Far...

Back in the middle of August, I said I was going to try and teach myself guitar using computer based and online tutorials. Initially, I said I'd report back in a month.

Unfortunately, progress has been slow. If I had been trying to match Ortis's achievement, I think I would have failed miserably! However, I thought I'd better show you where I am... prepare to be disappointed!

Mostly I've been using the Learn To Play feature in GarageBand. I think it's really good. Each lesson starts with the tutor taking you through the stuff you need to know (chords, strumming patterns, guitar tabs etc.) before giving you a backing track to play along to. So here are three videos, with some commentary. All constructive criticism gratefully received.

As I listened back to this video, I became aware of the way I was strumming. It was a chunka-chunka-chunka-pause, chunka-chunka-chunka-pause, chunka-chunka-chunka-pause,... style. The pause happened every time I changed chord. Clearly this isn't good. Yet I was completely unaware that I was doing it until I heard this video. I guess this is one place a where a face to face tutor would score over a virtual tutor as this would have been picked up much earlier.

A few weeks ago, I was browsing the Guitar Savvy site and I realise that when forming the D minor chord, my thumb was slipping down and lying along the neck instead of staying at right angles to it. Again, not good and again, probably would have been spotted by a face-to-face tutor. Another bad habit that has to be unlearned. And again, the pause in the strumming pattern just about every chord change. :-(

Disastrous! Constant, driving strum - fail! Muted strings to give cool, percussive sound in verse part - fail! Elbow not tucked in to avoid awkward wrist position - fail! Add to that my inability to play at anything like the full speed and the extreme pain caused by trying to play these power chords and we are talking unbelievably pathetic fail. Sigh!

So, am I learning anything? Am I getting better? I think so. I do like the GarageBand lessons. I especially like the way you can slow the playback speed down until you learn what you're doing. You can also put sections on repeat to practise them over and over again. It works. I'm enjoying myself. I think I'm getting better.

A feature that I haven't used yet, which may help me improve, is that GarageBand can record you playing along to the backing track. Given how much I learned listening to these videos, I think this is a feature I will have to use from now on.

Finally, I want to mention the guitar I'm playing. It's the one Daughter Number 2 built at Bailey Guitars - the one I won from Rock Radio. It is gorgeous to look at, sounds great (when played by someone that knows what they are doing) and easy to play - much easier to play that the Squire Stratocaster that I practise on. I cannot recommend Bailey Guitars highly enough.

Update: Just posted some reflections on the learning process on my Education blog.


MrStrathmore said...

Dave, I applaud your playing. You are making all these comments about your own failures but your real failure is not seeing your own successes! If you could take a video of this back in time, and show it to yourself before you even started, then I am sure you would be impressed.

Learning is never easy, this isn't the Matrix ("I know kung fu!") so it needs a bit of effort. Sure, there will always be ways you could have done it better but all you need to do know is make modifications, if you want, and it will only get better.

Rock and Roll!

admin said...

Hi David. As MrStrathmore said, you're making progress for sure and that is something that should be applauded. Keeping a list of checkpoints in your head at the beginning like elbow position, strumming fluidity (including left and right hand co-ordination), being aware of fretting hand thumb position etc. is tricky at first. When you first drive a car where you have to learn how to indicate, gear change, check mirrors, manoeuver, accelerate/brake/clutch at the same time as paying attention to what other drivers/pedestrians are doing... it's a nightmare but it becomes easier and eventually second nature the longer you drive. Continuing with this analogy, once you've been driving for a while I'm sure you won't do things the same as you did when you were first learning - you'll become comfortable with it and begin to do little things your own way - with guitar this is where your own playing style comes from.

The important thing is that you're paying attention to the little things now, that can restrict your playing later on and using video and (especially) recording your playing is great for this. Many people get some formal lessons to get them started then go their own way (Slash from GnR for example), while others benefit from lessons following strict syllabus with gradings such as Rock School. I personally find this learning style a bit too restrictive and therefore no fun at all. You can check out the RGT ( website to find a registered guitar tutor if you decide to give this a go.

If you can fight your way through these patches of feeling like you're getting nowhere (they happen to everyone) you'll overcome them. Only a couple of weeks ado, I finally managed to nail a chord progression that involved switching between open chords and barre chords up and down the neck of the guitar - but it had plagued me for weeks (probably months, if I'm being honest to myself) - the feeling of satisfaction was an amazing pay off! Now I've incorporated it into my warm up routine and practise it every day - I find it hard to remember what my problem was with it! The same will be true with you.

Good luck. Jim (Guitar Savvy

David said...

Thank you Mr Strathmore

I think I was aiming for a "two stars and a wish" assessment of my playing, although reading it back it does sound more like three wishes and a star!

I did try to end more positively and I am genuinely impressed with GarageBand (as I tried to say in my Education blog - Guitars and Online Learning). I am pleased with the progress I've made. It's been slow because I don't practise enough but there has been improvement. For example, I'm stupidly pleased with the single note melody exercise - I couldn't get that, even at slow speeds at first. However, as we talked about on the teaching course just last week, praise has to be genuine and deserved. There is no point in only praising - you need the wishes as well as the stars. I take it as a mark of my progress that I am now spotting new things that need to be fixed. To pick up on Jim's driving analogy, I knew I had made improvement in driving when I could avoid potholes in the road instead of just hanging onto the steering wheel for grim death!

Hello Jim

Thank you for the encouragement... and the driving analogy is a good one (see above!). I'm pleased that I'm noticing more now and that I am aware of the need to watch what I'm doing and to listen more to what I produce.

I think I'll stick with online tutors for the moment to see if I can get a bit further. If I decided to get a "proper" tutor, there is a good one about 5 minutes away from where I live. He used to teach my daughter (the daughter that built the gorgeous guitar I'm playing in the videos). She eventually left him because (in her opinion) he was making her do too much blues and not enough rock. I don't think that will be a problem for me. :-)