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Self-Taught Guitarist or Not?

black guitarFinding your own way on the guitar


SO HERE YOU ARE, reading Play Guitar! magazine, probably thinking that starting on the guitar sounds like a nifty idea. Perhaps you’ve already been playing a bit and now you’re looking for some tips and advice. Chances are good that somewhere in your mind you are forming the central question all guitarists ask: where’s my money?


Chances are also good that you are asking yourself the question: can I–and should I–teach myself to play? The very fact that we’ve bothered to publish this magazine should give you an idea of where we stand on that issue, but when pressed, our answer would be an emphatic “yes and no.”


Lets start with the “yes.” Self-instruction and the guitar are like pancakes and syrup, Laurel and Hardy . . . you get the picture. Why? To begin with, you don’t have to work very hard to make nice sounds. Also, few other instruments allow you to practice in your room without risking physical assault from your spouse, kids, parents, neighbors, or household pets.


And it’s relatively inexpensive to get started. Moreover, self-instruction can allow your musicality to flourish without being shadowed by obligation and guilt, hobgoblins that often haunt the paying guitar student.


If you teach yourself, you can decide what to learn and when you want to learn it. Knowing how to make those decisions requires a healthy dose of determination and focus, but if you can learn to love the process, you’ll also enjoy the challenges.


Here’s a great  resource to help you get started: http://www.guitarplayerworld.com


Avoiding Pitfalls


Now for the “no.” Unless you’re Jimi Hendrix (hint: you’re not), you probably have some limitations (hint: this is really OK). Although it’s easy to pick up the basics of the guitar, it’s also easy to injure yourself with bad technique. Many self-taught guitarists spend years trying to heal themselves and are often forced to quit playing for long periods of time.


Spouses–and parents–may be secretly relieved, but we still want to avoid this. The best solution is to find a reputable teacher to give you tune-ups a few times a year. A good teacher can help erase bad and potentially injurious habits by demonstrating good ones.


A really good teacher will pay attention to the way you sit, hold the instrument, and breathe while playing and help you develop exercises that work for you. Great players are not necessarily good teachers, and it’s important to find someone who is more interested in what you want to learn than what they have to say.


Another long-term problem for self-taught players is isolation. Like shower singers who clam up in the company of others, many guitarists will only play alone in their bedrooms. There’s nothing wrong this, but it can limit your musical development.


Music, after all, is primarily about communication, and communication is at least 50 percent listening. At some point, and the earlier the better, you’re going to want to find people to play with.


It doesn’t have to be a teacher or a band or anything formal, but it should be something, since there is simply no better way to progress. Nothing else will offer you the light bulbs of inspiration that come from playing with and listening to others.


The last major pitfall is one we can help you with right now, one we’ll call the “comfortable rut.” It’s easy to wind up playing a satisfying ditty like “Dust in the Wind” or “Sk8er Boi” endlessly, never bothering to tackle the more subtle works of either Kansas or Avril Lavigne, but you’ll probably become either bored or boring (or both).


A private teacher can kick you out of your rut on a regular basis, pushing you on your weak spots and opening your ear to new sounds. But perhaps that’s why you’re not taking private lessons? We won’t ask. Instead, here are some resources you can use to get on the road and stay happy, healthy and out of the ditches.