Hey gang, greets from a jet lagged fingerpicker. I just got back from Singapore and Kuala Lumpur – what a delightful tour it was!
I had the pleasure to meet some excellent young guitar players – and the bizarro moment happened. Kids who were inspired by Sungha Jung playing my arrangements are playing their little butts off! Wow…
I was really surprised to see some super talents who’ve been playing only 3 or 4 years. I met about 3 or 4 young guitar pickers like this and I am sure Asia has a few more than that 🙂
What I found interesting was that all of them have the same “weak spots” in their playing…and this is the “learn by copying from Youtube” generation.
On the one hand it is fabulous that the enthusiasm for music is catching fire worldwide, but on the other hand there is a qualitative “dip” due to people teaching themselves.
This gave me some ideas about posting some guitar lessons specifically aimed at self learners. I plan on doing some videos, but here are my first “round” of thoughts.
And please – don’t use the excuse that “so and so learned by himself so that’s what I will do too” – because many the so called “famous” young players on youtube have the exact weak spots I am about to describe.
Pitfalls of Self Learning
I urge anyone out there who is “learning by themselves” to continue with their passion, keep practicing, and ADD a real live teacher to the mix. You’ll learn better and be steered away from bad habits before they solidify.
A great guitar player from Kuala Lumpur – Az Samad graciously invited me to one of his gigs and we had a chance to talk before I went on. He described what he calls “Invisible Technique” which I thought was an excellent way of putting things.
Invisible Technique is all the stuff you don’t “see”, i.e. it’s the OPPOSITE of a “flashy display” of chops.
A crazy guitar circus act is fun, but that won’t make a night of music! That’s not where the substance comes from – it’s simply the cherry on top.
Here are the top guitar problems I saw across the board – from the students who are teaching themselves from Youtube.
Pitfall #1 – Weak Tone
You need to learn “tone” from someone IN THE ROOM with you who gets a great tone. Yes, with just their hands and the instrument.
When I studied classical guitar my teacher got a big, luscious sound out of a guitar and when he handed me the same guitar – I heard a small weak sound. That was the “D’oh” moment.
Until you experience this – your tone will probably be pale and “lifeless”. Ouch, that hurts, I know!
Pitfall #2 – Groove
Everyone thinks their rhythm is good. I do, you do we all do. How do you know if you really do, though?
It’s not until someone better than you kicks your butt with a heavy groove and points out the problems that you know where you stand! D’oh!
As well, when you are just starting – you probably try to get all the “details” of an arrangement and then without realizing it, you can add or take away beats.
I saw a few young students play arrangements by myself, Tommy Emmanuel and Andy McKee – and in each case, their fingers “scrambled” to play the correct notes but dropped the groove.
I showed one young student 5 different ways to play the intro to my song – all different “notes” but with the groove and the musical idea.
This leads to….
Pitfall #3 – Separating the Forest From the Trees, Musically
In playing music, you need to know what an intro, a section, a verse, an interlude and a chorus are rather than just play a string of notes beginning to end and that’s the song.
Without a knowledge of form or harmony – it’s like reading a foreign language out loud and having no comprehension of the meaning of the words. Imagine how ridiculous that would sound like to a native speaker of the language!
That’s what players who simply “play the notes” sound like.
So – with “imitation” which is a good first step, you can only “spit back” notes. Understanding will not only help you tell a better more personal story with the music – you’ll be less nervous on stage!
Pitfall #4 – Technique
Many self taught guitarists keep the right shoulder tense, and raise it higher than the left in order to find a usable hand position. This is a bad bad bad long term strategy, and usually goes hand in hand with a weak tone and neck problems.
A teacher can help you “be patient” and not get an immediate result – but get you a good result that you can use for a lifetime.
Conclusion – It’s not As Grim as You Think…
Don’t just read this post and nod and say “yes” I understand. Do what I did…take lessons from a live person.
Social media does NOT equal a student teacher relationship. We all need real people, face to face. Someone who can grab your hand at a lesson and place it properly.
If you put videos up and people like them – that’s a testament to your talent – but…
As my teacher, Mike Longo said….
“Talent is what your START with – not what you end up with.”