Wednesday 9 June 2010

Support group for non-musical guitarists

After two recent messages on youtube (Norty and Cory, similar types of guitar players to me) I decided we need a support group for non-musical guitarists.

Let me explain.

Ohhhh I'm a fraud, a big liar, it's all sham, woe is me; for I know nothing about music, I just know how to play the guitar.

There, got it off my chest.  "Hi, my name's JAW, I'm a non-musical guitarist".  Well in fact I've insinuated it many times in previous posts and messages, I've just never really boiled it down for you all to comprehend.

Now I can see a few of you are scratching your heads, but a lot of you know exactly what I'm talking about.  Let me further explain.

I never play scales, if pressed, I could probably play a major scale, but I wouldn't know what key it is.  I don't know the difference between a delorian and a septatonic key. "C7" is a chord where you additionally put your pinky on the 3rd fret 3rd string, which is in fact a Bb.  Okay the 7 means something about the seventh tone from the root note C - you do pick up a few things even when you aren't paying attention.

I once sat with a guitar teacher, and after asking me some questions and watching me play he summed it up perfectly: "Okay, so you're a pretty good guitar player but you have no idea what you are doing."

So, what's the problem with that?

There is a lot of problems with that.  Foremost, you can't sit down with a real musician and weave the language of music on your instruments with each other.  At best, you could learn a part of a duet by rote, and line them up.  You'll have trouble developing an ear.  My ear is terrible, I find it almost impossible to follow even a very simple melody.  Most of my arrangements I've pulled together from half tabs and midi files.  Creating your own compositions - some understanding of music will certainly help that process.

So why aren't I doing anything about it, and why are there people like us?

It's not that important to me.  It's not where I derive my enjoyment of the guitar from.  Perhaps one day it will be, but it's been 30+ years and I still haven't bothered - sure, I've scratched around the surface and I probably know more than I give myself credit for, but it isn't a driver in my guitar experience.

But it does mean I am relegated to playing solo, not really understanding the very principles behind what I do.

So if you know exactly what I'm talking about; either get on learning music, or join in my support group for non-musical guitarists :)



  1. I definitely need to join the group.

    Even after 2 years of learning to play the guitar, I hate going to gatherings, parties, etc and not be able to join in when people pull out their instruments.

    My friends know that I have been learning for this long and it is somewhat embarrassing to be put in that position and not know how to join in.

    I decided a few months ago to put the fingerstyle aside for a while and actually learn to play rhythm... at least enough that I can join in a little bit. After a few frustrating days (I know, not enough time) I went back to my comfort zone and began fingerstyle again. I just didn't enjoy it.

    This is why I originally began learning to play and keep at it to this day. For my own enjoyment. I just plain don't want to learn anything else... I am loving this too much.

    So... I have learned to redefine what I am doing. I am learning to play "solo fingerstyle guitar". I am not "learning to play the guitar" - that is too generic.

    I will continue learning to play solo and love it.

  2. Just to make you feel better:
    Some time ago I read an article about Paco de Lucia, the best flamenco guitarist around, and it said,he didn`t know anything about music theory and how to read sheet music, when he became famous.
    He just learnt it after he already was a professional player, because some other flamenco Pros wanted to jam with him and he always played "wrong notes".
    But this is typical for traditional flamenco guitar the article said. These guys learn their ancestors songs, but only by ear, not theory, no sheet music.
    Greets Andi

  3. Thanks Andi, that does help :)

    It's kinda what I've been thinking - it's not so bad that I don't know what I'm doing right now, I'm still getting plenty of skills and enjoying myself; eventually I'll see "real music" (probably jazz) as a challenge and then I'll get onto it.

    Maybe, the day before I die, I will be a well rounded guitarist *and* musician :)

    Thanks for stopping by,

  4. I had a discussion with our lead guitarist yesterday after he watched me play the 1st 40 measures of Canon. After I played what I knew he asked me "Now do you know what you just did?"
    Of course I don't. I know it's in the key of D major only because JAW put it in the title of the song. So, he told me about the keys and the relatives and such. Most of this I had guessed were the rules, as they make sense in a mathematical or logical way.
    As I have told JAW before I don't know squat about this stuff. I'm getting good at imitating other guitarists but I don't feel as though I'm on the same level as even beginners who have all of this guitar lore set in stone in the back of their head. Sometimes this is very frustrating, like when our lead wants to "jam" instead of practice (something which I feel is of lesser value to be honest, but can be fun).
    Although I think I'm doing OK as I am I can't help but feel that if I knew "what i was doing" then it would not take me 4 weeks to learn 40 measures of 1 song. Learning all of the fundamentals seems like a tiring process that I'm not quite ready to fully hit head on at the moment, as I'm enjoying the songs I'm learning too much to delay their progress.
    One day soon though, I will set out on that marathon and get that seemingly helpful but mundane step out of the way and hopefully progress on everything will be quicker.
    Thank you JAW again for all this and sign me up.

  5. Ha, yep, proper musicians do that - "do you know what you just did?" I've had that before. And although I hate not having an answer, I live with it for now. But we must have a similar brain, because I also think of music in terms of mathematics, and logic. Things sound right because they obeys patterns and laws of mathematics...

    ...and I'm in total agreeance with you - I'm having too much fun to do the "fundamentals of music marathon", but I plan on doing it one day.

    One thing that I am getting in the style that I'm playing is a sense of rhythm - something that drummers and bass guitars seem to have in abundance. When you are playing a bassline and then a melody on top, it forces you to really think rhythm, if you are running off beat melodies how does that work against the bassline? Perhaps lead guitarists, particularly jazz guitarists (jazz seems to be the land of musical understanding) do understand rhythm, but I never really took it in until I was forced to with this type of fingerstyle.

    I'll make a deal with you - whoever finds the best/quickest way of "coming up to speed" with music theory, be it a book, DVD, night school course or tutor - let the other know! :)


  6. Hi,
    I'm here to join the group :)
    I don't know much about music theory but I'm sure I would be so much better and confident if I got a teacher in time. I forced myself to learn some basic scales (major, minor in 2 fingerings) and I play them sometimes for warming up, but that's all.
    I comfort myself with the fact that McCartney and Lennon couldn't even read/write music, and they had the greatest affect on non classical music.

    Here are two threads in this subject:

    By the way, I have some questions to skillful but not trained guitarists (to my group mates :) ) :
    How do you know the fretboard? Can you name the note, do you hear it in your head if I pick a position and a string on it? Can you play flawlessly a simple tune that you never played before if I sing it to you?


  7. I too am a prime candidate for such a support group. Trouble is, like most people (I think) I can only allow a certain amount of time to my activities. when I get time to play guitar, then that is what I want to do, not trying to teach myself boring theory type work. Many years ago, I did begin to learn music and could (with difficulty) site read and play simple melodies, but instead of moving forward I never got the time to practise what I had already learnt and I found that it became counter productive, it has all but gone now. For me, it is probably a time management issue, even though I am retired now, there are just not enough hours in the day. I desperately want to play the guitar well, but it is not really happening. Can anyone help, Please.
    Regards Keith.

  8. I think the key there is "I desperately want to play guitar well" - and I bet a lot of us are in that boat. You don't need to know theory to do that (I'm an example), but to be a proper musician you will need to. It's impossible to avoid _not_ learning theory; you will pick some up along the way just in passing. I basically got to where I am - a reasonably good guitar _player_ - through sheer persistence. I play a song like it is a challenge that I have to conquer, and I do whatever it takes to get there. One bar at a time, one phrase at a time, one song at a time.

    Technique is most important to get started, you don't specifically need theory. I recommend at least a couple of sessions with someone who knows what they are doing to make sure you have a good position and a couple of basic must-knows, it will help avoid re-learning from mistakes. Although these days I reckon you could completely learn to play the guitar just from videos on youtube - from the moment you first hold your guitar to your twentieth virtuoso fingerstyle arrangement, it's all there!

    Persistence is the key. Passion is the key to persistence. You've got to want it, at whatever cost. But I reckon you already know that - it is true of everything :)

    Good skill to you Keith!