04-28-15 - Guitar and Teaching

I'm sort of vaguely trying to learn guitar again as a late night alternative to TV.

I'm at the point I always hit where I lose steam. I can play some basic stuff, but not anything too difficult. The problem is I have trouble finding fun songs to play that aren't too hard, or finding songbooks or teach-yourself books that are both fun and not too hard.

What I really want, and what I think is the right way to teach guitar to a dabbler like me is :

A book songs, in progression of difficulty

The songs need to be modern (post-60's), fun, familiar
(classic rock is pretty safe)

The songs need to be the *actual* songs.  Not simplified versions.  Not transposed versions.
Not just the chords when the real song is much more complex.

When I play it, it needs to sound like the actual recording.

No funny tunings.  I can't be bothered with that.

and so far as I know nothing like that exists.

I've got a bunch of "easy rock guitar songbooks" and they all fucking suck.

There are lots of good tabs on the internet, and I've found some good stuff to learn that way, but fuck that. The last thing I want to be doing in my relaxing time is browsing the internet trying to decide which of the 400 fucking versions of the "Heartbreaker" tab is the right one I should try to learn.

(in the past I taught myself some classical guitar, and in contrast there are lots of great classical, and even finger-picking folk guitar song books and instructional progressions that give you nice songs to learn that are actually fun to play and sound like something)

I've tried taking lessons a few times in the past and the teachers always sucked. Maybe they were good in terms of getting you to be a better player, but they were awful at making it fun.

I had a teacher who wanted me to sit with a metronome and just pick the same note over and over to the metronome to work on my meter. WTF. You're fired. All teachers want you to play scales. Nope. And then for the "fun" part they want to teach some basic rock rhythm, A-A-E-E,A-A-E-E. Nope, I'm bored. You're fired. Then I get to learn a song and it's like some basic blues I've never heard of or some fucking John Denver or something. (*)

They seem to completely fail to understand that it has to keep the student interested. That's part of your job being a teacher. I'm not trying to become a professional musician. I don't have some great passionate motivation that's going to keep me going through the boring shit and drudgery of your lessons. You have to make it fun all the time.

(* = there is some kind of weird thing where people who play music generally have horrible taste in music. It's like they pay too much attention to either the notes/chord/key or to the technical playing, neither of which actually matter much. It's the feeling, man.)

It was interesting for me to see this in ceramics. I was lucky to find a really great teacher (Bill Wilcox) who understood that it had to be fun, and that this was a bit of a lark for most of us, and some were more serious than others. Maybe he wasn't the most efficient teacher in terms of conveying maximum learning in a set time period - but he kept you coming back. We occasionally had different guest teachers, and they were way more regimented and methodical and wanted you to do drills (pull a cylinder 20 times and check the walls for evenness), and you could see half the class thinking "fuck this"

I suppose this is true of all learning for some kids. Some kids are inherently motivated, I'm going to learn because I'm supposed to, or to get into a good college, or "for my future", or to be smarter than everyone else, or whatever. But other kids see a cosine and think "wtf is that for, who cares".

I've always thought the right way to teach anything is with a goal in mind. Not just "hey learn this because you're supposed to". But "we want to build a catapult and fire it and hit a target. Okay, we're going to need to learn about angles and triangles and such...". The best/easiest/deepest learning is what you learn because you need to learn it to accomplish something that you want to do.

What I need in guitar is a series of mini goals & accomplishments. Hey here's this new song, and it's a little bit too hard for me, but it's a fucking cool song so I actually want to play it. So I practice for a while and get better, and then I can play it, yay! Then I move on to the next one. Just like good game design. And WTF it just doesn't seem to exist.


NeARAZ said...


I dabbled with classical guitar at high school, then even took lessons for a year or so. Got electric guitar "to be cool", but turns out playing that is different. So it just sat there unused. I'd only very occasionally pick up guitar, like maybe once a month or so -- and so that was for last 12 or so years.

Saw someone speak about Rocksmith on facebook, decided to give it a shot with my old dusty electric guitar. ZOMG. What I always wanted teaching & "keeping me interested" wise.

Current status: about 400 hours over last 15 months; generally I play a bit each day; more on the weekends. It does feel like my "skillz" have improved quite a lot, but I frankly don't care about that much, I just want to have some fun playing.

I probably spent a ton of money getting all their DLC that I wanted (I don't give a shit about how much that costs; plus it's still cheaper than lessons or most other hobbies anyway). There's also 3rd party "custom tracks" scene (customsforge.com); they've reversed the DLC file format and put up a ton of custom tracks that aren't on official DLC (the quality is very much a hit-n-miss, very much like with tabs).

I'd say give it a shot on steam or console.

cbloom said...


I have a pretty strict rule about not using computers in the evening time. (because computers inevitably make me furious and want to smash things and then I can't sleep).

I'd prefer a solution that's not electronic. eg. just a good book.

But, I'll give it a try.

If it has things like ridiculous long load times, or glitchy clumbsy menu systems, I will SMASH IT.

NeARAZ said...

I'm playing on MacBookPro, after the initial game load (15 seconds or so?) I don't notice any other bad load times. That said, maybe my tolerance for load times is higher, dunno.

What I do turn off (in volume options) is the "announcer" that after each song says things like "amazing performance" or "could be better". That dude is seriuously annoying.

cam said...

I don't know how you feel about them, but Metallica often fills this sort of "learn rock guitar" niche.

Most of their popular songs released before the "black album" are fun to play.

cbloom said...

Yeah I'm down with Metallica but somebody needs to organize a nice set of learners tabs for me! I want to give you money! Make a damn decent guitar learner book!

(all the Hal Leonard books are ridiculously bad)

Jon Konrath said...

Just started on guitar, after a few years on bass, and I'm in the same boat. I bought a bunch of books at a used book store, hoping one of them would work, and they all start with "Amazing Grace" or "Auld Lang Syne," which would be awesome if it was the mid-18th century.

I tried Rocksmith on the Mac, and it's very hit-or-miss on my guitar (Squier Strat), a bit better on bass. It's buggy on picking up the sound, and the guitar doesn't always sound great. I think it depends on your particular guitar. I feel like if I could skip their cable and use a real audio interface, it would sound and register better, but that's their DRM, so you can't.

I hate most Hal Leonard books, but they had an old one from the mid-90s for bass for Metallica, and it was actually decent. It wasn't complete end-to-end songs, it was broken into riffs, and explained how/why Burton or Newsted did things. It met the goal of being fun with small goals. I don't know if they had a similar guitar one, or why their books became so awful after that.

Felix F. said...

Full disclosure: I learned guitar the hard way, years ago, by listening to tapes and reproducing what I heard. However, if I had to do it again now, I would recommend Justin Sandercoe's beginner book:
I haven't bought the book, but from watching his youtube channel and looking at many of the lessons on his webbage (justinguitar.com), I think that it should be right for you. He has some sample pages and videos of the book at the link above.

You can go to his intermediate book after that.

I have enjoyed your blog for years, and hope that I can help.

Felix F. said...

In my previous comment, I forgot to mention that Sandercoe's book has 9 levels of difficulty. I think that was what you were looking for.

old rants