Thoughts by Richard Bleil
By the writing of this post, I’ve completed two lessons with my new Gibson Les Paul guitar (thank you, Mike), but by the time you read it I should have completed my third as well. There are only four such lessons, so today, the fifteenth if all goes according to plan, I’m three-fourths done. I know I can pay for additional lessons, but I have not yet made a decision on that.
Actually, I’m learning guitar from three sources, and discovering that I’m learning something different in each. The lessons I’m taking from the store is probably the best. The reality is that you learn the most when playing with others, be it an instructor (who at least will teach you how to play properly), or with a friend or band. When you’re working with others, you learn from each other. What’s more, there is no excuses. Either you’re keeping up, or you’re not, and there really is no in between. With my instructor, I’m asking a lot of questions, and learning how to cheat.
Sometimes cheating is a bad thing. Cheating on taxes will get you into legal problems. Cheating on schoolwork can get you kicked out of college. But cheating at life is something I actually enjoy. See, small life cheats just make life easier, and as long as nobody is getting hurt, I’ve reached a stage in my life where, frankly, I enjoy the freedom to cheat. At guitar, for example, in my second lesson I noticed my guitar teacher using his thumb on the D-chord. He used it to press the low E string (the top string) and tells me it’s something that Jimi Hendrix used to do (I miss Jimi). I never would have thought about it, but for the past few days I’ve been using that cheat. I also noticed that when he’s using a pick, he’s also plucking strings with his fingers. I never would have thought of this hybrid technique. Frankly, I’m not practicing that; I’m having enough trouble with just the pick, but I look forward to the day that I feel confident enough to add that. This should help me dramatically increase my picking speed.
Along with the lessons, I’m learning from a book. This book was clearly written to be used with a teacher (or at least a friend also going along with it) as it says things like “alternate the strumming with…” But that’s okay, I’m still learning a lot with it. With the book, I’m learning to read music (a lot of which is coming back to me but much more strongly than I could grasp it in the past since it is one string at a time). I’m also up to the point where it is going through chords. The book is very good at methodically introducing one piece at a time. It started with just the high E string (the bottom string), then it added the next string up (the B string), and then the third (G). It’s as far as I’ve gotten so far, but now it is beginning to introduce chords, but just two at a time. I’m trying to practice every day (and doing moderately well at this goal), although I only use the book three days a week. I’m glad it’s covering reading music, as we don’t seem to be covering that (yet) with my lessons.
The third method I’m using is a Gibson app on learning to play guitar. This one has been mainly teaching plucking strings, again starting with the high E string (the bottom string). I’m also using that app three times a week (are you seeing a pattern? I’m alternating between the book and the app and taking lessons on Sundays.). This one is teaching timing, and practicing moving my fingers from one fret to another. As a bonus, it simulates playing in a band, although it’s a little bit frustrating as I think I’m doing better than it does. It’s possible that I need to adjust the app delay.
All in all, it’s not bad. I’m playing a few songs, like Iron Man using power chords from my lessons (working on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” through the lessons this week as well), and I plucked “Love Me Tender” from my book the other day. That was fun. The book had a different name for the song, but as I was plucking it out, by reading the notes no less, the sound was all too familiar.
This week, I’m working on chords, classical from all three sources, and power chords from my lessons. I’m certainly not good enough to serenade my one true love, but I’m a lot closer than I have been in decades!