While we learn to play guitar, we always get discouraged for whatever reason; never going to be good enough, this is too hard, what’s the point? We see these videos which may be too advanced for our current skill, watching the guy “teach” us these riffs which are impossible to follow, even at the reduced speed! Ouch! That can be demotivating.

The thing we need to keep in mind is, at some point in time, your guitar idol couldn’t play the guitar either. No one is really born with “guitar playing instinct”. Heck it takes us practice before we can learn to crawl, speak, write, etc… So this shouldn’t be a surprise to us, right?

Still young?

If you’re still in high school, you have an awesome chance at really being a virtuoso by the time you reach my age. If you love music, you can strive to become a University professor, studio artist, composer, etc… But ALWAYS have a backup plan, the more skills you have – the more valuable you are for the workforce. (thanks dad!) A friend of mine’s son learnt the guitar, became pretty good at it (Steve Vai type stuff), worked as a studio artist, became a composer (for symphonies) and is on his way to getting his PhD and becoming a University professor. He didn’t give up, I remember him learning from someone that had trouble doing pentatonics and soon surpassed his “instructor” by learning / practicing 8 hours a day!

Old fart like me?

Let’s just say I was in high-school when Nevermind was topping charts. Today, I’m learning the basics of lead guitar (pentatonic shapes) and, at the time of writing this, just started learning riffs and solos from my idols. Finding motivation at our age may be a little harder. We have a mortgage to pay, a job to maintain and kids! We ask ourselves, sometimes if it’s worth it and will we ever be good at this? Well the answer is ultimately yes and yes! You can teach an old dog new tricks! There are several reasons to sticking with it during the hard times of learning the guitar. For one, it gives us a channel to escape the mundane day-to-day stuff. An outlet for frustrations at your job (rip into your 6 string, not your family). Something to teach your kids and share a passion (if you’re lucky), also music can be great at developing better brain function (didn’t work for me but maybe for others). And if it doesn’t work out with your wife… well chicks dig guitar players haha!

I’m not good enough!

Well duh! Everyone lived this stage. Some less than others only because of the hours they put in. Imagine a counter on someone’s wrist “Hours playing guitar”. Your idol may have 40,000 hours of playing (can you imagine Jimmy Page’s counter). Instructors on youtube may have 15,000 hours! You have maybe 100 or even 5000! So don’t beat yourself up because you can’t be like Hendrix after a year of fiddling around with the guitar once in a while! Talent is one thing but for the most part it takes dedication, patience, PRACTICE and TIME. You may suck today but if you practice/learn and stick with it, you will suck less and less. Even if you’re at the very beginning stage of trying to get those damn fingers to make open Major chords (and God forbid the Bm bar chord), it does get easier with practice and time – don’t rush yourself.

Motivation: What didn’t and what I think is working for me

Your results may vary but what didn’t work for me:

  • Noodling around, wishing I could be good at this.
  • Picking up the guitar once in a while and only playing what I know (Mostly rhythm and Beatles songs)
  • Ignoring basics and just trying to learn crazy solos from guitar gods
  • Trying to find “shortcuts” rather than just picking up the freaking guitar!

Recently I made the decision to become good at this! First I knew what kind of music I’m passionate about and who I idolize on the guitar. I think this is our starting point, who inspired us to pick up the guitar? For me it’s several people but mainly: SRV, Hendrix, George Harrison, Gilmour, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Healey, and more. I love blues and blues/rock mainly and a lot of songs from the late 50’s and 60’s. First step is getting it in your head that you WILL learn this, then knowing what exactly you want to learn and what you want to do with it? For me I want to be a part of a band (for fun only) that plays on weekends, improvising blues and just having fun.

I didn’t just jump in and try to solo like any of the above with my new found motivation! In fact, I stayed away from their solos other than listening to the music. I kept saying “not yet, not yet, not yet”… Since the style I love so much is pretty much based on pentatonics, I figured a good starting point (or three): a) pentatonic shapes, b) learning the notes on the fretboard, or how to find them, and; c) ear training.

I spent almost 2 months taking care of the boring stuff, okay, with some noodling to backing tracks which is fun (but don’t get trapped noodling to death). But I spent 1 to 2 hours a day getting comfortable with the pentatonic shapes, how they connect, their root notes (Maj/Min) and learning the fretboard with some ear training mixed in. I still have a ton of work to do with the basics (pentatonics and fretboard notes) but I’m a little more comfortable learning easy solos now.

Learning my first solo, note for note

This was always impossible for me! Until recently. I selected some easy solos to start with. Although I’m not 100% there yet, I’m very happy to be where I’m at, I mean after YEARS of playing (off and on), I never got this far so quick.

I selected George Harrison’s “Something” and Gilmour’s “Comfortably Numb” solos to start. Something is not a fast solo but it is very melodic and follows the chord progression, has lots of bends and feeling. Comfortably Numb, which is one of the most recognized solos out there, is not “hard” for seasoned players but there’s a bunch of techniques in there and some fast parts but it’s mostly played in Bm using pentatonics (okay little more complex with diatonic notes and such but it’s mostly a Bm pentatonic) :)

With all that said, sticking to the “boring” basics REALLY helps a lot! The plethora of solo instruction videos on YouTube suddenly become a little easier. Once you learn a riff (even a simple one), you get this rush of motivation that helps to push you to the next level. And really that’s pretty much it. Always look for the next “level-up”. If you spend your time being comfortable on the guitar, then you’re not learning or progressing.

Point of the story

Man, that was a rant! Must be strong coffee this morning! The moral is: Don’t give up! It’s hard now but if you cover the foundation pieces first, the rest sort of becomes “easier”. Also never stick to what’s comfortable for you, especially in this beginner stage.