So you think you can…learn to play guitar

As I frequently mention in my Guitar Mastery Blueprint speaking presentations, I have been coaching guitarists pretty much full time for 20+ years. After spending this kind of time with people that wish to learn to play guitar, 30-40 hours per week with all kinds of different personalities that have an almost identical goal in mind, it really becomes quite easy to start identifying certain behavioural patterns and traits that invariably lead to VERY specific results – either positive (rarely) or negative (much more often…)

So, I will start a series of posts dealing with the issue of being a self-taught guitarist. However, before I continue, I want to make 2 very important clarifications
1)      This post refers to people that are self-taught by CHOICE – not for any other reason
2)      I am referring to those that wish to become excellent at the specific art form – not to people that are cool with being “just ok” with it, play a few songs for their friends etc.

So, I get very often the question about whether is it possible to learn guitar by yourself – that is be Self-Taught. We are talking about reaching a high-quality, contemporary level guitar playing, similar to the skillset of the top professional in the field, people like John Petrucci, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Andy Timmons, Paul Gilbert, etc… You get the idea.

The problem with this question is first of all the PHRASING of the question. Let me illustrate.
Just a few weeks ago, I read that during the last 25 years, around 20 (more or less) people have survived jumping from high flying airplanes, either WITHOUT a parachute, or (in most cases) with a parachute that FAILED to open. These people SURVIVED (having sustained various heavy injuries, obviously). So, it is very clear that, it is POSSIBLE to jump from a flying airplane without a parachute and survive. Is it PROBABLE to survive this, though?  Not really…I forget the exact statistics, but I think I remember the chances being roughly around 1 out of 200,000 to survive this kind of thing. Which brings me to my next point…

Is it ADVISABLE to TRY this?

Obviously, the answer here is DEFINITELY not! And , if you are wondering, think what you would say if your child, or any person you love came to you and told you that they are planning to jump out of a high flying plane without a parachute…. 😉
“But”, I hear 4,672 self-taught guitarists cry, “I have heard that Yngwie/Marty/Steve were self taught!!! How do you explain that?!?!?!”
Guys (and girls)…these are the ones that JUMPED and SURVIVED.
Before you start “cheering” of the validity and efficiency their method – PLEASE inquire about  the vast numbers of those that “jumped” and did not survive…
The same argument can be made about all kinds of really dangerous stunts and even totally freaky stuff, like running multiple times across 8 lanes of traffic blindfolded or shooting yourself in the head.
A (very) small percentage of people will survive these activities (even being shot in the head)…
Feel free to cheer for them and make them feel really good for themselves that they made it.
But don’t forget the ones that did not…

Being self taught by choice.

This means the people that at a certain time during their guitar learning had the option of studying with someone skilful at the art for teaching guitar but they decided not to do that. They could benefit directly from someone else’s training and expertise but they decided not to do that. This is something particularly popular in Greek mentality.

For someone who wishes to get really good and decides to do that – I find this idea absolutely unbelievable – to an extreme degree. For two very important and discreet reasons.

1) The intensely short-sighted arguments I hear in favor of the efficiency of this method whenever there is a discussion on this matter

2)  the fact that (most of) the people that give me these arguments are normal people, with regular levels of intelligence and quite capable on properly handling themselves and making rational decisions  and effective choices in every OTHER other area of their life EXCEPT their music learning…

It seems that (especially Greek) self taught guitarists are CONSUMED with the idea of having learned to play guitar by themselves. They (want to) believe that they received no guidance from anyone while learning. No assistance. And they are damn proud of it! And, certainly, there is nothing wrong with this feeling of achievement….!

Except when the end result SUCKS…

See, in the self taught guitarist’s mind, it is of minor (or at least secondary) importance if the MUSICAL RESULT he has managed to produce is any good… What matters is that he made it BY HIMSELF…  Just like the 5 year old kid that makes a “gift” for his mother, let’s say a “coffee cup”,  using the clay they gave him at kindergarten. He is REALLY proud of it! But, of course, the FUNCTIONALITY of the gift sucks…

Meanwhile the SAME adult person has ABSOLUTELY no problem riding a car that someone else manufactured, living in a house that someone else constructed, eating food that other people prepared and reading newspapers that others wrote…

If his car breaks down, he will ask (and pay for) the assistance of someone who “knows how to fix cars”

If his taxes need to be done, he will ask (and pay for) the assistance of someone who “knows how to do taxes”

If he gets sick, he will ask (and pay for) the assistance of someone who “knows how to cure people”

If he wants to learn a foreign language, he will immediately ask (and pay for) the assistance of someone who “knows how to teach languages”

BUT, if he wants to learn how to play the guitar – he will NEVER ask (and pay for) the assistance of someone who “teaches guitar”!!

How could he? What would happen to his “pride”, then?

Of course, this “I did it myself” pride conveniently disappears during the rest of his life’s decisions when someone else makes his clothes, his food, his car, his coffee etc

It seems that most guitar players (especially Greeks) are just simply ASHAMED to either have guitar lessons or to ADMIT to having had guitar lessons at any point in time. So, let’s put this hypothesis to a test and she if it is really a shameful fact…

Imagine going to hear a live performance of an instrumental guitarist and his band. This guy plays REALLY well, with a lot of feel, excellent technique and an overall professionalism. After the performance, he grabs the microphone and says to everybody in the audience:

Thank you very much, guys – you’ve been a great audience! I’d like to sincerely thank my guitar teacher John Smith, without whom none of this would have been possible. I really owe it all to him – thank you John, you are amazing

So, the guy that just kicked ass on stage, attributes his success publicly, even to an extreme degree to someone else his teacher. So, what happens next?

Would ANYBODY think any LESS of him because he did that? Would you think that he “cheated” for having gotten an effective education in the subject matter of his choice?

My guess is that you would actually think even MORE highly of this guy after his declaration….

Now let’s take the example of an average self-taught player giving the same performance. He does not play that well, stumbles through his set, making a few mistakes here and there and altogether being just…uninteresting and even boring.

And at the end of the set , he grabs the microphone and says”

I know I did not play that well – BUT I learned to PLAY guitar BY MYSELF

And the audience will think:

You really SHOULD have gone to a Guitar Teacher…

If this behavior was CONSISTENT in the rest of his life, I would just chalk it up as a case of particularly low IQ and diminished frontal lobe functionality.

HOWEVER… the same person, in just about EVERY other venue of his life, will appreciate the value of education.  He will prefer a lawyer that is highly educated, a doctor that has studied in the best Universities – he HIMSELF will choose a good school for him or his son!

Except when the guitar is concerned – then we are back in the Middle Ages.

Education is the enemy…

So, let me simplify for everyone’s convenience

Guys, NOONE that listens to you and your music cares if you took guitar lessons or not. But they WILL care if you SUCK at what you (are trying to) do.

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