So You Want To Learn how to Play Guitar…

“So, my __ year anniversary is coming up in 1-month, do you think that I can learn a song, just one song, on guitar to play and/or sing to my wife by then? Keep in mind that I have NEVER played guitar before in my life,” said an anxious man attending one of the weekend retreats that I often volunteer to play at. He was significantly shorter than me so he was peering up at me. I couldn’t help but offer a slight frown.

It was the second day of the retreat and I had just finished performing the mid-morning set. I was playing my beautiful custom ash Telecaster, handcrafted by a local company that sponsors me. Already drenched in sweat, I took my guitar off of my shoulders and gently placed it onto my guitar stand. As we walked off of the stage, we were greeted with fist bumps, hugs, and cheers–it was a great set.

Custom Telecaster made by Carroll Creek Guitars

There was an announcement that we had a decent sized break so I decided to follow the legion of men outside to spark up conversation. By now, I knew the stories of how long I had been playing guitar had been circulating and several of the guys had approached me with the same question.

“Is it true that you’ve only been playing for a little over 1-year???” (Thank you Fender Play)

–‘Yes’

“Wow! You are truly gifted!”

I returned an awkward smile, knowing all of the hard work I had put into being able to sing and play at the same time. Inspired by my play and the cohesiveness of our band, it was the perfect moment for the guy to ask my opinion. I couldn’t help but react in the manner that I did. I like to think that I’m a special case, but I’m far from it. I explained to the guy that it was an unfair question and that I was not qualified to answer; it all depended upon him.

“How can it be dependent on me? Can’t someone just show me and I practice for a few hours a day to get it down? If you can do it, why can’t I?”

Hit with so many questions and little to no time to explain my full journey, I simply gave the guy one of my mentors’ contact information at a local music store and the cliche you never know unless you try.

The instructor had taught me around the age of 13 but I was a different person then; it never stuck. I barely knew how to tune my guitar back then and by the age of 16, I had given up trying to learn. My recommended instructor is a great source, probably one of the best guitar players I’ve had the opportunity to learn from, but as good as a player that he is, he’s very laid back and loose. A guitar instructor, especially one who can play by ear often acts as an inspirational guide, not a guitar lesson dictator. In the end, true progress is truly is up to the player.

Fast forward 17 years and my musicianship has been born out of necessity and discipline, not because I am this awesome person who had an encounter with God himself and was instantly given amazing guitar skills overnight–although that would be a cool legendary tale. I had grown up as a vocalist at my local church. From the age of 5, I had sung in multiple groups with several forms of instrumentation backing me up. I knew the basics of music theory without knowing that I knew as much, so when the opportunity arose to take up guitar, I was a man hellbent on a heaven-sent mission.

About a year and a half prior to this particular retreat, I had been given an opportunity to become a worship leader at one of the largest churches in my town. During the interview process, I was asked why the church should take a chance on a worship leader who was not fluent in at least one instrument. This was part of the motivation.

Around the same time, I was assisting as a worship leader at my father’s church but what everyone didn’t know is that I was soaking up everything that I could like a sponge. We were singing songs that I had never heard before and I was learning everything 1-hour prior to each service but singing them as if I had known them all my life. The leader was instantly enamored with my ability to learn songs so quickly. One Saturday afternoon, our lead guitarist had let us know he would be taking a hiatus.

We managed to continue on for a few weeks but the glaring gap in instrumentation bothered me more and more. This was my opportunity.

During our practice time, I’d sneak glances at the band leader’s hands to find out what chords or licks he was playing while I did my thing with my vocals. One day on my commute home from work, I decided to stop at a local music store and bought a Yamaha acoustic guitar for little over $100. I found a YouTube video that showed me basic cowboy chords I would need to play in the key of G (the key 98% of our songs were in at the church). The video also showed how I could “cheat” certain chords like the G and C chord. I instinctively avoided chords like the B minor chord (future posts to come!). I took countless screenshots of YouTube videos that would flash chords that I should learn. I was determined.

Screenshot of a YouTube video. These are the beginner chords I learned to play in various rhythms.

I heard so much advice on playing. “If you can play these chords without even thinking, you can learn anything on guitar”. Ultimately, I had committed to practicing 15 minutes a day while humming or having a conversation with any family member who would hear me out.

Within a month, I felt ready. One Saturday afternoon, I arrived to the church with a guitar case. I was greeted with jokes from my band and questions of  “what do you plan on doing with that, Mark?”

‘I plan on playing it…’

Those jokes changed when the same close friend built me my first custom guitar. After awhile, he and his business partner were asking “when can we get started on your next one?”

The rest is history, or, at least I hope to continue to grow. I do have 17 years of not playing to catch up on after all.

Back to the guy. You were right, if I could, why can’t you? This can also be extended to you, the reader as well. After all, you don’t know until you try.

This is just my introductory post. As I continue to embark on my guitar journey, I plan to be a beacon of assistance to many people who are seeking to become proficient at guitar. Along the way, I will share many resources that have helped me along the way. I will comment on the things that I have stumbled on and how I overcame. I plan to talk about the second most important thing about learning to play guitar, gear! I will write reviews on the latest products, give opinions, and overall, provide encouragement. 

Feel free to contact me, submit comments and/or questions, or provide suggestions on future blog posts. 

And above all…keep it groovy!

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