Better Know A Guitareste

I was asked to talk a bit more about my own guitar playing, and about why I decided to learn how to play.  So here it goes!  I think I was always interested in learning.  I had a few guy friends try to teach me at different points in my teens and twenties, and playing the guitar seemed totally baffling.  In fact, I know at least once during one of these “mentoring” sessions, I held the guitar upside down, with the neck in my right hand.  My memory is vague here, but I think the boy who was teaching me guitar at the time said that was ok.  And while it is possible to play a right-handed guitar upside-down, I’m not sure why someone would learn that way on purpose.

I don’t remember why I decided to pull the trigger exactly.  But I’m lucky enough to live in Chicago.  And in Chicago, we have this amazing community of musicians called The Old Town School of Folk Music.

The Old Town School gives private lessons, but they also have group music classes.  Basically, a bunch of kids or teens or (in my case) adults get together in a room and learn to dance, sing, or play an instrument.  They also rent instruments, which was key for me at first.  I had been really shy of buying a guitar outright, convinced that I would not be able to learn how to play.  So I rented a guitar and enrolled in what they call the “core guitar” curriculum at the Old Town School.

I learned the basics that way, in a group setting.  We literally started with how to hold the guitar.  We learned the names of the strings.  We learned all the basic open chords:  D,E,A,C, G, B7,D7, and an “easy” version of F using the top three strings.  We learned how to follow a chord map.  For any of you that don’t know how to play the guitar, that is just a sheet of lyrics with the corresponding chord names written over the places in the lyrics where you make the changes.

In the OTS core program, you can learn basic chords and strumming, barre chords, finger-picking, how to read guitar tablature, and some basic music theory and musicianship.  I did all of those classes, and then began playing in some ensembles.  The OTS ensembles are a bit like playing in a really big cover band.  In them, you can learn to play songs by a wide variety of artist:  PJ Harvey, Grateful Dead, Allman Brothers, Elvis Costello, Television, Sonic Youth.  The list goes on.  And you learn to play with other instruments.  There are usually a boatload of guitarists, a bassist, a drummer, a singer.  You get the idea.

So I’ve been playing for about three years at this point.  And I’m what most people, I think, would consider an intermediate player.  My big challenges now are learning to play lead guitar parts.  And because I learned with a group, and always with music in front of me, I’m just starting now to learn songs by ear.

I’m going to write some more posts about playing lead and playing by ear in the future.  I also plan on writing a few on how to choose a guitar, how to get started playing, and where to find material.  I’m open to more suggestions as well, so if you’ve got ’em, shoot them over to me by email at guitareste at gmail dot com.  Until then, just know if you’re right handed, the guitar neck goes in your left hand.  😉

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2 Comments to “Better Know A Guitareste”

  1. Cool, thanks for sharing your background. If anyone seeing this knows of ensembles like that in San Francisco, please let me know! That sounds fun and an easier way to meet musicians than just putting an ad up on craigslist. It is really inspiring to learn that you’re doing this blog and getting interviews with really good, interesting guitar players but you’re not some super-expert player yourself. Keep up the good bloggin work!

  2. Thanks, Katie! I’m planning on doing more posts like this in the future, so it’s good to get positive feedback. The ensembles are great. Very cool way to get to know other musicians better.

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