How My First Guitar Lessons Greatly Shaped My Playing Today
I remember my first guitar lessons. We learned “baby chords” like G, D, D7, A, Em, C, F – then B7, Am, Bm.
This is what my teacher taught us. I had a one hour lesson per week and I couldn’t get enough. I was twelve years old and in my freshman year of high school (Grade 7 for our Canadian readers, or Secondary I for our québécois readers). Our grade 7 teacher was had musical family (he played guitar, bass, banjo, and his sons played bass, guitar, drums – his wife also played guitar).
Every Wednesday afternoon after school, we got he took a handful of us in his car and drove back to his house, minute away. We first learned Michael Rows the Boat Ashore with the basic chords (G, C, D7) then we eventually graduated to some easy Beatles songs. The only reason I wanted to learn guitar was to play like Keith Richards on (I can’t Get No) Satisfaction.
Daily Practice Routine
I practiced one to two hours every day and I quickly advanced. I seemed to be the only student that practiced.
At that time, there were no tabs, no Internet, no videos. Every week we had another lesson with the chords annotated at the top of the lyrics. We learned a song a week. We learned no scales and we learned on nylon string guitars. Electrics were forbidden until we had practiced at least a year. Picks were forbidden. We learned a couple of arpeggios (Simon & Garfunkel’s Scarborough Fair).
After about six months we were taught first position barred chords (yeah, like an E starting on the second fret with the last three fingers with the first one barring the first fret) then second position barred chords (this time with an Am). We were taught how the barred chords move up the neck and we also learned about movable chords (and discords).
We hadn’t learned scales or let alone any chord theory (dyads and triads and what makes a chord). We hadn’t learned the circle of fifths or any 12 bar blues (I-IV-V) forms or pentatonics. Forget about learning how to tune a guitar (every week there was a ten minutes at the beginning of the class where the teacher would tune our guitars – there were about five to six guitars to tune). We didn’t learn about octaves or that the neck restarts at the 12th fret (this is a little cumbersome for a kid on an acoustic guitar – going higher than the 12th fret is more convenient and fun on an electric)
We even learned some tricks like how to use different fingers for the easy chords (we had to keep the index free at this point to be ready for a barred chord). We’d get scolded by now if we ever pulled an E with the first three fingers. These lessons soon paid off.
We only knew a handful of chords but every week we learned a new song that used the same chords. Some songs I liked, others I didn’t care for but I learned to appreciate that the same few chords (namely G, C, F, D7, Em at first) were used almost everywhere.
We learned only how to play songs we had grown up knowing. Occasionally, our instructor had offered us to request songs we wanted to learn and at the time, in the early eighties, we unanimously asked for Joan Jett and the Black Hearts “I Love Rock and Roll”. The teacher thought this was fabulous as it started on an E and quickly turned into first position barred chords G and A then sliding back down the neck to E. Great insight from our weekly guitar lessons.
Let’s face it folks. If you’re twelve, you don’t give a damn about theory or guitar parts and I don’t know any twelve year olds who can tune a guitar. Twelve year olds want to play songs more than having to go to guitar lessons.
So if you’re going to sign up your kids for guitar lessons, please don’t spend too much money on an electric guitar. Purchase a cheap but good beginner’s guitar (a ¾ scale if needed) and make sure that the electric guitar will be available as a reward in a year or so of serious practicing four to seven hours a week. Make sure the lessons are focused on playing songs at this stage. The kids don’t care about machine heads or nuts.
Learn to play songs first!
Later. Grasshopper James.