The 21st century is a great time to learn to play the guitar. Today’s students have a huge range of learning resources available. Tuition books cover all the popular styles, and they all come with a CD or DVD, and many include backing tracks to practise along to as well. Further help can be had from the many guitar magazines that are available, most of which include sections offering playing tips and so on. Then there is the vast potential of the internet, with YouTube, player forums, and thousands of other websites ready and waiting to answer questions and help solve any problems. It has simply never been easier to learn the guitar than it is today.
In spite of all the technology however, learning with an experienced and knowledgeable teacher is still the best way. This person could be a friend, relative, or a professional tutor. The important thing is the teacher’s knowledge, experience and willingness to help the pupil. Like most guitarists, I am mainly self-taught. The only paid lessons I ever had were with my flamenco teacher in Madrid. From that point on I continued learning any way I could ...... from books, magazine articles, watching and talking to other players, and from simply listening to and soaking up lots of the music I wanted to play. This was reinforced by a decent amount of practice and experimentation. But inevitably I experienced difficulties which would probably have been easily sorted out by a competent teacher. Instead, I had to work these things out for myself, which took time and effort. In hindsight, the help of a good teacher would have saved me a fair bit of grief and frustration, and I would have progressed more quickly.
The role of a teacher is particularly crucial in the early stages of learning. This is the time when bad habits can be picked up, which often impede later progress if not corrected. It’s also the time when pupils are likely to have many questions that need answers, and it’s impossible to ask a DVD or book. But what any pupil needs to understand is that even the best teacher cannot do the job alone. The pupil has to play his (or her) part by being willing to put in the necessary time and effort to practise what the teacher shows them. Nothing, whether simple or complex, can be considered ‘learned’ until it has been practised dozens or even hundreds of times, to the point where it can be executed smoothly and with confidence. That’s when the enjoyment factor kicks in.
The good news is that the necessary practice doesn’t have to feel like hard work. In fact, it can be very rewarding. So long as the pupil is ‘having a go’, he or she will soon discover that their efforts are beginning to sound like music. Obviously not everyone is destined to be a good player, but you never know what you can do until you try doing it. I’ve come into contact with hundreds of guitarists over the years, ranging from amateur strummers to renowned professionals, and every level in between, and what unites them all is the love of music ... and the guitar.
So, all that separates the casual amateur from the top professional is the degree of dedication and effort. I suppose one has to also consider the nebulous quality we call ‘natural ability’ or ‘talent,’ but the fact is: the more you put into something, the more you get out of it ... simple! The world’s top musicians are invariably those that have shown natural ability at a young age, had guidance and encouragement early on, and then (most important of all) worked tirelessly towards achieving their high standards. This formula could be applied to virtually any field of endeavour, sport being a good example. But, unlike sport, music is not a competition with winners and losers. It’s more about getting pleasure and satisfaction from the pursuit of musical enjoyment. With music, we can all be winners!