Do I need a guitar teacher?

Many famous blues players were or are “self-taught.” They learned to play guitar by listening to other musicians play, or by listening to radio or to records (remember those big black disks?). They kept listening and kept trying to figure out how to make the sounds they heard with their own guitars. If they were lucky, a member of their family or a friend might show them how to play. Or they might live where they could see and hear a local player. Blues greats from John Lee Hooker to Buddy Guy have learned this way and you can’t argue with the results they achieved. They obviously spent many hours “woodshedding” to develop their skill. It took devotion, commitment, persistence, passion and perhaps some obsession with music. And, of course, some talent.

Nowadays, aspiring guitarists have a lot more resources to draw on. In addition to recordings in your preferred format, there are dozens of instructional books (often with a CD), instructional or concert DVDs, as well as the vast resources of the Internet. The YouTube website alone has thousands of short videos of performance or instruction (though the quality varies).

When I decided to learn guitar, I wanted to begin with a teacher. I thought this would make it easier to get off to a good start and avoid developing bad habits that I would have to unlearn. People differ in how they learn best, but working with a teacher has proved to be good for me. Most of the learning process is still in my hands (literally as well as figuratively), but I believe I’ve learned more and learned it better by having a teacher.

There are two principal benefits to me. While I am very motivated to learn, I still enjoy the “discipline” of having a regular weekly lesson to prepare for. I like having that “deadline” to help structure my time and help me maintain priorities among all the competing tasks and responsibilities. (I’m very curious and interested in a lot of things, so one of my biggest challenges is setting priorities and focusing on what’s most important.)

Even more important is having an experienced and knowledgeable musician to guide me along the path. Of course, Jim Goelitz, my teacher shows me how to play and demonstrates techniques, but he also can watch me play and advise me how to improve. He’ll suggest a better fingering or a very slight change in hand position to get a better sound. For me, it’s invaluable to have someone who notices things that I don’t. I can usually tell if I play a wrong note or don’t make a chord change in time, but he notices if I’m playing the right notes in the wrong rhythm, for example.

I feel very fortunate that I happened to find a teacher who is (1) a good musician, (2) a good teacher, and (3) a good fit for me.

I also draw on other resources: books, CDs and DVDs. Living in the Chicago area, I’m lucky to have easy access to a lot of blues clubs, live concerts and festivals. All of that contributes, but I’m convinced my playing would have developed quite differently without a teacher.

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