A question was asked on our main FB page last weekend that made me sit and think, it was a question that made me peer into the rabbit hole of my own history. Fortunately, for my own sanity and those who read it, I managed to stop myself going into it completely as that’s a place no one wants to visit too much!
“If you could go back in time and give your younger self any piece of advice when starting out playing guitar, what would it be?”
I started playing guitar in the early 80’s. It was one of those childhood memories that sticks out with complete clarity. I watched my older brother and his friend Rob working out a song by the Shadows called “Shazaam”. I just sat there and watched for about an hour, while they worked it out. When they got bored and left, I picked up the guitar and then copied what they did. I was surprised that I seemed more physically able to do it than they were, as I was playing it quite quickly. I then copied whatever they did on guitar until some point soon after I had about 10 Shadows songs under my belt and started working stuff out for myself. We all shared the knowledge between the three of us (Rob introduced me to a lot of rock and roll stuff and then my brother went off to explore U2) I learned quite a nice and interesting range of stuff as a kid, I thought at the time I was cool because I could play songs for 4 or 5 different artists!
To my younger self, I say this… in fact, I’m going to capitalize them as I want to shout them at me…
GET SOME BLOODY LESSONS: It’s taken me years to remove the bad habits I’ve learned from when I first started – I was only exposed to the music I really liked so I was narrow minded, had a narrow field of musical exposure and my theoretical knowledge is shockingly bad. It’s better now (thank you Tom Quayle) but it’s no where near where it should be considering I’ve been playing for over 35 years. So, get lessons, play properly and embrace the music your teacher suggests you listen to!
LEARN TO READ THE BLOODY DOTS YOU IDIOT: This is probably my greatest regret. By the time I was in my late teens and early 20’s I was, in terms of physicality, a great player. I could do almost anything. But, my lack of reading meant once again I was narrow viewed, I couldn’t stand in, I couldn’t work as a player professionally as easily as it would have been had I learned to read properly.
LISTEN TO EVERYTHING AS EVERYTHING IS COOL: I never listened to jazz, blues, country… anything other than what was in my CD collection. I didn’t properly first listen to the Beatles until I was in my mid 20’s. I had never heard Johnny Cash, Jerry Reed, Rory, Chet, BB King, Robert Johnson, Jimi, Muddy Waters, Grant Green, SRV, Jansch, Larry Charlton, Django… none of it until I was much much older than I should have been. I thought that because I had the “Still Got The Blues” album by Gary Moore I could play the blues. I missed out on SO much it’s hard to comprehend.
PLAY FOR THE SONG: I played to (try to) look cool and (try to) attract the girls. I never played for the song, when I think about some of the inappropriate Vai licks I put into Blues songs it makes me cringe now. I never played for the song. Only for me and my sex drive.
GEAR DOES NOT COMPENSATE POOR TECHNIQUE: I got a compressor early, this meant I could do a note for note copy of “It’s a Monster” by Extreme without warming up as the band opener, but only if I had my compressor with me and enough gain. Again, showing off. If you can’t play it totally clean, you can’t play it properly.
WORK OUT EVERY SONG YOU HEAR, BY EAR: I wish I had done this, I’ve learned so much from working out songs by ear and then thinking about “why did they do that?”. You don’t do that when you go and buy the tab books, which of course was what I did. I almost feel sorry for the people learning now as they have so much in the way of short cut respouces available to them via the internet.
EVERYTHING BETWEEN YOUR FINGERS AND YOUR EARS IS IMPORTANT: In my first band I had a wonderful guitar. An Ibanez JEM 77FR. Unfortunately, I put it through a Boss BE-5 into a stock Peavey Bandit 112. In other words, I successfully made a great guitar sound bloody awful night after night. These days all of my gear choices are for a reason. My guitar, my wireless, my pedals, my patch cables, the cable running to the amp, the amp, the speaker cable, the cab and the speakers. Everything is considered and chosen to make me sound as good as I possibly can. I don’t really have any weak links in my signal chain, although it leaves me vulnerable in terms of what goes in comes out, I’m a better player for it and much more pleasing on the ear of the audience.
PLAY WITH AS MANY BANDS AS POSSIBLE: I don’t know about you, but I remember mistakes on stage far more than I do if they are made at home. So, I would tell myself to go and join a blues band early on. Join a wedding band. Join ANY band, because you learn so much in those bands it will make you an infinitely better player.
DON’T TAKE THE PEOPLE THAT MAKE THE EFFORT OF COMING TO SEE YOU PLAY FOR GRANTED: When you play live in front of a fee paying public, or people that are supporting free venues by drinking the beer, give them the best musical experience you can. They don’t care how great you think you are.
FFS, PRACTICE MORE: Once again, as I was a flashly player and had the gear to allow me to keep the notes I didn’t quite hit, I thought I was much better than I was. It’s taken me YEARS to get my right hand up near to where my left is now, and it’s still waaaaaay off from where it should be all things considered. I’m actually a little embarrassed by my rhythm playing. I didn’t practice my right hand technique anywhere near as much as I should have, also my timing is awful, without a drummer or a click track I can’t keep in time worth a beat, although in my defense, I am considerably better than I was 10 years ago. So, young Jason, practice practice practice.
DON’T BE A DICK: Pretty certain that one doesn’t need any further explanation.
There, I feel better for that. I just wish I’d been around to tell me this all these years ago. And yes, that statement and all the contradictions within confuses me as well!