October 6, 2015


The easiest way to learn guitar is to practice and play as much as possible. That’s not negotiable. There, I said it. It’s shocking that after thousands of years, mankind hasn’t come up with a shortcut or a magic pill to pave the way. But just perhaps, that’s a good thing! Do you really want everything in your life to be a piece of cake, a snap of the fingers and a “nothing to it?”

                “Yes folks, buy my latest book: “The Easiest Way in the Whole Wide World to Learn Guitar. You don’t even need to use your fingers! Just look at it, and your guitar will play ‘Stairway to Heaven.’ ”

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All that being said, there are things you can do and ways you can be that will transform your experience of playing and practicing. Here are my four best ways to make it happen.


  1. Play Songs and Pieces You Really Dig!

You can’t always be working on one of your favorite songs, but as soon as you’ve got some basic chords and patterns down, find a way to use them playing songs you really love. If you have a teacher, tell her what you want and have her help you. If you’re on your own, use the internet. Sites like Ultimate Guitar have tons of free songs with lyrics and chords and Tabs. Perhaps you can find a tutorial on YouTube that’ll be of help. The easiest and most enjoyable way to learn the guitar is to do it using songs you love the most. That makes you want to learn!


easiest way to learn guitar


  1. The Game of Repetition

Let your hands and fingers have their way as they learn how to play. Take a little movement like switching from a D chord to an A7 chord and just keep repeating it. Keep watching your fingers as they get the idea, until they can do it on their own without your help. There! It’s all possible. It’s all an opening if you play the game of repetition. It can be amazing and gratifying to see your hands take over!


  1. Accepting That It Takes Time

“I want it now!” I know. So do I. But damn it, it just doesn’t work like that. To learn guitar the easiest way, please try to accept that it takes time for your body to learn new tricks. You want proof? Just pay attention as you practice a new chord or finger-picking pattern. You know what to do, but your fingers aren’t ready to cooperate. In time, and with practice of course, they’ll come around. They always do in the end. And isn’t that terrific?

When you really get that things take time, and that there’s a natural flow to it all, you can relax into it and become more able to appreciate the process. It was Woody Guthrie who said, “Take it easy, but take it.” That about says it all.


  1. Practical Matters


Set up your guitar so it plays easily and comfortably. Thayt means taking it to a guitar tech, and having her make some adjustments. The neck should be straight and true, and the strings should be close to the fingerboard for ease of playing. While she’s at it, ask her to put on a fresh set of strings to brighten up your sound.



Get hold of an electronic tuner (The clip-on kind are the way to go.) and use it everyday before you play. Being even a little out of tune can erode the joy and the flow without you even knowing it.



Set up your space with a comfortable straight-back chair, a guitar stand, and a good quality music stand. I use a Manhassat orchestra model. It’s solid, and can hold an open songbook and accommodate up to three sheets of music side-by-side.

You want to play in private. This practicing business is between you and you. That’s one of the beautiful things about learning the guitar: It’s an adventure you do for and with yourself. Nobody else wanted or needed. So you find a room where you can close the door on outer distractions: friends and family, TV and other screens, cell phones… You get the idea.

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Please forgive me the sleight of hand in my title, “The Easiest Way to Learn Guitar.” I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to set you up to hear the straight goods. But listen: Accepting the “straight goods” about learning the guitar isn’t the same thing as having to eat your vegetables before you can eat the ice cream. There’s good news here! You give yourself a wonderful gift when you see yourself “getting” a song you’ve been working on. That “Yes! I got this!” You begin to accept and love the practicing process, because you can see what it does: It gives you the magic of music that you can play and enjoy!

So there it is. The easiest way to learn guitar isn’t in a shortcut or a gimmick. It’s in loving what you do. Trust me. There’s only one way to find out.


easiest way to learn guitar






August 20, 2015


   What keeps students coming back week after week? It’s pretty simple really. They want to feel like they’re learning and they want to enjoy the lessons and the music. Knowing this, I do my best to give songs and pieces that resonate with them; and at the same time incorporate skills and techniques that will open up their musical world. This takes some work because it means I need to prepare ahead of time. Winging it is not an option. They deserve more, and they get it from me. And my students sense it and appreciate the quality of our time together. They know I’ve gone the extra mile when I work up a version of one of their favorite songs that they can begin playing with a little practice.

And you know something? I enjoy figuring out a Taylor Swift song for Linda. My god! I mean she asked me for it and I can give it to her at a skill level that she can handle. How cool is that! I don’t have to love Taylor Swift. What I love is fulfilling Linda’s request! That’s a win/win deal.

*                              *                              *                              *

It seems most everyone has a musical niche (or two). Could be folk or blues or good old rock n’ roll or current pop on the radio or whatever. I do what I can to please, keeping in mind we’re learning an instrument here. There are certain basics we’ve gotta cover or we’re not going anywhere.

Again, this kind of forethought takes time. It’s work. But it’s work that pays off in spades. When a student is learning and playing her kind of music, the process is alive and kicking. Are you going to force eight weeks of scales and dry exercises on someone who really wants just to strum and sing? Are you going to teach power chords to a fifty-nine year old woman who loves Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell? And all this because you believe that every student’s gotta learn the “right way” – meaning your way, of course.

So as I said… it’s simple. But you’ve got to pay attention to your student – to their wants and needs. Really get it! And then do your best.

People come back week after week because they enjoy what they’re learning, they enjoy the process of learning and they enjoy the lessons. I’m interested in my students and I let it show. I think we have a good time together. So you want your students to keep coming back? Be interested in their world outside of the lesson studio.

“How was school this week? Anything interesting happening?” Or maybe,

“Did you ever finish that deck you were re-finishing? The rains are coming soon.

You better get on it!”

I know how to pace a lesson so we can take some time to check-in and still get our work done. And I’ll say it again, that’s because I’m prepared.

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So here’s what I know. If you can give musical value that your student can work on and enjoy, and at the same time encourage a lively, caring ongoing relationship – you’re all the way home. You’ll be doing your best and your best will be plenty good enough to keep those beautiful students coming back for more.

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August 11, 2015


Karl is forty-two years old. He’s got a high-powered job in county government and is as wide awake and sharp as they come. He’s been taking lessons for three years and he never practices. Well… hardly ever. It’s like that, really. Karl doesn’t touch his guitar in between lessons; like there’s some kinda law against it. But come 4:30 p.m. on Thursdays, when he’s sitting across from me with his guitar, Karl is as into my instruction and his playing as any student I see. He’s focused and clear and picks up on the spot. And he works hard. But as I said, there’s no practicing going on here. And where there’s no practice, there’s really no progress.

I’m a teacher, right? My students are supposed to move forward…. get better! That’s what I thought and that’s what I went by in my teaching. Karl’s radical approach to practice (zilch, zero, zip) took that flow away. All the new, new, new, get better, get better, get better, didn’t exist when Karl came in the room. So what was there left to do? That question pushed me into a corner. Then I got to thinking:

Question: Why does he keep showing up?

Answer: He enjoys his weekly guitar lessons. Simple. End of story. I can see it as he smiles when he comes in my door; as he tunes up and digs in to our weekly, guided practice session; forty-five solid minutes of strumming and singing. New learning? – a snail could go faster. Enjoyment and value? – Karl aint stupid and he keeps coming back!

It’s 4:30. Karl’s here. He’s checking his email as he pulls out his guitar. Busy man. But when he’s ready, he’s ready. It’s all good. There’s no guitar mountain we’ve got to climb.

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Nowadays we’re more of a team. We get out the old songs, like we do each week. We play and sing “Country Roads” and “Rocky Mountain High” and “Molly Malone,” stopping once and awhile for me to get him re-grooved on the rhythm. Then right back at it. Two guys singing and playing with nowhere to go and without a care in the world… Another kind of teaching.

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July 19, 2015



It’s nice to have support in life. You’re trying to do something and you’re not sure if what you’re doing is any good or if it’ll ever be any good. Or you’re too young to know either way. In any case, support is nice. It encourages. It’s there like a bit of a safety net. It makes the place you’re coming from as you learn the guitar a little stronger and steadier.


Variation I: FAMILY

When I was eleven, I began taking guitar lessons in a back room of our local music store. Every week – for years!,,,,,,. Who paid? Who drove me up and back and waited in between?

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When I was twelve, I went with my dad down to 48th Street in Manhattan. That’s Music Row; store after store filled with shiny instruments and salesmen who let you try everything out. I went home with my first really good guitar – a Martin! I hugged my dad forever.

*                      *                      *

“Hi. Is this the guitar teacher? I’m calling for my husband. He’s had this old guitar sitting around the house for years. Sometimes lately takes it out and fools around. It seems like he’s enjoying it and he’s started mumbling about taking some lessons. So, I want to buy him a gift certificate and then we see what happens! Who knows, right?”

*                      *                      *

Every Tuesday at five o’clock Liam comes in with his father Jerry in tow. Never fails Jerry asks me how Liam is doing. The guy is actually interested! He doesn’t want to know about Liam’s progress so he can get his money’s worth or because he wants to see that Liam learns the guitar or any crap like that. By the way he talks and the way he is, you just know the guy is here to support Liam in what he wants to do… and that’s all! Very clean. Real support is very clean. No side agendas wanted here.


Variation II: UGH

Not everyone gets support from partners or parents or whoever. A ten-year old boy is browbeaten by his mom when it seems he isn’t practicing. A fifteen-year old girl is criticized by her dad when her playing isn’t perfect. A woman’s partner is so disinterested he never even asks how the lessons are going; let alone listen to her play once in awhile.

Good times! And you know I’m not making any of this stuff up… really.



And then there’s me – the teacher, trying to strike a balance between push and pull; work and play. Different balance for different folks. Different balance on a different day for the same folks. Picking a piece or a song that is doable; that can be had for a the price of just enough practise. Too easy and you lose ‘em. Too hard and you can lose ‘em there as well. That’s part of the art of teaching guitar. After many years, I’m beginning to get it.



It’s yours! There’s no one else here. Just you and your guitar. And whether you know it or not, that’s why you began: to give yourself a present of joy and a challenge you could embrace. The process of learning guitar is all that and more. You might say I have a lifelong friend who’s there for me whenever I call. I can spend hours just playing and singing song after song – and for who? What a gift to give my (your!) sweet self! Nobody else wanted or needed. All the support I’m ever going to need right here (…He touches his heart…).

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July 12, 2015




My mom had old-school heart and soul. Born in love and stayed there. Went back to school as my brother and I were growing up and learned braille and became a teacher of blind mentally retarded (as they called ‘em back then) kids in New York City public schools. Had many of the same kids year after year. Another family for her.

Followed the migration path to South Florida when older. Volunteered at Aventura Hospital. Helped out at the little library in her building. Drove friends who couldn’t drive to the market and the doctor’s office. Got lonely and sad as friends and family died or moved away. Moved to the Imperial Club retirement community where they served three meals a day and there were lots of people around. Played bingo and watched CNN. In her nineties, transferred to the assisted living floor to receive twenty-four hour care.

“So how’s the family?”

“Everybody’s fine Mom. And we’re coming to see you! Me and the kids are coming down in a few months.”

“Oh that’ll be wonderful! I wish you could come more often but I know you’re so busy. When are you coming?”

“We’ll be there soon Mom.”

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There’s an old far away black and white photograph that sits on my kitchen table: There’s my mom standing straight and tall holding me in her arms with my brother (four years older) standing by her side. Judging by her smile and by the way she carries herself, all is well. I love looking at it just to feel the love I imagine she felt for my brother and I.

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After taking a phone call from a hospice nurse, I took a red-eye to South Florida to be with my mom as she lay dying. After checking into a hotel, I took a cab to the hospital (same one she volunteered at for years) and took the elevator up to the 7th floor.

“You should go in and speak to her. Maybe she can hear you. You never know about these things.”

At first I didn’t recognize her. Her face was drawn and stiff and much thinner. She wheezed a bit as she slept. She’d been “sleeping” for two and a half days and they didn’t know if she’d ever wake up again. I sat by her side and read a “New Yorker” as the world turned. She died that afternoon while I was staring down at my magazine. All of a sudden no more wheezing. The quiet snapped my head up to look and I knew.

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That was two and a half years ago. It’s funny how I don’t remember the crazy stuff that happened between us; or my own mean-spirited thoughts when it came to her. I mean I can remember them – but they’re all flimsy and have no energy; like none of it was real or ever happened. All I’ve got left is a feeling of love. That, at least, is real.

My mom. I couldn’t ask for better. That would be insane. She wasn’t better – or worse. She was… my mom!

Here’s my song, “Mom:”




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July 7, 2015


 teaching guitar to beginners


“How to”… not “What to.” In this country ramble, I want to open up like a possibility the awareness of four core concepts that can inform your teaching guitar to beginners.

They are a big part of the foundation of my work. I hope by opening them up and exploring them a bit, a new possibility or two may present itself in a way that can help you in your work.

Let’s go!

1. The Relationship – Ground Zero

What a privilege! At 4 o’clock, a new beginning student is going to walk up my steps and knock on my door. And then what?

We’ll see… She’s fifteen years old but she could be seven or fifty-seven. Whatever age, whatever gender, there’s a relationship that begins to happen as soon as we say “Hello.”

You know: two people sitting in a room across from each other.

Something’s bound to happen.

And it’s my intention as a guitar teacher and a human being to communicate good stuff like respect; kindness; humor and self-confidence in what I’m doing.

Without bonding with a new student, teaching beginning guitar can be awkward and a grind.

When we’re working on something challenging, I want there to be a comfort zone where mistakes can be made and difficult effort can happen openly and without fear or embarrassment.

For that, nothing takes the place of a trusting relationship.

For me, what happens is a good deal more than teaching a few chords or a song and see you next week. That would be a job.

For me, creating a caring, trusting relationship with each student is one of the core elements in teaching guitar to beginners.

It gives the whole experience life and a relaxed freedom to be oneself as we do the work.

To say nothing of the fact that it’s such enriching fun to be with and get to know so many sweet souls.

teaching guitar to beginners

2. Expectations

(For myself)

I give lessons on a regular schedule. It’s arbitrary and really a matter of convenience for myself and my student that we meet at the same time every week.

It has nothing to do with how quickly or how well someone learns. Breakthroughs happen when they do, not on a weekly basis.

Expecting a student to be proficient in last week’s assignment seven days later is a recipe for what for me? Frustration? Disappointment?

So when my student shows up and says, “I couldn’t practice much this week, my brother was in town,” or “I forgot that rhythm you showed me on “Proud Mary,” my typical reply is, “Great! Let’s get started.”

You see I have no idea what’s going to walk in the door. I’m ready for anything.

If she’s practiced like crazy or if she never looked at her guitar all week – I’m prepared either way.

And without expectations, I can take what’s there right now in front of me and help with an open heart.

And that doesn’t mean I don’t tell her to practice!

teaching guitar to beginners

(For my student)

Some students have strong expectations about their learning – their ability to master a given strum or chord or picking technique.

And when reality clashes with these expectations, the result can be frustration and a “shut down” to keeping at it.

When I hear complaints like, “I should be better than I am” or “I don’t like that song anymore – it’s too hard,” I say:

“There’s really no getting around it that some of this stuff can make you crazy. There’s no time thing here though.

Just because we have a lesson every Friday doesn’t mean crap.

You’re not supposed to have it perfect or even good.

You just do your best!

So please try not to expect perfection every week. Learning to play guitar doesn’t work that way…Take it easy on yourself… Just keep at it and appreciate your honest efforts.

I know I do!… You’ll get there… Now let’s go over it again.”

Expectations can be devastating. This road of learning to play guitar from the beginning is just that – a road.

A path to walk on and live with and enjoy.

As a teacher, I do my best to ease the expectations when they hurt and encourage staying with an open mind and a kind heart.

teaching guitar to beginners

3. The Three-time Rule

Part of my job is to make sure that when a student leaves my studio she has a clear path to practicing and playing what she was taught.

A clear path means that:

  • She gets what it is we worked on – the nuts and bolts of what it’s gonna take.
  • I’ve recorded an audio track of the song for her to take home and listen to.
  • We’ve gone over the new material obeying the “Three-time Rule.”

The “Three-time Rule” is just what it sounds like.

The idea is that I want her to walk thru any challenging parts of the lesson three times – or until she convinces me that she really has it straight in her head about how to get into this new piece.

That’s my responsibility as her teacher.

(A side-note on laziness…)

There’s a lazy part of my mind. That’s the part that wants to skip writing something down (“You’ll remember that, won’t you?) or let her leave unsure of herself – unclear and frustrated about the assignment.

Whenever I hear those lazy thoughts creeping in that want me to do less than what I know I should be doing, I try and push through and not obey.

teaching guitar to beginners

For some reason, these kinds of thoughts want me to do a crummy piece of work. Don’t wanna go there!

4. The Separation’s in the Preparation (NFL Football Mantra)

I don’t work from a book that teaches beginning guitar; ticking off lesson one then two then three week after week.

If I did, perhaps I wouldn’t need to prepare. I’d just open her book to the proper page and get started.

But because I individualize the lessons by giving a song and technique that fits that particular student that day, I’m asking a lot of myself. What song would she enjoy?

What work is right for her that will push her just the right amount – something right in her sweet spot where a breakthrough is possible?

I answer these kinds of questions to prepare for a lesson. Sometimes it’s just a few minutes work, sometimes much longer.

But here’s what I know:

A teacher who doesn’t prepare; who wings it – barely (if at all) remembering what a given student was working on last week – aint no friend of mine.

And my bet is any students he does have won’t stay around all that long. The few times I have come into a lesson without a plan (or two!), things have floundered big-time.

And the students can tell. They know when it’s a shuck and jive! Thank goodness they also know when you treat them with respect by coming to each lesson prepped up and ready to go.

teaching guitar to beginners


So there you have it! A taste of what it takes around here to be a really good, effective teacher of beginning guitar; some nitty-gritty coming from the ground up ways to be that can inform your teaching and give it heart.

I sincerely hope you may have found something you can use. I’ll see you down the road! :)

July 1, 2015

Six Ancient Secrets of Beginning Guitar

beginning guitar


Three thousand years ago an old man in a loin cloth (or a toga or a whatever – you get the idea) gently hit a young student on the head with his staff for banging the wrong beat on his drum.

Even way back in ancient times, someone like myself sat across from someone just like you and began together the process of learning an instrument.

Whether you’re a brand new student or someone who has had a guitar sitting in your closet for years just waiting for it to be woken up, this now is a new adventure.

So let’s get started from the beginning with my Six Ancient Secrets of Beginning Guitar.

1. There Are No Secrets

Sorry to say, there are no secrets or shortcuts or magic pills being hidden from you. But there are things to do and ways to be that can open doors that lead to self-satisfaction, enjoyment and a real sense of joy when you take on the challenge of beginning guitar.

As I’m sure you’ll discover, learning an instrument can be a wonderful adventure!

beginning guitar

2. Making sure your guitar is in good playing shape

A guitar is like an automobile in that it needs to be tuned up in order to run right. I’m not talking about tuning the strings to the right pitch here but about your instrument’s playability: the height of the strings where you press them down onto the fingerboard; the adjustment of the neck so it is straight and true.

These kinds of things make a huge difference. Trust me.

On a recent Thursday evening, Doug showed up for his 7 o’clock lesson. After putting it off for many months, he had gone in and had his guitar “tuned up” and bought new strings.

Night and day! It played easier – more like butter – and the sound was alive!

Doug: “Oh my god! It’s like a new guitar. All that struggling and now…!”

I hope you’re listening out there! Like Doug, you may not know what kind of difference I’m talking about – until you do it!

beginning guitar

3. The Teacher

There is no substitute for a really good teacher. Remember those thousands of years I referred to in my intro? There’s a tradition and a lineage here that has stayed steady.

That one-on-one relationship: the interaction and the natural real-time feedback on a consistent basis can’t be found in a book or on the internet.

But hey- I’m not looking for new students here. I’ve got plenty. And there is a ton of learning out there in books and dvds and on YouTube.

But here’s the giant “but!” Most people I’ve talked to over the years don’t get it that way.

They learn songs and exercises and “how to” skills but the energy and the forward flow of enjoyment and satisfaction seems to dribble away and the guitar goes back in the case.

A good teacher can provide the otherwise missing link to a lifetime filled with making your own music.

First there’s the consistency and accountability. Most folks can use a bit of that. There’s a guitar lesson every week; same time, same place, same two people.

You know when you show up that I’m gonna want to hear what you’ve got… what you’ve practiced.

I really don’t care how well you play. Really! But I do want to see that there’s been some movement… some engagement with the song or piece that let’s me know you’ve done a bit of work.

beginning guitar

This accountability kind of thing happens every week. And so there’s that.

Then there’s the feedback I give and you get. It could be a little thing like the placement of a certain finger on a string. Or maybe you just didn’t get it at all and we need to re-boot. It’s all good.

We work from where we are. And then there’s the relationship. We have the privilege of being with each other in this intimate setting every week.

Of course I’m going to ask “How was your week?” We get to talk a bit and get to know and, hopefully, appreciate (and dare I say love?) each other.

Think about it. How many people do you get to do that with: one-on-one… just the two of you… every week?

So that background of mutual appreciation and respect is, for me, what makes this dance possible.

You might think this a little airy but it’s real and a real key to our learning beginning guitar.

beginning guitar

4. 10,000 Hours Be Damned!

In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule,” claiming that the key to achieving genuine expertise in any skill is, to a large extent, a matter of practicing for a total of 10,000 hours – give or take. I don’t have a beef with that. I mean whatever – I get the idea.

The myth isn’t in the numbers. It’s in my students’ thoughts about the numbers and how that can affect their progress and their enjoyment.

Now let’s see: If a recreational (“I’m just doing this for my own fun and satisfaction.”) student were to practice guitar five hours per week – and I think that’s a reasonable expectation – it would take around thirty-eight and a half years to be a really really top notch player.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’ve chosen at times not to do things in my life that would have taken too long.

I chose a two year Masters program instead of going for a six year Phd.

Did I miss out on a more fulfilling path? I’ll never know now. But I remember my thinking at the time: “Ugh. It’s gonna take forever. I can’t do that.”

Mike, a 64 year old retired man who’s been taking lessons with me for a couple of years, came in yesterday with a common ailment (The doctor is in):

“Jesus! I’ll never get anywhere. I keep banging away and it’s just not happening.”

He’s been listening to the recording of the song he’s working on. Performed, of course, by 10,000 hour-type men and women: pro players and singers. And he’s not stupid.

In fact he’s got a really good ear. He knows what he’s doing isn’t what they’re doing. And he also knows, because he’s been told, how long it’s gonna take him to ever get that good – if he ever does.

The tough part is he doesn’t like that news. In fact he rails against it. And that brings him up short in his practice and his enjoyment. The short answer to all this (the doctor speaking) is to just lighten up and enjoy the journey.

beginning guitar

A bit corny, but good advice nonetheless – just not so easy to do in a rough moment. Very fortunately, the music itself provides an antidote to this funk if you let it.

It doesn’t matter what you’re practicing, even the easiest basic chords or the most basic strum or whatever.

When you focus and practice and get it down – really get it down – you become a master of that! 10,000 hours be damned! It’s all those little masteries!

That’s where the music happens, and it happens all along the way. So celebrate that, and take a tip and watch out when it’s going slow and you don’t like it.

5. Practice (The “P” Word)

You’re gonna get better. You’re gonna learn. No doubt. That’s just what happens when you put in the time. Isn’t it wonderful?

But how fast you learn and how well you learn has a little more to it than that.

Now let me interject here that this fifth Ancient Secret of Beginning Guitar is for practice – not for when things are more casual and/or social and you are busy banging away and singing “Country Roads” or some other tune you know inside out.

That’s something else.

Comin’ at ya here with some tips, some advice and some pearls of obvious wisdom…

  • Don’t leave your guitar in its case under the bed in your room. Get a stand and let it hang out where you can see it and touch it and grab onto it anytime the spirit moves; for five minute or five hours.
  • Set up a little practice space with a music stand and a straight-back chair or other seat that encourages awake focus. A couch with your music on the coffee table doesn’t really do that as well.
  • Tune your guitar every day. Even if you play “House of the Rising Sun” perfectly, there’s no way it’ll sound good if you’re out of tune. If you have trouble tuning by ear, there are great electronic tuners available for less than fifteen bucks.
  • Keep distractions at a distance. I make it a point to do a little detective work with my students. I dig in and ask all kinds of questions about what their practice at home looks like…
    Jill, a fourteen year-old, is forced to practice in the kitchen while her mom
    makes dinner and listens and criticizes.

My feeling here is that beginning guitar practice is essentially an intimate practice between you and you. For you. Practicing should be a private adventure.

beginning guitar

Now if your mom or husband or daughter asks you to play a piece or a song for them… that’s a different ballgame.

That’s performing something you’ve learned.

Carl, a fifty-three year-old man, can’t practice when his wife is at home because she insists on having his undivided attention at all times. And she’s home a lot!

Carl winds up practicing very quietly, only after his wife has gone to bed; and all the time hoping he won’t wake her up. Talk about distractions!

Then there are the techno beeps and the texts and the emails and the phones and the sound of the TV in the next room. It goes on.

The real deal here is we’re not talking about a chore or a burden… this practicing.

Listen: Practice is the meat of the process that leads to playing the guitar.

Not playing it like you do now… kind of tentatively and searching… but really playing.

Really opening into PLAY! I’m here to tell you it’s all so very much worth it. The guitar has been this sweet friend traveling with me for most of my life. Such a huge gift! That just might be where you’re headed.

So… guess what?… Practice!

6. A Story of Someone Just Like You and Me

Once upon a time there was a forty-five year-old man named Jason who had a guitar sitting in his closet. It had been hiding there since his college days. One afternoon he noticed it while hanging up a shirt.

So he took it out and held it and strummed “Let It Be,” one of the few songs he remembered from those beginner guitar lessons he took way back when.

A few months went by and he found himself drawn to picking his guitar up once in a while and noodling around.

You see how things get started? More time went by and Jason played more and more. He remembered how much he always loved music.

He began lessons and his renewed musical life took off in earnest.

This is not a tale of a late-blooming rock star or an otherwise great musician. It’s much smaller and more mundane than that.

It’s a simple tale of a guy with limited natural talent, but who had a passion for music and a will to work at it.

That “will to work” paid dividends. He was able to see early on that if he put in the time… music might happen. And that fed his interest and enthusiasm.

It didn’t matter a lick to him that nothing came easy and that he wasn’t some super-talented guy. Six years later, Jason is just okay. He can play some sweet songs and pieces, but still is very much the struggling student.

And who cares? There’s no one here but Jason. It’s his musical world. And he’s in love with it.

beginning guitar

Moral of the fable: If you wanna be a guitar warrior, be like Jason (me, smiling).


When you clicked on “Six Ancient Secrets of Beginning Guitar,” you dialed my number. I sincerely hope you’ve got your money’s worth.

No tricks here on how to play this or that; no fancy licks. Just some ramblings and some gamblings that may in some way help you get rolling on the path of beginning guitar.

I’ll see you down the road!

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June 21, 2015


4:00 p.m. Monday

Clare comes up the stairs and knocks on my screen door. She is thirteen. I’ve known her since she was four. Back then her big sister was studying guitar with me and Clare would tag along with her dad at lesson time. She would sit in my waiting room playing with a few toys that were scattered about while her dad read his book. When she was eight it was her turn to learn to play guitar.

What do you teach an eight year old? For me, it’s always about the songs. If the song is true, it tells a part of the story of who we are.
“Twinkle twinkle little star
How I wonder what you are.”
Think about it. Now isn’t that beautiful… and a part of our story?

So that’s where we start. When Clare leaves after our first lesson she knows everything there is to know about how to practice and play “Twinkle Twinkle.” It can be an amazing thing to begin an adventure.

Five years later Clare sits across from me playing “Blackbird.” And I’m noticing “Wow! She really loves doing this… this music thing. And I see the beautiful changes: four… eight… and now thirteen. Inside I’m shaking my head in wonder!

If you count the years teaching Claire’s sister Emily, I’ve been with this family for a decade and I’ve had the astonishing privilege of seeing these girls grow up. And I’ve seen more. I’ve seen how their dad nurtures and loves his daughters. How his sweet nature encourages them. How he puts his money where his mouth is by providing instruments and all those lessons with yours truly.

One more time. Clare is right here sitting across from me.
“Play me anything you want; anything you feel like.”
She goes into a little fingerpicking version of “Scarborough Faire.” She’s practiced it a ton and it shows. I look over and see: Beautiful soul. Clare. Playing sweet music! I close my eyes and smile.

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June 17, 2015

A Phone Call

The phone rings.
“Hi. I’m calling about taking guitar lessons.”
Linda talks about herself: how she took a few beginner lessons back in her college days but now her guitar’s just sitting in her closet gathering dust; how marriage and family and the busyness of everyday life took over. And now, years later, how she’s been feeling the need to do something different – something for herself that she can enjoy and grow with. We talk about the instruction: about my style of teaching and what she would like to learn. It seems to feel right for both of us so we set up a first lesson. This is good!

We hang up and I sit and wonder about what it takes to make that call – to start on a new adventure like this. How many considerations (e.g. the money, the time, the commitment) and “yeah buts” (e.g. what if I have no talent; will my husband be okay with it?) did she have to go through? From the sound of her voice it was quite a few! But when I asked Linda if she wanted to think about it for a few days or shop around some more, she came out with a vehement “No, it’s time to get started! Let’s do this thing!”
That kind of intention is music to my ears.

Wondering about these kinds of things helps me. It gives me back a connectedness that comes from a respect for Linda’s process. It’s the going through ‘this and that,’ and more ‘this and that’ to finally take action that matters.

I think Linda’s going to enjoy playing guitar! And I’m ready if she is.

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June 15, 2015

Song for Don

It was back in the late 1970’s in San Francisco. I was playing bass with Mike Brown and Country Jam. Mike had a smooth rock steady country voice that could go all night, and he had the charm and the hustle to keep us working all over the Bay Area. Anyway, our drummer Ray got an itch and took off. He wasn’t any great shakes so no big loss, but there we were without a drummer. Mike placed one of those free ads in the Bay Area music weekly: “Pro drummer wanted for working country band.”
Maybe you’ve listened to some classic old country music and thought: “That sounds so simple. Anybody could play that stuff.” Or maybe not. But a lot of drummers think that way. And a bunch of them came calling to audition. Rock n’ rollers trying to play country simple. It’s not as easy as it sounds. You’ve got to lock into a groove and keep it very straight; no messing around with any fancy stuff. And rock drummers can’t resist. So guys came and went until this guy Don walked into our practice space. He wore a big easy smile and one of those brown suede jackets with the cowboy fringes. And he brought a resume of playing the true country sound in his home state of Tennessee. Two songs in and it was “Welcome to Mike Brown and Country Jam.”
That was the beginning of a precious partnership. Don’s drums and my bass in lockstep at the bottom of the band. There’s a sweet spot you can get to where the rhythm and the beat just kinda play themselves and you’re left with nothing but an inner smile. Don and I went there regularly and we became brothers. Travelling to gigs together; laughing and drinking and smoking in-between sets and after the gigs at the local twenty-four hour Denny’s. But mainly standing up on some stage all those nights listening to each other’s rhythm as we played the heart out of those beautiful songs… Sounds like true love, doesn’t it?
* * * * *

Don and I had our day together. And then life moved on and we lost touch. I never saw him again. And now, far off and many years later, I still smile that inner smile every time I think of my brother Don.

So here’s my “Song for Don:”

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