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Why and How I Started Learning the Guitar

Everyone has their own personal reasons for starting to play the guitar. I thought it might be interesting for some readers to learn about why I started learning the guitar, and how I started on my guitar journey. Perhaps you could draw some parallels between my path and your own, or even find the bit of inspiration that you need to get you started. 


The Early Years


It was a typical day towards the end of 2007 and I had arrived home from school to find that my mother’s partner had purchased a copy of a brand new game called ‘Guitar Hero 3’ - for those of you unfamiliar with the franchise, the game furnishes you with a controller shaped like a guitar and the premise is that you try to press the coloured buttons on the neck of the controller in time with the corresponding colors on the screen - this is all synced up with a long list of popular songs. For what it is worth, I still think this is really fun! It even featured guest appearances from Slash and Tom Morello.


I was hooked instantly, though something seemed distinctly fake about the process. This was obvious to everyone who played it; the game was not a replacement for the guitar, just a bit of harmless fun. Still, I wondered what it would be like if I could play all those songs for real?


Fast forward to my 12th birthday in the following August, and I would awake to find my incessant pestering had procured a cheap, barely playable strat copy - my first ever guitar! It doesn’t matter that it was terrible, just that it was all mine! I even received a very basic, cheap multi-FX pedal that I think, if memory serves, was a Zoom GFX-707. I had hours of fun playing with all the effects and not having a clue what any of them did. We couldn’t afford a guitar teacher, so relied on a few tips from family friends and the rest was up to me - as much as I was having fun, I didn’t really start to take it seriously for a number of years. 


Early Teens


Whilst in high school, I was being a typical teenager and fooling around on the computers during a lesson, when I happened upon a picture of a guitar that I thought just looked so cool - it was an Ibanez GSA60-BKN. After some saving and some more badgering, this guitar started to get me going again and I took my playing a bit more seriously. I started jamming with friends and trying to form bands, taking up lunchtimes practicing and doing what I could. Then I started to get into bands like Megadeth and Trivium, becoming more and more interested in what Marty Friedman and Corey Beaulieu (guitarists from both bands respectively) were actually playing. I had always been into blues guitar, especially BB King, but until this point it had only been as a listener. I was still yet to have my first proper lesson, but my playing was coming along well although, in retrospect, some guidance would have been extremely useful. 


Some Big Decisions


Leaving school proved to be a welcome change, but I was faced with a difficult decision - what direction do I take my life in? I decided to go to a music college that would occupy my full-time endeavors for the next three years. At college I received my first ever guitar lessons - something of a novelty for me as it was something I had not experienced before. I had also joined my first proper gigging band which led me to touring all across the UK, playing at some big festivals and various clubs also. The latter was probably the best musical education I could have received!


I then went to a highly regarded music university, at least it was at the time, which opened my eyes to many other aspects of the music industry and introduced me to many people that I still work with to this day, some of which are my closest friends. All this time, I was maturing as a person and a musician, broadening my horizons as time went on. 


It was also here that I started to become interested in education myself, and I began teaching on my days off. This extended into my working life beyond university and eventually became my full-time source of income. That brings us to the present day, although I now live and work in Tokyo, Japan. 



How I Still Learn


I try to learn something from every situation I find myself in with my guitar. It could be exploring new ways to articulate a phrase, or studying the guitar from textbooks - something that I always struggled with when I was younger. Touring across Europe has helped shape me further, allowing me to experience the phrase “everything but the playing” first hand. Not everyone is cut out for international travel, waiting in airports, preparing documents and managing a band as it turns out!


Learning songs from a plethora of unrelated genres is something I like to do - it keeps me on my toes! This is where having so many students helps better me as a musician; learning different, sometimes unknown songs in order to impart the knowledge to my students is a beneficial process for me. 


In recent years, recording the guitar and creating music has been an interest of mine. Creating tones for use in a live situation is one thing, but doing so for a studio environment is another skill. I often watch videos and read publications on this subject, seeking to build my knowledge consistently. Of course, this is of no use if I can’t apply that knowledge to a project, so I am always recording something or another. 


Final Thoughts - Why I Still Play


Just the action of playing the guitar for no purpose still brings me immense joy. I could lose hours of a day, just noodling along with no real direction - that is what playing the guitar should be, simple enjoyment! There is also the problem solving aspect of the instrument - learning a new technique or a new piece of music, and seeing it through to the end is a rewarding experience, even more so if it was particularly difficult. 


Playing old songs, childhood tunes and guilty pleasures are all activities I enjoy, especially rearranging early 2000s pop songs to fit my personal playing style some more. Also, I have a great appreciation for other instruments, seeing how they approach different scenarios and how they produce sounds - it pleases me to know that what I do with the guitar can have the same purpose for another musician. 


As mentioned previously, I have a strong interest in education and teaching people about the guitar, music and how one could apply a knowledge of both. There is a distinct difference between playing for the purposes of teaching, and playing for my own selfish needs - the two rarely collide. However, knowing and being aware of this fact allows me to stay focused. I am grateful that I can use my skills for not only self-enjoyment, but also in a professional context. All too often I have heard of guitar teachers, brilliant musicians in their own right, resort to teaching because they think it is easy or that all of their skills are immediately transferable. They inevitably burn out and, in some rare cases, stop playing the guitar altogether. For this reason, I appreciate what I do even more; I take my job, and my role as a professional musician, more seriously as a result. 


At the start of this post, I mentioned how you could potentially draw some parallels between my reasons for starting, and continuing, to learn and play the guitar. I think it would be a very useful exercise for someone who already has some musical experience, and a great starter for a person that is considering starting to learn, but not sure if they should start or not. Sometimes you just act on your impulses, and think about it further down the line. Having an experienced teacher can help with that, a third party can help you define and pinpoint your reasons. Speak to your guitar teacher, or the team at The American Guitar Academy for some help if you think it would be helpful!


Alex

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