/ Becoming Musical
One of my regrets is not sticking with learning to play the guitar at school when I was 7. But quite frankly, the lessons were rubbish and unengaging and like most other lessons if you weren't really good, you got left behind so I easily gave up as there was nobody else in my family who had a passion for music either.
I'd love to be able to play an instrument but I'm not musical (but narually I love music) in that I'm rubbish at tunes/notes etc but I'd l really like to learn. So drawing on the collective of the UKC hive mind, can you give me your thoughts.
This isn't about becoming great. Its purely about enjoyment and learning a new skill. Would be great to hear other people's experiences of getting into learning an instrument.
It probably depends a bit on the style of music you are interested in.
I went through the traditional school music lessons, did all the theory etc. Now I do much more folk music and I almost had to start from scratch as playing style is very different, I moved from a standard flute to a wooden flute which is quite different to play (Although obviously not so different that I was starting from scratch!), you tend to learn tunes by ear etc. My music theory has mostly been forgotten and I would say I am now more musical than I was then.
I would think about what style you would like to play, choose an instrument that suits and then learn how to make nice noises on it! After that, start looking at whether you need to learn to read music or study theory or maybe just learning by ear and improvising will be right for you.
Excellent advice . I will add that if you can whistle a tune you can play one on an instrument . It's just a question of how badly you want to do it . Also don't put limits on your ambition; eg don't tell yourself you'll never play guitar so ukulele is more realistic or fiddle's impossible so mandolin will do. Of course there's nothing wrong with those instruments. Also don't mess about with poor quality instruments . I wasted years with a rubbish guitar that had a high action.
Mainly if you want to get into music you've got to practise till you pop. Just do it
If you are starting with guitar (I am assuming electric)- find someone who knows about them and get a second hand amp and guitar from ebay. Ideally a Japanese made guitar. It will have way better components than a beginners guitar, should suit a better set up which makes life a lot easier when learning. You will have good tone to start with rather than having to search for it.
You could sicken yourself off with theory. Just learn some songs and have some fun. Oh and learn some scale shapes and learn to improvise.
Youtube has a shed load of resources. Also songsterr has tab for every song under the sun.
Be aware what is an easy song and what is bloody hard so you don't get put off early on.
Just dive in and learn the very basics from a YouTube tutorial of your choice, and and then just attempt songs you like, again learning from the net. As you improve you can pick up the theory in tandem and as you go along, as a bit of bedtime reading. Theory can be very dry on its own and never ending. Look at Justin guitar for guitar teaching, super site, and I recommend the guitar handbook as a good reference book for guitar.
Another vote for Justin guitar.
Put the kettle on, this turned out longer than I expected.
I was in a similar situation a couple of years ago, in that I fancied learning guitar. I had no experience of it or any other instrument; 'music lessons' at school consisted of being told all the theory, which we were expected to learn but with no context of what it really meant and certainly no sign of an actual instrument to play. Fast-forward a few decades...
We were passing a music shop, had a look in the window, I wondered then about going in and asking about guitars but we carried on walking around. However, something had got into me as I ended up going back to the shop and walked out with a boxed 'starter kit' of Squier Strat, amp, leads etc. Buying the gear is the easiest bit, though, as I found out.
Learning is the tricky part - not so much the purely physical side of making chords, strumming etc (which is hard in itself) but more how to learn, what you need to know and how to structure it so you progress effectively and feel as if you are actually getting somewhere and playing. With my starter kit I bought a 'how to learn guitar' book from which I learned a few chords and how to read and play all the notes of C major. I plodded on for ages, couldn't change smoothly between chords but learned from the book about time signatures, rests and even more theory. After searching through a million guitar teaching videos on YT I found one that showed a good way to practise chord changes so felt that I had something useful to work on.
After much thrashing around trying to find the key (no pun intended) to learning and making progress, I bought 'Learning Guitar' from the 'for Dummies' series. This was a total change from what I'd been doing before. It starts by saying that the book is about how to play the guitar and not like other books (such as the one I had) which are trying to teach you to read music and explain music theory whilst you pick out a few notes on the guitar. This was quite refreshing, I made some good progress with this and increased my confidence.
Still looking on the net for things to learn, I saw lots of mentions of 'justinguitar'. I wish I had known about this when I was starting, it would have saved a lot of time and frustration. 'justinguitar' is a learning system with a progressive, logical structure for a complete beginner. Justin himself is from Tasmania, now lives in London, and his lessons and songs are in books and on his website.
For anyone reading this, if you or anyone else you know wants to learn guitar, I'd say dont do anything else but start with the justinguitar system. The big thing for me was that he teaches you how to learn i.e. not just how to form chords etc. but how to structure your practise, what things you will find difficult, common errors made by beginners and the like. Importantly, he emphasizes that it takes graft and perseverance, you have to stick at it, you'll have good days and bad days, but you will make progress. I found it best to use the Beginner's Course book for lessons and techniques as it's easy to read everything on one page but also to flip back and refresh on other lessons. I also have the Beginner's Songbook which I find is best used in conjuction with his video - get the chords and pattern from the book and get the rhythm and loads of tips off his video. I cant recommend this system enough; as well as being able to actually play I've really enjoyed the learning experience. Also, do the ear-training lessons, this will help with transcribing - this is something which isn't really covered by any other teaching but it is important.
Why didn't I have some one-to-one lessons, I can hear you ask. Well, I tried 2 or 3 teachers and just didn't click with them. One started by trying to teach me folk fingerstyle which is probably not best for a beginner. Another showed me some useful stuff but I felt he was a bit random in what he was teaching. I am in an area that isn't overrun with guitar teachers, to be fair. I have read that the quality of guitar teachers can vary, whereas teachers of more formal (for want of a better word) instruments tend to be of a high standard - I don't know how correct this is but it may be that because there loads of guitarists then quite a few of them 'have a go' at teaching. I don't know if there is a 'justinguitar' equivalent for learning any other instruments.
YT and the net can be great but you have to remember that anyone can post anything on the net. There are loads of vids of so-called lessons but the quality of teaching leaves a lot to be desired - also, these aren't usually very structured or progressive. A couple of good guitarists to watch are Marty Schwartz (worth it just for his opening line 'Hey guys whassup, Marty Schwartz here...') who is good at teaching, and privettricker who is really slick, not always easiest for learning from, though.
Don't worry about theory. As girlymonkey says, it's about playing music. You certainly don't need to read music (difficult on guitar as there are multiple places to play the same note) and, really, the written music is just to get the info across, once you know the notes, chords etc then it's about how you play it. You'll pick up some theory just naturally as you go along, things like chord structure, rhythm patterns etc.
Most of the above is assuming you decide on the guitar. You say piano/keyboard also appeals. I guess you'd have to decide which will fit in your life better, which you'll be able to practise on the most (you really need to be practising every day, about 30 mins at first, soon getting up to an hour, even if it's not all in one session). Piano/keys may be harder to fit in with house/job/family: fixed location, noise, not cheap for something decent. Guitar: cheap (even beginner models are good now, just get it setup properly), portable, can be quiet (an acoustic can be surprisingly loud, if you need to be quiet then just use an unplugged electric). Don't worry about whether to get an acoustic or electric to learn, go with whichever you fancy. An acoustic isn't harder to play than electric, it's just slightly different - it's as difficult and seemingly impossible to play anything at first. Get one of each if you can, have them around so it's easy to grab and have 5 mins to play.
Think that's enough for now. Keep us informed of what you decide to do. Most importantly, enjoy it.
Thanks for the really encouraging and informative feedback everyone - appreciate you taking the time to share.
I'm veering more towards guitar as the moment but I'll let you know how things go.
How dedicated are you? Do you want to mess about and have fun or are you more into playing known and recognizable tunes?
As a youth, I bought an electric guitar. I strummed about a bit, but it occurred to me I was crap at playing it. Then I bought a fuzz pedal. All of a sudden I was playing metal and rock, it was awesome. Then I bough a phazer and I sounded like Hawkwind. Then a flanger and I sounded like the Mission. Then a delay pedal... Before I knew it I was a sound engineer.
Crap electric guitar, is more fun than crap acoustic. If Status Quo and T-Rex could get by with 4 chords, then so can you.
Fast forward a few years and I've just bought a keyboard. What were once considered professional synths, can now be had second hand for a fraction of their original price. You can play them with headphones, so you don't annoy others within earshot. The more advanced ones may have a sequencer, so you can build up a tune, save it, edit it etc. They also have lots of great sounds, some of which are familiar or inspirational. I was playing one preset, for example, and I came across Kate Bush; which has been a dream of mine for some time.
It might sound cheesy but I learned the recorder first. It’s easy to produce the notes (bit like hitting a key on a piano) so you can learn to read music at the same time. I’ve played the French horn for 42 years now. I tried to learn the guitar a few years ago but gave up quickly because it required too many hours practice which I didn’t have once I had done my regular horn practice. My thoughts would be - get the basic theory under your belt using a simple (and cheap) instrument and then pick whatever you fancy as your main instrument.
Of course you don’t have to read music to play a guitar (or any instrument really).
P.S. I have an acoustic guitar for sale. ????
Edit : thinking about it he said " almost as nice "
edit 2 : inspired by this thread and a more than a pinch of noseyness I just did a quick Google , when he said " quiet a bit " he wasn't blooming joking . Treat yourself , you know you want to . Made in the lakes to.
I recorded Iron Maiden's "Live After Death" from TV late at night back in 1986. It was the first I'd heard of them but loved it. I saved up and bought a cheap 2nd hand guitar & amp, and freezing the VHS cassette (yes it was fuzzy and did that video freeze-jiggle thing - so very hard), to check the fretting hands of guitarists Murray and Smith, worked out that most of their chords were simplified and playable on only TWO strings; behold I'd discovered the (simplified) E5 and A5 power chord shapes; a simple shape that could be moved all over the neck and is core to the rock/metal genre. I could now work out most of the chords to most of Maiden's songs. Awesome to a 14 year old kid.
Next step was to get Live After Death on cassette. What was cool about that is i realised Dave Murray's guitar is filtered out of one speaker and Adrian Smith out the other. I spent months with Murray's speaker side turned off, listening only to Adrian Smith. I knew the chords (from the video), and from the tape player progressed to learning the melody lines (and eventually the solos). Within a year i could play all Smiths parts, pretty well. By 1987 i was turning Adrian Smith's guitar parts off and jamming along with Dave Murray every night for a year. Man, did i get good in those two years - i was effectively touring with Iron Maiden, gigging ever night! All self taught.
I still play today, perhaps not as well (I don't play as much), but way more diverse styles. If you love guitar music there's nothing quite like actualy playing along to the riff from 'Shine on You Crazy Diamond', or along to the solos from 'Hotel California'. Playing authentically along to your favourite songs moves a song from an aurally immersive emotional experience to a physical one. Ìt still gets me over 30 years later.
It'll all be much easier now - there are excellent tutorials online (pick a song), cheap guitars are way better now and modelling amps are revolutionary. I can't read music but my self taught approach has left me with a good ear for music. I'm still awaiting the call from Iron Maiden to help them out 'coz H is ill'!
> I will add that if you can whistle a tune you can play one on an instrument .
I can whistle a tune.
I can't get my fingers to coordinate themselves to play an instrument. My brain just seems to rebel.
Nearly 30 years ago, I did that. It was easy to pick up and I also had no money. To get going with playing with others, I joined an evening music workshop (this was in Bristol). The idea was to enable adults who hadn't learned or 'got' playing an instrument as a child to do so as an adult. There was a cycle of seven weeks or so. You told the organisers what instrument you played, then turned up on week one to find that you had been put into a group of anything from 2-7 or so players of assorted instruments, with a piece to learn. For the next few weeks you practised, sometimes on tiny chairs since we did it at a primary school, then on week seven you performed. The only rule was that no-one should laugh (and no-one did, except, sometimes, the players themselves). Starting again was fine. The motto of the workshop was "If a thing's worth doing, it's worth doing badly.' I loved it. Difficult to replicate deep in the French Alps, perhaps, but worth a thought.
> ...and I came across Kate Bush; which has been a dream of mine for some time.
> I learned the recorder first. It’s easy to produce the notes (bit like hitting a key on a piano)
I played recorder at primary school. The fingering is bonkers.
It was a revelation to get a cheap electronic keyboard and find how easy it was to play sequential notes.
But my fingers still refused to coordinate themselves...
Ironically (?) I quit music to pursue climbing. I grew my nails out and was playing classical guitar, but the nails got in the way of crimping! I know you can get those plastic thingamabobs but it's just not the same.
My advice would be that there are multiple different strategies to learning music, and which one is best for you depends on how you like to approach problems and learn. For my best friend, he did better by just playing and listening and didn't get on with his tertiary music theory (despite him playing for many years). For me I could understand the music theory easily - but I found it hard to play fluidly and to get the ideas from my head into my fingers. Realistically the music theory doesn't help with learning to play simple songs that you will be practicing endlessly (the first few years of your music career) - but if you're eternally curious about how things work, then I'd recommend it.
> I can't get my fingers to coordinate themselves to play an instrument. My brain just seems to rebel.
maybe you just need more fingering practice.
> maybe you just need more fingering practice
No; my fingers just refuse to work like that, in playing instruments, and all other digital activities (like typing, writing). I think, at 55, I know how my body works, and doesn't work.
But surely you are the guitar guy from Carter USM?
> > maybe you just need more fingering practice
> No; my fingers just refuse to work like that, in playing instruments, and all other digital activities (like typing, writing). I think, at 55, I know how my body works, and doesn't work.
You should be fingering more
You've got to beat your brain into submission. Just take it slowly but don't give up.
At 55 tha's nobbut a bairn. I'm 67 but I've just bought a pair of ice skates. OK my body's black and blue but I'm gonna skate Innominate Tarn this winter! Never say never
a fine ambition sir. here s hoping it freezes
A guitar is rather hard to master. The notes are spread way too far apart, which is why many people never get beyond strumming a few chords out and trying to imitate badly, the likes of Hank Williams or whoever.
I lived in Eire and risked a couple of euro on a tin or 'penny' whistle. (they teach all primary children to use one!). It came with simple instructions which enabled you to follow a simple tune in one octave. That got me to understand a bit about music notation. (quavers,semi quavers and so on).
I soon got the hang of playing it, and can normally play tunes reading music provided they fit in with the (roughly) 12 notes you can out of a whistle.
Like virtually all Irish whistle players they only use the cheapest whistles which cost no more than four or five euros.
This is the sound one of them can make.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzh5uq8rkN0
> This is the sound one of them can make.. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzh5uq8rkN0
This is the sound a lot of them can make https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M6DLvkVG6tg
The crowd seen very keen and the cymbal man at 2:50 is very exuberant, maybe the cymbals is a good choice for those with poor fingering technique.
> I'm 67 but I've just bought a pair of ice skates
I take that to mean you are a novice skater.
Whereas I've been using my fingers for the last 55 years...
I think this insistence on practicing your fingering might be accompanied by a nudge and a wink!
You're probably right Well spotted.
> I think this insistence on practicing your fingering might be accompanied by a nudge and a wink!
Yeah; I was studiously ignoring that vein of humour...
Guitar may be easier to pick up as you can get music in "tab" format if you don't want to learn to read sheet music. Piano requires learning to read and play in two clefs at the same time - treble and bass. I'd go for whatever you would enjoy playing more as practice time is what matters. You can play aurally (by ear) by copying what you hear in a recording, but being able to read music is useful. You'll also develop muscle memory by playing (slowly at first), so over time will not need to think about the movement or look at the music as frequently. The best way to learn is to play frequently, selecting pieces of an appropriate standard to develop skill before progressing to harder pieces. Look for beginners books for ideas and don't expect too much early on. It's useful to have a basic grasp of theory; publications by the associated board (abrsm) set the standard, or just do some googling.
As a late starter to learning to play an instrument I would say..
1. Learn theory if you want to read music, otherwise just dive in and build up that muscle memory
2. I chose banjo on the basis that as no one else was playing banjo where I went then I wouldn't be compared to the other guitarists. But Ukulele is easy to learn and popular at the moment if you just want to make a few tunes. Go for what you feel drawn to though. Keyboard is good but a bugger to take down the pub
3. Whatever you chose go for the best of the basics. Most instrument makers have a 'beginners' instrument at a reasonable price. Best to actually go to a shop and try a few. Go for sound quality and ease of play (ie guitar are the strings high requiring more pressure to make chords or low). Dead cheap instruments sound shite and at this stage you don't want to splash out on something expensive until you are convinced that you want to continue.
4. I took a few lessons initially to get me started. But soon progressed to youtube vids. I asked for recommendations for beginner books but also found quite a few online. But the main thing, the real main thing, is practice, practice, practice. At first I was slow until my fingers hardened off and I thought I would never be able to make some of the chord shapes but after practicing every day I got better. Learn tunes very slow at first and break them up into managable chunks. I also chose banjo because I have small fingers which made some of the chord stretches on guitar hard to do.
[Is it worth learning theory first? Eg. getting the basics that are then transferable to a wider range of instrument or should I just dive in with an instrument?]
Dive in with an instrument - the theory will be a little uninspiring without a context, and theory is all part of learning an instrument
[Piano/keyboard really appeals to me, closely followed by guitar. Any recommendations on which would be better for a novice.]
If you played guitar at school a little that would still give you a head start if you decided to learn guitar now. What you learned will still be in there somewhere! I took up alto recorder recently after playing descant recorder at primary school a little (40 years ago), and found the stuff I have learned as a kid was still useful.
[Given the above, any recommendations for a starter instrument? eg. make and model.]
I can only comment re pianos (unless you’re interested in the recorder). I find sub-£100 keyboard instruments a bit pointless. A good digital home piano isn’t crazily expensive, if you decide to learn piano - and nice to have something that is all in - ie it has all the pedals, music stand and speakers in the right places. Aim for a full length keyboard and full sized keys (unless you want to limit your repertoire to pre 1800ish, when you could get away with 5 or less octaves). The Yamaha ones are good value and play well. I think the less you have to do to switch it on, the more likely you are to play it regularly. I bought a clavichord (early keyboard instrument) recently, and all you have to do is open the lid and it is ready to play, which is really appealing!
[I realise having real-life tuition would be perfect, but that's not really practical certainly for the next 6 months at least, so any recommendations on resources to use to self-teach? Obviousy YouTube and other online tools have made this a lot easier]
Depends on which instrument you pick I guess!
Main things you need are plenty of time set aside to learn, patience, focused practice and enthusiasm for the instrument. Good luck!
One of the great advantages of a digital piano is that you can practice silently by using headphones. A big problem with a conventional piano is that the sound has the ability to penetrate quite thick walls, and it can be truly excruciating sometimes to hear someone practicing.
As an aside, that is one reason why I bought a clavichord - it is so quiet that I can play at midnight without disturbing the chap in the flat upstairs. Your ear adjusts to the volume level so that it has a good level of dynamics. And it is a really expressive and beautiful sounding instrument. You do have to learn how to tune it though!
Agreed a digital piano is a bit of a necessity in preference to a real piano in many folks' accommodation these days. I recall playing one note on a piano in a flat I had moved into, to see whether it was in tune, and the chap from upstairs came running downstairs and complained immediately! Real pianos are nicer if you have the right place to put them, but not practical in many situations as they are really loud (the fact they can compete with an orchestra is a good indication).
That's what's happened to me, now that I live in a small terraced cottage. The piano has just become a nice piece of furniture. Have a v cheap Casio digital thing in my office, but no longer play either.
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