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Lesson #38: Introduction

by Tyler de Witt posted on 1999-10-24
Topic: Theory Subtopic: General
Level: Beginner Number of Readers: 73466


I'd like to think that we an divide the learning of a musical instrument into a number of categories. These categories are:

1. learning where the notes are
2. learning why to play the notes
3. learning how to play the notes
4. learning what notes to play.

The first, learning 'where' the notes are, is completely specific to the instrument. It's of course important to know where all the notes on your instrument are located. Unfortunately, when speaking of the guitar, many players do not know where the notes are. They know where certain patterns and shapes are located, but they don't know the actual note names of these patterns and shapes, and just accept them for patterns and shapes. I'm not going to argue with the fact that there have been many great guitarist who've relied completely on shapes and patterns, but I still believe it's better to you the fretboard inside out. Patterns and shapes can be of even much more use if you can understand what notes make up the pattern or shape. This category will cover methods of learning the note names on the fret board, shapes, practical chord and scale construction, barre chords and other moveable patterns.

The second category is learning 'why' to play certain notes. When I say this, I'm referring to music theory. To understand what we're doing with the notes on the instrument, it helps to understand music theory. If we can understand what it is we're playing, we can apply things that we've learned to more cases and situations that just the specific case in which we've learned. This category will cover topics of note names, intervals, chords, scales and harmony.

The third part is 'how' to play the notes. When saying this, I'm referring to technical studies. Learning to actually physically play things, and how to play them well, is what I call technique. It doesn't matter how much knowledge of music theory one may have, or how well we have mapped out our instrument, if we don't posses the skills to actually play things on our instrument, it is all useless. This category will cover picking, fingerpicking, bending, sliding, tapping, etc.

The fourth category, 'what' notes to play, refers to what we actually end up playing. Will the music you play spring out of your creative, improvisational mind as a complete, perfect whole? Perhaps. Or maybe you listen to music, and the mimic it on your instrument. Or maybe you enjoy reading music that others have written down. Most likely, a combination of these things is what you end up playing. For example, you may hear something on the radio, the mimic it, but change it slightly adding an improvisational touch here and there. This category will cover topics of improvisation, reading notation, composition, musical styles, creativity, ear training and tools(licks and tricks) that contibute to the end result of your playing.

This system of four categories isn't perfect. There's overlap between all of them. None of these categories can really stand by itself, because it would become meaningless if it were separated from the others. But even though the system isn't perfect, it helps to look at things as a whole, to see if we can make things clearer.

With all of that over with, I have a question. Do we ever think about what it is all for? What is the goal of playing an instrument? What is the end result? There's many answers to this, and it's probably more of an opinion than anything else. A general answer such as 'to play good music' comes to mind. Very unclear, but it's what we all want to be able to do.

I hope that effort to classify things will help many people in learning to play 'good music' or whatever their goals may be.

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