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Beginning Musicians

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels

Do you really “wannabe”?

When my son, Fred, turned 10 years of age he was totally consumed with the idea of playing guitar. When he didn’t have homework or chores to do, you would find him sitting in front of the TV playing “air guitar” to music videos on YouTube. 

A video caught his attention about how to build a box guitar. He got the instruction from Teaching Station, collected the cereal box, paper towel tube, rubber bands, and crayons, and went to work building his very first guitar.

I wondered just how long it would be before he was on to the next thing that caught his fancy. But, every day, after school, he disappeared into his room to work on his guitar.

Two days later, walking into the house and getting home from work, I heard a strange noise coming from Fred’s room. I very quietly opened the door. Fred sat on the side of his bed strumming his box guitar. 

“Fred, you got it finished,” I said stepping into his room. “Congratulations.”

“Yeah, I got it, but it doesn’t sound as good as I had thought it would,” he said with a scowl on his face.

“You did it, that’s the important thing,” I said.

“But it doesn’t sound that good,” he whined, a tear in his eye.

“Don’t give up. Let’s start working on a plan. Okay?”

Fred wiped his eyes, “A plan?” he asked. 

“There’s a lot of planning to be done before you actually get a real guitar. Are you willing to do the work?”

“Oh yes, Mom. I’m ready.. When can we start?” he asked running to give me a hug.

 

Preparing for your music journey

Many “wanna-be” guitarists think it looks easy, and they can learn on their own. And many do.

But, with a good guitar and good instruction, whether in person or online, you can develop good “guitar techniques” which will cut your learning time.

“Mom, some of my friends were talking about their guitar teacher. I got his number. Can we call him and set up an appointment? Please, Mom? He only has a couple of slots open. Please?”

“How would you practice? You don’t have a guitar.”

“Oh, yeah.”

Before deciding who to take lessons from or which instrument you need to purchase, you need to know where you are going. Let’s answer these questions to get started.

Ok. 

Mom began reading questions to Fred to build “The Plan.”

  • Do you want to play a musical instrument? What kind? Keyboard? Guitar? 
  • What type of guitar? Acoustic, Electric, or Bass?

Fred piped up, “Guitar. It has to be a guitar.”

“Write it down,” Mom said. “Describe the guitar. And write down the answers to these questions.”

Fred ran to get his notebook to begin the process.

  • Why do you want to play?
  • Do you want to play professionally or just for fun?

Fred sat quietly after writing down his guitar description. He described an acoustic model like the country singers play.

“Did you hear the questions?” she asked.

Fred continued to sit in deep thought. “Can’t I be a professional guitarist and play for fun also? Do I have to be one or the other? What do I have to do as a professional? Just play on stage?”

Mom laughed, “Of course, you can do both. Write it down. We’ll look up what a professional does. Playing on stages is part of it, but not the only thing.”

Mom got out her computer and Googled “Professional Guitarist.”

“Guitarists are skilled performers who also frequently write and record their own music. In addition to practicing and performing, they teach, handle tasks such as booking shows, and collaborate with other musicians. They perform live and play in studios for recording sessions. They practice regularly to learn new music, keep their skills sharp, and to keep in top-notch shape for gigs.”  Careersinmusic.com/guitarist 

Let’s map out your music journey

As with any journey, whether it’s cross-country, an international trip, or a trek into the wonderful world of music, you need to set your goals and then create a plan to achieve them. 

You may think that planning just to play a musical instrument isn’t important, but it is. Benjamin Franklin said: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”

If you want to play an acoustic guitar, you would not purchase a keyboard or sign up for drum lessons. So, let’s begin mapping out your journey so you can get the right instrument and the right lessons. 

Set your goals

Fred sat at the kitchen table with his notebook and a pen. “Mom, I’m ready. How do we create a plan so I can get my guitar?”

I laughed, “You seem to be very excited about this.”

Create a music skills inventory list

The first step in setting goals is to create an inventory list of your skills and resources. Put them in your journal so you can check them frequently. Don’t have a journal? Start one.

If you are a complete “newbie” you probably won’t have any music skills, yet, but you might be surprised.

  • Have you taken any music classes in school?
  • Have you tried playing any instruments?
  • Do you have a friend who has shown you a few chords on the guitar or keyboard?
  • Write them down in your journal so you can add to them later.

Make Your Goals Achievable 

We recommend using a SMART Goal Planner. The formula below will help you make your goals clear and help you reach them.

    • “Specific (simple, sensible, significant).”
      • What exactly do you want to do? Or what do you want to happen?
      • Why do you want to do this? How important is it to you?
      • Who else is involved: parents, teacher, spouse, etc?
    • “Measurable (meaningful, motivating).”
      • How much time do you have to practice?
      • How will you know when you have found the right instrument and/or lessons?
    • “Achievable (agreed, attainable)” 
      • How can you accomplish this goal? List out everything you will need, such as instrument, teacher, etc.
      • How realistic is the goal? Will you have enough money to purchase your instrument and hire a teacher? Will you have enough time to practice?
      • Break your goals down. This is especially important for big goals. Put it into small steps that are workable.
    • “Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based). If this is a relevant or good goal you will be able to answer “yes” to every one of the following questions.”
      • Is this the right time?
      • Does this match your other efforts/needs, such as school, work, and/or family?
      • Are you the right person to be a musician? A Professional Musician? 
    • “Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).”
      • When will you have the time to practice? 
      • Will you have enough time?
      • What can you achieve as a musician in six months from now? Six weeks from now?
    • “Evaluated”
      • Answer the above questions in your journal – WRITE IT DOWN.
      • Do you have the time and financial resources to meet this goal?
      • Tell someone you trust. Telling someone you know and trust about your goals seems to increase the likelihood that you will stick to them.
    • “Reviewed”
      • Review your goal regularly to see if you are meeting them.

Finishing up the planner

Fred, with his Mom’s help, worked through the Smart Goal Planner for kids for several days after school. He answered the questions above to come up with his plan. Mom drew a planner similar to the one below for him to put in his notebook.

“Mom,” Fred called. “I think I’m finished. Please see what you think.”

Smart Goal Planner - Dena Warfield

Keep going. Don’t quit no matter how hard it is. 

Don’t Quit!!

Celebrate. And Repeat.

Side Note: if the student is a smaller child, you as a parent, will need to help with the goal setting and directing his/her progress.

by Dena Warfield

All Music Things: Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

Thinking back to when I was about nine years old. I would watch guitar players wishing I had a guitar. I thought if I asked my mom, I might have a chance of getting one.

As I watched The Green Valley Mountain Boys, a local TV show starring REM WALL and several others who worked at the Gibson factory down the street in Kalamazoo, I said, “Mom, mom, come here. Come see Billy. Isn’t he good?”

“He’s just a kid,” she said. “He can’t be much older than you.”

“See. That’s why I need a guitar. I’m behind already. Could I get one for Christmas?”

She paused, “It’s only January. It’s a long time until Christmas. But, I saw a guitar in the second-hand store. Stop in and see how much it is.”

I looked at the clock on the wall… 4:00 pm. I had 30 minutes to get there. I ran for the door, hopped on my bike, headed for the store. I pulled up in front, dropped my bike, and reached for the doorknob just as the lady approached with a key in her hand.

I stepped inside.

“We’re closing,” she said.

“Please, do you still have the guitar?”

“Yes, come on in. I’ll show it to you.”

I picked it up, cradling it in my arms like I had seen others do, and started to strum.

“It’s really out of tune,” the lady said.

I didn’t care. I kept strumming.

“Young man, young man.”

I looked up.

“If you want to play it, you’ll have to buy it. It’s $5.00”

I put it down and reached into my pocket and pulled out $2.75. “This is what I’ve got.”

“Well, you need $2.25 more. But this will hold it until you get the rest,” she said scrapping the coins into the drawer.

“What do you mean, hold it?”

“I won’t sell it to anyone else. Bring me the rest of the money and it’s yours.”

“Thank you,” I said running out the door. I didn’t think to give her my name.

“Mom, mom,” I said running in the backdoor. “Do you have $2.25? She put the guitar on hold. All I need is $2.25. Please, mom.”

“Well, I’ll give you $.50 on Saturday if you’ll do the dishes every night for the next 5 days.”

I looked at the floor shuffling my feet. I would still need $1.75. Tears began to form in my eyes.

“Go ask the neighbors if you can mow their yards or help with something else. You can earn the rest,” she said. “Check at school. Mr. Allen might have something you could do in the music room.”

I managed to get several jobs lined up. I worked hard to get the rest of the money. Mr. Allen, the music teacher, seemed so impressed that I would work to earn the money that he gave me a little extra. He even told me to bring the guitar to him and he’d help me. It took me four weeks to earn the rest of the money.

The day finally came. I didn’t ride my bike to school because I was going straight to the second-hand store to get my guitar.

I walked in and laid the money on the counter.

“Very good, I knew you’d come back with the money,” she said walking into the back room reappearing with my guitar.

She handed it to me. I brushed off the dust and cradled it in my arms. It was mine.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “It didn’t come with a case.”

But, I didn’t really hear her. I didn’t even notice the long walk home. I had it. I had my guitar. I had borrowed a guitar music book from the library. It was on my bed waiting for us. The old upright piano in the dining room was in tune enough to tune the guitar like the book said, I thought.

I went straight to my room. I didn’t want to see any of my brothers or sisters. I wanted to be alone with my guitar. I sat on the bed with it in my lap and opened the music book to the first song. I placed my fingers on the strings as the book showed. I went from one fingering pattern to the next until my mother called bedtime. I had played through dinner and didn’t even notice.

“I look at your fingers,” she said as she walked into my room. “They’re bleeding.”

I stopped and looked down. “Mom, they’re not bleeding, they’re just red when I held the strings down.”  I hadn’t even noticed the welts on my fingertips from the guitar strings.

I carried it to school the next day where it waited in my locker.

After school, I took it to Mr. Allen. I waited until he was finished with another student then walked up to him handing him my guitar.

Image by MegLearner from Pixabay“You got it, alright. Let me see it,” he said almost as excited as I had been. As he turned it every which way looking at it, his excitement seemed to fade finally saying, “You can learn the fingering on this guitar, but it’s not going to be good for much else. See this,” he said running his finger around the bottom side of the body of the guitar. “This crack can’t be fixed. It will never really sound very good. I should be able to tune, but it will be hard to play. Let me see your left hand. See your fingertips? That’s because it is made with the strings too high off the fretboard.”

Mr. Allen tuned it and showed me how to tune the first string then tune the other five by tuning the next string to the one you just tuned.

My walk home took a little longer than usual as I thought about my guitar. I wasn’t going to give up. I just couldn’t. Over the next few months, I continued to work as hard as I had the first day. I was going to learn how to play and that was that! I learned about seven chords and I had a good rhythm in my strumming. I took my guitar to YMCA summer camp and was able to play some campfire songs.

Christmas morning finally arrived. I stumbled out to the living room with the rest of the family. I hadn’t seen anything under the tree with my name on it. As I sat on the floor watching the other kids open presents my mom walked out with a brand new guitar case containing a new Gibson LG-1 Sunburst Acoustic Guitar. I was in heaven!

“I know you were disappointed that there wasn’t a present for you under the tree, but I couldn’t wrap this. Will this do?” she said handing the guitar case to me.

Don’t get stuck with an old clunker as I did. Find out how to get your Best-First-Guitar.

by Dena Warfield.

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