When I was 15, my aunt got me a guitar for Christmas — and to this day, it’s been one of the best gifts I’ve ever received. Shout out to Suzy!
The parking lot of King High School.
I think you get the same response from women just holding a guitar as you do playing it.
The great thing about guitar (besides the fact that it’s an amazing way to pick up girls…I’ve heard) is that it’s pretty straightforward to learn, and you can get to a nice intermediate level quickly — which is what 99% of guys want. We can find a song, learn it in a day and take the guitar to a party that night. Unlike other instruments you may have played in middle school or high school (I played viola), guitar has this shorthand notation called TAB (short for tablature) which basically replaces all the sheet music with numbers.
So, instead of this:
How does this translate to guitar…???
You see this:
Yes. Numbers. I can work with numbers.
Look at these two examples. The sheet music in example one is very obscure. To the novice musician, it’s literally like reading hieroglyphics. It doesn’t really make any sense at first:
“Wait, there are 4 lines on the staff….but there are 6 strings on the guitar?”
“Ok…so there are multiple strings that play the same note on the guitar? Well how do I tell the difference on the staff?”
“What finger should I use to play the notes?
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to see that option two, TAB, is much easier. Basically, all the strings of the guitar are labeled from bottom to top. In this case, the bottom “D” is the “thick” string (it’s actually supposed to be “E”…but for the example, it doesn’t matter.) The “E” at the top is the thinnest string. All those little numbers — those are the notes you play. If it says “5” on the “E” string, just hold down the 5th fret on the E string and pluck it. If it says “0”, play the string without holding anything down.
Congratulations, you can now play about 90% of guitar songs — because almost every song known to man has been transcribed for TAB. And you didn’t even learn to read any music whatsoever.
The drawback here is that without knowing how to read sheet music, or understanding the basics of musical theory, you can PLAY almost anything — but you don’t know why you’re playing it. It’s like being able to pronounce Spanish words well, even though you can’t speak the language. You might sound fluent, but you have no idea what you’re saying — so you have no idea how to communicate a thought. Basically, you’re faking it.
I played using TAB for years. I made it to a “high-intermediate” level, and I could play lots of songs that you’d recognize…but then I got bored and stopped practicing. I liked guitar, but it just didn’t excite me anymore. I think the reason was because deep down, I knew that I couldn’t really play music. I was just mimicking numbers on a page. I had no idea what notes went together, why they worked, or how to play anything outside of my narrow understanding. This frustrated me, so I stopped playing until I could devote the time to learn music for real.
I’d put a “bookmark” in the musical area of my life for the past 5 years, and now, I finally have the time to hire an instructor. His name is Alex – he’s incredible (check him out: Step By Step Music). We do everything via Skype, so I have no reason not to show up. And guess what…I’m learning to read music. Without the crutch of TAB to make me feel like a virtuoso, I’m back to square one with an instrument that I used to be very familiar with.
The beginning of every journey sucks…
This is me, painfully playing George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” — from the sheet music. You can hear that it’s choppy, not very fluid and I make mistakes. For me, this is very frustrating.
But slowly, I’m getting better.
Learning to read music is really like learning a foreign language. Sometimes, after an hour or so of playing and studying scales…I get a “breakthrough” that connects everything I’d done for the past few days together and erases all the questions I had in one fell swoop. The giant “aha” moment.
It’s a slow trek, though — and often, I want to give up. Of course, I wouldn’t SAY that I was quitting. I’d probably let it slip away gently, and hope nobody noticed I wasn’t playing anymore. The key to quitting is to do it quietly, so that nobody challenges you!
But I haven’t quit. And I won’t. Somehow, I keep pushing.
Here’s the truth: Everything sucks in the beginning.
Embracing the possibility spiral
My friend Sibyl at The Possibility of Today would refer to the beginning of any journey as the bottom of your “Possibility Spiral.”
The road to success is seldom a linear path
I really vibe with Sibyl’s diagram. Let’s take a deeper look at what’s going on here:
- Everyone starts at their version of the bottom — wherever that is. It’s exciting at first, but there’s also a tremendous amount of work to be done.
- As you progress up the spiral, your challenge seems increasingly difficult as you go around the back end of the spiral. You may be moving so slowly at first that you can’t even see you’re making progress.
- If you continue to stick with it, momentum builds and the spiral gets tighter. This means that every subsequent turn actually moves you faster and faster up the spiral.
- The top of the spiral requires only a fraction of the work and heavy lifting to maintain compared to the bottom of the spiral.
It’s so easy to get discouraged when you try something new, and SUCK.
Next time you try something new, and you find yourself discouraged because you’re not good yet, I want you to reframe your beliefs.
Instead of focusing on how bad you suck, view your progress as the correct place in the your “possibility spiral” — and a level that’s sure to be surpassed with consistent effort and some time in the game.
Everybody sucks in the beginning. Deal with it.
I’ll meet you on the other side.
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