The Aging Guitarist’s Current Favored Resources

I went to my friend’s house one day, and he had an electric guitar he had just bought with a tiny little amp. I turned the volume up to 10 and I hit one chord, and I said, I’m in love.
Ace Frehley

The guitar is a much more efficient machine than a computer.  More responsive.
Colin Greenwood

I learned to play the guitar because I thought it was a good way to get girls… and now at my shows the first three rows are always nothing but middle aged guys, staring at my hands.
— Ed Gerhard

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I could be one of those mentioned in the last quote — hoping to peer into the secret of better guitar playing.  And I may be slightly beyond middle-aged (whatever that is exactly), so Ed might be even more dismayed.

As chronicled in a couple of posts (Aging Guitar Enthusiast and Manchild with Guitar) from about three years ago, I took up the electric guitar in my late 50s after giving up on it as a young lad.

It continues to be one of the enthusiasms of my life.  I take weekly lessons with a working rock guitarist, I’ve bought too many books, and I download videos and try out lessons online.  I don’t practice as much as I should, though, since work, relationships, and other distractions and duties have their own imperatives.  But I do try to sit down with the guitar every day for awhile, even if it is just to practice scales or licks I’ve learned.

I’m moved from a pretty rank beginner, who could just barely recall the open chords of his youth, to a beginner maybe starting to edge into intermediate territory, after a few years of working at basic blues and rock skills.  I’m still pretty awful though, most of the time.  I admire my guitar teacher for his patience.

Although I do take lessons, I still think of myself as largely self-taught.  I bring something I’m working on to Eddy, who is at least a good generation and a half younger than I am, but who still appreciates older rock, and he shows me the right way to do it.  Or else, if I have no good ideas, he’ll point out something he thinks I should improve on, and we’ll work on that.  If you have a chance to find a teacher of such flexibility, I think that is the way to go.

I’d like to pass on, to anyone in roughly the same boat (and there’s a lot of us I think), some of the good resources I’ve come across, from books and online sites.

Some of my favorite guitar books

Because I can’t sing very well, my ambition is to play a repertoire of rocking instrumentals — but song-based instrumentals where my playing can take the place of the voice.  The majority of available tablature material (the guitar-specific rendering of musical notation for ease of play) has the rhythm guitar parts and riffs in support of the voice.  But I want to play the melody line too.

I have sat down and rendered the melody notes into tab for myself, and figured out how I might integrate it with the rhythm guitar, but it can take a lot of time….

Fortunately I have found some guitar books that have relatively simple arrangements of melody and rhythm.  There’s a series of “Easy Guitar Tab” published by Hal Leonard based on the decades of rock that offer a lot of memorable songs to work on.  I’ve got 1960s, 1970s, and 1990s Rock in this series and I’ve been working on songs from “Runaway” to “Born to Be Wild” to “One Headlight.”

But with one guitar, and given that the arrangements are somewhat simplified, the sound can be thin and uninspiring.  So I create my own backing tracks with a program called ChordPulse which I recommend wholeheartedly.  It’s amazingly versatile and easy to use: just set out the chords and the style you want, and you can have drums, bass and piano grooving behind you. There may be similar but more complicated, and expensive, programs from Band in the Box to Guitar Pro that can do something similar, but for me ChordPulse’s largely intuitive interface produces surprisingly good-sounding tracks.  The program is up to Version 2.2 and is still undergoing active improvement.  It’s definitely worth the money.

One book on technique and theory I keep coming back to is Fretboard Knowledge for the Contemporary Guitarist by Vivian Clement.  This 2003 publication provides, for instance, an innovative alternative method to learning the pentatonic “boxes” up and down the guitar neck.  I have learned those darn boxes, so I’m finding it a little difficult to move from them to this other method, but the opportunity to get free from the standard patterns one tends to fall into is what draws me to this book.  There’s also lots of good material on the related blues scales, on modes and on understanding arpeggios.  Another book in that same series I got a lot out of — it improved my understanding of the fretboard significantly — is Theory for the Contemporary Guitarist by Guy Capuzzo.

My music teacher has emphasized that I really need to get better with rhythm guitar before becoming a lead-guitar god, so I’ve bought a book or two on that, one being: Rhythm Guitar Essentials published by String Letter Publishing.  There’s a lot of good material here by different teachers, some of which is quite difficult for me… but it makes clear how necessary practice is, and a lot of it.  It comes with a CD with examples and backing tracks.

One of my problems with music is that my interests tend to out-run my available time and talent:  I’m interested in finger-picking, slide guitar (and thus alternate tunings) and blues harmonica.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to all that, but I might (I’ve got a little bit of the fingerpicking underway already)!

Amazing fingerpicking solo song site

In my fantasy about an eventual repertoire to wow my friends and family, I imagine ending the set with a finger-picked version of the Beatle’s “A Day in the Life,” if you can believe such a thing. There’s a surprisingly moving solo version at the Lick By Neck website, somewhere in the collections of “Solo Pop Guitar Lessons.”

Each song there is its own software where you can follow the fingering, and pause and repeat as you will.  Most of the songs are not terribly complicated.  A lot of good stuff, from “A Whiter Shade of Pale” (Procol Harum) to “Do It Again” (Steely Dan) to “One of Us” (Joan Osborne) and much, much more.  Some are a bit more jazz-inflected than I’m partial to, but best of all, they are free.

Beware the online guitar lesson sign-up

If you’ve spent much time online looking at guitar sites, you’ll have come across many that promise you amazing guitar prowess within 48 hours if you only buy their revolutionary guitar learning system or sign up for online lessons with them.

There are a number of sites, and online guitar teachers, that offer free lessons as a marketing tool if you will part with your email address.  I’ve done that a number of times.  Typically you will get a number of sometimes useful, sometimes not, video lessons from their back catalog.  The tendency is that before too long the free lessons dwindle away, and your email becomes inundated with offers for their incredible five DVD guitar mastery system for only a few hundred dollars.  (That’s why I use Gishpuppy to submit email addresses to this kind of site. Gishpuppy provides disposable front-end email addresses.)

I shouldn’t be unduly critical though — I guess they have to make a living too.  I have gotten some good lessons this way.  And some of these online teachers are much better than others.

Good lesson sites

The best of this type that I’ve found is Robert Renman at Dolphinstreet.com.  He provides many free video lessons on the site, often with tab and Guitar Pro attachments.  He does offer the free lessons if you sign up, but he sends you one every week like clockwork for a year, and they are always clear, concise and instructive.  (His video lessons can also be found on YouTube.)  I like his manner: sincere, calm and clearly dedicated to showing people how to play, beyond the purely commercial.  He does have paid lessons and DVDs available for purchase (and I have bought some of his blues lessons), and he does ask people to donate.

Another good site, but much more commercial in tone is freeguitarvideos.com. They have quite a few free video lessons on the site, with a variety of teachers and styles, but the lessons are more clearly intended as marketing for the paid versions.  My favorite teacher on the site is Jody Worrell, who has a clear, avuncular presentation.  I have bought several lessons from this site as well.  I especially liked an Allman Brothers style solo taught by Worrell.

But that’s all the online purchasing of lessons that I’ve done.  It would be easy to get carried away with it like I have with books, and I’m trying to restrain my enthusiasm.

There’s several more non-lesson oriented guitar sites that I’ve found interesting and useful.

For the blues specifically, there’s 12bar Blues Guitar, a German site (although with English).  It has some great tools to explore scales, chords and modes.  There are also a series of tutorials, and even a backing track generator that renders bare bones blues tracks to play against.

There’s guitar.ch, a recent discovery  which has quite a selection of licks, riffs and other material to practice, with good reference material on scales, modes and chords.  It’s not obvious right away how much there is for free on this site, because of the front and centre display of the for-sale material, but it’s there including many good free tabbed songs.

Wholenote Online Guitar offers another backing track generator they call the Groove Builder, as well as ear training, interval training, and fretboard knowledge tests, along with the typical chord and scale info.  They have a whole library of useful, accessible lessons.

I mention TrueGuitarist.com, despite the mush mouth and relatively poor video by the main presenter, because of the site’s many good lessons, with an emphasis on understanding basic theory.

There are a lot of useful tips about guitar playing on the blog Not Playing Guitar — the writer’s point being that if you’re reading his blog, you’re not practicing….  As an example there’s one on blues soloing which had some good advice.

So I go on practicing… by the time I’m 70 I hope to be merely competent in the blues/rock realm of the guitar.  And by 80, who knows!

[Home]

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Notes on images, from top down.

1) Lots of great songs in here, especially if you’re of a certain age…. from the Amazon Books website.

2) The guitar boat as found on The Horse’s Mouth blog.

3) Innovative use of guitar gear, from Recycled Crafts.

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