What does mastery look like? Part 1: Guitar

Part 1: Learn to play guitar with enough mastery to play complete songs by ear.

Hey there Slick, can you play that thing or what?

In order for me to display mastery of the guitar I will be able to play a randomly chosen song that is difficult, but not impossible. I will almost certainly not be able to play Van Halen’s “Eruption” in a year, but I should be able to play the chords, changes, and riffs in moderately difficult rock or country songs. Not jazz though—too many hard-to-finger jazzy little chords for me. Seriously, what the hell is a Cadd9/E chord anyway?

Just looking at this chord hurts my hands:

In one year:

  • I want to know and play easily the major chords/including barre and power chords for rock, blues, and country.

  • I want to be able to read tab and standard notation guitar music. I never learned to read guitar chords when I took lessons in my teens, but I still remember how to read treble clef from playing recorder (thanks Miss Tuley!) and cornet, so that should help me. Being able to read guitar music will help me when I try to tackle my goal of writing a song. It’s not necessary, many, many, many, great songwriters and singers cannot read or write music, but since I already have some understanding of it, I would be a fool to not study musical notation.

  • My stretch goal is to be able to pick out songs by ear—I know that this is hard subskill, and that is why I will take no days off from playing the guitar. Sure, I might miss the occasional day due to travel, illness or a raging case of the fuck-its. So let’s say that I practice at least half an hour every day for the next year, but take off up to 30 days for unforeseen circumstances, and I am still looking at 306 days, which will be 168 hours of dedicated practice. One full week of my next year will be devoted to just this one skill. And that is assuming that I only practice half an hour a day. I don’t anticipate that happening. I suspect that as I improve and start playing songs I love I will enjoy it more and practice even longer. That’s the plan anyway.

I’m doing this one to spite the guitar teacher who couldn’t teach lefties who bullshitted my parents and said that I didn’t need to be taught on a left-handed guitar (I did). I have forgotten his name, but he had a rat tail mullet and a super-cheesy headless guitar. (I thought that both of those things were cool back then) If you’ve never seen a headless guitar, they’re hideous—the guitar equivalent of acid wash jeans. Anyway, I took three months of lessons with him, never learned any songs except for half of “Ice Cream Man” by Van Halen, and then I dicked around on my own and from things my friends showed me, but never getting very good. This went on for years until I sold or gave away my right-handed guitars in my thirties. A couple of years ago I got a Surf Green Telecaster ripoff, a little amp and guitar bag, then promptly lost interest in learning to play again, but that’s the past, and I’m gonna shred now.

Hey, fourteen year old Jeremy: we’re going to finally learn how to play “Purple Haze”, Buddy.

This guitar is really pissed off that “grunge basically killed metal”.

The Jams of Too Early Old, Too Late Smart: A dynamic playlist.

Here is a very badly shot (by me) video of my pretty sweet guitar licks. Be prepared to have your faces melted:

I don’t usually shroud myself in shadows, but I completely ignored where my light was; also, I don’t really know how to use my fancy pants camera. I’ll get better!