Learning the Basics

August 29, 2013

This is Bob Hempker. I’ve had folks call in here of late who had questions that many of you may have and so I wanted to discuss a couple of ideas in hopes that I can benefit more people than just the callers I talked to.

One person was inquiring about the harmonics video we did about a year ago. They were wanting to know how to play that song. That wasn’t what the video was about. The video was instruction on how to play harmonics.

In many cases, especially with newer players or beginners, people want to be taught songs. You must understand the things we hear we hear over the radio or on CDs or whatever, is usually done by musicians who have been playing 30 or 40 plus years.

These people started out learning the notes on their instrument, learning the location and the sounds of particular notes, scales, arpeggios and such. I know this can be boring and can become drudgery, but these are the things you must learn before being concerned about learning songs.

If you don’t like to practice scales, arpeggios and such, take up playing drums.

We also get questions of how to set an amplifier. There is no one size fits all way of setting an amplifier. Our ears are different. Our hands are different. The placement of the amplifier can vary. Every room is different. Use your ears and listen to what you’re sounding like. Play with the knobs until you find something YOU like.

It’s your sound. Take responsibility for it.

Lloyd Green’s tone is different from Buddy Emmons tone is different from John Hughey’s tone. Each and every one of us has our own unique thing we put into our tone.

I remember people back in the days when the Jeff Newman settings came with a Peavey Profex II when you bought it. I remember players dialing up a Buddy Emmons program or a John Hughey program and thinking it was going to make them sound like that player.

Sorry folks, but that’s fantasy land. There is no substitute or shortcut to learning the basics of your instrument and of music and practicing with your instrument for years and years.

We can’t put a price on good instruction either. With the teachers that are available in this day and age, plus the DVDs, books, CDs, YouTube, Skype there is no reason for anyone to sit by themselves trying to figure things out at a snails pace. I would’ve given anything when I was young to have had all of these things at my disposal.

Unless it is something that is going to aid you in learning to play, spend your money on instruction. We have books and DVDs by Bobbe Seymour and Doug Jernigan. We have a Mel Bay book that is great. We also have a list of teachers if you want to go to private instruction. The Tascam guitar trainer is one of the most useful tools in learning to play.

The tools to learn are there. It’s up to you to use them and put in the time. Bear in mind, you may learn from someone how to play a certain thing, but again I can’t stress the fact a beginner or novice is not going to sound like a seasoned professional playing the same thing.

Be patient with yourself. You’re not going to sound like Paul Franklin in three months time. Learning to play any musical instrument is extremely difficult. Steel guitar is one of the most complicated instruments in existence. We need all the help we can get.

Don’t short change yourself on instructional materials and private in person instruction. Spend the bucks for it now and worry about getting this or that neat sound with this or that gadget after you’ve learned how to play.

Don’t try play above your level. It’s great to challenge yourself and push yourself, but know your limits. Can you imagine a piano student who can’t play Chopsticks asking his teacher to start him out with Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto?

Use your ears to find the note. With all the songs you’ll learn to play throughout your playing career, there is no way, it is not possible, to learn them by rote and memorize them mechanically.

If you try to learn songs by memorizing the string, fret, pedal and knee lever position for each note, then you are never going to rise to the professional ranks and probably will never even rise to the level of competency needed to play with a band.

Remember, we cater to steel players, not sound men.


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Hendersonville, TN. 37075
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