Learning Music is Like a Spiral Staircase

This is Vic Lawson with today’s newsletter. Newsletters are often times the result of something someone says when they visit the store or questions that we get either in person or through email. People considering learning steel guitar often ask how long it will take for them to learn. Here are some thoughts.

Learning music is not a straight line, 1-2-3 or A-B-C proposition. It’s more like a spiral staircase. You keep going in circles and sometimes don’t realize that you’re climbing higher and higher.

What I’m saying in a round-about way is that every so often, you should revisit the basics and review things you’ve already learned.

I searched google for some learning tips. One of the first tips I read about said to teach someone else what you know. The process of explaining and showing something to someone else helps firm it up in your own mind.

We learn by sight, sound and touch. Combine all three of these.

Sight. Watch other players as well as listen to them. Have someone video you and watch yourself. That’s usually a real eye opener in more ways than one. I have a drummer friend who went into shock after watching a video of his playing and saw what he looked like with his tongue stuck out to the side and drool dripping off of it. But that’s another story.

Sound. Listen to radio, CDs, YouTube and so on. Close your eyes and open your ears. Try to absorb the texture of the sound. Sing a lick as you play it. You might have to slow it down enough to be able to sing it but it will get the sound into your head.

Touch. We learn by doing. Practice to tracks instead of a metronome. You can’t get the feel of a swing or shuffle from a metronome. You don’t want to be a metronome anyway. How many bands hire metronomes? How many drummers have lost their jobs to drum machines?

Another learning aid I found is to associate something you’re trying to learn with something you already know. For instance, if you can sing the first two words of Amazing Grace, knowing that the second syllable is a fourth above the first can help you mentally nail down the interval.

I feel fairly certain that just about all of you realize the part that repetition plays. If you’re trying to learn a new lick, play it 10 times in a row. Then come back five minutes later and play it 10 more times. Take another five minute break and play it again. Do it until you get it.

When I hit the gym for a one hour workout, it’s going to take 60 minutes no matter how determined I am to make it go faster. I can summon all my will power but it’s still going to take 60 minutes. I can throw a temper tantrum but it’s still going to take 60 minutes. It’s something you have to go through to get through.

Go easy on yourself. You didn’t learn to walk, talk, read or write without a lot of effort so why would you expect learning to play an instrument to be any different. Getting frustrated over what you perceive to be a lack of progress is actually an impediment to learning. So never discount the power of a positive attitude.

Here’s a road story that fits perfectly under the things you can’t prepare for list. I was playing a show in North Carolina last Friday night and three songs into the show I had no signal.

I tried not to panic and fortunately I carry two preamps. One for pedal steel and one for my lapsteel. So I had to change preamps in the middle of the show which also meant changing the EQ. But the show must go on, right?

I made it through the show and after it I’m thinking now I have to buy a new preamp. Too my surprise, the subs just vibrated the power supply loose. I told the front guy and he laughed and said that was a first for him. We both got a good laugh out of it and I didn’t get fired!

I’m working with Craig Campbell. Here’s the schedule for this week.

Thursday September 12th. The Wareham in Manhattan, Kansas

Friday September 13th. Features Sports Bar in West Salem, Wisconsin

Saturday September 14th. Clay County Fairgrounds in Spencer, Iowa

Please say hi if you’re at any of these shows.


Listen To Steel Guitar Music Streaming 24 Hours A Day!

Steel Guitar Nashville
123 Mid Town Court
Hendersonville, TN. 37075
(615) 822-5555
Open 9AM – 4PM Monday – Friday
Open 9AM – 2Pm Second and Third Saturday of each Month
Closed Sunday

This entry was posted in Bobbe's Tips. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Learning Music is Like a Spiral Staircase

  1. Henry Senior says:

    totally agree with the spiral staircase thing. Sometimes it just feels like you’re chasing your tail, then you see how far you’ve come.

    It often feels like it goes in plateaus – nothing for ages but then a huge leap.. but that could just be a perception


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.