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Why I Created ArtistWorks

That enabled me to begin to "hear" the structure of popular music.  Initially I didn't know the names of the progressions, instead I mapped what I was hearing to songs I knew, like "Louie Louie" (later learning I was hearing a I-IV-V chord progression).   
learning guitar

A said note on "Louie Louie" ... I didn't sweat that "Louie Louie", as played by the Kingsmen, actually substituted a minor chord for the V chord which is typically a major chord.  That is, they played A A A  D D  Em Em Em  D D   A A A.  But heard that mighty I-IV-V chord progression everywhere, I called it the "Louie Louie" progression.  All the blues, all "boogie" music, and a million popular songs rock and otherwise use this same I-IV-V pattern. 

Soon other patterns also began to emerge to my ears, such as the I-vi-ii-V, which some think of as the "doo-wop" progression (or the "Heart and Soul" progression).   A way to play that progression on guitar is C Am Dm G.  Or a strongly related progression is C Am F G.  Like the I-IV-V progression, the I-vi-ii-V progression appears in countless songs across many genres.

A fertile place to acquire guitar knowledge was at youth church retreats and summer camps.  I am sure there was a grand religious or spiritual purpose to these things, but for me it was really just a chance to be away from my parents and have fun.  Many of us brought guitars to these gatherings and we found time to play quite a bit. When I'd meet someone who could play something I couldn't, I would barter with them to learn it, offering to teach them something I could play but that they didn't know.  We basically pooled our guitar knowledge.  

My growing facility on the guitar provided me a path to achieve some measure of "popularity" in school (very important at that age).  By ninth grade I was asked to play folk song accompaniments at school for vocal music classes.  When our school's music teacher Miss Spain was issued a Garcia nylon string "classical" guitar, I got it. 

guitar lessons

I found I really liked the sound of it, it felt great on my fingers.  Miss Spain allowed me to take the classical guitar home at night, and it became my second guitar for several months.  I was intrigued with the mellow, articulated sound I could get from nylon strings.  I found myself using my right hand fingers to pluck the strings to make sound, rather than strumming across the strings with a guitar pick.  Without knowing it, I was being drawn into the world of combining chords and melody… aka solo guitar.   

And then this happened:  An amazing song blasted out of the AM radio called "Classical Gas", by Mason Williams*, who recorded it with a full orchestra.  Mason played "Classical Gas" on a nylon string guitar, capo'ed on the third fret.  My years of learning guitar by ear emboldened me to work out an approximation of it, which I happily played for my friends on Miss Spain's classical guitar.  I became known as "that kid who could play Classical Gas".

Wow, status.  My rendition of it was pretty poor and sloppy, but to my peers it sounded spot-on.  I liked playing Miss Spain's nylon string guitar, so a couple of years later I finally got a second-hand nylon string guitar of my own.  I was keen to try my hand at classical guitar lessons.  

learning guitar

*An interesting aside:  Mason Williams, a really great guitarist, is much better known as a ground-breaking TV comedy writer who worked on the controversial hit TV variety show "The Smothers Brothers".  Mason worked on the show with another young comedy writer named Steve Martin.  Many years later I would meet Steve when Tony Trischka and I filmed a series of banjo lessons with Steve teaching a banjo tune from his CD "Rare Bird Alert". Steve's lessons are available to Tony's students on his ArtistWorks online banjo school (see the ArtistWorks School of Banjo with Tony Trischka).

Next:  Right Hand Guitar Playing