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Your Music Lessons Just Won't Fix It

Jazz Guitar Lessons Aren't Enough David Butler ArtistWorks

Authored by ArtistWorks cofounder, David Butler

Imagine you've done everything your teacher told you, but you still find yourself unable to make significant progress.

Maybe you find that no matter how much you practice, your playing doesn’t improve that much.  What could be the problem?   You might jump to the conclusion that you simply don't have as much talent as you thought.  But before you give up on your playing, you should consider other possibilities.  If you've studied with the same teacher or used the same learning method for a significant amount of time without making progress, it may be time to consider a change.

Another thing to consider is whether or not you are playing on an instrument that is right for you.  Early in my jazz guitar studies I found myself struggling with the physical aspects of playing.  After an hour of practicing my guitar (a custom Gibson L5!), my hands and arms "gave out" with fatigue and pain. Even though I wanted to practice more, I just couldn't.  I knew that "playing through the pain" was not wise and was in fact a prescription for developing carpel tunnel syndrome.  It was only when I consulted a performing jazz guitarist that I learned what my problem was. In my first guitar lesson, he asked me to play so he could assess what I was doing.  After watching me for a couple of minutes he said, "I see what your problem is, your guitar is not set up to play jazz."  I didn't know what that meant, so he asked me if he could make adjustments to my brand new guitar.  He spent about five minutes adjusting my guitar's "truss rod", and the bridge height (which determines the height of the strings from the fretboard).  He handed the guitar back, saying "give this a try."  It was as if I was playing a new instrument, an unbelievable difference.  That was more than a decade ago, and I have not had problems with physical pain again.

The moral of the story is that you need to be absolutely sure your instrument is set up correctly for the kind of music you are trying to learn. If you aren't sure, consult an expert (an instrument maker or a professional musician) and get your instrument into a playable state.  If after adjustments your instrument still doesn't play well, it might be time to think about getting a different one. There are great new and used instruments at most price points, these days there is no need to struggle with a poor instrument.  I appreciate what Reverb offers because people like me are buying and selling a lot of different guitars. Although I mainly play jazz guitar, I enjoy playing acoustic guitar, classical and occasionally a twelve-string.

One of the great ironies is that beginning musicians often start with cheap instruments (after all, why invest a lot if you may lose interest?)  But cheap beginner instruments are often difficult, if not impossible, to play well.  Beginners need instruments that are easy to play not hard to play.  I tell parents to buy their children a quality mid-range instrument.  That way the child isn't fighting to overcome an instrument's shortcomings.  If the child loses interest, it is easy to sell a mid-range instrument.  But the most important fact is that, with a good quality instrument, it is far more likely that any level of player will learn quickly and stick with it for life. 

Purple Bar Lessons Aren't Enough

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