In the case of true beginners, aspiring players who have never played anything —not even a scale or chord, much less actual music— the “weakest link” principle breaks down. Obviously, not having formed any of the links of the chain provides unique opportunities to do things right from the outset, but also unique challenges. Especially if the old dogma of guitar pedagogy is followed, whether consciously or semi-consciously.
The Dogma: everything can be solved through technique
Starting with actual music is impossible. The true beginner needs a point of access, so the obvious route is to take a step back and develop technique to the point that the budding guitarist is able to start playing simple bits and pieces of music.
This makes a lot of sense but for the blind spot that it creates: nowhere does this paradigm include anything even vaguely related to understanding the fretboard. And it gets worse. The learning curve is so steep with guitar technique that the obvious approach is to deploy all of our available energy there, lest our peers surpass us and —god forbid— start playing their scales faster than we do.
But it gets worse. Our friend starts to play more and more complex pieces of music in a state of utter confusion, but his focus on on technique is now so intense that whole aspects of guitar-playing are now invisible to him. Actual understanding requires a whole different skill set, but our sad friend is now blind to his own ailment.
It’s a sad thing, really. Because it’s a cycle that closes in on itself: by only developing a hammer, every problem then looks to us like a nail to hit on it’s head. It’s not unlike what happens in politics, with money being thrown willy-nilly at every issue, while the fundamentals of the problem get worse and worse.
Since “The Solution” is technique, our friend then over-stresses, develops a bad case of tendonitis and has to stop playing and seek medical attention.
Congratulations: now you know how to dead-end by making understanding of the fretboard your weakest link, in case that’s where you want to go. That’s how it happened to me, how it’s happened many of the
students Fretboard Addicts I’ve helped overcome their limitations, how it happens every year to thousands of guitar players of all styles and genres, and how it is likely to happen to you, unless you do something about it.
A new approach: develop technique and understanding hand in glove
In the approach that I’ve developed and tested for over two years for Fretboard Addicts, technique —the physical— is used as the point of departure for the metaphors and abstractions of music theory, thereby bridging the gap to true musicianship. My approach with true beginners is to give them just enough technique to start out with, using this point of access as a point of access, not the end-all-be-all.
Once safely “inside”, my approach is to then help the budding guitarist develop both theory and technique concurrently, along with genre-specific drills that make musical sense. All of this without ever waiting for one of the legs of the three-legged beast to atrophy and undermine the the player to full break-down.
This opens up the possibility of musical creation, even in its simplest form, from the get-go. This is fulfilling in a way that merely to interpret music from books and records could never be. This way, the player develops as what I call a full stack player, with clear understanding of what he or she is doing at every level, at every turn. Needless to say, this opens up whole wide worlds of musical possibility that would otherwise remain closed and unavailable,
even especially to the staunchest technique-heads.
Man! I wish I could start over!!!
If that’s you, then I welcome you to Fretboard Addicts. Funny thing is that with the right tools to hack around your mental habits and limiting beliefs, you can breathe new life into your musical self.
student Fretboard Addict, Eli Kramer, put it best:
After 15 years of terrible approaches, massive resistance, fighting through, inflicting both physical and emotional injury on myself, I’d quit guitar for 5 years. Bummed doesn’t even begin to describe it. Now, I am hugging my new axe with joy knowing we have a future together. This is not just guitar instruction. This is a quantum evolution of the learning process.
The crucial tipping point is when the signal to noise ratio in your head as your play, your fretboard-related cognitive processes, is such that you not only enjoy playing what you actually can play, but what is more, when you enjoy the process of moving forward into previously uncharted musical territory. Eli’s tipping point took less than seven weeks!