Frustrated guitarists. How many there are. How many I've met, and played with. How many I've taught.
It's a shame, especially when it involves that most wonderful instrument of all, the guitar. The most common instrument in our culture. The one you can sling over your shoulder without a case. The one that can be strummed with your thumb, picked with a bread tab or a dime, finger picked (with finger picks - or not). The one that can be played as quiet as a mouse or as loud as a jumbo jet. The one that can sing, whine, roar, or tinkle. The one that can be chorded and melodied at the same time. The one so many get frustrated with and leave in the case.
It's a shame. It happens too much. It nearly happened to me. But I found a way to play guitar. I got good enough to go onstage with it. I even got good enough to front a band with it. I got good enough on guitar to show others how to play. But what a journey it was and continues to be.
My first exposure to guitar was when I was about eight years old. My older brother pestered our parents into submission. He talked them into getting him an acoustic guitar, with no case, and he used a bread tab to play it.
In fact, he got nowhere with it. So I gave it a try.
I stunk too, worse than my brother.
But I persisted and made maddeningly slow progress, to the point where I learned about five chords. I figured out about three pages of our EZ Book of Guitar. I was in my teens by now. The learning curve was a bit slow.
Later in my teens, I had developed a somewhat accomplished musical background, having played horns (trumpet, trombone and baritone) through elementary and high school. A chance to play in a paying situation steered me towards bass guitar. I picked that up reasonably easily. I got the paying gig.
Still, success on guitar, my first love and ambition, evaded me. By my twenties, I had barely progressed beyond those five chords and three pages. But, I thought to myself, how can this be? Here I am, a horn player, bassist, even a passable vocalist, and I can't get anywhere with the world's most popular instrument (and the one that gets the chicks!). I was determined to make this happen. So I started reading and researching, mostly guitar magazines. I discovered in every one, in every issue, they brought up the topic of alternate tuning, in some form or other. I was intrigued. I had a vague knowledge this existed, but never paid it any mind, thinking, if anything, it would make learning guitar even harder. After all, the EZ Guitar Method never mentioned it. But here it was, and what an impressive list of names was being bandied about - Jimmy Page, Ry Cooder, Joni Mitchell, Elmore James, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson. This alternate tuning thing seemed to reach back a ways. I became even more intrigued.
Several tunings caught my interest. I began to experiment with them. Right off the bat, it became clear that some tunings definitely made the guitar sound more. musical, at first strum, anyway. That is, those open tunings seemed to ring nicely. Reading and re-tuning, reading and re-tuning, I got to know a few of these alternate tunings (though I still could play hardly anything). The one that was easiest, I concluded, was open-D. Finally, I felt, I found I way I could actually learn to play guitar. The transition from standard tuning E A D G B E, was easy enough, to D A D F# A D. Playing chords suddenly became easier. Gone were the multiple finger positions I'd been struggling with, on just the simplest bottom position chords. Here was a major chord I could play, up and down the neck of my guitar, with just one finger. I went to work on open-D tuning with renewed vigor.
I didn't get "good" overnight. I don't think I'm that "good" a guitar player to this day. But - I got good enough to play guitar. Isn't that what a lot of people want? Not to be a wizard, or a star, or a god. Just to be able to play some guitar.
That's what I got out of open-D tuning. The fact that I could play anything at all was the confidence boost that kept me going, to a greater degree of competence. The "getting going" part is what I'm convinced frustrates so many aspiring guitarists. Age, by the way, is irrelevant. I've had students of all ages who would just love to "get going" on guitar. I found a way to do it, even after being frustrated.
Thanks again! Frank