Understanding How You React to Learning Music

As a guitar teacher, my main goal is always to get my students playing the music that they want to play as soon as possible. I found out early on that everyone responds to learning to play the guitar in different ways. Over my career as a guitar and music teacher, I have come to find a few different learning traits and personality types to be the most common. The following is a list of those personalities with descriptions on how I focus on certain strong points to get the best results as a teacher and to get my students playing the music that they want to play.

#1-The Emotional player: These are the types of people who can let loose of their thinking and just play the instrument with lots of emotion and expression. I often find that these types of people physically use a lot of their body to feel the rhythm of what there playing and don’t mind letting their emotions take control of them. Things to focus on: I usually find that these types of players are not that interested in reading music and would rather learn songs by having other people show them how to play or by figuring them out by ear. The best thing to do if you’re a new player is to get proficient at playing open chords, movable bar chords and power chords. You have a lot of feeling and energy that your are dying to let out so the quicker you can play the essential chords that are used in guitar, the quicker you will be having fun playing what you want to play.

#2- The Songwriter: This is the type of person that loves to write their own music and create songs from scratch. You usually have a lot to say and like to share your thoughts with other people through songs. I have worked with some people who don’t care much to learn other people’s songs and I have worked with other people who don’t even understand that they are capable of writing their own music. In either case, I firmly believe that writing music is an extremely important skill for an aspiring musician to learn. It gives you a lot of insight as to what type of player you are and what skills you need to work on. Things to focus on: You don’t have to be a musical genius to start writing your own songs. Some people are scared to even try it, others need to do it to get out all their ideas. A lot of the most famous songs in modern music are extremely simple and easy to play with only a few chords that make up the whole song. Along with knowing how to play the basic open chords and having a good understanding of melody, I always encourage songwriters to study a bit of music theory so that they understand Harmonic Structure and how songs work to sound pleasing to the human ear. Even if writers can crank out songs like lightning, they usually, at some point, get frustrated because they only have a limited knowledge of how music works and get stuck writing the same old song time and time again. Understanding theory will give you more options and ways to be expressive in songwriting.

#3- The Technical Player: These are the types of players that love music theory, playing physically difficult songs and usually enjoy reading music. The ability to read music is not a must, however it does enable a player to understand much more about the song both emotionally and how to perform it with more expression. If you like a good challenge and don’t mind spending a lot of time to perfect a certain song or technique, then you will probably find yourself in this category a lot of the time. Also, the theory side of music that is very math oriented is usually very interesting to you. Things to focus on: Technique, technique, and more technique! If you like playing technical music you are going to want to focus a lot on perfecting your technique. This includes every aspect of how you pick (whether it be with a pick or with your fingers), strum, slide, sit, stand, etc.! Having a big vocabulary of scales, arpeggios, and patterns to link them together is also a must. Playing fast is also something that you are going to want to spend some time developing. The ability to rip through passages at very high tempos is incredibly FUN and EXCITING! If you focus on the right learning methods, it’s not as hard as you might think although it always takes a lot of continued practice to get your muscles up to snuff to keep with the fast pace.

#4- High interest, Low attention span. I couldn’t think of a specific name for this description so sorry but that’s the best I could do. A lot of people with ADD can fall into this category but that’s certainly NOT a required trait. Now you might already be thinking that falling somewhere near this category puts you at a disadvantage but I will tell you from experience, nothing can be further from the truth. I have worked with a number of people who obviously had a really hard time keeping their thoughts in one place and focusing on a certain topic. While that might be the case, these people also had incredible pitch perception (sometimes even what’s known as perfect pitch) and the very valuable ability to learn music by ear. I couldn’t be more envious of these types of people because I can assure you that I am not one of them. Learning music by ear and developing pitch perception has never come easy for me and I have had to work my tail off to be able to do it well. I have seen some students who are able to master this ability with ridiculous ease.

Things to focus on: Understanding theory and reading music is usually difficult for these types of people. When I work with people that are like this, I always focus on getting their technique as good as possible because they already have the tools inside of them to be an amazing player, it’s just a matter of giving them the ability for their fingers to move the way they need to so that they can play what’s inside of them. It’s good to do a lot of ear training exercises and learning songs by listening to them. After they get to a certain point they usually form an interest in theory and understanding more about how music works because they become somewhat discouraged at what they don’t know and understand about music. I’m a firm believer in teaching what people want to learn and not pushing to hard for them to learn what they don’t. There are certain things that are crucial for every guitarist/musician to understand so I have always found a way to be able to teach those things in a manner that best fits their personalities.

Now these are just the main personality characteristics of people that I work with. There are plenty more and of course you can be some of one and some of another. The reason I think it’s important to understand where you might fit in to all of this is because it will enable you to have a lot more fun learning guitar and not get so frustrated when things become difficult. Always focus on learning the things that you want to be able to do and the rest will come with time if you are looking to become a well-rounded guitar player. If someone says that knowing how to read music is essential for a beginning guitar student and you do not take to reading easily, then I’m pretty sure your not going to be having that much fun when you start out. One very important thing that you need to ask yourself is what style of music are you looking to play. If you say Classical or Jazz, then I say that hands down, without a doubt you need to learn to read music. However most other styles of music can be played, written, and performed well without knowing how to read notes on the staff.