I started taking guitar lessons when I was a kid. I don’t recall exactly how old I was, perhaps it was when I was in the 6th grade, maybe around 10 or 12 years old. The lessons were in my teacher’s home – his name was Bill - and we closely followed the Alfred guitar books. I do remember that Bill liked to brag about how well I was doing to my mom when she came to pick me up.
But Bill could only take me so far. He taught me the various notes on the guitar and some basic chord structures, but after a while, he wasn’t really teaching me anything new.
My parents set me up with another instructor a little later, but he and I didn’t really connect. So, my formal guitar instruction pretty much ended there. I kept playing over the years, but never really learned about playing the guitar.
I got to where I could play with my friends, but all I was really doing was memorizing songs and notes with no regard to the theory or structure of what I was playing. I knew this was a weakness, but I never attempted to learn those more advanced topics.
After college, I played in a cover band. It was a lot of fun, but I made sure to limit myself to just rhythm guitar, since I didn’t have any clue how to build a solo or riff. My limited knowledge of chords and notes was fine for what I was doing, but it also limited my opportunity to do more with the guitar.
I knew I was missing something. I found an instructor, Joe who played in a band that I enjoyed at the time, but again I just wasn’t getting it. I’m not sure if I just wasn’t interested, or if their style of teaching didn’t connect with me. Either way, I never felt like I learned anything new.
After a while, my guitars were put away, and I didn’t touch a guitar for 10 years.
I’m now 42 years old. That means that I’ve been playing guitar off and on for about 30 years. Wow. 30 years, and I still don’t know what notes to play over a chord progression. Pretty sad.
About a year ago, I picked up my guitar again to jam with some friends from work. I was enjoying playing again, but again felt like I was hitting a wall.
I recently went on a business trip to London. Before I left, I downloaded a bunch of random podcasts - just anything that I found slightly interesting to listen to on the long flight, or when I was taking the train or tube around London.
One day, while on the train from Bracknell to London, I started listening to a podcast series called “Guitar Music Theory.” I started with the first podcast episode, which simply described what guitar theory is, and why it should be learned. I was intrigued.
I listened to the second episode, which explained that the notes are on the 5th and 6th string on a guitar. Of course, this is basic knowledge, and I already knew the notes, but the way this person was describing it made it make more sense. He brought more meaning into why those notes are important to know. And he described it in a way that clicked for me.
The third episode covered the pentatonic scale. I never learned the scale, and never understood its importance. The voice in my ear was opening a whole new world to me. What I liked best was the real song examples he used to demonstrate what he was saying. “Oh! CCR used those notes over those chords to create that sound!” It made so much sense.
The other podcasts followed: Chords, the major scale, chord progressions, modes, etc. I listened to them all, and suddenly had a new hunger to learn.
Of course, the voice in my ear was that of Desi Serna. Mr. Serna is a guitar teacher in Ohio who specializes in teaching music theory for the guitar. The beauty of Mr. Serna’s instruction is how he simplifies it for the guitar fret board. He strips out all of the complicated concepts that don’t matter to a guitarist, and makes all of those theory topics simple to learn. He then reinforces the lesson by providing a long list of popular songs that use whatever concept he is teaching. By applying the theory to real songs, the learning is hammered home.
I visited Mr. Serna’s web site, and eventually purchased his book, Fretboard Theory. I’m working through the book, learning and practicing a little more each day. I’ve told all my guitar playing friends about Mr. Serna, and they too are discovering a whole new world of guitar music.
Below, you will find links to Desi Serna’s various web sites. I highly recommend his books and videos. He’s the only person I’ve ever seen who can explain these seemingly complex topics in a way that makes so much sense for a guitarist.
Thank you, Mr. Serna for making guitar so much fun. I look forward to years of playing on a whole new level.
Mr. Desi Serna
Podcast: Search Desi Serna at iTunes or the Zune Marketplace