Tip 2
THE ESSENTIAL EXTRAS

In addition to the items mentioned in the essay “Gig Bag Tip”, there are some other essential extras that make the process of learning to play guitar easier, quicker and more enjoyable. And I must stress, we are always learning and adding to what we already know. This is just as true for a professional player (on whatever level) as it is for the absolute beginner. These tools are absolutely necessary regardless of your level of ability or professionalism.

The first item you need to help you learn is a music source device. This could be a cassette player or a CD player—or even an old style record player. Playing along with pre-recorded music is the number one way we learn. Granted, modern technology has made this easier than it ever has been with the advent of digital machines that can slow down a musical phrase and still maintain the original pitch, but these things are expensive. A good bet for an average income guitar player is a portable CD/cassette recorder-player. A decent “Boom Box” should be less than $100.00, and will do the job just fine. If you have a home stereo system that’s great, but sometimes it’s still nice to have the boom box too. That way you don’t have to bore the rest of your house-hold with your musical studies.

Just as important as having a music source device is a means of recording yourself. Trying to learn to play guitar with out being able to record yourself and hear it back is comparable to trying to shave or put on your makeup without a mirror. The cost of such a device can range from $25.00 for a shoe-box cassette recorder up to thousands of dollars for a digital multi-track recorder. I have owned all sorts of recorders. I still prefer the cheap shoe-box type for really getting down to learning. They are easy to operate and the media they use can be found everywhere. The type that uses C batteries is more desirable than the ones that run on AA batteries. They are more stable (they playback at the same speed they record at so you don’t have to constantly re-tune) and they have a much longer battery life. A good one is the G.E. model 14-1154. If your music source device has the ability to record then it will do both jobs. Many of the newer boom boxes are play only or can only record to cassette from the CD or radio. The tip off is: Does it have a built in mic or not?

A necessary learning tool that is often over looked is a timing device. This can be anything from a metronome to full fledged drum machine/sampler. This is how we hone our timing skills. It is easy to recognize a musician that has spent time with a drum machine. It’s even easier to tell when they haven’t. A metronome is much harder to work with than a drum machine so if you are just starting to learn, a metronome can be totally intimidating ….get a cheap drum machine instead. A good source for a cheap drum machine is a small electronic keyboard. You can get a workable drum machine and have the keyboard stuff too. Check flea markets and yard sales. You should be able to find one for $50.00 or so. If you have already developed a good sense of timing a metronome can take you to the next level.

The last two “essential extras” work together. They are the music book and music stand. You can get by without a stand, but having one makes life so much easier. Not only can you prop your book on it, but you can clip an ink pen to it, you can stick a pick holder to it and you can even attach an electronic tuner. That way, it functions as a work station. It helps physically focus the act of learning guitar. I suggest one of those heavy, black school-type stands. The little portable, folding stands won’t hold a heavy book very well—they often fall over.

The music book was mentioned in the “Gig Bag Tip” article. It is the one thing that you can’t do with out. It gives us the mental focus to learn, and then memorize, music. It can be a record of our progress. And, it is the blank canvas we paint our musical ideas on. In reality, the music book is a plural idea. You might want to have several of these “books”. A method book you are learning from is one of the aspects, a separate book for your lyrics and musical ideas might be another, and a practice log might be still another. I keep all of the above and yet another book that pertains only to shows. The show book has set lists, club owners names and phone numbers and things like that. I use those standard three ring binders with sheet protectors for everything. You can add, or take out, pages and re-arrange things with just a click. They are cheap and easy to find. Until just a few years ago I did all of my books by hand. That is, every thing was hand written. I use a word processor now. It makes editing and copying easier—not to mention I can use cool fonts in lots of cool colors!

It’s not necessary to run right out and buy all of these things at once. Learning to play guitar is a life long adventure. Use what you have right now! If all you have is a guitar you can make progress. These additional tools will make it easier, but they are not a substitute for actual playing time. If you don’t have some of these things don’t let that become an excuse for not practicing/studying. It may take time to gather these essential extras together, and you don’t want to waste that time.
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