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Do you want to be a musician or do you just want to play songs?

Updated on December 11, 2016

Whenever I meet a student for the first time I ask them a few questions:

  1. Why do you want to learn to play the guitar?
  2. What’s your favorite type of music?
  3. Who are your favorite artists/bands?
  4. Do you want to be a musician or do you just want to to play songs?

The last question always baffles them. The common response to that question is, “Is there a difference?”

The answer is “Yes, there is a huge difference….to me anyway.”

If a student just wants to learn to play songs then I find the songs that they like, work it out in different keys and then teach them the chords and anything else that they need to play the song exactly the way they hear it. This method is very productive in them learning to play the songs they love and in building a repertoire very fast. In a year some of my students have learnt between 30 and 50 songs.

I find that the students who favor this method want quick results and don’t mind not knowing any music theory. Their goal is to just play songs and have fun. I, too, have a lot of fun teaching them. One of the reasons I like this method is that I don’t have to go into heavy music theory details.

For those who want to be serious musicians my approach is different. We build up a repertoire of songs slowly, but they learn every single detail about music – reading, theory, scales, chords, arpeggios, improvisation and so forth.

This method is highly involved and teaches the student how to think like a musician, how to listen like a musician and how to execute like a musician. By the end of these courses the student can walk into any exam and pass with flying colours, they will be able to pick up any piece of music, read it and play it.

Becoming a musician is more than just the ability to pick up a guitar and strum chords. It’s about knowing how chords work in conjunction with scales, it’s about knowing how to use scales, chords and arpeggios to improvise and create new melodies and harmonies; it’s about knowing what a chord is by just listening to it.

I absolutely love this method. In as much as I teach my students I learn so much as well each time I go over the material.

So, in my opinion, there is a huge difference between just learning to play songs and becoming a musician. One is not better than the other. The end goal is just different. Which one would you choose?

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