Is it time to get serious about playing guitar? Could I make a living as a ‘pro’ guitarist? Music school is a lot more than I can afford right now, but perhaps something I ultimately want to do–how can I get ready for it? If you’re in your late teens or early twenties and playing music for fun, you might be asking yourself these sorts of questions.
Young guitar players seem to fall into one of two camps. There’s the ‘I want to play in a band on the Van’s tour and that’s all I really care about’ crowd. And then there’s the, ‘I’d like to be a studio musician making a good living recording records for people and doing the occasional tour if the money’s right’ group. If you fall into the second category, you’re going to need another level of skills than you can get reading tab and learning tunes off records– you’re going to have to get serious about studying music.
But before you take out loans or talk your parents into shelling out upwards of $18k a year for a pro music school, I advise acquiring a strong set of basic skills. Before you arrive at school you should be able read and write 1/4 and 1/8th note rhythms. You should be able to recognize by ear major scale intervals up and down. You should have at least a beginning understanding of music theory and have memorized the order of sharps and flats and key signatures. That may sound daunting, but actually, a few months practice with the right private instructor, community college class, or home/internet guitar course is all it will take to master those skills.
Most community colleges will offer a fundamentals of music course, sometimes combined with fundamentals of piano. Larger schools will also have guitar classes. If you have the time this is a great way to get started acquiring theory basics.
A private instructor is another way to go, but it can get expensive–with the average guitar lesson now costing around $40 an hour. If you can afford it AND you can find an instructor who’s a good match, this is a terrific way to advance your guitar playing. One problem you’ll run into though is that it’s hard to maintain the discipline it takes to plod through the music theory and reading part of the lesson when you’re having so much fun learning licks and tunes.
Of course these days you can find a lot of information online for free. Perhaps my favorite free music instruction site is Ricci Adam’s MusicTheory.net. Ricci’s online lessons in music theory are excellent. But the ear trainers are my favorite. Like playing a game, the trainers keep score. You can turn intervals on and off in order to focus on the ones you’re having trouble with (i.e. turn everything except the 4ths and 5ths off). You can have the intervals played low to high, high to low or harmonically. There are also chord and scale ear trainers.
However you decide to master guitar and theory basics before heading off to music school, you’ll be glad you did– with that out of the way, you’ll be able to concentrate on the playing (fun) part.