Sort of Playing the Guitar for 50 Years

2018-02-05 – For the past year and a half, I have been in a group guitar class at the Old Town School of Folk Music. It’s called Fingerstyle Repertoire. I have two goals for the class. The first goal is to learn some new songs. The second goal is, once I’ve learned a song, don’t forget it.

I’ve been playing the guitar—sort of—for 50 years. I say “sort of” because I never really got good enough to perform. I’m good enough to amuse myself. And I have to say that, even that level of proficiency is worth the price of admission. Between my almost-but-not-quite piano playing and my almost-but-not-quite guitar playing, I’ve had a great time.

One of my impediments to improvement is that I forget the songs I learn soon after I learn them. On piano, forget it. I currently know zero songs. When I sit down to play the piano, I have to open a book and stumble along. It’s still fun, but I wish I could do more.

I do better on the guitar, but even with the guitar, there has been a limit. For years, the rule of thumb was that I could only know three songs. If I wanted to learn a fourth song, I would have to forget one of the three.

Since I started my group class a year and a half ago, I have bumped this number up—first to five, then to six-and-a-half. (The half is due to my knowing the main verses of the acoustic Layla, but not the solo breaks.)

But now I’ve reached a dilemma.

My two goals require opposite practicing strategies. To learn a new song, I have to practice the hard parts over and over and over until they become easy. To maintain songs I already know, I have to practice passages that have become easy.

If I only practice easy music, I’ll never learn new songs. If I only practice hard music, I may learn a new song eventually, but I’ll forget the songs I already know.

I guess it’s always been this way, but as the number of songs I know has increased, I’m under more pressure to do both.

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