Born and raised in Toronto, I began playing guitar in 1964 at the impressionable age of 13. The world of popular music was quickly changing thanks to the British Invasion, which brought a new face and a fresh sound to Rock'n'Roll. The best of these new bands had their own distinctive sound and style, which ironically, had initially been inspired and influenced by North American music. Like me, the majority of these young musicians had never taken a formal music lesson and their primary goal was to emulate what they had heard on their favorite imported records. As beginners, they learned to play by listening, sharing their limited (and often meager) guitar knowledge with each other, and practicing day and night.
Nobody in my immediate family was a musician except my dad, who played a mean accordion once or twice a year to serenade my mother. My mother often sang while preparing dinner and my five older brothers and sisters, each of whom had an impressive record collection, all had varied, but respectable tastes in music. It was a rich and diverse musical environment that influenced me more profoundly than I realized at the time.
I loved music as a child but I never imagined playing an instrument until I was inspired by some of the exciting new bands of the early 60's. Like their Rock'n'Roll predecessors, they made it seem that anyone could have a go at making music. It was lucky for me at the time that my older brother had bought a very inexpensive electric guitar, which he soon abandoned. I found it hidden in a closet. It was a 'Zenon' brand, had one pickup, a very warped neck, and the body was covered with chintzy silver sparkles (I've never seen another one exactly like it). We didn't have an amplifier, but that was actually a blessing in disguise because I could practice without being heard or disturbing anyone.
From the moment I first held that guitar, I was hooked. It just seemed magical to me. It was mysterious, yet, I knew its' secrets were in some way accessible. My illusions were immediately shattered when I placed a finger on a single string and tried to push it against the fret board. Youch! However, I've always believed: “If you can do it, I can do it, and if I can do it, you can too”! So, I persisted and eventually was able to play an entire melody. I do confess that it was a simple one and I played it all on one string, but to me it was a symphony.
What I lacked in talent I made up for in passion, persistence, and curiosity. I learned what I could from all available sources. A neighbor taught me a few rudimentary chords and showed me how to tune a guitar. I intently watched and listened to other guitarists in person, on records and radio, and on TV. I began skipping school and practiced for hours and hours every day.
It wasn't long before I decided to form a band and, after several months, we began playing small gigs. My life changed drastically, but that didn't alter my work ethic when it came to music, and particularly, playing guitar. By the time I was 16, I had become a sought-after local musician. Meanwhile, I still had not taken any formal lessons. I had learned, and was playing, “by ear”. I developed my own shortcuts for learning how to play new songs and I taught these shortcuts to others.
I taught countless people to play using my “method”. In fact, although most of them had never picked up a guitar before - within a month many of them joined a working band and were being paid to play gigs! On average, it took them a few weeks of 6 hour lessons and practice sessions per day, to accomplish that. Those individuals all had one thing in common: A burning desire to learn how to play guitar (well, to be completely forthright and accurate I should mention that some of them also fervently believed being a guitarist would make them more sexually appealing. ;-)
I'm not going to lie to you by saying they all became legendary guitarists. The truth is they didn't learn to play virtuoso solos in a few weeks time, but they did learn to play dozens of songs very competently, within a very short period. Some of them still play professionally or semi-professionally and the rest continue to play for their own enjoyment.
Until recently, it hadn't occurred to me to undertake a project like this. I had only shared my knowledge of music and guitar face-to-face with friends, acquaintances, and fellow musicians. I never tried to organize any of it into written “lessons” before. Inspired by the enthusiastic encouragement of a dear and close friend, I decided to document the methods I used for learning and teaching others how to play guitar “by ear”.
My primary goal was to present a quicker and easier way to learn guitar. I also wanted the content to be comprehensive, but easy for beginners to understand and I was determined to present it in a way that was different from lessons found elsewhere. I hope you will, at least, find some helpful tips here. I would be most content if I knew that any of this inspires you to learn more, or, that it induced you to enjoy listening to, and playing music, the rest of your life.