Mike came around to each person in the class, to have a quick discussion about everybody’s guitars. While he did this, we all looked at the papers he had given us. We filled out our student profile page and gave it to him as he made his rounds and checked out these guitars we came in with to try to learn to play on. When he got to mine, he said right away, “Oh man, this is a nylon string guitar and it’s got steel strings on it. This is no good. You see? this part here, the bridge, it’s made for the tension of nylon strings which is much less than the tension of these steel strings. You see? eventually this bridge is just gonna break off. It’s just glued to the guitar. You should really re-string this with nylon.” I was sad and happy. I was sad that I’d have to get nylon strings. I thought they were corny and awful sounding. No glisten.At the same time, I was happy, because someone who was paid to educate me had finally had given me a concise, complete answer as to why steel was no good. I was meeting somebody with a vast body of knowledge. Somebody with some answers. It felt good. My high school was shit, like I’ve said a dozen times, but there were a few teachers there who gave a damn about teaching and spoke to us like we were people and found a way to engage the students on their own terms or under new terms which were negotiated with connectedness instead of hammered down from because I said so mountain.
I told him I also had an electric guitar and asked him if I could bring that to these lessons. He said, “Yeah, sure, bring it next week and I’ll have a look at it. But you should really change these strings. This thing’s gonna break this way. How ’bout experience? you have a little experience playing the guitar?” I said that i’d been messin around with it for a while and knew a very little bit and that I had some sax lessons. “This is WAY easier! guitar is WAY easier to play than saxophone! Saxophone’s a GREAT instrument, but it takes a LONG time to sound any good on it! Compared to guitar! alright! you’re gonna do great!’ He said with a smile. Immediately my confidence skyrocketed. He collected my sheet and moved onto the next student.
I looked at the rest of the packet he had handed out. There were sheets with finger exercises, notes about picking technique, posture-how to sit with the guitar; there were some chord charts, and instructions about how to finger them. Then, at the end, were all the songs: Peaceful Easy Feeling by Eagles, Teach Your Children by Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Margaritaville by Jimmy Buffet, and about a dozen others all with lyrics and the chords written out above the syllable they changed on. Very Cool!
He started the class proper and I could tell I was in for a good, quality, informative time. Somebody asked about reading music. I froze. I gripped the edges of my folding metal chair. “You do NOT have to read music to play the guitar and play it well!”, Mike hollered. I was elated.I exhaled. He continued on about a bunch of major, well known(i can’t remember who right now) figures in modern and classic rock and roll who didn’t read music. “Everything we’re gonna do in this class is going to be done with chord charts or something called tablature or tab! It’s an easier way of taking something that’s written and apply it to the guitar! and I’m gonna show you and you can all relax! Anyone tells you ya can’t play the guitar unless you read music is full of crap! ya can tell ’em I said so! You wanna play jazz, you wanna play classical guitar, yeah! You’re gonna have to learn to read music! No way around it! You want to learn how to play folk guitar, rock and roll guitar, country guitar, pop guitar?1 Nah! You don’t have to read music…read music!”, he spat again, incredulously, “Get the hell out of here! But don’t worry! We’ll get to all that!
And then, in the next hour and a half, I learned more than I had learned in all of the previous year. Mike was a fountain of information. He had a tremendously vast knowledge of music and bands and songs, and forget about the guitar! he seemed to know all there was to know. He dazzled us with content. Every next thing he said, usually happened to be the next thing i was wondering. Mike told us that by the time the class would end in several weeks, we’d be able to play all of the songs in the packet and maybe several others if we moved through the material quickly enough. Suddenly, I could imagine it! Being good at playing the guitar. I thought that would be amazing-to be able to strum, finger and perhaps sing all these songs in this packet. I think Fire & Rain was in there. Man If I could bust out Fire & Rain on the guitar and sing it, hot, adult women would fall for me, I thought. Yet, to hear Mike tell it, we’d all be able to do it, even the most unmusical of us, after the time we put into this class, plus an hour a day of practice, would be able to play these songs start to finish, and I believed him. Also, I had no problem imagining myself practicing an hour a day.
Eventually his guitar came out. A nice big, blonde acoustic guitar with loud, robust sound. Mike said, “Look how I’m sitting with this! It’s not resting on my right leg, It’s resting between my two legs with the neck facing up!” He had this foot rest too. It looked like a pedal, but it was just an adjustable shoe shine looking thing. So his whole posture is kind of flamenco/classical. I’m thinkin, “that looks kind of bobo, I like the guitar on my right leg. I’ve seen plenty of people do it my way, right?” Typical Shawn, the moment somebody tells me something good that can help me, I already know more about it and my way is better. I still behave that way now. Anyway, Mike started playing and it was staggering. He’s warming up while talking to different students, answering questions and tossing out facts, but the whole time the hands are going and he’s doin’ scale runs and playin’ bluesy licks and fingerpickin moving chords and playin’ sections of the solo from Sultans Of Swing. He’s touching on Blackbird and Dust In The Wind and fluidly blending them and whole other worlds of classical, jazz, and rock, pop, and metal while never losing his train of thought or looking at the guitar.
He stops abruptly. “Picks!”, he shouts. What are you guys usin’ for picks? I forgot to look at that when I came around. Let me see your picks!” I had a bunch of picks with me. a few big triangular things I got at Cintioli’s as well as normal shaped ones all in various colors and hardnesses. “Heavy picks are good! Medium picks are good! Thin picks, not so great! Who’s got thin picks? Let me see?” I held up some picks including my triangle pick. Mike looked at it, and said, “Get the hell out of here with that thing! What is that for, even!?!?” He runs over to another student who hands him a thin pick. Mike grabs it, holds it up and folds it in half and breaks it. “These are no good!” he shouts. “Also, none of this! Mike starts scraping a pick down the strings. “I don’t know why you guys are all doin this now, but everybody’s scraping the pick down the strings! Not only does it sound stupid!, It also ruins your pick! This pick has divets in it now from the strings! has to be filed down! Or thrown out!.” I had, in fact, just 2 days before, seen Steve Stevens scrape his pick down the strings right in the middle of Mony Mony.