Diary of a Bad Guitar Player: Wrestling with Jimi


The past three months in quarantine have greatly reinvigorated my love for playing the guitar and with the help of Lee Anderson and the Play Guitar Podcast, I have found a way of practicing that is yielding big results. The feeling of progress is intoxicating. It is not so much that I am vastly improved as a player. It is more the feeling that improvement is possible and, with the right approach, even assured.

Now that I am in a habit of regular practice, the question that I struggle with the most is what to practice. I am not a professional with gigs to rehearse for, and while I have plenty of method books I could learn from, following one of those dogmatically does not really interest me. I have been selecting songs that I want to learn and techniques that I need to improve upon and breaking down a practice schedule from there. So, as I completed the last cycle of songs and techniques, I had to pick something new to play. I wanted to get away from fingerstyle arrangements for a little while, but still learn a song where a solo guitar would sound complete by itself. I decided to chase after a tune that has been a goal of mine to learn for almost as long as I have been playing the guitar: Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing.

My reservation with this pick was that I was almost certain that it is too difficult for me. I was not wrong about that, but over a week into battling my way through it, I can honestly say trying to play it has been one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had playing the guitar.

It is difficult to explain exactly why it has been such an incredible experience for me. It is definitely not because I am mastering the tune or playing Jimi’s complex lines with anything resembling competence. I am not. In a week of daily practice, I have got to the point where I am able to reproduce about three bars of the intro, in time, every two or three attempts. Often, it sounds terrible. Often, I am lost. I am no more confident that I will be able to learn this song now then I was when I started and possibly even less confident. And I am having a blast.

Learning Little Wing (or trying to learn it) is such an amazing experience for me because it is a masterpiece. I don’t think I was aware just how much this is true until I began tying to learn it note for note. Jimi is such a unique player and Little Wing is such a perfect example of everything I love about his playing. I don’t feel like I am just learning a song, I feel like I am learning what is possible on a guitar. The song isn’t Jimi’s flashiest playing, but it is full of subtle details- tiny rhythmic nuances, small passing phrases- that are pure genius. The song is played at a slow pace and it never feels like Jimi is playing fast but he packs every bar. The dynamics in his playing- the way he moves from loud to soft- are  a revelation. Everything is played with purpose and clarity, everything combines to create the song’s dreamscape-feeling.

At my present pace, I will probably be able to play Little Wing somewhere around 2023 or so. Sticking with a song that is that far above my head is probably not sustainable, but at this point, I can’t imagine giving up on it. I have no fear of failing with this song, because every minute spent working at it seems like a minor victory.

Diary of A Bad Guitar Player: Week 1 of the Guitar 30 Challenge


I am happy to say I completed the first week of the Guitar 30 Challenge without missing a practice session and I am seeing some of the results I was hoping to see. I keep a running log of each day’s practice so I can share my journey from #badguitarplayer to #OKguitarplayer with the world.

Day 1: Day 1 went very well, but it is obvious that I will need to do just two keys per day because even playing in three keys I am very comfortable with (C,G,D) and playing scales I know fairly well, I still needed extra time in each key and could not push the speed of the key up. I also discovered I need to set up a quick recording and playback system for the play section since I had to spend extra time messing around trying to record a quick backing track. When I get to scales I can’t play well, I might not be able to get through two keys, but I’ll tackle that problem as I move forward.

Day 2: I can see now that I actually know my major scale positions and, by extension, the modes better than I might have thought, but inconsistent practice definitely hasn’t helped my ability to use them fluidly. I did not expect to have so much trouble in the Keys of A and E, but I struggled with both and found myself gravitating toward playing in C and G positions, probably because I play A min over C and E min over G so much. I still have not found an adequate method of making a quick loop to play over in the improvising part of my practice.

Day 3: Today, I discovered that the Keys of B and F# are about as familiar to me as the language of Urdu-I have heard it, I know it exists and I don’t understand it at all. Good to know. The funny is, though, I actually enjoyed the sound of these unexplored keys a great deal and three days into practicing, I am definitely seeing the connection between the scale patterns better even in positions that are strange to me. I can also see that it was ludacris to think I could play through all the positions and have time to do it again at a higher speed. That might work if I just played each position once, but that would definitely not help me visualize them on the fretboard better, which is the whole point. I think I will have to work on speed in these patterns some other time. Right now, I’m letting them sit at 90 bmp and playing several times through. Tomorrow I’ll try playing them less and turning up the speed, but I doubt I’ll get far with that if I’m keeping these sessions to 30 minutes.

Day 4: C# and Ab (G#): One hallmark of being a bad guitar player is never playing the things that you are really bad at and constantly playing the things that you are only a little bit bad at. So, obviously, I landed on C and G instead of C# and Ab at least five times in practicing today. But at least I caught myself. In the improving section, I could hear that mistake over the backing track and adjust. I had a blast playing in these keys and I’m going to play in the more and more some songs into them for fun and because they sound different and more exciting to me. I settled on using the Music Maker JAM app for looping. It is fairly easy to make a quick 4-bar loop and I had fun with using a drum track behind the chords. I also managed to get through playing at two different speeds today, 90 bmp and 120 bmp.

Day 5: Eb And Bb: I am surprised and happy to see how much the steady practice is improving my ability to visualize the scales all over the fretboard. I’m back to keys that I am familiar with and playing with ease in every position. Eb is a key that I should play in more and was harder than Bb which I play in regularly, but with all the patterns under my fingers now, it’s mostly just a matter of remembering the notes that make up the scale now.

Day 6: F and C: Back to keys that I am comfortable, I pushed the speed up today and even though I have mainly been playing eighth notes at 90bmp, I found them easy at 140 bmp which is very exciting. I’m looking forward to moving into minor keys and less familiar sounds and shapes next week. Recording a loop to play over is still an issue in part because I’m playing in the morning and I can’t push the volume up enough. #Dadlife. Overall though, it’s been almost a week, I’ve been through all the keys and I still find this completely engaging.

Day 7: Weakest Keys: With a week of playing done, I’m very happy with my improvement here. Today I focused on playing freely in two keys I was weakest at and it went… OK.

This improv was almost totally unplanned and still, it is mostly on key and there is some nice lines and phrasings. I focused on trying to use a few positions and I felt comfortable in all of them which was nice to see happening in these keys. I still don’t “play the changes” really at all and my leads are more a collection of lines than a complete solo, but hey, this is progress.

Diary of Bad Guitar Player: The Guitar 30 Challenge


Although I did not plan it, by happy coincidence, one of my favorite guitar podcasts, The Play Guitar Podcast with Lee Anderson launched a 30-day practice challenge that began the day after I introduced my Diary of a Bad Guitar Player.  You can learn about the challenge and Lee’s excellent content here.

Because consistent practice is something I desperately need and because I have fewer excuses with the pandemic keeping me home, this was perfect timing. I decided to address a weakness I have had for a long time with this challenge- my knowledge of the fretboard.

I like many bad guitar players, I tend to play in a “locked-in-the-box” style when I am playing leads. I have a grasp of major and pentatonic scales patterns in one position and I play them to death. I want to be more free moving between them and more free moving up and down the neck, so that is what I’m focusing on for a solid month.

The plan

My practice plan for the month for this #guitar30challenge goes as follows.

W1: Major Pent and Major scale

W2: Minor Pent, Harmonic Minor, Melodic Minor

W3: Mixolydian, Diminished

W4: Whole Tone

I am going to go through the cycle of 5ths up then back down each week (to make myself playing in less comfortable keys more), 3 keys per day, 4-5 different positions per scale, playing scales at a medium pace first, then pushing the speed up the second time through, Finally I will spend some time playing freely at a medium pace focusing on connecting positions and scales up and down the neck. I’m letting the “play” and “technique” blend together on that last step to keep it fun.

I am going to recap my progress here once a week so please subscribe or bookmark this blog if you want to see how it goes.