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.

Diary of A Bad Guitar Player- Introduction

Hi, my name is Deck and I am a bad guitar player.  Wow, it feels good to get that off my chest.

If the title of this series hasn’t clued you in, this is not a guitar blog that will be full of helpful advice, pro tips or keen musical insights. If I were capable of such things, I probably wouldn’t be a bad guitar player. Yet, here we are. I have been playing guitar now for close to three decades and I don’t sound much better than I did two or three years into it. It was clear early on that I was not a natural talent on the instrument or in music in general. But I have now been doing this thing and doing it badly for the majority of my life and as I continue to play the instrument and play it poorly I am more and more conscious of the place that it stand in my life.

I will never be a professional musician. My family tolerates my playing but doesn’t enjoy it. I have been called tone deaf by classically trained professionals and bewildered better players with my erratic rhythm. Yet, I am still going to play the guitar. I will be playing it for the rest of my life. Maybe, some day I won’t be as terrible as I am now, but at some level I will always be a bad guitar player. I am not so sure that is such a bad thing to be.

I should be clear though, I am not wholly incompetent. I can play some. I can do many basic things just fine and a few things that might even temporarily create the impression that I am actually a good guitar player. If you are a beginner, still building those callouses and learning your cowboy chords, you would probably not classify me as a “bad guitar.” If you are a professional with a kind heart and patience, you might take the charitable view of my playing and describe it as “not bad.” That is very kind of you. I have worked hard to achieve this level of mediocrity, but not hard enough to actually be good at playing this damn thing.

I decided to keep this running log of my ineptitude here in public view for two reasons. First, I am hoping that this running feature will be a kind of motivational tool to focus my playing around some series of goals or milestones. I don’t have gigs to practice for or any other organizing principle to my playing. I can continue to be just as bad as ever at playing the guitar and no one is likely to ever even notice. If playing here and occasionally posting videos of said playing helps me be slightly less terrible, it will be worth it. The second reason for creating this running diary of something that I don’t do well at all is that I have recently come around to a certain fascination about why I continue to pursue something I am not at all likely to be good at, to which I have no natural inclination and to which I have no discernable reason for doing at all. My working theory is that trying to play music has been one of the few things that has continued to challenge me, to teach me and to inspire me throughout my life, even in spite of the fact that I have never achieved anything worth noting in pursuing it. All of the “wins” that come from playing are completely personal; they are mine alone. That feels like something worth exploring and something that music can give us that very few other pursuits can. If can explore that, I think it will be worth the effort.

I hope this journal will be entertaining for players and non-players alike. I will do my best to be honest and unflinching. I will post videos of my struggles and (hopefully) of my few successes. I hope I might find a purpose to playing music that is wholly separate from chasing fame or musical achievement. I hope my struggles help someone else struggling to play or struggling to understand why they play. I hope it won’t be all bad, but I am a bad guitar player, so that might be hoping for too much.