What's With All the "Is Guitar Dead" Chatter?

In case you haven't noticed everyone from the Wall Street Journal to YouTube Guitar Bloggers have been putting out posts this past week with regard to whether or not the guitar is dead... 

In the last week of this month I've had emails, comment posts, and even telephone calls into my studio asking me what I think of all the talk that's going around about whether, "The Guitar is Dead," or not.

All of this chatter is getting to be a little much. After the Wall Street Journal posted their story titled, "Why my guitar gently weeps." the amount of discussion online just went through the roof. Check out what happens now when you begin typing, "is guit...." into Google.

The first search suggestion that comes up now is the phrase, "is Guitar Dead." So, what the heck is going on? Is it a change in how players are learning now? Is this killing the old ways of studying guitar? Maybe it's a little bit of both.

So, I can't speak for everybody in every corner of the globe but I can certainly offer what I've noticed happening over the last almost 30 years that I've been involved with teaching guitar and earning a living as a guitar player.

Now, when you go back to say the late 1980's, when I first started taking the business of music a lot more seriously, (and I made the decision to pursue this as a career), there were only a handful of people teaching where I lived. And, you need to also realize that there was no internet. So, if you wanted to learn you only had two options really.

1). You could order guitar lesson books, audio cassette tape courses, and video taped lessons from either your local music store, or from the ads that they had in the guitar magazines.

2). You could sign up for guitar lessons with a teacher, who either came to your home, or who worked in a neighborhood music shop (generally located in your local shopping mall, or up on the closest busy street nearest you).

That was pretty much it. Sometimes if you were lucky enough to have a family member who played guitar, they might have been able to get you started in the right direction but, otherwise you needed to learn from books or call an instructor and schedule some classes.

Fast forward to 2017 and learning to play guitar today is a lot different. Thousands of guitar players and teachers are putting up YouTube videos every day covering every topic under the sun. 

If you want to know about sweep picking - I've got a video. If you want to know the basic chords on guitar - I've got that video. If you like jazz chords, there's a video. Pretty much every guitar musical and guitar related topic has a video!

But, the problem is there's no proper Order and Sequence. The most important part of learning anything (to really extreme levels) is and will always be "Order and Sequence." If the learning is orderly - it makes sense. If the learning is sequential and follows a proper flow that makes logical sense to the student - you're going to learn.

But, the problem with the biggest format of learning guitar, which is undeniably YouTube, comes down to the issue of it is completely random. Players have no concept about how the information fits together.

In fact I just had a message left on the studio voice-mail from a guy asking why there's an "Em" chord in the harmonized "C Major Scale." And, that kind of thing is all too common here! But, it shouldn't be, not if players followed a pattern of learning that wasn't so random as we are experiencing now.

So, your average person is generally really lost on most of the basic levels of skill building because there's no process to the information. There's a video on scales, something like "here is the minor pentatonic." But, then what? Does the person who made the video have total absolute control over that scale? Or, are they hacking it out? And, are they really showing how to use it? No, because it would take ten or more, 20 min. videos to just start demonstrating the details of that topic.

If you're going to learn, then learn from somebody who has their act together. And, someone who has a lot of good organized information. That's the way students get really pumped. They see and hear a person who has total control over the information and they're floored.

That's the way it was for me when I went to music school. I was pumped. Every day I was blown away. There was tons of playing and hours of studying. I would go to bed at 1:00 in the morning and I'd get up at 4:00 or 4:30 in the morning to keep practicing.

Right now, I have players joining my web-site every day, and why is that? Why are they grabbing memberships? 

When I talk to them about it, the answer is always the same, It's because they're pumped up on seeing me demonstrate the licks and the chords and the improvisations. Being pumped up and getting solid information is crucial. Not, just crucial, it's the future of guitar lessons.

I know from the demographics of my site, and from who comes into my local guitar studio, that it's all ages. There are the teenagers and the players in their 20's, but they make up the smallest crowd. 

There's the player in their 30's. And, there are other players that have been into guitar for 20 years, who are in their 40's and 50's. There are all kinds of people into guitar. That's not changing. But, there's a lot of confusion. And, the random state of learning isn't helping.

Guitar still gets people still feeling pumped up. Just this week, one of my students bought a brand new Gibson Les Paul. Last month another one of my students bought a brand new Fender Strat. 

And, they're buying amps and all kinds of other guitar gear. So, the players are still pumped. At least the people who are with me are pumped. I don't know what's happening with students who hang around with other teachers. But, those players who are involved with me are pumped.

From what I can tell, the randomness of the internet is taking its toll on the players that I speak to online. From the talks I've had with people from all over the world, they're confused. They don't know what to study or in what order they should study material. They don't have a practice schedule, nor a system that they're following. And, the worst thing is they are very hesitant to invest a dime in themselves.

The modern player, (not all of them), but many - far too many - want everything for free. And, most of their frustration is based on the past experiences that they've had. 

Many of them (that I speak to) have purchased a course online and have felt like they were ripped off. They may have felt that the last membership they tried online was not a good fit for them in some way. And, that experience (that bad experience) turned them off.

There's a whole other group that just expects everything for free, (generally the younger crowd). They have gotten so used to finding hacked web-pages and hacked digital courses online and finding certain YouTube videos that give away so many ideas, (many that aren't very good), that they just have come to expect all of what they want should be free. And, when it isn't free, they flip out.

There's no way that you're going to be all pumped and heavy into learning if all you want from every learning source is free stuff. You always get what you pay for. It's going to eventually turn you into a really miserable person, and you'll stagnate instead of progress.

I don't think that guitar is dead, but I do think that a lot of the old ways tried and true ways of learning are in a heap of trouble. That now ancient idea of ordering a VHS Video tape from a guitar magazine (and then waiting 3-4 weeks for it to get shipped to your house) may be long gone - thank goodness. But, there was a level of patience that existed with that old era, that old way of learning which is gone now.

Everything is expected to be absolutely instantaneous now. But, guitar training is far from that. It's actually really slow and it needs to involve a lot through slow time spent developing skills and knowledge. And, for understanding how everything works on the neck. 

First it needs to happen in your home practice room, and then you'll need to figure out how it is going to have to come together live on a stage. There's so much more to it than just one level that a single random YouTube video can offer.

So, I can understand why many players feel frustrated, and why so many older people are coming back to re-visit the guitar after many years of leaving it in the case. But, is guitar dying, I really don't think so. I feel like we're moving through a sea of change with how the players are learning the guitar.

Once players can start to gain a much better foothold for themselves on what it is going to take to learn guitar in this new era, everything is going to be fine. 

But, I don't feel like we've actually made it there yet. Players need to become more refined with how they select material and how they plan their study of that material. The patience has to come back. Eventually, it will make more sense for a majority of the new guitarists who will only be learning guitar online - the future home of learning guitar.

Right now, there are still a lot of videos being posted that are just for laughs, jokes, and for clicks. They have a place too. But, what these are "good for" does not equal much with respect to proper learning. 

The joke videos can be great for these YouTube partners to make a lot of money in daily advertising revenues. But, the viewers have to start to realize that there needs to be an "order and sequence" to getting real success through online lessons. When that happens, they'll search those areas out and a new way of learning guitar will eventually emerge.



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