Previously I’ve mentioned learning guitar from youtube, then from nextlevelguitar.com, and then from truefire.com (links are to my reviews). Youtube was all, hey, wow, look at this, bazillions of how-to videos, who’d-a-thunk, this is cool! And so hit-or-miss! In comparison to youtube, nextlevelguitar was organized, progressive, starting at the very beginning (which hand holds the neck and which hand strums? etc.) (which I needed), and working up to a Most Basic of Guitarish Knowledge. But I don’t want to be in a band, so I kind of ground to halt over there. Which is when I found Truefire, a banquet of flavors to choose from…did I want a smattering of slapping and tapping? Some in-depth theory? Some rock-n-roll? Some classical fingerstyle? Some funky funk? Here, have some! See Maya gorge herself on the possibilities!
It was during this time that I discovered that I really, really like acoustic blues. The pre-war stuff. Delta blues guitar. Old-timey fingerpicking. Mississippi John Hurt, and Elizabeth Cotton, and Mance Lipscombe, etc. How odd that playing the blues makes me so happy! I didn’t know when I started guitar that this was the direction I’d want to go after awhile, but here I am.
And, unfortunately, truefire ran dry of this material after a bit. 1) One of their main teachers of this stuff just did not work for me, so that was several courses I just couldn’t use. And 2) They’ve lots more electric blues than acoustic. Sooo…back to google and youtube and bang-o, I found…Stefan Grossman.
Stefan Grossman is an acoustic blues guitarist, a student of Rev. Gary Davis, and a guy who has been to the rodeo and back again in the blues world. Here is his wikipedia entry, quite a story. But for my purposes the main thing is this: Mr. Grossman has put together a whole pile of kick-ass teaching vids just for the kind of fingerpicking blues style guitar music I want to learn. Hooray!
(If you go to his site, he is compiling lots of teaching vids from many people, in various styles, but the ones I’m talking about are the ones where he is teaching the stuff himself. The others may be awesome, but I haven’t seen them, and so can’t comment.)
Mr. Grossman’s vids are the best I’ve come across yet and here is why. First, he knows the body of material and has picked out songs in a gradient of difficulty, so that I’m playing actual old songs, full of musicality and deliciousness vs. dry exercises. MUCH more fun that way. Second, he breaks it all down very clearly, then does a split-screen version where you can see what each hand is doing during the hard bits. The video quality and production values are high. No bit of the music has remained mysterious to me thus far, which is so satisfying and non-frustrating. Yay, for not being frustrated! But then, if that weren’t enough, he’s got all this archival footage of the old guys playing the songs themselves, so you get to hear and see the real deal as you go. Very cool. Mr. Grossman is also friendly and funny and relaxed in front of a camera, AND his software for buying/downloading/watching/etc. so far has worked seamlessly, no small thing.
Can you tell I’m loving this?
As a side note, I was also looking around for women blues guitarists and ran across Rory Block, this gal who plays Robert Johnson’s stuff like she’s a reincarnation of the man himself. Turns out she studied with a bunch of the old guys when she was a teenager and, small world, was Mr. Grossman’s galfriend for a while. She’s written a memoir, When a Woman Gets the Blues, about the trials of being a blueswoman when everyone says ‘what’s a white girl like you doing playing old black men’s music?’ and I’m looking forward to reading it.
Anyhoo, if you want to learn acoustic blues guitar, Stefan Grossman can take you there. I’ve been working with his material for a couple of months and I’m playing songs I never would have thought I could, “Nobody’s Dirty Business,” “Make me a Pallet on your Floor,” “Lovin’ Spoonful,” and “Crow Jane,” are some of the songs in the first set of vids I’ve worked through, and I can’t believe I can make these sounds, I’m just pleased as punch. I’m starting the next set of vids and I’m just enjoying the heck out of these, too. Very high quality, on target, fun, easy to understand, easy to learn from.
Stefan Grossman, thank you so much for putting these vids together! Highly recommended.
And let me just add that so far, learning to play guitar from replayable videos has been a wonderful suprise. I can’t imagine how I could have come this far, this quickly, taking lessons once a week. Impossible. For fun and ease, at least at a hobbiest’s level of learning, video is the way to go.
It’s so nice to have an enjoyable hobby that is purely for the the fun of the moment. No goal, no drive, no ‘success’ or ‘failure.’ Just, whenever I want, whenever I’m free, I sit and play for a bit, as long as I like or until something else intervenes, just because I enjoy it. The music is in the air for a moment, then disappears, maybe my family enjoy it in the background of what they are doing, or maybe they don’t even notice, being busy with their own things. I like that. A nice balance to writing which can be so full of desire and ambition and drive for me, and always has been.
Guitar, on the other hand, is pure pleasure.