Vinnie's Learning Log

#1 - Hello, and welcome to my JustinGuitar Learning Log.

A little about me - I worked in higher ed for 34 years, a combination of project coordinator for a grant that helped K-12 get technology in the classroom. I edited a cartoon newspaper feature for kids for 5 years. And then I was a web designer/developer for an electron microscopy lab at UC San Diego for 7 years. I spent most of my time studying to be an English professor, but I crapped out of the Ph.D. studies after 8 years (long story) and didn’t finished a second M.A. in Linguistics, but I taught English composition/writing at 8 colleges and universities in every time zone of the continental United States for 23 years, both in person and online, hundreds of classes and thousands of students. A hostile student and an institution that wouldn’t support me (student was violent and the institution said she could stay in the class because “she had paid for it”) finally made me quit, at which point I was freed from endless grading and started my writing career. I just finished a memoir (started Oct 31, 2018 and finished Jan 14, 2022). It’s been a long, bumpy ride… I’m sure I’ll discuss some of it here. And when/if the book gets published, y’all will get a link to it, of course. That’ the short story. I was born in southern California, in the Valley, like ya know, just over the hill from Hollywood, and I’m now in the suburbs of Atlanta, Georgia.

I have a musical background. My dad played piano - so well, not in a concert pianist kind of way, but more in a self-taught, I can play anything I hear old-timey bar piano kind of way. We had stacks of sheet music from my great grandmother dating back to the 1890s. All us kids learned piano. A very large woman (who was buried in a piano case) came to our house once a week. I’m not sure what my parents paid her. She was nice and taught us all to read music. But she was awful about teaching us to keep time. But I loved playing, and the great tradition was fighting with my sisters over whose turn it was to practice. If one of us wanted to practice, we all wanted to.

I was the late child, so they all moved out and it was just me. Mrs. Perry died, and I got another piano teacher, the man across the street with two Steinways in his converted garage to a piano studio. He was a teacher at a school of children with disabilities. He taught them band. And he was a great person and good teacher, but I was not a good student, a teenager who didn’t practice. Once, a friend in high school was competing in a music competition, playing the viola. I was to accompany here. She picked a Mozart piece (I was more of a Beethoven person - easier). Anyway, I practiced and practiced and practiced. My friend was so busy with extracurricular activities that we only practiced together a couple times. So at the time of the event, my entire family showed up, like 8 people to watch. She had no one there. I had to play an entire page of music before she ever came in. It was like 12 pages long, with 3 or 4 pages repeated. When I got to the end of the first page, I was so off, that she didn’t know where to come in. She glared at me, and I had to start over. At the end of the session, they praised her, and the judge gave me a piano lesson on the spot in front of all the people. I had been playing and taking lessons for 12 or 13 years at that point. Very embarrassing.

My first recital happened when I was 7. I had memorized Fur Elise, the first part on the piano. Mrs. Perry used the lobby of a bank with its great acoustics and invited family and friends to come watch her students. I practiced and practiced and knew the piece. But when I performed, I forgot where I was on the last line of the music. Normally, I had the music closed and on the stand in front of me. But at the recital, my piano teacher held the music. I waited about a minute, and then had to ask for the music back to look at it before I could finish the piece. I was so embarrassed then too.

So … this is still a problem, 50 years later, in playing in front of people. I play guitar in front of my girlfriend, but she hears me practice too. She knows when I’m having good days and bad days and she’s waiting until it’s less bad days. :slight_smile:

Next part, how a piano player becomes a guitar player.

Thanks for reading.
Vinnie

p.s. Vinnie is a nickname I got when I was 15. My given name is Lee. I answer to both. But I use Vinnie for almost all of my online activity.

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#2 - Guitar enters my life

2011, I was living on a boat, not even six months in, a beautiful teak-deck Hans Christian Mark II 37’ sloop, a blue water ocean cruiser, fixing her up to sail off into the sunset with my then wife. Not even 6 months in, we had paid off all our bills for the first time in our life, had good jobs, and living in this beautiful marina in sunny San Diego, when… she does a complete about face. We have our 14th anniversary, and then we find out her mother has had a car accident. She lives in Virginia, and my wife travels to see her. When my wife gets back home, she wants nothing to do with me - like a light bulb has been switched. ( We find out later, when she fires her counselor and psychiatrist, that she has borderline personality disorder - they diagnosed her and knew for 5 years and never told us!! they told her only when she fired them because she was planning to do things they didn’t approve of - screwed up my whole life.)

She became… confrontational and demanding and irrational, more than normal.
Some 5 or 6 years before that, I took her to see Bruce Springsteen. We were very broke. But I scraped together money for tickets and souvenirs and took her. We were living in Kansas at the time. They played in Kansas City. She told me about how she always wanted to learn the sax, that she loved that Clarence Clemons. So for Christmas, I bought her a sax, rented it like a high school student and hooked her up with an old jazz player to teach her. My family loved the gift. Her father scolded her - “how can you afford that when you are always calling and asking me for money?!” She tried to play for a month, got irritated with me when I tried to help her read music and keep time. I had piano playing background and an electronic piano so we could learn together. Her dad got to her, and she took the saxophone back.

So, jump forward to our pre-divorce period living on the boat. We have a one-hour drive on the freeway back to the marina after work. She says, “I want a guitar.” I say, “Well, I’ve planned all the monies for the month, can we wait two weeks until we get paid and then get you a guitar?” She said, “no, I want a guitar now.” (a couple weeks before this, it was “I want singing lessons.” “And where is this coming from?” “I’ve always wanted singing lessons” (she couldn’t sing for anything.) “And how much will this cost?” “About $100 a lesson.” “So $400 or $500 a month? We don’t have that.” “So you get to spend lots of money on the boat but I can’t have what I need?” “Singing isn’t a need, it’s a want, and the boat is our home. If we don’t get it ready for cruising or take care of it, our home sinks in the docks!” Impasse.

So she won’t let go of the guitar. I have to go home to transfer money back into checking so she can buy a guitar. She tries to play it three times, with my help. We’re watching one of those beginner CDs. She gets so irritated - “You always have to ruin things, don’t you?” that she never plays again. I try to play, but I’m pretty much distraught for years after that (you can read my book). She leaves the guitar when I asked her to move off the boat after one too many violations.
The guitar becomes my albatross, and for about 7 years, after I’ve moved off and sold the boat, I still have this damn guitar. I finally sell it when I move from San Diego to Connecticut in 2018.

The pandemic hits and puts me out of work, though I’m still getting paid in Spring 2020. I’m a year and a half into working on my book, and I have lots of time on my hands. We’re getting ready to move from Connecticut back to California near Santa Cruz for my gf to do a job search where we can live for free 10 minute walk to the beach at Monterey Bay. But first, in Connecticut, I buy a starter Yamaha guitar from Guitar Center.

I’m without a piano, and I decide, this will be MY guitar, no albatross, and I miss learning music so much. I was a lousy piano player, but I loved loved loved it so much. I’d practice and practice and it was beautiful for me, but awful for listeners. But I knew how to learn and I knew if I just took my time, I’d set a better foundation as an adult learner of music.

And thus, in June 2020, I bought my first guitar. I quickly found Marty online and watched his stuff for about a month. I also wanted to learn Alice’s Restaurant. uh yeah, right. Within that first month, someone in a forum said, “hey Marty’s okay, but try Justin.” I did, and whoa… Justin clicked with, the details I need and the approach for beginning students I need. And I never looked back.

So, I’ve been using Justin’s app and website since July 2020.

In August 2020, we moved from Connecticut to Santa Cruz, California. At Thanksgiving 2020, we moved from Santa Cruz to Atlanta, GA.

I got a job 450 feet from my front door as an “essential employee” at a grocery store, making the kind of money I made when I was a teenager (I’m too old for this shit). But it pays the bills and gives me time to write and play guitar.

The rest of my time is spent with my gf, now working at the CDC and with my 3 year old dachshund named Herman.

I play guitar every day. It’s rare that I don’t play at least a little.

Next step - I reward myself with guitar #2, an electric guitar.

More soon.
Thanks for reading.

  • Vinnie
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Welcome to the community Vinnie. That is some intro…but you’ve arrived so hopefully you journey on guitar will be smoother. How are things progressing on Justin’s course?

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Hello Vinnie and welcome to the community.

You have certainly had an interesting journey before your arrived here. Good luck with this chapter and hope to hear you soon in the AVOYP section.

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I’m glad you’re here Vinnie, welcome :smiley:

You’ve found a safe haven in both Justin’s lessons and this community, so drop anchor and savour the moments.

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Welcome aboard, matey! :sailboat:
As Jason says: That’s some intro! (Not sure we need to read the book now :laughing:)
Joking aside, I do enjoy when folk share some background apart from pure guitar stuff.
Music obviously plays an important part in your life and I look forward to hearing you play when you get around to sharing. We’re all ‘essential employees’ in this mortal coil…

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Wow what an epic story Vinnie.

Where you have ended up sounds ideal and I hope the guitars give you the solace that you deserve.
Looking forward to the next instalment !

Cheers

Toby
:sunglasses:

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Vinnie, appreciate you sharing your story. Look forward to following along as you progress with the guitar.

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An epic tale there Vinnie. I’ve a feeling you may be going to give @DavidP some competition in the long post stakes.

I look forward to following your progress as you travel down the guitar road.

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That’s a hell of a journey so far, Vinnie! BPD is a really nasty disorder and folks with BPD can absolutely destroy those who care for them, especially spouses. Sounds like you have moved forward and are in a better situation even if not exactly what you would have dreamed of. As others have said, this little community is as close to a judgement free zone as you’ll ever encounter as part of your guitar experience goes. Best of luck to you, and I am looking forward to seeing you around here!

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#3 - Hello again. I’m trying to get caught up in reading everyone else’s learning logs. So many great stories, and I’m getting excited to start posting some initial videos. I

When I feel like I’m not progressing in learning, I go back to earlier lessons and easier songs. And I say, “Oh, I can do that now.” That helps put learning in perspective for me.

At one point in my journey, I felt like I needed an in-person teacher and I did Zoom lessons for a couple months. I was introduced to the CAGED system and some scales and some arpeggios, and basic blues patterns, and it aligned with when Justin introduced blues. But what I needed was help with fingering, with someone actually showing me on the guitar or moving a finger this way or that and that wasn’t cutting it on Zoom, so I went back fully to JustinGuitar.

Impatient, I went too fast too soon. Changing to C is still difficult for me. My fingers are all over the place. I try to get them placed to mute the low E string and I end up muting other strings. I still play by mashing the strings too hard. Only when I slow down can I hear the problems. But playing too slowly becomes difficult too. Oddly enough, D is difficult for me as well. My middle finger creeps forward an blunts the note on the fret.

So, Grade 2 started challenging me. I love the riffs. The 2 riffs I’m not very good at are the La Bamba riff, especially playing two strings at once, and the Wish You Were Here riff - partly because I had already started quite early the video of Wish You Were Here with the full hammer on, so learning the simplified riff felt like a step backward.

But, the F chord. I’ve had my guitar tuned up twice to try to play the full barre F chord. That *&^% F Chord is what I call it. It took me a long time, and I’m still not 100%. But I have enormous trouble changing to and from the F chord. Just don’t have any speed at all. I’m only now, after 18 months, getting comfortable changing to F Maj7 from C. But put it in a song, and I screw it all up.

Little F is my nemesis. I make my first finger like a crook and play strings 1 and 2 on the side of my finger. But I often thud those strings. I have to push really hard. Then I saw a video in which I saw Justin’s first finger held straight from the middle knuckle to press down on the 1st and 2nd strings, and I tried that, and whoa, I could see how the works, but it contorts my hand all around to do that. That’s what I mean about needing someone in person to help. When I start getting some videos up, I’ll ask for help.

Fingerstyle is fun for me, but Happy Birthday is far more difficult than it should be! Rock Guitar wasn’t fun on my guitar because I didn’t have an electric guitar.

I’m kind of attracted to song writing. I wrote songs on the piano when I was a kid and in Harmony class in high school. I write lyrics in my spare time at work on my phone, pieces of songs. And when I’m just playing around on the guitar, and randomly playing chord progressions, usually with Old Faithful strumming patterns. I have songs/sounds in my head, but no idea how to make them yet.

Blues really attracts me too, which is difficult for someone who can’t keep time well. ha! I have great difficulty with the 7th chords, just need more OMC with them. But *&^% the B7. It’s as bad as the F for me.

Earlier - I had a revelation of how badly I was playing. I really wanted to play Stand By Me with Old Faithful, but I wasn’t able to switch to C chord quickly. And I was determined to get better. That was a breakthrough moment for me. Slow it down and hit the chords. It helped me play everything better. But then I learned about the backbeat hit. Yeah, no. Love the sound of it, but I’m still having real trouble with it.

I have real trouble with landing chords on beat 1. My fingers fumble and I get close and then adjust. So beat 1 sounds awful. And then I worry about the chord changes and short the strumming at the end on beat 4 to try to rush the chord change. I need a good exercise to unlearn those bad habits.

So, even though I’ve moved on to Grade 3, I really am consolidating Grade 2. Also, somewhere near the end of grade 2, I felt like I was stalling again. So that’s when, having reached a certain point in my memoir writing, I rewarded myself with an electric guitar - a Gretsch. I still haven’t played around with it a lot though. I pick it up and don’t quite know what to do with it.

When I was buying it, it was the 2nd or 3rd time just messing around with guitars in the guitar store. My budget was very small, like no more than $500. I knew I didn’t want a bargain basement starter, so the next step up. But I also had my eye on an acoustic-electric yamaha, and wow… that played beautifully compared to my starter. So that will be my next guitar. I also tried a $1000 electric comparing it to what I was picking out, and wow, that was an eye-opener or ear-opener too. So I decided not to look at those more expensive guitars because I would get down-hearted and not buy anything. ha!

==
I’m almost caught up.
I’m working out a 1 hour practice schedule per day, for Grade 3, but I realize that I still have many technique areas I need to practice - F chord, chord changes, fingerstyle, strumming, power chords, etc.
I’ve decided on a repertoire of 11 songs.
For What It’s Worth
Spooky
Stand By Me
Made World
Summer Wine
Wild Thing
Ain’t No Sunshine
Take Me Home, Country Roads
Everybody Hurts
Every Rose Has Its Thorns and What’s Up

So now, my practice is keyed to working on what I need to play those songs. Initially, it’s OMC to and from the Dm chord. I’m getting close on many of those, and two I think I have under my fingers. Now time to print out lyrics and practice with singing - which I haven’t done a lick of yet.

I’m just now starting to listen to people’s first videos/songs on here, and it’s inspiring me, so thank you to all!

Even though I feel like I"m still at beginning stages, I wanted to try “Here Comes the Sun” and “Sound of Silence” which Justin released recently, and I’m picking up good things from practicing both of those. They’re difficult for me.

So here’s my goal - I’ll have to locate the video to show what I’m referring to. In one video, Justin plays looking straight at the camera and it looks like all he is doing is strumming and playing a single chord. But all this music is coming out - melody lines and picked notes and I can’t even tell that he’s moving his fingers. It’s not just strumming a single chord at all. I find it incredibly beautiful when all these notes come out of so little movement. that’s what I want to be able to do - long term goals. I haven’t been able to find the video of a good example, but this is close - Grade 1, Module 7, 2:30 - 3:00 Dynamic Improvements. Justin plays, just strumming casually with a C chord and all this picking and extra grace notes come out. That’s what I want to be able to do.

I find working on Here Comes the Sun and The Sound of Silence add to my ability to do that.

Each step is taking me closer to that goal, and I’m loving the heck out of this journey.
Thanks for reading.
Time to practice.
Cheers,
Vinnie

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Thanks for sharing your stories and progress Vinnie! I too am spending more time reading and getting to know the community than recording! :grin:

I love this and is something I’ve no idea about but want to develop so really interested to see how others develop ideas and songs.

I can’t help but ask which Gretsch guitar you got (apologies if you posted elsewhere and I didn’t see)?

Good luck with the playing - it sounds like you’ve found some inevitable challenges but well done for tackling them and keeping practicing! I’m taking the same approach as you - choosing a repertoire of songs and using to consolidate and focus practice on. You’ve chosen some great tunes which should help motivate!

Looking forward to hearing some of the songs (covers and originals!)!

All the best,

Al

Great write-up, Vinnie. I am consolidating Beginner Grade 2 with a burning desire to start Grade 3; however, I have convinced myself to be sure I have all the fundamentals solid before moving on. To that end I am recording 10 songs that require somewhat different fundamentals for each song. Our song list is not dissimilar.
As I read you post, the thing that really struck me was that you realize you really don’t have some important bits solid. Slow down. Go back over the things you admit aren’t quite there and practice those items slowly, increasing the speed only as you have mastered the technique. It will get you where you want to go quicker than making permanent a less than desired outcome.
Guitar is a journey with no ending, just a lot of neat attractions along the way!

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Robert - oh absolutely. I am consolidating grade 2 but with the new grade 3 practice schedule. I haven’t even ever tried standing up
And playing with a strap. I’m really bad at not looking yet for a lot of things. So yes - assessing my strengths and weakness is one of my strengths and I want to work on those weaknesses through a combination.l of routine practice and practicing on songs. It’ll be a while before I move on from module 15.
Cheers,
Vinnie

Hey Vinnie, sounds like you are progressing well!

Coming back to it myself its hard judging when to go fast and when to slow down and consolidate, but I guess its all down to practice overall anyhow

#5 - catching up with forums at work.

When I can’t play guitar, I think about playing guitar. My job is a vitamin clerk at a grocery store so I often have time to be on my phone at work, reading and catching up with the community

Two ideas are merging in mr - practicing vs playing songs. I find I’m an advancing beginner but I know I don’t play well yet because I freeze up and am too stiff.

I’m reminded of that kid the piano player from the movie Fame whose violin instructor tells him to not hold his bow so tightly. (He actually uses off-color language - but I’ll let you look it up yourselves). Or of the catcher crash Davis in the movie Bill Durham who tells the pitcher Nuke LaLoosh to quit holding the bell so tightly. “It’s an egg. Hold it like an egg.”

So I still strum stiffly. And when I play songs, I get nervous for chord changes. When I slow down in practice I get better. When I slow down in playing songs, I really screw up more. It’s a playing songs issue!

But …. When I say screw it and let it fly like playing Hey ya! To speed or wild thing, then I stop thinking about the changes snd it’s much more fluid. L

Just thought I’d throw that topic out there for you all. How to relax when playing and not choke on the chord changes.

Thanks,
Vinnie

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I think its a good idea to approach playing from 2 separate angles.

One aiming for precision and timing, and sometimes let loose and just throw your heart into it, strum like a crazy , throw in some attitude, bends whatever.

At some point you’ll bring the two halves together and sounds like an in time musician letting rip with creativity rather than a robot playing notes.

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Update to Learning Log - April 17

It’s been a while. I realize I don’t know how to make a new thread. I just keep appending to the old threat. Uhh, help me out here.

I’m up against a writing deadline. The Atlanta Writers Conference is May 6-7. I’ve completed my memoir. It was 203,000 words. I cut it to 168,000 words and gave copies to beta readers. But that’s still too long to get serious consideration for publication. So now I have a goal to get to 98,000 words by the time of the conference. That has interfered with my time available to keep this log updated. My apologies.

I still play guitar every day. While I started Grade 3 when it was first released, I realized I had not quite finished Grade 2. So, I went back to consolidate and work on some pesky problems. I got a little discouraged because some of the problems just didn’t seem to want to go away. But I also noticed some gains - some increases in speed, some better strumming, etc.

My repertoire stands at a good 10-15 songs, with a good 5 in the playable in front of others category - nothing perfect yet, close on a couple. I have another 10 songs I play regularly, and then a dreamer list of 11 songs, as well as a list of 9 riffs. I’m getting my money’s worth out of the JustinGuitar app.

I even wrote a blog post on Medium about “Practice Makes Permanent so Practice Perfectly.” I can link it if anyone’s interested.

But the exciting news is - NEW GEAR.

Guitar Center is having a big sale, and I just paid off my Grestch. I’ve been itching for an upgrade to my acoustic starter guitar. I bought a Yamaha A1M - all black, with a hard case and a small Fishman Amp (48 month Interest free for $27/month.

Plus I get to sell back the old starter guitar and get a 10% discount on my new purchase.

The new guitar - in the just under $600 range is SO much better than my starter guitar. It has beautiful sound - no more high e whining - and I can play the F chord easily! (can’t move to and from it quickly yet, though).

A lot of the problems and flubs I have with certain songs just miraculously disappeared with a better instrument. I’ve been very meticulous in my practice to develop good technique. And I think it’s paying off. There really is a difference in the quality of the instruments that helps me play. I’m so happy with this new purchase and can’t wait to finally post myself playing something. Soon. As soon as my writing pressure is off, after May 7th. A short vacation the weekend after - so I promise a video by mid May!

In the meantime, here’s a picture of the new gear!

I hope everyone is doing well and surviving our (pre-post-COVID times). My heart continues to be broken by news from Ukraine and elsewhere in the world. But writing and guitar provide the necessary salve to get through.

Just keep writing! Just keep making music!

  • Vinnie

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Good to hear that you continue to play and practice, Lee, while dealing with all challenges of the memoir.

Congrats on the new guitar, looks fabulous and I look forward to hearing it when the writing deadline is met.

You’ve done this correctly. Our Learning Log is a single topic that we just continue to extend through posting up a reply when we want to add a new entry. And in between our entries are all the comments shared by other Community members.