Sheldon’s Blog

Every week I welcome you into my world. I share my thoughts on a variety of subjects relating to performance, teaching and composing. From venues, to techniques to songs I find interesting. It’s all in my blog.

How to learn the guitar through ‘Active Listening’

Human ear to show harmony through music

How to learn the guitar through ‘Active Listening’

How to learn the guitar - Active listening

If you’ve been learning the guitar for a while and feel your progress may be slow you may want to try ‘active listening’. You want to know how to learn the guitar but there are so many methods out there. And you want to progress quickly because you’re mate who started a week after you is so much better. Why is that? Why have they managed to learn the guitar so quickly and you’re stuck on the same chords and songs?

Well one of the reasons someone progresses so quickly comes down to the their ears. Yes that’s right, if you want to know how to learn the guitar properly then you need good ears. So what do I mean by good ears? Well when I talk about ears I’m really talking about your listening skills and how much good music you’ve been exposed to.

What is active listening?

jonny lang - guitar star

Active listening is a different type of way to listen to music. Ordinarily you will get a playlist from Spotify or an album and stick it on in the background whilst you carry out your tasks. This type of listening is called passive listening. The interaction between you and the music is limited because your brain is distracted by various tasks. So it focuses it’s main attention on the task in front of you and the music essentially becomes ambient blur to set the mood. If you’re a standard music lover and just like to listen to music then that’s perfect. The music is achieving its purpose. But if you are someone wanting to know how to learn the guitar better then this type of music interaction is not very useful.

This leads us on to ‘Active listening’. Active listening requires listening to specific music – high quality and relates to principles you’ve been practising – and absorbing it distraction free. So active listening means you have to essentially sit with one or two songs for a sustained period of time without doing other tasks. At uni students can do this type of listening for hours. That’s very intense but they get very good very quickly.

Why is Active listening important?

Jazz guitar lessons

When you listen to music actively you will start to absorb ideas from the musicians. These ideas may never have come to you but they sound great and are now in your mind. When you’ve heard them enough it’s like lyrics of your favourite song. You don’t know why you know all the words you just do. Well these rhythms, melodies, chord changes, techniques etc start to become part of your go to instincts on the guitar. You start trying melodies and ideas that you’ve never tried before. When you analyse what you just did you realise it was a B.B. King lick or a Herbie Hancock fill. And because you’re listening to great musicians you end up sounding great when you play.

Be selective about who you actively listen to

Lionel Loueke - Great Bass guitarist

When it comes to active listening you don’t just want to listen to random stuff. The active listening is meant to serve a purpose – better rhythm, melodies, chord choice, techniques etc. So if you have a specific thing you want to improve on ask friends and fellow music lovers which musicians and artists feature that sort of thing in their music. From there you just need to actively listen a lot until you start hearing those ideas appear in your playing.

How long should you Active listen for?

I would suggest at the beginning to spend at least ten minutes doing active listening. After a week or two you should notice things creep into your guitar playing that you’ve never tried before. Over a period of time you will have the capacity to active listen for longer. I would say a good amount of active listening if you want to improve at a good rate on the guitar would be thirty minutes a day.

I hope this has helped you in your quest to become a better guitarist. If you’re looking for guitar or piano lessons feel free to get in touch. I teach at the Maxwell Park Community Centre on Mondays to Fridays and via Skype/Facetime.

Private Guitar Lessons Vs Group Lessons

New Years Resolution - Learn the guitar

Private Guitar Lessons Vs Group Lessons

Sheldon Conrich - Guitar Teacher Borehamwood

In this blog I wanted to discuss the merits and the downsides of both private guitar lessons and group guitar lessons. Many of you may be thinking as Christmas nears to indulge in buying a friend or loved one some guitar lessons. And with this in mind you may be wondering whether to go on Groupon and buy a few group lessons or find a guitar teacher and buy some private guitar lessons. Well in this blog I’ll go through some things to think about when deciding.

Private Guitar Lessons – The Merits

Guitar Teacher - Sheldon Conrich

When it comes to private guitar lessons there are several great things that are found in the one on one environment. The first is that your lessons are catered to you. Each lesson can work on building and developing on your own personal guitaring weaknesses and strengths.

Every person is individual and has individual musical tastes. With private guitar lessons you can learn songs from your favourite artists and musicians. This is actually quite important when it comes to developing your own unique sound. This is because the people you listen to and copy will ultimately influence your guitar playing style.

Private guitar lessons can fit around you time wise. So if you can’t make a one on one session you can always move it to another day – assuming the teacher has an available space that day.

With one on one lessons you get full attention from the teacher. So there is little room for you to pick up bad habits in the lesson because they are spotted very quickly.

Some guitar teachers like to travel to student’s houses and for those with chaotic lives this may suit you better.

Group Guitar Lessons – The Merits

Clubs in Hertfordshire

When you have several people around you learning what you’re learning it can inspire you. You can see what other guitarists are doing and use that as a springboard to keep motivated. You can say, well if they can do it, then I can do it. So the group environment can keep you pushing yourself.

In a group guitar lesson because there are other people learning with you, you can get a sense of your own personal level. And this can give you confidence. Especially if you’ve started at the same time as someone else and have improved quicker.

By learning in a group environment you will have a support network of like minded guitarists who you can talk to and bounce ideas off of. Some times you will learn something in a lesson but after talking with your fellow students make sense of it better.

A group guitar lesson will usually be cheaper being that the whole group are sharing the cost of the lesson.

Often group guitar lessons are held in the evenings which can work well after work.

Generally modern day group guitar lessons have some online support with PDFs and audio to help you.

Private guitar Lessons – The Cons

In general because you are getting more attention and a bespoke set of lessons the price of private guitar lessons will be more expensive.

If you have a good teacher then chances are they are going to be quite busy. If that is the case then they may not be as flexible with times and days as you’d like.

Finding a good guitar teacher can be tricky and you may have to go through several one on one teachers before you find the right one for you. Being a good teacher is more about understanding your student’s needs rather than being the best guitar player on the planet.

Group Guitar Lessons – The Cons

Because you’re in a big group you may not get as much attention by the teacher. So if you don’t understand something or you think the speed of the lesson is too fast you may just have to put up with that.

Group guitar lessons work on a strict block with syllabus to fit in each lesson. So if you don’t fully achieve learning a particular idea one week you may struggle the next week when there is new material to learn.

If you are progressing quickly and there are others in the group learning slower it may frustrate you. Often the teacher will have to stop to give these students some guidance. For advancing guitarists this can be quite annoying.

Group guitar lessons will happen on a specific time and day each week. So if you are ill or have an arrangement you can’t get out of then you will miss the class. And as mentioned you’ll miss a whole load of new material that you will essentially have to teach yourself out of class.

Because the syllabus is set to cater for the group you may not like the style of music you are learning.

In Conclusion

private guitar lessons with sheldon conrich

There really is no right type of way to learn the guitar. I hope you’ve found out some good reasons why private guitar lessons and group guitar lessons could be the right choice for you. It’s an individual preference and ultimately comes down to your weekly schedule, routine, budget and personality. If you are looking for private guitar lessons, feel free to get in touch. For those looking for Christmas guitar lesson gifts, I have some Christmas offers waiting for you. Just ask away.




What is the best way to learn the guitar?

Sheldon Conrich - Teaching pose

What is the best way to learn the guitar?

Solo Musician For Events - Sheldon Conrich

Every person who picks up the guitar has a different background, motivation for learning and personality. All of these factors will heavily influence the way you will practise and the best way for you to learn the guitar. So what is the best way to learn the guitar? Is there just one way? Is it through books, YouTube, guitar teacher, songs?

To answer this I will look at two different approaches and from there you can come to your own conclusion.


jonny lang - guitar star

Transcribing sounds like a very fancy word but essentially it means copying. But more than copying it means trying to copy note for note what’s going on in a song. When you transcribe a guitar part from a song you’re aiming to copying the exact chord changes, picking or strumming patterns, chord variations, soloing notes and techniques etc. Transcribing is a really great way to sound close to or even exactly like your favourite guitarists. But is it the best way to learn the guitar?

In some respects by transcribing guitar songs you will learn subconsciously a whole bunch of things. You’ll learn without having to think where chords are – maybe not their names – but certainly how to fret certain chord shapes. You’ll also learn quite advanced fret board movement but not really see it as advanced. This is because you’re copying the muscle positions rather than thought process behind these movements.

So really the transcribing approach takes away the thinking element of learning the guitar which can suit people who just want to play their favourite songs, or maybe sing and strum along to songs. This will also suit learners who are happy to learn only a few songs but play them really well and are happy to go over them lots and lots of times.

Learning the guitar musical matrix

Jazz guitar lessons

The second approach requires a different kind of motivation when it comes to learning the guitar. This approach really breaks down the individual elements of guitar learning. So for example instead of learning a chord shape, it may be a case of trying to find multiple ways of playing that chord around the fret board. This requires patience and lots of practise.

Instead of copying exactly what you hear, this method looks at understanding what you hear. So after hearing a song a few times this method would look at breaking down the guitar concepts found in the song. Maybe there are particular strumming techniques, rhythmical ideas, melodic movements etc. By delving into the guitaring matrix you’re actually trying to understand the guitarist’s mind. And this approach allows you to take what you’ve learnt and bring it into other songs. Is this the best way to learn the guitar?

Well this is the best way to get good at everything at an even rate. With the transcribing approach I generally find that these types of players have a particular thing they’re good at. For example their chord shapes or soloing ability is really high. But then their rhythm is much lower, or their tone quality is poor. With the guitar matrix approach you’ll find these players take longer to get very good, but all elements of their playing are at a similar level.

In conclusion

New Years Resolution - Learn the guitar

I can not give you the definitive best way to learn the guitar. As mentioned earlier this heavily relies upon your personality and motivations. But the great thing is that there is an approach to learning the guitar for everyone. So just try things out and see how you get on. If you’re looking for guitar lessons and live in or around the Borehamwood area feel free to get in touch. My studio is based at the Maxwell Park Community Centre and I teach Monday to Friday. Also feel free to check out some of my YouTube video lessons which look at basic rhythm, chords and scales. I hope this has been helpful for you and happy learning.

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