Back to the Primitive (Old School is Good School)

I’ve been asked about the meaning behind the Guitar Antihero banner (or battle cry) of “Primitive, Practical, Rebellious, Results-Oriented Guitar Training”, and it’s a valid question that could use some clarification, especially in the guitar training/playing demographic.

After all, much, if not most, of what we’re exposed to seems to promote the idea of near-instant success and the realization of guitar playing dreams, the latest gadget or “one weird trick” that so-and-so used to finally achieve guitar glory, and a general “anyone can be a guitar hero!” sort of mentality (most of this is bullshit, by the way).

This post is the first in a series of installments where I’ll explain just what’s what with that tagline, along with why I think it was important enough to devise and then throw out there in the first place for all to see, rather than going with something like “Become an Overnight Sensation and Make Other Guitarists Piss Their Pants in Shame!” or whatever.

By the way…if anyone reading this actually uses that example for their stuff, I want at least partial credit and a percentage of any $$$ you make from it. Deal? Cool.

Old school is good school.


Huh? While that phrase might make it seem like I never went to school (or payed attention in English class, anyway), it’s generally true. Old school is good school.

In this day and age of horribly inaccurate online tablature and guitars that tune themselves, along with various other “shortcuts” that are basically designed to give you great results without much work or personal investment (or are promoted as such), old school methods that work are needed more than ever.

Don’t get me wrong, because I’m not slamming on technology here: the internet and other technological advances have opened many doors that would otherwise stay closed, and yes, I use electronic tuners, too. But, I don’t need to use them, and I’d be able to play in tune without them.

Why? Because I learned to tune using the guitar and my ear, and learned the importance of concepts like relative pitch, which is far more useful for guitarists than the much-touted perfect pitch, the second of which can be more of a curse than blessing.

Relative pitch can also be trained, as can tuning without accessories, strength and dexterity without those strength-grip thingies that don’t really do much good anyway (you’re not training your hands to crush small, imported cars; different muscle groups and functions there), learning to play what you hear instead of “their version” of some tune a 13 year old tabbed out and posted online, or most any other tool or idea many of us have come to rely on. Correction: become overly reliant on.

I remember a few years ago when I was asked about altered tunings, and how to get there with a non-chromatic tuner. The guy had found an online tab for a song he wanted to play that called for this tuning, and when I tried to explain how to get there, he kept replying “But my tuner won’t do that.”

So, I told him to use the tuner to get right with the open 4th string (D), then tune the 6th string an octave lower, then retune the rest of the guitar in accordance with the newly tuned 6th  string using his ear. His response was “How do I do that?”

This conversation occurred over the phone, and there wasn’t a feasible way to try and “teach” him how to do this … but it was clear that old school or “primitive” methods were needed in this case, and also that he didn’t have these methods.

The inability to be effective without reliance on other tools or resources wasn’t really his “fault”, but it was his responsibility. After all, nobody is going to do the work for you, and you need to be able to function and play what you need to, when you need to, even if technology has other plans in a given scenario.

Primitive fucking works.


It’s often simpler, easier to implement, and can be used in a wide variety of settings and situations, as it usually requires only your hands, a guitar, and specific mindset. Primitive fucking works. Old school is good school.

When we want to improve our picking technique and we encounter various drills that incorporate tricky arpeggio passages, or other mostly unnecessary methods and/or tools… remember that you can usually hold basic chord shapes with the fretting hand while working a gazillion different picking and strumming  combinations This also ties into the “Practical” part of the Guitar Antihero banner.

When we want to play what we hear, remember that the ability to hum or sing a melody line or other passage ultimately uses the same mechanism as phrase trainers and expensive “ear training” methods.

Remember that spending time experimenting with musical formulas and other aspects of theory and their application(s) yields more usable, long-term results than any amount of simply reading or following a rote method for how such things work.

Primitive works, but it’s not always easy, and takes more time and commitment to make it work; this places the bulk of responsibility on the individual guitarist, which I feel is another reason why many of us look for shortcuts. No, I don’t subscribe to “no pain, no gain”, but I do believe there are “shortcuts”, though.

However, for a shortcut to be effective, we need to get some tangible benefit from that route, and it needs to be well placed. Context is king (or queen … sorry, ladies), and you have to do the work.

Self-reliance is a cornerstone of the guitar antihero, and getting back to the primitive and back to what’s worked for years and years makes us more self-reliant. If it was good enough for those legends who made us want to pick up a guitar in the first place, surely it’s good enough for us. Right?

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