#12 Smithsonian Folkways Recordings – teach yourself guitar?

Like many, I began playing guitar by teaching myself – thanks to my training in violin, at least the left hand (thought it) knew what to do. That was before the age of the internet, and I spent much time, rewinding videos of my favorite guitarists, trying to learn solos note for note. As Youtube became part of life, much of my non-classical guitar knowledge was acquired through “Youtube University”. But how did people learn guitar on their own back then?

My friend and idol Kinloch Nelson once told me, in the past, if words got out about someone who knows how to play a chord you don’t, you would just go knock on that guy’s door. You get to learn something new, and you make a new friend. The community was small and everyone helped one another.

My relatively new hobby of collecting vinyl revealed yet another way of music instructions. As I was digging through folk records, I came across the album, How to Play the 5-string Banjo by Pete Seeger. Turns out the record came with a small booklet (8 pages), with instructions and sheet music in the tiniest typeset. It discussed fingerings, strumming patterns, meters, musical styles etc., with accompanying tracks.

The record was released by Folkways Records, which has been part of the Smithsonian since 1987. What’s better yet is that today you can find this instructional booklet (and many others) online as a PDF, as the whole Folkways catalog is online.

But I digress. I have not made up my mind yet to learn the banjo. So I spent some time to look for records of guitar instructions, and there are quite a few. I have since then used Ed Badeaux’s American Guitar in my folk guitar class – it has great summary of different styles of guitar playing. Pete Seeger’s 12-String Guitar as Played by Leadbelly seems really intriguing… great excuse to get a 12-string guitar?

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