When I started playing in 1998, the Internet was barely useful, and YouTube didn’t exist yet.

Every reputable teacher in my hometown specialized in classical or Flamenco styles. I briefly studied with a classical guitar teacher, who based his lessons on a beginner Mel Bay guitar method book. I remember being bored playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” I wanted to play like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Brian Setzer, and Chuck Berry.

The lessons didn’t last long. I did my best to teach myself after that. But it was clear I was missing a lot of fundamentals.

In high school I took a music theory class and played guitar in my school’s jazz band. Despite having an academic knowledge of music theory, no one ever taught me how to apply any of it to the guitar. Any time a chart used an unfamiliar a chord, I went home and Googled it.

I didn’t know what EM7-add9 or Bbm13 meant. All I knew is that the chord chart I found online told me where to put my fingers.

Like most kids at that time, I was learning from random books, online tablature, and videos. Other kids who couldn’t play guitar thought I was amazing.

Meanwhile, I watched REAL musicians with awe. Why didn’t I sound that good?

I briefly studied with a world-class Flamenco guitarist, who gave me a bunch of worksheets filled with scales and chord diagrams to memorize. I quit after a few months.

My guitar skills languished over the next few years. Despite having played for more than a decade, I still sounded about the same as I always sounded. Lots of basic chords and pentatonic riffs.

Then I got a wakeup call in 2014 when Joe Satriani, announced the G4 Experience. It was a weeklong guitar camp full of workshops and performances by Joe and three other amazing players: Paul Gilbert, Andy Timmons, and Mike Keneally. As soon as I knew I could scrape together the money to attend, I started practicing like never before.

While many of the attendees at the G4 Experience seemed to view the camp as a cool vacation—a week of playing guitar and hanging out with rock stars—I was determined to learn something that justified the dent in my bank account.

When you hear someone like Joe Satriani or Andy Timmons noodling around and—GASP!—making mistakes, you quickly realize they’re mortal like the rest of us.

The main element that sets them apart is the number of hours they spent practicing the skills they wanted to develop.

That’s what I hope to convey here: How to grasp the fundamentals of guitar in a useful way. To help others avoid the frustration that I felt for more than a decade.

— Mike Eiman