It’s hard to believe that the end of another decade is drawing near…

I’ve been playing and teaching guitar for more than 3 of those decades, and I’ve seen a lot change…

But what I find more interesting are the things I’ve found that haven’t changed.

Now, you might think that the methods of teaching and learning guitar really haven’t changed, but there have been a couple of big things that have really changed the way you learn and the way I teach:

First – I’m sure you’ve heard me say it a dozen times or more by now, but timing and counting is everything.

When I used to only teach privately, it never came up because I just expected my students to count and there was no other option in my studio. But I learned the hard way after the first couple of years online that most people are not inclined to count while they learn. 

Most of my online students (yes, that’s you reading this) have learned bits and pieces from a variety of sources online – YouTube probably, and maybe some other premium sites like TrueFire or GuitarTricks and maybe some “old school” books or videos.

Well it might surprise you to know that I, too, have a membership to most of those sites and I’ve bought hundreds of “old school” books and videos in my lifetime. 

And it never ceases to amaze me how few of them talk about the rhythm and the counting behind the riffs or the licks. 

I get it… it’s not sexy, and it’s not fun. But it works, and it works every time. Without counting, the lesson might work, and it might not…

But the worst part is, if you really don’t have a good internal clock and the ability to count, then you probably won’t even know you’re playing something way out of time. You may not even know that you’re playing it wrong at all!

It’s that classic case of, “you don’t know what you don’t know… so it most certainly will hurt you.”

So let me say it one more time – there is a reason I count through every example in every lesson, and you should do it too.

If you’re not sure if you should still count out loud, then you should.

Now the other, second thing that has really changed more recently, is that more teachers and players are starting to realize there isn’t always one right way to play a guitar.

Those of us who grew up playing jazz or classical guitar know the pain of trying to contort your hands into just the right position to play things “correctly.”

But now we see guitar players from all parts of the globe who have adapted their technique to their own “Guitar DNA” and can play easily and effortlessly and breathtaking speeds with control and expressiveness.

This was something I discovered, quite by accident, as a teenager. When I “broke” the rules, I could play much more relaxed and at much higher speeds, so I went with it. 

For new players, of course you want to start with a generally acceptable playing position, but from there make adjustments as they suit you.

As  for things that haven’t changed?

You still have to practice… there’s no getting around that. But there are a lot of great ways to make practicing more fun than it used to be playing “Row, Row, Row Your Boat!”

Telling yourself you want to “master the fretboard” still doesn’t work out… you need to focus your practice in more specific ways – especially with all of the available information at your fingertips. Setting specific goals will always yield the best results.

Playing with other people regularly is one of the best ways to improve. Yes, it will shine a really big light on your weak spots, but then you have those specific goals set for you.

Using your own ear to try and figure things out is still one of the best skills you can learn. TABs are great, but developing your ear is a skill that pays off year after year. Don’t worry about being right all the time, just keep trying and it gets better.

Above all remember that we call it playing guitar for a reason – make it fun!

    56 replies to "The Guitar In 2020…"

    • Mike Corfield

      Hey Griff, I have been a BGU member since you first started. On behalf of myself and all of us BGU’ers, thank you for all your work and for making us all better guitar players!

      Mike Corfield

    • Mike Fox

      Hi Griff Life keeps getting in the way, but your lessons are really helping my ‘old’ fingers getting round the neck, and like all seem to agree counting and regular practice does work. However good I don’t get, I still enjoy it !! Keep up the good work. All the very best for 2020

    • Ken

      Thanks griff , I have several courses and enjoyed every one . I always have something to go back to if I’m having a problem with . I had a private instructor
      Who taught me theory and I’m glad he did . I took about 6 months of lessons from him . So along with that and your courses I have a good understanding of music .
      But practice is essential to becoming a good musician . My knowledge outweighs
      My playing ability so I practice a couple hours a day trying to get my fingers to catch up .

    • Stephen Crane

      I’m looking for a book or printed material that lays out the counting over actual notes in the measures. That’s the only way I’m going to be able to learn how to “count.”

    • Darryl Manire

      Hi.. what? haaaa

    • Randy Davis

      THANKS Griff!
      After 6 years of not missing a day with my guitar and your teaching and books I have become a guitar player. At 68 and an old drummer I never tried guitar before because of my small hands. I came across your beginning blues guitar course and something clicked with your method of teaching and off I went. I own most of your courses and they are all worth it. My goal is to learn more each day and of course to have fun with it as well. Theirs nothing like being able to just sit back, grab your favorite refreshment and play the blues. Thanks again for your words of wisdom on counting and Happy New Year!

    • Chris G

      Good advice as always from you, Griff. One other thing that I have found necessary to practice is BENDS. As you’ve emphasised many times, bending to pitch is essential. And Bends are the soul of the blues, so I have been practicing my bends a lot lately. And as I have become more proficient at bending to correct pitch I have found that I am creating more satisfying improvisation.
      Thanks again for all your hard work.
      Chris G

    • Lee Alton Wendeborn

      Ok, Griff, a one and a two and a three and a four this year, I promise!. I really appreciate the guitar DNA comment, as I have a couple of messed up knuckles and just play around them as best I can. I also take one day a week to just let it rip and not practice, just play, fast, or slow or just whatever! I have a blast playing guitar and it helps my sense of humor. I will be stuck in another meeting at my job and think has anyone ever written a song called ‘I got the bad meeting blues?’…..Thanks for the help and inspiration! Happy new decade to you and keep up the good work…

    • Stanford Young

      Aloha from Oahu Hawaii 😎 Mahalo for being a great guitar instructor. Yes counting is vital for chord changes & soloing in making music optimal. When I first took lessons my instructors recommended using a metronome and. tapping my foot. Whenever I listen to music live & recorded I always tap my foot. Many professional musicians do it even though they have a drummer. Now that I’m single have have a lot of time to play music. Thanks to teachers like you on YouTube it’s never a dull moment. Happy New Year 2020 is Hindsight Fastforward!!

    • Michael Chappell

      Hey Griff, Happy New BGU Year to you , Laura and your family and of course all my fellow BGU students for you in 2020 it is going to be awsome.
      Just about to turn 73 yrs young, and learning guitar since 2013 with BGU with now 8 electric guitars of which two electric acoustics, Counting is always my golden rule and once I have the BGU Lesson down pat, I check my playing always with a Metronome on my Cell. But doing your BGU courses which I have quite a few, I am always counting. As you know, i’m a past semi pro Drummer in many bands during the 60’s. I have a natural internal clock and Ear. I’m learning a few difficult songs at present, so I engaged a Guitar teacher, lead guitar with a band( for a couple of lessons around 3 songs) and he said my guitar playing was always in time with the tracks or without. Even when I was trying to sing. He also said I catch on quickly and he knows that I’m a student of BGU and I am learning constantly the courses and emails in addition to learning songs for my family and friends. I have written a couple of songs around 12 bar blues with a few variations which I get help with friends in Bands to pull it together.
      Guitar & BGU are part of my daily practice. I can now play the guitar reading the tab sheets directly and know where i’m at on the fret board. I practice your Guitar Position to warm up every day across the strings down to fret 12 or I practice Box 1 & 2 in different keys.
      All good and I would recommend that the BGU Course Vol 2 is the best way to Start to learn the Blues Guitar. I have most of the BGU courses to get through and it is an exciting blues guitar goal for 2020.
      Best wishes to all the BGUers for a Happy New Year 2020 playing Blues guitar with Griff.
      Cheers Michael
      Sydney- Australia -December 28, 2019.

    • Harry

      I started off playing rhythm guitar in a dance band, lots of different types of dance music. I always played with very rock solid drummers and organ / synth players that would slap the occasional left hand cords to drive the music. That helped me a lot getting to know and isolate rhythm patterns and experiment sometimes during live performances just for the hell of it. So the good news for me is that I HEAR the rhythms in my head all the time… The bad news is that I do not (yet) hear lead / solo’s just yet and that is what I am working on. It’s how to make 1000 songs with 7 notes sound like 1000 different songs. I always have this nagging idea that I will loose my pick ( plectrum) so I have been searching for a suitable picking technique and I think I finally found one that reduces the arm / hand / wrist / finger movements, isolates the muscles needed and strikes the strings consistently and well controlled. Yeah. every little bit helps. Happy new Year !

    • Joseph Loren

      Have seen your video’s and you always emphasise counting “out load” and I have learned how to do that in my short experience. One problem I have is that 1 have a stack of dvd’s 10 inches high.,I have learned scales, pentatonic patterns etc, etc ad nausium and still can’t play a d— melody. I’m 83 and just want to play a tune for my wife of 63 years. You are my sunshine is a good idea. I think you get my point. All of the courses I have taken so far as gained me zilch. I have a PRS which has one helluva sound. Any suggestions???

    • Mark

      Hi Griff, Happy New Year. I’m struggling with guitar and making slow progress, but, progress. Don’t have anyone in my area to play with so go it alone. Anyway I really enjoy your videos and courses. I try to practice at least 20 minutes daily and usually it’s over 1.5 hours. Really difficult to play slow enough to not make mistakes as it never sounds that good. Just venting a little. Always look forward to your emails.

    • Don Hall

      For me, the struggle of counting boils down to being a musician instead of “just” a guitarist. I remember a scene in the movie Whiplash where the band director from hell told the band to “come in on the and of one” or some such instruction. Griff breaks down each lick in the same way, and if you don’t count you have to play catch up. Counting is part of the vocabulary, and you have to speak the language of music in order to play with other musicians.

    • kim

      Counting is one of the main reasons my rhythm playing is improving. It is as simple as that. I finally realized that if I do not count I will not know if I should be on an up or down strum AND if I am playing the chord I should be playing. Nowadays I go through a “painful” process to break every measure out with a count and the up/down strum. So far so good.

    • Alexander Aliganga

      Thank you Grif for all the lessons you put out on the daily basis. When you mentioned those two things like counting out loud and training your ear it reminded me to include that more in my practice sessions. I still have to get with somebody and jam but I do have my looper . So, thank you again.

    • Hugh

      I’m a foot tapper and not a counter. I, like you said, PLAY the guitar. I picked it up in High School but sold my guitar because I needed the money. I didn’t play other than picking one up every now and then for the next 40 years. And now here I am at 59 about 3 years into learning again. I set a goal to be able to pick up the guitar and have fun. I have achieved that goal! I love it and hooked on practicing and learning! Griff, you have been a big part of my learning in these years and to that a special thanks to you! I do think I’m pretty gifted with a good internal clock and a good ear. I also grew up listening to great music. I might have missed my calling as a musician but I’m having a blast PLAYING with my guitars!

    • Ron

      Griff, I have several of your courses, and I’ve learned a few licks, chords, but still don’t get, OR can apply, the “counting thang” to the material… do you have a course JUST on counting? I KNOW I’ve got to get this down so I can improve in my playing ability.

      • Karl

        He does have a course that will help you, Strumming and Rhythm Mastery. There are also online lessons that might help, including basic drumming lessons (which don’t require drums).

    • Ed

      Had been playing guitar for on and off 30 years before I discovered your teaching and I am so much a better player than I used to be thank you so much and I am still learning and improving so keep it going

    • Mark Latuso

      Well your experience and dedication has paid off. I recently enrolled in bgu2.0 and after a couple of weeks got a refund. I tried both the top guitar sites and quickly found out their teaching methods were nowhere close to yours. So this week I signed up for bug 2.0 52 additional rhythm licks and playing blues guitar alone. At best I’m a intermediate beginner who knows most shapes of chords but can’t put them together. But following you and this TIMING THING IS REAL WORK and feels great when you get it right.. There no other program that puts you in order and a path to learning. Keep doing what you are doing because it’s “GREAT”

    • Rob Young

      A true inspiration for all enthusiasts of the blues guitar. Thank you and Happy New Year to you and your family Griff.

    • Fran Zinni

      Thank you for your dedication and lessons. Happy Holidays and healthy new decade.

    • Tim Moran

      Love the lessons, but I have perhaps a silly question: I think I do the same thing when I count as when I don’t count – I speed up or slow down the counting to match my playing. The difficult part I’m struggling with is coming up so my concentration shifts to that, and the “one-and-uh-two” stretches out as I try to make my fingers cooperate. A friend of mine who plays bass professionally suggested I buy a drum machine, which he feels is better than a metronome for getting the feel of the rhythm. Either one takes the counting out of my (cheating) hands. Is a mechanical “counter” a good substitute for counting myself?

    • Todd Woodhams


    • John Mulligan

      Thank you Griff for all your effort . Happy New Year to you and your family

    • Ray Kopp

      Griff, I finally figured out after months why I was not counting out loud . was it to hard to do? or maybe I just dont get it? neither!!! it was because I just didnt do it . Now I love counting loud as it became second nature .oh yes your video did the trick as well. ITS ACTUALLY FUN the more you start to do it. I also remember you telling the forum “You simply cant play standing up because you are always sitting down.” acoustic blues guitar unleashed has a nice chapter/video on timing&counting .It worked for me thanks to griff!!!

    • Ronald Larson

      I’ve been playing the guitar for over 50 years. I didn’t have much time for consistent practice while I was working. I’m retired now and really concentrating on building my skill. Minor blues is my favorite thing.
      I took lessons from 3 or 4 different teachers over many years. None of them taught or emphasized counting. But I might not have had a good appreciation for it years ago.
      I agree it is a very important fundamental.
      I still have trouble playing and counting.
      There should be a separate course that emphasizes that skill. It is hard work because you have to slow way down and play like you never picked up a guitar!
      So it’s better to learn it early on.
      Do you have a separate course that emphasizes this skill?
      I’ve been a BGU student for years. Thanks Griff for all your helpful videos.
      It is obvious that you love your students and teaching.

    • Gaston Collin

      happy new year Griff to you and family thank you so much for everything you are a great teacher!

    • Barry Shaver

      Thanks Griff,
      Being a player for most of my life, I am most aware of the dedication that playing takes. Thanks for your dedication in sharing what you’ve learned along the way. Happy New Year and looking forward to continuing my journey of the fretboard.

    • tony

      I got hooked on Your site after seeing the 4 note solo. That happened early 2004 I believe. I have the course I got it after a few years. I started playing in my early teens . I had thought that I would never be very good at it. Started up in a band which included my brother the drummer . He and I would jam together often when young. He had told Me of a guy that was looking for guitarist so I met him and we started a band . Early on it went well played out We were liked . Music was a important thing to Me and studied it a lot . I still do and yes I have different sites I go to but for information to find if I have got it right. I have to say that learning by ear has been not a hard thing for Me. So after 45 years of playing I still teach myself something new and different . Mastering some tunes takes time . When it comes easy that`s like the cherry on top . Knowing basic cords then learn the 12 bar blues which I learned when I joined with the band then learn from the Bgu course was a good experience . Thanks Griff and Happy Holidays . Looking for some real cool new ideas !

    • Jay

      Happy New Year! I started playing in a band when 13 (1963). On of my friends decided we were going to do this and I was drafted to play bass. He could figure out the songs and teach me my part in a manner of minutes, it seemed. They would give me hell as I could not tap my foot to the beat and play. But I found over time I could keep the beat. I quit playing many years ago and then started up again a few years ago. I found you and your courses and have learned so much I wish I could have learned years ago. I still can’t count out loud but through your teaching found I count in my head, not numbers, but the note and pause lengths.

    • Nacho

      Thank you
      I always feel that you are talking about my guitar ability, for sure the part about not counting, one of those thing that I know you are right but it is very hard for me,I just have to keep trying .
      Thanks again for keeping me on track

    • John T

      Thx Griff for all that you do and know one does it like you. Thx for being there for us in our guitar learning world.

    • Jeff

      “It’s not sexy, and it’s not fun…but timing and counting is everything.” ~ Griff Hamlin

      I’m a product of the Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) public school system 1960s-1970s. One of our classes was Music. Among other things (including field trips to see the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra several times a year) we learned a little about music theory and counting.

      That couldn’t have been easy for the teacher…teaching notes and timing/counting to a room full of students sitting at their desks who weren’t holding instruments in their hands (or sitting in front of a piano). But the teacher explained the duration of different notes, whole notes, half notes, quarter notes, eight notes. I think I remember even learning to count triplets (no recollection on counting 16th notes, but she probably covered that as well).

      I doubt if most of my classmates gave much thought to counting after class ended. But it kind of stayed with me. I’d like to count to the music on the radio sometimes. And when I picked up the guitar, I bought a Mel Bay book wherein I relearned counting. (I think I can still play “Long, Long Ago” from that book).

      So I don’t resist counting (or try to come up with reasons not to count because somehow it just doesn’t work for me). I know counting works. But sometimes it can be tedious when learning something new and complicated. Truth is, the more tedious it is, the MORE it helps. Trying to skip that part of learning simply makes it take longer to learn because eventually, after trying to learn it without counting and not “getting” it, always results in circling back to counting, which will straighten out any problems every time.

      Maybe I’ll get a vanity plate for my pick up truck… A1NA2 (I think Lawrence Welk had that on his licence plate per the game Trivial Pursuit.

    • Bruce Callahan

      You are correct, I have trouble identifying the tonic and the beat. Do you have, or is there a lesson for this?
      Bruce Callahan

    • Tom L


      Thanks for all your training and tips. In my younger years I took lessons and still have all the basic teaching books that never realty clicked with what I wanted to do with the guitar. Your courses and kind method of instruction have helped me make much progress. Not yet able to do what I want on the guitar but the journey is great fun.
      Thank you so much…

      Tom L

    • chris cummings

      Just to say a huge ‘thank you’ to yourself, Griff. My love of the blues has increased since I came across you all those years ago, and your courses have helped me such a lot. Probably the best things I have purchased!!

    • Gene

      Happy Holiday’s to you and your family.I am really enjoying following your lesson’s and e-mails.My playing is horrible,but I am having fun.I will go over lesson’s again this year and cheat where I can.I start off good but go back to tab easy strumming song’s.Only human.I enjoy this.Gene.

    • Bob Rodachy

      As a 71 year old with a pot belly and arthritis in his hands, you can bet that I have look for my own “guitar DNA”! I’ve also learned that when I practice slow I learn fast. Thank you, Griff, for being a great teacher and being so understanding. Happy New Year!

    • Matt G.

      COUNTING! Seems like such a basic thing to do. I too learned to play guitar by myself and didn’t think I needed to worry about counting because it was only me that I had to be concerned with. Fortunately I found a teacher that INSISTED that I work with a metronome. What a difference it made in my playing! Keep preaching Griff!

    • Gerry Yancey

      Excellent thoughts and pondering and you’re right. I took private lessons in the late 60s for two years and could play any piece of music you put in front of me and that is all I learned. How to read “piano” music and counting was the engine that made the whole thing run. I stopped playing in the early 70s as the teen years brought on new and exciting adventures. I got married and worked my life. Now, 50 years later, actually last year I bought a guitar on the recommendations of my PTSD Therapist and can’t put it down. Actually I did, I’ve bought several more since then.
      I’ve been scouring the web, buying lessons here and there and it’s crazy how much I’ve learned in one year. Although I can no longer read music, and really don’t want to relearn it, It’s borrowing, now there’s tabs that didn’t exist back then. Exploring the fretboard and learning all the notes and where to find them is an amazing new world. I’ll wrap this up by saying, timing is everything.
      Thank you for being an internet teacher, there is a lot of learning in music and it now consumes me amy time and I love it. And by the way, I no longer have or need a Therapist anymore.


    • Lynn Parker

      Many thanks for the courses, comments and lessons you have provided these past years. l have learned much and most important learned that you will never know it all.
      There will always be something new to learn and work on. Happy New Year to you and the BGU family.

    • Mark d.

      Recently had the opportunity 2 try and teach a brand new beginning guitar player my brother bought his friend a new guitar and we are both trying to get them started. The one thing I stressed above everything else was timing and of course I referred back to Griff. Thanks craft for all you do happy New Year😎👍👍

      • Mark d.

        That was supposed to say thanks Griff for all you do LOL peace out✌

    • Robert C

      Good morning Griff, first let me say that I wish I happy new year to you and your family your bandmembers and your students. How was forced to retire on disability five years ago, it was an injury to my arm, And it took away my ability to do all the things that I enjoyed such as riding my Harley’s,kayaking/fishing, hunting etc etc.
      I could still strum a guitar but wasn’t any good at it, having quite playing ( or attempting to play) some 32 years earlier. My passion to pick it up again increased greatly, when I sold my Harley‘s I was able to buy a few guitars and some other gear.
      Being on Social Security disability I wasn’t able to afford real lessons So I became a professional YouTube surfer and I narrowed down the list as to not be listening to too many folks at the same time. My choices were you, Brian at active melody, Andrew at creative guitar and Marty Schwartz.
      My main genre is blues, I’ve listened to blues from the age of 12 and I’m 62. So determined to get some structured lessons I had to get my credit card paid down enough to be able to purchase some lessons.
      One of many things that drew me to your lessons was your style of teaching and that you pushed heavily on the “counting issue”, I found that was my weakest area and it started making sense why most things didn’t sound right. So I finally last year was able to get structured lessons, Although I wish I would have gotten your beginners lesson first, I thought I was better than I actually am😖, the ABGU and BGU lessons I purchased have greatly increased my playing (along with the freebie courses you also included).
      Learning to count has helped me tremendously in sounding better and my soloing attempts are getting better every day.
      Sorry this is so long but it’s the way it happened.
      Looking forward to what the new year looks like for me musically. Thanks again Griff

    • Tony C

      I played guitar in the 60’s and early 70’s. We were the hot band on the north shore playing out a lot. I struggled not knowing what I was doing, just played what sounded right. Stopped playing for 35 years (long story)
      Back into playing now for four years. I bought your course and within 30 minutes of watching your dvd I learned things that I wanted to know since I started playing guitar!
      Thank you is not strong enough. Looking forward to learning much more and getting to the point I have always wanted to be. 66 and on my way!

    • Stephen Hearn

      I’ve been playing for about a year and am working on counting, though I really struggle with this. I’m trying though. Love your classes, started with How to Jam the Blues alone and now also working through your acoustic blues class. I play every day and live it. So glad I found your classes.

    • Michael James

      Hi Griff -just a thought and question on your comments on the importance of counting, First, my wife teaches piano and was horrified to learn that my guitar teacher really didn’t properly count while playing so I have definitely heard this before ! 🙂 Two questions though – do you find most jam session players count ? And if not how do u deal with that? And second what would you say to a player who said many blues lick have such complicated counting that you must use your ear to play it? (Because of all the bends , hammer ons pulls offs etc etc )

      Thanks and love your courses ! Happy New Year !

    • Rob Johnston

      Love your work Griff, and I hope you and your family have a safe and successfu2020.

    • Rob Shaffer

      Thanks Griff for all you do. I start off counting but some how end up playing the lesson and lose track of counting. I am 61 and been playing for a short time. I don’t play with anyone just jam tracks. And that’s good with me. But the key is to practice everyday. I love all the courses Griff I have a few. Thanks again Griff. Happy New Year. 😊

    • Jim Dutko

      Griff – I play many things from rock to blues to a little Joe Satriani (at least TRYING to play his music). The one thing I have noticed is there are definitely specific hand positions that all you to move across the fretboard more easily. The ‘conventional ‘ way of grabbing the neck just doesn’t work when practicing my legato skills.


    • Brian

      I have recently started learning to play Celtic traditional music and the first thing I found was the absolute necessity of having to count. Straight away I had to get to grips with different time signatures. I have been playing the blues for years and really enjoying learning something very new. I can recommend it! Still following Griff though!

    • Yoram Gilady

      Thanks for your comments and all your courses. I enjoy them very much! Happy new year to yo and family as well as to the Bgu members from the holy land.

    • Mark Engstrom

      I like what Joe Bonamassa had to say!
      Anybody can learn to play blues!
      But to be a great blues player it takes a lot of practice and hard work!

    • TimO

      Technically the decade doesn’t end for another year, but everyone will consider 2019 the end of this decade. That would mean there was a year zero, which there was not. But more important are the technical and the feel aspects of guitar playing that Griff teaches. Thank you for that and Happy New Year from a happy BGU student.

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