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The Road to Guitarability - The Idea

Ahmed Alasalli: The Idea

Jan 3, 2016 | Our Story

Guitarability, believe it or not, started with a lie.

You see, I’m not a guitar expert. In fact, I’m barely even a guitarist, despite what my wife thinks. I’ve always thought being a guitarist would be cool. That’s why I pretended I was one. And that’s what led me to where I am now. Here’s how it happened:

It was May 2012. I had never picked up a guitar in my life. This was news to my wife. When we first started dating, I told her that I knew how to play. She remembered. She bought me a beautiful Spanish Jopi model from Francisco Bros Guitars. She waited for me to play. She’s still waiting.

The easy thing to do would have been to admit my lie, return the instrument, and move on with my life. Instead, I decided to learn guitar; I couldn’t let my wife down. I turned it into a part time job, practicing 3-4 hours a day during the week, and turning weekends into two-day practice sessions. I couldn’t put it down, no matter how much it hurt.

I signed up for an online class and began to progress quickly. I took a 30-day vacation from work – and spent it all playing guitar! I learned a valuable lesson about this wonderful and horrible instrument: playing it produces equal parts frustration and joy, and they are often indistinguishable. Just when you think you’ve mastered that new skill, you haven’t. Your mind reverts back to easy things instead of challenging ones. Eventually, the easy ones become boring, and that’s when you’ve hit a wall.

I had two moments of frustration that I still remember. The first was related to barre chords. Playing them gave my thumb and wrist unbearable pain. The second occurred while playing one of the exercises assigned to me: a very simple blues strut. The chords were easy to play and the tempo was slow. Yet, I failed constantly. I knew what I was doing wrong, but somehow I repeated my mistakes. I felt miserable.

The mistake with the blues strut exercise is common: timing. I was either early or late. My mind would drift off and I would play on the downbeat rather than the off beats. I tried muting the backing track, creating custom metronomes… I even went through the trouble of syncing the wavelengths of the exercise video, backing track, and Guitar Pro file in Logic Pro so I could have a visual indicator of where the off beats were. I started counting the rhythms, tapping my feet, moving my body. All the recommended remedies failed to help me.

In my three years practicing the guitar I have downloaded at least 50 guitar-related apps for my iPad and iPhone alone! Living in Saudi Arabia, guitar classes and teachers are extremely hard to come by. My first experience with a teacher was a one on one session in Barcelona in October 2014. But after returning home, I needed to use technology to my advantage.

I spent about 18 months with an online coach. He was a fantastic teacher, and the experience was invaluable. In fact, that’s what was frustrating: Here I had access to this great teacher, yet I wasn’t fully benefitting from what he offered. The interaction wasn’t spontaneous – it wasn’t instant. I still had to do everything alone, send it, and then wait for the feedback. There had to be a way to use his expertise while eliminating the needless wait time.

I had to find a better way to learn and practice without spending thousands of dollars on distractions and toys. Why wasn’t there an app on PC or Mobile that could do all the above for me? Why wasn’t there a structure that allowed me to progress based on my effort and ability? Why was everything marketed towards buying music that I already own?

Even with the online guitar lessons, the DVDs, and all the apps, I have failed to improve my guitar ability at the speed I desired. I’ve been playing guitar for more than 3 years now; I’m an intermediate beginner. I know how to move both hands around the guitar, I can read guitar tab, and I can play simple music and melodies. I still can’t play a full song for an audience.

Without the luxury of a full-time in-person coach, I felt lonely and desperate for immediate feedback. I couldn’t be the only one feeling this way. My problems – and others’ problems – needed a solution.

I can’t bear the thought of giving up practicing guitar. I’ve turned my efforts to the development of the app that will get me where I want to be. You could say I’ve invested in myself. Really, I’ve just found a better way.

I am not a guitarist, but I will be. No lie this time.

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