Online Cigar Box Guitar Instruction - One man's a review of

This post is in response to the large number of discussions i've seen on where a beginner should learn to play cigar box guitar.

In my experience, there appear to be two types of players (a spectrum in any case).  The first type of musician or instrumentalist are those through whom the music naturally flows.  For some reason these people are born with an innate gift of music.  Instruction means little to this person as they play predominantly by ear and natural ability.  They have perfect (at least close to perfect) pitch and natural timing/syncopation.  Think..Willie Nelson!   For these people, its simply a matter of getting their hands on an instrument and playing.  

Then...there is the 2nd type of musician (Me and others).  <Switching to first person> I have absolutely no innate musical skill AT ALL.  I have no ear for pitch and have terrible "white boy" timing.  I also have no "musical creativity" and have tended to be a "monkey see, monkey do"-type player.   Think of me as Steve Martin's character at the beginning of The Jerk.  Not Steve Martin himself as he is obviously a Type 1.  BUT...I still love playing.

The problem is that there is a disproportionate number of people on this site that fall into the first category and many of the "instructional videos" for CBG that I have found here and online are taught by these folks.  Unfortunately, most people trying to learn here fall into the 2nd type or somewhere near that end of the spectrum.

I've managed to overcome my musical handicaps by putting in a crazy amount of time playing (mostly 6 strings until I built my first CBG a few months back).  I average about 2-3 hours of playing a day, often times more.  I work overnights (28 hours per week) as a physician in slow urgent care/ER and have a sleep room where I can pretty much just play and play.  There's no getting around it, you have to play a LOT to be good as a Type 2, but thankfully most of us here find the process as much fun as the product.   Also, if you are musically illiterate and don't have a band/drummer, play with a metronome.   I've listened to self-taught people who have spents years developing guitar skills, but never seem to sound quite right as they have never had to play in time with a drummer or band.

I had never played with a slide before and started with checking out some online videos, learned a few songs/riffs etc...mostly fretted instrument stuff, little solos...a lot of stuff that translated pretty easily from 6 string.  The problem I had with most of the purely slide lessons is they are taught by Type I's and completely ignore the fact that most of us don't have natural timing.  The lessons often end up with them playing something awesome, showing you where the slide goes and...thats about it.   Forget the right hand, should just come naturally I guess.

In short, if you fall into type 2 and you want to learn slide cigar box guitar, the website is really the only viable option I have personally found.  If I had had this guy when I learned 6 strings, I would have spent a lot less time getting to my currently ability.  He approaches it as though you are a new student of music and focuses a LOT on the right hand.  You can get really good at sliding that slide around the different scales, but without timing and syncopation, lets face it, it just sounds terrible.  I actally picked up my 6 string for first time in a few weeks and as insane as this sounds, I actually played that much better than when I started this course like 3 weeks ago.

I love the Keni Lee Burgess CD's for 3 string as well, but a lot of this is for a fretted instrument with a little Type I teaching Type II.  The saving grace is that he puts a lot of tab in his videos which is great.  

I have noticed that is strangely absent and rarely mentioned on this site, which I find strange as this is easily the best CBG instruction, naaay, musical instruction out there online.  Seems like these two sites would be a natural marriage.  Perhaps the price??  Still too new for word of mouth??  Bad blood?? My daughters classical guitar lessons are $30 per half hour so I'm not sure how anyone can complain about $47 for a complete course + another course.  This includes downloadable video, course notes, etc...the instructor if very responsive if you have a question and he appears to be setting up Skype as well. 

I'm about 3 weeks into and am putting together nice blues riffs/turnarounds, 12 bar blues etc...the process may be slower for someone who has never played guitar or an instrument, but the coursework takes you step-by-step through the process focusing on the right hand.  I can actually improvise and put together some nice little blues tunes already which is something I have never been able to do (as I mentioned above, I am the least musically creative person I know).  Its amazing how much different music you can play with 2 notes by simply instructing people on right hand picking, phrasing, syncopation, etc...the instructor Patrick Curley has seriously fed my already crazy music playing addiction. 

The website itself is very clean, organized and easy to look at.  Videos always play flawlessly and are very well done, good sound, picture and downloadable for playing offline.  Website load times are crazy fast because he gave the site a clean simple look, a rare treat in today's internet.   Lots of cool mp3 embeds for timing excercises and such.  Great notes with each lesson in pdf form if you like.

It should be noted that I rarely write reviews and have absolutely no affiliation with the site or the instructor.  It is simply rare that I have found music instruction on-line at this caliber.  Likely because most instructors with this background and experience are teaching at schools/universities.

If you are new to music, just spent a a bunch of time and/or money on your CBG and are wondering where to start playing slide guitar, spend the extra money and start here.  Easily the fastest way to learn CBG.

That said, of course, you should explore this site and the internet for instruction as well, especially if there is a specific song you want to learn.  I highly recommend Shane Speals stuff (another Type I) but some really cool sounding stuff that a beginner could try his/her hand at.  I found Shane Speals Star Spangled Banner on CBG to be a great beginner song to get you comfortable with the slide.  You already know the song/timing and only takes one string to play, but gets your slide all over the guitar.


Feel free to comment and provide insight/corrections, differing experiences, etc...always love discussion.

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Comment by Glen Irven on March 20, 2014 at 4:12am

Hi Pat

I'm almost certain I will be signing up for the starter pack as I want to learn good technique first and go from there. If you can reference some fretted stuff soon and maybe post a snippet of the new material once its ready. I'm sure I will be interested in that too.

Comment by Patrick Curley on March 19, 2014 at 10:10pm

I do reference fret lines Jeff. And yes much of what can you do on a fretless you can still do on a fretted guitar. I guess that as my course is about technique and I don't teach how to fret properly or take advantage of the extra things that you can do with frets I just prefer to make it clear to people exactly what they'll get. It's better than having people sign up for a course and find a chunk of what they wanted was missing.

My update for fretted instruments will focus on 4 string guitars, I just think that they are better suited to using frets. As I said though, as it's mainly about technique and these things transfer very easily, I'll reference 3 stringers as well. Just have to get this thing built, I don't how you guys do it.

Comment by Jeff McFadden on March 19, 2014 at 9:02pm
On your fretless cbg's aren't you still referencing fret lines? (I confess I haven't checked your site out very well.) I would think the fret marker information would carry over to a fretted git.
Comment by Patrick Curley on March 19, 2014 at 6:16pm

Hi Glen

I remember your email, here's an update. I'm home now and the next project is the update for fretted 3 or 4 string instruments. I don't have a fretted cigar box guitar however so need to either source or build one. I could do it with a six string but that just wouldn't be kosher would it.

Comment by Glen Irven on March 19, 2014 at 5:51pm

What I I've seen on the site is that he using a fretless CBG and mine is a fretted one. I have emailed him and they in the process of adding some more fretted videos. Not sure when as there on the road for at least a month?

I'm worried that If I'd still get be able to follow along?

Comment by TN Twang on March 19, 2014 at 3:43pm

Wonder if there's some way to move this discussion over to the "How to Play" group.

I know you put a notice on their Discussion Board; that's how I found the blog, but there are a wealth of ideas on this website about how to learn CBG and what to avoid. Even so, it seems that discussions under "How to Play" always run out of steam.

(I dunno', maybe discussions die under the weight of so many divergent opinions??)

Anybody in the mood for trying once again to get a continuing Discussion started where people can evaluate the various courses, books, videos, etc.?

My $.02,


Comment by Jeff McFadden on March 19, 2014 at 12:16pm
An excellent and useful review. Thank you.
Comment by Ron "Oily" Sprague on March 18, 2014 at 3:23pm
We-ell, I guess I'm a Type 1 with some Type 2 tendencies, then. I've been playing guitar for 37 years, self taught. I started out playing 3-4 hours per night, and did that nearly continuously for several years. But it's only in the last 3, since I've been playing CBGs, that my understanding of music and creativity has soared. It has also caused me to become a better 6-string player. I have Keni Lee's CDs, have picked up useful tidbits from Shane's vids, and have perused Patrick's vids. And yet, I cannot play slide well. Why? Three reasons: one, I get bored, breaking stuff down into small chunks, just to be able to play I-IV-V blues. I'd rather create new stuff. Two, even if I do manage to have the patience to work on a riff for awhile, other sounds kick in, and I start fingerpicking and banjo rolling. It must be genetic. And three, I don't practice slide with focused intent, to make incremental steady progress over time. I'd rather create a new song on the fly, mess with effects, write weird lyrics, and annoy my family. The blues riffs don't flow naturally through me, and whatever I have created or learned to play blueswise has been through lots of little practice hours. That's the Type 2 bit. However, give me some Latin rhythms, jazz comping, bluegrass or country figures, and it's like old home week; my fingers seem to know where to go almost without thought. That's the Type 1 bit. I do practice at least 1/2-1 hour per day, though. Practice, as. I tell my ball players, should be focused on a few important steps, which are then linked together to create something larger. There is no substitute for it.
Comment by Bad Finger (Eric) on March 18, 2014 at 11:03am

Great post.  There's no substitute for practice.  All of the idols practice and practice more than you imagine.    What looks and sounds natural comes after lots and lots of playing and practice.

From the start, I think it is most difficult for beginners (or maybe anyone) to pick out which lessons are meant to show off and sell guitars vs. which are truly meant to facilitate true learning.  Just because there's the word "lesson" in the YouTube title doesn't make it so.

Comment by Mel Robinson on March 18, 2014 at 9:23am

Type ll Mel here, good review, you actually sold me.  I have been thinking of signing up but the funding has always stopped me, as usual when your 69 and living on a pension. Anyway I reckon two pensions from now I will take the plunge.  It took me awhile to save up to buy a Wayne Bigler guitar even after making a kit one and a DIY one I thought I was ready for a professional one lol, not so it seems, it is a quality instrument but I still don't rock it :>))


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