Keith Richards is by no means a flashy guitar player. When he cracked the code on how to forge his signature style, with a five-string Telecaster tuned to open G, he milked it for all its worth, going right back to the well for the killer riffs for ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Before They Make Me Run’, and ‘Start Me Up’, among others. But all that comfort came from years of dedication to the craft, and Richards had plenty of variety sprinkled into his unmistakable rock and roll sound.
Years as a blues purist made Richards an expert on the licks of Elmore James, while his love for Chuck Berry meant that he learned the importance of distinguishing yourself among a sea of six string players. The first song Richard ever learned was ‘Malagueña’, a Spanish acoustic guitar piece taught to him by his Uncle Gus. An appreciation for pop, R&B, and skiffle all found their way into Richards’ subconscious, until he was able to pick and choose the best elements for himself.
In a segment for his website’s ‘Ask Keith’ section back in 2004, Richards took all of his experience into account when asked a fairly simple question: How do you learn to play the guitar? Like all of Richards advice and actions, he makes it seem easier than it is, but there’s a fair amount of wisdom in there as well.
“I think I had the answer to that from my Grandfather before I even had to ask the question,” he once commented. “‘Just keep on. Keep on playing’. You’ll see what happens, at the very least you’ll have a load of fun, and at the very best you might even make a living”.
Richards summarises his advice with the maxim “keep on picking”. While it might sound like fortune cookie wisdom, persistence is the main hurdle to get over when adopting a new skill. Most people will immediately quit when they aren’t remarkably gifted at something out of the blue, but even if your skill is rudimentary, repetition becomes the solidifier for most talents. Richards might not seem like an Elder Statesman of hard work and dedication, but his skills came from a lifetime of picking, so it must work.
Check out Richards’ advice down below.