Marty Friedman’s guitar teacher told him to take a bong hit every time he played an exercise correctly, but the ex-Megadeth guitarist has better advice for students

 Marty Friedman.
Marty Friedman.

Marty Friedman was a guest on the Monsters, Madness And Magic podcast this week, discussing his journey as a guitar player, and he had revealed that he had just finished an video for the online guitar lessons platform TrueFire that would help guitar students learn how to be an artist. 

He also had some advice for young players – and some interesting stories from his time as a student. Asked by the host Justin Young, if he had any particularly salient bits of advice from his guitar teacher growing up, the former Megadeth guitarist did not disappoint, revealing that his one teacher – a good teacher all things considered – did have have his idiosyncrasies.

Namely an aversion to jewellery, and a particularly concerning idea of what constituted reward for a productive practice session.

“He gave me some funky advice that I still remember,” says Friedman. “I came to my lesson wearing a ring. My teacher once said, ‘What the fuck are you wearing a ring for? That looks like you’ve just been raiding your mother’s jewellery box.’ I never forgot that, and because of that I never wore rings when I played.

“You know why? Because he was right. I took it out of my mom’s jewellery box. I saw all these rock musicians with rings and shit and thought, ‘Wow! I’m going to show up to my lesson with a ring.’ I never forgot that, never wore rings after that.”

Maybe there’s a practical reason behind that. Noise is hard enough to mute when playing high-volume electric guitar as it is without metal jewellery catching on the string. There was nothing practical about what followed.

“Another thing he said, which thankfully I didn’t take this advice, [was] ‘Every time you complete an exercise properly, reward yourself with a bong hit.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea!’ I did it for a while. I got a lot done but you don’t remember but you got done.”

Friedman’s advice for anyone looking for guitar lessons is to remember that the teacher doesn’t know everything. Find someone who will teach you want you want to learn, or at least what you need to learn – and make the most of the abundant online and printed resources for learning.

“The student has to remember that that teacher is not the be all and end all, and there are a lot of other places to get information, whether it be right or wrong, easy or hard or whatever,” says Friedman. “The teacher is just showing you whatever he’s got to show you to get through the half-hour or hour while letting you think that he knows everything. And I kind of figured that out.”

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Friedman’s teacher, he of the bong hits and the ring aversion, wouldn’t teach him what he wanted to learn. He didn’t understand why his teacher couldn’t teach him the Ramones.

He had to look elsewhere to seek advice, and it’s a habit that he has continued to this day. If you see someone play something you like, ask them how to play it.

“Even one phrase appealed to me I’d be like, ‘Dude, show me that. How do you do that?’ And I still do that now,” he says. “I’m that asshole who asks you to show him something. I still do it. I am fortunate I get to play with all these wonderful players, and I am the guy who stands over them. ‘You know that thing you played in the first intro of that song? Can you show me that? I’ve never seen that done before.’ Most times they are happy to show it to you.”

And this all goes back to what Friedman will be covering in his TrueFire video lesson; how to be an artist, and how to think develop a musical identity as opposed to learning whatever techniques are in fashion at the time.

Friedman says you don’t need a teacher for that. The material is out there. But the question he is asking is what are you going to do with all those techniques, many of which everyone else also knows, too.

Say you have all the ability you ever wanted, then what? What are you gonna do? What do you want people to hear when they hear your name?

“What I’m teaching in this video series is how to learn how to be an artist, and make creative decisions on the fly, intentionally and subliminally, and that’s the only way to have an identity as an artist,” he says. “Anyone can learn any techniques, practise them and perfect them, and perform anything that has already been done in music. But just say you have all the ability you ever wanted, then what?

“What are you gonna do? You really have to decide. when are you going to be yourself? Who are you as an artist? What is your absolute musical taste? What do you want people to hear when they hear your name?”