Tommy Emmanuel and Learning Through Songs

In 2011, Tommy Emmanuel gave an interview with TG Acoustic Snapshots:

Interviewer“Do you still practice guitar?”

Tommy: “Yeah, I’ve been practising this morning”

Interviewer: “What do you practice?”

Tommy: “Play songs… and I enjoy it”.

I love this response from Tommy. There’s absolutely no hesitation: “Play songs… and I enjoy it”. 

I think we can all learn something from this.

Here’s why:

Songs and Longevity

Learning through songs that inspire and excite us leads to an enjoyment of practice. An enjoyment of practice leads to more practice. More practice leads to improvement. Improvement leads to motivation. Motivation leads to even more practice, and even more improvement…and so the cycle continues.

Sow your Songs, for a long and successful journey with the guitar.

Songs as Fuel

Songs are a really efficient fuel for practice because they mean something to us. They inspire us to get started, fulfil us when we achieve progress, and motivate us to push onwards. The process of learning a song that we love is worth all the sweat and tears because we know that being able to play it will make us feel great. On the other hand, working on musical elements such as technique, theory, and dynamics, absent of any context (a song) is meaningless and a diminished fuel. 

Pick a Song that lights you up, and let it fuel your practice.

Songs as Teachers

Songs are also our best teachers because they contain all the elements of music that we could wish to learn about: dynamics, technique, chords, scales, phrasing, tone, feel, theory, rhythm, harmony, improvisation, and so on.

A song isn’t just something to play, it’s a treasure of new discoveries and a peek into the mind of the songwriters and musicians who wrote it. It’s a banquet of new chord voicings, articulations, melodies, textures, and musical ideas. When learning new songs, don’t just learn where to put your fingers. Dive in deep and discover all the wonders it has to offer.

Let the Song be your teacher.

Songs as Direction

And finally, songs take all the stress out of what to practice on guitar. Simply pick a song to learn that you find inspiring (such as The Thrill is Gone by BB King), and study an element of music that you’re keen to learn more about (such as improvisation, string bending, or vibrato) through that song. 

Realise this, no one ever wants to hear you play guitar hacks, technical exercises, or secret lessons. People want to hear real music in the form of songs. The song is always the end goal. Start with the end in mind.

Let the Song lead the way.

Play songs, and Enjoy it.


  1. Quotes taken from video by TG Acoustic Snapshots