Playing the guitar: Status Quo's Francis Rossi on learning the guitar

Status Quo's Francis Rossi on learning the guitar, how jazz helped him become a better player and why perfection is a dirty word

I first picked up a guitar when I was seven years old. I'd seen the Everly Brothers and thought, I want to do that! So I found a guitar teacher.

But it didn't start well: first he was like, "You're sitting wrong." Then he asked me what I wanted to learn, and I said, well, the Everly Brothers, and he just looked at me and said, "You're not having any of that stuff here, laddie. Foxtrot or waltzes?" Nowadays I might be interested in a foxtrot or a waltz, but at that age? It put me right off.

So I think if you want to teach a kid guitar you have to tap their enthusiasm at source - and the same if you're older. Go for what you like. Play what you enjoy. My son was into the Red Hot Chili Peppers when he started to learn - I was helping him out and it didn't matter what I thought of them, it was about his enthusiasm.

After my experience with the guitar teacher, I would plug into anything, anything at all that I liked, especially Italian folk songs - my family all come from Italy and all that stuff was everywhere when I was growing up.

Then at school I learned to read music - although I wouldn't necessarily say that you have to learn it; it's not essential, and I think it can hold you back. I had a friend who claimed to be a great piano player; when I sat him down at a piano one day, he was going "Where's the music?" He couldn't play anything unless he had the sheet music there to tell him how to play it. I gave him some and sure enough he was shit hot, but he couldn't improvise; he'd learned too rigidly. So learning the "proper" way, learning to read music, it's like teaching someone to speak but in a way that means they can't talk unless they read words off a piece of paper.

And don't worry about all that practice makes perfect rubbish - whoever said that should be strung up - don't start waving the idea of perfection around to someone who's starting to learn an instrument because it'll put them off. Practise to get better, practise for fun, but don't practise to make perfect - bollocks.

I'll practise for a couple of hours a day - we have this little room at home that we call the music room and everyone loves to come and sit in it, which gets right up my nose because I want to play guitar. But since I turned 40 I've really tried to improve my playing. I'm as good now as I should have been when I was 25 - back then everyone was saying, "Get a teacher - learn properly", but I was Jack the Lad and not interested. Then I got married, and my wife is a great musician and she inspired me to knuckle down. Up until then I'd just turn up and play the same songs, but now I'm into country or jazz, or anything that I like.

Nowadays, that ability to improve and to improvise and the musical understanding I'm developing keeps me going when I'm on stage. Don't get me wrong: I'll play the stuff people come to see us for and enjoy it. But, at the same time, being able to go on stage night after night and try something different in the middle of it all and to try to improve - that keeps me going. My main raison d'être is to get better at the guitar because otherwise you are just treading water.

· Now let Francis show you how to play a classic rock'n'roll shuffle with the video lesson he recorded especially for us. Go to for the video


Interview by Steve Chamberlain

The GuardianTramp

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