Captain Beefheart’s 10 Commandments of Guitar Playing

The following sound advice can be found in the book Rolling Stone’s Alt-Rock-A-Rama (1996) which includes an article written by John McCormick about Moris Tepper.

Budding guitarists take note.

1. Listen to the birds

That’s where all the music comes from. Birds know everything about how it should sound and where that sound should come from. And watch hummingbirds. They fly really fast, but a lot of times they aren’t going anywhere.

2. Your guitar is not really a guitar

Your guitar is a divining rod. Use it to find spirits in the other world and bring them over. A guitar is also a fishing rod. If you’re good, you’ll land a big one.

3. Practice in front of a bush

Wait until the moon is out, then go outside, eat a multi-grained bread and play your guitar to a bush. If the bush doesn’t shake, eat another piece of bread.

4. Walk with the devil

Old Delta blues players referred to guitar amplifiers as the “devil box.” And they were right. You have to be an equal opportunity employer in terms of who you’re brining over from the other side. Electricity attracts devils and demons. Other instruments attract other spirits. An acoustic guitar attracts Casper. A mandolin attracts Wendy. But an electric guitar attracts Beelzebub.

5. If you’re guilty of thinking, you’re out

If your brain is part of the process, you’re missing it. You should play like a drowning man, struggling to reach shore. If you can trap that feeling, then you have something that is fur bearing.

6. Never point your guitar at anyone

Your instrument has more clout than lightning. Just hit a big chord then run outside to hear it. But make sure you are not standing in an open field.

7. Always carry a church key

That’s your key-man clause. Like One String Sam. He’s one. He was a Detroit street musician who played in the fifties on a homemade instrument. His song “I Need a Hundred Dollars” is warm pie. Another key to the church is Hubert Sumlin, Howlin’ Wolf’s guitar player. He just stands there like the Statue of Liberty — making you want to look up her dress the whole time to see how he’s doing it.

8. Don’t wipe the sweat off your instrument

You need that stink on there. Then you have to get that stink onto your music.

9. Keep your guitar in a dark place

When you’re not playing your guitar, cover it and keep it in a dark place. If you don’t play your guitar for more than a day, be sure you put a saucer of water in with it.

10. You gotta have a hood for your engine

Keep that hat on. A hat is a pressure cooker. If you have a roof on your house, the hot air can’t escape. Even a lima bean has to have a piece of wet paper around it to make it grow.


“Though they bear numbers, they are not arranged heirarchically — each Commandment has equal import.”


  1. Knowing when your guitar needs a good whacking, is critical, I think, it spends most of its time whacking you! But it is the Boss.

  2. Is is strange and/or funny that I actually ALREADY new most of these and have been doing them for years? Kudos for the bird thing being number one, I thought I was the only one who studied birds like him. I guess we both do! Also, with the hummingbird thing, he’s right they usually don’t really move around much, keeping mostly to the same area for a while, but also very fast. AND hummingbird wings when they fly right next to you as they have to me, sound like HUGE bumblebees.

  3. What have i just read? My guitar is not really guitar? LOL, then what is it? I HAVE NO IDEA….can you write something aobut?

  4. This is total bullshit, just tryin to find an excuse for suckin on guitar. You gotta know the elements to break em. Blah blah pseudomystic shite

    1. I think you’re taking it a bit too seriously my friend.

    2. What he said was that *too much* intellectualizing gets in the way of truly creative musicianship. That’s why some of the greatest guitarists were self-taught or taught by people who never learned ANY of the formal “rules of music.” Berklee College of Music graduates 400 guitarists each and every year; they ALL know ALL “the rules” yet 95% of them are mediocre musicians at best.

  5. Your guitar is a rod, and you need to practice in front of a bush. Got it.

  6. Hi, I’m looking for the photo of a Sketch of the 10 commandments, possibly original piece of paper he did. Been looking on the internet for a very long time now, no dice sadly. If you can post it here / send it to me, that’d be awesome :D

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