Television’s Richard Lloyd Will Teach You How to Play Guitar

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Richard Lloyd performing at CBGB in 1980. Photo: Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images

Richard Lloyd, by way of credentials, was one of the guitarists on Television’s Marquee Moon (Tom Verlaine was the other), which is just about the best guitar album to come out of the original New York CBGB’s scene. Lloyd, who’s 64, doesn’t gig much these days, but he does teach guitar. It’s punk rock at Champagne prices — a hundred bucks per hourlong lesson — but it’s something else, too. You take a guitar lesson because you want to learn to play. You take a guitar lesson from Richard Lloyd because you hope he’ll reveal whatever magic he used to conjure those magnificent, spiraling Marquee Moon solos.

About a week after I scheduled time with Lloyd via the email address on his website, I took the train to his fifth-floor Inwood walk-up. (He isn’t the only name-brand, high-cred option available to New York’s aspiring guitar heroes. The ferocious Marnie Stern teaches occasionally, as does Charles Bissell of the godlike Wrens.) Tall and wiry, Lloyd invited me into his living room — where a Television concert poster hung on the wall — handed me one of his gorgeous Fender Stratocasters, and flipped on a couple of small amps. “Can you play me a major scale?” Lloyd asked, a little gruffly. Yep. “Pentatonic scales?” I played one. Lloyd next ran me through some tough chording exercises, up and down the neck. My left hand hurt. “Do those for 20 minutes a day,” he said. He put his guitar down and took out paper and a pen. He drew a circle. We seemed a long way from Marquee Moon.

“When I was a kid,” Lloyd said, dividing the circle into 12 sections like a clock face, “I had a little hamster. I used to watch him run on his little wheel. He was so happy.” Lloyd, his hands stained from the paintings he’d been working on before I arrived, marked intervals on the wheel. “This is a wheel to make you happy, too.” He wrote the names of different modes on the wheel: Locrian, Myxolydian, and so on. “The basis of all music theory,” he said. He asked me to play him a lick, and I squeaked out a blues cliché. “I’ve never been sadder about a death then when that hamster died,” he said, before demonstrating a much more exciting version of the lick I’d just played, moving it around the fretboard, working through the wheel in intervals of fourths. “Understand?” he asked. Sort of. He put the guitar down again and said, “Let’s do some math. Ratios.” (I hate math.) He had me take dictation—1:1, the tonic. 1:2, the octave. 2:3, the dominant fifth, all the way to 15:16, the minor second. At the top of the page, he had me write “Agreement.” At the bottom, “Noise.” Soon, time was up. “Those are the basics,” Lloyd said with a smile, leading me out. “You did very well.” Then, just maybe, he slipped me the secret as he closed the door. “Practice,” he said, “and keep practicing.”

*A version of this article appears in the December 14, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.