This is a humbling experience... as is all of life... but I digress...
I notice many folks saying that they are slow learners, as am I. I remember beginning to play the guitar at the ripe old age of 8 and realizing that I learned much, much slower than all my friends who were playing. This continued right through high school into college. Slow and steady I guess...
About how I approach learning. I'm one of those folks who needs to know why. (I can imagine I drove my mother nuts as a child.) When I hear a cool lick, I need to now why it sounds like that. I need to know what notes of which scale are playing in what order so that I can repeat that same lick over any similar chord in any situation. I also analyze what that lick "means" to me. Is it a "happy" lick, a "sad" lick or is it particularly "bluesy"? Does the lick promote forward movement or is it more static and sits well without any forward movement? Maybe the lick is an extension or substitution of the chord being played? And if it is some sort of extension or substitution, how is it put together to create the sound/color it portrays?
As you might imagine, a slow learner, like myself, is still grappling with these questions in his 56th year of life. As Jack Nicholson said in The Witches of Eastwick as he portrays the devil while playing the violin, "You may think me crazy, but I know music. It's the one thing that makes me humble."
What amazes me are folks who can play amazing stuff and know none of this. Take the Quebe sisters. When I was at one of their concerts last summer, I got a chance to meet and speak to them and their guitarist (the guy who arranges the tunes). I was stunned to hear him say that none of them reads music nor knows any music theory... HUH???? He has to be kidding... but he was completely serious and told me that they work out their tunes sitting together and learn/memorize the tunes from these "arranging" sessions.
What was even more amazing was that I attended some workshops with some of the top bluegrass guitarists in the world and their approach was very similar to the Quebe sisters. They would sit down and work out tunes without the ability to read a lick. And furthermore, they could easily put together amazing solos without the ability to know what they were doing except that at this moment they are playing over the chord G or Am and they understood what they could do with that chord. They had no idea that they were leaning hard on the b3 of the chord or that they going from the b5 to the 5 up to the 1 then down to the b7, b3, 3 and up to the 1.
Now I have pretty good ears and can work out any tune from hearing it (pretty quickly), but to have the ability to sit down once and play something you like and remember it as if you memorized it is unbelievable to me. I can do that if I know what is going on and why, but without those points of reference, I would be completely lost.
Having spent the last few years studying bluegrass, I am just now coming to the realization that bluegrass is truly handed down from ear to ear. And it is very likely that I over think the whole process (more than likely ) However, it sounds like most of the folks here are more attuned to the proper process of learning bluegrass.
By the way, both times I heard these girls live, they played the exact same solos, note for note, that they play at the end of the end of "It's a sin to tell a lie" in the video above.
In any case, slow and steady wins this race. And in my case extremely slow...