Learning to play guitar is a long process that takes time and considerable effort. As you learn the instrument, there are things you must remember in order to avoid making mistakes, ensuring your efforts are not wasted. This article shares a few nuggets of wisdom you can refer to before getting started, while you take lessons, and during your practice sessions.
1. The best time to start learning guitar is NOW
There is no point putting off the dream any longer. Take the plunge and start learning to play today. The right time is now. And the biggest investment you will make is your time and desire, which are all free.
2. You may need to 'unlearn' some things
It is possible you may have picked up a few tricks from others but have now decided to get serious about learning the instrument. You want to familiarize yourself with the more technical stuff. That means first accepting that your whole technique may need to be corrected. Failing to do this will result in you building protective walls around those areas you feel you do not need training on. Be prepared to unlearn what you may already ‘know’.
3. You are going to need lessons
It does not matter if you are learning guitar for personal enjoyment or whether you intend to pursue a career as a professional guitarist. You need to get the right education.
Even as an occasional player, you will find great satisfaction in knowing you have learned and mastered a coveted skill. You will even find yourself playing with more confidence and authority.
To get greater value from your lessons, accept that true skill will only come from playing the right way, even if ‘the right way’ isn't what you have always thought to be the best way.
4. Bad habits are difficult to shake off
Taking lessons early ensures you get rid of bad habits before they are hard wired into your technique. Bad habits develop slowly and will often seem minor and harmless but, over time, they will become harder to correct. These may include failing to tune your guitar before playing, wrong left-hand thumb positioning, neglecting to wear your guitar strap, and bad posture.
5. Learning to read music is as important as learning to play
One of the biggest handicaps for even seasoned guitarists is the inability to read standard music notation. There are many disadvantages to this, including not being able to use practice material when written in standard notation. Because you can’t read guitar notes, which usually means you can’t write as well, you also can’t share your compositions with friends, fellow musicians, or band mates.
A Simple, Basic Guitar Will Do
6. Know your guitar
As a guitarist, sound knowledge on the basic anatomy of a guitar is of absolute importance. You need to know how a guitar is made, how it produces sound, and the different types of guitars there are and how they differ.
This means knowing which part is the bridge, fretboard, sound hole, neck, headstock, and what each part does.
A thorough understanding of the instrument helps you develop a deeper respect for it, which deepens your interest in playing guitar.
7. Electric guitars are best for learners
The obvious reason for picking an electric guitar over an acoustic one for beginners is the guitar's adaptability for a wider variety of music styles including jazz, classical, rock, blues, and heavy metal. This is great for beginner guitarists as it allows you to experiment with different styles until you settle on one that best suits your taste and skills.
The technique for both electric and acoustic guitars is the same but electric guitars have slimmer necks, lower gauge strings, and lower playing action, which all make the instrument easier to play for beginners. As a beginner, you need an instrument that encourages you to play. Electric guitars are great for this.
8. Practice is more important than gear
It’s understandable you will want the shiniest and trendiest guitar to pump yourself up as a learner. Yet, for beginners, a basic guitar with minimal trims is often good enough. What is more important is learning the basic skills needed to make you a decent player. Many players find interleaved practice to be very valuable.
There is a variety of both electric and acoustic guitars that produce acceptable sound quality at prices that won’t break the bank. Save the change for extra lessons. This will also give you time to learn what guitar attributes to look out for when you finally decide to invest in a pricier guitar.
9. Your fingers are going to hurt at first
Expect sore fingers when you first start to play guitar. Your fingers will be unaccustomed to the kind of strain they will have to endure picking guitar strings. The pain will be severe at first but will slowly recede as you build your calluses. Every guitar player you know has had to endure this pain.
Simplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication
10. Good technique is the best way to play
You have probably seen guitar players performing fancy tricks with their guitars. While this is great entertainment, it is not the best measure of a guitarist’s skill. Good technique is! Aim to play the right way from the start. Guitar tricks are a product of experience and confidence that can only come from consistently playing with good technique.
11. Speed is an object of better technique and practice
As with the tricks we have just discussed, speed will develop from more consistent practice and good technique. In fact, as a learner, speed should be the last thing you worry about. No amount of speed or tricks can make up for poor technique. Play the right way and practice regularly and your playing speed will increase on its own.
12. Practice from both sitting and standing positions
You do not want to be the guitarist who will only play with the aid of a chair. And it's true, if you don’t make it a habit to practice in both sitting and standing positions, you will become that kind of guitarist.
There is a great difference between balancing your guitar on your leg while sitting and playing with the support of a strap than when you play from a standing position. Make sure you exercise your posture for both positions.
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect Technique
13. Difficult chords you avoid today will catch up with you later
For different reasons, different players will struggle with certain chords. It is natural that you will mark these as your least favorite and even look to avoid them whenever you can. This will work for a while, but the same chords will be impossible to avoid at some point in the future. Why not do the hard lifting now and have the confidence to face the future without dread for anything?
14. There are learning tools available
You can always rely on traditional methods to learn guitar. But today’s tools are faster, adaptive, and often times cheaper. One example is the the use of a metronome for practice. The tool’s adjustable ticking sound is great for exercising your musical senses for note timing, rhythm, and tempo. There are now metronome and other free apps available that you can install on your smartphone.
15. Practice is the best teacher
You can read all the blog posts, books, and watch and listen to all the video and audio recordings ever done on the mechanics of playing guitar, but the only sure way of mastering the instrument is by actually playing it. Translate everything you learn into playing skill by practicing regularly.
16. Burnout is real
Consistently practicing your playing skills will do wonders for your technique. However, make sure you are not over-exerting yourself as this can easily lead to burnout. And burnout will wreck all your efforts and time spent practicing. As you practice, remember to listen to your body for signals of exhaustion.
Allow yourself enough time to rest between your practice sessions. Ideally, you will want to aim for short and evenly spaced practice sessions. Long sessions are not useful if your body and mind cannot handle the extended physical and mental exertion.
17. Exercise both hands
While it is advisable to exercise your weaker hand to ensure it gets used on the fretboard, neglecting your other, supposedly more natural hand will hurt your chances of mastering the guitar.
There are exercises that you can do for the hand that involves the picking and strumming. You will want to make sure both hands get enough practice for their specific functions.
Technique is the way, artistic expression the ultimate goal...
Michael. E Stern said it best, “Tools and techniques exist to help the artist realize their creative vision, not as a means to create it for them…”
Technique is just a systematic way of crafting your own identity as a guitarist.
In conclusion, it is best to remember that all learning efforts should eventually lead to the attainment of an individual artistic identity. This is what will separate you from other guitarists.
About the Author: Helen Baker
I am a freelance teacher and writer based in Ann Arbor, MI. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Music, I spent some time teaching English in Paris and, thereafter, returned to Ann Arbor where I was involved both in the media and academics. Currently I am a stay at home mom, working as a freelance writer and teacher. I love all my guitars and I also have an affinity towards old grand pianos. I love singing, traveling, reading, writing, watching films and spending quality time with my husband.