Beginner? Don't Learn To Play Guitar Before You Know These 13 Things (No 9 Is Critical)
Avoid burn-out, discover the crucial things you should know before you start learning to play guitar.
Learning to play guitar? If you start off on the right foot, you've got loads more chance of sticking it out, having fun and getting to a seriously impressive playing standard.
This article aims to save you alot of wasted time and frustration by sharing with you the things you should know before you start to learn guitar. And even if you play guitar already, you'll likely find some mighty useful tips here too.
1.Choose the right guitar
That question on every learner guitar players lips - should I learn on an acoustic or electric guitar? The answer...
...you should start on an acoustic guitar. No contest.
This is because you'll have a massive playing advantage over the people who opt to start on electric guitar. Why? One reaosn is acoustic guitar strings are thicker than electric guitar strings and this means your fingers will get stronger quicker, helping you to develop superior control and technique.
Here's another way to think about it:
Acoustic guitars are also much more convenient to play than electrics as you don’t need to mess around with amps and leads. Too many guitar players get so distracted with gear (that they usually don't end up using), an acoustic helps you keep it simple and concentrate on the important stuff - learning to play guitar well.
Don't fall into the trap and go down the lazy route of learning on an electric guitar just because you "read somewhere it doesn't hurt as much as an acoustic".
But don't get me wrong - if playing an acoustic guitar for some inexplicable reason makes you shudder - all you listen to is death metal for example - knock yourself out and get electric axe shopping.
Pro Tip: If your heart is set on getting an electric guitar, reward yourself with buying one once you've reached a predetermined playing milestone.
2. It's not pain free
Your fingers are going to hurt.
There. I've said it. And just like any new physical skill, your body will need time to get strong and adapt. Many guitar players wish they'd been warned before they started learning just how sore your fingers get at the beginning.
You've heard of famous guitarist callouses right? Well, you'll get these hard areas of skin on your finger tips the more you practice your guitar. This means playing will hurt less over time.
Not many people tell you this next fact though...
It's not just your fingers that get sore. Be prepared to feel it in your hands, arms, even your neck if your posture isn't good (more on this in a bit).
A pain in the behind isn't it? The silver lining though is the more you practise, the less your bits will hurt. Happy days.
3. You have to tune every time you play
There's nothing more hideous than hearing someone banging away on an out of tune guitar. Urgh. Just like the sound of nails scratching down a blackboard, it's not a sound anybody finds nice.
So what's the solution?
Get into the good habit of tuning your guitar every time you play it. Because no matter how good you're playing that G major chord, it'll sound rubbish if your guitar isn't in tune. Unfortunatly, even slight temperature differences can knock guitar strings out of tune, but fortunatly, you can easily remedy this by regularily checking your tuning.
Because we know tuning can be a bit of a bore, you should get yourself some tools to make light work of it. From a cheap and cheerful clip-on guitar tuner, to a fully automatic tuner and string winder in one, you'll soon get the knack of it.
Pro Tip: Never leave your guitar for too long near a radiator, in direct sunlight or cold and damp places - it can not only affect the tuning, but can also cause potential damage to your guitar in extreme cases.
4. Your guitar needs regular re-stringing
Over my years teaching I've discovered that many beginner guitar players don't know that you have to change the strings on a guitar. I'm here to tell you: you do.
The deal is, over time guitar strings go dull and oxidise from gunk building up on them. As a consequence, old strings don't sound nice, they're harder to play and they break easier than new strings. Now, if you're wondering how often your guitar strings need changing, the answer isn't that straightforward, as it depends on a number of factors such as:
- the make of strings on your guitar
- how long the strings have been on the guitar
- how often you play your guitar
I recommend you read our indepth article How Often Should You Change Your Guitar Strings which will be able to answer that question for you as an individual.
Furthermore, there are some things you can do to prolong the life of your strings such as using string cleaning maintence kits to keep them in tip-top condition for longer.
5. Always use a metronome
Speed should never be your prime goal when you start learning to play guitar. Playing in time consistently without speeding up and slowing down should. The trouble is, many self-taught learner guitar players don't know this and so waste time focusing on trying to shred at lightning speeds without ever using a metronome.
It's only ever going to sound an out of time mess if you do this.
What's the magic formula to help you execute perfect timing? Luckily, it's quite straight forward: you should be using a metronome everytime you practice. Be it scales, chord changes, or strumming - always use one.
Before we go any further you need to understand something else:
The aim of using a metronome isn't just to help you play faster, it's also to make sure you don't play too fast, too soon. Furthermore, using one is a great way of measuring your improvement.
With that being said, from metronome apps to mechanical metronomes, whatever your weapon of choice, just make sure you have it nice and loud so you can sync your playing properly with it.
Play along to audio recordings
A further tip in the same vein of using a metronome is to play along with any piece of music you're working on. Experiment with using software to slow the song recording down to make it easier - try starting at 50% speed.
For what it's worth, you're not alone if you find slowing the music down makes it feel harder to play. This is because you need greater control and strength to play perfectly at slow speeds.
Gradually increase the speed till you get to the end goal - being able to play the piece at 100% speed at, or as close to, performance standard you can get.
6. Divide and conquer
When learning a piece of music never tackle it as a whole. Divide it up into sections and work on each section before adding on the next. Many self-taught guitar players make the mistake of trying to learn too much too soon, and it results in them throwing in the towel.
The aim of dividing a song and/or riff into sections is to help you:
a) memorise the arrangement without the need to read from tablature or chord sheets,
b) improve your timing, rhythm and playing dynamics,
c) work on ironing out mistakes in particularly tricky parts.
When getting familiar with brand new shapes (chords, melody arrangements, scales etc) to start with, don’t use a metronome. Why does this work? It enables you to habituate building up muscle memory for the new shapes and fingerings before adding too much into the mix to think about.
Be Warned: Don’t stay in this first phase for too long. Start using a metronome and/or playing along with audio recordings as soon as possible. This avoids laziness and boosts playing progression by forcing you out of your comfort zone.
In short - If you want to improve faster, play along with a metronome, backing track and song recording.
7. Your posture will make or break you
Hands up if you're guilty of slouching back on the sofa when you practice. Stop it, all of you!
How you sit when you play guitar can make a huge positive or negative impact on your playing gains. I'm not joking - proper posture will help you play guitar better.
From standing up to save your back, to keeping your fretting arm close to your body - get your posture correct and you'll make your practice sessions more productive. Get into good habits early doors.
" Bad habits are much harder to kick than good habits are to form "
Here's three more top posture tips:
- Sit up with your back straight and don't slouch. You'll avoid neck and back ache this way. Having the correct chair for your music room is key to good posture.
- When sitting to play, raise your right knee slightly (left knee for lefties) so your guitar sits in a comfortable position. You'll instantly ease the tension off your fretting hand.
- Relax your muscles and drop your shoulders - this'll help you steer clear of muscle tension which can cause fatigue and cut your practice session short.
8. You're going to get frustrated
Let's face it. Learning any new skill takes some getting used to, and the reality is sometimes you're going to get frustrated learning guitar. Odds are, you'll feel like throwing it out the window in fact.
Breathe in...and out...
The trick is to remember every mistke you make is one step closer to perfection and you'll get better if you stick at it. Embrace the fact that a little frustration is natural. What I'm saying is don't beat yourself up for getting irate sometimes, but also don't let frustation get the better of you.
If learning to play guitar was easy, everybody would do it right? The truth is, most people let their own fears hold them back. You're stronger. You're better. And talking of believing in yourself...
9. Lack of self-belief will suffocate your potential
Many people in life feel they're struggling with feelings of self-doubt, worthlessness and anxiety. These people seem to continually find themselevs in negative situations where they think; "typical, this always happens to me."
Try not to be one of these people.
The thing is, when you're in a perpetual loop of fruitlessness, your negative mindset affects every part of your life, including your potential of learning to play guitar well. To put it another way, don't let your insecurities hold you back from being the best you can be on guitar.
Do you want to know one thing the pupils I've taught over the years who progress the most have in common? They're don't let self-doubt hold them back. They get that with hard work they'll improve.
Sure, they get a little down when they find things tough from time to time, but the difference is they don't let any negative feelings stop them. I'm not saying; "Stop feeling unconfident right now or else!" I'm simply saying take one step at a time to work on bossing your insecurities.
Let them ignite a fire in you to overcome your anxieties about playing guitar. If you're still not convinced and are thinking all this is easier said than done, I'll admit something to you now:
" You can make your guitar skills progress quicker than ever before when you start to believe in yourself. "
I had crushing low self-confidence when I started learning to play guitar. I thought getting good on guitar was something 'other people' did. I was so down on myself, I'd stop playing if I heard someone near my bedroom door where I was practicing.
I was my own worst enemy.
Luckily in time I saw the light. I started to be less hard on myself. I discovered life-changing ideas like the Kaizen Method and the 80/20 Principle. And you, like me, can make your guitar skills progress quicker than ever when you start to believe in yourself - I promise you'll get there.
10. It takes time to be able to play guitar and sing at the same time
I'm not going to beat around the bush. You’ll find it impossible to play guitar and sing at first.
I've often been asked by students, "why am I finding it so hard to play guitar and sing at the same time?" My answer will always be a question: "Can you play the whole song on its own four times in a row 100% perfect?"
Their answer is always: "Umm..No".
If you're a beginner guitar player, It will take multiple hours of practice to be able to play a song 'perfromance perfect'. Your brain is getting used to new chords, strumming rhythms, picking patterns, techniques etc.
Don't expect to be able to bombard it with yet another thing to think about (singing) before you're ready. Take your time and work up to it. It may come as a relief to know that there are clever methods you can use to help you develop the skill of singing and playing at the same time we will cover in another article.
11. You need to have a structured practice routine
The simple habit of filling in a practise schedule is another secret weapon to guitar success. And it's one thing not just newbie guitar players don't do, but players who've been at it for years don't either. And this is one reaosn why they quickly hit a brick wall playing the same old stuff week in, week out.
Interesting fact: According to an article on Inc.com, you're 42% more likely to achieve a goal if you write it down. When we practice the guitar, we're simply working towards achieving mini goals. Be it getting the top E string buzz free on the A major chord, or nailing that mixolydian mode solo.
The takeway to this tip is make your next practice session less stressful and more productive - fill in a practice schedule before you pick your guitar up.
According to productivity guru and life coach Brian Tracy, you'll benefit the most when you prepare for the following day's work (practice) the evening or night before.
" Not planning out your practice sessions results in wasted time, procrastination and limp progress. "
You'll see your playing improve faster when you a have clear, written plan. The brilliant thing is you can be as detailed or as brief as you like - simple bullet points highlighting the areas for you to practice will do.
You could use a note taking app on your smartphone or tablet, or opt for a good old fashioned paper notepad and pen. Whichever you choose, don't just wing it next time you sit down to practice - use a practice planner.
12. Beware of bad teachers
All guitar teachers are not created equal. Take people teaching you how to play guitar online for example; There are some fantastic players on Youtube showing you how to play stuff, but sadly, there are a whole bunch of bad ones too.
Look at it this way: being a good guitar player doesn't mean you're automatically going to be a good teacher. You need unique communication, organisationl and emotional skill sets to be able to teach somone how to play an instrument correclty.
" Being a good guitar player doesn't mean you're going to be a good teacher. "
Moreover, it can actually kill your gains on guitar listening to all the conflicting advice out there. You'll develop bad habits and poor technique if you're not careful and don't follow the right advice.
There are plenty of horror stories over at Gibsons.com from real guitar players sharing their experience with dreadful guitar teachers, and I've heard my fair share of hair raising tales from some of my guitar pupils in the past too.
Take Martin for example. Five months ago Martin came to me for help. After 18 months of lessons with another tutor he felt unhappy and frustrated with his lack of progress. He wanted to be able to play some of his favourite acoustic songs, but the thing was, he couldn't.
Whislt assessing where he was at with his playing level on our first lesson together, I asked Martin how many major and minor chords he knew. His reply? "I've not been taught any chords."
I kid you not.
What to look for in a guitar tutor
When looking for a guitar tutor, look for one who is a:
1. Highly experienced teacher with lots of good genuine reviews and student testimonials for you to check out.
2. Professional musician with plenty of performance experience (live and recording) - and not just a hobby player.
When looking for the best online tutors, courses and books, do your research and find genuine reviews. Don't just take the word of one random guy on an online forum you read.
13. Record progress clips
“You can only improve something if you know it needs improving”
To strengthen your weaknesses, you first need to identify them. And to identify your patchy areas on guitar, you need to hear (and see) them. Don’t just guess if you’re getting it right - take constant progress recordings to actually know if it's right.
Use your smartphone, tablet or other device of choice - in this day and age of technology there is no excuse not to.
Recording clips throughout your practice sessions allows you to be your own teacher and give yourself constructive feedback which helps you to improve faster. It also gives you an opportunity to give yourself a pat on the back when you hear (and see) your improvement over time.
Recording progress clips is a piece of advice I repeat daily to my pupils. And you know what I've noticed? Pupils who progress the fastest are the ones who take that advice on board. They also seem to enjoy playing more than the ones who don’t take the time to record themselves.
Because being good on guitar requires you to have a great ear for things such as timing, rhythm and feel, you can only perfect these skills properly by listening back to your own playing.
Summing it up
The top 13 things guitar players wish they'd known before they started to play covered in this article are:
- Choose the right guitar
- It's not pain free
- You have to tune every time you play
- Your guitar needs regular re-stringing
- Always use a metronome
- Divide and conquer
- Your posture will make or break you
- You're going to get frustrated
- Lack of self-belief will suffocate your potential
- It takes time to be able to play guitar and sing at the same time
- You need to have a structured practice routine
- Beware of bad teachers
- Record progress clips
Go forth and dazzle with your new found knowledge..
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