Different people have different goals when starting out on the guitar.
The guitar tips for beginners in this article will help you achieve the two goals that are shared among basically every guitar student:
- Being able to play in the shortest time possible.
- Enjoying the process of learning.
If you’re a beginner guitar student and share these two goals, the following guitar tips are for you!
- Find a good teacher, complement with the Internet and books
Yes, you can be self-taught, or rather, not get any formal training.
No one is completely self-taught, in the sense that they picked up a guitar and figured everything out by themselves. (Possible exceptions would be geniuses with gifts you and I do not have).
There are great guitar players who have never had formal training though, and instead learned from friends, books or the Internet.
A case in point is James Hetfield of Metallica. Though he never attended formal lessons, he also claims he learned a lot from his late bandmate and close friend, Cliff Burton.
Today you can access any form of information on how to play the guitar and music theory on the Internet.
So yes, it’s possible.
But if you don’t have a teacher to guide you through the early stages of the process, the process is going to take much longer.
What I suggest is that you get a good teacher who genuinely wants you to reach your goals and has the abilities to guide you through it.
Then, complement that knowledge with books and the Internet.
For instance a guitar student of mine is a huge fan of Black Metal.
I’m a Heavy Metal guitar player myself, but when it comes to the sub-genre of Black Metal, he’s the expert, not me.
Thus, while he learns how to play the guitar from me, he also searches the Internet for stuff that helps him apply the knowledge I give him to his favorite genre.
I believe this is the ideal balance.
- Buy a guitar that suits your needs
You don’t need to spend much on your first guitar.
When you’re starting out you won’t appreciate much the difference between a cheap and an expensive guitar.
Only buy an expensive guitar when there’s a specific reason/s why you want to buy that particular guitar – and when that reason goes beyond appearance.
However you do need to buy a guitar that suits your needs.
The main 3 kinds of guitar you’ll be choosing from are:
- Acoustic guitar with steel strings: Start on this guitar if you want to play like guitar players who regularly use it, such as many singer-songwriters.
- Acoustic guitar with nylon strings/Classical guitar: The Classical guitar is played fingerstyle, as opposed to using a pick. It is usually played in specific genres of music.
Only buy a Classical guitar if you intend to play these genres of music.
- Electric guitar: Start on this guitar for basically everything else.
Unless you want to play specific styles, I always suggest that you start on an electric guitar.
The reason is that it’s a bit easier to learn (you need to press less to get sound from the notes, and you can see your hands more due to it’s slim body) and that it gives you more options.
For instance bending strings is very common on the electric guitar, but hard to execute on acoustic guitars.
- Don’t try to learn long pieces of music at once
You’re not reading this article a letter, or even a word, at a time.
You read sentences and paragraphs and your mind quickly absorbs the message they convey.
That’s because you’re fluent in the English language.
Now try to remember when you were just starting out learning the alphabet and your first words.
Did you read whole sentences and make sense out of them, or did you need your index finger to help you figure out the shape of each letter in the words?
Learning the language of music requires the same process.
It is common for beginner guitar students to take large chunks of music at a time – especially if they’re adults and have already gained expertise in other areas of life.
It’s hard to feel like a beginner all over again!
Take time to find where every note is, that you’re hitting with the right finger, using the correct position, and at the right time.
No matter how slow the process may feel you will actually learn music much faster this way.
- Set goals for every practice session
Do you know what hurts your improvement even more than not practicing enough?
Spending part, or all, of your guitar practicing time noodling aimlessly on the guitar.
Set a specific goal every time you practice, and focus all your attention in the allocated period of practice time towards reaching it.
- Use a metronome (but don’t get hooked on it)
The metronome is a very useful tool to develop a good sense of timing on the guitar.
And timing is crucial since if you can’t play something on time, you can’t play it.
That said, the metronome should be used to check that you can play something on time, as well as to measure your speed on the guitar, but not all the time.
- Learn things that are challenging, but reachable.
When I started learning the guitar I was into bands like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and Metallica.
And I wanted to play like them!
The problem was that save for a few intros and riffs, these band’s music were not just hard for me to play – they were impossible.
When you choose a new song to learn, it’s good that it has new and challenging parts in it, but also make sure that it is achievable with your present level of abilities.
Trying to learn things that are too hard is a huge motivation killer, and achieves nothing anyway.
- There are things you need to practice slower than slow
The word I use most when I’m teaching beginner guitar students is without doubt the word “slower”.
Until I train them, many students don’t know what learning something slowly really means.
They think that if the item they’re learning is being played at 120bpm, playing it slowly means playing it at 80bpm.
If what you’re learning is easy you can do that, but anytime you find anything challenging you should focus on that specific part that’s giving you trouble and practice it literally in slow motion.
- Don’t worry too much about finger calluses
Some beginner guitar players think that building finger calluses is a big challenge.
In reality, finger calluses will start growing within weeks, and don’t involve any amount of pain whatsoever if you follow this simple method to growing them.
- Muscle memory matters more than strength.
You do need to develop the necessary strength (and stretch) in your fingers to play the guitar, but this won’t take a very long time if you practice regularly.
The real deal, the one even professional players are always improving on, is muscle memory.
Our muscles don’t actually have a memory of course, but our brain does.
Every time you make a movement with your fingers on the guitar, and repeat that movement, your brain will recognize it. and the following time you make that movement (even if in a different place on the fretboard or if it’s a variation of that movement) it will be easier to perform.
As you build a vocabulary of these movements, your fingers will develop the necessary strength on their own – which is why you don’t need to buy accessories such as finger muscle builders.
- Enjoy the process
Nowadays, I enjoy myself practicing the guitar more than a wild night out.
This wasn’t always the case and it isn’t just that I’m growing out of wild nights out.
There were times when practice was a struggle, one which I only endured because I desperately wanted to reach my musical goals.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Practicing really is fun if done right.
In my book 5 Steps to Develop and Ideal Guitar Practicing Mindset, I show you how to learn the instrument fast and have fun at the same time by applying the right thought processes, and experiencing the right feelings and emotions.
Conclusion: A long term game with short term benefits
Learning the guitar is in a way like peeling an onion a layer at a time.
As you remove layers, you realize there are even more layers you didn’t even know about.
However, with every layer you peel, you not only become a better guitar player but would also have reaped a lot of psychological and physical benefits that come with the process of learning the guitar.
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