Learning the guitar is a long but rewarding journey. This is what you need to know before you start.
When you start learning the guitar, you are clueless.
You don’t know what you will need to learn, how to learn it, in what order, whether you have what it takes, how long will it take, and many other questions you don’t yet have an answer for.
In this article, I will delve into some of these important issues so that you’re prepared for this amazing journey of learning how to express yourself in the language of music using the guitar as a medium.
1. Quitting, not lack of natural talent, is the main cause of failure
Many new guitar players tend to ask themselves and others whether they have the potential to learn or whether they have natural talent.
This is the wrong question to ask because a lack of natural talent is not the obstacle between where you’re now and where you want to be as a guitar player.
If you’re reading this article, it means you have learned the English language. These letters and words look like a bunch of nonsense for a person who can’t read—a complete beginner in the English language, as you are on the guitar.
Yet, over time, you have learned to make sense of these symbols and have learned not just the meaning of the letters and the words but can also understand entire arguments (like the one you’re reading right now)
If you’ve accomplished the complex task of learning a language, there’s no reason on earth you can’t also learn the guitar!
Now, some people are born gifted with the ability to learn things quickly. In their case, their journey may proceed faster than yours and mine.
However, the majority of great guitar players were not born with any special gifts.
What they did was practice the right things, in the right order, and with the right mindset for a long period of time.
The following paragraph may be the difference between failing at learning the guitar and becoming the guitar player of your dreams:
There will be times where you feel like you’re making no progress in your guitar learning curve. These periods are called plateaus. This is the point where many guitar students quit. They quit because they don’t know that if they kept pushing it a bit more after the plateau would come a breakthrough. An ‘a-ha’ moment when all of a sudden they feel like they’re a notch or two better at playing the guitar.
Be prepared for plateaus. When they come, all you have to do is ask better questions:
Am I using the right books?
Am I learning with the right teacher? (Or, if you have no teacher, do I need one?)
Am I focusing on the wrong things?
It may take a week, it may take a month, and it may take more – but what really matters when you’re in a plateau is that you’re aware it’s a normal part of the guitar learning process and don’t quit.
2. Practice, practice, practice, but….
If you browse the Internet for articles on guitar playing you will surely encounter the advice “practice, practice, practice” many times.
To be honest, this piece of advice annoys me. Not because it’s wrong – you do have to practice a lot if you want big results – but because I believe it’s incomplete.
It gives the impression that practicing the guitar is all about quantity.
In reality, spending an hour noodling aimlessly on the guitar will yield much fewer results that 15 minutes of focused guitar practice.
While practicing the guitar make sure you’re fully concentrated, as well as optimize your time in order to squeeze the biggest result from every minute you put in.
3. Building finger callus is not a big deal
You do need to build calluses on the fingertips of your left hand. It may take a few weeks until the tips of your fingers are harsh enough that you can press a note effortlessly.
However, many people believe myths that this involves significant amounts of pain, that you need to do special exercises to build your calluses, or even that blood may gush out of your fingers.
In reality, your guitar finger calluses will just grow slowly on their own as you’re practicing guitar.
And there is also a very easy way to deal with building your calluses as I explain in this lesson.
4. Some things need to be practiced slower than slow
When you’re learning a new thing that’s quite challenging, such as changing chords, you may need to practice it with your fingers moving literally in slow motion.
The reason is that at this point, the only thing that matters is that you do the chord change right.
Once you do, you will repeat that motion at that speed for a number of times and you will start gaining the muscle memory.
Because while our muscles do not have an actual memory themselves, our brain will remember those movements after enough repetition and it will eventually become very easy to do so at a faster speed – and without the need to look at your hands.
Thus, it’s much better to learn something very slowly and accurately and gain the necessary muscle memory before you speed it up.
5. Focus on technique in the early stages.
Learning the guitar is not just one skill, but a set of skills.
However, at the very beginning, guitar technique should be given a lot of importance since technique deals with the actual execution of notes.
Focus on hitting notes with the right fingers, being in the right position with the left hand, and picking steadily and correctly with the right hand.
This can be done while learning simple tunes and melodies. While doing so, do not focus only on getting the melody right, but also check if your hands and fingers are in their correct position as well as synchronized together.
6. Apply what you learn.
If you learn a few chords and know how to change them fluently between one another, start learning songs that use those chords—or even write your own first simple song, which may not be a hit but will get you started on the path of guitar songwriting.
If you learn a scale—and your first scale should ideally be the minor pentatonic – try to come up with a melody, no matter how simple or how limited your resources are for now.
And if you learn a technique, such as vibrato or string bending, go back to the minor pentatonic scale again, and this time come up with melodies that use these techniques.
Doing so will make guitar practice more fun, and you will also learn faster since you’re seeing the things you’re learning in context.
7. Listen to different genres of music
At a point in my earlier stages of learning the guitar, I was completely into punk rock. I would also listen to some classic rock and heavy metal, but punk rock was the main thing.
So I played Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols.
Then he asked me to play something else, so I played “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones.
Then something else, so I played “I Fought the Law” by The Clash.
My guitar teacher looked and asked me if I listen to anything except for punk music.
“Not really”, I said.
What he said then has changed the course of my entire musical journey:
“If you just listen to Punk, you will only be able to play Punk and will be limited even in that. There is a whole world of music you’re missing out on. Go through the whole journey, and in the end, if you come back to Punk, keep playing Punk. But be informed of all the other possibilities first.”
I followed his advice and started listening to the musicians and bands he was scribbling down on a piece of paper: Tower of Power, Pat Metheny, Genesis, Kansas, B.B. King, Steve Vai, and many more musicians who have excelled in their genre.
It opened a new world for me, and as I kept improving on guitar, I started borrowing ideas from these different musicians, all of which have influenced my playing today.
And guess what? I still love Punk Rock. And I still play I Fought the Law with my band.
But now I also love the Blues, Funk, Prog, and even some Jazz and Classical music, all of which have an influence on my playing.
Conclusion: Get ready for an amazing journey
The ability to play and create music is a very powerful thing.
Think about it; it gives you the power to change people’s moods. Ever noticed most people like musicians?
Of course they do; we have the power to make them happy.
But as with any form of power, it is not acquired easily.
Learning the guitar takes time, patience, and commitment.
However, done the right way, learning the guitar is a very enjoyable process from which you will gain things that go even beyond playing the instrument.
You may consider giving a donation, by which you will be helping a songwriter achieve his dreams. Each contribution, no matter how small, will make a difference.