"Who the hell needs a drink & drugs when you've got music?" - Tomo Milicevic
There are an estimated 50 million guitarists in the world of which 16% are professionals. With this many guitarists, some of them, surely, must be beginners like you.
Be warned, learning the guitar requires a lot of motivation and work. You won't end up playing the guitar like Jimi Hendrix by procrastinating.
And while getting guitar lessons for beginners is highly recommended, it's not the only thing you should be doing. All types of learning require that the student is invested in the learning process.
Here are some tips and answers to some of the commonly asked questions on how to start learning to play the guitar.
Is Music Theory Useful when Learning how to Play Guitar?
Music theory and learning how to read sheet music can be quite useful when it comes to learning how to play the guitar. Useful, but not essential. Beginner guitar lessons, for example, probably won't cover tonnes of music theory but rather show you the parts of an acoustic guitar or electric guitar, show you how to strum a few basic chords, and how to hold the guitar correctly. Thus, as a beginner, you might be thinking about getting music theory classes.
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However, you've probably heard that music theory lessons are usually taught by strict and old-fashioned teachers who manage to suck the joy out of learning a musical instrument. And how!
If you're wanting to learn to play the guitar, though, these lessons might be unavoidable. You'll have to know how to read sheet music in order to play along with other musicians in an orchestra, for example.
When you first start learning how to play the guitar, you can learn how to play songs with tablature. However, a lack of music theory may cause you to struggle when it comes to composing music or improvising. You run the risk of trying to play chords that don't go well together, playing the wrong notes, and limiting your own creativity.
You're probably thinking that some of the great guitarists like Jimi Hendrix or Django Reinhardt were self-taught and didn't really know much about music theory.
But do you honestly think that you're as talented as them?
As popular as Hendrix was by the end of his career, he would have liked to have learnt more music theory because he was feeling stifled creatively…
Music theory is good for something. Especially when you consider that almost 99.9% of guitarists are mere mortals. Music theory doesn't limit your creativity. In fact, it's a way to get the most out of your musical instrument.
A sound understanding of music theory can make the difference between an average guitarist and a great guitarist. Even if you're just strumming a basic chord progression, playing a few licks, or finger picking, music theory can make the difference between a guitar player and a novice.
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How to Master the Neck
The neck is the most important part of a guitar to get to grips with. It's the part of the guitar where you press on the strings in order to make a given note. You should probably learn how to manipulate it.
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The neck is made from a single piece of wood and covered by the fretboard and frets. The spaces between the frets are where the guitarist will place the fingers of their left hand (or right hand if they're left-handed) in order to play a specific note. There is a difference of a semitone between each fret and most guitars have between 19 and 22 frets on the fretboard.
There are usually inlays on the neck. These are usually circles, diamonds, or other symbols which can be found on the odd-numbered frets with the exception of the first, eleventh, thirteenth, which don't usually have inlays, and the twelfth fret, which usually does.
Unlike what you may think, the inlays don't actually indicate which note you're playing. In fact, the same notes appear several times across the guitar's fretboard since each string is tuned to a different note and a higher fret on one string will equate to a lower fret on another, for example.
The inlays only indicate the number of the fret and are quite useful if you're reading music from tablature. However, after a bit of practice, you probably won't even look at these inlays any more.
The first thing you should do is learn the notes that each string is tuned two. Usually, from the lowest to the highest, strings are tuned to E, A, D, G, B, e. Additionally, you should also know that:
- There is a semitone between each fret.
- Between E and F and B and C, there is no semitone. In fact, there is no such thing as E sharp or B sharp.
- Between every other note, there is a semitone.
For example, if we start from the fifth string, you'll hear the following notes along the neck with the open fret being A.
- 1st fret: A#
- 2nd fret: B
- 3rd fret: C
- 4th fret: C#
- 5th fret: D
- 6th fret: D#
- 7th fret: E
- 8th fret: F
- 9th fret: F#
- 10th fret: G
- 11th fret: G#
- 12th fret: A
What is Your Level as a Guitarist?
After a few weeks and months of playing the guitar, how are you doing? What is your level as a guitarist?
Are you still the beginner? An intermediate? An expert?
To really work out what level you're at, you really need to be critical of yourself.
Put yourself in a comfortable situation without any outside distractions. If you can manage to do everything you're trying to do in this kind of situation, it's not really a good gauge of your level.
To really see how you're doing as a guitarist, there needs to be more at stake:
- You need to feel like there's an audience watching you and listening to you.
- Have had a poor a night's sleep.
- Be irritated after a hard day at work.
- Play the guitar other than your own.
- Play in a noisy environment.
- Play without having practised for a few days.
- Play along with a band.
- Play the guitar with someone who constantly makes mistakes.
- Play when it's hot or cold.
Great musicians can play in any condition. This is when the best musicians really shine. Just because you manage to play a song once, it doesn't mean that your great guitarist. To say that you really know a song, you need to be able to play it perfectly almost 100% of the time.
To better understand what level you ask, here's an example of what you should know at each level:
- Absolute beginner: knowing basic chords, playing basics songs with the music. Still making mistakes such as playing the wrong notes and struggling to keep time.
- Beginner: being able to play in time, a good knowledge of basic chords, knowing several basic songs, being able to recognise mistakes, being able to sing along.
- Advanced beginner or lower intermediate: familiarising yourself with the neck of the guitar, a rudimentary understanding of music theory, harmony, and more complicated chords, starting to improvise, singing at the same time.
- Upper intermediate: a good understanding of the neck of the guitar, musicality, mastery of basic chords and rhythms, knowing how to improvise and compose music, being able to play along with other musicians.
- Advanced: flawless technique, being able to use an advanced knowledge of music theory at any moment in order to improvise, create or produce music, or play by ear, experience playing live.
Being a great guitarist is all about improving your playing and never resting on your laurels. You have to feel that there's always something else to learn or an aspect of your playing that you can improve.
Advice on Improving Your Guitar Playing!
Learning how to play the guitar isn't necessarily easy. If you don't know where to start, you're far more likely to give up.
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The first thing you need to do is build up your confidence. Confidence is the key to success.
If you've decided to learn how to play the guitar, you probably the reason for doing so. Build up your confidence and keep this reason in mind any time it wavers.
Then, if you want to get better at playing the guitar, you should follow these tips:
- Warm up: warming of allows you to loosen up your fingers, especially when it's cold, in order to perform better.
- Make mistakes: mistakes are a great way to progress, especially if you make note of them and work on fixing them.
- Listen to music: music is a great way to feed your inspiration or motivate you, discover new songs and artists, or learn about new techniques and chords to work on.
- Practise regularly: working on your playing a little bit every day is far more effective than practising for a long time once a week.
- Play slowly at first: if you want to learn how to play quickly, you need to first be able to play a piece slowly. This way, you can work your way up to playing a piece quickly.
- Play with a metronome: this will help you get a sense of rhythm and timing.
- Work on your speed: there are plenty of different exercises you can do to improve your dexterity and speed.
- Record or film yourself: this will help you to see what mistakes you're making and to correct them. Try to be as objective as possible.
- Plan your practice sessions around fixed objectives.
- Get guitar lessons.
- Join a band: this will help you to progress more quickly.
- Get out of your comfort zone both in terms of music and techniques.
So do you reckon you're ready to learn guitar?
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