I made a lot of mistakes when I started learning guitar. I recently spent some time thinking about what I would have done differently as a beginner guitar player. If I could go back and talk to my younger self, what would I say?
I came up with a list of six things that could have saved me a lot of time and frustration. I share these six tips with you in the hope that it helps you and sets you on the right track from the get-go.
Even if you’ve been playing for a little while, these tips can help. I’m going to start with number six and go backward.
6 - Using a Marginal Instrument
When I started out, I thought that a real guitar player could play on anything.
The truth is that my first guitar was not very functional. It had really high action (distance between the strings and the fretboard) and was quite hard to play. Not only do you have to press the strings much harder to get the sound, but your hand will likely end up hurting. And boy did my hand hurt.
On top of that the guitar could not stay in tune. Trying to practice and having to press really hard all the time on an out of tune guitar is a recipe for frustration.
You don’t have to spend a fortune on your guitar, but get a guitar that sounds right, stays in tune and has a reasonable action. Simply said, buy an instrument that sounds good when you play it. Make sure it is not a struggle just to press down on the strings.
5 - Lack of Routine
Ironically, I used to think I’d have to practice hours at a time. However, whenever I would start practicing something would come up. I’d end up moving on to something else.
And since I thought I needed at least an hour to practice, I would hesitate to get started. Then I’d feel guilty. I began associating playing guitar with feeling guilty. You see where this is going?
If I could go back, I would tell myself to practice regularly, even if only for 10 or 15 minutes a day. Make a routine of it, and then slowly increase the time.
Now, even if I make a small amount of time, I usually end up practicing more and I truly enjoy it. Think of it like squeezing a wedge in a crack. Once you get the crack open you can squeeze a bigger wedge.
The power of habit can do a lot in terms of practicing. Make a place to practice and set aside a bit of time, preferably at the same time each day. Be flexible but persistent.
4 - Disorganized Practice
Think about what’s important to practice now and spend some time on the fundamentals, the things that actually make you better. Think about what a practice schedule looks like and try to stick with it, with some variation from time to time.
Also, if you’re going to learn a song with chords, make sure you know the chords ahead of time. If you don’t, work on the chords first.
I would often try to play a song and learn the chords along the way. This led to frustration, as I would then move on to something else without much progress being made.
I talk more about creating a practice plan along with answering many other questions in this live question and answer session:
3 - Not Paying Enough Attention to Rhythm
Now I realize just how important rhythm is and how even simple things sound good if you get the rhythm right. That goes for melody and chords as well.
Try to practice with a metronome at least some of the time. Practice slowly and take your time, but really focus on rhythm.
2 - Underestimating the Value of Basic Music Theory
I am not suggesting you take a long course on music theory, but that you understand the very basics. For instance, how a major scale is formed and what the pattern is.
Learn triads, how they relate to a scale, and how they are the basis for chords. Once you get a hang of that, you can move on to more complex chords like seventh chords.
Memorize each of the names of the open strings, as well as knowing the notes all over the neck of the guitar. All of the above is not that difficult and does not take too much energy, yet it's incredibly helpful.
1 - Not Connecting More With Others
Go out and play with others. Try not to get intimidated. Compare notes, be humble, ask questions and enjoy the process.
At the beginning I was too embarrassed about what I knew and didn't know. Also try to find a good teacher to guide you along. Connecting with other people is in itself an educational experience.
There is more to finding a good teacher than most people realize. Learn what to look for in this lesson.
These are the six simple but helpful tips that can help you in your guitar learning process. They can go a long way if you apply them diligently.
Remember to enjoy the journey and have fun.
Thanks for the after thoughts. My biggest mistake, and still is, is what you described in #4. I tend to bounce around looking at several sites, songs, and methods and never stick to just one…. I have attempted it, but not succeeded. I have promised myself, more than once, to start from scratch and do it right…but, here I sit stuck without progress for over 4 years.