So, you've got the itch. Your roomate has a guitar. Maybe your best friend has a guitar. Maybe you've gotten a guitar for your birthday or some special occasion. At any rate, you've decided to embark upon a task that is often embarked upon by many college students, and quit by just about as many.
You want to learn guitar.
Everyone has their reasons. You might think yours are unique, but chances are there is a large population of people that learn it for the exact same reason that you have decided to learn it for.
I hate to break it to you, but even though your reason is likely on this list, chances are you wont fulfill your goal. If you stick with it long enough, your reasons for playing will likely change to one or more different reasons on that list. At any rate, these reasons though everyone tends to start with them nobody sticks with it for them.
- The girl/guy you are trying to impress won't interest you by the time you get good enough to impress them. It will be a different person, with more of an interest in yodelling or harmonica.
- By the time you get good enough to put your poetry to music, you will think the poetry you wrote before is ridiculous, and you will have lost the touch for writing it, as all your time has been spent learning guitar.
- If you're learning an instrument to join a band... you're asking for even more trouble. Your buddies will get frustrated with attempting to teach you, and likely you will find yourself kicked out before you get good enough to truly jam.
- Just face it: The muse will never sing to you when the time is convienient. If you're bored, you're bored for a reason. Its because you don't feel like playing your guitar. In fact, after a few months, the times you will feel most like playing guitar are the times you are supremely stressed. This is because once you are good enough, it's relaxing.
- If money this is your motivation, take your money you would spend on all your equipment, and buy lottery tickets. You have more of a chance of striking it rich that way.
- Campfire: if you're good enough, you won't want to take your guitar. If you're bad enough, nobody will want to sing. Drunk: By the time you're good enough, you will have outgrown your drinking phase.
So dreams dashed against the rocks, if you still want to learn how to play guitar, then thats great. I still consider myself a beginner, but I've reached the point I set out to reach. That being said, what follows is a guide to learning to play guitar:
First thing is first. Familiarize yourself with the guitar. Figure out where everything is. Read on which strings are which (I could get into tunings and teach you myself, but I'm teaching you how to learn guitar, not how to play it.
Next: I recommend highly that you learn on an acoustic guitar. There is nothing wrong with learning on an electric, but (even if you want to play electric in the future) your technical guitar skill will rise much quicker on an acoustic. The reason for this is the higher action of the strings, and unlike an electric, you must force an acoustic to make a sound.
I won't lie. Your first week of playing guitar will be the most painful experience of your life. At the same time however, this is your one real chance to play until your fingers bleed. The reasoning behind both of these statements is that you are developing callouses on your left fingertips. After about a week, you will not be able to feel anything with the tips of your fingers. Believe me, it is a welcome feeling.
So how to get started? Well thats really simple actually. Pick a song. Pick a song you like, that isn't classical gas (or anything by Eric Clapton.) Spend all day learning this song. Tabsites online will provide you with the music to just about any song out there. Just keep google-searching for "name of song" tab. Chances are, by the third or fourth attempt, you will find the song you are looking for. I started on Under the Bridge by Red Hot Chili Peppers. But the two most common beginner songs are Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin and Nothing Else Matters by Metallica.
By the next day, you will have forgotten the song. No bother, just learn it again. You will pick it up much faster this time, and likely improve. During the beginning of your playing career, don't worry about chord structures, or the correct way to position your left hand in order to stay in key. Just find the notes, and do whatever you need to do the pick them out. Stare at the fretboard constantly. You will look ridiculous I promise, but every person who has ever played a guitar has been there, and anyone who hasn't played one doesn't deserve to criticize you.
Continue this pattern until you have two or three songs that you can wake up and play. You shouldn't expect to be able to play them the entire way through, as most songs consist of rhythmic parts as well as picked parts. Once you have a few riffs down however, its time to get serious about playing. Your new exercize (to be repeated until you have the fretboard memorized) is to once a day, lay your guitar in front of you. Close your eyes. Randomly pick a point on the fretboard. Find some way to figure out what note that is. (A good strategy for this is that every fret is 1/2 of a step. So if you are on the 1st fret on your D string, you have found a D#.) Find every occurence of that note on the fretboard (look for patterns. Most strings are five half-steps away from the next string up.) Memorize where each is. Find its octaves. Play each one, and repeat the note name until it is engrained in your head. Repeat this every day ad nauseum.
Naturally during your time of fretboard familiarization, you should still be learning songs. Push yourself. Up the difficulty. Bleed your playing into songs that require some strumming and some chord-work. Most of all however, do not get discouraged. This is the time each guitar player is given that he/she is allowed to play slowly. After a few months, you will have no excuse, so get it out of your system now.
After roughly a month, (or a month's worth of playing days) begin to learn chords. Begin with your standard, open chords. Begin with the major chords. Memorize these, memorize the shapes your hands make while playing them. If you have musical background, attempt to discern the root note, and the 5th and the 7th, this will help you to create a picture of it in your mind. If you lack such experience, put what I just said out of your head.
A good rule of thumb when learning chords: You are ready to move on to the next set (say for instance, minor chords) when you are able to play each chord strummed four times, at 60bpm (or one beat per second) consecutively. So for your first excersize, when you are able to strum each of the major chords (A-F) four times in 28 seconds immediately after picking up the guitar, you are ready to move on.
You will begin to notice major breaking points in your guitar learning by this point. Everyone experiences these plateaus and it is a great feeling when you hit them. Just realize that you won't be improving for a while after you've hit one.
After you have learned the major, minor, 7th's 5th's (power), it is time to move on to the most challenging chords there are: Barre chords. These will hurt. You will not be able to play these for months. You are destined to pull a muscle in your finger while learning these. Do finger strengthening excersizes. Essentially what you will be doing is holding your forefinger across the entire fretboard, thus shortening the overall length of the strings. Don't believe me that its hard? Try it. Try holding your forefinger over all six strings, and pluck each one. Chances are, you got sound out of three. This is the hardest thing you will learn, but it is also the most powerful as it allows you to play any chord on any root string. Once you know a few basic barre chords (learn F#, and learn Bb) You will be able to play any Major, Minor, 7th, or 5th in existance with relative ease.
Set aside a few weeks to learn this. Find songs that accomodate them. Most songs with a basic rhythmic guitar part will use these at some point. At the outset try to find songs that use only one. Soon, you will prefer to see songs using barre chords as it means you don't have to look up a new shape, or contort your fingers to some odd angle; for now one barre chord to get you used to switching to them during songs will suffice.
Three solid months. Ninety days. Ninety days of playing, and you will be able to play most anything on the radio with a slight bit of practice. Naturally as you become more comfortable with a guitar in your lap, you will realize the exact style of music you enjoy playing most. You will gravitate towards those songs and shape your learning style to accomodate them. However once you have learned the basics of chord shapes, and strum patterns (something not covered, but these are impossible to write about. Best bet here is to find someone who knows how to play, and have them show you.) Not many people will be able to improve on you. This guide was quick, this guide was dirty, but if you learn each subject mentioned, you will be able to complete any of the aformentioned goals with little problem.
Bottom line for beginning guitar: Keep in mind that you aren't going to learn to write masterpieces right off the bat. Leave that to the professionals at first. Learn already existing songs. Learn how to sing and play at the same time (very difficult at first). The only thing that will make you better is training your brain to accept that you are playing an instrument, and that the instrument won't play itself.