When it comes to learning and practicing the guitar, there are so many questions you might ask yourself. Some may be relevant and important questions, while others may be a complete waste of your time that draw your attention away from what really matters. Things like; Do I need to memorize every scale known to man? Should I practice more often? Should I learn to read music...and so on.
So how do you know what questions are relevant to you? You can answer that by asking yourself this one question; What is my end goal for learning the guitar? Asking yourself that question will help you narrow down the topics that are relevant to your specific goals. If you want to become a professional studio guitarist then you should be learning every scale and chord you can get your hands on and learning to read music. If you want to take a shot at being a rockstar, you should probably be practicing more often than not. If you want to play songs around the campfire with your friends, you shouldn't have to worry about endless scale patterns and chord shapes or be practicing for 8 hours a day. These are all examples of a "big picture" approach. You can also use the same question to narrow down relevant short term goals. For example if you are just trying to learn a few songs to impress your friends, you don't need to waste time learning scales and chords that aren't in the songs you are working on. The overall message here is that all guitarists are different people with different goals in mind. So do yourself a favor and stop worrying about what everyone else is practicing and figure out what is relevant to your own goals. You will save yourself time, frustration and ultimately have more fun!
1. Break down the chord shape into smaller pieces
When learning to play open chords it can be extremely difficult and frustrating to attempt to play chords using 5 or 6 strings. Your fingers get in the way of each other and have not yet developed the coordination or the flexibility they need in order to cleanly play some of the larger, more spaced out chord shapes. Let's take a C major chord for example. The standard chord shape for C major involves 5 strings (5th through 1st). We can turn this chord into 3 smaller shapes that only use 3 strings: 3rd through first, 4th through 2nd, and 5th through 3rd. When you reduce the amount of strings being used in the chord, it allows you to use less fingers at a time which lowers the difficulty of the chord. In time you can then try using 4 out of the 5 strings, and eventually you will feel comfortable using all 5 strings. Smaller chord shapes also work great for getting used to the feeling of switching between 2 or more chords.
2. Fretting hand muscle memory
It is absolutely necessary to spend time developing muscle memory in your fretting hand. This is more easily done when you remove the strumming hand from the equation and focus on the fretting hand alone. The first step is to figure out exactly where each finger is going to be for any particular chord shape. Practice placing one finger at a time until you can place your fingers from memory. Next you'll want to practice hovering your fingers above the strings and forming the chord shape BEFORE you touch the strings. Once you have the shape, practice placing all of your fingers at once. Do both of these steps daily with all of your open chords and practice until you can change from chord to chord effortlessly.
3. Strumming hand timing
To begin, set up a metronome at 60 bpm. Practice a downward strumming motion and make sure it syncs up with each beat of the metronome. While attempting your downward strums, pay careful attention to the speed at which your hand comes back up for the next strum. The speed at which your hand comes up should be identical to the speed of your downward strum so that your hand is traveling at a consistent speed and never stops moving between strums. Once you have mastered this, practice adding in the upward strum. To do this, just get your downward strums in sync with the metronome and your hand moving at a consistent speed then simply allow the pick to hit the strings as your hand comes back up. If you are in perfect sync with the metronome, you will notice that the upward strum occurs exactly between each beat of the metronome. This method of combining a downward strum and an upward strum on each beat is the basis for forming simple strum patterns. I suggest exploring different combinations of upward and downward strums. Just remember to stay in time with the metronome. Once you feel comfortable strumming in time with the metronome, go ahead and try holding down a few chords with your fretting hand. The important thing to remember at this time is to keep your strumming hand in time, even if your fretting hand feels totally lost and keeps missing the chord shapes.
As a beginner guitarist, you may be wondering where a good place to start would be. Most beginners want to jump into learning songs as quickly as possible and often choose materials that are just too difficult for them. This can, and most likely will, cause extreme frustration and confusion. In order to progress into more difficult material, you must first develop a solid technical foundation. The most important technique being two-hand synchronization. Learning to coordinate both of your hands together will be crucial to everything you play. Once you can comfortably synchronize both hands, it will make learning new material much easier and limit the time you spend feeling frustrated. Here are a few tips to get you started on your two-hand synchronization.
1. The Left Hand
In the beginning, it will be necessary to work on each hand individually to get a feel for the separate functions of each hand. Begin by working the left hand first. Pick any fret on the first string and place your first finger there. Repeatedly press down and release on that fret for approximately one minute. Then repeat this process using the other three fingers. Remember to only focus on your left hand. Do not attempt to pick any notes with your right hand at this point.
2. The Right Hand
After you have spent some time working with the left hand, you'll want to get a feel for the right hand as it picks the string. Take away your left hand and focus on picking the open first string. Notice how it feels as the pick hits the string and try to find a consistent volume and speed for each pick stroke.
3. Both Hands Together
The next step is to try both hands together. Start by getting your left hand going again, and focus on just one finger at a time. Repeatedly lift and place your finger on whatever fret you choose. Once you feel comfortable, add the right hand and try to pick the string at precisely the same moment you press down the note with your left hand. This precise timing in both hands is the key element of two-hand synchronization.
Once you develop a feel for this practice strategy, you can try applying it to more difficult exercises. For example, you can try moving to different frets or changing strings after every note.
Beginner and intermediate guitarists often encounter frustration in their guitar playing. Unfortunately there is no way around it, but being aware that this is a problem ALL guitarists face will help to motivate you through the tough times. The most important thing to keep in mind is to be patient with yourself. Here are a few tips for remaining calm and staying focused during the frustrating times.
1. Take It Slow
One of the major causes of frustration for beginner and intermediate guitar players is that they try to play things too fast. In the beginning stages of development, a guitarist needs to practice at very slow tempos to allow the brain time to process the information. Remember, speed is a byproduct of consistent and efficient practice. In the beginning you need to focus on playing things correctly, so be patient and the speed will come naturally.
2. Avoid Feeling Overwhelmed
For beginning students it can be very easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the new information and practice concepts being introduced. They are usually under the misconception that they must review absolutely everything they are working on for every practice session. This can be extremely overwhelming and frustrating and cause a lot of anxiety when it comes time to practice. Beginners need to keep there practice sessions short and simple. Remember to only work on one topic for each practice session and spread the remaining materials over multiple practice sessions.
3. Don't Worry About Everything You Don't Know Yet
This is a very common problem for intermediate guitarists. As an Intermediate player, you are just starting to put the pieces together and set goals for yourself as guitar player and as a musician. As you start to explore your interests, you immediately realize that there is a great deal about the guitar that you have not yet learned. This can be very frustrating and cause you to forget about everything that you have accomplished so far. During this time it helps to focus on the positive and remember that even though there is so much you haven't learned yet, there is still a lot for you to be proud of.
4. When All Else Fails, Find Something Fun To Play
There comes a time in all guitarists' lives where they encounter something that just doesn't click for them. You sit and spend countless hours of practice time trying to master a new technique or song and no matter what you do, you just can't seem to get the hang of it. When you encounter one of these road blocks, you must remember not to force the issue. Frustrated practice yields poor results and only leads to more frustration. Instead, find something fun to play that you are already good at. Put the other thing out of your mind and come back to it another time. Play to your strenghts and build your confidence as a guitarist, and everything else will take care of itself.
The thing that most beginners and even some advanced players don't realize is that you have to practice the art of practicing in order to get good at it. Some of you might think that is a little strange, but it is absoultely true. Think about it. Usually when you try something new, you're not very good at it and you have absoulutely no clue what to do. If you've never practiced the guitar before, then chances are you have no idea what to do. What do you work on? How long should you work on it? How do you know when it's good enough? These are all questions that are tough to answer if you've never practiced the guitar before. Here are 3 simple steps to creating a solid practice routine:
Step 1 - Warm Up
The warm up period is probably the most important step to any practice session. This is the time you spend at the beginning of each practice session doing simple exercises to get the hands losened up. More importantly, it allows you time to settle into the proper midset for the upcoming practice session. During the warm up period you should be paying attention to the small details of your playing such as your posture, tension in your hands and tone production, just to name a few.
Step 2 - Review your previous practice session
I often tell my students that it is a good idea to keep track of what you work on. This does not have to be a detailed description of every second of every practice session, rather, just a brief reminder to yourself about what you worked on and how you felt about your progress for that day. When you sit down to practice, look back to your notes from the previous session and from there decide what to work on for the day.
Step 3 - Play for fun
Learning to play the guitar should be fun and rewarding. If you are always working on technical and challenging material in your practice sessions, you run the risk of getting burned out and may find yourself puting more time between practice sessions, or worse, you may find yourself giving up altogether. It is always a good idea to save some time at the end of each practice session to play for pure enjoyment. How does the saying go? All work and no play... You get the idea.
Let's face it, everyone who has attempted to play guitar has hit a point of agonizing frustration, especially beginners. While many of us make excuses and give up, a few go on to learn the secrets of minimizing frustration and break through the beginner plateau. Don't be a quitter. Get on the right path to maximizing results and minimizing your frustration.
1. Know Your Limits
Too many beginners (and even more advanced players) try to do too much at once. As a teacher, I have had many students pick out a song or guitar solo that is unrealistic for their current abilities. Most students do realize the difficulty of their choice, but they are under the assumption that if they practice hard enough, they will be able to play it. Though I admire their ambition, I must explain to them that this is like trying to write a novel before you've learned to read. You can practice all you want, but it just won't make any sense and ultimately you will get frustrated and give up. Taking lessons from an experienced teacher is the best way to understand your limits and to learn to set goals that will gradually expand them.
2. Make Practicing Fun
This one sounds kind of obvious, but if you do not learn to enjoy the process of practicing you will be more likely to quit playing all together. In order to make practice fun you must first understand how and what you should be practicing. This will vary from player to player, but most beginners need to focus on 3 key points in their practice: coordinating the hands, developing the ears, playing enjoyable and rewarding music. A great teacher will design fun and, more importantly, relevant practice routines for developing new skills on the instrument. Learning to track your progress and implement frequent challenges for yourself will greatly increase your sense of enjoyment while practicing.
3. Play With Others
Playing music with other people is probably the number one goal for learning an instrument. However, most beginners see this as a distant goal that will happen someday after they have mastered the guitar. Actually it is extremely beneficial for beginners to start playing with other guitarists of the same ability as soon as possible. Seeing others go through the same process and overcome similar frustrations makes the learning process far less intimidating. Students in my guitar academy begin to play in small groups from the very beginning. The added sense of belonging to a community provides a valuable support network where students actually begin to help each other learn and stay motivated to practice.
Playing guitar and making music with other musicians can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. And nothing compares to the satisfaction you get when you can take what you hear in your head and reproduce every detail on your guitar. Whether you're goal is to write your own original songs or jam some of your favorite songs with a few friends, it is important to never lose sight of who you are and what you are trying to accomplish as a musician. Here are a few tips for finding your voice as a guitarist and keeping a creative flow in your playing.
1. Trust your instincts
If a particular passage of music is typically played played with a clean sound and no vibrato, but you absolutely love to play it with distortion and crazy amounts of vibrato, then by all means do just that. Every time you play your guitar you should be making a statement and communicating to your audience (whether it be a few close friends or 30,000 strangers crammed into an arena) who you are as a guitarist. As long as you play your guitar like it sounds in your head, you will be emotionally invested in what you are playing and people will notice.
2. Don't be afraid to try something new
Sometimes you get the feeling that you're stuck in a rut. This could be with a particular song, or with your general approach to playing the guitar. When this happens, it is important to forge ahead with an open mind and begin to experiment. Try playing that new verse riff you've been working on with some chorus and delay. Maybe add a touch of reverb and some overdrive, or whatever you can think of that gets you one step closer to the sound you are hearing in your head.
3. Phrasing is king
How you play something is more important than what you play. Music as an art form allows you to express a variety of feelings and paint a picture through sound. Just like you can say the same sentence ten different ways and express ten different emotions, you can play the same 3 note phrase on your guitar ten different ways and express a different emotion for each. If you aren't quite happy with the way a certain song or passage sounds when you play it, think of all of the different elements that you can tweak to get it to sound exactly the way you want it. These can be subtle differences such as a faster vibrato on a specific note, or using a hammer-on instead of a slide. They can also consist of more noticeable changes such as increasing the tempo, or changing the key of the song. Once again, don't be afraid to try something new. Remember, "its all in your head," and you have to use any means necessary to bring it into reality.
As always, feel free to comment or email me directly if you have any questions or concerns about improving your guitar playing.
Have fun playing what you know! The most important thing for a beginner guitarist is to have fun playing the guitar. If you get caught up in the overwhelming thought pattern of worrying about everything you don't know and haven't learned yet, you are setting yourself up for failure. Beginner guitarists need to simplify their guitar playing and become familiar with what it feels like to make music. After all, making music is the name of the game and believe me, it can be a very rewarding experience. And the best part is, you don't really have to understand music to be creative with it. Just follow the golden rule...if it sounds good, it is good.
I have helped many beginner guitarists get started playing the guitar, and over the years I have found that the best thing for beginners is to just play music. Early in my teaching career, I would often try to teach too much theory and technical jargon to beginning students. I bet you can guess what happened next. Most often they would become overwhelmed with thinking that the guitar is just too hard for them or they just don't have the natural talent to play the guitar, and they would quit playing all together.
In the years since, I have learned that beginner guitarists just need to play things they can have fun with right away (be it their favorite songs, a popular riff, or an easy solo) so that they can immediately become familiar with the rewarding side of playing the guitar and most importantly have fun with it.
Feel free to drop me an email if you have any questions about getting started playing the guitar. I'd be happy to share a few tips and point you in the right direction.
How many times have you tried to learn to play the guitar, only to quit just a few weeks or months later? I'm willing to bet that for most of you, your answer would be more than once. This is a very common story for most beginners, but you can break the cycle by being aware of certain roadblocks that will end up sending your guitar back to the closet for another 6 months. Here is a list of common pitfalls and some words of wisdom followed by the ultimate secret to guitar motivation.
Life Happens - Learning to play the guitar requires a consistent time commitment. The busier life gets, the more you have to prioritize your time, and the guitar slowly slips down toward the bottom of the list.
Words of Wisdom: Yes, playing the guitar does require a consistent time commitment. However, the key word here is "consistent." You can still make progress on the guitar while practicing as little as 10 minutes a day 3 to 5 times a week. So when you find yourself in a pinch for time, all you need to do is reduce the length of your practice sessions, not the number of sessions. Consistent and dedicated practice is the fastest way to improving, which brings us to our next pitfall.
Creatures of Habit - I'm sure you've heard the saying, "human beings are creatures of habit," and there is no arguing with it here. In order to truly learn something, you have to make it a part of your regular routine.
Words of Wisdom: I've heard several numbers as to how long it takes for something to become habit; 21 days, one month, two months, etc. I believe that this is different for everyone, so to be on the safe side we'll go with 90 days. If you can break the 90 day hump, you'll have a much greater chance of sticking with it. Next time you decide to pick up the guitar again, give yourself a fighting chance and get over the hump.
Fear of What You Don't Know - As a guitar teacher, I'm very familiar with beginner (even intermediate and advanced) students becoming far too overwhelmed with all of the things that they don't know. This mindset can be extremely detrimental to your motivation and will exponentially increase your frustrations with each practice session.
Words of Wisdom: When you notice this thought creeping in, you must ignore it and remove it from your mind immediately. Learn to focus on the things that you do know, and do them well. There is no shortcut to learning guitar and everyone's path is different. Over time, as your personal style and tastes develop, you will surely learn everything you need to accomplish your goals as a guitarist.
The Ultimate Secret To Guitar Motivation:
Play What You Love
Sounds simple, right? The truth is that a lot of guitarists do not take the time to really think about what their goals are, what inspires them, and ultimately, what kind of guitarist they want to become. "Play What You Love." Keep this thought in the forefront of everything you do as a guitarist and it will do the following for you:
Many beginners need help defining their goals and identifying their true passions as a guitar player. I will sit down with you for free to discuss what motivates you and outline a personalized guitar lesson strategy. Contact me through email or fill out the Free Trial Contact Form to schedule a time.
I know, the mere mention of a metronome will put many guitarists to sleep but this is one area you simply can't afford to neglect. The metronome can be a powerful tool in helping you develop your skills and plays a crucial role in your progress from day one. Let's look at a few scenarios...
Scenario #1: Tracking speed progress
This is probably the most common use and is most likely the first thing that comes to mind when you think of practicing with a metronome. You would choose a riff or exercise to work on, start slow, and then gradually increase your speed on the metronome. The key here is to have patience and be honest with yourself so you do not increase the speed before you are ready. You should only increase the speed when the excerpt you are working on begins to feel effortless. And remember to always record your progress in a notebook of some sort.
Scenario #2: Developing a good sense of rhythm
This one may be fairly obvious as well, but good rhythm is probably the most important asset for any musician, especially if you want to play with other musicians. The metronome is invaluable for developing flawless rhythm. One of the best routines you can do for this is to play familiar music at different tempos. First choose a song, riff, or whatever that is familiar to you and that you can play fairly easily. Play through at the intended tempo, and then bump up the tempo 10 clicks each time you play through it until you are struggling to play it. Once it is out of your range of speed, go back to the original tempo and this time move the metronome down 10 clicks each time you play through it. You'll be amazed at how difficult it is to play something accurately at super slow speeds.
Scenario #3: Subdividing the beat
Subdividing the beat can be fairly difficult to comprehend for some, so I will do my best to simplify it as much as possible. Start with your metronome at 60 beats per minute. Each beat will represent a quarter note. In order to subdivide the beat, we have to divide the value of one beat into two equal beats which means the tempo will feel twice as fast. In reality the tempo is not what has changed. We have simply moved from playing quarter notes to eighth notes. What I recommend here is to play quarter notes at a medium paced speed, 80bpm for example, and practice subdividing the beat in two ways. First, practice getting a feel for moving from quarter notes to eighth notes. You can always check your accuracy by doubling the speed of the metronome (quarter notes at 80bpm becomes eighth notes at 160bpm). Second, practice going from quarter notes to half notes. Play one note for every two beats of the metronome. This will make you feel like you are playing at half speed. Once you get a feel for the basics you can move into sixteenth notes, triplets and beyond. Being able to subdivide the beat is crucial for counting and playing more complex rhythms.
Scenario #4: Learning music by ear
Incorporating a regular and consistent metronome routine into your guitar practice not only develops your chops, but it also develops your ear. Hearing and matching pitch is only half the battle. Once you master the metronome, you will be able to hear and repeat a rhythm with greater ease and accuracy. And just like everything else, the more time you put in, the greater the reward. In this case, being able to hear a song and play it back after hearing it only once.