You just came home from the store after doing your research, or you are the proud recipient of a prized gift.
You unpack your new guitar with fierce anticipation. The light shimmers off the highly polished surface. Your new new amplifier and cables are ready to go.
There they sit.
First, here’s what you should NOT do: Worry… Panic… Feel overwhelmed.
The bad news is: No one is born knowing how to play guitar
The good news is: Plenty of others have blazed a trail for you.
The practical tips in this article will get you started on the right foot. Think of them as “pre” beginner lessons.
Step 1: Buy a music theory book.
Musician’s don’t like to admit it, but it’s hard to play well if you don’t understand the underlying concepts of music. You can probably get by, possibly for a long time, without knowing music theory. But you don’t want to “get by.” You want to enjoy the instrument. You want to understand how to play a melody, improvise a solo, or substitute a difficult chord for an easier one. It’s not hard, simply study a little music theory each week.
My favorite theory book is Sandy Feldstein’s “Practical Theory – Complete.” Though not specifically for guitar, this consolidated version of her multi-volume set is filled with well-paced material, clear explanations, and exercises to check your understanding (answers are in the back of the book). Work from front to back, or use the detailed Table of Contents to jump directly to a specific topic. It’s at bargain at about $10.
Step 2: Buy two or more guitar instruction books with DVD’s.
The best guitar instruction books for beginners include a DVD. The book will provide traditional written instructions, reference charts, a glossary and more. A well done DVD should include demonstrations, instruction, tuning help, plus drum and simple accompaniment tracks to play along with.
Fender has two very good instruction books with DVD’s, one for Acoustic Guitar (“Fender Presents: Getting Started on Acoustic Guitar — A Guide for Beginners”) and one for Electric Guitar (“Fender Presents: Getting Started on Electric Guitar — A Guide for Beginners”). They’re practically interchangeable, so pick up only one. Each contains step-by-step instructions to learn tuning methods, essential chords, scales, practice tips, picking and strumming techniques, basic care of your instrument, and more. The DVD contains over three hours of material to help illustrate the book material, plus backing tracks for the exercises, an animated fretboard, and visual aids for things like finger placement, strumming, muting, and much more.
Books and DVD’s won’t replace a good instructor, nor will they teach you in-depth guitar method, but they’re a great way to get started.
Step 3: Buy a couple simple songbooks.
There’s a million of them out there. Buy ones with songs that are familiar to you and have only a few chords per song. Most include chord charts to refresh your memory. Don’t be too concerned if a few songs have complex looking chords: either come back to them later, simplify the chord by playing only the first three strings, or have someone show you how to change the key with a capo.
Here are a few recommendations: “Country Licks For Guitar” by Steve Trovato and Jerome Arnold features lead guitar licks from the masters of country guitar: Chet Atkins, Jimmy Bryant, James Burton, Albert Lee, Scotty Moore, more… a CD (included) contains normal and slow speed backing tracks. The “Instant Guitar Fakebook,” edited by Peter Pickow, contains over 150 songs, plus photo/chord diagrams. Songs include the melody line in music and tab, with lyrics. Have fun with “Front Porch Songs” – a collection of old-time songs, stories, and corny jokes collected by Wayne Erbsen. “The Greater Guitar White Pages” from Warner Brothers, is a huge collection of songs spanning a number of years and styles, from “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits, to Def Leppard’s “Photograph” and Smash Mouth’s “All Star.”
Step 4: Find a way of learning from others.
I started in a classroom setting, where your mistakes blend into a mistake concerto. It’s not intimidating at all.
Of course, individual lessons are the best way to learn while avoiding bad habits… assuming you find the right instructor. Ask around and don’t be afraid to switch if you’re not learning and having fun.
Jamming with friends is great way to kick-start your playing. You’ll be encouraged to practice and they’re certain to understand the occasional missed chord or puzzled look thrown their way.
Since you’re reading this, you’re part of the online-community. There are a number of guitar sites on the Internet. I recommend the community-oriented http://www.guitarnoise.com for instruction and sharing by guitarists of all levels. My own site, start-playing-guitar.com is geared to guitarists who are absolute beginners, up to those who are just beginning to perform with others. Both sites are updated regularly. Take a few minutes to look at each.
Step 5: Practice every day.
It can be tough, especially when you’re first starting out, but it’s the only way you’ll improve. At a minimum, work on part of your favorite material every day.
Step 6:Have fun!
This is the most important part, enjoying your new guitar!
Mary Poppins said “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
Snow White’s Seven Dwarf’s made their workday easier by advising: “whistle while you work.”
So: Play with others… Really turn up the volume when you’re by yourself… Get a simple drum machine for accompaniment… Learn a very simple song and play it for all it’s worth… Whatever!
A lifetime of learning and enjoyment await. Now go get started!