Learn to play the guitar

So, you’ve decided that you’d like to learn to play the guitar! You’re just about to start out on a wonderful journey.

For us, this breaks down in to two steps: getting a guitar (the easy bit) and then learning how to play it ( perhaps the harder bit). With this in mind, here are some pointers for how to get started.

Buy or rent?

When players learn to play the guitar they often start out with the best of intentions but can quickly become subdued and the guitar is left to gather dust. Avoid wasting lots of money and consider the following options:

  • Rent from a guitar shop (maybe with an option to buy it)
  • Buy a new cheap guitar from a guitar shop, Amazon, Gear for Music, EBay – the best option might be a ‘starter kit’ (more on this in the next step)
  • Buy used from a guitar shop or Gumtree, Ebay, etc. (a few scratches make absolutely no difference to the sound or playability – there’s great second-hand gear around)

What type of guitar is best?

The options are relatively straight forward, at least in terms of playability:

  • Steel string acoustic or electro-acoustic – of all the options this is usually the most difficult for a beginner in terms of actually pressing down the strings.
  • Nylon string classical – easier to depress the strings but the wider neck means a bigger stretch for the hand/fingers.
  • Electric guitar – best compromise with a narrower neck, thinner strings and lower action (easier to press the strings down).

Best advice – electric guitars come in a wide variety of makes and models; get an inexpensive (it’s your first guitar! less than £100) solid body electric ‘starter kit’, such as a Stratocaster or equivalent. A ‘strat’ is a rugged and durable machine and comes in different sizes: a full size version for an adult and a ¾ version for a small child and you can even get different neck lengths (short necks are great for smaller people or those with arthritis).

The kit will have the electric guitar and bag plus amplifier, guitar lead, electronic tuner, capo, plectrums, guitar strap, and maybe some spare strings and electronic tuner. The only other bit of important gear is a metronome (it will be become your hated/best friend. Get electronic, not a tick-tock).

Get the guitar set up properly

Any guitar, new or old, needs regular check-ups and tweaks in order to make sure it can be tuned up correctly and make it as easy to play as possible. The tweaks will likely see adjustments to lots of components (the truss rod, saddle, nut and fret wires and sometimes more) and you’ll get a new set of strings put on as well (old, rusty, grimy strings are horrible).

Even a brand-new guitar (straight from the factory or shop) should have a set-up. A local guitar shop will have a technician who can do this, or maybe there’s a luthier in your area; either will be fine. If you get the guitar from a guitar shop then ask them if it has already been set up, else ask if they can do it as part of the sale.

How to learn to play the guitar

There’s no point in having all the gear but no idea! Learning guitar is fun and extremely rewarding on many levels; but it can be frustrating at times. The best advice from the outset is to be nice to yourself; patience truly is a virtue. Be realistic and stay determined.

Okay – straight out the gate

You’ve got a guitar. Best advice – arrange for some private lessons with a good tutor. So many people make great headway at first and then suddenly hit a brick wall when trying to play tunes without having the techniques and know-how bedded in first. The internet has some good stuff out there but there’s also lots of wobbly information and suspect guidance! That said, you can look up things like chord shapes and learn the names of the strings. If you acquire bad habits and techniques at the start it’s an exercise in itself to simply get rid of them, let alone learn the proper way.

A tutor would assess ability and aptitude, set out the basic dos and don’ts, highlight what to focus on and how to practice properly and suggest appropriate goals. Focus here on the phrase ‘practice properly’ – this is key to getting better on the guitar (in fact it applies to everything). Simply putting in lots of imperfect practice doesn’t make things perfect. In fact, it’s worse than that – it can take you longer to get rid of acquired bad habits than it would have been to learn them correctly in the first place.

We have some brilliant tutors here at Guitar Weekends, and provide private lessons for all levels, contact us here to find out more details.

The essence of guitar – chords and strumming

Strumming on a guitar is akin to just breathing. This can appear easy but it’s not – especially if you want to make it sound good. After explaining the correct posture, how to hold the guitar, fretting hand dos and don’ts, understanding the guitar’s geography etc. your tutor will set you on the path of learning chords from diagrams and getting you to form these on the neck (using optimal fingerings) and then get your strumming hand to, well, strum.  Playing and changing chords is a relentless technique to master; you’ll get it in fits and spurts. Warning, as with most other things, you’ll need your metronome (or, even better drum/backing tracks)! However, this doesn’t have to be boring or tedious as there are some fantastic and straight-forward songs out there to use as exercises and you’ll start to build your own repertoire in the process.

Moving on

Eventually you’ll feel knowledgeable and confident enough to start playing with a friend. This is a brilliant stage – great fun and you’ll work things out on your own and learn from the other person(s). Listening really comes into play now – rhythm is everything; you need to keep time. You might even venture towards a guitar club, try a stint at an open mic night or even go on a group course to take your playing to the next level. These are great as they’re under professional guidance and you’ll have players there who are both beyond and behind your level – you’ll learn tons from them and even teach them a few of your own things.

By the way, if you can, don’t jettison your tutor after a few lessons (unless you can’t get on with them!). If they’re worth their salt they’ll be challenging you all the way to improve with each lesson.

One-on-one lessons and Group courses

At Guitar Weekends we cover all of the above both online and residentially at venues throughout the country.

Check out our website’s What’s On page for all our courses and lessons.

We offer a free initial assessment and then suggest the right options with Gift Vouchers to allow flexibility of choice i.e. buy now and choose later after the assessment and maybe some further chats to evaluate the starting playing level, listen to the aspirations and agree achievable goals.

Along the way

You’ll undoubtedly buy tuition books, song books, DVDs and even go back to the internet; these are all fine as long as you’ve got a good grounding over the first year of your musical journey.

It’s all about what you like and want to achieve: blues, rock, country, jazz, folk, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, fingerpicking, etc. Don’t try to do it all – pick something and then stick at it.

Not yet sure what lessons you need or buying for someone else?

Gift Vouchers make a great option for someone you know and are available to redeem against any of our courses. If you’re not sure of what you’d like for yourself then these are the ideal solution too! Buy now, let them choose the course/lesson at their leisure and pay the balance nearer the time of the course.