Beginning Guitar..where do I start?


One of the things that make the guitar unique as an instrument is that most people who play it are self taught.  Classical guitarists are the exception since they usually work with a teacher and follow a course of development.  But most rock, folk, country etc. players pick things up as they go along - copying songs from CD's or trading chords and licks with friends.  I fact some of the worlds most influential and innovative guitarists are self taught.  Because of this, many employ unconventional yet effective techniques.  A total beginner can pick up a guitar and very quickly play something that sounds musical.  This together with the fact that the guitar is adaptable to many musical styles make it one of, if not the most popular instrument in the world.

OK, so how do I get started?  The first thing to do is get yourself a decent guitar.  It really doesn't matter is it has steel or nylon strings or if it is acoustic or electric, what does matter is that it is playable.  Cheap guitars often present so many obstacles to learning that even at a  low price they are not worth it.  High action, uneven frets or poor intonation make a guitar difficult to play well even for an experienced player.  More new players are discouraged because they are trying to learn on a bad instrument than any other reason.  so get yourself the best guitar you can afford.  In today's world there are more decent guitars available at all price ranges than at any time in history.

The next most important thing is tuning.  Guitars go out of tune all the time, especially with new strings, temperature changes or just getting knocked around.  You must know how to get your guitar in tune and keep it there. Fortunately in today's world electronic tuners are relatively cheap, so get one.  But, even with an electronic tuner you need to learn how to tune your guitar without one as well.  Batteries have been known to die.

Begin with simple open chords.  You will find "Fifteen Basic Chords" that you must learn.  Concentrate on learning these shapes until you can get to them without having to think about it.  Make  sure you finger them correctly so that each note sounds clearly, then go on to develop speed and accuracy.

By this time you should be starting to put certain chords together and you may notice that moving from one chord to another can sound good or not so good.  Putting chords together that sound good is what we call "Chord Progressions".  Start learning some basic chord progressions or sequences that form the basis for most popular songs.

Roman Numerals are used as a way to analyze chord progressions.  this starts with what we call "Three Chord Theory".  Learning this allows you to play similar chord progressions in different keys.  this is extremely helpful if you are a vocalist as well and need to play a song in your vocal range.

Now that you can play chord progressions to some of your favorite songs you need to focus on right hand techniques like "Flatpicking & Strumming" or "Finger style" guitar.

Barre Chords are the next step in left hand technique.  learning this will open up the entire finger-board and endless possibilities.  I cannot over emphasize the value of this.

Practice, Practice, Practice!  Learning to play  guitar is largely a process of committing skills to instinct, of developing the necessary motor skills, sometime known as "finger memory".  The only way to achieve this is by practicing - repeating the same thing over and over until it becomes automatic.

Playing the same thing over and over again tends to make practice sound boring and lke unrelenting hard work.  Some people are driven to succeed and can make themselves do the unrelenting hard  work necessary to become skilled.  Others have a hard time getting motivated so there are different approaches to practicing. 

One thing I suggest is to keep your guitar out of its case and handy.  If you are sitting down at the computer pick it up for a few minutes and play some scales or some chord progressions.  Even 15 minutes a day can bring positive results. Have a rhythm track handy to play along with.  Midi files of just about any style drum track are available.