I wrote this article for Soul Brasil Magazine and made a couple formatting changes here. Link to the original: https://soulbrasil.com/oh-so-youre-going-to-learn-guitar/
Yay! You may be starting on an endless journey that can really change your life! In our times there are more sources of information to learn than ever. Yet, nothing beats the individual attention of a proficient teacher, especially if you’re a beginner, or have played for years but struggle with things you can’t seem to figure out.
Don’t get me wrong: you can still take advantage of all the fun available online: videos, apps etc. can be a great addition to lessons, and a good teacher will appreciate your self-initiative when you bring questions about what you’ve found out there!
Now I want to share a few tips to help you succeed, save time and enjoy learning:
First, choose the right kind of guitar. While you can learn on any type, if your instrument makes that sound you love, you will practice a lot more, improve faster and be happier. That matters more than what kind of strings are easier on the fingers (i.e. electric vs acoustic, nylon vs. steel).
A first guitar doesn’t need to be fancy, but don’t be cheap either (attention parents): low quality guitars don’t stay in tune well, so no matter how much you practice, they sound wrong. Get yourself (or your child) a proper student instrument, not a toy.
The most overlooked subject in guitar learning is, by very far, rhythm. While it may look like it’s all about the fretting fingers, truly great playing depends on the picking/strumming hand. That is the hand that makes the sound! Don’t neglect it!
As to the fretting hand, pay attention to your wrist and its grip before you worry about your fingers. Most problems happen here because of an inefficient grasp. This is where good private lessons are much better than online videos: the screen doesn’t look back at your hands to see what needs fixing! For advanced students working on what to play (not really how to play it) the online systems can be sufficient, good, and sometimes even great.
Save time: practice efficiently! When you find an obstacle, analyze exactly what is hard to do and why, then isolate that little part and work on it apart from the song. Hurdles are usually just a few seconds long, so repeating the correct motions will quickly build “muscle memory”. When you learn how to practice like this, you can get a lot done in three minutes!
Increase your motivation, and reduce frustration (expect some) by setting goals. They should be realistic, obtainable, and reflect your personality: if you’re an aspiring virtuoso, you’ll feel happy to repeat a short part until it’s right in full detail. If you want to strum lots of party songs you’ll be happier by learning easy versions of complete tunes first. There’s no right or wrong here: there’s just knowing what you want.
Should you learn to read music? Yes. Do you absolutely need to? Maybe so, maybe not. And If you do need to, when?
Here’s a valid thought: learning Music is learning a language, and you didn’t learn how to read/write before you learned to speak. One day, however, you did learn, and it took you many years, but don’t you think it was good for you?
Last but not least: learn to relax. It’s only possible with proper technique, and it can be learned! Have you ever seen a truly great player and thought: “they make it look so easy!” Well, it only looks easy when it is easy. And achieving that is the purpose of technique.
Now go play your guitar already! I wish you a lifetime of joy doing it.
Until next time!