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If you’ve ever contemplated learning the guitar, you might be intimidated by what is necessary to be a good player. After all, the instrument itself is shrouded in mystique, with mastery a seemingly daunting task.
This feeling is only exacerbated by the overwhelming amount of material available on the internet. Where does one begin?
Fortunately, learning guitar doesn’t have to be difficult at all. In 9 simple steps, you can begin to learn the instrument, and have fun doing it!
1. Learn Your Basic Chords
One of the first things you’ll want to do as a beginner is getting some chords under your fingers. When you break down any piece of music, you’ll find that the composition is built from chords.
Fundamentally, there are 3 different chord types that exist within music. These are known as:
- Major chords (including extensions)
- Minor chords (including extensions)
- Dominant chords (including altered, augmented, and diminished chords)
The first type of chord you should learn is known as open chords (often called “cowboy chords”). These types of chords utilize a number of open strings in combination with fretted notes.
There are 9 different chords that are often learned within the open chord family. Many of these are variations of the same chord. These chords consist of:
- D major/D minor
- C major
- A major/A minor
- E major/E minor
- G major
- F major
Once you get these basic open chords mastered, move on to learning your barre chords. These will consist of 4 different shapes, with roots on both the 5th and 6th strings.
Each of these also incorporates the chord shapes inherent in the E major/minor and A major/minor families.
The real trick here is to start out slowly. Maybe learn 1 chord per week if that’s all the time you can allot to your learning.
Once you learn a couple of chords, practice your transitions between the chords. Doing so will ensure you can handle quick changes when playing any musical piece.
2. Learn How To Play Different Rhythms
Many guitarists tend to overlook the importance of rhythm. Quite often, guitarists are consumed with the obsession of learning scales and trying to master techniques.
In reality, everything in music is based on rhythm. You could think of your guitar as a drum because everything you do on the guitar will have an underlying rhythm. Any song you wish to write or play will also have its own inherent rhythm.
This is one section of learning the guitar that you might be able to begin learning without the guitar. However you wish to practice it, you’ll eventually begin to apply the concepts to the instrument.
To start, set a metronome to a slow beat. You’ll then want to clap your hands to different subdivisions in accordance with the beat of the metronome.
A rough guideline you can use to follow would be:
- Whole notes (1 clap for every 4 beats)
- Half notes (1 clap for every 2 beats)
- Quarter notes (1 clap for every 1 beat)
- Eighth notes (2 claps for every 1 beat)
- Triplets (3 claps for every 1 beat, counted as trip-uh-let, trip-uh-let, trip-uh-let, trip-uh-let)
- Sixteenth notes (4 claps for every 1 beat)
Just a small amount of practice every day will set you up for a lifetime of fundamental knowledge to use. You can even begin to practice more advanced rhythmic exercises including:
- 5 claps over 4 beats
- 32nd notes
Learning how rhythm works will set you up for success when you being to use strumming patterns with chords. Even if you primarily wish to play lead guitar, you will use these concepts all the time.
Rhythm will often unlock many doors for you as a guitarist. This is especially true when playing music with other people.
3. Use Scales To Connect Notes On The Fretboard
The guitar is often very confusing for many people because it essentially consists of 6 different piano scrolls (strings). To make matters even more difficult, each of these strings is tuned differently.
However, to become a potent guitar player, you’ll need to have a working understanding of the fretboard. This is where many people fall off the cliff when it comes to their studies.
The key here is to start out with baby steps and to learn where certain notes exist on the fretboard. Let’s use the note C as an example.
On a 22-fretted guitar, there exist 12 different locations where you can play a C note. Your first duty is to find all of these locations.
Once you have found these locations, try to connect each C using a major scale. Don’t worry if this sounds daunting.
The major scale is the standard Do-Re-Mi scale that you likely have some understanding of. Between each note, this scale follows a pattern of: whole step, whole step, half step, whole, whole, whole, half.
For example, the first couple of C’s exist on the 3rd fret of the A string, and the 1st fret of the B string. Start at the lower C and connect with the higher C using a major scale, then come back down.
By practicing this, you’ll have an entire understanding of how the fretboard works in relation to 1 note. You’ll then want to apply this same exercise to other notes, such as G, D, etc.
You’ll also start to understand where each note is on your fretboard. This comes in handy when you need to play certain chords in specific locations of the neck.
It takes practice to get this under your belt, so be patient and have fun.
4. Take Lessons
There is no shame in taking guitar lessons. Doing so can often be the quickest way to learn the instrument.
In today’s day and age, we have more information available at our fingertips than ever before. Any question can be answered and any piece of information can be found within seconds. Do not take this kind of opportunity for granted!
Guitarists in the past had to rely on other people to learn something, or they would figure it out themselves. There were no books or websites available to spell everything out.
Of course, now that we have this access, it can be overwhelming to figure out where to even start. The internet seems as if it's over-saturated with information, which can be daunting for beginners.
Fortunately, there are numerous lesson resources available on the internet, including Guitar Tricks, JamPlay, and more. These are all subscription-based services that allow you to take video lessons as your schedule allows.
Just as you learned in school, taking lessons will teach you how to play the guitar. Each lesson will build upon previously taught information to continue building your knowledge base.
Taking online lessons has many benefits that you may find advantageous. One of the biggest benefits is that you can learn from a multitude of different instructors. Each of these instructors has their own specializations and philosophies to impart.
Online lessons aren’t for everyone, however. In these cases, it might be best to seek out a personal teacher.
Taking lessons from a personal teacher will often require you to meet up in person (or over the internet). As such, it instills a degree of personal responsibility when it comes to practicing your lesson materials each week.
An instructor will guide you and help you correct any technical errors in your playing.
5. Learn Theory
Music theory is often another area of music studies that guitarists will overlook. One of the biggest arguments is often that their guitar idol never learned theory to become a great guitarist.
The reality of statements like that could not be further from the truth. Even if those greats really didn’t take time to learn theory, they understood it subconsciously.
Many guitarists (and musicians in general) write off music theory in fear that it will be an impediment to creativity. Again, this type of thought is a bit irrational.
Theory is often thought to be a set of rules by which one needs to follow. Yet, music is supposed to be free, right?
Think of theory as a set of guidelines by which to make good music. There may be some rules, but even these rules can be broken in the right context. However, you must first know and understand a rule before you can consciously break that rule.
Music theory is indeed taught in schools, but at its fundamental core, consists of things you’ll already be working with. Some of these things include:
- Rhythmic concepts (as mentioned previously)
- Chords (as mentioned previously)
- Scales (again, as mentioned previously)
Studying theory will give you a solid basis to use these fundamental aspects in a working way. You’ll be able to communicate with other musicians in a language they can understand.
You don’t need to go super deep into the study of music theory to enjoy its benefits. The mastery of the basics alone will take you very far into a career as a musician.
Taking lessons, whether it be from online resources or a private instructor, will help you apply these concepts into playing.
6. Learn How To Play Songs And Analyze The Composition
So, you’ve learned some chords and started to learn some of the other things mentioned on this list….What’s next?
The best way to put your skills into practice is to learn some of your favorite songs. No matter what skill level you’re at, you can always benefit from learning songs.
Take a simple song and figure out how to play it. It’s really as simple as that.
Learning songs will allow you to apply your knowledge in a practical manner. It will also teach you new techniques that you can employ elsewhere in your guitar journey.
Some guitarists choose to learn songs via lesson videos. These are helpful as it essentially teaches you how to play the song with minimal effort required on your part.
However, to make the most of this, try learning songs by ear. Going this route might be a bit more labor-intensive, but you’ll reap more benefits.
Learning songs by ear will train your ears to recognize pitches and chords. This will help you when you start to play with other people in an improvisation setting. It’ll also help you to learn other songs much faster.
To learn a song by ear, the real trick is to slow the song down to a much slower speed. This will allow you to hear the song from a much more nuanced perspective. Match the pitches/chords that you hear with your guitar.
Eventually, you’ll have a workable framework that you can use to play the song. Practice and gradually speed the song up in small increments to eventually play the song at normal speed.
Take this a step further and analyze the composition using your music theory knowledge. What is the chord progression? What rhythms are being used?
7. Write Your Own Songs
The guitar is meant to be played and enjoyed. Another major aspect of the guitar is creativity. Yet, you’d be surprised to find that there are many guitarists who overlook creativity.
Why is it that so many great guitarists have nothing of their own? Your goal as a guitarist should be to develop and foster your own unique voice. Don’t fall prey to becoming a typewriter that only plays other guitarists’ music.
When attempting to write songs, take note that there is not one specific method to follow. Rather, follow your heart and musical ear and you’ll arrive at a unique destination with a tangible song.
Apply your studies, especially those that you’ve done via the analysis of other compositions. You can easily use some of these ideas from other songs for songs of your own.
Try out different chord combinations as well as different rhythms. The simplest ideas can be (and often are) the most effective tools at your disposal.
You might even incorporate some hidden technique exercises into your composition. This will allow you to use techniques and implement them regularly into your playing, as opposed to a basic exercise.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to only write sprawling epics that rival the works of guitar virtuosos. The main goal with this is to apply your own skills and knowledge into creating something that is uniquely yours.
Don’t be afraid to write something you think is bad. The experience alone will teach you so much about what works, and what doesn’t.
Eventually, you’ll have a list of your own songs that you can readily play for other people. You could play these in a band, on your own, or just be happy to play them for yourself.
A song is a beautiful gift to give yourself.
8. Develop A Regular Practice Schedule
It goes without saying that, to become a great guitarist, you must put in the practice time. Where does one find the time to practice, and what should be practiced?
The first thing you need to do is set a master goal. This master goal is the ultimate goal post for what you’d like to be as a guitarist. It also requires the most work.
Reverse engineer and break this master goal down into a series of smaller and more achievable goals. You’ll start to see a pathway that you can follow to become the guitarist you wish to be.
You might only have a few hours a week to practice, and that’s okay. However, try to at least find time to practice every day.
Start small, perhaps with an easy 15 minutes per day. Use this time to practice whatever skills you are learning at the time. Daily repetition will ensure that you can continually increase your application of the skill.
Eventually, you’ll find yourself playing longer than 15 minutes, which you can use to practice other things. This is where you’ll want to develop a bit of a routine to be the most efficient with your time.
Maybe dedicate 5 minutes to warmups, 5 minutes on a scale, and 10 minutes to working on a song. This is just one small example, but ideally, you’ll want to tailor your routine to your own desires.
As you become more dedicated, you’ll find that you’ll be practicing much more every day. You might wish to practice 3 hours a day, but you need to start small in order to get there.
Be sure to keep a practice journal so you can track your progress on everything you practice. Include things like performance notes as well as your metronome speed.
9. Become A Lifelong Student
To truly become the best guitarist you can be, train yourself into becoming a lifelong student. Accept the fact that you will never learn everything there is to know about the instrument. Yet, continue in your studies to learn absolutely everything that you can.
If you really look at the masters of any instrument, you’ll see that these individuals are lifelong students. They continually learn new things and practice these things to incorporate into their own playing. In this manner, these guitarists are continually growing.
Adopt this growth mindset for yourself and emulate these masters. This is the right kind of attitude to have when it comes to your own playing.
Keep in mind, though, that your own journey is yours to walk. Follow your own curiosities and learn the things that interest you specifically.
After you’ve mastered the fundamentals of the guitar, the world is literally wide open for you. It is up to you to specialize in the skills you are interested in. Nobody but yourself can make these kinds of decisions for you.
As you continually learn new concepts (whether it be a song, a scale, a technique, etc.), you’ll continue to grow. Your playing will become more evolved and you will continue to develop your own unique voice.
We all get in ruts as guitarists, it is just a natural part of the cycle. However, if you continue to learn new things, it can help to prevent these periods of low activity.
Develop a relationship with your guitar and get to know it for what it is. This is going to be your lifelong friend, but only if you allow it to be.
With dedication, you’ll develop your own unique musical voice. People will be able to tell it’s you playing without visually seeing you play.
How To Learn Guitar, Final Thoughts
Sometimes, it can seem as if there are so many things required to learn how to play the guitar. As you get your feet wet, you’ll discover that many of these things are actually interconnected.
It is often the initial learning phase that is the most difficult. Eventually, you’ll be able to tie together different concepts in a cohesive and applicable manner. Start small, be patient, and most of all, have fun learning and playing the guitar!
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