Beginners often come to me looking for secrets to improving quickly, but the reality is, there aren’t any. There are, however, a few things players can do to make sure they stay on track and get the most out of their formative years. Here, I will go over some of the things I’ve noticed beyond the obvious learning of your first chords and scales. Thus the title, 5 Guitar Tips for Beginners.
The most important thing about all of this is to establish good habits early, be diligent with your practice, and always work the fundamentals. It is better to have a daily routine where you practice some each day rather than trying to cram an 8 hour practice session into a Saturday without touching the guitar for the rest of the week. So let's get into 5 guitar tips to get you into playing. Remember that guitar lessons significantly improve your playing!
1 Learn the names of the notes and learn to read music.
All too often, players go 3, 4, even 5 years into their playing careers and don’t know the names of the notes, much less read music. Learning the names of the notes not only helps to understand and map the fretboard, but it makes explaining a riff or a melody to someone else much easier.
Imagine having to explain a melodic fragment to someone by saying, “3rd string, 4th fret. Right, then 2nd string, 2nd fret.” You’d be there all night trying to explain 30 seconds of music to someone.
Learning the notes seems like a daunting task at first, but once you’ve got it, it’s there forever. Here are a few considerations when learning to do this:
- Start with the first 5 frets of each string.
- The 1st and 6th strings have the same note names. That leaves you with four strings to learn.
- While you’re still getting the hang of things, use octaves to your advantage. The 7th fret is always the octave of the string below, except between the 2nd and 3rd strings where it is the 8th fret.
Reading music on string instruments can be especially difficult. We have the same note on the staff showing up in three different places on the fretboard. It’s the nature of the beast and we have to overcome it. In the future, if you decide to pursue this professionally, being able to read puts you ahead of a lot of the competition as it is very common for guitar players to not be able to read as many players are “street” players.
2 Learn the theory.
I cannot stress this enough. There seems to be a tired old trope among people who never bothered to learn the stuff suggesting that learning music theory makes your understanding of music too mathematical or not artistic enough. This could not be more wrong.
Developing your understanding of music theory is much like expanding your linguistic vocabulary. The deeper your vocabulary, the better your ability to express yourself adequately and eloquently. The same goes for music theory.
With theory and ear training, you learn to attach mental images to the sounds you hear and you can access those sounds quicker. This reduces the “searching” for the right notes.
3 Take it SLOW.
Beginners often try to learn too much, too fast. This is a surefire way to develop bad habits and sloppy playing.
In the early stages of your playing, it is extremely important to develop good posture, good technique, and good time. Work with a metronome and make sure you are never straining to play. If anything is hurting, stop and take a break. Repetitive strain injuries can ruin players.
Taking things slowly ensures that you are playing with proper form and technique, as well as accurately articulating every note and establishing the kind of character you want to give each note in a phrase.
4 Learn lots of songs.
This one is something that probably applies to players of all levels. Often times, we become obsessed with playing impressive, flashy licks. The truth is, however, the average listener is most interested in hearing songs. I mean, let’s be honest, the reason you started playing is likely because you wanted to play along to your favorite songs. The average listener is no different. I am a good example of someone who spent a lot of time building lots of chops, but waited a really long time to learn the songs everyone wants to hear. Learning from other writers and musicians builds your understanding of composition and song structure, and it can also make sure you are ready for gigs!
5 Learn how you learn things.
I’m taking this one from an old music theory teacher of mine from college. It is of the utmost important to learn how you learn things. For some people, that means writing things down. For another, a hands-on approach might be more suitable.
One of the most frustrating things about school can be the homogenized approach to learning. We all have a different way of connecting the dots in our heads and it’s important that we establish this early so we can get the most from our study and practice.
About the Author
Marc-Andre Seguin is the webmaster, “brains behind” and teacher on JazzGuitarLessons.net, the #1 online resource for learning how to play jazz guitar. He draws from his experience both as a professional jazz guitarist and professional jazz teacher to help thousands of people from all around the world learn the craft of jazz guitar.