Frequently Asked Questions
What does it mean to learn beginning guitar? What are “the basics”?
For most people, having “basic” guitar skills really revolves around your ability to strum through basic chords while keeping a rhythmic beat and to be able to play basic “strumming” songs using these skills. This kind of a description can evoke images of people sitting around a campfire with an acoustic guitar or two strumming loudly while everyone sings along to the song.
Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well, this kind of guitar skill can be simple for some folks but, as many people who have tried will tell you, it’s not necessarily easy.
But it CAN be EASIER with a really good approach to learning.
Regardless of what you really see yourself eventually playing (rock songs in front of a live audience, classical guitar music in front of your dog, or whatever!) the ability to strum through songs using basic chords while keeping a solid beat is really where it all begins, even if you see yourself on the cover of Guitar Player magazine promoting your latest album super fast shred guitar.
Let’s read on to learn more...
How long will it take to learn to play something on guitar?
This can be a tough question to answer since there are so many things that factor into this, but I’ve had pretty good success over the years helping to get a lot of busy people of all ages and aptitudes strumming through songs in just a few months.
The biggest key to success?
You guessed it. PRACTICE!
Of course you need a bit of time to get yourself familiar with how all of these moving parts of beginning guitar fit together, but pretty quickly it all comes down to you and putting in consistent time towards practice.
Showing up to practice every day is at least half the battle!
Before you can practice though you need to learn more about what these basic guitar things are and how all of this works.
Let’s read on!
How old do you have to be? Does your beginning guitar system work for all ages?
You can definitely learn at just about any age!
My approach to beginning guitar has worked over more than two decades for people from 8 to 65 (and would certainly work for folks older than 65 as well! :)
It’s not typically suitable for kids under 8 or 9. They’re hands are still very small so finding a guitar small enough to fit them can sometimes be a challenge and their motor skills often are not ready for the challenges of guitar chords.
You might instead try googling guitar methods for young beginners or consider a teacher that focuses on these methods.
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What do I do about the pain? Does this get better/easier? Should I stop when it hurts?
There’s no two ways about it.
Learning guitar can be a pain. LITERALLY.
Your fingertips are pretty delicate, especially when tasked with constantly pressing down and rubbing against metal strings. They can get pretty sore and, if you really over do it, blister.
So what can I do?
Well, first: don’t overdo it! Just practice for a shorter amount of time every day, say 15 minutes, then you can gradually increase the amount of time you can practice.
If you practice a reasonable amount each day, Mother Nature will gradually give you…
Calluses, or thick skin, will develop on your fingertips and OMG does that make a huge difference! If you're practicing pretty much every day then it typically just takes a few months for them to fully develop on your fingertips of your fretting hand.
OTHER THINGS THAT CAN HELP
There are a few other things that you can do that can help with the pain.
1. You can put really light gauge strings on your guitar.
This can go a long way to making getting started on guitar a whole lot easier. Try putting .010 (or “ten”) gauge strings on your acoustic guitar and see an immediate difference in how easy it is to play.
So you know, guitar strings are usually classified by the thickness of the smallest, “highest” string (the high “E” string). The thickness is measured in inches. For instance, .009 gauge strings have a high E string that is .009 inches thick. You just need to know that these are considered LIGHT gauge electric strings and most electric guitars come with them. .010 gauge acoustic strings are considered EXTRA LIGHT gauge acoustic strings. Since most acoustics come with .012 gauge strings, the .010 will be MUCH easier for you to play.
Most electric guitars come with pretty light gauge strings already but if you think that they are too heavy, just take your guitar to a repair person and ask.
In fact, you may have OLD strings on your guitar that need to be changed anyway. You might as well make sure that they’re light gauge strings! If they're dingy or (for heaven’s sake!) rusted then GET THEM CHANGED.
If you have a set of strings of the correct type and gauge and your feeling adventurous, you can watch my video string changing as well as my video on guitar tuning and give it a go yourself. For everyone else you can take your guitar to a guitar repair person at most guitar stores (call first before driving to your favorite guitar store to make sure that they have a guitar repair person). It’s usually about $20 plus the cost of the strings for a simple string change. String prices range anywhere from $5 to $15 for a complete set.
2. Have the “action” lowered on your guitar.
The “action” is just the distance between your strings and the fretboard. The higher the action, the higher the strings are off of the fretboard and the HARDER you have to press the string to make a note sound.
Having lower action can make a HUGE difference on how easy your guitar is to play. The difference can’t be overstated.
Getting your action lowered is more extensive than a simple string change and costs more. It’s usually around $50 plus the cost of the strings. They will need to take your old strings off to perform the minor “surgery” and no one wants their old strings back on after that! This is a perfect time to put .010 gauge strings on that acoustic and wind up with a VERY playable guitar for learning beginning guitar.
If you have a particularly inexpensive guitar, the $50 expense may not be worth it. For a lot of people however, it’s the best $50 that they’ve ever spent!
SHOULD YOU STOP WHEN IT HURTS?
YES. You may need to build up to playing for a half-hour or hour at a time. Overdoing it in the beginning will not help you get there faster. If you are really determined to practice a ton at the beginning of your journey and your fingertips are getting a bit sore then try practicing 15 minutes in the morning and then another 15 minutes in the evening.
If for any reason you are concerned that you are experiencing unusual or unusually intense pain PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR. It may turn out to be nothing but you know yourself better than anyone. Better safe than sorry!
How much should I practice?
That’s a great question! However, before I answer that one, let me pose a much more important question:
How OFTEN should you practice?
When you’re learning a fairly complex physical skill like guitar, you’re developing a LOT of pretty complex muscle memory. On top of all of the physical hand and body movements you’re learning, these movements all must be triggered by TIMING.
It’s not enough to be able to learn chords. It’s not enough to learn how to move the fingers on your fretting hand from one chord to another.
You have to move from one chord to another IN RHYTHM while strumming a steady beat and ideally tapping your foot.
To develop all of these skills and get them all coordinated together, you REALLY need to practice just about EVERY DAY.
15 minutes of practice every day is MUCH better than two hours of practice once or twice a week.
"What if I can’t practice every day? Can I still learn guitar?"
Of course! It will probably take longer to learn, however. If your schedule just won’t allow you to practice more than 3 or 4 days a week then do your best. If you stick with it and stay committed and patient you can absolutely learn to play guitar. Don’t give up and do your best.
Now that we know how OFTEN you should practice…
At first, you may find that your fingertips get pretty sore after just a bit of practice. This is perfectly normal.
If you can only practice for 10 or 15 minutes at a time as you’re getting started then that will be just fine, especially if you do it every day. If you need to take a day off now and then to let your fingertips recover then that’s OK. Let’s not make the “perfect” the enemy of the “good”. Just do your best and that will more than likely be enough.
Some people practice 10 or 15 minutes a couple of times a day and find that this is a great way to gradually build their stamina.
Gradually you’ll be able to practice more and more.
Eventually, I’d recommend that you try and get in 30 minutes a day. If you really want to get aggressive with your learning and your fingertips can handle it, you may want to practice as much as an hour a day. However, 30 minutes a day should be plenty to get you where you want to be.
To recap, practicing every day (or as close to that as you can get) is much more important than how long you practice, but eventually see if you can work up to 30 minutes a day.
REMEMBER, if for any reason you are concerned that you are experiencing unusual or unusually intense pain PLEASE SEE A DOCTOR. It may turn out to be nothing but you know yourself better than anyone. Better safe than sorry!
And above all, HAVE FUN!
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What should I practice?
This is a great question! After all, you don’t want to waste your valuable time and wind up not getting the skills you’re working hard for.
TIMING IS EVERYTHING
If you haven’t looked ahead and gotten a feel for my approach to learning beginning guitar, it is ALL about timing.
My approach to teaching beginners is all about getting my students to where they can tap their foot, count to four, strum, and switch between chords RIGHT FROM THE BEGINNING. I usually get my students doing this in the very first lesson! All you have to do is go home and practice doing the same thing we did during our lesson and you’ll be ready to learn the next step in your next lesson.
Now this is great for students who are able to come to me in person. It’s a lot harder to do over SKYPE. Skype has a slight delay between each of us. I’ll say something and there’s a slight delay before you hear it. This is no problem if we’re just just talking but it makes you and I to PLAY TOGETHER AT THE SAME TIME impossible. A lot of beginning guitar lessons consist of you and I playing together while we learn to play whatever it is that we’re working on at that time. It’s crucial to getting started with these skills.
SO HOW CAN YOU LEARN THE BASICS IF YOU CAN’T PLAY ALONG WITH ME IN A LIVE LESSON?
THIS is EXACTLY why I created these free online lessons.
I want to help beginners get started on their own. I want you all to have the opportunity to get started with these basic skills.
If I can do a good enough job explaining these basic skills, breaking them down into easy to understand components and showing you how they are put together, playing them slowly where you can play along as often as you need to until you can play each new skill, showing you how to troubleshoot your problems and fix them…
THEN you’ll either have the skills that you’re looking for or you’ll have enough skill to really take advantage of Skype lessons.
That’s certainly the hope and my intent, and I think for many of you it will, with some good practice and commitment, your reality.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND…
Why is timing so important? Do I really need to focus on this so much from the very beginning?
Over the last more than two decades of teaching, I’ve had many opportunities to talk to lots of people that have tried to learn guitar but really struggled and gave up. I would ask them what they learned while they were taking lessons. They would usually tell me about learning some chords, etc. I would then ask them if they could strum to a beat and switch between chords without stopping, almost all of them said that THIS is where they struggled and where they quit.
Music is all about timing. It’s what allows different musicians to play with each other and keep it from sounding like noise. It’s what allows someone to sing along with someone else that’s playing an instrument. It’s what allows people to dance to music.
My approach to learning beginning guitar is all about getting my students tapping their foot and counting all while strumming while changing chords FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.
In my decades-long teaching experience, if you don’t learn this timing based coordination from the beginning then you are much less likely to ever get it.
If you think that this sounds like A LOT for a beginner, you’re not alone. In fact, that’s exactly what MANY of my students over the years thought. It sounds a bit like learning to rub your stomach and tapping your head all while tapping your foot and doing them all in rhythm together, right?!
I’ve refined my system over more than two decades and IT WORKS. It works for people that have no previous musical experience. It works for people that can’t sing. It works for people that can’t dance. It works for people that don’t come from a musical family.It works for people that have no experience with rhythm-based coordination.
In other words, if it worked for them then there’s a good chance that it will work for you.
Let’s read on!
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I want to learn this style or that style. Do I have to learn to strum through chords first?
This is a fairly common question.
A lot of students love rock, metal, or punk music and they can’t wait to plug their electric guitar, crank the distortion and play their favorite riffs. Often times these students are really resistant to the idea of spending months of daily work to learn to strum through a bunch of open chords when all they want to do is jam.
Should they still learn these basic skills?
I’ve had numerous students that signed up with lessons because they learned how to shred through riffs, solos, and scales but they couldn’t play rhythm guitar in time. They couldn’t play with a band. They couldn’t jam with their friends.
How did this happen when they have such coordinated and skilled fingers?
They never developed a foundation of timing-based coordination. They didn’t have the deeply ingrained habit of counting through each measure ( 1 2 3 4, 1 2 3 4, etc). They couldn’t keep track of where they were in a song.
In short, they couldn’t really play, at least in a socially relevant musical way.
RHYTHM GUITAR SKILLS DON’T HAPPEN BY ACCIDENT
You HAVE to practice these skills until they become second nature. It’s REALLY hard to go back and add these skills later. It’s CRITICAL to learn these skills from the beginning. Fortunately, if you learn to keep time and count while you learn to strum through chords from the beginning your whole guitar experience will be built on this foundation. You won’t know any other way!
Unfortunately, many of these students become disillusioned at just how much work it will take to add these foundational skills to their playing and they quit.
If you learn solid rhythm guitar with good timing from the beginning, when it comes time to learn riffs and solos, you’ll have the ability to play those things with good rhythm as well.
The moral to this story: Learn timing from the very beginning!
Besides, how many people do you know that can play guitar that can’t sit down and fairly easily strum through some chords while keeping a beat? Probably not very many. It’s part of the gig!
What kind of guitar should I get? What other accessories do I need to get started? (Amp, picks, strap, tuner or tuner app, strings, guitar set up, later on effects etc.)
Do you already have a guitar? If so there are some considerations before you decide if you want to use this to get started learning to play.
Some guitars are better made than others. Some sound better than others. Some have better hardware and stay in tune better than others. None of these differences, however, are dealbreakers.
You don’t need a perfect guitar in order to get started but you do want one that is not too hard to play. I certainly wouldn’t want to spend a bunch of money on a new guitar if the one I have will work.
You’ll probably want new strings put on guitar. It would be easiest to have a guitar repair person put them on, at least the first time, until you learn how to change them yourself.
New strings for acoustic or electric strings range in price from $5 to $15 or so. I would recommend pretty light gauge strings so that your guitar will be easier to play. I’d get .009 gauge for electric guitars and .010 gauge for steel string acoustic guitars. Repair folks usually charge $20 plus the cost of the strings to put strings on your guitar for you.
Having really light strings are a LOT easier on your fingers until you eventually develop calluses!
The second thing you’ll want to consider having done to your guitar to make it easier to play as a beginner is having the “action” lowered.
ACTION is the distance between the strings and the fretboard. The higher the action is, the higher the strings are which makes it a lot harder to play your guitar.
Repair folks usually charge $50 to lower your action plus the cost of the strings. They will change your strings at the same time.
A good plan is to take your guitar to a repair person, tell them your a beginner, and ask them what they think. They are usually good about not recommending that you lower the action unless it’s higher enough that this will make a significant difference.
A word of caution: if your guitar is only worth $100-$200 then rather than spend the money for a $50 set up, you might consider just getting a new guitar. There are plenty of new guitars at a $250-$300 price point that will be great for a beginner. If you get the guitar at a shop that has a repair person then they will often throw in a set up as part of the sale where they will change the strings and perhaps even lower the action for you as part of the sale at no extra charge. It doesn’t hurt to ask!
SHOULD I LEARN ON AN ACOUSTIC OR ELECTRIC?
My personal opinion is that you should learn on whatever will motivate you to practice more. I’m more concerned that you practice regularly than that you build a little more finger strength by starting with an acoustic.
If you have an electric guitar then you might want to consider getting an amp at some point. Nothing big or expensive. Just a relatively inexpensive practice amp will be fine.
Electric guitars can make a LOT of noises and sounds that you won’t have to worry about on an acoustic guitar. These “noises” can be a great thing! In fact, a lot of players use these “noises” as part of their signature sound.
You will need to gradually learn to control these various sounds/noises as part of your basic mastery of your instrument.
Amplifiers (amps) bring these noises to life. In fact, with electric guitar your amp can be as much a part of your instrument as your guitar. Without plugging into an amp you won’t really know what you sound like. Often when new students play on an electric guitar they have a tendency to press too hard on the strings which can bend the notes out of tune. They also strum and pick too hard which can really distort the tone and make your sound harsh.
You may already know if you plan on mainly fingerpicking or using a pick based on what other guitar players do in your favorite styles of music.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with mostly being a fingerpicker or mostly using a pick.
In the beginning however, I recommend that you start by learning how to use a pick. They’re easy to use and it’s easy to get a good to tone using one. A lot of styles of guitar demand that you use a pick so it’s a good idea to learn how to play with one.
There are a LOT of different styles of picks. Some are bigger. Some are smaller. Some are really stiff. Some are thin and flimsy. Some are somewhere in-between. Some have a rounded tip. Some have a pointier tip. Some but not all are made from nylon but they can have feel drastically different in your fingers.
Which one should you get?
Well, fortunately picks are pretty inexpensive. You should probably get a multi-pack offered by a well known brand like Fender or Jim Dunlop and try a lot of different types.
Like a lot of lead guitar players, I prefer the original Jim Dunlop Jazz III in black (they also have red). They are thick, stiff, small, and they have a fairly fine point. They’re not great for beginners necessarily but they are fantastic for playing solos!
You will definitely want to keep your guitar in tune!
How do you do this?
Well, you’ll need a bit of very basic music and guitar knowledge and…
If you don’t want to spend any money on a tuner then you’re in luck. There are a bunch of guitar tuner apps available for your Android or iPhone. These apps use your phones microphone which listens to your guitar as you play a single string and tells you how close to in tune it is and whether it’s flat, sharp, or dead on in tune.
The upside is that they’re free. That’s a pretty big upside when you’re already spending money on a whole bunch of other things to get started.
The downside to tuner apps is that, since they use a microphone to listen to your guitar, if there is any noise around you while you’re trying to tune, your tuner can give you some crazy readings.
CLIP ON TUNERS
My favorite type of tuner is the clip on tuner. You just clip them on your headstock, hit the ON button, and you’re good to go.
Clip on tuners use the vibrations through the neck as you play to determine what pitch you’re playing and how in tune it is. Since they use vibrations that they detect by being in direct contact with your guitar, it doesn’t matter whether or not there are other sounds, even loud sounds, around you as you tune.
Also, they work equally well on acoustic and electric guitars.
You could also get a tuner pedal.
These tuners require that you have either an electric or an acoustic/electric guitar so that you can plug in directly from your guitar via an instrument cable.
Like clip on tuners, you can tune without worrying about noises going on around you.
One of the optional accessories that I think is really helpful is a guitar strap.
It can be really challenging to hold your guitar in a position that gives both your hands good and consistent access to the neck as well as the body of the guitar for strumming. The neck especially can start to droop making it difficult for your fretting hand to finger chords and scales.
Guitarists can find themselves propping up the neck of their guitar with their fretting hand while trying to use their fingers to play chords and scales at the same time. It’s quite a hassle!
A strap allows you to keep your guitar in place with the neck in a good position without having to use your hands to hold it there.
Also, a strap can keep your guitar in the same position in relation to your body whether you’re sitting or standing. This consistency can make it easier to transition to playing standing up. This is actually a really common problem for intermediate players who have spent months or years sitting and playing.
A word of caution: A lot of acoustics don’t come with a strap knob on the side of the guitar’s body closest to the neck. This means that you have to attach a special acoustic strap to the headstock which is really awkward. A repair person can add a strap knob for about $20 if you would like to use a standard strap.
You’ll spend months or years just learning to strum though basic chord shapes. That’s a lot of time and effort to learn a set of skills only to find out that the song you’re learning isn’t in a good key for you or someone else to sing in.
What can you do about it?
A capo will allow you to use these open chords in all keys. It simply clamps on the fretboard on the fret that corresponds to the key you want to play in and you’re good to go.
There a gazillion different guitar accessories out there but these are some of the ones you either need right away like picks or a tuner, ones that are recommended like a strap or an amp, or optional items for a later time like a capo.
Now that we’ve covered some considerations about guitars and accessories, let’s read on…
Do I need to know the notes on the guitar? Why?
I strongly recommend that you learn where the notes are on the guitar. There are a lot of important skills that will require you to quickly recall where the notes are on the guitar.
Eventually you are going to want to be able to play moveable chord shapes around the neck. These chord shapes include “power chords” that are used in a lock of rock songs as well as barre chords. The only way to know what chord you’re actually playing is to know what note is under your first finger.
Learn those notes! Get started now!
One of the most urgent reasons to learn the notes…
It’s REALLY hard to tune your guitar unless you at least know some basics.
These include knowing the 7 letter names in music, the half step exceptions (between B & C and E & F), and the 12 notes that we use in Western Music (music from other parts of the world like India can use as many as 24 notes within an octave). You’ll also need to know the note names that represent each of your six strings.
Do I need to know how to tune a guitar?
Learning to put your fingers on the right strings and frets will only sound like the right chord if your guitar is properly tuned!
Guitars get out of tune frequently. The weather and changes in barometric pressure and humidity can cause your guitar to go out of tune. Your guitars tuning mechanism are sensitive and if you just lightly bump your guitars tuners it can go out of tune a bit. If you put your guitar in case your guitar can get knocked out of tune.
You should tune your guitar at the beginning of each guitar practice.
An out of tune guitar sounds annoying and is a major party foul!
Do I need to know how to change my guitar strings?
I HIGHLY recommend it.
Periodically your strings will become dull and lifeless. They will have a hard time staying in tune. They may even get rust if they are exposed to moisture. The more you sweat and the more acidic your sweat is the faster your strings will become dull and the sooner they need to be changed.
Unless you’re lucky enough to have a friend or family member who is just more than happy to change your strings for you every time, you either have to change them yourself or you have to pay someone $20 plus the cost of the strings to do it for you.
Save your money, stop annoying your friends, and learn how to change your own strings!
Feel free to check out my section on this site on changing strings as a reference.
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What if I’m left-handed?
Unfortunately there can be a lot of unfairness in this world if you were born left-handed. Guitar is no exception.
You really have two practical choices:
a. You can learn to play right handed which will have challenges but will let you play other people’s guitars which will most likely be for right handed players. This is probably the most common choice for lefties.
b. You can get a left handed guitar.
If you choose b) and get a left handed guitar then you’re certainly not alone. Many players chose to learn to play left handed, not least of which is Jimi Hendrix.
As far as using my website and it’s resources to learn to play left handed, I only have so much time and other resources and I have chosen to present all videos with right handed examples. Like a lot of lefties, you will need to become adept at inverting these right handed examples so that they make sense on your guitar.
I’ll try to remember to refer to the fretting hand rather than left hand and the picking or strumming hand instead of the right hand, but I will probably forget. A lot!
My apologies in advance but if you have a little extra patience you should be able to adapt and use this site beautifully.
What if I have small hands or short fingers?
This is real issue for a lot of people who play guitar.
It’s true. Life is not fair. Genetic material that you inherited from your parents affects your life in countless ways beyond your control. Unfortunately guitar is no exception.
However, there ARE some things you can do to adapt.
First of all, there are a good number of smaller scale guitars made primarily for children. 1/2 size and 3/4 size guitars are popular with kids.
One thing you can do if you don’t want to play a “kid’s guitar” is to get a full size guitar with a smaller neck. Acoustic guitars have neck widths that range from 1 11/16 inches to 2 inches. Some necks are a little longer or shorter than others as well. This is referred to as a guitar neck’s “scale length”.
If you’re really having a hard time, try googling guitars for small hands and do some research. There are options out there. You can even get a custom neck made for your current guitar at a place like warmoth.com.
Perhaps the most helpful thing you can do is to gradually increase your hand flexibility. A better stretch with your fingers on your fretting hand can work wonders!
Hang in there! With a little patience and a little trial and error you will find the right solution for you.
What if I’ve had a previous hand injury?
This is another common issue, especially for older guitar players.
Hand injuries can create some issues that may reduce your flexibility or reduce your finger independence. Your fingers may no longer be straight.
First, consult your doctor if you are at all uncertain if you’re ready for guitar.
Guitar can be a great form of therapy to regain strength, dexterity, and flexibility in your affected hand, particularly your fretting hand.
Since there are so many possible variables regarding previously injured hands, all I can say is that yes, this can potentially affect your ability to play all the things you want to play as well as you’d like to play them. However, a LOT of people have been able to overcome their particular issues with some extra patience and thoughtful practice.
Just be safe and practice, practice, practice!
Do I have to use a pick?
No, but I do recommend it, at least in the beginning.
A lot of people who are inspired to learn guitar are inspired by styles of guitar and individual players that do a lot of fingerpicking. They sometimes really have a problem getting themselves to use a pick. It just isn’t what they want.
After you get the basics together then I certainly think you should let yourself gravitate to what ever turns you on about playing guitar. If that is fingerpicking then that’s exactly what you should be doing.
In the beginning, however, we will be focusing on strumming through chords while developing really good time and rhythm.
In my experience, it’s easier for students to establish really tight rhythmic control using a pick than it is strumming with your fingers. Also, there are plenty of styles of guitar playing that are really difficult to nail without using a pick.
So although it’s not required, give using a pick a bit of time before you abandon it. The extra experience can’t hurt and it won’t hinder your ability to fingerpick later on.
What if I really just want to fingerpick guitar?
My beginner lessons will incorporate fingerpicking after the basics are learned and you can play through a couple of songs. I really think you should consider getting some experience with a pick before you completely abandon it for your fingernails.
Of course, it’s up to you and you can just use your first finger or thumb on your strumming hand to strum instead. Just make sure your rhythms are really tight! It’s easy to get too loose and sloppy with strumming using your fingers if you’re not careful.
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How do you teach beginning guitar? How is it different than other teachers?
If there’s one word that best describes my approach to teaching beginning guitar that would be…
There’s an old adage that “timing is everything”. In the world of music, and guitar is no exception, that is completely true.
Think about it. How can numerous musicians all play the same song together and expect to make all these sounds come together as music? How many songs do you like to listen to that don’t have a beat to them? It’s the timing that makes all of this possible.
I bet the main goal that most of you all have is for you to be able to sit down and strum through songs that actually sound like the song. You want people to recognize what you’re playing and maybe be able to sing along with. You want people to be able to groove along. Or even if you just want to play by yourself and you wouldn’t dream of playing in front of anyone, you still want the thrill of being able to nail it!
GOOD TIMING WITH GUITAR DOES NOT HAPPEN BY ACCIDENT
The most common method for teaching guitar involves having students spend weeks or months mastering individual chords and then try to get them to start strumming and have them learn to magically jump from one chord to the next without stopping. People that are able to do this are considered “talented” and people that can’t feel discouraged and feel like maybe they just don’t “have it”.
This is SO WRONG!!
It’s true that some people have more natural aptitude than others but a lot of time this aptitude comes down to having a good sense of “proactive” timing.
Think about it. If I held a ball up and told you to clap at the exact moment that the ball hits the ground, you’d be watching the ball closely. You’d have your hands ready. You’d start your hands moving towards each other before the ball hits the ground so that the clap would sound at the precise moment that the ball hit the ground.
Most if not all of you could do this. Most of us grow up learning eye-hand coordination, particularly with sports. We learned to catch a ball by learning to predict where the ball was going to wind up and we had our hands ready. We learned to be “proactive”.
Here’s the problem: most of us learn to anticipate when things are going to happen based on our vision. Music requires that you feel where the beat is going to be and then prepare you hands to make the a sound at the same time that the beat will occur.
How are you supposed to anticipate where the beat will be?
TIME ORIENTED MECHANICS
The best way for people to learn how to feel the beat is to learn to move your body with the beat in a predictable, repetitive fashion. One of the easiest ways to do this is FOOT TAPPING.
Most of you can lightly tap your foot to a fairly steady beat. Maybe not perfect but pretty steady is good enough at first. Most of you can count on each tap 1 - 2- 3- 4, 1-2-3-4, etc.
BOOM! You just started developing time oriented mechanics.
The next step is to learn to strum down across the strings at the same time that your foot taps down. Imagine that there’s a stick that is connecting your foot and your strumming hand. As your foot goes down, your hand goes down. As your foot goes up, your hand goes up.
Now, start tapping your foot to a beat and each time your foot goes down just smoothly strum down and count “1". As your foot goes up, move your hand up but miss the strings and get ready for your next down strum. Then just lather, rinse, repeat! Each new foot tap gets a new count. Count “1” on the first foot tap then count “2” on the next tap then count “3” on the next tap then “4” then back to “1” then “2” etc.
That’s it! Congratulations! You now have the beginning of the ability to keep time in a way that will let you play guitar.
Once you get a little experience with tapping your foot, counting, and strumming, you will learn a lot of common two chord combinations. You’ll learn exactly how to move from one chord to the next.
Finally, you’ll learn to tap your foot and count while strumming only on beat 1 for the first chord. You’ll then use beats 2, 3, and 4 to switch to the second chord WHILE STILL TAPPING YOUR FOOT AND COUNTING. Then strum on beat 1 of the second chord and use beats 2, 3, and 4 to switch back to the first chord while still tapping on the beat and counting. Rinse, lather, and repeat.
When this becomes easy you’ll start strumming on beats 1 and 2 of each chord and only have beats 3 and 4 to switch. When that becomes easy you’ll strum on Beats 1, 2, and 3 with only beat 4 to switch to the next chord.
BOOM! Now you’ve taken a HUGE step to making real music on guitar!
My approach gets you tapping your foot and learning simple chord combinations that you can switch between while keeping a beat right from the beginning.
And your life will never be the same!
There’s definitely a lot more to learning beginning guitar but hopefully this gives you all a pretty detailed idea of how my approach to beginning guitar works.
And even more importantly, hopefully you can see yourself doing it and SUCCEEDING!
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What do I do if I can’t keep a beat?
Rarely but occasionally there are students that just can’t seem to be able to get themselves to tap their foot to a steady beat. Sometimes they can tap their foot but when they try to add chords to the mix then it all falls apart no matter how hard they try.
My honest belief is that many of these students can still learn to keep a beat and play guitar.
Will you be able to learn to play just by watching instructional videos and playing along?
If you are really struggling with your timing, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get a good teacher that is in your area where you can see them in person regularly.
You may or may not eventually catch on with just videos but in-person lessons with a good teacher could help you out tremendously.
The good news is that very, very few students over the years had truly major difficulties with their timing. Usually their problem was solved by slowing things down a bit and keeping things simple until their basic mechanics are better established.
Most people are terrible multitaskers when learning new skills. You need to break things down to it’s simplest mechanics and develop one level of muscle memory at a time.
Try focusing on just tapping your foot and counting. Then try adding your strumming. Do this for a while. Set a timer and do it for a minute or two at a time. THEN try to add a chord change.
If it’s too hard once you add the chord change then try isolating just the fretting hand. Try moving your fingers on your fretting hand SLOWLY from chord to chord without strumming until you have a little muscle memory just for the chord change. Try to start your tapping and strumming and reinsert the chord change. Is it easer? Can you do it? If not, back up and develop more muscle memory for each hand separately for a bit before trying again. Eventually most of you will get it.
When will I be able to play songs?
My system has students learn to strum though a number of very common chord progressions. It also has students learn to strum with DOWN strums as well as UP strums.
You’ll learn a couple of common strumming patterns that you’ll use with your chord progressions until your comfortable with them.
Finally, you’ll learn how to add a “back beat” with accents to make your chord progressions sound less like exercises and more like real music!
Once you have these and a few other basics reasonably mastered then you’ll start applying your new skills to songs.
This usually takes anywhere from 3 to 6 months.
I’ve learned over the years that most students will never go back and focus on their basics like they do at the beginning ever again. If they don’t get a solid foundation from the beginning then they are more often than not a bit shaky for the foreseeable future. It’s just harder to go back and fix ingrained problems than it is to just learn things correctly from the beginning.
Is it possible to go back and fix serious flaws with your basics at a later time? Yep. It’s just a lot harder and it requires a lot of annoying work that most people become unwilling to do once they’ve started focusing primarily on playing songs.
The moral to this story: Take your time and get your basic mechanics nailed before you move on to primarily focusing on songs. BE PATIENT.
You will be a better guitar player for it and you’ll never regret it!
Will I be able to learn to play guitar and sing at the same time?
If you take your time and learn some strong basic rhythm guitar skills? YES!
What do you need to be able to do in order to learn to sing and play?
You need to be able to have really solid downstrokes and upstrokes that are locked in to your foot tapping and counting. Upstrokes are counted as “&”.
Ex. (Counting) 1 & 2 & 3 & 4 & etc.
(Strumming) Down Up Down Up Down Up Down Up etc.
You will need to be rock solid with your basic strumming patterns. Strumming patterns are created by moving your strumming hand down and up like in the example above, you just MISS the strings on the beats that you don’t want to play in the pattern.
Here’s a Strumming Pattern #1
Ex. (Counting) 1 2 & 3 4 & etc
(Strumming) Down (skip) Down Up Down (skip) Down Up etc
If you can do all of this easily and you have some good muscle memory with it then you’re ready to learn to sing and play!
The hardest part of singing while playing guitar is learning to sing a different rhythm than what you’re playing on guitar. It’s a new layer of rhythmic coordination.
The easiest way to learn to develop this new rhythmic coordination is to practice “rapping” the lyrics with the exact rhythm that you would use if you were singing the words. This eliminates the concentration required to sing the right pitches and allows you to focus only on coordinating the different rhythms.
Here’s how the beginning of the first verse of Take It Easy by The Eagles would match up to the strumming pattern above...
Ex. (Counting) 1 2 & 3 4 & etc
(Strumming) Down (skip) Down Up Down (skip) Down Up etc
Run- ing down the road tryin’ to
This is easier said than done, of course. You will probably have to learn how to “rap” just a couple of word at a time along with your guitar strumming and then add another word and then another word until you can “rap” a whole line of lyrics while playing.
As I said, easier said than done but I’ve taught numerous students with fairly typical guitar skills to do this in as little as an hour. More commonly this takes a few lessons in order to get the hang of it.
The point is, although there is certainly a little more to it than what I’ve described here in just a few words, there’s a method to learn this and YOU will probably be able to learn how to sing and play with some patience, discipline, and hard work.
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Should I get a teacher for private lessons?
This is a good question.
Having a good teacher for in-person lessons is definitely the best and easiest way for most people to learn guitar. Hands down.
Skype lessons are not for everyone but for many people it offers a great way to fit guitar lessons into their busy schedules. Skype has limitations but it offers a lot of flexibility and your available list of teachers that you can choose from is limitless!
If you don’t have the money, is it worth getting into massive debt to pay for six months or a year of lessons? NO! You shouldn’t get yourself into debt for any reason but certainly not for something that should be fun.
You should probably try to use video lessons and perhaps consider finding some good guitar message boards. You can make friends with people that have been playing for a while and see if they are willing to get together with you and play. Just be honest about where you are with your skills. A lot of people are more than happy to help out beginners.
Not having a teacher can require a little more patience but I truly believe that all who seek will find. Just stay committed and have fun!
Some people are amazing at teaching themselves with videos and sites like this. If this sounds like you then man! You are in for a LOT of fun! The internet is FILLED with guitar instructional videos. Some of them are great. Some of them are not so great. But if you can get a solid roadmap of how all of this stuff works then hopefully you’ll be able to sort through all of the guitar instructional videos and sites and find the best ones for you. I’ll continue to do my best to help!
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How do Skype lessons work?
Skype lessons depend on having the right technology so lets make sure that you have the right equipment and internet connection to make it possible for you.
First, you need a reliable and fairly fast broadband internet connection. Skype’s website has some minimum requirements but for quality video you will want to have both fast download and upload speeds.
Well, the closer you physically are to me then maybe you can get by with 25 mbps download and 5 mbps. If you are further away, like continents away, you will want as much broadband speed as you can get.
You will need a computer or a newer and fast tablet. Processing speed matters so you don’t want to use an older system. Slower systems don’t process video very well and it can cause the video quality to degrade which obviously isn’t good for guitar lessons.
Also, the more RAM the better. Again, this can really help with video processing.
A newer MacBook or iPad would be ideal.
You definitely want to send me quality video when using Skype for guitar lessons. Built in cameras are always great quality and they require your computer’s processor to do video compression which eats up your computer’s available processing power quickly.
The standard for webcams for Skype lessons is still the Logitech C920. It’s been out for a long time so it’s tried and true. It’s still, however, gives excellent video quality and it also does video compression in the camera before it sends the data to your computer. Finally, the price is now under $50 depending on where you look. It’s a good bargain for what you get.
You might also want to use a camera stand so that you can adjust the camera to the best height for you.
You may want to try using the microphone on your webcam to see if that works well enough in order to save money but it may not be adequate.
If you’re not getting the audio quality that you want or you are not able to get a good balance of sending your voice as well as your guitar audio to me so that I hear both clearly, you may want to consider using a USB room mic, something like the Blue Snowball USB Mic will do a great job in being able to pick up both your guitar and your voice and it plugs right into your computer via USB. It runs about $50.
This is certainly not a pre-requisite but it can really help.
You can use your computer speakers, your bluetooth speakers, or ideally you can use headphones to make sure that you can hear me clearly.
Skype is free and is available for Windows, Android, OS X, and iOS. You can find the latest version of Skype here:
VIDEO RECORDING SOFTWARE
You may want to record the Skype lesson on your end. The recording quality will be limited to the quality of the Skype session. This means that if the connection isn’t great for the whole lesson then you will record the lesson as you see it on your end, even if that means that I don’t come across perfectly clear all the time.
If you want to record the session on your end, I recommend Call Recorder by Ecamm. It’s not free but you can try it with a free trial and if you like it then you can buy it for less than $30.
You can find read more about it here:
For an additional fee, I will record the lesson and make it available for your downloading with DropBox.
“SO NOW THAT I HAVE ALL THE RIGHT GEAR, HOW DO SKYPE LESSONS WORK?”
Once you’ve emailed me to let me know that you’re interested in lessons, I will get back with you and let you know if I have am currently taking new students.
We’ll need to find you a regular weekly time that works for both of us.
Next, I we will do one free lesson to make sure that Skype lessons will be a good fit. We want to make sure that you are comfortable with the format. We want to work out any bugs in the Skype process so that we’re ready for smooth lessons. Lastly, we want to make sure that you feel like I’ll be able to serve you as your teacher in the way that you are hoping.
Sometimes the teacher/student chemistry is amazing. Sometimes, however, it doesn’t quite mesh for whatever reason. It’s never personal. I just want to make sure that we’re both confident that you the Skype lesson format will work for you before you commit to paid lessons. This is a courtesy for you!
In order to have this first lesson, you’ll want to make sure that your equipment is all set up. We’ll want to make sure that we are added to each other’s Skype contact list so that we can connect for video calls. When it’s time for the lesson then I will call you over Skype so make sure you are ready so that you can answer the call and we can get going right away.
Finally, after the initial lesson and we decide to move forward with lessons, you will pay for your first month in advance using PayPal and we will get started on your journey to achieve your guitar goals!
There are definitely a lot of things to take care of in order to be prepared for Skype lessons, but once we’ve had our first lesson it’s usually a piece of cake after that.
Can I learn beginning guitar from a Skype teacher?
If you work through my free beginning guitar lessons for a while first, then you should be able to benefit significantly from Skype lessons as a beginner.
The biggest obstacle to using Skype for beginning guitar lessons is the slight delay that exists between one user and the other. This slight delay means that it’s impossible for us to play at the same time and be together.
This is the biggest pain to Skype by far.
The thing is that you and I benefit the most with playing with each other at the same time when you’re first trying to get your initial strumming and chord-changing coordination together. If you can get started with this skill set from the free online lessons then you should be in good shape for Skype lessons.
I’ve been teaching beginners for over 20 years. Over all of this time I’ve seen student after student run into the same exact issues. I’ve come up with a solid and tested set of solutions for these problems.
This means that as long as I can see and hear you well enough to identify what you are doing and what you need to correct then I can teach you how to fix these problems without having to play along with you at the same time.
So if you can get started with your basic strumming and chord-switching skills then we will likely be in good shape.
If this won’t work with you, however, we should be able to figure that out during your initial free lesson so that you don’t sign up for a month of paid lessons that don’t really help you.
Have you ever taught anyone like ME?
Well, let's be honest. There’s no one EXACTLY like you. You’re unique and you will have the honor, privilege, and challenge to adapt guitar techniques to work right for you.
Having said that, over the last more than two decades I’ve had the honor of teaching a wide variety of students of all ages and many different backgrounds.
Some of them I helped get started from scratch. Some of them already had some experience but wanted to get to a new level. A few were advanced players who wanted to become professionals. Some were beginners who worked all the way to becoming songwriters, performers, and recording artists.
Although I’m proud of them all, the ones that stand out the most in my memory are the beginners that I helped to overcome some difficulties so that they could learn to play songs and even perform.
I taught a 9 year old with some attention deficit issues and no music background that, with lots of determination, performed a strumming song in an auditorium of hundreds of people just 5 months after their first lesson!
I taught a husband and wife that both had busy schedules and absolutely no music background or skill whatsoever. Both of them were able to play guitar along with their quite experienced friends after only 5 or 6 months. Their friends couldn’t believe how little time that they had been playing!
One of my students went from beginning guitar to performing guitar and singing (with only one other person who only sang harmony) in front of hundreds of people at her new high school as a freshman. She had struggled socially just a year earlier. The confidence she created for herself was amazing and it was on her own terms. I was very proud of her!
There are dozens of amazing success stories with students of all ages and many different backgrounds. Not all of my students achieved amazing success but many of the students that made a level of commitment got a level of success.
As you read through those success stories, I hope you got the sense that people just like you have found success with my system for learning guitar.
I hope you thought to yourself, “This could be ME!”
With enough desire, commitment, discipline, and practice…
It CAN be you!
Once I can strum though open chords with strumming patterns and keep a beat, what else is there to beginning guitar?
Once you establish basic strumming skills with solid rhythm and time and you get a couple of songs under your belt, you’re probably wondering what new skills are waiting for you around the corner.
The first thing I usually teach after these basics is an introduction to fingerpicking.
Introduction? Really?? I play songs now! How long until I can fingerpick a song?
Ok Ok Ok. I’ll use a great song like Blackbird by The Beatles as your first fingerpicking song. I’ll get you from scratch all the way to fingerpicking through the entire song from beginning to end.
Seriously. I’ve helped MANY normal students do just that.
Ok. Let’s say I believe you. (It’s true about Blackbird but whatever ;) What else do you have for me?
There are a lot of skills that you should tackle.
Here are just a few of the things that you should address…
Power chords are two or three finger chords that are fundamental to playing rock and metal songs. Power chords are really simple but there are some tricks to playing them well and to make them sound music. They can be played all over the fretboard but you will need to review where the notes are on the fretboard so that you can know which power chord you are playing since they are all fingered identically.
Being able to play power chords and move them around the neck will set you up to learn…
Barre chords are a fundamental chord type for the guitar but since they are pretty hard for most people to learn and master they are often left for the student to learn at some point after other basics are mastered.
Barring requires a student to press down more than one string with a single finger. Just pressing down a two strings at once can be a challenge. Remember the F chord?
Common full barre chords typically require students to barre 5 or 6 strings with their first finger. This is a whole lotta challenge!
These chord shapes can take months or sometimes a year or two to really master. They can be hard but they’re definitely worth it.
The great thing about barre chords is that you can easily play major and minor chords in any key so you don’t have the limitations of the keys that are available with open chords or having to use a capo.
BASIC BLUES RIFFS
Every guitar player should be able to play the 12 bar blues using simple blues riffs that are similar to power chords.
After learning these skills, you are no longer a beginner.
At this point you may want to stay where you are and just learn a ton of songs.
You may want to learn a few songs you really, really love and just play them over and over and over again. Seriously. There’s nothing wrong with that either.
You may, however, want to start to learn scales, solos, more sophisticated techniques, music theory, fretboard organization, songwriting, and more.
Check back as I gradually add Intermediate and Advanced Lessons!!
Good luck and happy guitar playing!!