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We’ve all been there. Learning a new instrument only to discover we’ve made a few mistakes that could’ve made our lives much easier. Some of these mistakes will be bad habits that we’ve naturally picked up, whereas others can simply be avoided with the right gear.
I’m going to discuss the top five of these mistakes so you can skip the learning curve and head straight to guitar mastery. Let’s get started.
What is string gauge? Simply put it’s the thickness of the string. All guitar strings are designated by the thousands of an inch ranging from .009 to .050. Light gauge strings are far easier to play and are best for beginners.
This realization came when I picked up a friend’s guitar with light gauge stings and instantly noticed the difference. Everything was much more forgiving and required much less hand strength to manipulate the strings.
The only reason you’d want heavier gauge strings is if you were looking for extra volume from your guitar. Because acoustic guitars are usually played without pickups the strings have a huge impact on tone and volume. It’s always a good idea to play with fresh strings. Here’s a great guide if you are unsure of when to change your strings.
Beginners need to be playing with light gauge strings. They will be easy on your hands until you can develop the callus required for heavier strings.
Look for something around the 0.010 mark and you’ll notice a difference straight away. Here’s a great guide for selecting guitar strings.
This video will go through a little more technical detail with regards to string gauges.
You may not realize that not every guitar arrives to the shop ready to be played. It’s difficult for major guitar companies to pump out enough guitars to meet demand and still have every guitar arriving ready to go.
If you are not familiar with what is involved with a guitar setup check out this setup resource before reading further.
Setups are going to be beyond the average beginner. I highly recommend bringing your guitar to your local guitar shop if you think you’re in need of a setup.
How will you know if you need a setup? I usually look for intonation problems, fret buzz, or high action (the distance between the fret and the string). Check out this article for a detailed checklist of when you’ll need a setup.
The biggest issue for beginners will be high action. I’ve inherited an old guitar with insanely high action. It was incredibly difficult to play and required a lot of hand strength. However, the problems disappeared through a proper setup.
Guitars come in many different shapes and sizes. While some of you will be able to get away with using every style of guitar, there will be a number of you that are much more restricted.
Children instantly come to mind, as well as small bodied adults.
The body size of electric guitars is small enough for all body types, but you also have to consider the weight. Solid body electric guitars can be difficult for young children to manage. As such, I always recommend purchasing children specific electric guitars.
If you consider yourself small in stature you need to be looking at smaller bodied guitars. Trying to wrap your arms around a full-sized dreadnought will prevent you from using the correct posture, let alone playing with any sort of comfort.
In this case I recommend looking at something like a 3/4, parlor, or a short scale guitar. These guitars will allow you to use the correct posture, have the right grip, and keep the frets closer together so you don’t have to stretch your fingers.Take a look at the video below for an in-depth explanation of guitar size:
Every beginner wants to shred. They watch an impressive video on YouTube and instantly look up the tabs to start practicing. They sometimes forget that it has taken the guitarist years of strict practicing to be able to play at that speed.
Speed comes with time. I’ve seen many guitar players who play sloppy because they are trying to play fast. If you are trying to learn a piece from your favorite guitar player and can’t seem to get it right you need to slow down. Slow the piece down by half until you can play each note perfectly and gradually increase your speed.
I find the easiest way to do this is with a metronome. Use the metronome to keep time and slowly increase the BPM until you match the original tempo. If you are learning from a YouTube video you need to be using the 0.5x function. This slows the video down by half (also great for transposing pieces from YouTube).
Take your time and earn your speed. You’ll get there eventually.
I know how boring learning music theory can be for the beginner guitar player. It’s difficult to understand when you’ll ever need to use theory or how it’s going to make you better at learning that next solo. However, learning just the basics of music theory can help push you to the next level.
Every guitarist should have at least a basic understanding of the chromatic scale, chords, scales, and keys. Through understanding these fundamentals you’ll be able to remember more songs, solos, and guitar riffs. You’ll understand why each chord was selected and have an idea of how the riff was written.
Basic music theory can prevent months of wasted guitar practice where you are relying on rote memorization alone.
It’s also going to be instrumental in writing your own riffs, solos, or full songs. It doesn’t take very long to learn the basics and it will pay off in dividends down the road.
Here’s a video to get you started:
Each of the points above can save you months of frustration. Unfortunately, I’ve gone through each individually and paid the price. If you are guilty of any of the above then don’t worry – there is no better time to change than now.
Guitar is a learning process and you will always get better with time (as long as you are putting in the effort).
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Glen has been playing guitar for over 12 years. He believes far too many people want to learn guitar but fail within the first 6 months. He's on a mission to change that by providing the best advice possible to beginner guitar players. His website, www.audiomastered.com, is aimed at improving the world of music one post at a time.