Hindsight is a wonderful thing, so the saying goes, and this seems objectively true in any walk of life. Learning is a beautiful, sometimes painful process, and there’s really no getting around it.
However, every intermediate or advanced guitarist can reel off a list of things they wish they’d known as beginner guitar players, quicker than you can say “Don’t-worry-the-finger-pain-goes-away-in-about-a-week”.
These aren’t ways to avoid the absolutely necessary processes of learning and practice (there’s really, really no getting around those) but they are little insights, and tricks, and shortcuts, and reassurances that should combine to help you progress faster and happier.
So, beginner guitarists, here are 5 things you really should know, embarking on your instrumental learning journey. And ironically, it could be argued that the 5 points also make pretty good general rules for life. Maybe that’s too deep for now though, so let’s talk guitar:
1 – Rapid Progress Is Around The Corner
Time after time teaching beginner guitarists, we see the same thing play out. It goes like this:
- Beginner guitarist picks up the instrument
- Finds it challenging (obviously)
- Presumes they’re innately ‘not very good at it’ or it’s ‘too hard’
- Stops playing.
There’s one crucial thing they’re failing to understand here, and it’s the difference between being bad at something, and being new to something.
So the question is – what should you compare yourself to. The answer might be yourself, five minutes ago. Or it might be other people who also only just picked up the instrument. But it certainly isn’t Jimi Hendrix, who – once upon a time, five minutes after picking up the instrument – had exactly the same ability as you have right now.
You are not bad at playing the guitar, and the guitar is not inherently too difficult. You are new to playing the guitar, and it takes a bit of time to make progress.
The good news, though, is that – with little-and-often practice – progress rapidly accelerates, especially at the beginning, where there’s so much space to progress into, and so much to learn.
Do not be deterred by something challenging being challenging. In some sense it’s a test of your commitment and resolve, a wall representing your desire to learn the instrument – beyond which is a world of creative expression and enjoyment. But never forget the difference between being bad at something, and being new to something.
2 – Your Body Will Adapt
The pain-in-the-fingers point in the introductory paragraph has already referenced this idea. Because again, another presumption beginners make all too easily is that playing guitar simply causes painful fingertips, or a sore wrist.
The truth is – unless you have poor posture and technique – that playing guitar causes painful fingertips, for about a week. After which time this goes away and never returns.
Your body will adapt. Your fingertips quickly develop calluses – very slightly firmer skin – and then that’s that, you’re all set. No pain, no problem.
In some ways this is the same overall point as the first point: Don’t presume that how it is in the beginning is how it’s always going to be. It isn’t. Everything improves exponentially if you move beyond the initial obstacles and keep playing.
3 – Try Almost Everything
I mean this in two different ways:
- When learning your first riffs, chord patterns and songs, there’s much to be learned from all the usual beginner guitar songs and styles, but don’t stop there. You might just find – if you turn your hand to beginners’ country guitar, or thrash metal, that you one – really enjoy it, and two – have a natural flair for it too.
- Of course you’re going to primarily take on beginner level material, and rightly so. It’s important you follow the well-worn paths that have led so many guitarists to advanced levels, success and creative fulfilment. However, trying to play more complex, advanced bits of material gives you an insight into what’s to come, may make you learn something new, is good inspiration, and great fun. Don’t be afraid to try these things once in a while. It’s not about mastery, it’s about testing yourself.
4 – Don’t Avoid Things
If you hit an obstacle, that might feel like a brick wall – and there are some common ones: Barre chords, alternate picking, and so on – it’s so so easy to turn away. You should fight this urge, though, because there’s really only one way forward.
Furthermore, these obstacles are never the monsters they seem, especially when broken down by practice, good teaching, online lessons, repetition, determination, and so on.
It is in the act of avoiding the challenge that you create the monster. Every time you avoid it, you unconsciously tell yourself that this should be avoided because it is something to fear. The reality is always very different.
Play your barre chords badly, then again, then again, then take on a barre chord song beyond your level, and play it badly, and again, and again, and then click – suddenly you can play barre chords. If you don’t believe me, try it!
5 – Acquire The Tools You Need
A bad workman blames his tools, but a beginner workman often doesn’t have the tools in the first place.
No you don’t need to immediately buy every bit of guitar gear you can get your hands on (that’ll come later) but having a working version of each of the essential accessories is really important.
This might sound very obvious, but perhaps you’d be surprised how many guitarists can find themselves without a pick, tuner, or capo to hand when needed.
Make sure you have at least one properly functioning version of each of the following to hand:
- Guitar (the obvious one)
- A pick
- A tuner or tuning app
- A capo
- A cable and amplifier if playing electric guitar.
- Spare strings