Things you need to know when beginning to play the guitar

Written by: Freddy DeMarco

Playing the guitar can simply be a release in the form of a recreational activity, but it can also be much more than that. For some people, it is simply something they want to do in private while enjoying their ability to play along to a song without dreams of playing with, or in front of others. When playing the guitar has progressed passed those beginning stages and gravitated into a genuine hobby, players may enjoy the occasional jam session with other musicians in a readily accessible place such as a basement, rec room or garage. This can be very rewarding on a personal level and avoids the pressure of performing in front of an audience. On another level, there are players that would like to play small gigs once in a while with a local band and are not concerned with all the logistics and complications of being professionals. In this case, looking forward to some gigging can be enough incentive and inspiration for serious practicing. Then there are the professionals, totally dedicated players, who are willing to indulge in the vigorous engagement of intense practice relative to improving techniques involving their timing, phrasing, dexterity, speed, memorization, reading music, and learning loads of material to build an impressive repertoire.

No matter which category of accomplishment you wish to be in, know there is a dedication to the art form, even for the simplest recreational approach. For the beginner, it is paramount to develop proper technique, for example, keeping your thumb behind the neck, playing on your finger tips with curved finger joints, and employing economy of motion, such as not lifting the fingers too high or making unnecessary hand movements. Proper technique will result in playing fluently and preventing problems that could arise while adapting to the many techniques you will encounter while exploring this wonderful instrument. Expect some discomfort, because after all, your fleshy fingertips will be pressing wire into wood! It generally takes about three weeks of practicing a half hour a day, five days a week, to develop calluses on your fingertips. The calluses will eliminate the pain, allowing your fingertips to feel only pressure. In this beginning term try not to overdo a practice session or your fingering hand might get very sore, resulting in having to rest it for a few days, which, of course, is counter productive. I always tell my students that if time is limited, they are better off playing ten minutes everyday, compared to missing six days, and trying to do a marathon three or four hour session on a Sunday. Keep in mind that you are developing muscle dexterity and strength, along with left and right hand coordination, while learning the language of music, and all the while, trying to keep time! Over a period of time, a workable combination of those elements will develop in your playing, provided you revisit the instrument on a consistent basis.

After a couple of months you should have developed some ability to play simple passages. At this point, I would invest in a time keeping device, such as a metronome. If you do not play music in time, listeners can’t follow you, and you will not be able to keep up with a backing track to play along with, even if just for enjoyment. Learning an instrument is definitely a task that requires dedication, even as a hobby, so I recommend really getting into listening to a lot of guitar music, reading about the history of the instrument, and checking out all the cool products that go along with this instrumental endeavor. In other words, immerse yourself in the total process, so as to inspire yourself to practice, and so to progress.

Whether you are truly a beginner, or someone that has played sparsely for years and is interested in getting more into it, I recommend setting a number of reasonable small goals toward which to work. Begin with a plan to work on something new in weekly increments, perhaps a scale or a short chord progression. You would do better by practicing very slowly, allowing your brain to absorb and learn the information. Do not overly challenge your brain when learning something new, you will have plenty of time to work on speed after you develop the moves. You must make it fun to learn little bits at a time, appreciating any progress at all. So often I see beginners causing themselves player’s anxiety by trying to rush the learning process. Accept the fact that you are in it for the long haul, regardless of what level you want to achieve as a player and the task of learning to play the guitar will be an enjoyable experience.

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