When I first learned to play the guitar, I admittedly didn’t know what I was doing. I just sort of plodded a long through song books, taught myself some chords, and used the (very) limited resources available online.
Here is a list of the top things I wish I had known when I was first starting out on the guitar.
Trying to do it all on my own.
Because I tried to teach myself, there was so much knowledge that I missed.
I didn’t have online guitar resources like this when I first started.
I think this plagues a lot of beginners, or probably more typically: people who have been playing guitar for years…. but haven’t really grown.
It’s easy to get stuck on open chords for 10 years.
Or just noodle around in the pentatonic or blues scales.
Over dependence on Tabs and Chord Charts
Don’t get me wrong – I love ultimate guitar and YouTube. I probably use them daily. They make learning new songs super fast and easy.
But there are two problems:
- The information isn’t alway accurate.
- You will struggle to develop your ear.
If every single tab disappeared right now, would you be able to play a new song on guitar?
Would you be able to play a song you already know?
However, if you work on training your ear and weaning yourself off of guitar tabs you will become a guitar magician.
A genius guitar player.
Just imagine being able to listen to a song that you’ve never even heard and be able to identify the chords, melody, riff, and strumming pattern…..
…. just by listening to it.
This is the real secret to becoming a great guitar player.
Again, you can do it on your own through trial and error.
You can do it with a guitar teacher.
You can do it with an online guitar program.
But please do it.
Never Standing Up
How often are your favorite guitar players sitting down when they perform?
There are a few guitar players (who I love) who primarily sit down.
BB King obviously.
At least, I used to.
I felt like I could play better when I sat down.
I probably could to some extent
But once I started standing up I found that I engaged with my audience better and my performance was better.
It was hard at first.
Standing and playing the guitar is very different from sitting.
You have to find the appropriate guitar strap length.
You have to learn to feel (and deal with) the weight of the guitar.
If you’re playing the acoustic guitar you have to feel the width/thickness of the body.
If you’re singing and playing guitar at the same time, you have to get used to negotiating the microphone stand (I used to bump the neck of the guitar into the mic stand all the time).
Standing while playing the guitar is weird.
And you need to practice it in order to get used to it.
But it’s important.
And worth it.
Looking at my Hands
This is a big one for beginners.
I try to address this early in my guitar lessons.
Basically: Relying too much on your vision will limit your ability to develop muscle memory.
Limiting your muscle memory will limit your speed and accuracy.
Limiting your speed and accuracy limits your progress.
Limiting your progress…. well… you get the idea.
The goal isn’t to never look at your hands.
You’ll have to look at your hands a little bit.
We just don’t want to always look at our hands.
Aside from developing muscle memory, keeping your vision away from your hands allows you to connect with your audience and with other members of your band.
Which brings me to my last point…
Only Playing By Myself
By far, I see the most progress in my students when they play along with other people.
It doesn’t matter if it’s in the form of a jam session with other musicians, in a lesson with me, or with a backing track.
Playing along with other humans will make you a better guitar player.
It forces you to adapt your style.
It forces you to listen to your bandmates.
It forces you to listen to yourself.
Plus, it’s super fun and motivating.
It’s also a little scary.
Music is a collaborative endeavor. You’re limiting yourself by not sharing your music with other people.
It doesn’t have to be a big jam session.
It certainly doesn’t have to be formal.
Just grab a friend and play some songs.
The first time you do it, you might suck.
The first time you do it, you WILL suck.
But that’s the point. Keep at it and learn from your mistakes.
If you want to practice by yourself beforehand use something like JamPlay to get your skills up to par with backing tracks (you could even use YouTube for this).
There are a ton of other things you can do to be a better guitar player. The best thing you can do is to practice more efficiently (which is the kind of stuff I share on my e-mail list).
What do you think?
Are there things that you regret not doing when first learning to play the guitar?
Leave a comment below and let me know!
(Jake Posko does in-home and online guitar lessons in the Annapolis, Maryland area including: Annapolis, Edgewater, Severna Park, Pasadena, Crownsville, Arnold and Kent Island, inquire about lessons by e-mailing him at firstname.lastname@example.org).
(Photo Credit: Tim Parkinson)