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Learn Acoustic Guitar Without Wasting Your Time

By Iesu II in Culture
Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 09:26:01 AM EST
Tags: Music (all tags)

It's a good bet that your favorite ear candy features acoustic guitars. They're a core instrument in rock, folk, latin, R&B, jazz, and country music. Chances are you've thought about learning to play one. Why haven't you? Maybe you're intimidated, or put off by the expense. Maybe you don't think you're "musical". In fact, playing guitar can be an easy, cheap, and intensely rewarding hobby.

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Before we dive into the advice, let me be perfectly clear. I'm talking about steel-string, wood-body acoustic guitars. Not pedal steel, archtop, classical, or electric. Even if you're interested in a different kind of guitar, the advice below is probably applicable with the appropriate substitutions. Personally, though, I'd recommend starting with an acoustic steel over any other guitar—they're the most musically versatile, and you don't have to plug 'em in. Moving on...

Part 1: Buy a guitar.

Buying a guitar is kind of like buying a boob job. You have to think about your motivation and commitment before you jump in. If you're buying a guitar to impress people, you're going to wind up with an expensive monstrosity that sits in the dark. You're just starting out, so don't expect to get anything fantastic. Really, you can spend as much or as little as you want. Decide your price range and don't let a salesman move you out of it.

If you're really unsure about whether the guitar is your thing, or if you're really strapped for cash, then expect to pay about $50-100 and expect it to sound pretty crappy. You can get a better one later. At this level brand doesn't really matter. For now just grab the cheapest one and go for it. Of course, if you have several options at the bottom of the ladder, mess with them all and get the one you like.

If you're really excited and you have the bucks, then expect to pay $200-500. You have much more variety at this price range, so shop around a lot. Don't go to just one store, and try out everything—all brands, all models, all prices. It's very easy to be intimidated at this point. Don't be! Just mess around and be open about the fact that you have no clue what you're doing. Pick stuff up and make noise with it (use your fingertips to pluck and the backs of your fingernails to strum), or have the salespeople play them for you. Go for the one that sounds best to you. Options you may wish to look for in this price range are a solid wood top (as opposed to laminate; it'll sound better) and a pickup. If you want a brand recommendation, go for Takamine guitars in this price range, especially if you want a pickup. But remember, the most important criterion is how it sounds to you.

Really, you shouldn't spend more than $400-500 unless you don't mind wasting money. More expensive guitars vary a lot in quality, nuance, and feel, and you just don't know what to look for at this point. If you feel like you want a swank guitar, then get a dirt cheap one and play it for a few months first. Once you know the ropes you can make an informed decision. Trust me.

By the way, the strings on your guitar make quite a bit of difference in terms of sound and playability. Do not keep the strings that were on the guitar in the shop. They're probably poor quality, grimy, and worn out.

String brands and styles aren't much "better" than one another; they're just different. If you're bewildered, just pick one at random. Do stick with light strings at this point. Have the shop put them on for you, and watch them do it. Change the strings every month if you play regularly, or every week if you can afford it and want to try different styles.

Other goodies you might want but can certainly do without:

  • a string winder
  • flatpicks
  • a thumb pick (make sure it fits!)
  • a strap
  • a case or gig bag
  • a tuning fork (if you have a good ear) or an electronic tuner (for the rest of us)
  • a floor stand
  • a capo
You can probably talk the shop into throwing some of this stuff in for free. The most common freebies are picks and a gig bag.

Part 2: Learn to play it.

Now you need to find a teacher. It's really important to pick the right teacher for your interests and personality. Call around to guitar shops and ask them who to talk to. Meet prospective teachers face to face. Do you like them personally? Will they put you in touch with other students of theirs? Do they charge a reasonable price? Do they teach styles of music that you're interested in? Shop around for teachers just like you shopped around for your guitar. Remember, the effort is worth it!

Note that you will have an easier time finding a teacher if you're willing to learn different styles of music to begin with. In my experience, crusty old people are often the best teachers. Most crusty old people do not play Creed and Staind. A little Woody Guthrie never killed anyone. Also note that the teacher may not like your guitar. Guitar players are, like other craftsmen, opinionated as all hell. You chose the guitar that you could afford and that you liked. If they can't deal with that then find a teacher who's less arrogant. I've heard teachers say that they turned a student away because their guitar wasn't good enough. That's crap!

Aside from finding a good teacher, you have to practice. This is the part that causes most people to give up. You don't have to sit down for an hour a day and play scales and I-IV-V-I over and over. Keep the guitar close to you at home and just fool with it whenever you get a chance. Don't neglect the exercises your teacher gives you, but don't spend all your time slaving either. Play around! Noodle! If you play for a few hours a week, you'll improve pretty quickly.

After you know the basics, you can try buying some songbooks by your favorite bands. Show them to your teacher and have her walk you through them. If there are specific techniques you want to learn, find a recording of them and play it for your teacher. But as a beginner, use your teacher as a primary resource—that's what you pay her for. Once you know styles, idioms, and techniques, books are good for learning new data. Until then, books can actually do you more harm than good. For example, if you look up the tablature for an F#m barre chord but don't know how to place your index finger, you might develop a bad habit that's hard to correct. Good habits are crucial to good playing, and only a good teacher can provide them.

On the off chance that paying for your guitar sapped all of your lesson funds, Cyberfret has a lot of good entry-level and all-around good guitar information, and has photos of the techniques that are easily screwed up. Guitar Man's Acoustic Guitar Tips are a good source of random trivia including some great care and maintenance info. Last but not least is the rec.music.makers.guitar.acoustic FAQ.


If you follow the above advice to get started and if you stick with your guitar, you'll be pounding out songs in a few months. The first few weeks will be painful (as you develop calluses) and annoying (since you can't actually play anything yet), but hey. The worst that can happen to you is a bit of burnt cash. On the other hand, if you're lucky, you'll become addicted and absorbed for years to come.


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Related Links
o Cyberfret
o Guitar Man's Acoustic Guitar Tips
o rec.music. makers.guitar.acoustic
o Also by Iesu II

Display: Sort:
Learn Acoustic Guitar Without Wasting Your Time | 53 comments (41 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
Don't buy a tuning fork/tuner (5.00 / 1) (#5)
by Anatta on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:51:49 PM EST

Just use an online guitar tuner.

Cheaper and easier that way.
My Music

I hate Java. :) (none / 0) (#7)
by Iesu II on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:59:11 PM EST

Guitar tuning programs are a typical beginning sound-programming project and as such they're a dime a dozen. Any major software repository will have a bunch that are better than a Java applet.

[ Parent ]
Do buy a tuning fork (5.00 / 2) (#10)
by hugues on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:06:01 PM EST

It's hard to lug around your PC and you need a very long ethernet connection when you go on a camping trip.

I find that with some practice it's as easy to do a very good quality tuning by ear (with the tuning fork for the first string) as with a guitar tuner.

A tip: the unhook beep of the telephone is an A (440 Hz).

[ Parent ]

Tuning fork (5.00 / 1) (#35)
by epepke on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:42:43 PM EST

With an A-440 fork, even with a bum ear, you can hold the base on the A string just upward of the bridge and adjust the tuning machine until it resonates the best. Then you can get the remaining strings either with the strings on the frets (if the action is adjusted properly) or harmonics off the A string.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
Maybe.... (none / 0) (#22)
by evilpenguin on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:19:26 AM EST

If you play in a band with a piano or keyboard of some sort (or if you happen to have one of these anyway), tune to that. I find this works a lot better than tuning forks or chromatic tuners, especially for non-standard tunings (EADGBE gets boring).

However, if you're playing in a band (and I cannot emphasise this enough), make sure that you are in tune with each other. It's more important than being perfect E (or whatever) tuning.

And at any rate, tuning forks are cheap, and java applets suck.
# nohup cat /dev/dsp > /dev/hda & killall -9 getty
[ Parent ]
Beginnerism (none / 0) (#27)
by virg on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:14:59 AM EST

> If you play in a band with a piano or keyboard of some sort (or if you happen to have one of these anyway), tune to that. I find this works a lot better than tuning forks or chromatic tuners, especially for non-standard tunings (EADGBE gets boring).

Naughty, naughty. You're forgetting the beginner rule. If you can tune by ear to a piano, or if you're skilled enough to be playing alternate tunings, you can probably handle tuning off a pitch fork. Chromatic tuners are a good way for a complete rookie to get close to the right note, since said rookie needs not rely on his/her ear to get things right (anyone can center a needle).

> However, if you're playing in a band (and I cannot emphasise this enough), make sure that you are in tune with each other. It's more important than being perfect E (or whatever) tuning.

Agreed, although I'd rather everybody be at pitch. 8)

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
A plug for my site about tuning. (none / 0) (#51)
by markrages on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 02:39:29 PM EST

Some comments about tuning here, directed to the guitar newbie.

[ Parent ]
another thing (5.00 / 3) (#8)
by 5pectre on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 09:59:44 PM EST

if you start with an acoustic, learning to play electric will be a lot easier than if you learn electric then try acoustic.

"Let us kill the English, their concept of individual rights might undermine the power of our beloved tyrants!!" - Lisa Simpson [ -1.50 / -7.74]

Noodling is the key (5.00 / 1) (#9)
by zephc on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:00:23 PM EST

If you just sit and noodle around a few hours a day, while watching TV, you will build up familiarity with the fingerboard, so sounds become familiar, as well as build up strength and speed (if you push yourself).  Just make sure it stays in tune =]

Superb! (3.00 / 6) (#15)
by m0rzo on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 10:48:53 PM EST

I followed this how-to to a tee and now I'm playing Cavatina like a pro! God, just 3 minutes ago I was a complete newbie. This guide is just fantastically helpful. I mean, who'd have thought I'd have to go and find a teacher to learn classical guitar? Really splendid. Plus one front page.

My last sig was just plain offensive.

Here's the template (5.00 / 1) (#46)
by Sloppy on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 07:55:13 PM EST

How to use x:

Buy an x. Don't worry about getting the perfect x, just find an x that you like. Don't spend a lot of money, unless you don't mind spending a lot of money.

Get a "using x" teacher. Try to get a teacher who isn't an asshole.

Practice using x. Practicing is absolutely necessary, so don't skip this step.
"RSA, 2048, seeks sexy young entropic lover, for several clock cycles of prime passion..."
[ Parent ]

Good article (none / 0) (#18)
by medham on Mon Sep 02, 2002 at 11:43:55 PM EST

But I'd like to point out that you'll never get any poontang without learning most of the Skynrd power-ballads: "Tuesday's Gone" is a great place to start.

The real 'medham' has userid 6831.

First guitar (5.00 / 3) (#19)
by evilpenguin on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 12:06:37 AM EST

I've been playing for about ten years now.  Over that time I've collected 8 guitars (and a bass, if you wish to count that) of many types.  What I usually reccomend for beginners is to buy a cheap (but decent) classical guitar.  For under $300, you can get something like the Yamaha CG-101 (even cheaper if you don't want/need pickups).  In my opinion, unless you're going to spend at least $500, don't buy a steel-string acoustic.  

Classical guitars are often better for beginners because they have wider fret boards and higher action, allowing for easier fingering and better facilitates learing chords and proper positioning.  In addition, nylon strings are much easier on the hands (so you can play more!), though you're still certainly going to build up callouses (this is a Good Thing).  They're also the best way to learn fingerpicking and flamenco styles, sound great in jazz and blues, and have a beautiful natural warmth in their tone.
# nohup cat /dev/dsp > /dev/hda & killall -9 getty

I second that. (none / 0) (#21)
by i on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:46:33 AM EST

Get a classical guitar and learn to play classical repertoire. It's beautiful in and by itself, and it's a solid foundation for anything else.

and we have a contradicton according to our assumptions and the factor theorem

[ Parent ]
good advice (none / 0) (#25)
by Burning Straw Man on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:58:05 AM EST

When I'm teaching someone to play as a complete beginner, I definitely pull out my classical guitar for them. Takes less pressure on the strings, meaning their infantile fingers don't get mashed or cut.

That, and they feel like they're getting their money's worth when they show up to the lesson and I'm cranking out some Albinez on the thing :)
your straw man is on fire...
[ Parent ]

From a Classicist (none / 0) (#26)
by virg on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:06:57 AM EST

I'm going to start by saying that I play classical guitar. I love it, and I love introducing people to it. However, I'm not 100% convinced that it's the best route for every beginner to take. It really depends on where you want to get when you start. Frankly, I find that people who dig electric guitar music, and want to play, tend to drift away from learning if they're started out on an acoustic guitar of any kind. Therefore I suggest you reduce your suggestion to those who wish to learn acoustic guitar (and for that group, your advice is flawless in its reasoning). For electric guitar enthusiast, I suggest just that. A cheap electric guitar and a practice amp can be had for less than US$200.00 and will give them the sound they lust for.

"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Sound advice (none / 0) (#52)
by Phillip Asheo on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:13:26 PM EST

I find that people who dig electric guitar music, and want to play, tend to drift away from learning if they're started out on an acoustic guitar of any kind.

This is what happened to me as a kid. The whole classical/acoustic thing put me off it completely.

"Never say what you can grunt. Never grunt what you can wink. Never wink what you can nod, never nod what you can shrug, and don't shrug when it ain't necessary"
-Earl Long
[ Parent ]

Or maybe ... (none / 0) (#30)
by sonovel on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:22:00 AM EST

Maybe people should get the guitar that will let them learn to play the music they like.

The equipment is not the most important thing.

Motivation is.

If someone wants to rock, they won't be motivated to practice the classical guitar.

IMO, the callous thing is overrated as a barrier to learning the guitar. Light strings on a steel string aren't that bad. Electrics also use rather light strings.

A decent setup and avoiding cheese graters (i.e. guitars with very high strings) is important. The callouses will come within a few weeks.

But becoming competent takes much longer. So, once again, the most important thing is motivation. If someone isn't motivated enough to deal with a little pain, will they really be motivated to stick with it long enough to learn?

[ Parent ]

Metaphor (none / 0) (#23)
by notcarlos on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:31:11 AM EST

Buying a guitar is kind of like buying a boob job. [....] If you're buying a guitar to impress people, you're going to wind up with an expensive monstrosity that sits in the dark.

All right, I can kind of see where you were going with the 'guitar-is-like-a-boob-job' thing, but deductive reasoning implies that if you're buying a boob job to impress people, you're going to wind up with an expensive monstrosity that sits in the dark as well. Shades of Merrick!

He will destroy you like an academic ninja.
-- Rating on Rate My Professors.com
Intentional (none / 0) (#24)
by Iesu II on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 08:42:59 AM EST

I was trying to imply that if you didn't like your boob job, you wouldn't be willing to take 'em out and show 'em to people. ;)

[ Parent ]
Boob Jobs and Acoustic Guitars (none / 0) (#39)
by MicroGlyphics on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:40:28 PM EST

This is a bad metaphor, and what is a bad boob job anyway? The motivation behind getting a discretionary boob job (low self-esteem) is not necessarily (note, I used the term "necessarily") the same for getting a new guitar. Besides, many now-famous guitarists did pick up their instrument originally to impress people--usually chicks with or without boob jobs.

And sit in the dark: do you mean like thousands of computers? Many people have some motivation, but they lose the drive when they discover they suck at it or that they cannot play the tune they envisioned (or at least as well as they envisioned--thinking about the Stairway to Heaven commercial clip on VH1 Classics).

Finally, I have to ask this question: Is there a such a thing as a good boob job? I think not, but I think I feel a poll coming on...

[ Parent ]
Uh, geez. (none / 0) (#45)
by Iesu II on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 06:37:09 PM EST

All I meant to analogize was this: when you go to the surgeon to get a boob job, they will (if they're reputable) ask you whether you're doing it to please yourself or to please others. Former is (sometimes) good, latter is (usually) bad. If you get the boobs to please yourself, chances are you will like them and you will wave them about happily. If you get the boobs primarily to please others, you will evaluate them based on others' responses and will more than likely regret your decision. Same with guitars, I feel. This is of course an oversimplification. Most analogies are.

If you think boob jobs are always bad, perhaps read this. It's a good story.

[ Parent ]

some more guitar information (none / 0) (#28)
by VoxLobster on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:49:35 AM EST

I've been playing for around 8 years now, and I've picked up some knowledge that may assist a bit for both beginners, and novices. First up, when you go to buy your second guitar (usually becuase your first was a cheapie that you bought so that you wouldn't have a large outlay of cash when you aren't sure if you wanted to really play or not) you want to go to a guitar shop and look at their Solid Top guitars. Cheap guitars are made with a plywood top piece, which saves a lot of money, but makes for poor sound projection and makes for a cold, lifeless tone. It's one of the big reasons that cheap guitars sound like crap. My reccomendation is to look for a Seagull dealer in your area. It may be hard to find, but is well worth it. These guitars are solid top models, all hand made in Quebec. Now, it may sound pricey, but models such as the S6 and M6 can be had for under $350 Canadian. The other great thing about these guitars is their sound, they sound amazing, and are easily as good as a Yamaha priced at 2 or 3 times as much. In fact, many professional musicians play these guitars, including Noel Gallager of Oasis (not promoting Oasis, but he does use Seagull guitars).

The next thing I want to comment on is string choice. There is a recent addition to the guitar string market from Gore Music, called Elixir Strings . These strings have an ultra-thin coating on them that helps to prevent dirt and oil from getting into the strings, without dulling their quality. Personally, I only have to change my Elixirs about once every 6-8 months, and I play a lot, and record. They cost about 2.5 times what a regular pack of strings does, but will last 6 times as long at least, so it's a good value, and paired with a Seagull guitar, they sound really fantastic.

VoxLobster -- You take one down, it swirls around, 999 springs to flush down... -- H. Simpson

I was raised by a cup of coffee! -- Homsar

Seconded (none / 0) (#33)
by farmgeek on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:52:19 AM EST

The Seagull is a beautiful sounding guitar.

A friend of mine has one, and merely plucking an open string on it puts my cheapo guitar to shame.

On the other hand, I don't worry too much about mine getting beat to death on camping trips.

[ Parent ]

Buy a decent guitar to start with (5.00 / 2) (#29)
by bigdavex on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 10:50:27 AM EST

I think this is a good article, but I disagree with your advice on first-time guitar buying. Typically, a $50 steel-string has horrible action and is more difficult to play than better instruments. Lots of people give up early because their instrument is fighting them.

Most people do actually quit in a while (none / 0) (#38)
by Iesu II on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:35:05 PM EST

At which point, they're out whatever they dropped for the guitar. I hate to see someone get a $1200 Taylor and then give up.

I got started on a Martin Backpacker. A worse POS I have not played since. Yearning for a better guitar made me play better in the meantime, and it didn't set me back much.

[ Parent ]

happy medium (none / 0) (#41)
by bigdavex on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:58:36 PM EST

Agreed. I'd just suggest that the happy medium is somewhere north of $50. Spend $150 or $250. If you quit, sell it for half that.

[ Parent ]
Rentals? (none / 0) (#50)
by SDrifter on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 12:40:59 PM EST

A lot of shops in my area will let you rent instruments. The way I see it, you get the best of both worlds. *A decent instrument, and pretty low cost maintenance. *If you do end up quitting, you're only out the cost of a couple month's rental. Or, not even that, if you're lucky. I tried learning the saxophone a while back, but didn't have the time to play it much, so I took it back, and got to use all of the money that I'd paid so far as credit on another instrument, so I put it towards a new clarinet for my girlfriend. I guess it depends on the shop, though.
It burns!!!
It's loaded with wasabi!
[ Parent ]
Get a Teacher? (4.00 / 1) (#31)
by pipebox on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:27:15 AM EST

feh, garbage in, garbage out. Taught myself and I am damn proud I don't know the Happy Birthday and other crap songs that they teach you.

Get yourself Mel Bay's Big Book-O-Chords and find stuff you like the sound of... Get bored? find another chord.

Yeah, I agree. (none / 0) (#40)
by d s oliver h on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 04:42:50 PM EST

It's totally unnecessary to have someone teach you, I mean, all it takes is learning a few finger positions and then you can play any song ever written.

[ Parent ]
good article (none / 0) (#32)
by anon0865 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 11:49:54 AM EST

The famous violinist Nathan Milstein was known for not practicing consistently (or at all, it seemed to observers), but always having his violin in his hand.

Of course, Milstein was a genius and had some formal education when he was very young. IMHO, however, this is the most important thing you can do- keep it near you, and you'll play it during breaks during studying/TV/whatever you do. One day, you'll simply realize that you can play guitar.

I've played guitar without a teacher for two years, but I have a decade and a half of formal violin and piano music training. If you simply want to play popular songs on the radio, and don't mind learning some music theory by yourself, you probably don't need a teacher (radio songs can almost always be broken down into three or four fundamental chords). If you wish to excel at the art and feel that you have a lot of talent, or if you are having a lot of trouble after a few months, you'll probably want to get a teacher. The reason for my seemingly contradictory viewpoints on teachers is that really talented folks, I feel, can really accelerate their learning to a very high level with the right teacher. People having lots of problems will need a teacher. Middle of the road folks, however, will do just fine without.

The guitar, while suffering from some stigma as a common-place instrument, is the most socially useful, and one of the most satisfying. There is nothing quite like sitting down with a couple of friends and playing a few songs to pass the time.

As a side-note, I probably composed more music and learned more music theory in my two years of guitar playing than in my fifteen of violin.

as for Milstein (none / 0) (#37)
by adequate nathan on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 03:06:57 PM EST

He put in his time. In his autobiography, he commented that immediately after the Russian Revolution, he had nothing to do and there were no movies or TV. So, he learned the complete Paganini caprices and solo Bach.

Milstein was also one of the greatest violin talents of all time. According to Erich Friedman, who studied with both Milstein and Heifetz, Milstein was in many ways Heifetz's superior. He was capable of improvising smoothly-voiced accompaniments to Bach movements in left hand pizzicato. I can't think of a more difficult fundamental problem in violin playing. Even Paganini isn't so scary.

"For me -- ugghhh, arrgghh."
-Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in Frank magazine, Jan. 20th 2003

Join the petition: Rusty! Make dumped stories & discussion public!
[ Parent ]

Milstein's Bach sonatas and partitas... (none / 0) (#43)
by anon0865 on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:40:01 PM EST

...are incredible. Probably my favorite artist- nobody really captures the silvery tone that he eludes in all his recordings. I prefer Milstein's Chaconne, for example, to any other artists.

And learning the Paganini caprices for fun...well.. :-P

[ Parent ]

Take some piano lessons (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by Idioteque on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:33:06 PM EST

Some may disagree, but if you are serious about learning guitar, learn the piano, even if its just a little bit, your guitar playing will make much more sense and you'll have a much easier time if you start sight reading for the guitar. Just a thought...

I have seen too much; I haven't seen enough - Radiohead
Note on teachers... Setting your own limits. (1.66 / 3) (#36)
by Keeteel on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 02:43:10 PM EST

Like all things in life a knowledgable, supportive, and quality teacher can provide you with the steps to become an amazing player. There are many positive effects of getting a good teacher, but a poor teacher (or even a good teacher) and general lazyness on the students part is one of the worse approaches you can take to the guitar.

Never use the teacher as your absolute way to learn, they should be used as a guide for you to develop your own style, pursue your own interests, and set your own limits. I've seen it far too many students take up the guitar only to get a teacher, 6 years later they've yet to write their own piece of music and are still playing the 10 note riffs their teacher showed them 4 years ago. Trying to jam and improsive with them is impossible as out of no where you'll hear a metallica riff their teacher showed them overwhelm your calm blues progression. Technically they're clones of the teacher acting like human juke boxes repeating riff after riff with near flawless technicality, but with no heart, emotion, or style and a lack of ability to break outside of those limits. You need to teach yourself just as much with a teacher as you would if you didn't have one. You'll want to develop your style naturally with out the influence of a teacher but let them guide you to the right tools to reach on your own the level of playing you want.

Good luck on pursuing the guitar! It's by all means life changing if you get in to it. You'll never look at music the same way again, and as a good friend once said about the guitar:

Stay with this instrument. It will soothe you when you are down, entertain you when you are bored, get you laid on ugly days, and separate you from the masses of people with nothing to live for.

One more thing I would say - Try to start singing with the instrument as soon as you can. When you're alone in your room you have nothing to be embarassed about when you're a horrible singer (like me!) Next thing you know time passes and you'll be happy enough about your singing voice to start performing in public. Just make sure to sing from your chest, not your throat.

Renting (none / 0) (#42)
by nchannen on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:30:01 PM EST

Another possibility is to rent a guitar. When I started taking lessons, the music school offered monthly guitar rentals, with an option to buy out after a few months.
Parents of young organic lifeforms are warned that towels can be harmfull if swallowed in large quantities. [HHGttG]
What works for me (none / 0) (#44)
by doofusdan on Tue Sep 03, 2002 at 05:43:12 PM EST

I've been strumming a guitar for about 10 years now. Took about a dozen lessons, but since I never got around to practicing the rote exercises, I felt guilty and stopped going to lessons.

I know many people have the same reaction to lessons, and finding a new instructor can seem like a hassle. ("Where do I find an instructor? What if I don't like him/her? What if the lessons they assign me are too hard too easy too boring?")

Anyway, after 10 years of mostly unstructured strumming I've gotten halfway to decent. At least I'm not embarrassed to play when other people are in the room, and I can sometimes guess the chords to a song on the first try.

So my advice: if you just want to get a cheap guitar and strum on it, go ahead! If you keep playing it, you'll get better.

Gear-wise, I'd just make sure that whatever you buy is set up reasonably well with an action (height of strings above the fretboard) that you can handle easily. Some guitars can be set up to adjust the action, in my experience any guitar shop worth buying from will do this setup for you free when you buy.

Other than that, get a guitar you LIKE! Even if you've never played a guitar before, just pick up a few. If one appeals to you for 'no good reason', that's super - whatever you'll be likely to pick up and feel good holding will help you play more, and that's how you get better.

Other tips: learn a few songs you like by looking at tab. That's tabulature, where the chords are diagrammed. No ability to read music, or remember where your fingers go for each chord, is necessary. One place I get a lot of tab is altcountrytab.com.

Check out the Fretboard Logic series of books. I think there's a videotape now, too. I picked these up a few years in to my strumming, and they're super. They finally helped me make some sense of the guitar's structure in a way that really appeals to my geeky brain.

And try playing with other people! Even if you don't know any musicians, have a friend bang a beat on the table.

Use your resources wisely! (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by jetpack on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 01:04:04 AM EST

I may not have been the standard guitar newbie when I started playing guitar, since I'd been playing piano and sax for about 10 years at that point.  However, how many of you dont know a competent guitar player?

I knew several, and they were all friends of mine.  So, when I went out to look for a guitar, I dragged them along with me.  Besides, musicians are almost always interested in taking a gratuitious trip to the music shop, or some place that's selling used gear.

Get them to help you pick out an axe.  They probably know a hell of a lot more about guitars than you do.  If nothing else, they will at least keep you from buying a doorstop.

Hell, you never know.  They may even have an old guitar lying around that they never play, and would lend it to you until you decide if you really want to keep playing.

After you get your guitar, talk to your guitar playing buddies.  Take your guitar to their place to learn some things.  They'll probably be happy to help out, because they get to show off all the cool stuff they know, and you don't know.

They may even have taken some lessons and will be able to point you towards good teachers and steer you away from bad teachers.

When I first started out, I convinced a buddy of mine to give me classical lessons at a ridiculously low rate.  I learned alot from him, and we both enjoyed hanging out and playing some tunes.

When I decided to learn some jazz guitar, a number of my friends directed me towards a teacher they thought was good.  Lo and Behold, he was a great guy, and a great teacher.

So, altho I don't really disagree with the article, I suggest you seek out local guitar players to give you a hand.  Not only will they help you out, but in a year or two (when you are ready for it) you'll have some folks to jam with :)
/* The beatings will continue until morale improves */

If you want to be a music composer... (5.00 / 1) (#48)
by Juan Rojo on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 01:43:14 AM EST

Then guitar is not the right thing to start with. Get a piano (or an electronic keyboard if it's too expensive). Keyboards let you experiment with harmonizations and note voicing like no other instrument, which is key to make your compositions sound at least decent. Then for melodies and expresiveness then you'll probably like to learn a lead instrument, like flute, saxophone or clarinet.
It's is _very_ important that either you know how to play certain kinds of instruments, or you observe them a lot if you want to compose for them. Then another very often forgotten aspect of composition.. beats! I suggest you either learn the drums, spend a lot of time with a good drummer, or try to write down drum beats and patterns until you start to grasp the idea.
This is probably the best way to learn composing! And seriously, even if i am, personally, a very music theory-literated person... I can seriosly tell you that music theory is little or nothing helpful for composing itself I know composers who do completely amazing stuff on their instruments/bands or even on the computer and they dont know a thing of music theory. But i find it extremely useful when talking to other musicans, for communicating what we want to do and the ideas. (Amazingly, i find music theory and programming theory _very_ related !)

Request (none / 0) (#49)
by Meatbomb on Wed Sep 04, 2002 at 07:43:05 AM EST

I'm interested in learning to ride a horse quickly and effectively. Would you consider posting on this topic?


Good News for Liberal Democracy!

No problem... (none / 0) (#53)
by rapha on Thu Sep 05, 2002 at 09:47:04 AM EST

...I've learned riding while in a dorm. First thing I was tought was that "everyone has to fall down one time. After that there's no fear anymore". One week later I fell down and two weeks later I was allowed to join them in riding the woods. So learning to ride is mostly about learning to love your horse, and admiring it for carrying you. The rest will come easily.

Then, in a similar veine, I believe much of the stuff that was said about learning how to play the guitar (if not all of it) does also apply for many many other things. Definately for other instruments (although I'm only assuming that, since I haven't ever learned to play anyhing but the block flute) and for martial arts.

About the teacher-finding I would like to point out that "The teacher comes when the student is ready".



[ Parent ]

Learn Acoustic Guitar Without Wasting Your Time | 53 comments (41 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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