It’s become a rite of passage for many teenagers: you discover rock and roll and you go out and buy your first guitar so you can learn to shred.
You get home, you unbox the thing, you sit down and try to bash out Stairway to Heaven straight away. This is when you find out that it’s not as easy as it looks. Many even put the thing back in the box and let it collect dust, eventually becoming management accountants without even learning how to play Smoke on the Water.
Don’t be one of those! Here are some top tips for the best way to learn guitar.
Before you even buy a guitar you have to ask yourself: what do you want to learn to play? Most people have actually got quite a wide range of music they can listen to and it’s important to explore as many styles as possible.
But they started out by picking one.
Choose the right guitar
There are many articles out there about choosing the right guitar to match your style. Equally as important is your physicality. Whilst it’s true that many guitarists are known for their gigantic hands (Jimi Hendrix), it’s not necessarily true that you have to have long, spidery fingers to play. Jazz’s greatest guitarist, Django Reinhardt, had only a thumb and two fingers on his left hand to play with.
However, it’s important to get a feel for the neck of a guitar. Learning how to play on a neck that you can’t get your fingers round is not only going to hurt your hand, but you’ll also find it incredibly frustrating and unrewarding. So the best way to learn guitar, to start with, is to find the most comfortable one.
There’s nothing to stop you learning to play on an electric guitar, some of which have extremely thin necks. Some things to note though:
- Most electric guitars have steel strings which can be quite painful to start off with and
- If you play an electric guitar through a 100 watt Marshall Stack at 2.00 am you are going to make enemies very quickly.
Equally, you might want to learn on a classical guitar with a thicker neck but gentler, nylon strings, which will also mean fewer angry neighbors.
Listen to Mark Knopfler on how a different guitar can affect your playing.
Many guitarists love the idea of being self-taught, but here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as self-taught.
Each and every guitarist at some point comes into contact with others who can play better than them. It’s part of what drives you to practice harder and play better.
So why not get the self-consciousness out of the way straight off and invest in some lessons? It’s undoubtedly the best way to learn guitar if you want to play Bach or Paganini. You might find, as you progress that you want to take up guitar-playing as a profession, and some studios and certainly orchestras insist on certifications in order to work with them.
Meet other guitarists
If you can’t take lessons, it’s important that you go out and play guitar with other musicians. You’ll learn so much from just watching and asking questions of other guitar players.
Not only is this the best way to learn guitar as part of collective, its a fun way to learn. There’s nothing more rewarding than sitting down with another guitar player and just playing.
Guitar playing is an art, and all art starts with imitation. Once you’ve learned how to play a song a few times you start to understand the little details that you wouldn’t notice just by listening, making it one of the best ways to learn guitar.
Importantly you’re teaching your fingers good habits when it comes to playing. It’s a theory called muscle memory and it’s crucial to good guitar playing and the ability to improvise effectively.
Hear some wise words from Slash:
Not everyone wants to do the twelve-minute finger-bleeding solos of Kirk Hammett and Steve Vai. Sometime people make a career of just knowing how to make a good song out of very little (see Steve Jones of The Sex Pistols). For this you need to know chord shapes. Many guitar players will say this is the best way to learn guitar if you want to start playing bands quickly.
Once you’ve got a few basic shapes down you can start your career as a new Bob Dylan.
Of course for those of you who DO want to start learning how to play epic solos, there’s only one way to go: scales.
If you’ve ever had to learn music in school the mention of scales might make you shudder. But scales are the building blocks of music and once you’ve got them in your memory you will never completely lose them. Everything is transferable too, so once you’ve learned, for instance, the E minor pentatonic, you’ve also learned the G Major pentatonic.
This is also the best way to learn guitar and music theory at the same time.
Lastly, and most importantly: be happy with experimentation. The guitar is one of the best instruments for learning how to improvise and it lends itself well to all kinds of crazy ideas.
Learn how to tune the guitar in different ways, spend time investigating every sound your guitar can make, bang it like a drum, bow it like a violin, or slide bottles up and down the neck.
Everything is valid if it makes a good noise.