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10 Essential Guitar Tips For Beginners
Here’s a list of invaluable guitar tips that any new player should know. Avoid failure and discouragement by following the advice in these pointers, for continued success. Note that these tips are specifically aimed at absolute beginner guitar players - for anyone who’s been journeying with the guitar for a while (as well as beginners) I recommend you also check out this list of top guitar tips and tricks for progressing as a Musician.
Top Ten Guitar Tips And Tricks for Newer Players: Learn the most common problem you will encounter as a new guitarist, and learn to avoid the most common mistakes that many make.
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Guitar Tips for Beginners #1: Patience: Be ready for some frustration in the beginning
The most common problem you'll encounter as a new guitarist is the feeling of frustration and the desire to give up, usually a few days or weeks after starting. It is without a doubt the most common problem you'll encounter as a new musician and it’s as unwelcome and unavoidable as the calluses on your fingertips.
Impatience has probably disqualified more new guitarists than anything else.
For some reason we forget that, as a beginner, everything you're forcing your body to do on the guitar is new and strange to it. Your body (and in our case, hands) have an amazing ability to adapt to whatever you focus it on and it WILL adapt itself to the point where playing chords and scales seem like second nature. This however, takes time.
It also helps to be realistic in your expectations. All new players quickly reach a phase where they feel overwhelmed when, after a few days of struggling with chords, strumming or picking, they seem to make little or no progress. That’s when reality usually hits you in the face and you come to the knowledge that learning a new skill is not quite the same as doing a Google Search or ordering some take-out. It needs more time and effort and provides very little instant gratification in the beginning.
The good news though, is that once you get over this ‘hump’, things usually start progressing much faster, as your hands develop new muscles and your brain acquires new - hitherto unknown - patterns of recognition on the fretboard of the guitar.
So be ready for impatience and frustration to hit you at some point. Your reaction to it will determine whether you learn and master your new instrument, or whether you become another statistic who played guitar for a total of two weeks...
Guitar Tips for Beginners #2: Expect some minor physical pain and quickly toughen up your fingertips
The next biggest obstacle that I find new guitarist fall over is pain. Maybe, on a theoretical level you’ve heard than hand and finger pain is part of the process, but you’re still unprepared at how raw your fingertips really feel after your first few 30 minute sessions with your new guitar.
To a degree, this pain is normal and should be expected (if it’s not serious or acute for extended times, in which case you might be doing something wrong and should get advice from a live instructor). The three parts of your body that experience the most discomfort in the beginning of your guitaring journey are your fingertips, your hands themselves, and (sometimes) the muscles on your forearms. For your hands, doing simple stretches before practicing and some massaging afterwards will help, and for your arm muscles… well, it’s really just the same as going to the gym, your muscles are just growing.
New players usually struggle most with painful fingertips, especially on the hand that you use to fret the guitar (which is your left hand, if you’re right handed). The quickest way to stop the pain in your fingers is to develop calluses on your fingertips and this is achieved by playing on a regular basis. The quickest way to develop calluses is to play every day for at least 30 minutes.
There’s also a neat trick that’ll help you artificially develop these calluses: Read this article for more on toughening up your fingertips.
Guitar Tips for Beginners #3: Use an Electronic Tuner, at least to start out with.
This is a simple tip, but usually necessary in the beginning. When your guitar is not completely in tune, NOTHING will sound the way it should. Playing with an (even slightly) out-of-tune guitar is like using a piano that’s missing every second key. So tuning is important and it’s good to prioritise learning by ear, or with a piano/tuning-fork.
However, in the beginning, to simplify things, it’s a good idea to use an electronic tuner to make sure your instrument is 100% in tune. Then as time goes by and you become more proficient, you should learn to tune by ear. For a list of recommended guitar tuners see this page.
Guitar Tips for Beginners #4: Get the basics down… in fact, get it PERFECT!
I've seen many guitarists playing (or trying to play) cool solo's when they can barely fret a power chord without their instrument sounding like a butchery implement. It's imperative to get the basics covered well before you move on.
Your long term relationship with your guitar depends on your basic fundamental technique, so don't move at such a lightning fast pace, for example, that you reach an advanced lesson before you've got the basic chords memorized. Refuse to give in to sloppy technique and a mediocre method and before you finish with a given lesson, practice, rinse and repeat until you've got it nailed down perfectly.
In most cases, I would recommend to students the following order for learning new guitar techniques (this is kind of the order that the free lessons on this site follows):
The Four Easiest Guitar Chords
More Open Chords that you can use to play Easy Songs
Scales and Fingerpicking
Power Chords & Barre Chords
Some guitarists, who learn the instrument to play mostly lead-guitar, will turn a list like this upside down and there’s nothing really wrong with that, it depends on your goals. What is important is not to learn a little bit of everything by skimming over things that you deem unimportant or unnecessary in order to get to the heavy stuff that you really want to play.
Guitar Tips for Beginners #5: Start with Easy Songs to stay motivated.
Use simple strumming songs to help you stay motivated. While it’s important to practice both repetitive exercises like guitar scales and chord push-ups (more on these below), if your practice sessions consist only of these, it will get real boring real soon. So, in order to have something to work towards, you need to start learning simple songs early on.
This is a great way to see improvement in your skills and consequently it’s a great motivator. It’s also a great motivator since, once you’ve mastered a couple of songs and is able to play them smoothly, you can start impressing audiences!
I have a couple of different resources for learning songs, which are aimed specifically at beginner players. My free download, Easy Guitar Songs contains 18 strumming songs as well as my collection of 10 Easy Acoustic Songs. Finally, if you’re looking to learn more about picking and lead-guitar, try this selection of Beginner Guitar Tabs and Easy Guitar Solos.
Guitar Tips for Beginners #6: Be ready to struggle with changing chords.
After initial frustrations and the unwelcome pain on your fingertips, the next biggest challenge for brand new guitarists usually comes when having to change between chords. Simply learning the notes of the chords and trying to get all of your fingers in the correct (yet awkward) position on the fretboard, takes a lot of willpower. But then having to change between two of these suckers seems rather difficult. Then realising that all of this has to happen within 1-2 seconds in order to stay in time with the music, and the whole thing seems insurmountable.
But of course, as any guitarist with more than 3 months of playing experience will tell you, it’s not. Your hands and brain have amazing capabilities to adapt, and given enough practice it will. Some tips can help though so I recommend that you have a look at this article on changing chords smoothly as well as the video on this page on beginner guitar chords (the video, by Jamplay teacher Steve Eulberg is about three quarters down the page).
Guitar Tips for Beginners #7: Daily Scaling & Daily Push-Ups.
In point #5 above, I mentioned the important of learning songs early on, in order to stay motivated. That being said though, certain repetitive exercises are also important and two that I’ll mention here are scales and chord push-ups. These are great auxiliary exercises to quickly build your finger strength and ensure that you don’t end up with bad technique.
Scales can be an incredible challenge if you motivate yourself to play against a metronome and reach a certain speed. It's also the primary way your hands will develop individual finger strength and your ears will be trained to recognize patterns for soloing. If you’re totally unfamiliar with scales you can read this introductory scales lesson.
Guitar Tips for Beginners #8: Finding Time to Practice.
In order to quickly build calluses on your fingertips it’s important to try and practice daily, for at least 20-30 minutes (though in the first week or two, you might need to take it slower than this). At the very least, if your schedule allows, you should aim for 2-3 practice sessions per week. If you end up practicing only once a week, building calluses will take much longer and you lengthen the process towards pain-free guitaring.
Here's one amazingly simple tip that'll help with practice time constraints: Buy a Guitar stand! If you've got a 30min break between two activities in a hectic schedule, you don't want to spend 5 minutes of it taking your guitar out of its case, switching on the amp, connecting the cables, plucking up your effects pedal etc. And then another 5 minutes putting everything back again...
Guitar Tips for Beginners #9: Practice Visualisation when not at your guitar.
When you’re not at your instrument, visualise yourself playing scales, chords or whatever else you’re busy practicing. This does nothing for your hand and fingers (obviously), but exercises another very important body part that plays a huge role in music: your BRAIN!
Guitar Tips for Beginners #10: Staying Motivated by realising that you’re literally getting smarter (and sexier ;)
The hardest stage of the learning process is the beginning. That's why staying motivated with guitar is more of a problem for beginners - the longer you've played the easier things become. Therefore you'll need more motivation in the beginning then you will once you've mastered the basics.
My advice is that you be gracious to yourself when you're just starting out. If you really struggle with even the most basic chord and can't seem to strum and fret at the same time, go easy on yourself and refuse to dwell on negative thoughts. It will get better, everyone struggles in the beginning, but it doesn't last. The process just takes time.
It also helps to remember that when you’re learning a new instrument, you are not just learning a new instrument, but are literally raising your IQ, increasing your memory, teaching yourself the importance of discipline, and overall making yourself more attractive to the opposite sex! Many of the same benefits that come from learning a second or third language, is inherent in musical training as well, and this can be a huge motivator when you’re feeling stuck with your new instrument. Have a look at this article on music education benefits for more along this line.
10 Music Education Benefits that often go unnoticed, but forms a great motivator!
4 Easy Guitar Chords that'll enable you to play thousands of songs!
10 Easy Acoustic Guitar Songs that are specifically aimed at beginner players.
The Quickest way to rid thyself of this horribleness is to practice regularly and develop calluses!
You can also learn and internalise chords by using the “chord push up technique” - fretting the chord, strumming it, releasing it, fretting it again, strumming… and repeat. This is not the most exciting way to practice, but it does ensure that you really build your finger strength and learn to memorize the switches between chords before moving on to more complicated material.
If you found these guitar tips for beginners helpful, then please share it with your fellow musician enthusiasts!