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5 Tips on Getting Started with Guitar; from a Bad Guitar Player

Updated on January 7, 2016

I've been playing guitar for about a year and a half now, but if you heard me you might not believe that. It's strange, I can whail out a solo on the spot, or strum a basic four chord song, but whatever I play just doesn't sound quite right. Why? When I began playing guitar there were a few essential skills and practices that I chose to neglect, and these have a noticeable effect on my playing today. You should do all of these things from the start if you want to be a truly good guitar player:

1. Learn to Count

This is by far the most important item in this list. Rhythm is half of music, if people can't follow it you sound bad and people lose interest. You need to learn to count beats, both to sound better and so you can play with other people in the future. The realization of how important this was didn't dawn with me until I tried playing with someone else my first time, a few months after I picked up the guitar. No matter what we tried to play I just couldn't do it right, and I realized it was because I couldn't stay in time.

I never realized how wildly off my rhythm was until this moment, and it was because I hadn't been counting. Your rhythm may sound fine to yourself when you're playing, but trust me if you aren't making an effort to keep time it sounds terrible to everyone else. The only reason you aren't noticing is because you're too focused on everything else. So learn counting from the beginning, if the habit isn't established early, then you're going to have issues picking it up early, which goes for most items on this list.

2. Learn Full Songs

Image: You, a crowd, a guitar. A great chance to show off the skills you've been working so hard to build. You flawlessly strum out the first riff of 'Snow' by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and then...silence. Everyone stares at you, expecting more. Not knowing what to do, you choose to blare out that iconic riff from 'Thunderstruck', by AC/DC. What could have been a great performance ends with the crowd awkwardly clapping while you walk away playing 'Sweet Child O' Mine'.

This is a fate that you're doomed to if you don't learn full songs, an unsatisfying performance. Sure, people might be impressed if you can nail that riff down, but if you don't have the rest to add to it then they're going to be left underwhelmed. Unless you're strictly playing for yourself, you need things to perform, and people are going to get bored if you just play the same riff 30 times.

3. Use Efficient Fingering

A lot of guitar teachers will try to teach you easier fingerings for chords from the start, but this is counterproductive for your playing in the long term. At some point you're going to want to do some complex chords that just aren't going to work with these easy fingerings, and getting out of the habit of using them is going to be a challenge, and more of a challenge the longer you wait to change it.

Always use the fewest fingers possible, a basic D Chord should be played with a barred 2nd fret for example. An A-style barre chord should just be two barres instead of using your index to barre and the rest of your fingers to hit individual notes. Break in your fingers for these chords early and you'll have a much better time playing later.

4. Play With Other People

It's fun, it's helpful for your skills, and a great test on where you are in your skill level. This will help you improve your rhythm especially, and force you to improvise around mistakes on the go. Who knows, maybe the people you're playing with will be able to offer some of their own advice too.

Also, play in front of other people. You might find that your skill level drops 50% when people are watching as I did. Playing around other people frequently will help you correct this.

5. Learn by Ear

Learning from tabs can help you get a song accurate down to every single note, but it doesn't do much for your sense of pitch and style. Something to understand early is that you don't have to play a song exactly how the original band played it, you need to put a little bit of yourself in. So listen to the song, and try to copy the sound approximately. It will be hard at first, but eventually it will come almost naturally. Don't try to robotically copy things, or your guitar playing will sound robotic.

If you diligently follow all of these steps then you'll grow to be a much better guitar player than if you don't, trust me. It's not enough to just pick up a guitar and start strumming random, off beat chords. You have to practice every aspect, and practice a lot. So go forth, fledgling guitarist, and be great!

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      Rob Erwick 21 months ago

      Thanks. Good to know that it's never too late to start turning things around. I've only been playing about a year and a half but developed a lot of bad habits, and starting to follow some of my own advice here I'm beginning to break out of them, but damn it can be hard sometimes.

    • Jordan West profile image

      Jordan 21 months ago from Denver, CO

      Good read! A lot of these tips would have been helpful when I first began playing 13 years ago. I went through various struggles before I realized the mistakes I was making. Keep up the good words!