I started playing guitar with a scale book, a few tabs I printed out from the Internet, and an electric guitar with no amp. I didn’t step foot into a Guitar Center for six months. My only friend that I could get advice from was 30 miles away. Plus, all the information I found was a variation on how loud someone could say, “LEARN A G CHORD!”
I was on my own.
The only edge I had was that I loved music with the guitar in it and was determined to do anything to play it.
However I had many obstacles waiting for me that I didn’t yet know how to overcome.
Information overload was the first one. Simply googling for guitar chords drops you into the middle of the chaos!
It would seem so simple to plug in a few chords and you’re then playing a song. But I quickly found out that there’s more to it then that.
The next thing was bad advice. EVERYBODY has an opinion on what the quickest way to play guitar is, and most of it can be summed up like this: learn how to strum chords. Maybe there’s some exercises but that’s really it. They’ll never help you deconstruct a guitar tab and help you learn how to listen to the music you’re hearing.
Unwise spending is one more.
Gibson and Fender have spent a lot of money marketing their brands across Guitar Center and Guitar Hero, while also signing every big name player they can, all in an effort to convince you that buying this household name will make you play like your heroes.
Guitars don’t come with built-in knowledge of musical fundamentals.
The biggest obstacle that most people have is mental. They don’t have a clear goal to reach.
And it’s often a vague declaration stating, “I want to play guitar!!!”
Okay. What exactly do you want to play?
I’ve spoken to a lot of people who’ve taken up the challenge of playing the instrument and the problems I just mentioned were the biggest reasons why they failed.
But it can be solved with these SEVEN crucial skills……..
Day 1: Guitar Playing Is Learning How To Interpret Guitar Tabs. Plus The Most Important Skill…..
You will never succeed at playing guitar unless you stop telling yourself what you can and cannot do, and THEN start asking yourself what you must do to get the job done. This is the first, among many other things that you must learn on your first day. We’ve never met in real life, so I don’t know how well you cope with pressure to conform or whether you tend to surrender to the beliefs that are regularly thrust upon you every day. But you will need to have this confidence to disregard any self-doubt or rules that have slept inside of you until now because the guitar’s six strings will only respond to a force of nature, before they will make music. That power is inside of you. I do know that.
By my sixth month, I literally thought I was as good as the people I listened to because I could play their music. It didn’t matter how true that was because it helped me get through the work and enjoy the instrument.
You don’t need to learn any particular thing except how to listen to music, fret the guitar, and read guitar tablature. Almost everything else you can do your own way.
I got frustrated a lot and developed some bad habits, but it was nothing that I couldn’t fix later. In fact, my lack of knowledge gave me the ability to try things that many would-be guitar players would never attempt, like trying to play guitar solos months after learning a chord. With that mindset, you should start to become aware of the possibilities ahead of you.
Your first day is always the toughest because it is the most uncertain. You have no familiarity with your guitar yet, and you will naturally not want to wait in order to nail your first riff. I hope that after reading this article, you will be prepared to do whatever you must do in order to gain that familiarity, and become the player you’re currently dreaming of becoming.
Day 2: The Two Skills Every Beginner Must Learn Their First Day, And The Bare Minimum Amount Of Knowledge Every Player Must Learn
When I was a beginner I learned the most basic skills first, which are reading chord diagrams and tablature. The catch to learning these skills is that there is a whole other subset of skills that no book ever discusses! Let’s take the first skill: how to read chord diagrams. Every page on Google that you’ll find explaining this skill will go through the basic nonsense over what this symbol means and what each line represents. Other tabs will simply have a row of numbers like 320033, symbolizing a G chord. Every chord diagram will demand a different set of skills other than simply being able to interpret them correctly. The key to this skill is to actually start seeing roadmaps and interconnections between these chords across the fretboard. Once you learn one song using a certain chords, it will help when you learn another song using the same chord as it broadens your knowledge of the fretboard terrain. You’ll also start to see chords that are very often used together like the chords G, C, and D, or E and A. There are theoretical reasons why these shapes work so well, but basically they are very basic harmonic structures for lots of songs in many genres of music created by many, many artists.
Another secret is that most songs are descendants of 5 chord shapes. You won’t be able to see this until you’ve learned many songs but you literally become amazed when you see how repetitive these harmonies are. To sum this up, you are not learning chord diagrams but the actual fretboard itself. The more knowledge you have of the fretboard, the better you’ll be able to remember songs and riffs as they will have then become a memory to you. I also mentioned the skill of learning how to read tablature. It’s a very simple system to learn. All you need to know is what a hammer- on is as well as a harmonic depending on the song you’re attempting to play. Like chords, you’ll learn the symbols of tablature over time and they will become memory. However, you’re also learning something else when it comes to this skill. You see reading tablature is really learning how to listen to music. More than likely, you’re going to have no idea how to pick out a barre chord or an open chord in a song after seeing it on a piece of tablature. The tablature in front of you will mean nothing until you start understanding what to start listening for, and then adapting what you hear to the tab. You will have to learn, in no particular order, that:
- Tabs are notorious for spreading out the notes of a riff or progression. But this is the clue to how to play a song. It takes time but being able to match the length of a phrase to the symbols on the tab will be the key to cracking a tab.
- Then you will have to listen for pitches going up or down to learn single note riffs. Being able to determine whether a pitch is high or low is something we all can naturally do but often feel uncomfortable doing with an instrument. It will come with repetition of use when you tune your guitar, listen to songs, hum melodies, or whatever.
- Another thing you must start to identify is how to identify the chords you will start to accumulate. There is an entire discipline of music called ear training that goes into great detail on how to identify all the little nuances of chords, but all you’ll need to know at the beginning is how to identify a power chord, an open chord, or an arpeggiation. And these are all very basic.
- But there is a problem. Most free tabs are made very badly in that they don’t provide enough space, they use the wrong chords, and they’re often incomplete. The easiest way to avoid this is to buy a songbook covering your favorite artist that promises the correct tablatures. The other way is to think of a long-term solution where your listening skills will make up for the bad tabs you encounter.
Chord diagrams and guitar tablature will inspire you to do two things: hear better and see better, or visualize the music in your head. Only you know how much work you’ve done in each but chances are that both of these skills will be broadened in ways that you may have not imagined before.
No matter how high the level of mastery in music you plan to attain, your listening skills will always be the most important. And they will often be the foundation for everything else you learn afterwards.
Day 3: The 4 Rules Of Learning New Skills
I got these from the most unlikely place you could imagine: a book about selling from author Zig Ziglar. Believe it or not, there is a process behind learning everything and it’s so absurdly simple that I can’t believe most of us can’t zip through it every time.
The first rule is to practice ONE new behavior at a time. I still struggle with this because I’m currently trying to adjust to living in a city, take on a healthy eating regimen, start getting up early, etc. Our lives often demand that we multi task, but the guitar will not allow us to.
It makes us pay attention to it the way that nature does: with a narrow-minded focus. With guitar, this will entail learning one new picking technique, one new chord shape, one new riff, etc. at a single moment. The contradictory part is that you’ll also be doing these things I just mentioned at the same time.
At the most, pick a couple of riffs or chord progressions that your really enjoy and focus on whatever skills you’ll need to play those. The more you repeat this simple step, the stronger your foundation of guitar knowledge will be and the better prepared you’ll be for each new challenge.
The next rule is to try it at least 3 times!!! Think of the game of baseball. 3 strikes is all it should take to knock the ball out of the park according to them. But again, the guitar and baseball is not that simple. Unfortunately you will have to do several little skills more than once.
The point is to not beat yourself up after messing up once. Life is not like a video game or baseball in that you ONLY have 3 chances before you strike out. There will be another time if you believe so.
Our next rule from Zig Ziglar is to go for QUANTITY instead of quality. One thing that’s mentioned in my “Clueless Beginner’s Guide” product is that I spent a year using the wrong picking style on more than half of the material I was playing. But I learned the “right” way, or rather a more effective way, to do so.
The whole time I was making this critical mistake I still could play the riffs I heard on the radio. The riffs were just a lot harder than they had to be without the knowledge of what this mistake was, and how to correct it.
Michael Jordan has a great quote that relates to this which goes, “I’ve missed over 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
If Michael fricking JORDAN can be humble enough to accept his own mistakes and then make them the reason for his own success, then you can as well.
Finally, the last rule is to Practice in safe situations. Again, practice in SAFE situations. Protect yourself against those who have unrealistic expectations of your playing ability, and from your own criticism. I have often been my worst critic, but I never told myself that I suck or that I would never succeed at playing guitar.
All I did was ask myself how I could correct the mistake I was making. What other option is there to succeed at playing this guitar part? Muhammed Ali said that, “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym, and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.”
And he was the greatest boxer ever…….
I can’t think of anyone, even Jimi Hendrix, who didn’t have to suffer through this imaginary concept of “failure” that has spread in our minds like a virus. From what it looks like, taking a few hits is necessary in order to succeed.
Jimi Hendrix was laughed at when he tried to play like BB King at a club way back when. Albert King thought it was funny that this supposed nobody was asking him for his guitar secrets, which he gave to Jimi because he thought he couldn’t possibly learn anything from them.
What do people think of Jimi now?
Your fingers will hurt. You will not play everything the way it’s supposed to sound on your first try. But the obstacles will give way if you only try hard enough.
Day 4: Easy Beginner Guitar Songs You Can Start Playing Today
When suggesting easy guitar songs for people to play, I’ve found that it’s very difficult to give people what they want. In my case, I wanted to play things that would require me to learn certain skills first, while others may want to learn things that aren’t guitar oriented.
Genres like Pop, Rap, any sort of dance music, Jazz, and Country are mostly geared towards other instruments, mainly the keyboard or piano. That instrument uses dense harmonies that can’t be played the same way on the guitar. And it uses intricate bass lines and voice leading techniques to give the instrument its independence.
Guitar avoids these problems by sticking to single note melodies, power chord or open chord progressions, and arpeggios. Basicallly, most guitarists stick to playing either chord shapes in succession of one another or riffs consisting of playing a series of notes in a certain rhythm.
But this is actually great news. Lots of guitar music is within any beginner’s reach when they realize this. Bands like AC/DC, Metallica, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, Nirvana, etc. all have guitar parts that fit into the category I just described.
So I suggest that you check out those bands. They’re the classics and in my opinion everyone needs to spend some time gaining familiarity with their catalogs.
If you’re not into them, there are plenty of country and pop artists whose music can be played with open chords and single notes. Just ask yourself whether the music sounds fun to play without the melodies they’re singing.
If there is no identifiable chord rhythm or riff that may sound fun to play, then there is always the option of learning how to play the melody on the guitar. This is how most people identify the songs they know anyways.
Let’s take an example. Most of Taylor Swift’s music consists of her strumming a guitar, using open chords. The songs that I like by her, which are her most popular, don’t have any riffs. It’s there mostly to provide a stable harmony for her voice to rest upon.
In a song like “Paradise City” by Guns N’ Roses, the chords are broken down into an arpeggio that also acts as it’s own separate melody to contrast with Axl’s chorus melody. That guitar part is fun to play without Axl’s or anyone else’s voice there with you.
So, just try to hear for a guitar part. And when you look it up on a website like Ultimate Guitar, see if there are open chords or single note riffs in the tab.
Lastly, I would like to leave you with a list of songs to try if you’re not sure where to start:
Seven Nation Army -The White Stripes
Billionaire -Travie McCoy
You Belong With Me -Taylor Swift
Wonderful Tonight -Eric Clapton
Beat It -Michael Jackson
Learn to Fly -Foo Fighters
Back In Black -AC/DC
Come As You Are -Nirvana
What’s My Age Again -Blink 182
American Pie -Don McLean
There you are. A very short list that will hopefully jog your memory of what you may want to learn. If you’re still struggling, either check out the 100 most popular tabs on Ultimate Guitar for more, or keep reading for a quicker way to get even more song suggestions…..
Acoustic or Electric? It is a question that comes up ALL the time, but what does this question really mean?
When you come to this part of getting started on your first day, you’re actually asking yourself what type of guitarist that you want to be.
That is, do you want to be loud and rowdy through your mega- tons of distortion? (like Buckethead does, that guy you see above)
Or do you want to serenade your girlfriend and sing nice songs? (Acoustic can be really mean too)
Answering this question requires that you do some self- examination. What kind of music do you enjoy listening to? What made you decide to read all of this so you can get a better idea of how to play the guitar? Is there one or many artists that inspire you?
These are all dreadfully simple to answer but many, many people never stop and ask this question. For me it was a no brainer. I wasn’t “playing guitar” but playing Metallica’s power chord riffs.
That’s what electric guitar is. It’s often hoarse, loud, and aggressive. This sound is what inspires many people to play because the instrument is one of the symbols of passionate energy and power.
Acoustic is more gentle and passive. More people appreciate this sound because it’s not nearly as in-your-face as the electric. But it’s also more practical. All you need is the guitar it self to get started. No amps, cords, effects pedals, etc. are needed to play this. The only thing is that it’s much harder to play because of the thicker strings.
So there you go. Will it be loud or soft?
Day 6: Why Guitar Tricks Are Not Important At All
Guitar tricks are the same thing as fireworks on the 4th of July. They’re great distractions from what you’re supposed to really be paying attention to, which as far as guitar is concerned is developing your technique.
Guitar tricks involve all the different ways to use a whammy bar, mix effects pedals with harmonics, how to use guitar tapping, pick scrapes, and anything that Eddie Van Halen does.
Technique involves doing lots of things in order to make a piece of music sound as natural as possible. This includes reducing fret noise, practicing smooth transitions between chords, proper finger positions, learning how to stay in time, etc.
That all sounds boring, but all it takes is the two skills I told you at the beginning as well as knowledge of the four rules to learning a skill. The more songs you play, the more you’ll become aware of how to practice those concepts. And they were invisible to me for a very long time.
Guitar tricks can be learned in a day and they’re very cool at first. But you’ll quickly get bored of them because there’s very little room for creativity when using them. They also require a different sort of knowledge in order to adapt them to the harmonies and rhythms you’re working within. It’s more advantageous to you to learn this instead…..
Day 7: The 5 Basic Chord Shapes and The Pentatonic Box Pattern
When it comes to scales, there is one ultimate mac-daddy of them all. This one also comes in a portable, travel size shape! I’ll put this one in tab…….
E Minor Pentatonic ---12------15---- ---12------15---- ---12---14------- ---12---14------- ---12---14------- ---12------15----
We call it “the box” because, well, it looks like a box……
Lots of lead guitarist’s knowledge is based on how many licks descend from this shape, and how many places on the fretboard they can move it to. If you move this to the 2nd fret position, it becomes F# minor pentatonic. If you move it to the 5th fret position, it becomes A minor pentatonic. And so on.
These shapes are NOT everything there is. There are secrets that have been kept from you that can help you decipher all the tabs you come across and make learning them a lot easier. There is untold power to come through knowledge of these concepts.
And no one wants you to know about them. They want you to buy chord books instead.
Extra: What Is Rhythm Guitar, And Lead Guitar???
As I said in the previous section, these two styles of playing mostly consist of who handles which area of the fretboard. Rhythm guitarists can handle the tricky parts below the 12th fret, while lead guitarists work with everything above that area.
The great composer Gustav Mahler also said something about this problem. I read somewhere that he said that when your audience looks bored you should play slower……. He knew more about lead guitar than any other lead guitarist did! The point is that if you want to become a versatile guitar player then pay attention to chords and scales equally. Study and learn the guitar parts of the great rhythm AND lead guitarists. I’ll give you some of my favorites then I suggest you dig deep and find what moves you…..
Slash and Izzy Stradlin of Guns n’ Roses
James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett of Metallica
John Lennon and George Harrison of (duh) The Beatles
Marty Friedman and Dave Mustaine of Megadeth
And then there’s some of my favorite individual guitar players. All are great at both areas of guitar.
Eric Clapton Steve Jones Kurt Cobain
James Burton Dave Gilmour
Wes Montgomery Chet Atkins
Robert Johnson Dave Matthews
Pete Townsend Nuno Bettencourt
Brian Setzer Randy Rhoads John Mayer
Joe Satriani George Harrison
Johnny Marr The Edge Tom Morello
If I left out your favorite, know that I didn’t do it on purpose. These are MY favorites and I don’t expect you to feel the same way I do about them. You probably rolled your eyes at the fact that I listed Kurt Cobain and Steve Jones as they’re not your typical virtuoso. I listed these guys only to get you thinking about what you want for yourself, and maybe to inspire you to check out something new. It wasn’t until I started playing the guitar that my love for music really blossomed.
Extra Extra: The Truth About Guitar Lessons
So by now you’re probably thinking what guitar teacher is going to teach you all of this. Before I start telling you my views on lessons and why they don’t work, I should tell you that I tend to think much differently than others about my craft. My approach relies on having no preconceptions towards the music I’ve decided to play. I look at every piece as a new obstacle to be overcome. Everything I’ve played has rarely been exactly the same mixture of techniques and chords and whatnot in order to be played.
And that to me is the downfall of lessons. Nearly every method or philosophy I’ve heard from an instructor has said to approach the instrument through a multi-step process. The instructors had always claimed that they had cracked the code to playing the instrument and that their process was THE way.
For instance, whenever I browse Craigslist ads they always talk about their experience first. But experience is a misleading thing. The ad will go on about how he has played for so many years in this many bands. He has that many students and this many guitars. Have you noticed that the ad never says what they’ll teach you? It’s almost like they’re telling you how many facebook friends he has! What concepts and methods is he going to teach you?
Years of experience is not a method. Experience is a bad word to throw around because most people have very bad histories. They actually have very little knowledge of the guitar except the amount of riffs and licks they can play for you. The truth is that anyone can give you a list of chords to learn and songs to play. What you really need is the flexibility and independence needed to adapt to each piece of music you attempt to play.
You actually relearn the guitar every single time that you play. Guitar playing is basically judging a tab and then mixing together certain techniques and concepts to get the best sound. How can he teach you this in maybe 2 hours of time together, a month? Why do you need somebody to tell you what you can and cannot do? To tell you what you should and should not learn? Your money is too valuable to be wasted on learning maybe 2 or 3 songs in one month. Spending 75 to 100 dollars a month to learn that is WAY too much money if you ask me.
What You Need To Do After Your First Week Of Guitar
Tons of guitarists have sat where you are now and decided to go without lessons.
Joe Satriani, who taught Steve Vai and Kirk Hammett, quit his lessons because the guy told him to play Jingle Bells, instead of what he wanted which was Hendrix.
What does it tell you that one of the most famous guitar instructors of all time; the guy who taught Steve Vai, Larry Lalonde of Primus, David Bryson of Counting Crowes, and Kirk Hammett; thinks that lessons are lame?
Want to know another secret? The guitarists I listed in the last section NEVER took a guitar lesson. They had nothing but a guitar and the music itself. Maybe they had some tabs and a cool friend (like moi) that could show them the ropes, but they were mostly on their own.
I listened to an interview of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s recently where someone asked who taught him to play. You want to know what he said? He told him he learned from everybody he ever listened to.
This may sound scary to go face first into the darkness but the first step is always the toughest. Those guys didn’t know what they were doing and I didn’t know it either. You already know more than all of them did when they started.
Legendary artist Pablo Picasso said, “I’m always doing things I can’t do, that’s how I get to do them.”
Bruce Lee gave birth to the discipline of mixed martial arts by believing in having no fixed way to practice his art. He said, “If you always put limits on everything you do, physical or anything else, it will spread into your work and into your life. There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them.”
In other words, it’s easier to know nothing than to know everything. I don’t know everything about the guitar. There’s people who can play better, have more theory knowledge than me, and have had more people learn from them. But I can say that your ability to learn is better than any choice you make towards an instructor.
The sad truth is that guys like Slash, Eric Clapton, and John Mayer have actually stopped learning! Again, you’re in a much better position simply because you have some space for new information.
So that’s it. Your first day is done! Do you want to know what to do on your second day?
You will have to learn this, THIS, and this…….
- How to turn those shapes I showed you earlier into riffs, progressions, and other musical whatnot
- All the habits that will give you good technique, and help avoid bad technique.
- Learn what guitar techniques typically go with which type of riff. Proper technique is mostly about making the best choices over which ones to combine with which parts of a musical part.
- The other chords and scales that build on top of that simple foundation laid earlier.
- The worst beginner mistakes that you can avoid when you have knowledge of them.
- The secrets to playing metal guitar that I stole from Dave Mustaine, James Hetfield, and Scott Ian.
- Where to get the best guitar books and free resources on the web
- Ways to keep your spending on guitar accessories down while you learn. There’s people out there who profit off of gullible beginners……And much, MUCH more. But you can learn it quickly and it will all become part of a flexible strategy you can use on any guitar part.
Thanks so much for reading and PLAY IT LOUD!!!!