Advice for the New Guitarist

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

Advice for the New Guitarist

Congratulations on choosing your new instrument, the fun and versatile guitar! As you begin to learn how to play, progress into intermediate playing, and even move on to advanced or professional playing, the following advice will serve you well.

Set aside time every day to play

Much like sports, playing the guitar well involves passion, determination, and discipline. As an athlete trains each day, so must you practice every single day. Even those with amazing natural talent practice daily. It is the only way that you can improve.

This doesn’t mean that you have to spend countless hours doing scales and chord progressions (though you’d advance pretty quickly if you did). You should enjoy your time, as well! Whenever you pick up your guitar, even if just for a few minutes, pick out a tune or two. Your guitar should be a source of joy – so practice playing, and play with your practicing.

Learn to listen

At first, you will be happy just to be able to find and create chords – but as you progress past your fumbling fingers, you will want to find your own “sound.” You may have read or heard a lot about “tone” – and this is a good place to start. Some guitars inherently have a beautiful tone, but it is your job as the player to bring that tone to its full potential.

If you play an acoustic guitar, listen carefully to the differences in tone as you strum closer and further from the neck. Listen to the difference between strumming with your fingers or with a pick. Try using a capo.

If you play an electric guitar, learn the tone of each pickup so that you may apply it to the different songs or styles you play. Take the time to find the right amplifier for your guitar. Try different effects settings and then look at effects pedals. These different types of sounds may inspire you to try playing things in new ways.

If your acoustic has an output jack, it may benefit from effects pedals, too. Try chorus, reverb, and delay pedals, as they tend to sound nice on acoustic guitars. There are several multi-units available for relatively little expense.

Experiment, but also ask more advanced players for their advice. Soon, you will be controlling the tone of your guitar based on your knowledge of the instrument’s strengths.

Practice standing

If you have a desire to play for audiences – as a volunteer or for paid gigs – you will most likely have to stand to play at some point. In fact, a guitar player rarely sits during live performances outside of classical or solo gigs. Buy yourself a fun and comfortable strap that fits both your guitar and your personality, and then practice using it. It may take a while to get the positioning just right, but once you find that comfort zone that is not too high or low, you’ll find that it’s second nature.

Yes, playing standing up is significantly different from sitting. For one, you may not be able to see the fret board as easily as you could when sitting. You may have to learn to rely on the position markers (those little dots or blocks on the side of your guitar neck) until you are able to play without looking down. This will only make you a better player, and a better performer, as you will be able to engage with your audience.

Play with other players

If you take private lessons, your instructor may at times play with you, and this is valuable training. Playing with other guitar players offers you the opportunity to watch and learn from someone else’s technique. You will share and swap new fingering, chords, and riffs that will greatly advance your playing. If you can, try jamming with a band. No matter what level you play at, the experience is like no other. As you progress with the other players, your confidence will grow, too.

Be open to new styles

As a child, you may have only liked one or two foods and stuck with them. But as you grew to adulthood, you tried more and more different things and discovered new flavors and textures that you loved or hated. Do the same with music and you will open your mind to many possibilities. If you rigidly adhere to your idea of what “good” music is, you will miss out on the beautiful diversity that is the world of music.

Listen to other players from different genres – even those you may have never heard of before. Watch for diverse techniques, unique musical interpretations, and stylistic differences. Soon you’ll have a smorgasbord of musical knowledge and opportunities.

Plus, if you want to play professionally, being able to play different genres will only make you more employable.

Get into your music

As you learn how to play, you will be learning how to read music, too. Take it to the next step, and start writing your own. You will be able to start right away – as soon as you know even a few chords. In fact, you’d be surprised at how many famous songs from all genres started with only two or three chords! You can start with a simple three-chord progression and make up a melody line. Then, make up a riff to transition into a bridge or chorus. The words may come after, or you might have some in mind already that leads the song’s tempo. When you are able to, ask your band to fill it in. Hearing one of your very own pieces come alive is an amazing feeling.

Being a songwriter also makes you a more valuable musician. There are plenty of great guitarists, but how many would go anywhere without good songs?

Record your playing

Did you know that professional speakers record every speech they give? Later, they will watch it and take notes on how they may improve the next time. Where did they stumble, what got a good response? Musicians who do this reap great benefits, as well. No matter what level you are playing, it’s a good idea to record yourself whenever possible.

You don’t have to invest in a professional sound studio. Your laptop – or even your cell phone – is fine for the job for now. Getting used to being recorded will quash those nerves, should you need to be recorded for an album or an event. These recordings will also help you remember inspiration as it came along, and you might just find your first hit song among them!

These experimental recordings allow you a freedom that studio time never could – and, yet, you’ll also have a record to look back on. Imagine years later listening to one of your jam sessions with a friend who went on to become a big star. Would you say it was worth it?

Memorize music

You will find a few “go-to” songs that you truly enjoy playing over and over. Memorize them. Rarely will you see a famous musician referring to his or her music. Memorization is a skill that comes with time, but it is very valuable – so don’t skip it.

Begin by picking out your favorite tune and playing it enough times to get familiar with it. Then, challenge yourself to play as far as you can without looking at the music. You may not make it all the way through, and that is OK. Go back to the music and find your trouble spots, then practice those over and over until you nail them. Keep doing this until you can play all the way through. What you’ll find is that it gets easier song by song – and soon you’ll begin to recognize progressions, transitions, and passages that are used often throughout many genres.

Remember why you’re learning

Always keep in mind why you started playing in the first place – to enrich your life, have fun, and /or learn something new. Music should be a place of joy and peace, and the advice above will help you carry that through. As always, have fun!

 

Glenn Sutton
Ozzie’s Music
12222 Poway Road,
Suite #27
Poway,
California 92064

Phone 619-306-3664
858-679-6997

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