Happy New Year, all!!

Instead of ponderous resolutions, why not encourage yourself instead? If you already play and want to get better, or if you’re completely new to guitar, here are some quotes by great players that are inspirational to me in my own practice. See if they help you, too!

When Howard Roberts, the great guitarist and educator, was seven, he lied to friends about being able to play guitar. Someone called him on it, as there happened to be an old Silvertone guitar nearby with rusty stings and terrible action. Here’s what Roberts recalls of the experience:

“In the panic of the moment, I quickly, very quickly, tried to picture what a real guitar player would do; he would move the fingers of his left hand up and down the fingerboard (the faster, the better), and the same would probably be true of the right hand. So I moved my hands about the guitar with blinding speed in one short but furious burst. When I had finished, I did not know what I had done, but neither did they… That experience gave me the subliminal message: I had in fact actually played the guitar and that all I will have to do from that point on was to become a little more particular about the notes I played… Nothing’s changed since.”

“Sometimes you want to give up the guitar, you’ll hate the guitar. But if you stick with it, you’re gonna be rewarded.” – Jimi Hendrix

“Patience is the most important lesson. It has been my experience that the only requirement for playing is the desire to do it. All else bows to this.”  – Joe Diorio

Have you been inspired by quotes from favorite players? Share them by commenting on this post.

Have a wonderful and productive 2011, everyone! Happy guitaring!

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Will a guitar be under the Christmas tree this year? Congratulations! You’ve been given a great gift that will enrich your life for years to come. Now learn to play it!

As a new player, there are many options. This post will give you an overview of what to expect as a beginner and where you can find help in learning to play guitar.

Can you  commit to 15 minutes a day, 5 to 7 days a week, for focused practice? Make that answer “yes.” You’ll need to practice at least this much to get past the first challenge of playing- fingertip soreness. If you commit to your practice schedule for two weeks or so, you’ll fly past the first hurdle. Make the time, do the work, and you’ll be past that stage quickly!

The next challenge is getting clear, clean sound from your notes and chords. It doesn’t have to take a long time to learn to play. You can accomplish a lot with a handful of basic chords and one very common strum pattern. But when you begin playing chords, you’ll need to troubleshoot the sound you’re getting. There are five things to be alert to in getting clean sound (see earlier post “Getting Great-Sounding Chords”). Once you’re getting good sound from the basic chords, have memorized them and are able to form them quickly, you’ve passed the second challenge.

The third challenge is moving smoothly from chord to chord in a song, so that your left hand fretting can keep up with the right hand strumming (or the reverse if you’re a left-handed player). This stage takes longer, and at this point I ask my students to increase their practice time to 30 minutes, at least 5 times a week. You’ll need the extra time in order to do enough repetitions so that they’ll start to feel natural and easy. As long as you have to think about it, there will be hesitation and delays in your playing. So increase your practice time at this stage. Make up exercises involving all the chords you’ve learned, and practice getting from chord to chord smoothly. Do many, many repetitions, again and again. Eventually it will become easy and natural. At that point you won’t have to think about it anymore. This is when you’ll begin to see the payoff to the work you’ve done and start feeling like a guitar player!

So, you’ve got three early challenges in learning to play: fingertip soreness, chord clarity and smooth chord changes. You can get past the first one in two weeks, if you do the work. Then learn to make good, clear chords. Then practice, practice, practice so you can move smoothly from chord to chord. All of this can happen within two or three months if you are consistent and focused in your practice. If your other commitments keep you from being able to practice 30 minutes a day, do as much as you’re able to. You will still make consistent progress- it will just take longer. But you’ll still get there. Do as much as you can, and keep after it. Find ways to do it, not reasons why you can’t!

Here are some suggestions and links to helpful online resources to get you started.

Option 1: Find a good guitar teacher and take regular lessons.

If your budget allows, this is probably your best option, at least in the early stages. A good teacher will hear your progress before you think you’re making any and will encourage you to stick with it while you overcome those first three hurdles. If they’re good, they’ll ask about your musical goals, what artists you enjoy listening to, which songs you’d like to play, and they’ll develop your lesson plans to match up with your goals. They’ll be able to help you troubleshoot problems with the clearness of your chords, and will be able to offer suggestions for smooth chord changes. I think that when you first start learning guitar this is your best option, if you’re able to do it. You’ll have the complete attention of your teacher for 30 minutes, and if you remember and apply their instructions in your practice, you can make faster progress this way. It’s a costlier option, and you need to be able to budget the money and time. It does have the advantage of giving you the teacher’s undivided attention, with lessons developed around your own specific musical goals, and very specific help with your own particular problems. So if you’re able to, consider this option.

Option 2: Online Instruction

If travel time or budget considerations make it impossible for you to take private lessons right now, be aware that there are many great online resources for learning guitar, many of them free. If you have an internet connection, you’ve got a world of learning right at your fingertips. There’s no reason not to learn to play. You’ll need to be self-motivated and encourage yourself if you go this route. There are three great online video instruction sites I can recommend off the top of my head:

www.Gibson.com

www.JamPlay.com

www.GuitarTricks.com

All of these sites offer free lessons for players at beginner and intermediate levels, as well as unlimited access to all video lessons for a modest monthly fee. Especially if you’re a self-motivated person, these sites can be very useful. Some of the lessons are better than others, but they all give a decent introduction to guitar for new players.

One of the best and friendliest online resources I’ve found is:

http://www.justinguitar.com/en/BC-000-BeginnersCourse.php

The instructor makes much of his site available for free, and provides a wealth of practical information. If you have a small budget to work with, spend some time on his site.

Option 3: Instructional DVDs

Some of these involve a set of actual DVDs shipped to you, often in combination with immediately downloadable video lessons from the website. Others are download only. These offer convenience, value and good instruction for self-motivated people. It’s possible to order these, then let them sit on a shelf, or never play the lessons on your computer or TV, and then you’ll have wasted the money. If you enjoy learning this way, though, here are two products you should be aware of. Lots of bang for the buck. (I own both of these programs- bought them mainly as teachings aids and extra resources for my private guitar students.)

Gibson’s “Learn and Master Guitar” Instructional DVDs

This is widely regarded to be the best and most comprehensive DVD training for new players, covering the earliest basics up through some quite advanced material toward the end of the course. The instructor, Steve Krentz, is a friendly and likeable man with many years of professional playing and teaching experience. The course is not cheap, but the price has dropped and if you watch for seasonal specials, you can own a very comprehensive course for a reasonable price. There are sample videos on the website, so click the link and take a look around:

http://www.learnandmaster.com/guitar/

One that I just downloaded few minutes ago and haven’t had much time to explore yet looks like it would be a good option for those on a tighter budget:

www.Jamorama.com

If you go the Jamorama route, be prepared to spend some time reading the instructional PDFs. There are many short, useful videos in the course, but you’ll want to make use of the PDF documents, too.

So, there you are- several solid options to get you started off right! Now that you’ve got the guitar, dig in and learn to play. You’ll find that once you’ve cleared those first three hurdles, the guitar is a friendly instrument that will reward you in proportion to the time you spend with it. With just a small set of skills and knowledge, you’ll be able to play many great songs. If you’re inspired to go beyond this level, it gets even better. But even a little skill will bring the gift of music into your life! Enjoy!

Thanksgiving Day, 2010, and much to be thankful for. Earlier this year one of my first guitar students from years ago found me on Facebook and asked if I was still teaching- his nephew Brandon wanted to learn to play. Other than my super-gifted nephew, Jeremy, I hadn’t taught for awhile and felt rusty. So I suggested a couple excellent local teachers and thanked him for thinking of me. It was great to be remembered after such a long time.

Chris sent back a message insisting that the rust would come off fast, would I please think about it- he really thought Brandon should learn from me. Of course this was extremely flattering- any teacher would’ve loved to hear that! Teaching wasn’t on my radar at the time, but the idea fastened on tight. We decided to do a free trial lesson and figure it out from there.

I loved that first lesson. It felt so good to be teaching again- I’d forgotten how great it feels to help someone learn to play, especially when they’re new to the instrument, filled with enthusiasm and eagerness. A rich gift had been given back to me, and right away I knew I wanted to teach again- thanks to a student I remembered fondly but didn’t think I’d hear from again!

Now I have several students, adding more, building my teaching business, expanding my own guitar skills. An unexpected second wind in my musical and vocational life that I’m most grateful for.

To all my guitar students, thank you so much! It’s a joy and privilege to work with each of you. Keep learning and growing, keep playing- and enjoy your musical life!

Happy Thanksgiving!!

The world of online guitar resources is amazing. I learned to play in the 70’s. Back then you had to lift a needle(!) off a vinyl(!) album over and over to nail a guitar part you were working on. The whole landscape has changed- much for the better. With a computer and internet connection, enormous resources for learning guitar are at your fingertips all the time.

You can learn from free YouTube guitar tutorials, or pay a modest monthly fee for online lessons at sites like JamPlay and GuitarTricks. You can explore guitar blogs containing generous information on playing, practicing, etc… You can go to Songsterr.com and find many accurate guitar tabs with rhythm notation, along with a lime green arrow you can click to make the tablature play itself! If you want to play guitar, but the trashed economy makes it hard to budget for lessons, don’t let that stop you. There have never been so many free or low-cost options for learning practically anything, including guitar, as are available now online. I use internet resources in my own teaching and have a page of click-worthy links on my website (www.NoStringsGuitar.com).

There are still solid benefits, though, to starting out with private instruction if you’re able to. Here are some of the advantages of one-to-one instruction:

Sidestepping bad playing habits and establishing good ones

You can certainly learn to play without this advantage, but it will probably take longer than it will with private instruction. There are challenges that all new players face before they start to really enjoy playing guitar  (see previous post Encouragement for New Guitar Players). One of these challenges is simply getting clean, clear sound from the instrument. For instance, there are five things to juggle when learning chords, in order to get good sound. It’s much easier if you don’t have to troubleshoot five things all by yourself in the early days. A good teacher can quickly point out what adjustments will help you get good sound and will encourage you to play through the chords a-string-at-a-time so you can hear what’s working and what isn’t. A good teacher can help you develop the discipline and patience to listen closely to your playing and fix whatever problems arise during your practice time.

Encouragement is another advantage of live instruction, especially in the early lessons.

A good teacher will be able to hear your progress before you think you’re making any because we know what to listen for and watch for. You might hear only your mistakes and start to feel unhappy in your efforts to learn guitar. A good teacher will be listening for what you’re doing right in addition to what needs work and will be able to help you keep up your enthusiasm for playing- especially in the early days when you’re toughening up your fingertips, building finger strength, developing coordination and building muscle memory. Another early obstacle is fingertip soreness. This can be overcome in a couple weeks if you spend a solid 15 minutes in daily practice, five to seven times a week. If you really want to play, you’ll get through this early hurdle with or without a teacher- but encouragement can be a big help.

Not as obvious, but equally as important- developing your ear for music in the early lessons, while you develop playing skills

This was recently brought home to me when I found several YouTube videos of the African style of guitar playing called Soukous. I fell in love with the joyful, major-scaley sound of African guitar when Paul Simon’s Graceland album came out in the 80s, then later when a friend took me to a concert by Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, so I was delighted to stumble across a number of guitar tutorials focusing on this style. The quality of these YouTube videos was so-so. They had been shot without multiple clear views of various angles. But they were good enough to make a start, and the audio was good. Because of an early teacher’s emphasis on ear training, I was able to figure out by ear what I couldn’t see clearly on the video. What might have been confusing instruction without ear training became a happy resource for me to explore a guitar style I hadn’t learned yet.

There are other benefits to studying with a good teacher in the early lessons, including motivation and a clear, individualized plan to reach your musical goals. But the three benefits detailed above are those that seem, to me anyway, ultimately most valuable to beginning players. Oh- and this very important benefit! Once you’ve gotten the basics down with the help of a good teacher, all those wonderful online resources will actually start to make sense. You’ll be able to go to the tab sites, the video tutorials, etc., and have the background and basic skills to put the online resources to good use, rather than being overwhelmed by them.

A closing note to those who for reasons of schedules, budgets, etc., can’t consider private lessons- learn to play anyway! There is much you can accomplish without a teacher- you will need to be more self-motivated and your encouragement will need to come from within, but you can certainly do it and it will add a rich dimension to your life!

I remember the joy and excitement when I started guitar lessons. There was a span of several years from that day in 3rd grade when I knew I wanted to play, and the day I began one-on-one lessons in 7th grade. The deferred gratification worked. Once I got a guitar and teacher, no one needed to prod me to practice. But there were several frustrations to overcome right off the bat.

If you’re a new player or the parent of a new player, you’ll experience those challenges, too. Hopefully this post will reassure you that: 1) you’ve got plenty of company; 2) you are not untalented or hopeless, though you might be frustrated. With regular practice you can work through these early challenges quickly and start to really love playing in two or three months.

Here are the early realities that new players face:

The fingertips of your fretting hand will be sore for about 2 weeks

To get good clear sound, you need to hold down the strings with adequate pressure. It’s uncomfortable at first. Can you put up with it for 2 or 3 weeks? That’s all it takes to fly past this first hurdle. Many teachers, including me, suggest just 15 minutes of daily practice for new players. Once your fingertips toughen up, do 30 minutes or more if your schedule allows. Shorter sessions when first starting out will keep you from becoming discouraged before you’ve even given yourself a chance. If you have great eagerness and passion for playing, by all means practice longer right from the start. I practiced well beyond fifteen minutes because I was eager to learn fast. But the main thing is to keep up your enthusiasm for learning guitar! Don’t let a brief period of fingertip soreness interfere with your desire to play- get past it with short daily practice and move on!

It takes awhile to get clean, clear sound from the notes or chords you’re working on

There are 5 things to be alert to in order to get good clear sound on the guitar. With the piano, all you need to do is press a key and a nice sound happens. With guitar, there are five things to juggle to get clear sound– 1) place your fingers right behind the fret, 2) hold the strings down with adequate pressure, 3) relax your wrist so you get a better approach to the strings, 4) keep your thumb out of the way, and 5) make sure when working on chords that none of your fingers accidentally lean into a neighboring string, cutting off its sound.

So if you’re a new student, or the parent of a new student, encourage yourself with the knowledge that it takes time, and many repetitions, to get all these adjustments working automatically. The key is daily focused practice of at least 15 minutes– 30 is better and will get you there faster. But regardless of the length of your practice sessions, you’ll need to get good at troubleshooting the sound of your chords- taking time to listen to them string-by-string so you can hear where the problems are, and then correcting the problems. With focused practice and lots of repetition, you’ll eventually get consistently clear sound from all the basic chords and be able to form them quickly, without thinking about it.

It will take many successful repetitions in order to change smoothly from chord to chord in a song

Like any other motor skill, you’ll need to do a number of successful repetitions before it becomes natural and automatic. Focused daily practice is the key to owning these new skills and starting to really enjoy playing. Make practice a part of your daily routine, not something you do only when you feel like it. You’ll be making real progress very soon if you do this. When working on smooth chord changes, it helps to become aware of chords that have similar shapes on two or more strings. For example, the change from C to G and back becomes less of a challenge when you realize that the 2nd and 3rd fingers of your left hand can simply move over to the neighboring strings as a single unit to accomplish most of this chord change (assuming that you use the 2nd, 3rd and 4th fingers to form the G chord). Another very easy change is Em to Am and back- same story with the 2nd and 3rd fingers. And if you play a E major chord and move that EXACT fingering to the next higher strings, you’ll be playing Am.

You’ll encounter similar or identical fingerings all over the guitar as you continue to learn and grow as a player. When you’re alert to these similarities, it will help you change chords efficiently and smoothly. With enough focused practice, you won’t have to think about it at all- your fingers will just go where they need to go.

Avoid lifting your fingers far off the strings and starting from scratch when forming every chord! Watch for places where fingerings can simply be moved over, up or down, to the left or right. Spend some of your time simply moving from one chord to another, strumming once, then moving on, going at a steady pace. It can be a slow pace, but should be steady. As your fingers continue to build muscle memory and become very familiar with these movements, you’ll be able to speed up gradually until you’re able to play along with your favorite recordings!

When you reach this point, you can begin to really enjoy playing guitar!

This is when you’ll begin to notice that the guitar is a friendly instrument. You’ll find that even a small set of skills and knowledge will let you play many, many popular songs- not just exercises or lame tunes no one wants to hear, but real music that made you want to learn guitar in the first place! As you continue to improve your skills, it gets better and better. But even in the early stages of playing, you’ll be able to play real music.

Keep after it! The early lessons will be a mix of success and struggle. Encourage yourself, encourage your child- and stick with it! With daily focused practice, you can overcome these three early obstacles, and in two or three months a whole new world of music will open up to you. Or even sooner than that, if you’re able and willing to devote more time to your daily practice. Keep going! You CAN do it- and it’s worth it!

Just uploaded my first article to the brand new No Strings Guitar Studio blog- “Getting Great-Sounding Chords.” This is a one-sheet explanation and checklist for new players who are struggling with getting chords to sound clear and clean. There’s a short checklist at the top of the page, followed by more in depth explanations. Handy to have near you when you’re in the early stages of learning to play. There are several specific finger adjustments that will help you get the sound you want from your chords. Take time to play through each chord one string at a time to find out where your trouble notes are on each of the chords you’re learning. Then use the “Getting Great-Sounding Chords” checklist to troubleshoot which finger adjustments will help you get clear sound instead of string buzz or unintentional muting.

Keep after it- practice in a focused way for 15 minutes at a time when first starting out. These short, focused sessions will give your fingertips a chance to toughen up- then you can go for longer practice sessions which will help you to advance faster. After two or three weeks, depending on whether or not you’re practicing daily, the soreness will leave your fingertips and you’ll be on your way to playing real music!

https://nostringsguitar.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/troubleshooting-checklist-for-getting-great-sounding-guitar-chords.pdf