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First Steps With Your New Guitar
You’ve just returned from the store after doing some research, or you’re the proud recipient of a prized gift.
You unbox your new guitar with fierce anticipation. The light sparkles from the highly polished surface. Your brand new amp and cables are ready to go.
That’s where they sit.
First, here’s what NOT to do: Worry… Panic… Feel overwhelmed.
The bad news is: no one is born knowing how to play the guitar
The good news is: many others have paved the way for you.
The practical tips in this article will help you get started on the right foot. Think of them as “before” the beginner’s lesson.
Step 1: Buy a music theory book.
Musicians don’t like to admit it, but it’s hard to play well if you don’t understand the basic concepts of music. You can probably get by, probably for a long time, without knowing music theory. But you don’t want to “pass”. You want to enjoy the instrument. You want to understand how to play a melody, improvise a solo, or replace a difficult chord with an easier one. It’s not hard, just study a bit of music theory every week.
My favorite theory book is “Practical Theory – Complete” by Sandy Feldstein. Although not specifically for guitar, this consolidated version of her multi-volume set is full of well-paced material, clear explanations and exercises to test your understanding (answers are in the back of the book). Work from front to back or use the detailed table of contents to jump directly to a specific topic. The price is about 10 dollars.
Step 2: Buy two or more guitar instruction books with the DVD.
The best beginner guitar instruction books include a DVD. The book will provide traditional written instructions, reference charts, a glossary, and more. A well-made DVD should include demonstrations, instructions, setup help, plus drums and simple backing tracks to play.
Fender has two very good instructional DVDs, one for acoustic guitar (“Fender Presents: Getting Started with Acoustic Guitar — Beginner’s Guide”) and one for electric guitar (“Fender Presents: Getting Started with Electric Guitar — A Beginner’s Guide”). They’re practically interchangeable, so just pick one up. Each contains step-by-step instructions for learning tuning methods, essential chords, scales, practice tips, picking and strumming techniques, basic instrument care, and more. The DVD contains over three hours of material to illustrate material from the book, plus accompanying practice tracks, an animated follow-up, and visual aids for things like finger placement, strumming, muting, and more.
Books and DVDs won’t replace a good instructor, nor will they teach you the in-depth method of guitar, but they’re a great way to get started.
Step 3: Buy a few simple song books.
There are a million of them out there. Buy the ones with songs you are familiar with that only have a few chords per song. Most include chord charts to refresh your memory. Don’t be too concerned if a few songs have complex-looking chords: either come back to them later, simplify the chord by playing just the first three strings, or have someone show you how to change the key with a capo.
Here are some recommendations: “Country Licks For Guitar” by Steve Trovat and Jerome Arnold features guitar licks from country guitar masters: Chet Atkins, Jimmy Bryant, James Burton, Albert Lee, Scotty Moore, more… CD (included) contains normal and slow substrates. “Instant Guitar Fakebook”, edited by Peter Pickow, contains over 150 songs, plus photo/chord diagrams. Songs include melody in music and tablature, with lyrics. Have fun with “Front Porch Songs” – a collection of old songs, stories and corny jokes collected by Wayne Erbsen. “The Greater Guitar White Pages” by Warner Brothers, is a huge collection of songs spanning a range of years and styles, from “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter” by Herman’s Hermits, to Def Leppard’s “Photograph” and Smash Mouth’s “All Old”.
Step 4: Find a way to learn from others.
I started in the classroom, where your mistakes blend into a concert for a mistake. Not scary at all.
Of course, one-on-one lessons are the best way to learn while avoiding bad habits…assuming you find the right instructor. Ask around and don’t be afraid to change if you’re not learning and having fun.
Jamming with friends is a great way to step up your game. You’ll be encouraged to practice and they’ll surely understand the occasional missed chord or confused look thrown their way.
Since you are reading this, you are part of an online community. There are a number of guitar sites on the internet. I recommend http://www.guitarnoise.com community oriented for instruction and sharing by guitarists of all levels. My own site, start-playing-guitar.com, is for guitarists who are absolute beginners, all the way up to those who are just starting to play with others. Both sites are regularly updated. Take a few minutes to look at each one.
Step 5: Exercise every day.
It can be hard, especially when you first start, but it’s the only way to improve. At the very least, work on some of your favorite material every day.
Step 6:Have fun!
This is the most important part, enjoying your new guitar!
Mary Poppins said “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down”.
The Snowmen of the Seven Dwarfs made their work day easier with the advice: “whistle while you work.”
So: play with others… Really turn up the volume when you’re alone… Get a simple drum machine for backing… Learn a very simple song and play it for all it’s worth… Whatever!
A lifetime of learning and enjoyment awaits you. Now get started!
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