Whether you are just starting out or you’ve been trying to teach yourself for a while, chances are you’ve considered taking one-on-one guitar lessons. If you’ve never actually sat down with a professional guitar instructor, allow me to show you just a few of the advantages formal guitar lessons have to offer.
Advantage #1 : There is a tremendous history of over 200 years of accumulated knowledge about the guitar.
The modern guitar is the product of a rich history that stretches back over 200 years. The collected body of knowledge, technique, and repertoire for guitar is made up of thousands of truly brilliant musical insights. These insights came from an incredible diversity of musical geniuses from different times and places: from the late eighteenth century master and teacher Ferdinand Sor, to modern guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix. All this knowledge and innovation is great, and has made the guitar the most popular instrument on earth, but it can also be extremely overwhelming to beginning guitar players. Luckily, for as long as guitarists have been inventing new techniques and sounds on the guitar, generations of guitar teachers have agonized over how to breakdown and package all this information to keep beginner students on track.
Advantage #2 : Weekly guitar classes will help you avoid dozens of bad habits.
Anyone who’s ever played guitar knows that even the most basic aspects of guitar technique are not easy at first. Guitar playing requires amounts of strength, flexibility, and precision in the hands that nobody possess initially. What is worse is that in the early stages, technical development is not at all intuitive. Due to the beginner’s lack of muscle development and flexibility, many things that “feel” right can actually lead to bad habits that can severely curtail the proper development. Throughout my years of teaching guitar I’ve seen so many beginners gravitate toward the same common mistakes. In the first few classes a big part of what we do as guitar instructors involves reminding beginners of these bad habits and encouraging them to practice properly so that they can develop the strength and flexibility to truly play the guitar beautifully.
Advantage #3 : Weekly guitar classes help you create a practice routine.
These days there is no shortage of information out there on the internet about how to play the guitar. There are tons of DVDs, YouTube tutorials, interactive software, even video games to try and help you learn to play guitar. All this information is great. It’s very useful stuff and you should try to take advantage of all of it. But you should also know that despite whatever anyone tells you, there is only ONE way to become a guitar player: PRACTICE. How well you play depends entirely on how well you practice. The most valuable thing I can offer beginner guitarists is to teach them how to practice. Later, with more advanced students, we learn how to evolve the practice routine so that it changes as the guitarist’s abilities change and grow. One of the scariest things about learning guitar is that you can waste a lot of time if you are not using effective practice methods. Even if you think you are working hard, you can stagnate indefinitely without an efficient and comprehensive practice plan. Don’t do this. Find a good guitar teacher who can help you set goals and develop a practice routine so that you can meet your goals in a timely fashion.
Another side note to this point is that weekly lessons tend to force people to practice more frequently than they would on their own. When it’s just you on your own, maybe you’ll practice today. Maybe you’ll skip a day, or 2, or 3… Who’s going to care other than you? This is how people tend to drift when they don’t have that weekly appointment reminding them to work hard and get better. Those skipped days turn into skipped weeks or months and pretty soon all momentum is lost. Worst of all you may become further discouraged from starting up again because of these setbacks. By signing up for guitar classes you are making a clear commitment that will go a long way to keeping you from falling off track. You are also specifically enlisting another person (your guitar instructor) to care about and actively monitor your progress. A good guitar instructor should be as invested in your progress as you are.
Advantage #4 : Lessons help you build tools.
The practice routine mentioned above can be considered one essential tool to learning the guitar in a reasonable amount of time. But it isn’t the only one. There are many others. Musical literacy is also a great tool. Strong internal sense of rhythm is another. A good guitar teacher can integrate the development of these important tools right into your weekly guitar classes. Developing the right tools for yourself can really change the whole experience of learning guitar. Without tools you will have to do many times more work for a small fraction of the outcome. WITH the right tools you can achieve amazing things from surprisingly little effort.
Advantage #5 : Lessons show you things you don’t know you need to know.
If the guitar is your first musical instrument, then you are not just learning guitar, you are also learning what it means to be a musician. There are many important concepts that most beginners aren’t aware of. If you are relying only on yourself to direct your musical study, there are things you’ll never teach yourself because you don’t know that they exist. A good guitar instructor will bring these things to your attention right when you need them most. This way you focus on what you need as you need it.
If you are going to learn to play the guitar, you should learn to play the instrument really well. It isn’t easy. In fact, it’s quite hard and most of the people who try the guitar quit before they can even play anything. Don’t let this happen to you. The advantages of formal guitar lessons are what makes this seemingly impossible task possible.
2. Practice With A Metronome or a Drum Machine:
Rhythm is perhaps the most fundamental aspect of music. How well you keep time certainly matters when you are playing by yourself, but it takes on a whole new level of importance when you are playing in an ensemble. Much more than anything else RHYTHM is what brings and keeps the ensemble together.
In Tip #1 we talked about polishing up some popular songs and creating a small set list of songs you play confidently. How do you know when this repertoire is ready to rock? One of the best ways to test yourself is to make sure you can play all the parts in time with a metronome, drum Machine or some other external timing source.
A big part of being able to play with other musicians is being able to raise your awareness beyond what you are playing. You must learn to divide your focus and listen, not only to the part you are playing, but also parts played by other members of the group and the sound of the group as a whole. One of the first steps to developing this heightened awareness is to learn to play with the simple click of a metronome or simple drum loop.
Many students dread playing with the metronome. This is because playing in perfect synchronization with the metronome is not automatic. It is a skill that takes a good deal of focus initially. I recommend that you first introduce the metronome into your practice routine with only the most basic exercises. Play only one open string using all downstrokes so that you can concentrate fully on the task of listening to both your guitar and the metronome’s click.
You will have to learn to anticipate the click in order to produce a note at the exact instant the click occurs. Try holding the pick against the string with a little bit of downward pressure, similar to the way an archer draws back a bow. Then, at the exact instant you believe the click is about to occur, allow the string to escape and slide past the pick, releasing the note. Listen to hear that the note and the click are perfectly synchronized. Then quickly reset the pick by re-applying pressure to the string so that you can release the next note in time with the next click. It is very important to develop this sensation that the note occurring when the string is RELEASED. This is both more physically accurate and more musical than the very common misconception that the note is produced when the string is ATTACKED. The pick is not a hammer. Remember to think of the guitar string as a bow and note is released like an arrow.
Once you have spent a few weeks synchronizing your most basic technical exercises with a simple quarter note click, you can try playing musical material in time with the metronome. Figure out the BPM of all the popular tunes in your repertoire and record this information next to each one on your set list. See if you can play all the parts at the proper tempi. If you find any part difficult, slow the tempo down until you find a speed at which you can play comfortably perform with complete accuracy.
If you can find a drum machine with an appropriate setting for a particular song, it can be more musical to play along with that since your time keeping device will more closely resemble the actual song. If you can play all the parts to a song perfectly at the proper tempo, you may want to just play along with the actual MP3 of the song. One good idea is to make a playlist with MP3s of all the songs in your repertoire and see if you can play through the entire list from one song to the next without stopping. This is a very good way to make sure that you hit all the songs in your repertoire one time during your daily practice. It’s also super fun because it feels like you are playing with a full band.
Of course, if you can reliably play along to the actual studio recordings, I’d say you are certainly ready to try it with real live musicians… at least on a technical level. However, there is a little more to good ensemble playing. I’ve got 3 more tips I want to share with you before you go running off to the musicians board on Craig’s List. So please stick around for the next tip!!
Seems like most beginning guitarists can’t wait to join a band. For many, that is the whole reason they took up the guitar in the first place. Making music with other people can be one of the most fun and rewarding things we musicians do. It can also quickly become a frustrating experience if you aren’t prepared.
Here are 5 tips to help you better prepare yourself to play with other musicians:
TIP# 1: Learn one really POPULAR COVER.
Most of the time when musicians meet up the situation resembles a rehearsal much more than practice. Don’t expect to figure out any new material while you are there. You should know by now the kind of solitary focus and sheer repetition needed to play anything confidently on guitar. You simply have to put that work in on your own ahead of time. Start by preparing ONE cover song to the point where you can play all the guitar parts with confidence, up to speed, from start to finish.
I actually think you should learn as many popular songs as you can. But if I tell you to learn 2 or 3 songs right now, chances are you’ll get distracted and won’t complete any of them. So I say start with ONE and don’t add any more until you’ve got your first cover song completely polished and ready for the stage. I like to think of it this way: There are songs I sort-of remember how to play, and then there are songs I keep in my back-pocket. The back-pocket songs are ready-to-roll, ready to throw down at a moments notice. The songs I kind-of remember how to play are USELESS in a band situation. Only back-pocket level songs are truly ready for the full band experience.
Keep a list of your songs as they reach this back-pocket level and play them once every day so they stay super sharp.
It is important that you set your own tastes aside when choosing your first few covers. The more popular or “classic” a song is, the more likely you are to find a drummer or bassist who is prepared to play that song with you – not to mention an audience that might want to hear your performance. Often times ensembles of professional musicians will just call out one hit song after another and then just play them really well – even if they’ve never played together before! This works because each musician has prepared their parts ahead of time.
Realize that ALL musicians tend to favor music from very obscure sub-genres. But, if you only learn the music of your sub-genre, you will be a very shallow and boring musician to play with. Do your future self a favor and start learning a few hits so that you can be ready to play with the vast majority of the musicians in your town.
There is sort of an informal list of standard hits that work well with the standard rock setup : guitar / bass / drums / vocals. Generally, these songs tend to come from the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. The following songs are a few examples:
AC/DC “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Weezer “Hash Pipe”
The Clash “Should I Stay Or Should I Go”
Green Day “American Idiot”
The Cars “Just What I Needed”
The Beatles “Day Tripper”
Blur “Song 2”
The Ramones “I Wanna Be Sedated”
The Beastie Boys “Fight For Your Right”
There are literally hundreds of songs that are considered “standard” by today’s working cover bands. The ones I listed above are good ones to start with because they are short and don’t have any overly elaborate solos. In other words they are SIMPLE. I’ll have more to say on this point in future posts.
So, in closing, this tip has 2 components. #1: DO YOUR HOMEWORK. Show up prepared and ready to rock. #2: Don’t shy away from the hits. We know you are cool. (Duh, you play guitar!) You don’t have to prove anything by only playing obscure songs. Other musicians will not respect you for that. On the contrary you run the risk of being tragically too cool for school. And don’t just suffer through the hits because that’s what people want to hear. EMBRACE this as our musical common ground. Use these hits to get the party started with musicians whom you will be playing with for the first time. In time you will learn to make them your own. You will bond with other musicians over these songs and maybe one day you’ll write something that will be good enough to add to this list of classics… OK, now I’m clearly just spilling out my own aspirational thoughts, so I guess that means that is all for this tip!
Hope to see you back here for the next one!
Here’s a BIG idea that could have saved me a few years of doing things the hard way: BUY just about any and all guitar books you can afford.
When I was starting out, I have to admit I had a pretty cheap when it came to investing in my musical development. I didn’t have a lot of disposable income to begin with, and the musicians I looked up to (whether they were terribly impoverished blues players or punk rockers) seemed to be able to do amazing things with even less material resources. So I figured that was the best (and perhaps only) way to go. For many years I had a few cheap and/or poorly maintained guitars and amps. I used the same gauge and cheap brand of strings I’d used since I was a beginner (more on these terrible mistakes in future posts).
During this time I also purchased virtually no books. I think I used to view them as frivolous expenses. Nowadays I consider a great many guitar books to be essential tools of the trade. Not just for guitar teachers, but for anyone who is serious about developing into a proficient musician. It’s funny that the first few books I did buy, were enormously helpful to me. And still I would browse the book section at my local music story and ponder over whether I should spent $12.00 on a book. My attitude today: JUST BUY IT DUDE!
I have recommended a few titles in this blog and I plan to recommend more in the future. Developing a small guitar library is basically a byproduct of becoming a decent musician. If you aren’t accumulating books on the subject, chances are you’re development isn’t anywhere near what it could be.
Most of the leading guitar method books are in the $20 range and that’s a ridiculous bargain considering how many amazing benefits flow for years out of a single book. How do you chose the right book? You don’t. You buy them all. I’m serious. If you really want to play guitar professionally, there are at least 20 books that will be absolutely essential reads. Here’s a few that really influenced my development which I constantly go back to with students:
– “A Modern Method For Guitar” Series by William Levitt. Volumes 1, 2 and 3
– “Solo Guitar Playing” Series by Frederick M Noad. Volumes 1 and 2
– “A Modern Approach to Classical Guitar” Series by Charles Duncan
– “Guitar Grimoire” Series by Carl Fischer
– “Classic Guitar Technique” by Aaron Shearer
A good guitar teacher can help you zero in on which book is right for you based on your current of ability and your stylistic goals. But don’t worry about buying the “wrong” book. Several times in the past I have purchased books that turned out to not be immediately helpful to me. Most of these were either too advanced for me at the time. But I just put them on my shelf of guitar books and one-by-one they started to come to life as my playing and musical literacy improved.
I’ve been thinking about adding some book guitar reviews to this blog to share what I like about my favorite guitar books. Also maybe to include some tips on how I incorporate guitar books into my lessons and my own practice time. In the meantime, I encourage you to start building your musical library TODAY. Once you start, you’ll be glad you did.