Interested in learning how to play guitar? Or how to play the piano or ukulele? Learning the guitar or any new instrument is a bit intimidating.
The beginner guitarist often has more questions than answers. Let's tackle some 101 basics, focusing today on beginner guitarists.
1. How much should I pay for a guitar?
Pay as much as you can reasonably afford. Look, many go cheap. The risks are that you get a junky guitar that does not hold its tuning. Then, you play and play, it sounds even worse than you already are as a beginner. You get discouraged by the sounds, even if you're improving. Because you do not understand what may be wrong with the instrument, you cannot tell if it is you or the guitar.
As you grow wiser, you find yourself constantly tuning. Or you keep changing the strings, thinking old strings are the problem. That takes an hour the first time, or you have to go to the shop to have a pro set them up. Either way, you are growing more and more frustrated.
And you are not playing the guitar.
Buy a good guitar from someone or some place you can trust. Worst case, you get sick of guitar and you have a make and model worth something when you go to resell it. If you buy a piece of junk and quit, you have a piece of junk.
So, if you buy junk for $100 and quit, you'll have a hard time reselling junk for $30. If you buy a good instrument for, let's say (and do NOT take this as you budget, please...), $300, you may be able to resell it for $300 or $250 or something like that.
2. Am I too old or too young?
Nope. You are never too old and never too young.
For youths, it is a question of the size of the instrument and your approach to introduction and instruction. You may even want junior to start with a ukulele. There are also 4-string guitars out there, believe it or not, for little guys and gals.
For those who are older, it is extremely fun and enriching. Do not put off joy in this life on this earth. There’s no age restriction on learning a new skill. If you have health issues, like arthritis and so forth, you may need to adjust your expectations and consult your doc. But you also can have your guitar shop set up the instrument with lighter, softer strings and action.
Communicate with someone at your local guitar shop about your new guitar journey. There is zero probability they've not heard unique needs before. They will help you.
3. What about tutors and instruction? How do I start?
First thing, decide what kind of instruction best suits your style and your realistic plans and budget.
Can you afford the cost and time of an instructor for private guitar lessons? Instructors in person or online may be $30 to $100 per hour. It really varies by where you live and how experienced the instructors might be. Because an instructor is more or less expensive may also be hard to judge if they are the right fit. But you know how markets work. Someone who costs more can probably command that fee because customers are willing to pay them for their skills and abilities.
You also can do online lessons. Many others try to learn on their own by sight-reading and buying the books.
iVideosongs offers a host of piano posters, guitar cheatsheets and songwriting journals. We link them to free online lessons and song tutorials on our YouTube channel. The free online music lesson videos are high def by world-class instructors and many of the artists and producers themselves. Millions have used them and there's 100,000+ registered in our community. Again, it is totally free.
Buying the tools from iVideosongs, like the posters on chords, there are links to special tutorials that make sense to that tool. So, instead of having to sift through 200+ videos on our channel, each product tells you some of the more relevant videos that make sense. Once online, many are organized in a series. The links take you to the first in a series. You get the idea.
4. Should I buy an electric guitar or acoustic guitar?
Do you want to play an electric and acoustic guitar? That's really the question. You probably know the answer.
Electric guitars have thinner strings. For the beginner, an electric may feel easier to play and have less impact on making your hands tired or sore, because they require less hand strength. If you have smaller hands, an electric lets you pick from a wide range of standard-sized products, enjoy the slimmer neck diameter of an electric vs. acoustics, get an easier grip at a shorter reach up and down the neck of the fretboard.
Now, acoustic guitar, on the other hand, are often less expensive because they don't have a bunch of electronics on board. You don't need an amp. And it projects sound and warmth without having to plug into anything. It is just that classic, portable, acoustic instrument.
Plus, learning on an acoustic prepares your hands and body, because you'll get acclimated to acoustic strings and build strength that way. It is easier to move "down" to playing an electric physically, than it is to move "up" to playing an acoustic physically later on.
5. What about guitar strings?
Begin with lighter string gauge. Lighter, thinner strings have less tension than heavier, fatter strings, and they have less diameter. Less tension and less diameter means less physicality to press them down, bend them, and so on when learning to play.
If you have an electric, consider a gauge of .009 inches to .042 inches. Or, go one step up if you are confident in your hand strength to .010 inches to .046 inches (known as “nines” or “10s”). If you’re learning on an acoustic, look for a gauge of .011 inches to .052 inches (known as 11s). Going any higher is a risk to growing too sore and tired. Going any lower on an acoustic may produce really weak sounds and a slimy feeling to the instrument that makes things slick and poorly performing. Just two cents on that...
Honestly, go to a guitar shop and ask questions. Don't jump at the first thing they tell you. Maybe ask for the owner or someone who sets up the guitars. Be a good self-advocate, so they are listening and asking a question or two about you and your intentions to practice and play. Those questions matter to how they set you up.
My Guitar Practice Go-To List
- Guitar charts and books
- iVideosongs Lessons Playlist
- Find a guitar tutor
- 10-minute breaks, no exceptions
- Posture self-enforcement
- Hand soak and relax after practice
- Stop in, chat up guitar store folks 1x/mo.
- Talk to other guitarist 1x/mo.
6. Do I need other equipment to get started?
Yes. Here's the basic essentials:
As you grow more familiar with your guitar and your style, you may find all kinds of picks to try. For now, go with very standard sizes and shapes. We offer a 12 guitar pick sampler that is competitively priced, has a range of guages and both classic celluloid as well as delrin type picks. These are the two most common, most widely used materials globally in the world of picks, and the assortment we offer has the most common gauges every professional has in their arsenals.
A guitar strap is essential for stabilizing your instrument, even if you never stand up to play. It also protects you and your instrument if it slips away from you. What you don't need is the guitar to get dented or scratched on the way down. Nor do you need to scramble around and smack your head in some weird, odd twist of fate, trying to catch your guitar.
Choose a strap that’s mid-priced or better, not some giveaway piece of junk that you have no idea will actually stay hooked onto your guitar.
Go with one that is about 2 inches in width and has some padding to it, like at the shoulder at least. You'll thank yourself later when you have less shoulder and neck pain.
Most all electric guitars have two endpins: one on the back of the guitar body, and another on the high, top outcrop of the body. That's where the strap's two ends fit.
Some acoustic guitars have these pins, some may not. Do not pick out your guitar just because it has endpins. Sometimes, those old guitars by great manufacturers did not have pins for straps. You can buy straps that have retrofits or other ways to hook onto the guitar. Ask a guitar shop for help. Go with the best guitar, not the best bells and whistles on the guitar.
For electrics, you'll need a cable of decent quality to plug into the guitar and into the amplifier. Go with something about 10 feet or longer. They sell 6 footers. But let's be honest, who is going to sit 3 feet from their guitar all the time? That gets annoying really fast.
Can't even begin to answer this one. You are better off searching other blogs, because there is an alternate universe of amps out there. The household brands like Fender and Marshall come to mind. But then there's Orange and Roland, and a host of others, all making amazing equipment at reasonable prices.
Again, there's a galaxy of tuners. Some are devices you buy and they clamp nicely onto the instrument. Others are apps for your phone. All of these generally work wonderfully. Try a phone-based app to start. See how that works for you, because most are free, get the hang of them, and see how that goes. The clamp-styles are awesome. If you travel or play live, and if you have an electric which often needs to be plugged into a tuner, you're going to eventually invest in a device-type of tuner.
If you're in a pinch, iVideosongs has free videos for standard tuning by ear, plus a tutorial on how to tune a guitar and how to put strings on your guitar.
7. Will my fingers hurt when I play guitar?
Yes. Don't worry, you don't need a doctor. As a beginner, you’ll improve muscle strength as you play and form calluses on your fretting hand.
Yes, the pain and discomfort come with the territory. Practice regularly, and like any form of exercise, your body will adjust and gain strength with time.
Soon, those lighter strings will seem kind of thin to you, the sound of them not so impressive. You'll buy the next heavier gauge. You'll notice you can form chords and make notes or scales with less effort...that you do not need to man-handle the fretboard. These are all good signs.
8. I do not have a ton of time to practice, so how do I make the most out of practicing the guitar?
Be intentional. Even if you're trying to learn on your own, think through or write down your intentions before you get down to it.
"Learn 3 new chords."
"Figure out how to change from a D and A and G, into some barre chord shapes."
"Watch video on scales. Try to mirror what she does til I can do it without watching."
Being intentional assures you'll actually end 20 or 30 minutes of effect with an actual skill.
Also, really think about your posture, hand positioning and doing stretching before and after. If you want to reduce aches and pain, stop every 10 minutes and think about how you're sitting. Shake out your hands.
When finished, wash your hands in nice hot water to cleanse any distressed skin, but also to relax your soft tissues. It really makes a difference.
9. Why do people quit playing guitar?
Beginners have wishful thinking that they'll learn overnight. Then, they dial down and think they'll learn at least that one song the next night. Then, when that doesn't happen, they keep going down a slippery slope of setting and missing expectations.
This is not a sprint. It is a marathon.
Be patient with yourself. Approach this with reasonable expectations. Compare it to how you learned any other rather difficult or challenging hobby.
10. Make a list of your tools, guides, and mentors.
Keep that short list integrated into your approach each and every time. Those positive reinforcements and rituals make this process comforting and special. Having it near and visual keep all of this very real and tangible. When discouraged, it is too easy to forget your progress and the people and things you have to support you.