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5/04/2010

Best way to learn to play the guitar

Before I give you some resources to learn to play the guitar, I'd like to share some thoughts with you first.

Whether you're picking the guitar for the first time or you want to improve the way you already play it, it is a fact: learning can be a real trouble. Maybe not because it is too hard, but because the learning proccess by itself IS monotonous and the learning curve IS steep. There's no point on sugar-coating it...

However, what is the point of playing the guitar? I will tell you, in case you can't recall it: it's HAVING FUN! ;) If you have fun playing the guitar, there is no such thing as learning to do it. Only some basics need to be learnt (being chords perhaps one of the main landmarks); the rest is just a matter of practice, and you gain experience by having fun - playing the guitar.

To be true, there is not much theory around how to play the guitar, actually. Well, if you want to be a classic world-class supreme know-all all-mighty guitar player, you might need to read a dozen guitar books. But that's not the point of anybody who plays the guitar.  I assure you: even the very best guitar players of all time didn't plan it like that. They just happened to become the best because they got a lot of experience playing the guitar, BECAUSE IT WAS AMUSING! You see, playing the guitar is not like, say, studying. You don't (or shouldn't) do it as an unpleasant means to achieve the goal (knowing more). The goal is playing the guitar by itself.

You never stop learning how to play the guitar. After you learn chords, you still don't know scales. After you learn scales, you still can't bend a string. After you learn how to bend strings, you still can't do vibrato. After you finally master vibrato, don't know how to sight read. After you learn how to sight read, you've lost scales practice. After you practice scales again, you've forgotten how to play your favorite songs. After you recall your favorite songs, you still can't chicken pick. After you learn how to chicken pick, you still don't do blues. After you do blues, you still can't do fancy "what-the-heck?" guitar tricks like bending after the nut... It would take three or four lifetimes to come across the last couple of lines I wrote, and you still wouldn't have finished learning how to play the guitar.

So, what is knowing to play the guitar after all? For me, it's knowing how to play songs you like and/or write using a guitar. Quite simple. But it's definitely NOT knowing everything about the guitar.

This is why I do not recommend taking courses to learn the guitar. Well, at least not a course where you're on a schedule. Learning guitar should be done at your own pace, when you feel like it, and oriented towards the genres/styles that match your interests. It is already stressing enough not being able to play a C chord and watching our teacher/collegue play a killer Jimi Hendrix solo like it was nothing; there's no need to add that to the stress of "Oh my, I must be able to play this chord by Tuesday, it's my next class!" or "I don't even like solos, who cares what key I'm playing at? Just let the string ring!" Courses are supposed to be helpful, but unfortunately their approach ends up being in a "Learn this subject now or never" shape... There may (and certainly will) be aspects of the guitar playing art that will not interest you at all in the beginning, but later on you will feel curious about.

Right. Now, just before I tell you about some resources, you need to understand that nowadays you can learn pretty much anything on your own, for free. Thanks to the Internet. In fact, this is perhaps the best resource of all. But it doesn't have a method by itself, does it? Well, you can find you own method... My opinion is...

...The very best way to learn how to play the guitar is think about your favorite songs. Learn how to play their chords - there's nothing as motivating as being able to play the tunes you really love. Be patient on yourself - learn to play the chords slowly. You can find the chords easily on the net. If need be, break the song(s) on segments, and learn one segment at a time. Don't make it overwhelming right from the start. Later on, if/when you feel like learning something else, go ahead and learn it. Look for it in the web.

I'm going to be honest: this was the way I learnt how to play the guitar. For months I didn't even know the names of the chords I was playing, I only knew their right shapes and positions lol! :D I only cared about the tune itself - I didn't know if I was going to keep playing the guitar after knowing my favorite songs. I just happened to keep playing, and eventually took the time to learn the chord names. Then some solos I loved. Then scales... When I felt curious about something, I went on and tried to learn about it. I stablished the goals as I'd go. It's a lot more fun this way, really!

But if you really need an official reference to learn from, I can suggest you Jamorama. It's one of the most talked-about courses on the internet, and it's not on a schedule. I'm not doing a metanalysis on this since almost every book or course will be a good one for you to learn... as long as you have the right motivation to take it seriously. As I've been stressing out, the main part on the learning process is not the reference, but the motivation you have to learn. After all, as I said, there's not much guitar theory to be learnt, so there are no correct or incorrect books neither... right? ;)


One of the most monotonous parts of learning to play the guitar is learning about scales. It really has to be monotonous, there's no way around. You have to practice fragments of scales over and over and over again until you dream about them. And learning this by books can bore you to death... you and your neighbours. :P For this I'd recommend you not a book but software. Particularly, Guitar Scales Method. I used it to learn scales and I can only tell you wonders about it. It makes the heroic feat of learning scales as bearable as it can get. It shows you a guitar neck with the various scales, explains them in a simple language, and comes with exercises for you to practice playing along the scales and guessing them before the program shows the answer. It's basically an e-book (electronic book) bundled with a play-along software package of scales exercises. Very good.


Finally, I'd like to mention another software from the same programmer of Guitar Scales Method. It's called Guitar Speed Trainer, and it helps a lot on your way to increase your guitar playing speed. It comes with several exercises, including only-downstrokes, only-upstrokes, downstrokes-and-upstrokes... It lets you increase the speed of the play-along exercises while you gradually become better and better at it.


Hope this article will help you. ;)

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