12 Tips for the Self Taught Guitar Player
Whether it's around the campfire, with family, or a personal jam session, playing the guitar is a fun and wonderful hobby to invest in. As a beginner, however, you'll need some tips to help you get started. Use these to help prevent the many pitfalls that can cause trouble for the new guitar player.
#1 You don't have to spend $700+ to get a "good" guitar
If you're just starting out, you may be a little overwhelmed at the cost of a "good" guitar. A little down the road, you may want to invest in something more expensive. For now, feel free to go a little cheaper. You may be surprised at some of the good deals out there. For instance, a good Yamaha can be purchased for as little as $150-$200.
First of all, find the right one for you. If there is a music store nearby that allows you to try out its instruments (like a Guitar Center), then by all means play every guitar that catches your eye. Look out for tone, action (how close the strings are to the fretboard), size, and playability in general.
Find several that you like, then research them well. A guitar may sound great in the store, but not last very long. Read consumer and expert reviews to find guitars that are consistently rated well. Research your favorites further to find the best price.
For the DIY types, consider getting a "fixer-upper" that only needs a few repairs. Just make sure that the repairs don't cost more than what you would normally pay for a good, but inexpensive, guitar.
#2 Invest in good equipment
$7-$10 should get you a pair of D'Addario strings to last a good while. Other classic brands for guitar strings include Elixer, Gibson, Martin, and Fender.
Find the right gauge of strings by looking at the shape of your guitar, whether it be dreadnought or grand auditorium. If you are a beginner, light strings will be easier on the fingers. (GuitarFriendly.com)
There are number of tuners and capos on the market. Find the best one for you and browse eBay, Amazon, or your local guitar store to get the best price.
#3 Protect your investments
Instruments can be high-maintenance, but this is vital in retaining its longevity and optimal sound.
During cold and dry months, or if that is the constant climate in which you live in, make sure to get a guitar humidifier. Ever wonder why guitar stores keep there acoustic guitars displayed in a special room? It's because these instruments need to be climate controlled. Now, don't freak out. You won't need a specially-designed room for your new guitar.
$12-$15 should get you a good humidifier from Dampit or Grover. Or, for the DIY people, put a sponge in a small, plastic container with holes poked in it, and stick that in your case to keep your guitar properly moisturized.
Proper humidity it good, but too much moisture can cause the wood of the guitar to swell, and possibly crack. If the moisture levels get too high, open up your guitar case and allow the instrument to dry.
Dirt and dust can accumulate on your guitar, so make sure to wipe it down after each use. This includes the strings, neck, tuners, anything that you can get to easily with a cloth. This also increases the longevity of your strings, as oil from your fingers can wear them down faster. Special cloths can be purchased at any guitar store, but a soft cloth or rag will get the job done.
When setting down your guitar after playing, make sure it's standing. This can be done in a case, or by purchasing a guitar stand. Doing so will keep pressure off of the guitar's neck.
Change the strings regularly. If one pops (probably your high E string), then replace them all, unless they are practically brand new. If you don't know how to change your strings, watch and learn from an instructional video until you feel comfortable doing it yourself. If you'd rather the hands-on approach, get a friend or professional that can demonstrate the process and then help you to do it by yourself.
As seasons change, so will your guitar. Wood swells, necks bend, and strings corrode. Keep your guitar in optimal condition by adjusting it accordingly and even, if needed, getting professional assistance. However, most of these tips are for the basic care of your guitar and can be done from your own home.
#4 Protect yourself
Playing an instrument can put a strain on your body, so proper posture and form are vital. Protect your back by sitting up straight, your feet flat on the floor, with your knees at a 90 degree angle. For this reason, it is not recommended that you play on a bed or couch.
Now that you have proper posture, position your guitar so that the indented curve sits on your right thigh. The neck should be at least horizontal or at an upward angle. Angling the neck downward will cause you to look down, forcing you to slouch. Make sure that all of the weight of the neck is supported without the left hand. The top of the guitar's body should lean at a slight angle, resting on your chest.
For classical/finger style playing, you might want to try raising your left leg and positioning the curve of the guitar onto the left thigh. The widest portion of the guitar's body should rest between your legs. Raising the neck to an even higher angle will give easier access for playing in the more complex, classical style. (StrumSchool.com, Dummies.com)
Invest in a good, adjustable guitar strap for standing. You should be able to play comfortably without having to worry about dropping your guitar because of a weak strap. Some recommend having the strap in the same position whether sitting or standing, so that you we won't have to keep adjusting to a different position. As a beginner, this will be a good technique in developing good habits. Additionally, while your favorite rock artists look great hanging their guitars low, this is not a good habit to develop when starting out. Make proper positions second nature before branching out. (TempoMusicCards.com)
While playing, make sure to keep your wrist straight but relaxed. Keep you arm and elbow loose and at your side. Periodically relax you left shoulders or other tense muscles, and rest when you need to. If you start to feel pain, stop playing. Don't unnecessarily stress your muscles by overdoing it. Eventually you'll gain endurance and the muscles in your left hand will build as you continue to play. (Dummies.com)
#5 Play everyday
Whether it be an hour or five minutes, commit to practicing everyday. The consistency is key, and not the amount of time.
#6 Exercise your fingers and develop calluses
When you start to play the guitar, your fingertips will be in pain. Don't worry, you're not doing anything wrong. The guitar strings will rub against your fingertips and cause discomfort, but this is normal. Eventually, if you stick to it, calluses will form onto your fingertips and the pain will disappear.
Don't forget to use all of your fingers. It's easy to just use your pointer, middle, and ring finger when playing guitar. They're usually the strongest and can reach the farthest. But it's important to get into the habit of using your pinkie as well. Strengthen it, use it regularly, and incorporate it into your normal playing habits if you don't already.
#7 Develop your ear
Ever wonder how guitarist can just start playing along with every song that they hear? The answer is practice. Start by playing or singing your favorite songs and playing along with them. Go as slow as it takes to find the right chord for each note. You'll find that many songs use a pretty simple chord structure, and you'll learn quickly when trying to determine the different keys.
#8 Challenge yourself
However, don't get stuck in the rut of using 3-4 chords for every song. Branch out with your chords and on the fretboard. Find songs or tutorials that will stretch you to the limit. Look up tabs that have unfamiliar chords and strum patterns. Remember that what seems hard now will look easy further down the road. Plus, not much else compares to the rewards of working hard.
If you get bored with standard tuning, try detuning. A quick Google search or online guitar tuner will give some alternatives to the typical E A D G B E tuning. Look up bands that play in drop D or write songs in an octave lower than normal tuning. Be careful, however, when tuning and detuning your guitar, as this could put a strain on the neck of the guitar or even pop a string.
#9 Learn how to read tab
Haven't quite developed your ear to figure out the riff in "Back in Black?" This is when a guitar tab will be your best friend. But first, know how to read it. Learn the symbols for hammer on, pull off, bends, etc.
#10 Play with a buddy
Jam sessions are a great way to learn information, have fun, and really experience the joy of playing an instrument. This is also the ideal time to learn how to play with others. Playing a personal concert can be a lot of fun, but you can forget some important things, like rhythm. Rhythm is one thing that cannot be ignored when playing in a group, so practice that by jamming out with a partner.
#11 Practice your scales
Scales may seem tedious and monotonous, but they are important. If you want to play lead guitar, or break out into a solo, it is good to know the correct notes in the key beforehand. Know the Major Pentatonic Scale, Minor Pentatonic Scale, Natural Minor Scale, and the Blues Scale. (GuitarTeacher.com, GuitarOrb.com)
#12 Use available resources
There is a lot of information out there for the self-taught guitar player. Some of it is harmful, but a lot of it is helpful. You don't have to be an expert or be taught by an expert to be a good guitarist. That doesn't mean, however, that you'll develop those talents overnight and without guidance. As a self-taught player, you could inadvertently develop bad habits and forms, so educate yourself on proper playing practices.
A good learning experience should be balanced, so learn to play by ear or with music, and experiment with various styles. If you have absolutely no idea on what to do, consider investing in instructional books, CDs, and DVDs to get started. Never stop learning, because there is always someone who is better than you and can teach you something.
Being a self-taught guitarist is a rewarding journey of discovery and learning. It can be challenging at times, as your journey can result in the awkward position of being at an intermediate skill level with a beginner's knowledge. But all in all it is a very fulfilling and enjoyable way in becoming a talented musician.