Might be some repetitive info here from past blogs, but far as I can tell, most folks are finding this site through web searches, asking specific questions. If they find this one, the ramblings of a humble guitar teacher, they might find the guitar adventure a little more satisfying.
1. Buy a jam pack. Most of the major manufacturers sell packages that include the guitar along with strap, picks, starter book, amp (if an electric guitar). Most music store folks will happily put together a package for you with such items in the store if a boxed set isn’t available. IMO, most jam packs like this are in the $200 range. I’d be skeptical of spending too much less unless it was a used/Ebay deal (and you should have your knowledgable guitarist friend check it out before you buy) and if you want to spend more, well, I’m sure the salesmen won’t stop you, but unless you really hear and understand the difference in quality why spend more? Wait to see if you like playing before diving into Gear Acquisition Syndrome and competing with your wife’s shoe collection.
If you’ve already bought a guitar I recommend you get the other stuff in the pack, guitar strap (it does the job of holding the guitar in place for you), a tuner, some picks…hopefully a guitar case if you don’t have one already. If the hardshell case is too much for you a decent padded one can be found in the $30-50 range. TIP–if you get one of these, make sure it has backpack straps attached to the case with metal rings. The ones with straps sewn to the body lose their threading, eventually wrecking the case.
2. Take a beginner class or spring for at least a month of private lessons. Private lessons cost anywhere from $10-30 per half hour, depending on the region, but like any such lessons they get you off and running in the best way possible. I wrote another blog on how to find a good teacher here. There’s certainly nothing wrong with skipping the teacher and exploring on your own, but you risk establishing bad habits or wasting years learning something fundamental a teacher would expose you to much sooner. But in the end we’re talking art, so just get started!
3. What should you learn first? Depends on the style of music–and every teacher will have opinions beyond that. Personally, I think you should learn guitar tablature first, as it’s quick and gets you playing more complex stuff faster without having to struggle through the rudiments of sight reading normal sheet music (which also offers AMAZING benefits to your playing, so plan to tackle it at some point). From there…
–Basic major and minor chords, power chords (two finger chords that make ROCK go round & round) AND songs using them. Learning just the chords without context is like being handed a hammer and some nails and being told you’re qualified to build stuff. Gotta learn HOW to build stuff first.
–The major scale and the minor pentatonic scale, the latter if you want to dive into blues and rock sooner rather than later. But unless you have an immediate passion for learning to play lead, I’d focus on chords, riffs and songs first.
–Your favorite songs, of course! The favorites that you can play, that is. Guitar magazines are a great source of famous tunes transcribed in guitar tablature.
–Reinforce the basics as much as you can (including your favorite songs you’ve learned) because they will always be needed at some point. I’ve had students take lessons with me for years, practicing every day whatever we were doing in our previous lesson. Then we’d move on to new material and they’d completely ignore what we’d done earlier. Obviously you can’t practice everything every day, but you’re definitely going to find open chords in songs on a regular basis–they aren’t going to be obsolete anytime soon, so you don’t want to be stuck on a new song because you forgot the chords you learned in your first lesson.
4. Learn how to keep the beat as soon as possible. Maybe even buy a metronome (or a tuner with a metronome built into it) and practice strumming different chord progressions. Say, four strums of one chord for four clicks, then switch to another chord for four clicks, etc. The sooner you learn rhythm, eighth notes, quarter notes, etc., the better. I have a poster to help with that.
5. What style of music do you want to tackle first? Rock and blues will require you to use a pick, mostly held between the thumb and index finger. You don’t have to use a pick…it depends on the style of guitar playing. I get students who worship heavy metal bands that use really fast speed picking that can only be done with a pick and they regularly show up, forgetting their picks, telling me they practiced the part all week with their thumb. A very frustrating way to learn your favorite music!
6. Practice ten to twenty minutes a day at least five days a week until the callouses build up. You can practice more, but be careful of getting blisters, which will kill ALL practice until they heal.
7. LISTEN TO LOTS OF MUSIC! It’s kind of like going to a buffet with lots of great food makes you want to eat or buying a gym membership makes you work out…or something. Music inspires the ears, helps you set practice goals, motivates you.
8. Always start practice with basic picking exercises: 1-2-3-4, with 1 being the index, 4 being the pinky. Play that on every string, starting on any fret. Even if it’s easy, keep doing it. Come up with variations if inspired. It will get your fingers in shape for the complex stuff you want to play later.
9. Learn easy stuff first! There will always be challenges at every level–that’s what keeps us from getting bored. But trying to tackle “Blackbird” too soon will more likely turn your guitar into firewood. If you’ve learned how tablature works, figure out simple riffs like “Daytripper” or “Smoke on the Water”, tackling the harder stuff as it makes sense. You’ll know when it’s time to buckle down and sweat for something difficult. Doing that out of the starting gate is like starting a new workout regiment with a marathon.
I know…I’m killing the metaphors today. 🙂
10. Youtube is a wealth of online lessons, but like I said in #9, if it doesn’t make sense, move on to something that does. Searching under “beginning guitar lessons” is a good start.
11. No practicing in front of the television! Go to a quiet place and invest all of your attention into the guitar. Even a couple minutes will reap benefits.
12. Pain is bad! A little stretching, finger tenderness, the occasional burn of holding a chord…these things are alright (remembering I’m not a doctor!) Actual pain means you’re doing something wrong. Teacher?
13. The key to progress is consistent practice. Not many hours a day (though very cool if you can do that), a little bit EVERY DAY, or most days of the week. And if you only get one day in a week, so what? The instrument isn’t going to divorce you! But that little warmup before school or that song review before bed starts to add up and months after starting you realize how far you’ve come since the first day you struggled to keep your fingers in place.
Questions? Comment here!