It was 1978 when I first wanted to play guitar. I was 5 years old, and my older brother had brought home Van Halen's first album. We were living in Ottawa, Ontario (that's Canada FYI), and how my 9 year old brother discovered this band I'll never know but he was excited. The first time he put it on the stereo when Mom and Dad weren't home and I heard the opening bass of "Runnin' With The Devil" my ears perked up. Next track on the album was Eruption, and that was when I wanted to play a guitar. I spent my elementary school years idolizing Eddie Van Halen, and wishing I could do what he does.
So you'd think a little kid listening to Van Halen, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin and such would be harassing his parents until they got him a guitar. Well I didn't. I still don't understand why I didn't. I'm positive that they would have gotten me a guitar and lessonsmy parents both enjoy music (albeit mostly country), but for some strange reason I never asked for one.
All my life I've been drawn to guitar based music, in the 80's it was the classic rock of the 60's and 70's I loved. I was never into Motley Crue or the other hair bands of the day. In the 90's I discovered blues, Stevie Ray Vaughan became my favorite, I discovered Eric Clapton's music beyond "Layla", and I couldn't get interested in the Alternative bands others loved, and hated most of the Grunge thing. Nirvana still grates on my every time I hear their stuff.
Once I was an adult I kept telling myself one of these days I'll learn to play guitar. I told myself that for a very long time. It wasn't until Christmas of 2006 that I started, and it took a friend showing up Christmas Day with a Yamaha acoustic as a gift. Today is the day were his words. He has a keen interest in music, the blues mainly, and he thought he should kick my a-s in gear. I'm glad he did.
I bought a couple books to begin learning basic stuff, and worked at it a bit, I had to put it down after a few months because of some work I had to do to begin a new career, but the next winter, my girlfriend got me some lessons for the first time as a birthday gift, as well as a month later at Christmas she got me a gift I will have forever, and which is the single best gift I have ever received... a brand new 3 tone burst American Strat. Since then I have taken lessons every week with very few exceptions, and played almost every day. Some days were half an hour, many were more than an hour, and many have been several hours. I have a guitar in my hands as often as possible these days.
Along the way I've picked up some more guitars, some amps, some pedals, and learned a lot. I don't think of myself as very good yet, but some people tell me they're impressed, especially with my only playing for a short time. I'm still learning every day, and I get people who are just starting asking me a lot of questions, so I thought I'd jot down this list of key points I've come to consider important for learning, and mixing it into your grown up life. I'm just getting ready to do my first gig, for my own birthday party, I'm turning 40 next month and thought this might be a fun way to celebrate. I'm very nervous, but I've got some great people in the band that'll help make me look good.
My Tips (not in a particular order):
1. Start as soon as possible, it takes time and there are no shortcuts
2. Get a decent guitar to start, and only buy used if you can get a knowledgeable person to check it out for you. It doesn't have to be expensive, but it does have to be set up well
3. Don't take lessons right away. The very basics such as chord shapes and intervals etc... can easily be learned with books such as Guitar for Dummies or videos on the internet, an instructor is worth the money they cost, but not to learn simple things such as how to make a D chord
4. Play every day... every day... every day. Even if it's 15 minutes, you can take 15 minutes every day. 15 minutes every day is better than 2 hours one day a week. Your fingers build callouses, muscle memory, it keeps things fresh in your brain.
5. Try to learn something new every day. It doesn't have to be a whole song, just one little tidbit you didn't know yesterday. Maybe it's as simple as learning that on the Low E string, the 5th fret is an A. As you progress the thing you learn may be a song, or a chord progression, or a small riff, it doesn't matter what it is as long as it's something you didn't know yesterday.
6. Take care of your guitar but keep it out where it's visible. If you have to go get it, you're less likely to play it.
7. YouTube is your friend. There are more good guitar videos on YouTube than you could watch in your lifetime. They help with a lot of things, but are not a replacement for a good instructor you see regularly.
8. Once you know some basics take lessonsfind a good instructor you get along well with. You may get lucky as I did and get a good one to start off with, but don't be afraid to try somebody different if things just don't gel between you and the first person you try. Also keep in mind that if you don't practice what they teach you, it's you not them. They know right away if you worked on the scale they showed you, don't bullshit them.
9. Be realistic. "Stairway To Heaven" is not a starting point. There are many good songs that are basic in structure, and those are places to begin, you will find it less frustrating that way and you'll make real progress.
10. Play with others as soon as you can, and don't be intimidated. I heard this one myself and was too embarrassed to play with better players, because I sucked. If they know you're just learning, they'll teach you things, and aren't expecting you to wail a wicked solo. It really does help, after the first time I played with someone else I noticed a difference... and now I play with others as much as possible.
11. Once you've played for a while and if you come to the conclusion that you're going to keep at it, get a good guitar. Get one you love and can't keep your hands off of. It's worth a few extra bucks, and a quality guitar will last you your lifetime if you take care of it. A new American Strat goes for about $1200 give or take, and you will never be a player it isn't good enough for. A Les Paul Standard will cost more, and sounds different as well as feels different, but it isn't better, that's all a personal decision. Even at $2600 new the LP Standard is cheap over its lifetime if you play it every day for 20 or 30 years.
12. The first year sucks a bit. You will get bored trying to play basic things, stick to it. Once some chords get engrained in your fingers, and your dexterity and pick control improve, you will start to have fun, and then it just gets better from there.
13. Don't kick yourself (as I did) for not starting earlier in life, it's pointless and counterproductive. Enjoy your guitar now that you have it.
14. An unplugged electric can be in your hands while you watch TV. Running finger exercises and scales on the couch is a great way to put time in and not bother others you live with (well it won't bother them too much).
15. You won't notice the improvement as much as others will. It's weird but true.
That's all for now, I'm sure I could keep coming up with stuff, but in essence it all comes down to this:
Play your guitar every day, and enjoy it.
Thanks for reading.