Posted Mar 10, 2011 11:27 AM
I started learning guitar roughly 6 weeks ago with a little back knowledge from previous musical ventures (I had a friend try 'teach' me which just involved him showing off and me eventually just drinking!) and after comparing the two approaches to learning I've made a few conclusions!
My first teacher wasn't much of a teacher, we spent more time discussing why I didn't know the names of every metallica song, who Dave Mustaine is or educating me because I hadn't seen Spinal Tap (I must admit the latter was certainly a lesson well spent!).
Unfortunately because my friend spent more time showing off and bragging about how amazing he was at guitar I never learned anything and lost the desire to pick up a guitar ever again - and on top of the practical failure in teaching approach I feel he didn't offer the advice he should have in selecting equipment or essential background theory knowledge.
After selling my Dean Dime From Hell Baby (3/4 size) I only picked up my acoustic very occasionally, strumming the few basic chords I knew and pretending that in an alternate reality (where musical talent didn't exist and war murdered the children of inspiration and expression) I could be a god. Trundling along with nothing more than a shabby rendition of 'behind blue eyes' and a heavy sigh I had truly given up hope.
A light at the end of the tunnel! After a whirlwind change of pace in life I find myself romantically attatched/glued/no-more-nails'd to a shit hot professional guitarist. Watching him skillfully noodle away my desire to learn and passion for the guitar is rekindled - and nearly 6 weeks in I'm working on everything from chords and picking styles to modes, legato, sweep picking, string bends and slides!.. (I now also have a beautiful baby Ibanex RG350EX who now set up properly plays like a freakin' dream - totally kick ass!) The approach to teaching that has got me this far in such a short amount of time has made for an invaluable learning experience. I've learned tips and lessons to avoid falling into common traps and pitfalls that later in my playing (as my teacher experienced) would have needed to be corrected...
I hope they benefit you as much as they have me!
In absoloutley no particular order: Things I have learned that every newbie should be told (and a very brief overview of each thing)
*Please note I am in no position to teach guitar only share the knowledge that has been passed on to me so far :) For demonstrations of anything that you don't understand I reccomend finding some awesome shred guru to take you under their wing or at least demonstrate what confuses you!
My first guitar was and is ... firewood. Its horrible to play, as well made as an argos wardrobe and is painfull to use for the fingers and the ears! This guitar put me off playing and I was convinced to buy a Dean (although I was advised to get a 3/4 size due to my tiny, microscopic, midget hands - and now I'm perfectly happy with my full size Ibanez. Go full sized!) and scrap the 80 piece of gosa I started with. The better the guitar the easier it will be to play and the less likely you are to want to throw it out of the window, burning and chopped into little pieces.
As boring as it sounds, theory gets you places fast. I thought theory lessons would be long and arduous and the concept of having to read sheet music alone scared the crap out of me. Once I realised that as a beginner I don't need to understand the inner workings of a grand orchestra to piece together sweet home alabama I started breathing a bit easier!
- Scales are very very very important to any newbie who wants to play lead (especially crazy ass metal heads who want to shred as badly as I do) one day. Knowing scales also helps you understand why certain notes are in certain chords and makes scary chords like D7sus2 less scary.
Any lick or solo will be based on a scale (I didn't know this) so learning how a scale works/what it looks like and memorising them means that I now know what notes I can and can't use to make a cheesy power ballad solo in B minor.
The first scale I was shown was A minor - a scale that has become very close to my heart as well as the bain of my existance. Learning this shape meant I could play any major or minor scale on the fretboard by just moving the shape to a different fret and/or starting the scale on a different fret (If I play the shape of A minor with my 1st finger on A (5th fret) of the low E string I'm playing A minor but if I play the same scale through starting with my 3rd finger on C (8th fret) on the low E string I'm playing C major.)
- Key is also very important! If you don't know what key a song is in then how can you work out what chords or scales are used in it? If you know that a song is in A minor then you can work out what chords are in it. this may not seem important to need to know now - the tab you've just looked up shows you what chords are in the song - but later when you get bored of the same 3 chords repeating themselves and want to add a bit of spice to the song you'll need to know what notes you can and can't get away with! I found that understanding how a key works, what scales and chords are in a certain key and all that...suddenly as a guitarist I have more confidence because I understand why I'm doing what I'm doing.
- Arpeggios relate to chords. an arpeggio is the first, third and fith note of the scale and played together make a chord. They're not as fear inducing as I expected to be honest and prove very useful! You don't have to play the 1st, 3rd and 5th in that order and can play them anywhere on the fretboard you like to make the shape easier to play. This one I think makes for a fun practice excercise and an excuse to crank the amp up and really piss the neighbours off.
- Modes made my brain hurt. Not necessarily an essential thing for a beginner to know...but I suffered so I think you should too. This is my simple explanation that I hope doesn't make your brain turn to gelatenous mutant coconut.
Modes give a scale a slightly different feel for whatever style you want to play in (phrygian gives you a more mexican feel for example). Modes are major or minor scales with raised or flat notes and can be remembered as follows (this one tickled me when I was told it):
I Discovered Penis Last Monday After Lunch
I - Ionian ( Major Scale )
D - Dorian ( Minor Scale with a Sharp 6th note )
P - Phrygian ( Minor with a Flat 2nd note )
L - Lydian ( Major with a Sharp 4th note )
M - Mixolydian ( Major with a Flat 7th )
A - Aeolian ( Minor Scale )
L - Locrian ( Minor with a Flat 2nd and Flat 5th )
*Sharp = a semi-tone higher (one fret - eg, 8th to 9th fret)
*Flat = a semi-tone lower (one fret - eg, 8th to 7th fret)
And the modes are in this order because it works out that If you play A Ionian you could also say you are playing B Dorian, C Phrygian, D Lydian, E Mixolydian, F Aeolian or G Locrian depending on the note you start on.
Thats all the theory my brain has been required to cope with so far but has made my progression as a guitarist far more efficient and much more understood than I ever got with attempted self teaching or my previous guitar 'teacher'.
THE FUN BIT
I found practicing before wasn't at all productive when I didn't know what I was meant to be practicing...or more importantly why. My long term goal (for this time next year) is to be a shred demon. Shred demon in a year sounded pretty impossible 6 weeks ago, but there again 6 weeks ago I didn't think I'd be starting to learn how to sweep pick by now.
I found that having lots of techniques to work on was better than perfecting only a few. I get bored easily and would rather switch between scales, endurance excercises, alternate/down picking, legato, sweep picking etc and gradually improve on everything than say be kick ass at chords and legato but not know the first thing about speed picking or bends and have messed up picking habbits.
Finding the right position for your arm and wrist over your guitar will help make playing it so much easier. If you have the wrong hand position then you're not gong to get the best sound when you pick/strum! Holding the pick correctly (NOT LIKE A PEN) has also been drummed into me.
Muting strings is a useful skill which will probably crop up everywhere! Within my first week of learning I was using palm muting to play For Whom The Bell Tolls.
I like legato. Its fun to do and once I built up a bit of muscle on my fingers and they got the idea of what was going on I didn't find it particularly frustrating to pick up. Legato (hammer ons and pull offs) seems to make everything twice as fast with half the effort. Yay!
Endurance. No point in being able to play the chord sequence for Offsprings 'I want you bad' if you have a dead arm by the first chorus. Simple :D
Timing is more important than speed. Being able to play 5 notes consistently at say 60 bpm is better than messily and out of time at 120 bpm! I constantly made mistakes and didn't understand why whenever I used to attempt anything harder than twinkle twinkle little freakin' star it fell on its face. Realising that Master of Puppets sounds better when I play it right and slowly made me realise how much stress I put myself under going for it at full speed.
Finger Strength and stretching fingers. I was given message in a bottle as a good song to practice stretching my fingers. Its really simple to play and gets your fingers used to the biggest stretch you should ever really need to pull off! Simple legato excercises over scales are good for building up strength and endurance as well as keeping scales fresh in your mind.
The most important thing to remember is why you want to play the guitar! It wont happen overnight so keep your goals and ambitions at the forefront of your mind and don't let people like Yngwie Malmsteen or John Petrucci destroy your soul too much! We won't be newbies forever!
Happy playing and I hope this has helped at least one person out there become a better musician!