Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Most Useful Things for a Self-Taught Guitarist To Know

I was fortunate to attend an elementary school that still taught music. I have fond memories of that class and the songs we sang together. I am also glad that I learned the basics of musical notation. I used to play violin until the 8th grade - I gave it up because of a crappy 7th grade music teacher and lack of inspiration. And also because to my adolescent mind I didn't look very manly carrying a violin on the bus.

That being said, my musical interests re-asserted themselves after I left home, joined the USAF, and started buying albums. I bought a guitar and started to teach myself how to play. Since then, I have continued my musical pursuits and I now write and perform my own original songs. I have been playing now for about 30 plus years. So I'd like to impart some of the wisdom that I have acquired over this time. I am still a long way from being a virtuoso, but I am fairly adept at figuring out the chords to songs and being able to improvise both with guitar and harmonica.

Don't spend too much time learning complex note for note performance of your favorite songs. - Spending a lot of time trying to learn something complex when you are just beginning to play is a way to quickly become discouraged. I'd recommend just learning chords at first - pick a fairly basic song that you like to sing and work on changing chords fluently and training your ear for chord changes.

Know the basic musical scales, major and minor
- Do, Re, Mi, Fa, So, La, Ti, Do - seven notes in the major scale. Know they are one step apart in a major key, except for "fa" which is a half step, and that Ti is only a half step from Do. Know that in a minor key, the third is a half-step lower as well as the seventh. Know the key of C has no sharps or flats and neither does its relative minor, A minor.

Become familiar with the 1, 1V, V Chord progression - This chord progression is used in so many popular songs and in so much of the blues. Also learn the relative minor for each key. You will then soon be able to figure out the chords to a lot of popular music. Train your ear to recognize these changes - listening to blues songs is an excellent way to do this.

Practice playing first postion chords - First master first position chords, chords that you don't have to "bar" with strings that are open that are formed down low on the neck. Get comfortable making E, Em, A, Am, B7, D, Dm, C, F and G. You should also try to learn the 7ths of most of these chords as they can be made without "barring" - holding down all the strings with one finger which can be difficult for a beginner playing an acoustic guitar.

Learn to play an acoustic guitar first - Acoustic guitars allow you to listen without distortion. They can be taken everywhere. You can sing while you play without being drowned out. And because it is harder to push the strings down, you develop strength and calluses.

Learn to tune your guitar - the benefits of this are that you train your ear and that if you play with others you can always play together without relying on an electric tuner.

Well, that does it. I know all of this is pretty basic, but I still see people trying to learn guitar who quit because they set the bar too high at first and quickly become discouraged. Anything readers can add is encouraged!

1 comment:

  1. I might also add try to recognize what key you are in. Usually the key establishes the tonality of the song in the beginning, but not always (the first chords are in the key of the song). The note that you can hear a "resolution" is probably the key you are playing in.

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