Putting Your Best Fret Forward, Advice for the Novice Guitarist, Part 3 (final part)

Photo by Wes Hicks on Unsplash

Becoming a Musician

You should always keep this in mind when learning to play the guitar: you’re not just learning to play the guitar, you are also learning to be become a musician. This is why you should keep a wider view on your guitar playing and learn as much as you can about music in general. It is critical to learn and develop timing and rhythm by developing your strumming/picking hand. To this end, you should always practice with a metronome and/or a drum machine. You may also want to try to learn a little about playing drums. It has been said that good guitarists are also good drummers because they understand rhythm and timing better.

Equally critical, you must develop the hand you play chords and notes with and learn as much as you can about chords and notes. As mentioned in Part 2 of this series, learn and practice finger exercises – there are many to choose from, so try some that challenge you but that you are comfortable with, at your current level of skill. Don’t just learn scales but practice them consistently. Eventually move on to practicing arpeggios – those are portions of scales that skip through some of the notes of major and minor scales. Arpeggios also contain the notes of a chord so you will better understand how chords and scales match together – a concept that confounds even more advanced players. Arpeggios are great for building the dexterity in your chord/note hand and a great way to build speed when practicing scales.

As an excellent starting point to develop your music theory knowledge, I highly recommend “Music Theory for Dummies,” by Michael Plhofer and Holly Day, Wiley Publishing Inc, 4th Edition, 2019, ISBN: 978-1-119-57552-8. The Dummies series of books has an amazing selection of other music books and online learning aids, including a vast amount of practical and theoretical guides on guitars and guitar playing: https://www.dummies.com/store/Music.html

Lean to sing because singers make better instrumentalists and instrumentalists make better singers. You don’t have to become the next singing idol but do try to develop your singing voice. Not only will it make you a better musician, you will be more in demand later on if you can sing at least backing vocals, if you intend to some day form or join a band.

You also need to develop your ear for music. Try to learn your favorite songs by ear and continue do so throughout your guitar playing journey. One fun exercise is trying to dissect the music you hear by listening closely and trying to isolate and identify individual parts of the song. For example, when listening to a typical rock song, try to identify the drums separately from all the instruments; try to identify different guitar parts (rhythm tracks, fills, and solos); listen closely to the bass and how it interacts with the other guitars; identify the keyboards; and listen closely to the vocals – all of the vocal parts if there is more than one singer. Doing this dissection exercise on a regular basis will greatly enhance your ability to understand the music you hear, will help you learn new songs faster, and will help make you a better guitar player and musician.

Now You Are On Your Way

Playing guitar is fun. Playing guitar well is a phenomenal feeling. Enjoy playing and enjoy learning new songs but be disciplined about practicing. Always try to learn a little more each day about guitar. Small steps every day lead to big gains over time. Learning is an on-going process and even the best players around will tell you that they never stop learning. To me it’s part of the fun of being a guitar player.

Exercise your body and focus on your upper body and your core strength. Playing music, especially playing guitar standing up, is a lot more physical than most people realize. This is one of the reasons it is so important to hold your instrument properly. It’s not just to be able to play guitar more fluidly and with greater ease but also to avoid repetitive stress injuries.

To help you progress faster and in the right direction, find a good guitar teacher and take regular lessons. Understand and practice what your teacher is showing and telling you. Make it your goal to know your guitar backwards and forwards, up and down the neck. As early as you are physically able to, learn to play barre chords. And keep on learning as many new chords as you can – some of them will make you feel like your trying to do gymnastics with your fingers! Your goal should also be to learn the major and minor scales, A through G, in all the positions on the fretboard – I’m still working on that, to be honest. Learning the twelve-bar blues is fun and will help you develop rhythm and timing.

Above all, have fun and enjoy the ride on your guitar playing journey.

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