It is a challenge when you first start playing guitar, but these tips for acoustic guitar playing may give some insight to keep you interested in playing so you progressively get better and better.
Tip #1: Selecting a Guitar that is Right for You
This seems like an obvious place to start but when you are just beginning to learn the guitar you may just be using one for your lessons, but not actually have one at home.
Buying a guitar that you can practice on regularly will greatly speed up your progress and you will learn the techniques more thoroughly. Your first guitar does not have to be the best or most expensive it just needs to be one you can pick up and practice on regularly.
However, don’t just pick up the cheapest guitar you can find either, if it’s going to be completely horrible to play. If it’s hard and frustrating to learn on you are less likely to stick with it. Check out the link below for some important things to look out for in a beginner guitar.
Tip #2: Picking a Pick
If you only ever play finger style, this won’t apply to you, but otherwise you should learn to play with a pick, even if you don’t use it for everything you play. It can make your playing richer and more dynamic for certain styles and techniques.
Whether you already play with a pick or are going to learn to use one – make sure to think about the pick you are using.
Even though this seems like a minor thing, the pick you use can make a big difference – often guitarists aren’t using the appropriate pick for their style or their taste or their ability.
Finding the most appropriate pick can make it easier to play your style, and can make you play better and more accurately.
Experiment and find the pick that’s right for you.
Tip #3: Purchase a Guitar Tuner
Another inexpensive item that is a must for any guitarist – and even more so for beginners – is an electronic tuner.
It’s a very ineffective and inefficient way to learn guitar if you are always out of tune. Even if you are reasonably close.
As a beginner guitarist, it can be tough to know whether you are playing something wrong or if it just sounds wrong because your guitar is out of tune.
And that is only your conscious mind – it is your subconscious that does most of the work when you are playing guitar (after a while anyway). If your subconscious doesn’t know why something sounds wrong (is it your playing or the guitar being out of tune?) it won’t know whether or not to make corrections.
An electronic tuner allows you to be sure that the guitar is always in tune. If you are a beginner and trying to tune by ear you are likely to be off a lot of the time – so do yourself (and your subconscious) a favor and get a tuner.
But Shouldn’t I learn to Tune by Ear?
Some people might say that they just tune by ear – and you should learn to tune that way.
I’m not for a second debating the merits of tuning by ear and I encourage you to learn to tune by ear. But, unless you have perfect pitch (something that only 1 in 10,000 people are by the way), then an electronic tuner is not only a necessary companion, but it will also assist you to tune by ear later on.
Your tuning (unless you are one of the 1 out of every 10,000 people with perfect pitch) won’t be that accurate to begin with. So if you aren’t tuning the guitar correctly in the beginning – how can you learn what sounds correct?
Start out your guitarist career with an electronic tuner so that you know you guitar is in tune and hear it properly in tune. Down the line you will have learnt what in tune sounds like to a much more accurate degree – now you can tune by ear if you want to and you will have a much easier time of it.
Of course you can always just stick with your tuner too – there won’t be that many occasions where you won’t have it – and if you get a tuner app for your phone you could have it on you at all times.
Tip #4: What to expect from the start
Learning how to strum is hard and it is going to sound odd when you first start. Seriously, this is when you really need to keep going and accept that it’s probably not going to be easy going all the time. Which only makes it more satisfying in the end. Most people quit in the beginning because they don’t like the sound they are producing. It will improve over time.
Tip #5: Lessons
Everybody learns at different speeds and in different ways. Lessons help players learn how to use proper technique, read music, play chords, and how to play in different tempos and rhythms.
Some people prefer to learn on their own – and don’t like having a real person in front of them teaching them – this is when online lessons might be best – but some form of structured lessons is key to learning properly and learning efficiently.
Some people need that push and real-time feedback from a real person in real time – for them in-person lessons will be the most fruitful.
Tip #6: Focus On the Basics
Practicing and mastering the basic fundamental skills of guitar playing and learning them the right way is essential to becoming a good guitarist.
You can never practice the fundamentals too much and making sure you learn them right from the beginning will save you a lot of hassle in the future and will greatly speed up your progress.
So, definitely don’t skip learning the very basics properly and don’t cut corners. Cutting corners now might seem like it will speed up your progression but in actual fact it will slow it down considerably in the long run.
Some of those basic fundamentals include:
- How to Hold the Guitar Properly
- How to use your Pick Properly
- How to Fret properly with your Left Hand
- Proper Fingerstyle Technique
- Proper Strumming Technique
- Proper Flat Picking Technique
Tip #7: Know your Guitar
Learn the notes on the fretboard of the guitar – get to know the letter names of the notes. The most important part of the fretboard in the beginning is the first five frets on every string. Concentrate on these first until you know them really well and forget the rest.
Tip #8: Learn the Basic Chords First
Some people believe this is wrong, but for some, if you learn the basic chords and can play a few songs, you will want to learn more. The whole idea is to try to keep advancing in your playing. If you get bored, you will not learn anything.
They say country music is made up of three chords and the truth. Pick three chords and search for songs that use only these three chords. A-D and E are good chords to start with. Then try the G-C and D combination. This will be enough to give you the opportunity to learn many songs. This can help keep you motivated if you are learning actual songs.
Learning scales and that kind of things are extremely valuable but can also be quite boring and lead to you giving up if you no longer find it interesting – you can incorporate scales in your practice, but make sure you spend a good amount of time doing things on the guitar that you find fun.
Tip #9: Learn Chords in Different Positions up the Neck
This is a bit more of an advanced tip. But it can be included as one of your goals for a future practice session up the line.
I’m not just talking about barre chords here.
If you write music or think that you’d like to write music on the guitar in the future, your compositions will improve out of site if you can use chord patterns in other positions on the fingerboard rather than your standard old open chords.
If you like to improvise then this is also going to make you a lot less one dimensional in your chord playing.
If you’re simply jamming with others and you want to spice a song up and add some richness you can play some less than standard chords in different positions to keep things more interesting.
Not only will your writing, improvisation and sound in general improve, but it also looks far more impressive! If I’m watching a guitarist play a bunch of barre chords and open chords in the first position, it’s way less interesting than a guitarist who is playing interesting chords up the fretboard.
Yes most guitarists know how to play barre chords all along the fingerboard – but these become stale and boring very quickly – and everyone is playing them. Experiment with different shapes for chords and you’ll be amazed at how much richer your playing can sound.
Tip #10: Hand and Finger Exercises
It may sound funny, but giving your hands a work out will help you to hold the guitar and manipulate the way chords require your fingers to move into odd positions. Do finger stretches and work the fingers up and down portions of the neck.
Tip #11: Expect Sore Fingers
Sore fingers are the number one complaint when learning. After playing for awhile the fingertips will develop calluses and the soreness will go away, so don’t give up too early.
Tip #12: Timing and Timing Tools
When you start to learn how to play a guitar, you will literally start tearing songs apart. You want to hear the beat and tap your foot to it. This will help you learn strumming as you become more familiar with it. Hone-in and listen to the guitar part in a song you are learning to really get the feel for it.
Slower songs are easier to start with and then pick up speed as you learn.
It’s also a good idea to work on timing with a digital drum or a metronome. Try different timing tools to find what you think is the easiest to work with. This will help ensure that you develop good rhythm in your playing.
Practicing with a metronome has a couple of great benefits.
Firstly, your timing will be drastically improved. Even if you never play in a band or a group situation – even if you never record or never play live (all things that improved timing will make you a much better guitarist for), you’ll still sound much better.
Even if you only ever play around friends or family they will appreciate (and you will too because you’ll notice the difference) you playing in time.
If you set the metronome so that it forces you to learn something at a slow pace then you won’t be tempted to play at a faster speed – or in advertently play at a faster speed. It also means that you can gradually increase your pace using the metronome.
Tip #13: Practice Slowly and Properly Before Playing at Full Speed
Which do you think is the best way to learn something on guitar, A or B?
A. By learning something slowly but correctly, and then once you have that down to slowly increase the pace; or
B. Trying to play that something at full pace (or faster) and making a load of errors in the process.
If you chose a. then you are correct!
Of course you’ll make errors to start with even playing slowly – but you’ll be able to play what you’re learning without errors much sooner than if you tried option b.
Why is this important? Because if you always play something fast but with errors and you do this for long enough, your muscle memory will remember the errors and that will become ingrained – making it more difficult to learn properly later on when you realize you can’t play it smoothly or error free.
So be patient and play things slowly but correctly at first. Then gradually increase the speed. If you find after increasing the speed you are starting to make errors again, then go back play it slowly again a couple of times and then try to increase the speed again.
Tip #14: Practice Every Day
Take 15 minutes to an hour a day to practice but break it up into smaller increments when starting out. It’s better to practice consistently than to play for 3 hours one day, burning out and then not practicing for another week.
There will be times that you feel like your doing good and then comes the day you feel like you forgot everything. This is normal and don’t let it get to you. Instead of getting frustrated, use that day to really listen to music. Sometimes all you need is to hear something and remind your brain how to do its job.
Tip #15: Always Practice with a goal in mind
Always have a goal in mind for every practice session. Don’t worry if you don’t quite hit what you are trying to achieve – just try to make progress towards that goal and you can pick up on it in your next practice session if needs be.
Then as soon as your goal is achieved create a new goal.
Your playing will improve in leaps and bounds if you do this for every single session. It’ll probably sneak up on you – and one day you’ll catch yourself in the mirror, or someone will make a comment or you’ll record something, and you’ll be like holy cr*p – I’m pretty good now!
You might like to “just play” but there’s plenty of time for that. Do something towards a goal at the start of every practice session. If you still feel like just mucking around then go for it – but work towards something specific first.
Tip #16: Play Something You Really Enjoy at the End
Whilst it’s important for the long run, that you are always working toward a specific goal and that you are always improving, it’s also important for the short term that you do something that you really like doing every session.
For example there might be a song you like to play – or an exercise you like to practice or a song you like to play and sing. Or maybe you really enjoy making stuff up or improvising.
Whatever it is, incorporate it into every practice.
That way when you start your session, you know you’ll have something to look forward. This can make it easier to get the session started.
Just ensure that you do this at the end of your practice session. You’ll have no trouble motivating yourself doing the things you really enjoy after you’ve done the hard yards – but it will be more difficult to do the hard yards after having done the thing you really enjoy.
This of course isn’t to say that the other things in your practice session you don’t enjoy – but sometimes there are things that you need to do to achieve your goals that may not be the most interesting.
Tip #17: Keep a Notebook of Songs
In the beginning, stick with three chords and have ten songs you want to learn. When you get those down, have ten songs picked out with the three new chords. If you hear a song that you want to learn, write it down in the book. This is a way to keep you working towards trying new things. You want to take it slow as you go, but when you learn the basics and then you add one new chord on a new song, you will keep progressing.
Tip #18: Record Yourself Playing
Record yourself playing and listen back. Often when we are playing we don’t hear exactly how we are sounding because we are also concentrating on playing.
This can point out:
- Any errors you are making that you were unaware of
- Or point out if your playing sounds lacklustre
- Or if your playing is not as crisp or as smooth as you would like
- Or if your playing sounds out of time
Regularly record yourself and go back and compare. Doing so not only points out areas for improvement but can serve as a great motivator for improvement as you are actually hearing your progress.
Even better – film yourself playing.
Tip #19: Play with Other Musicians
By playing with other musicians you learn a lot about your own playing.
It doesn’t matter if they are also playing a guitar or if they are playing the piano or if they are playing drums or if they are playing an oboe.
You will learn a lot about timing and a lot about emphasis and a lot about how you sound when accompanied by something else.
You’re also likely to have discussions with that other musician that will teach you invaluable things about music in general. As a beginner, the musician you are playing with likely know more than you.
Go into your session with another musician with the right attitude. Be humble and mostly listen, ask questions and learn everything you can from them.
Don’t spend your time trying to show to them what you can do. If you focus your time with them trying to show everything you can do and talk their ear off about everything you can do – then you’ll miss some valuable insights – and you’ll probably come off as a know-it-all.
If you learn all you can from them, spend your time listening and asking questions – someday soon you’ll be the one that is passing on your knowledge to a beginner that you are playing with.
Tip #20: Change It Up
Sometimes it can get boring playing the guitar if you continuously play the same thing over and over again. A wise guitar playing tip for beginners is to change up your routine. Practice songs you enjoy, challenge yourself with some more advanced songs or techniques just to have some fun.
Changing it up does not just mean what you practice and play but can also incorporate where you play. Take your guitar with you to the park and practice there. Try to enjoy the process of learning. One of the best ways to enjoy the beginner guitar playing phase more is to simply play what you love more or to play where it will be enjoyable.
Tip #21: Keep Trying
This is one, if not the most important of all the tips for acoustic guitar players. Frustration can take over and make you feel like you are not advancing. Every time you pick up that guitar you learn something. A new note, a new chord, how to get a different sound, and more often than not, you may not notice your improvements until long after you’ve practiced them – but everything you are doing will lead to improvements down the line.
One day you’ll be playing fluently and wonder how you got there – it was that practicing you did weeks, months or even years ago, that is now taking hold.
Have you found any other tips for playing guitar that you have found really helpful for learning and improving? Would be great to hear them – just leave a comment in the comments section below.