I have written this article because I have seen similar articles all over the internet and with every one I read, I felt like the writer completely missed the point. While other people may disagree with the points I make, I feel that these steps are absolutely crucial to developing as a guitarist and ultimately as a musician. You should write down the step headings and stick them up somewhere for you to see every day. Highlight steps 4, 5 and 6 because those steps will always apply to you no matter what stage you are in. Steps 1, 2 and 3 are a starting point for you to understand what you should focus on at the start. Once you have followed the first three steps you can tick them off.
1. Find a good source to learn from
This is the most important step because it will directly impact the rate you will learn. Learning from a good source is like setting a strong foundation for a house. If you learn from somebody who doesn’t know how to play or how to properly teach, you won’t get far. If you learn from somebody who can play and knows how to teach, you will have a strong foundation for your learning. There are many sources you can learn guitar from. The main ones are: teacher, online, books.
Teacher: I have written a detailed article here on choosing between private tutors and music school teachers. Have a read of it and consider the many issues between them.
Online: There is an abundance of resources on the internet to learn guitar. I have one tip if you choose this option: Don’t pay for anything! There are many people (like me) who are happy to provide free lessons because it is what we enjoy doing. Free sources can have just as high quality lessons as sources that charge you (such as the famous Jamorama). There is no need to pay for something that you can find for free elsewhere. If you are going to pay for anything, pay a real life teacher.
Books: Before the internet, there were books. New books are continuously being published on learning guitar but these books are the same as the online sources that charge you – their number one aim is to make money. Again my advice is to go with free sources. Borrow books from your local library if you want but I assure you that you will find the same material on the internet. In fact, the internet resources are superior to books because they may contain video lessons – something a book cannot do.
You can choose more than one source to learn from and it may help you out. Having two different sources teaching you the same thing is a great way to see something from a different view point.
2. Finding the right guitar for you
I have written a very detailed article about this step here so I will just explain why it is important. Playing the wrong guitar will frustrate you and restrain your development. If your goal is to learn to play heavy metal, buying a nylon string acoustic would be a bad choice because you cannot achieve your goal with it.
Finding the right guitar on the other hand will make sure you stay motivated and focused. If you cherish your guitar you will learn at a greater pace.
3. Learn to read music
There are two options for guitarists when it comes to written music: Tablature and Standard Notation. I recommend over time that you learn to read both. You can start off on tablature (also called tabs) because it is simple. Later on have a look at Standard Notation because it will show you things tablature cannot. Many people will choose not to learn standard notation and I can understand why. But if down the track you are constantly getting frustrated with tabs not sounding right, standard notation may be able to help you out. You don’t have to become a pro at it, but having a general understanding will speed up the learning process.
4. Set goals and practice everyday
If you only remember one step here it should be this one. No matter what stage you are in your development, setting goals and practicing everyday will make you a better player. A goal can be a simple ones like ‘learn the song ……’ or ‘be able to play … without making a single mistake’ or they can be long term goals such as ‘be able to improvise in any key’ or ‘perfect the technique of …’. Not setting goals will slow you down and many people without goals don’t improve at all. Take out a piece of paper now and write a list of what you want to be able to play. Then have a think of how you can reach those goals. Work out which items you need to do first and get started on it.
Practicing everyday is a must, even if you only play for a few minutes. Aim to improve your playing every day. Many people practice only a couple of days a week and wonder why they have trouble remembering anything. If you don’t play guitar in one day, you won’t improve in that day – it’s as simple as that. To practice efficiently you should have short sessions regularly rather than long sessions once in a while. Don’t practice for more than 40 minutes at once. After 40 minutes, get up and have a short break then come back to guitar later if you want to keep going.
5. Aim to perfect what you are doing now before moving on to something new
Many people are so excited about the thought of playing their favorite songs that they rush the first stages so they can try and learn what they want to play. Often these same people give up the guitar because it is too hard or they take ages to improve. Perfect the basics before you move on to anything harder. If you don’t perfect what you are doing now, it won’t be possible to perfect harder techniques and songs. You must learn to crawl before you learn to walk. My guitar lessons on my blog start off at the absolute basics for this reason. The first song I have listed to learn is ‘Mary had a little lamb’. Many people will skip those lessons on my site to get to more interesting songs but those who perfect those nursery rhymes are at a great advantage.
6. Keeping a balance between theory and creativity
If you know nothing about music theory, your creativity will suffer. If you know absolutely everything about music theory, your creativity will suffer again. These two extremes should be avoided and a balance between theory and creativity can be achieved. Many people with advanced theory understanding will say theory enhances creativity and for many people it does. Many people who know absolutely nothing about theory will say theory limits your creativity, and again that is true for many people. But for most of us, having at least a basic understanding of music theory will enhance our creativity. As you learn and progress in your playing always consider whether learning more theory will enhance your playing. I have met two people with certificates all over their walls (literally) for their outstanding music theory understanding who had no idea what to do when I asked them to improvise. As the saying goes ‘you can have too much of a good thing’. My advice in this step is to learn music theory, but don’t think of it as a set of rules that your playing must follow. Try to think ‘outside the box’.
7. Always remember step four
I am repeating this step because people may not understand how important setting goals and practicing every day is for your improvement. If you haven’t already done so, grab a piece of paper and put two headings on it – GOALS and PRACTICE SCHEDULE. List goals you think will improve your playing and under ‘Practice schedule’ set out how you will achieve those goals while practicing. I will write up an article soon on how to get the most out of your practice sessions so check back soon.
If you follow my advice, I honestly believe you will learn guitar so much easier and faster. Not only that, you will become a better player. If you have a teacher, ask them what goals you should work towards and how to do it. If you are learning on your own with online lessons, send messages to the writers asking for advice. I am quite happy to help out anybody who needs help learning guitar so if you need some more advice, feel free to ask me. One great way to get feedback on your playing is to check out my video lessons and post a video response playing the same songs and I will give you tips to improve your playing.