A Few Tips for Beginners and others

A bunch of assorted tips, insights and unsolicited pieces of advice, from a beginner with 20+ years of experience.

Thou Shalt…

…learn the difference between playing and practicing.
Both are essential, but don’t mistake one for the other.

…use a metronome while practicing.
If you don’t learn good timing now, you probably never will. Remember: the habits you develop now will determine what kind of player you’re going to be. This can be a good thing or a bad thing.It’s up to you to develop the habits that will lead to the skills you desire.

…listen to ALL KINDS of music.
Listen to a variety. The greatest players are almost invariably the ones with wide-ranging musical tastes. Remember that no style of music sucks; you just like some more than others. Someone hates the music you love, but that doesn’t mean it sucks. And you can get ideas even from stuff you don’t like.

Steal licks, phrasing and solos from everywhere and do it all the time. If you like it, learn to play it – but then you have to make it your own. Play it backwards, change the tempo, play it in a different key. Go to a low note instead of a high note. Experiment. Make mistakes and keep the good ones. When you’re finished, you’ll be on your way to that elusive quality called style!

Thou Shalt Not…

…get sloppy in thy practice. The way you practice is the way you will play. Develop good habits now while you still suck. Then, when you’re a better player, the habits you developed early on will pay off in a big way!

…run before you can walk. The secret to playing well fast is – get ready for this – to first play well s-l-o-w-l-y. If you can’t play that lick perfectly at 60bpm, you have no business playing it at 200bpm.

…sacrifice emotion for technique. Speed and slick sounding licks are great. There is a place for them. If that is the kind of player you want to be, more power to you. Just remember, though, that a good sequencer can take your place.

…ignore technique. This is the flip side of the emotion/technique argument. Having great technique and learning (gasp!) music theory will not interfere with the emotional aspect of your playing – unless you let it. Don’t hide behind the tired excuse that “all that technique gets in the way of emotion.” That’s a sad excuse for not building your chops. Face it: it’s a cop out. The truth is you’re just too darned lazy.

A Few More Tips and Pointers

Don’t pick at your calluses.
Use an emery board to smooth snags and rough skin.

Learn the whole song.
It’s fun learning the signature riffs to favorite tunes. But nothing is quite as frustrating for you or annoying for others as knowing bits and pieces of 20 songs without being able to play one in its entirety.

Don’t give up.
Sometimes growth is maddeningly slow. Keep at it. You’ll get out of that rut if you keep plugging away

Find people who are better players than you.
Learn by watching. You might be surprised to see how willing some people are to share their knowledge if you’ll just ask.

Find someone who knows less than you and teach them.
You may not be a master guitar instructor, but passing on what you know is a good feeling. It’s also a great way to learn. Teaching makes you think about things in a different way, and in explaining a new concept to someone, you’ll often gain new insight yourself. It’s good practice. Also, if you can play a little and they can play nothing, they’ll be a little impressed. That’s great for the ego!

I have never heard anyone say, “I wish I hadn’t spent all that time working on pinky speed/accuracy.” Why shouldn’t you be able to use all the tools at your disposal? ‘Nuff said on that.

Accept both praise and criticism with the same attitude.
Humility and Gratitude.

Never boast about how well you play, or complain about how poorly you play.
Let your playing speak for you. Let your praise come from others, not yourself. There will be no shortage of people willing to tell you exactly what they think of your playing. It’s okay to be critical of yourself, but don’t get so hung up on it that you hinder your growth. And don’t go overboard and slip into false humility.

Regardless of how good you get, you will probably never be a rock star.
Look at the odds: there are literally tens of thousands of really good guitarists out there. Some of them are great. But few of them achieve any kind of fame. That’s okay! Don’t let it discourage you! Keep playing, keep getting better, and make music for the sheer joy of it. If you ever “make it,” that’s the icing on the cake.

Play every single day of your life. Even if you just run through scales or practice chord changes, play a little every day. Not every day will be a great breakthrough, but some days will. Cherish those when they happen, and build on them.

Tape yourself.
No matter how bad you think you sound, tape at least some of your practice on a regular basis. When you get a new idea, record it. Save the tapes! Years from now, you and your friends/family/kids/grandkids will get a great deal of enjoyment going back and listening to your musical growth and seeing how you have improved. You may even find yourself inspired by some of those old, forgotten ideas. And if you are one of those few who make it big, you can make a great “basement tape,” sell millions of copies, and get even richer and more famous.

Make music a PART of your life – not your whole life. Be a real, well-rounded person. Learn something new – and non-musical – every day. Love, trust and honesty make you vulnerable, but they make you real and make life worthwhile. Leave egos to people who think they have something to prove. Treat everyone with respect. Be a human being first, and then a guitarist.

Write songs. Some people are born with the gift. Others have to learn it. Either way, just do it, and keep doing it. You can only get better. If one out of ten is worthwhile, you’ll be doing great.

Spare time. There is no such thing. The time you get is all the time you’ve got. ..Do something good with it.

Time, part II. Time spent with family and friends is rarely regretted. Nobody ever lies on their deathbed thinking, “Gee, I wish I had spent more time at work.”

Playing live: Give it your all! When you have a live gig, gear yourself up to give 100%, and then exceed it. If you don’t want to be there, don’t show up. If you do want to be there, act like it. Never, ever, ever take any audience for granted. They all have a dozen other things they could be doing than wasting their time watching someone go through the motions. You owe them the best you have to give in every set, every song. This goes for both paying and non-paying gigs. It is what distinguishes a pro from a jerk who can play guitar.

Play different. Not just different styles, but different ways of playing. If you usually use a pick, try playing with your fingers, and vice-versa. Get a slide and experiment with open tunings. Play songs you usually play electric on an acoustic, and vice-versa. Play your old familiar licks in a different key. Experiment! It will keep your playing fresh!

Changing strings. Don’t worry about what people tell you. You don’t need to change your strings once a week or anything as extreme as that. Once you get used to playing, you’ll know when you need new strings. Like so many other things about playing, this is a matter of personal preference. And when it comes to buying strings, most are made by the same few companies. Find the gauge you like, then buy the cheap ones.

SPECIAL ADDITION: Thanks very much to Andrew Price for the following info:
Below is a list of companies that do make their own strings (and may make strings for others as well):

Martin, Gibson, D’Addario, GHS, Fender, Thomastik-Infield, Vinci, Mapes, Dean Markley, LaBella, S.I.T., Ernie Ball, Pyramid, Savarez, RotoSound, D.R., D’Aquisto,.

To see where I got this info from, check out this link on Acoustic Guitar Magazine’s web site (That’s me using the name “Georgia”):

This leads to my next tip:

Don’t let pride prevent you from growing as a player – or as a person.
If you find out that you are wrong or mistaken or misinformed about something, don’t hesitate to accept it and make a correction. It’s better to be humble and correct than stubborn and wrong.

More stuff directly related to guitar:
A lot of beginners, before they really understand what they are doing, try to press down directly over the fret. While that may have some usefulness for someone trying to achieve a particular effect, in most cases, you want to press down on the fingerboard directly above the fret.

Up and down the neck
In typical guitar terminology, “up” the neck means toward the base of the guitar (where the pickups or soundhole are), and “down” the neck is toward the nut. Confused yet? Okay, how about this: the 6th string is the thickest one (also called “low E”) and is the string closest to the top when holding the guitar in typical, right-handed playing position. It is also called the bottom string by some. When you want to hit a high note, however, you go up the fretboard (toward the bottom, if you remember), while lower notes are “down” toward the nut (at the top of the guitar.). Okay, I am confusing myself now. Let’s try a little more philosophy.

Manners are cool
“Please” and “thank you” never go out of style. Remember that rudeness is a weak person’s imitation of strength.

Slow and steady win the race.
Becoming a better player is just as much a matter of patience and persistence as it is practice. Some skills come slowly, while others will seem impossible right up to the moment they actually click and become simple. Whether you learn by leaps and bounds or at a snail’s place, just don’t give up. A year from now you’ll be better than you are today if you just keep at it.

To Be Continued…someday!