From a beginner to other beginners. Very long, but heartfelt.
Learn how to change the strings. Learn how to tune.
Tune to E-B-E-G#-B-E, or D-A-D-A-D-E, or any other tuning
that, when strummed open, sounds sweet and clean and true.
Strum open until you can't resist the urge to do something
on the fretting side.
Start fretting with one finger, pushing it up and down and
all over the place, chunking on all six strings if you want.
Count 1 to 4, 1 to 3, 1 to 6, or just 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1.....
Do this until you know where to put that one finger to reflect
what you want to hear. Do it until, when you have that finger
in a certain place, and in your mind you hear what comes next,
you can put your finger where your mind suggests.
Start using two fingers, pushing them up and down and all
over the place. Notice the patterns-some close together, some
straddled, some split wide. Hear what works and what doesn't.
Then, notice how anything can work, depending on many things.
If you've been using a pick, put it down. Pinch your index
finger between middle finger and thumb, and use the index to
pluck. Do this until until your two fret fingers and your index
plucking finger begin to form calluses.
Stop. Put the guitar away. Go to a museum or a baseball game.
Paint a picture. Read poems. Study the films of Roman Polanski.
Stay away from the guitar until your fledgling calluses vanish,
or until you can't stand being away from it any longer. Then
pick it up again.
One finger, two fingers. Then on to fretting with three. Rebuid
the callus on your plucking index. Allow loose pluck-hand fingers
to strike open strings whenever and wherever they want. Start
humming as you play.
Start tapping your foot as you play.
Sit down and play for an hour straight, without stopping.
If you can go longer, go. Go until your hands feel mittened
by heat, and you're not thinking about anything anymore, but
maybe there are tears going down your face. Then, when you
realize what has happened to you, it will all fall apart, and
you'll have to put the guitar down, maybe for several days.
The rest of your life, you'll be trying to get back into that
feeling that just fell apart.
Play the guitar while doing things-while watching TV, while
having a conversation, while sitting on the toilet, while falling
asleep. Play the guitar in your lap. Use a slide or an aluminum
can. Play smiling and frowning and laughing and shouting.
Once in a while, play gibberish.
If you're here on earth to learn to take things less seriously,
don't take the guitar too seriously.
If you're here on earth to learn to take things more seriously,
take the guitar completely seriously.
Don't show off in guitar stores. If fact, don't show off at
all. But take time to go out and try as many different guitars
as you can. Try electrics and acoustics and resonators and
hybrids of every different stripe. Try wood and plastic and
carbon and fiberglass and every other material of which guitars
have ever been made.
Try old guitars. I love old guitars. They teach you undiscovered
There is not a single person who could benefit from every
single thing I've suggested.
That's about all I know, at least right now. Maybe more later,
if it comes.
Huskybones, Phx, AZ
Here are two ideas:
1) Take your three favorite CD's. Lock yourself in a room
where you can listen and play along at a comfortable volume.
Start song #1, CD #1, and play. Play the wrong notes and play
out of time. If you happen on a good note then play the hell
out of it, but don't be afraid to suck. Don't worry about the
exact parts. Act as if it's all perfect even though it probably
won't be. Experience the act of playing with feeling and passion.
You can get more specific about notes later.
yourself this question "What's the worst that can
happen?". As a teacher, one thing I find is that people
are scared to just start. They think they need all the answers
before they begin. And I think anyone who's asking this question
of someone else probably needs a little help jumping in.
2) Sing something into a tape and then pick up your axe and
learn to play what you just sang. You might be surprised at
the music that's inside you already without any training whatsoever.
My best advice to a beginning guitarist is try to avoid tablature.
It is good to use in the very beginnings. Use it to learn some
songs or whatever else you choose, but learn to read music
as fast as possible. DO NOT rely on tablature. It will only
hinder you in the future.(believe me, I know that for a fact)
Tablature is the easy way out, therefore many beginning guitarists
fall into this trap very easily. Learning to read music can
seem like a very big task, but you will learn that everything
else in music is the same thing. Learn where the notes are
on the neck and read every day. You do not even have to have
your guitar to practice reading. Bring some music to the doctor's
office, to Grandma's house, into the bathroom, etc, and just
read it. After a while it will be like reading a book. Because
in the end, music is just another language. In order to become
fluent in this new, exotic language, you must learn to read
and write it. You wouldn't learn Italian or Russian without
learning how to read and write it would you? If you did you
would not be a master of it.
So if your goal is to strum a few chords and impress people
at parties, which is fine, than tablature is for you. But if
you are serious about learning the language of music, do yourself
a favor and learn to read it.
Having taught guitar for over 30 years, and seeing the struggle
that many students have gone through, I would say this:
the best teacher you can, and get launched correctly. A good
teacher can save you years of struggle, and set the
technical foundation that is so important to being able to
express your musical ideas, and perhaps more important, if
your teacher is a master, you will almost by osmosis learn
the proper attitude to learning that makes the journey easy
and fun. The ZG book addresses the mental aspect of this in "Beginner's
mind." There are also physical expressions of this attitude,
like how you bring your hand to the fingerboard. A good teacher
can see where the energy is blocked, or where you are holding
excess tension. S/he can lead you to effortless playing where
the chance of communicating your spirit and soul will be so
much greater because you and your technique will be "out
of the way," so to speak.
Ken Brown, Menlo Park, CA
First and foremost: Get a fretboard chart and learn where
all the notes are on the fretboard. Then, using that knowledge,
learn how to tune in different alternative turnings (there
are books out there illustrating these tunings). Finally, just
spend as many hours as you can playing with the guitar and
getting your ear familiar with all of the sounds of the notes.
This, in my humble opinion, is the first important technical
key to jamming, learning chords and scales, understanding fingering,
and even arranging and composing.
It took me 27 years to figure out what I should have learned
first. I figured this out just before reading ZG but I've since
put it into practice with my mom and daughter.
pick out a bunch of songs (the more the better) you like
to sing and can sing moderately well (you're not killing
yourself to try to reach notes). I don't care if it's "Mary
Had A Little Lamb," if you like it and can hit it, go
Second, learn the 5 basic major open chords (E,A,D,C,G) and
the 3 basic open minors (Em,Am,Dm). Also learn a basic strum
pattern in 4 (down/down-up/down/down-up works). You don't need
to be able to play them, just be able to recognize them when
you see or hear them. These are things you can get from a music
book, teacher, or most any guitar playing friend.
Third, look for sheet music on your list of songs. Probably
80% of the songs on the list can be made to work with just
these tools. A real big hint: Most printed music makes things
way too complicated. Ignore the extra stuff in the chord symbols
(7, 9, 13, etc.). If there are way too many chords in a small
space, try ignoring every other chord or entire blocks of 3
or 4 chords.
Finally, start to play. You'll hear where the chord changes
go. Stick to simply trying to make the changes smoothly and
learning to sing and play the song from beginning to end. Start
slow and be patient. Play the songs at every opportunity, and
don't worry if some are too hard, you can come back to them.
Once you learn to make music, you can decide where to go from
First: Decide what you want to do with the guitar, (pro, semipro,
Second: Find someone who naturally teaches who you think you
can learn from (mentally, physically, and emotionally).
Third: Find a way to enjoy practicing
Fourth: Always remember to listen to music.
If someone asked me that I would first tell them to have a
good time with the guitar, just mess around and get a feel
for the instrument. I would also tell them not to expect learning
the guitar to be easy and try to learn as much rhythm as posssible,
because even if you're the best lead guitar player in the world
you will never be in a band if you can't hold a rhythm Then
I would tell them to learn some open chord songs, something
with a good beat that you can have fun with. They also need
to learn some boring stuff like tuning and finding different
notes on different frets. That's basically what I would tell
a begining guitar player.
best thing I could tell beginning guitarist (or musician,
that matter) is that ear training is invaluable. I am still
working on it, but with my little knowledge I'm still seeing
great use for it. The best way I know to begin ear training,
at least the method I've found most useful, comes from David
L. Burge. He has a series of tapes and worksheets on ear training
available through mail order. As much as I hate to advertise,
or say that you need to spend money to gain this valuable tool,
I have found his method very thorough. He advertises that one
can gain a full amount of relative pitch within 90 days, but
after a year and a half, and still working on lesson 7 of 48,
I find that it takes longer. But the journey, not the destenation,
is what counts. He includes a free "help me" tape
that goes right alongside the Zen Guitar method, to my surprise.
After finishing the course one will have full knowledge of
all the intervals and chords, including spelling, hearing,
and finding them on you instrument. He teaches a method of
easy listening with little effort. And not straining your ear
by trying too hard is also addressed.
There are other ways to train the ear for listening, but as
I said, I find his method far above the rest. And I think it
is a definite thing to look into to, for the matter of unlocking
the music in your mind, and finding your own sound.
only thing that I would tell a person who came up to me and
that question would be, "Wanna jam"?