These are things I wish I had known when I started to learn guitar in the beginning. Learning to play guitar is not rocket science, it just requires a certain mindset.
The following bits of advice help you obtain this mindset and approach learning as a whole. They will apply whether you want to learn electric or acoustic and no matter if you are interested in playing some rock, jazz, blues, classical or heavy metal music.
Learn guitar systematically
Beyond just the basic chords, scales and strumming patterns, a good teacher can offer valuable feedback and help you avoid common mistakes that you make in the beginning. However, some of the best guitar players on this planet including Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Yngwie Malmsteen, Magnus Karlsson, and Herman Li are self-taught. Thus, learning the guitar by yourself at home is fine. If you want to learn fast and not develop bad habits, you have to practice systematically though. Even without a guitar teacher, it is a well-structured workout routine that helped Hendrix, Clapton, and co. to reach that high level of virtuosity.
Although being able to play your favorite songs might be your superior goal, the key to playing songs is to build proper technique and motor skills first. You have to understand what and how to practice, otherwise learning songs might just feel like color by numbers. I know, answering these questions can be difficult, especially if you do not know where to start, but luckily apps like Fretello can help you with that.
Everyone wants to learn guitar quickly, but it demands patience and persistence. I always wanted to learn solos and play by ear from the get-go. I did not understand that the more you try to rush the process of learning guitar, the bigger your chances are that bad habits and ultimately frustration will set in. As a result, I quit playing when I was in high school. When learning guitar, commit to it for the long haul. Your ability as a player will grow in leaps and bounds by it.
However, practicing consistently does not mean that you have to practice for several hours a day to become a good player. If done properly, practicing 20 minutes 3 to 5 days a week guarantees you to progress quickly.
Stop comparing yourself to others
I remember that whenever I heard a good guitarist play I always enjoyed listening, but I also was a bit jealous because I wasn’t just as good. I constantly got the feeling that I have to run home and practice. Ego was getting in the way, especially when I played with others.
Stop comparing yourself to others right now. Compare yourself to yourself! Listen to recordings of you playing a month before. Making recordings of yourself playing is a great way to track your progress.
There will always be better guitar players than you, even if you become the next John Petrucci. Get over it.
Start practicing scales early
The thing with chords is that you always have to synchronize multiple fingers at once, which can be difficult especially if you are just about to start. If you start with scales, you have to think of only one finger at a time. Later, when you do chords, your brain already knows the specific positions because chords are just snippets of scales. As a result, you will be able to learn and execute chords much faster if you know some scales before.
In general, start with the minor pentatonic scale, especially if you are interested in rock. A large chunk of the rock library uses the minor pentatonic scale and it is easy to learn. Later, when you learn some classic rock solos you will know the shapes. It will be familiar territory, which is a great feeling even if you are a beginner. The minor pentatonic scale is also the first thing you will learn if you practice with our Fretello app.
Put into practice what you learn
Learning to play the guitar by covering songs exclusively will not help you become a good guitar player in the long run. However, although building technique and training your fine motor skills with a metronome is essential to become a good guitar player, it is also only half the truth. In fact, you have to put into practice what you learn. Backing tracks, for example, are a popular way to do this. As described in this post, they are important because they will help you improve your scale knowledge, technique, tone, and your sense of rhythm.
Learning to play some songs and strum patterns is also a good complementary strategy. You don't have to be quite so militant about avoiding mistakes when learning new rhythms, like a new strum pattern. While simplifying and slowing down is helpful, learning rhythms also involves the mysterious process of "getting into the groove." It demands that you loosen up, stop worrying about sounding bad and try to feel the music. Once you get the strum pattern down, you'll have plenty of time to obliterate the mistakes as you strum that pattern over and over and over and over.
If you are not where you want to be, look back and see how far you have come. Every guitar player will hit the wall at some point. If you feel like you are not progressing at all despite daily practice, the best thing to do is relax and play something fun you like. Play new things for a week, try to work something out on your own, then come back to the place you were before and give it another try.
These little walls that pop up during your ascent to guitar greatness usually happen just before you reach your next level. Keep at it.
Playing guitar is also about sound
The sound coming out of your guitar is important. Find a sound that you really like. If you struggle finding it on your own, ask a friend who knows more than you or head to the next guitar store and talk to someone with a little more experience.
I remember sitting in our band room trying to play Blink 182 songs on a bridge pickup of an Epiphone Les Paul. I was thoroughly discouraged because it did just not sound right. Well, of course not! I needed a Fender Stratocaster style single-coil guitar. Do not let chasing tone be your only mission, but do try to find something you like. You will enjoy playing more.