The decision to pick up that first guitar and embark on the journey of learning to play is an exciting moment in a person’s life. But while the new student’s head is usually in the clouds, surrounded by dreams of rock stardom, their feet are firmly on solid ground due to the fact they have no idea how to play.
To a beginner, every rapid chord change on the fretboard or fingerpicking flourish by a pro is mesmerizing, as the moves seem impossible to the uninitiated. And indeed the first baby steps a student takes when learning their way around this new and highly romanticized instrument can be prohibitively frustrating.
But the worst thing a beginner can do is become discouraged. The obstacles standing in the way of becoming a true virtuoso may seem insurmountable at first, but after a mere few months of dedication the student will make leaps and bounds even they didn’t know they were capable of.
Here are some helpful tips to ensure the beginner has every advantage possible when attempt to summit Mt. Shred.
How To Properly Hold A Guitar
Sit up straight in a comfortable chair and place the body of the guitar on your right knee at a slight angle. In this angle the guitar should only be touching your right knee as well as the right side of your body. Let the neck of the guitar rest over your left hand and move your right arm around the side of the guitar body in order to be in strumming position.
It is important that the right arm isn’t draped over the top of the guitar. Of course this assumes the player is in the right-handed position. One of the myths about learning to play guitar is that left-handers always need to play a left-handed guitar.
This isn’t the case. Left-handers will have no more difficulty learning to play a right-handed guitar than they would a left-handed axe.
How To Position The Fret Hand
When it comes to the fret hand (left), little details matter. Keep your fingers rounded and loose, as it is nearly impossible to form chords with flat and stiff fingers. Keep your thumb behind the neck of the guitar and press down on the strings with the tips of your fingers.
The tips of your fingers may be sore at first from playing, but over time you will earn bragging rights in the form of calices that are the hallmark of every pro guitar player.
How To Change Chords On The Fretboard
The inability to effectively and efficiently switch chords on a fretboard is a problem that plagues all beginners. The best way to overcome this obstacle is through practice and focused drilling. Perform exercises on the fretboard that involve moving one finger at a time into a new position.
Over time these exercises will condition the fingers and allow for added dexterity. It’s also important to always keep your fingers close to the strings on the fretboard in order to try and anticipate the next chord progression.
How To Strum
The strum of the beginning guitar player is identified by a series of clunky downstrokes more often than not completely devoid of rhythm. This halting downward motion is just simply the natural inclination of most people learning guitar for the first time.
The good news is this clunky and robotic motion can be overcome fairly quickly. While it’s okay to tap one’s foot in time with the music, the strum needs to be in a fluid motion. Down on the downbeat and up on the upbeat. Strumming is all about selective striking of the strings with the pick or fingers.
How To Finger Pick
Finger picking is a fairly classical method of playing that requires much dexterity, but it is a method often learned by beginners. This method of picking may be intimidating to the uninitiated, as it requires the manipulation of many strings seemingly at once.
But the best way to attack this method is to ensure the fingers on the right hand are in the appropriate positions over the strings. That means resting the thumb on lower E or A string with the index, middle and ring fingers resting on the subsequent strings above it.
By following simple rules of form and theory, such as these, will give the beginner a leg up on the learning process. Understanding the fundamentals of things like strumming and how to properly hold a guitar will pay dividends down the line in the form of less frustration.
It may not seem like much now, but it will mean all the difference in the world when trying to master that cruel mistress known as the C chord.
Justin Miller writes for JamPlay.com, a leading online music educator offering 2,000+ guitar songs to learn in HD and is a professional blogger who writes on a variety of topics including taking guitar lessons.