Anyone learning to play the guitar?


This is a dormant thread but it's been on my mind since I encountered it months ago and read so many heavy handed instructions - almost warnings- to new players.
I wanted to weigh in with some thoughts as a pretty fair player who's played for over 20 years both acoustic, electric, solo and playing out, recording, teaching, learning, etc.
- The first thing is that learning guitar = or any instrument that keeps its own rhythm and melody- is that it's a lifelong journey you will never regret taking. Your guitar will be a constant companion and will make the good times better, and the bad ones less hurtful.
- learning guitar is like peeling an endless onion, there are layers upon layers of technique, theory, voicings, set-up, etc. The great thing is you can enjoy playing at each layer. Don't let anyone tell you you need to do a cram session of bleeding fingers before you can play to your enjoyment.

There's a slogan in country music - Just three chords and the truth! This points to the fact that many old country songs are pretty simple structurally but entire careers have been spun and many people made happy with these simple songs. This is also true of many folk n rock songs.
Why is that? The answers have little to do with playing. Sometimes the lyrics are just that good. Sometimes the vocals are that sincere or angry or.... Sometimes the internal beat of the song is that infectious. Etc. Sometimes 2 or 3 of those elements come together. Just one ex: The House of the Rising Son is old as the hills -even before the Animals did it. But it's 5 simple chords tell a powerful story that even now is gripping when you hear it.

- Your voice. If you have a naturally good voice you are up like 300 percent over someone who's a natural croaker. Btw, the voice is an instrument and like game, can be learned. Using a capo to find your range, learning to transpose keys for the same reason, and of course, increasing your range and bettering your voice is massively recommended. Go on youtube and see how many girls - many who have pleasing voices - do very sweet covers of songs. Their guitar skills are usually trivial.

- if you don't wish to sing or improve, the guitar is still your friend. You'll learn finger style guitar, flamenco, classical, instrumentals, etc. This will require more effort but it will be rewarded.

- the important thing is to get your hands on the instrument and learn some songs. Period. Everything else will come along. When I taught kids, I'd tune down a step, I'd get light gauge nylon strings, I'd have them make C maj with two fingers, etc.
No tab, no sheet music. Once they complete a cool progression or verse, they come back for more. Because music is joy; you are literally making beauty. Only an artist knows the feeling. Don't be denied.

- Funny to write that and then have to reveal that unfortunately, musicians as a group are terrible people. Sadly, some of the most talented are the biggest dicks.
There's a whole psychology for this I won;t get into. But just be aware that that energy is out there but there's also cool people who will want to help and or collaborate. As an example, God bless YouTube filled with awesome people who selflessly share their abilities...and for free.

I will defend good guitarists a little bit. Some musicians really paid or learned the hard way and are possessive of 'their' techniques. I remember a guy being all hush hush about showing how to make a Maj chord with a barre and the pinkie a few frets up on the E. It was a cool Form but he'd a sold it to me if he thought I'd buy. That's not the way but I get that he suffered for his artistry and came out joyless.

Another group is just naturals who really don't know how they do it and resent made to look like fools when asked details. Look up Slash talking about his playing - gibberish. Others just don't have the vocabulary of say tab or chords or theory so can't articulate it - though they might like to. As I've got better, I often find myself playing voicings that I don't know the name for. I could show someone but I can barely describe them.
All of this is part of the craft of guitar playing and growing as a player.

- avoid gearheads whenever possible. Gearheads are numbnuts who can go on and on about the details of guitars, amps, etc. and often do. Again, I don't understand all the psych behind it. Some of it is the Western obsession with stuff and in the US, with putting a price on everything. I mean long bull sessions like ' that sounds sweet on that D35, was that the 63 model with the boba neck that now is illegal to import or the the 64 made under license in Japan, etc. etc.'
Try to stay focused on the music.

For sure, if you're going to play plugged in, you will have to deal with tech issues on at least some level but keep it basic. So many dudes lost in trying to recreate a sound or finding the magic effect or pedal that will just change everything. Again, stick around and you'll learn more by osmosis than by diligence.
Want practical advice? Make sure the mic is on before you start singing.

-Timing. Timing is a funny thing. You need to be in time to play with others. The best way to learn to be in time is to play with others. Drummers and bassists should be your best friends. If you don't have em use backing tracks or metronomes.
That said, if you are playing solo or for yourself or a vocalist who can follow you, then F all that noise. Play as you like and enjoy every minute.

You will naturally come to value time if you start using a looper or band in a box type apps. You'll also come to appreciate how timing can really make a song sparkle. But don't kid yourself, playing in time is hard and with others, harder. When you hear really tight bands like Chicago playing live, you are watching a miracle in action that represents hours and hours of rehearsal, of playing together as a group, and having individually internalized the timing of each fill, solo, and even improv.
Those mothafuggas got skills.

- The important thing is to play. To reach out for that warm chord. To sing out.
On writing songs or playing covers: When I go to meetups, there's always a bunch of guys that want others to play their original songs with them. Usually these are terrible in different ways. Writing deft tunes is very difficult. Songs that are innovative and engaging and with good lyrics are a rarity.
Many studio musicians and players go their whole lives without writing an original song. And there's nothing wrong with that. It's just a whole other craft than being a journeyman player. And yet.... there's nothing quite so satisfying than having someone request to hear one of your own originals.

-In closing, I'd be as encouraging as possible and don't let them see that Cheshire cat grin when they tell you 'Shut up and play your guitar'.


elsupremo said:
- Funny to write that and then have to reveal that unfortunately, musicians as a group are terrible people. Sadly, some of the most talented are the biggest dicks.
There's a whole psychology for this I won;t get into.

Could you go into it? (whether here or in a different thread)
I'm quite curious about your take on that. Having gone to a school that had a very heavy emphasis on music and the arts (and therefore many musician types), I've noticed this as well.


elsupremo said:

As a lifelong musician and former music store employee, I think everything you said is on point. A+

It really is a journey, and you might have heard someone say "trust/love the process," and with learning music or an instrument you really have to love the process but whenever everyone starts it's hard and you suck and it's not fun. Once you get past that first learning curve and see some improvement it gets better. Personally I just started up a ~30 min daily practice regiment, just to practice fingering (heh) and stuff I'm weak with (ring finger + pinky finger working together) instead of just jamming and noodling aroudn. Even after a week and half of these my fingers seem to be working a little more smoothly. Skills are perishable, and if you don't use em you lose em


Gold Member
Two great guitar channels on YouTube:

Paul Davids

- Some interesting lessons (theory, harmony, rhythm, and lead playing) and other topics such as gear, tone and recording.

Art of Guitar

- Lessons and breaks down techniques and licks implemented by famous rock acts. Useful for primarily beginner and intermediate guitarists.


Thanks Ourobros for your interest. Too much would derail the thread I think.
I will say that dickishness isn't just a great guitarist phenom. It's common across skill-sets, that when some men reach a level of proficiency, they have to shit on those below them.
But two things: I see it most often in non-phys endeavors e.g golfing, music, painting. It's like a compensation for the activities lack of manliness - as they see it. E.g. Hemingway was v conflicted about being a writer - and keen to be shot doing manly stuff like marlin fishing and ready to arm-wrestle all comers. Powerlifters are not this way.
The other is social incompetence and low emotional intelligence.

The Marines have a great saying every boot hears: Watch one, Do one, Teach one. The armed forces are a massive training operation because of frequent deployments, short tours, changes in rank, etc. Marines need to know how to "improvise, adapt, overcome" and adapting means learning, mastering, transmitting. The Marines assume you don't know shit...but can learn anything. Sometimes they're wrong . Cue Pvt Leonard "Gomer Pyle", sometimes right -see evolution of Pvt. "Joker" ref: Full Metal Jacket.

Back to guitar:
- PURPOSEFUL practice, like these other gentlemen are suggesting, is a must if you want to improve. And you want to improve because there's even more joy around the corner. The guitar is a path with heart. See Carlos Castaneda.
- TABS. As soon as you learn a few chords, you'll want to google up tabs to play. Often these will be just chords not real TABs-- TABlature is very complete musical notation language for guitarists. There's a million of them and generously created and uploaded for free by your guitar brethren.
But here's the news for the learning guitarist: they're often wrong or incomplete - and in different ways. That's why so many times you see Ver 4, Ver 5 , etc on the same song. So don't assume it's your inability. I have notebooks full of tabs I've printed out and then corrected for myself and students.
So take all tabs with a large grain of salt.

Now, the writer did not mean to deceive. It may sound good to his ears. Also, when just chord names are given, there's many ways to play the same chord - forms- and voicings - slight variations - and the writer just didn't specify. As a new player you don't have all the tools you guess correctly and there's 1000's of chords.

The worst tabs are often in music books. For the artist, putting out a music book is an ancillary income source - it gets subbed out to the pub houses that make sheet music and do compilations ' 1000 great showtunes' . Guess who does this work?: Pia.... excuse me, fucking piano players. Piano players have no sense of guitar mechanics or fingerings or what can/can't be muted. They even name chords differently - guitarists favor Sharps, pianists Flats - tomato/tomahtoh.
They play on a flat medium. They're typing, we're writing calligraphy.

Still, the fact is that piano players buy sheet music 4x more times as much as guitarists so the books have good music notation but the chord diagrams are an afterthought. So don't agonize too much if it doesn't play right. See Good Will Hunting scene: "it's not your fault...."

A last stab, piano players write tab in the key the song was written in. Some of these keys make for bizarre fingerings on guitar. They don't care, It's all 2D to them. Learnt how to Transpose keys early, it will make playing much much easier.
Also if your voice range is short, it is essential.
That said, it's good exercise to learn to play in all the keys - to learn the fretboard and to keep your songs from all sounding the same if you start transposing everything in A.

1 more on tabs: as much as possible, learn to play songs as they were intended by the artist. It's a real challenge sometimes and you're bound to learn a bit about music and guitar.
On the other hand, do feel free to modify or change up a song. It is perfectly legitimate to do so and great fun. Some guitarists - specially Filipinos - take great pride in doing a carbon copy of originals. Respect to them. But I love giving my take on a standard not in arrogance that mine's better, but in the joy of a personalized homage. A song is a living thing


I'd like to add a bit to my recent post. When I re-read it later, I realized that the bit about the Marines illustrated a point I hadn't yet made. The point was: that sharing, teaching, coaching, guiding is all part of leadership. And all are manly skills. Thus, the Marine example. Guys who become proficient in a given activity e.g. guitar slinging, and act selfishly, entitled, and prima dona-ish aren't 'alpha'; they're jerks and, in battle as in life, prone to injuries from 'friendly fire'.

One more: the point about learning to play a song as intended but then changing it up seems contradictory. I meant that AT FIRST you should try to play a song as much as possible as it was written. This is difficult and will improve your skills - odd strumming patterns, quirky fills, unusual keys, etc.
AFTER this however, you should feel free to put your personal stamp on a song.