Photo by Pavel Danilyuk from Pexels
Do you really “wannabe”?
When my son, Fred, turned 10 years of age he was totally consumed with the idea of playing guitar. When he didn’t have homework or chores to do, you would find him sitting in front of the TV playing “air guitar” to music videos on YouTube.
A video caught his attention about how to build a box guitar. He got the instruction from Teaching Station, collected the cereal box, paper towel tube, rubber bands, and crayons, and went to work building his very first guitar.
I wondered just how long it would be before he was on to the next thing that caught his fancy. But, every day, after school, he disappeared into his room to work on his guitar.
Two days later, walking into the house and getting home from work, I heard a strange noise coming from Fred’s room. I very quietly opened the door. Fred sat on the side of his bed strumming his box guitar.
“Fred, you got it finished,” I said stepping into his room. “Congratulations.”
“Yeah, I got it, but it doesn’t sound as good as I had thought it would,” he said with a scowl on his face.
“You did it, that’s the important thing,” I said.
“But it doesn’t sound that good,” he whined, a tear in his eye.
“Don’t give up. Let’s start working on a plan. Okay?”
Fred wiped his eyes, “A plan?” he asked.
“There’s a lot of planning to be done before you actually get a real guitar. Are you willing to do the work?”
“Oh yes, Mom. I’m ready.. When can we start?” he asked running to give me a hug.
Preparing for your music journey
Many “wanna-be” guitarists think it looks easy, and they can learn on their own. And many do.
But, with a good guitar and good instruction, whether in person or online, you can develop good “guitar techniques” which will cut your learning time.
“Mom, some of my friends were talking about their guitar teacher. I got his number. Can we call him and set up an appointment? Please, Mom? He only has a couple of slots open. Please?”
“How would you practice? You don’t have a guitar.”
Before deciding who to take lessons from or which instrument you need to purchase, you need to know where you are going. Let’s answer these questions to get started.
Mom began reading questions to Fred to build “The Plan.”
- Do you want to play a musical instrument? What kind? Keyboard? Guitar?
- What type of guitar? Acoustic, Electric, or Bass?
Fred piped up, “Guitar. It has to be a guitar.”
“Write it down,” Mom said. “Describe the guitar. And write down the answers to these questions.”
Fred ran to get his notebook to begin the process.
- Why do you want to play?
- Do you want to play professionally or just for fun?
Fred sat quietly after writing down his guitar description. He described an acoustic model like the country singers play.
“Did you hear the questions?” she asked.
Fred continued to sit in deep thought. “Can’t I be a professional guitarist and play for fun also? Do I have to be one or the other? What do I have to do as a professional? Just play on stage?”
Mom laughed, “Of course, you can do both. Write it down. We’ll look up what a professional does. Playing on stages is part of it, but not the only thing.”
Mom got out her computer and Googled “Professional Guitarist.”
“Guitarists are skilled performers who also frequently write and record their own music. In addition to practicing and performing, they teach, handle tasks such as booking shows, and collaborate with other musicians. They perform live and play in studios for recording sessions. They practice regularly to learn new music, keep their skills sharp, and to keep in top-notch shape for gigs.” Careersinmusic.com/guitarist
Let’s map out your music journey
As with any journey, whether it’s cross-country, an international trip, or a trek into the wonderful world of music, you need to set your goals and then create a plan to achieve them.
You may think that planning just to play a musical instrument isn’t important, but it is. Benjamin Franklin said: “Failing to plan is planning to fail”.
If you want to play an acoustic guitar, you would not purchase a keyboard or sign up for drum lessons. So, let’s begin mapping out your journey so you can get the right instrument and the right lessons.
Set your goals
Fred sat at the kitchen table with his notebook and a pen. “Mom, I’m ready. How do we create a plan so I can get my guitar?”
I laughed, “You seem to be very excited about this.”
Create a music skills inventory list
The first step in setting goals is to create an inventory list of your skills and resources. Put them in your journal so you can check them frequently. Don’t have a journal? Start one.
If you are a complete “newbie” you probably won’t have any music skills, yet, but you might be surprised.
- Have you taken any music classes in school?
- Have you tried playing any instruments?
- Do you have a friend who has shown you a few chords on the guitar or keyboard?
- Write them down in your journal so you can add to them later.
Make Your Goals Achievable
We recommend using a SMART Goal Planner. The formula below will help you make your goals clear and help you reach them.
- “Specific (simple, sensible, significant).”
- What exactly do you want to do? Or what do you want to happen?
- Why do you want to do this? How important is it to you?
- Who else is involved: parents, teacher, spouse, etc?
- “Measurable (meaningful, motivating).”
- How much time do you have to practice?
- How will you know when you have found the right instrument and/or lessons?
- “Achievable (agreed, attainable)”
- How can you accomplish this goal? List out everything you will need, such as instrument, teacher, etc.
- How realistic is the goal? Will you have enough money to purchase your instrument and hire a teacher? Will you have enough time to practice?
- Break your goals down. This is especially important for big goals. Put it into small steps that are workable.
- “Relevant (reasonable, realistic and resourced, results-based). If this is a relevant or good goal you will be able to answer “yes” to every one of the following questions.”
- Is this the right time?
- Does this match your other efforts/needs, such as school, work, and/or family?
- Are you the right person to be a musician? A Professional Musician?
- “Time-bound (time-based, time-limited, time/cost limited, timely, time-sensitive).”
- When will you have the time to practice?
- Will you have enough time?
- What can you achieve as a musician in six months from now? Six weeks from now?
- Answer the above questions in your journal – WRITE IT DOWN.
- Do you have the time and financial resources to meet this goal?
- Tell someone you trust. Telling someone you know and trust about your goals seems to increase the likelihood that you will stick to them.
- Review your goal regularly to see if you are meeting them.
Finishing up the planner
Fred, with his Mom’s help, worked through the Smart Goal Planner for kids for several days after school. He answered the questions above to come up with his plan. Mom drew a planner similar to the one below for him to put in his notebook.
“Mom,” Fred called. “I think I’m finished. Please see what you think.”
Keep going. Don’t quit no matter how hard it is.
Celebrate. And Repeat.
Side Note: if the student is a smaller child, you as a parent, will need to help with the goal setting and directing his/her progress.
by Dena Warfield
Image by Ryan McGuire from Pixabay
How to toughen up your fingers.
Yes, your fingers and wrist are going to hurt when you start playing. The higher the action on the guitar, the more pressure it takes to press down the strings. Just about any guitar can have the action adjusted. Take your guitar to a local music shop and have them adjust it.
Adjust your grip on the neck of the guitar. Pressing the strings against the fretboard is hard work and it does make your fingers sore and your wrist ache. As you continue to play it will get better. But here are some tips:
- Most beginners press down on the strings too hard. Relax your fingers. Don’t press down so hard. Just make sure the string firmly contacts the fret.
- Don’t play with wet fingers.
- Hook your thumb over the top of the fretboard to get leverage. This causes you to press the strings more with the flat pad of your finger, rather than your fingertips.
- As your fingers toughen up, move your thumb to the back of the neck. This causes you to press the strings with your fingertips, which is more accurate, but harder at first.
- Keep your fingernails trimmed. It’s much easier to develop calluses with short nails. Long nails also make it more difficult to get good sound.
- Don’t bite, pick, or shave off your hard-earned calluses.
- Soak your fingertips in apple cider vinegar for about 30 seconds before and after
- Get the right strings. When you’re first learning, light gauge strings are easier to play than medium or heavy gauge. The light strings will cause less soreness. Lightly icing your fingertips before and after playing can also ease the soreness. Topical ointments containing benzocaine, such as toothache cream, can also be applied before and after playing.
Some guitarists use a spot of super glue on their fingertips as a makeshift callus, until they develop their own. If you develop a cut or split in your finger apply New-Skin or some other liquid bandage to seal up the cut until it heals.
Supposedly, Eric Clapton suggests “rubbing your fingertips with isopropyl (rubbing) alcohol three times a day for a week or two for beginning guitarists or someone who hasn’t played for a while. Supposedly, this dries out the skins and helps the calluses to develop quicker.”
Your body position
Get a good strap and practice standing. Yes, it’s harder at first, but when you sit you tend to slouch over the guitar looking at your fingers. If you do this consistently, it will become one of those bad habits you have to break. Always practice standing.
Take it slow
As we mentioned earlier, take it slow. Learn the basics and the best guitar methods. Don’t focus on trying to play fast. Good technique requires accurate fingering and hitting the right notes every time. Be precise with your fingering. The speed will come when you have everything else in place. You won’t have to develop speed it will happen all by itself.
Always focus on correct fingering. Don’t try to develop new moves. Stick to the tried and true fingering methods, which will lead to the best guitar methods.
Use a metronome
From the beginning, your very first exercise, use a click track or metronome so you develop a good sense of rhythm and timing. When you first start, take it slow. You can adjust the speed on the metronome. The idea is to get used to playing with a steady tempo. Remember, good guitar technique comes first then tempo.
Make sure you practice some every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes. Pick up your guitar and practice the last lesson. The calluses won’t develop if your practice is haphazard. Set up regular practice time. Develop a good practice habit.
not about how long or how hard you practice. The key is “how” you practice. TrueFire offers “Smart Practice” which is a step-by-step practice system just for guitarists. The system is designed so you get the biggest payoff for the time you invest in your practice.
It doesn’t matter whether you are trying to learn to play guitar, or piano or learn something totally different, such as baseball. We all know we have to practice. The problem is that we really don’t know how to practice correctly.
Many who try to learn guitar on their own think that just picking up the guitar and strumming, trying to pick out the melody of their favorite song is practice, or having friends over to jam is practice. Wrong!!!
TrueFire lessons use Soundslice interactive Tab, go to their site for a full demo. The video gives you three views that you can slow down or speed up to facilitate maximum learning. The video lessons make it much easier to see what you are to practice and follow the instructor.
K. Anders Ericsson has researched what it takes to reach a high level of expertise in a skill. He states that practice is deliberate and not inherently enjoyable.
To become a good guitarist or to develop any skill, you must do the work and realize that enjoyment will follow.
Make up your mind that you will do whatever it takes to practice correctly. Quit just doodling around when it’s time to practice. Yes, at first your fingers are going to hurt, but keep in mind that it’s not going to last forever. Use some of the techniques above to ease the pain so you can work through it. Tips for Beginning Guitarists.
No matter what you are doing or attempting to do, setting goals, especially Smart Goals, will help you achieve your desired results quicker and in an organized fashion. Goals will help you do activities that are specifically designed to improve your performance.
Before going any further, look at where you want to go as a musician, and specifically, as a guitarist.
Many people, when they are attempting to learn something new, like playing the guitar, learn bits and pieces assuming that it will all magically come together at some future date.
How do you know what you should be studying and practicing if you don’t know where you want to go or what you want to do with it? If you don’t have a firm goal or path you will end up frustrated.
In any new endeavor, your goals must include both long-term and short-term goals. It’s best to set your long-term goals first then work backward to include all the steps necessary to achieve your long-term goal. This will give you the items that you need to work on NOW.
Included in setting goals you need to take an inventory of your skill set and where you are in the present.
Productivity guru David Allen in his “Getting Things Done” lectures states that you need to take an inventory, which he calls a “Brain Dump”, of everything you already know is required in order to achieve your goal.
What You Know
To start, create a list of everything you know, in this case, about playing the guitar. Divide this list into sections: scales, chords, arpeggios, songs, exercises, fingerpicking styles, licks, tuning your guitar, and bits and pieces. This list will include everything you’ve worked on or doodled around with or have a “somewhat” knowledge of.
You need to be able to play all of the exercises listed above without looking at a tablature sheet or stopping to remember or starting over.
What You Are Learning
This list will change as you learn new skills. Enter everything that you are currently working on goes into this list. You will move these skills to “What You Know” and add more from “What You Need to Know.”
What You Need To Know
List all the things from your short-term goal list. As you come across things you want or need to learn add them to this list. This list will also continually change as you progress down your learning path.
One of the most important things is that you take the information out of your head and put it on paper so you have a better and more workable list.
Once your goals are on paper, proceed to develop an actual practice schedule.
Are you really motivated to do the work necessary to achieve your goals? Remember, as mentioned above, practice isn’t just doodling around and “playing” with your guitar. If you are serious about achieving your goals, about developing good guitar technique, you have to be motivated to practice correctly.
Remember, anyone you have ever admired for their skill at playing any musical instrument or any other skill has “put in the time, effort, and discipline to learn and execute basic skills and then apply them to build their performance mastery.” Anything worth having is worth working for.
As you achieve each incremental goal, your confidence, and the sheer joy of making it happen will not only be personally rewarding but will also inspire greater accomplishments.
If you are motivated and really want to achieve your goals, you will set aside the time and disciple to do the work. Find a practice routine, such as Smart Practice from TrueFire or a practice routine from your teacher. Then, discipline yourself to do the work necessary to achieve your goals.
by Dena Warfield
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