So you want to be a Guitar Hero?

Jun 11, 2014

The guitar is arguably the single most popular instrument in the western world. The argument could also be made that because of its popularity, it is also the single instrument most people quit trying to learn. Many people go into the learning process believing that picking up the guitar will be simple; easy as pie. Yet others believe that learning any instrument, let alone one as seemingly complicated as the guitar would be an impossible task for them. The reality is somewhere in between these two extremes.

While it’s true that the guitar isn’t for everyone, if it seems like something you want to learn, go for it! With practice, perseverance, and the proper attitude, even a child can learn to play guitar. Students as young as seven years old can learn to play, and there are guitars made at ½ and ¾ size to fit the hands and bodies of even the smallest of pupils. This, of course, raises a serious consideration; buying or renting? The common feeling is that when it comes to guitars, you get what you pay for. And usually, this is a good rule of thumb, however, it’s a good idea to shop around a little, get the feel for different styles. It is important that you do not get a guitar simply based on how it looks, or which brand name your favourite artist uses. It’s much more important how the instrument sounds rather than how it looks, and though you may love your favourite performer’s style, it may not end up being your style. For beginners it might be a good idea to buy a used guitar, you can always upgrade later if playing is something you make a serious part of your, or your children’s lives. Another, perhaps less obvious choice would be to rent a guitar. Again, for beginners, renting a guitar initially can be a good way to see if a student, especially a child, likes to play and will continue with lessons without the relatively large financial commitment buying a new guitar can represent. This leaves one final choice: acoustic or electric. Many people would suggest that it’s best to start with acoustic and switch to electric later, once a foundation of skills has been laid. Still others would argue that it’s easier to learn on an electric guitar because the strings are closer to the fret board, meaning less pressure is needed to hold chords. In reality it all comes down to personal preference; the truth is, students can learn on either an acoustic or electric guitar.

Once the decision has been made to begin, and the appropriate gear has been acquired, it’s time to start laying down the important fundamental skill foundations. Everyone wants to be shredding riffs with the best of them, but even the greatest players in the world had to start somewhere. It is important to begin with basic chords. Once these have been learned, melodies can be introduced using an appropriate guitar method book. These simple songs, while perhaps not what students necessarily want to play, teach basic skills while helping to build up the muscles in the hands and wrists, building dexterity in the fingers, and most importantly, building muscle memory so the fingers know where they are supposed to go without any interference from a brain that is trying to remember what note or chord comes next, or is worrying about the solo it hasn’t quite figured out yet. Once these basic skills have been mastered, then, and only then, can you begin to add songs you might actually want to play.

The choice of schools and teachers, depending on your area, can either be enormous or relatively sparse. If given the opportunity the choice of teacher and music school is extremely important. It is important to find somewhere that offers convenient lesson times, just as it is important to find someone you trust and like, because if you continue with your lessons this could be someone you will be spending a great deal of time with. This is an individual that will help the student, be it yourself or a child, build and explore their appreciation of music; the relationship is an important one. Just like any other learning environment, the attitude, knowledge, and rapport of the teacher can shape the attitude of the student. The second thing you should be looking for, after comfort with the teacher, is experience. Nothing can compare to a well-trained and experienced professional that genuinely enjoys teaching. These qualities can help in a wide variety of ways, from the obvious to the more obscure. A teacher with experience has seen and done it all, and can relate to any difficulties his or her students may encounter. A teacher who truly enjoys teaching can relate to his or her students on a more personal level, and can help music come alive in ways others may not be capable of. The combination of these attributes makes for a teacher anyone would want to learn from. It is also good to seek a school that offers a variety of musical styles. Listening to and learning different styles of music can not only help build basic skills and teach an appreciation for different music, but also allows students to decide what style they enjoy playing the most; it helps them find their own style. For adults, group guitar lessons might also be something to think about. Learning in a group can be a great way to practice basic playing skills in a more relaxed environment, with other people of a somewhat similar level. Students with a more advanced skills should seek out a teacher who specializes in the specific areas of guitar playing they want to improve in.

Other considerations when choosing a school are the importance of performance opportunities and the chance to play in a band. Both of these experiences bring something new and different to the act of learning an instrument. Performing in front of an audience has a few meaningful outcomes. The first is that it forces the student into a stressful playing situation. This can have the effect to allow them to challenge how far they have come in their concentration and ability. Performances also allow the student to “show off” as it were; everyone loves to show off a new skill they have mastered! This helps to build confidence, and reinforce the drive to continue to learn, to play, and to perhaps write original compositions in the future. Playing in a band brings other opportunities. Learning to play as a single part of a whole can teach different, but also necessary lessons. The first being how to listen to the other members of the band. A single musician should learn to compliment others, not overpower or mask the sounds of the other instruments. It is a great way to learn teamwork and leadership skills. Another lesson learned from playing in a band is the joy of a “jam session!” Nothing quite compares to the feeling of improvising new music with bandmates.

So if you’re thinking about picking up the guitar, just remember to have confidence and perseverance. It won’t come quickly, but with the proper attitude and the right guide, anyone can learn to play.