If you want to learn to play the guitar, the amount of material available to you can be overwhelming. You can spend hours searching the web for the most efficient route to mastery, but in the end, you’ll likely spend more time searching and reading than practicing and playing.
With most beginners, the question of where to start can be pretty intimidating. Do you learn chords first, or scales? How important is improvisation? Do you really need to learn music theory, or can you get by without it?
This article hopes to answer these questions and more. By the end, you should have a firm grasp on the steps you’ll need to take to learn the guitar. But first, you need to have a goal in mind.
Start with a Goal
Goals are a great way to measure your progress. Either you achieve them, or you don’t. The problem with a lot of beginners, though, is that they set their goals too high, and then get disappointed when they don’t reach them. Feel free to start out small when you’re planning your own goals.
So what are good goals to start with? It depends on where you are right now in your learning. A helpful method can be taking your ambitious goal and breaking it down into manageable chunks.
In order to fit everything you need to learn to play the guitar in one article, we’ve broken up stages of learning into chunks. You can start with any one of these, but you’ll need a firm grasp on them all if you hope to master the guitar.
It should go without saying that you’ll need to learn how to play chords on the guitar. Start with the basic shapes. Then you can move on to bar chords, dom7, maj7, minor7, sus4, sus2, and different voicings. If you want to start playing songs as soon as possible, learn chords first.
Scales are another fundamental that too many guitarists ignore, not wanting to be trapped in a box. You’d be wise to learn their patterns, though. Scales are the key to familiarizing yourself with the fret board, and a gateway to improvisation.
Not everyone will want to learn the fingerpicking method, but some of the best songs have been made utilizing it. It can give you a different way of viewing the guitar, while building your dexterity in your picking hand. “Dust in the Wind”, by Kansas, and “Blackbird” by The Beatles are two great examples.
If you want to really speed up your learning process, you’ll start teaching yourself music theory. It can give you the tools to understand chord structure, scales, progressions, and more.
That being said, there’s still a lot to learn, and it can be an overwhelming process. So take it in small chunks. Try to always apply what you’re learning directly to the guitar, and have fun with it. A lot of musicians are ignorant to music theory. If you start out learning it, you’re already a huge step ahead.
Scales can be helpful when trying to hone your technique, but what can be just as helpful and even more fun is learning your favorite guitar solos. These will teach you useful techniques like hammer-ons and pull-offs, while at the same time increasing your speed and dexterity.
Don’t get discouraged if it takes a while to get there. Part of the fun is the journey. You’ll soon find that each one you master only leaves you hungry for the next.
Once you’ve got a firm grasp on scales, you can jump right into improvisation. It can be helpful to have a few solos under your belt as well, as they can teach you fun riffs and patterns you can incorporate into your own, but they aren’t necessary.
All you really need to get better at improvising is practice. You can do that with backing tracks, or while your favorite song is playing in the background. But don’t shy away from improvising with a group in a jam session. It can be some of the most rewarding and enjoyable learning you’ll experience.
While there are more specific techniques you can master, these represent the broad strokes of how to best improve yourself as a guitarist. And of course, the key to effective learning is practice and repetition. Repeat to remember. Remember to repeat.
The great and terrible truth about learning the guitar is that you can play your whole life, and still have more to learn. It’s a never-ending journey of self-improvement and self-expression through music.
So go forth, play, create, and most of all, have fun.