Guitar advice and tips #1 answering questions from guitar players

This will be the first article in a series that aims to provide guitar advice and tips based on questions asked by guitar players. Guitarists do a lot of internet searching. I remember crawling the web constantly when I was less experienced. I still do now truth be told. We guitarists do this because despite the stereotype, we’re inquisitive and we have a real thirst for knowledge and a drive to get better at our craft.

About a month or so ago, I began to take note of guitar related questions. My intention is to answer them in bunches in this series of articles. Hopefully, the guitar advice found within will help someone out there and maybe, someone will find the answers to questions that they haven’t even thought about yet. At the very least, this will be guitar related escapism that will kill some time.

I don’t intend for these articles to be particularly serious. A little light-hearted guitar discussion is never a bad thing and as such, not all the questions will be all that deep and philosophical. If I see a question, or, if someone asks me a question, I jot it down. This is going to be interesting if nothing else.

There will be quite a few questions in each piece therefore, the answers to the questions won’t be in depth. If I think a subject warrants an in-depth dive, I’ll do a separate article for it later.

Let’s get started.

Guitar advice and tips – answering guitar questions article number 1

guitar advice and tips article 1

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #1 – Why do so many guitar players learn the opening to Stairway to Heaven first?

I don’t know.

That was a good start wasn’t it? In seriousness, I don’t think the question is based on fact. Stairway to Heaven by Led Zeppelin falls into that swear jar guitar category. Songs that you can’t play in guitar stores because they’re played too much. Or at least, that’s how legend has it.

It’s probably learned about just as much as the Smoke on the Water riff, or the Sweet Child O’ Mine riff but first? No. An absolute beginner wouldn’t be able to play the Stairway to Heaven riff at day one.

The part about learning openings is an interesting one though. One mistake that guitarists often make is learning only part of a song. The main riff for example. They don’t then go on to learn the rest of the song. I did this too but looking back, I don’t see the point.

If you’re going to learn a song, learn a song. Don’t just learn a riff and repeat it over and over. What are you gaining from that? Push yourself and learn the whole thing.

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #2 – Does learning the guitar get easier once you’ve mastered the ukulele?

The short answer to this question is yes but this isn’t just a ukulele thing. Learning any musical instrument is easier if you already know how to play another musical instrument relatively well.

When you learn your first instrument, you’re not just learning how to play it technically. You’re also at the same time learning about music. You’re learning about chords and notes and scales and music theory and about rhythm. When you then move to your second instrument, you’ll already have that knowledge and you’ll have that feel for the music in your body. You’ll be focusing only on the technical side of things. Your progression on the new instrument will be faster.

You’ll know when things are working and when they aren’t. You’ll know how to practice effectively. Perhaps most importantly, you’ll know that the seemingly endless period of being terrible is worth it because in the end, you get there.

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #3 – How can I find a good guitar teacher in my area?

There’re two ways to find a good guitar teacher in your area and the first is pretty much common sense. Search online. Guitar teachers will often have a place online which they use to drive traffic. It may be a website, but it could also be a Facebook page or something similar. You’ll also find local music schools within the business listings with a simple search.

The alternative way of finding a guitar teacher is less instant but it worked for me. Get your shoes on and walk to any music related businesses. Music stores, recording studios, anything. Once you’re there, just ask. These establishments will either have someone that they work with or, they’ll know someone that you can be referred to.

This is a simple task if you live in a large city or small city but if you’re rural, it may be more difficult. If there is absolutely no way of obtaining face to face guitar lessons, search for tutors who offer one to one guitar lessons via video call. This method of guitar tuition is becoming more and more popular.

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What about the word good? The question stated that a good guitar teacher is required. Well, that’s harder. A beginner guitar player would find it hard to identify a joker, so I’ll try my best to guide.

One thing to watch out for is a suspiciously cheap price. What’s that saying? You get what you pay for? This is a general rule obviously but something to consider. Age could be a factor also, but again, not always.

The teachers that come with recommendations are a good shout. As are those that come with glittering reviews. Teachers that you find via word of mouth are again, a good shout.

There is a fool proof way of separating the serious from the time wasters though. Listen to their playing. I can’t remember how it came about but not too long ago, I came across a very well put together and convincing website offering private video lessons. They had all the right lingo. It was perfect. Then, I spotted an audio player on the page. My god, that guy sucked. If the person offering lessons can’t make good music, look elsewhere.

On the flip side, a great player doesn’t always make a great teacher. There’s a lot to take in here so let’s summarise. Look for teachers recommended by music stores or other music related establishments, look for teachers with great reviews, and look for teachers who can play to a decent standard.

I’m not (at the time of writing) affiliated with any tutors here at Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat and I’m not currently offering lessons myself but if you’re having trouble, drop me an email and I’ll see if I can find someone for you. 

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #4 – How long does it take to learn music theory?

The answer to the question how long does it take to learn music theory depends on two variables. The first variable is the person learning, and the second is what is meant by learning music theory. Let’s address the second first so that we know what we’re talking about.

So, what do we mean by “learn music theory?” One person’s interpretation to this may be different to the next but I’d define it as having a sound understanding and command of the fundamental aspects of music theory. You can later build on the fundamentals and continue to expand your knowledge forever, but you simply have to learn the fundamentals first.

How fast you learn those fundamentals depends on the student. I read the book that taught these fundamentals in a week and developed a proper understating of the material within that book over the following few months.

I’d say that my progress was fast but I was one of those musicians with nothing better to do, I had a real interest in the theory and I also started studying music at college a few months after reading the music theory book in question.

Not every guitar player will have the time that I had back then to study, not every guitarist will have that same interest in theory and not every guitarist will be lucky enough to study music for hours a day at college with dedicated tutors.

I guess the answer to this is “it depends” but one thing that I am sure of is that I think every guitarist should learn music theory. I can’t think of a single reason not to do so.

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #5 – I’m 12 and I’m going to learn guitar at home. I’m only going to use YouTube because it’s free and easy. Can someone list all the things I need to learn (possibly in order?)

So here we have a young child who has correctly decided to learn guitar. For one reason or another, he’s unable to obtain private guitar lessons, so he’s using YouTube.

YouTube and the internet in general are incredible resources for guitar lessons. The problem is, guitar lessons online aren’t typically formatted as a course. They aren’t in order. The online guitar world can be very hard to navigate.

Tim wants to know what he needs to learn and in what order. I’ll do my best, but this will have to be general advice because every student is different and each of the items on the list are a topic on their own. Furthermore, we don’t know Tim so we will stick to the basics. There’s no point me going as far in as listing all the elements of metal you need to learn because Tim may hate metal. If Tim gets a grasp of the below, he can then branch out into other areas.

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(I have no idea if this kid was named Tim.)

11 things that you should learn on guitar first

  • Learn how to tune the guitar
  • Learn how to hold the plectrum and guitar
  • Learn how to pick notes
  • Learn how to strum a chord
  • Learn how to play a few basic chords
  • Learn how to change from one chord to the next
  • Learn basic strumming patterns
  • Learn basic finger picking
  • Learn the minor pentatonic scale
  • Learn basic barre chords
  • Learn basic lead techniques (hammer ons pull ofs bends double stops)

The above list will get you on the right track. From there, you can continue to build your skills.

How you go about learning the above is another matter and a deeper subject for another day. Every tutor is different, even online. I for example used to cover three of those things with one song. The song was Pretty Woman by Roy Orbison. It teaches picking notes with the riff as well as basic strumming and it also introduces a barre chord. This wouldn’t be something I gave to total beginners who’d only picked up the guitar for the first time that day, but it was very useful for those at the early stages.

I don’t really care how you learn the above. Just learn them. You have the list so start ticking them off one by one. Remember, learning something is not the same as mastering something.

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #6 – What’s the best way to learn guitar at the age of 53 after a short break and still being a beginner?

Next, we have the flip side of the age bracket. There’s nothing wrong with going for something at an older age. If anything, I encourage it. It’s not that uncommon either. When I gave private lessons, half the people that came through the door with over 40 which I wasn’t expecting. They just always wanted to play and were now finally going for it. Quick little bit of advice. If you’re thinking about learning guitar but haven’t started yet. Just do it. What do you have to lose?

The best way to learn at first is always going to be private one on one guitar lessons with a tutor. The age is irrelevant. The mechanics of playing guitar are the same if you’re 50 or 15.

The question sounds to me like it was from someone who wants to play guitar but if putting it off. Go dust the guitar off and start the playing journey today. Not tomorrow. Today.

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #7 – How do I play a D# on guitar?

guitar advice and tips how to play a d sharp on guitar

Like that.

Guitar advice and tips #1 question #8 How can I teach myself how to improvise on guitar? Where do I start and what do I do?

When I first started learning guitar, my goal was to be able to improvise. My idea of improvising was having the ability to pick up the guitar and play it. To make music easily out of nothing. This again comes down to definitions. What does the person asking the question mean by improvising? Is their definition the same as mine? If so, the answer is to learn basic music theory which will teach you how to make your own music. Once you have that knowledge, that process is instantaneous.

If your idea of improvising is playing unprepared lead guitar, then you first need to learn a couple of scales. I’d recommend the minor pentatonic scale and the blues scale as your starting point. Once you’ve learned those two scales (the whole scales all across the fretboard) you can start to use them.

Find a handful of 12 bar blues backing tracks with varying tempo. These can be found for free on YouTube. Simply start to play with the scales over the top of the tracks. If you’re new to this, your phrasing will suck and so will your licks. Keep it simple at first. Learn where the root notes are. Try to make the rhythm of your licks more interesting than straight quarter notes and eighth notes and try to create actual phrases. Avoid the hazard of simply playing constant notes. Each phrase must be purposeful. Try to incorporate techniques such as vibrato, bends, hammer ons, and pull offs.

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The above guidance is basic but just consider what I’ve said and give it a try. We all start somewhere with this.

#9 Is there any particular song that you think every guitarist should learn?

This is a question that depends on musical tastes but in an ideal world where everyone is open minded and willing to try things, I would say Phantom of the Opera by Iron Maiden.

This track is best described as a marathon. If you can play this song from start to finish, you can play! Not because of the difficulty. It’s not actually that hard but learning it and having the determination to see it through is a proper challenge that I think all guitar players should undertake.

It’s actually a really fun song to play too which does help but it requires concentration, control and endurance.

#10 What should I learn next if I already know the fundamentals of playing guitar?

This I guess, is a continuation of the question from earlier. The only difference is, there is less of a typical path. You start off your guitar journey with things that all guitarists learn but eventually, that road breaks into lots of other roads and what you do depends on who you are as a guitarist.

This really depends on what interests you. I knew a guy once that was like a walking chord book. He was incredible with chords and making chord progressions and that’s because he went down the route of studying chords in depth because that’s what interested him. Some do the same with lead techniques. Some study composition. Many learn oceans of covers. The answer I guess is, it’s up to you.

Do what you enjoy doing and don’t forget, just because you go down a certain path, doesn’t mean that you can’t explore others at the same time or later. I always wanted to be a bit of a hybrid player and turn my hand to anything. I guess that has resulted in me being a master of nothing, but I had equal interest in all areas.

You do what you want to do and don’t let anybody force you down a certain path.

#11 Is it better to learn techniques before songs or techniques through songs?

I’ll try to keep these last couple shorter as the article is getting quite long as this point. I would recommend learning the technique first and then once you have a basic command of it, learn some songs that use that technique so that you can experience how it feels in the context of a song. Or alternatively, compose something that uses that technique. This doesn’t have to be a piece of music that you release to the world nine seconds after recording it on your phone. It can simply be a composition for the purposes of study.

Learning dive bombs and five string sweeping is one thing but figuring out how to use them properly in music is another.

To summarise, learn the technique, practice it, put it into a musical context. This is definitely one approach.

#12 When I play a hard part on guitar, it looks like half my face is paralysed and it looks ridiculous. Has anyone else had this problem? If so, did you overcome it?

There are two questions there. Here are the short answers. Yes. No. Me and my ridiculous lazy eye look very special at times but no, I’ve not totally overcome it. I hear that some people do overcome it and I hear that some of the cool kids never even have this problem. Just own it. If you want to be judged on how you look, go be a model. This is guitar playing. It’s not a beauty contest.

What next?

That about wraps up this article. I’m not sure what it was exactly, but there’s plenty of guitar advice and guitar tips there that will have hopefully helped you or kept you busy for a few minutes. Looking for something else to do? Check out the below guitar lessons. 

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