Guitar tips and advice 2 – answering questions from the guitar community

The title of this article is self-explanatory. I will be answering questions from the guitar community and providing valuable guitar tips and advice for guitarists. The title also suggests that this isn’t the first piece of this kind that I’ve written. If you’d like to read the first piece of this kind, go here. Guitar Tips and Advice 1. These questions are in no particular order, and they don’t follow any particular theme. If you’re a guitarist or someone who is interested in becoming one, read through the below. You may just find something useful. At the very least, you’ll kill a few minutes of time. Let’s dive right in.

guitar tips and advice ryan j mellor

The image is meant to be ironic. 

Guitar tips and advice question #1 What are the benefits of learning to play barre chords?

I’m going to try and keep these answers short and to the point. I’ve always considered barre chords a fundamental aspect of guitar playing rather than optional so the question for guitarists at that early stage shouldn’t be “what are the benefits of learning to play barre chords?” The question should be “how do I go about learning barre chords?” or something along those lines. I’ll get the plug out of the way right away because this isn’t the only barre chord question in this article. A month or so ago, I wrote this lesson here which is an in-depth introduction to the barre chord technique. If you’re about to venture into barre chords, give that a read.

As for the benefits, barre chords vastly expand your rhythm guitar range and versatility. The learning and practicing process is hard, but in the long term, they will make your life a lot easier than it would be if you didn’t know them. Your chord vocabulary grows immensely, and they will open up a huge amount of material to you. You’ll be able to compose more interesting music and they just straight up sound really good.

Becoming a competent user of the barre chord is pretty much a no-brainer for me and I wouldn’t consider a guitarist to have a firm grip of the basics if they didn’t know how to use them. They’re one of the bigger hurdles to overcome, but you simply must press on and overcome this obstacle with determination and hard work.

Guitar tips and advice question #2 I’ve played guitar for a while now and love it but now every time I play I just noodle for an hour and make no progress, I also hate learning and memorising songs, how do I get out of this patter and do something fun so I can pick up my motivation?

I think this is something that the vast majority of guitar players go through during their musical journey and probably more than once too. I certainly have. Multiple times. You’ve basically found yourself in a bit of a rut and that’s fine. You know what? At least you’re playing the dam thing for an hour a day. That’s more than most guitarists. I was in a rut at one point of simply playing through technical exercises. You know, scales and all that lovely stuff. That probably lasted a year, maybe longer. Only one person can break these ruts and that’s ourselves.

The guitarist who asked the question mentioned that they didn’t like learning covers and that’s fine. There are things that turn us off and for you reading, it may be a different thing but there’s still plenty to do on the guitar. If you find yourself in a similar situation just ask yourself one question. What do you want to achieve with your guitar?

Once you’ve established the answer to that one question, you can get to work trying to achieve it. Being stuck in a rut suggests a lack of purpose rather than a lack of willingness to work. Maybe your aim is to be a good songwriter. Well, how much song writing have you actually done?

There are other ways of breaking the pattern. Make a list of everything that you’d like to do with your guitar, not just the main goal. Then, once you have your list, try to attack it. This list can include anything. You could have one item on the list that says, “play in a band” and another that says, “learn the fundamentals of jazz guitar” or “learn how to play in different time signatures”. What’s on the list doesn’t matter but make it a long one and start to do things on it. This will stop you from doing the same things over and over again.

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Incidentally, if you’d like to learn some jazz basics, check out this lesson on starter jazz chord progressions.

Guitar tips and advice question #3 How can you tell if playing the guitar is right for you? I ask because I used to play and never thought I was any good, so how can you tell if playing is “right” for you?

The guitar is right for anyone who wants to learn it. Sure, there will be extreme exceptions to the rule but generally speaking, anyone can become a good guitar player. Moving onto the next part of the question regarding never thinking you’re any good, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If you think you’re a great guitarist, firstly you’re likely wrong and secondly, you’re likely to not improve any time soon so this attitude is fine. The question then becomes what are you going to do about it? You know that the guitar is “right” for you, you just want to be better.

Ask yourself what it is about your guitar playing that you aren’t happy with then take proactive steps to improve it. I remember when I studied music at college. I was plodding along okay and then at the end of the first year, I encountered a guy called Dave that could “shred”. I wasn’t able to do that so over the summer, I started to work on my lead guitar playing heavily. I learned new techniques and all that and by the autumn, I could match up with him.

In summary, this person is asking the wrong thing. It’s not “can I be good” it’s “how do I get good”. Good is obviously subjective.

Guitar tips and advice question #4 As a beginner on the guitar, if I have a lot of trouble playing barre chords, are there any other chords that I can substitute for common ones like B7 or F# so that I can play songs that use them?

There’re two answers to this question. I only really want to give one, but I must give both. The direct answer is yes, there are often times where a barre chord can be substituted for a non-barre chord or an easier barre chord. That’s the direct answer but ignore it. What this guitarist is looking for is for a way to avoid mastering the barre chord because they’re hard at first.

For the reasons outlined earlier, you simply must learn barre chords. Don’t try and avoid them or you’ll have a bad time. Honestly, for guitarists who are new to them, barre chords suck. They suck hard (like many guitarists mothers) but you must push through it. Ensure that you’re using proper technique and stick at it. You will get through it but don’t try and get around them. That won’t work for you.

Guitar tips and advice question #5 Are there different ways to play a chord?

The short answer is yes. There are different ways to play each chord. Perhaps a trip to the Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat chord library will demonstrate what I mean.

Let’s take the humble G major chord for example. Here are just a few different ways of playing it. This is not even a complete set of G major chords.

guitar tips and advice g major chords

The same applies for any chord really. A minor, C dominant 7, each chord has a number of ways in which it can be performed. When you learn a new chord type, aim to learn at least three different ways of playing it. That way, you’ll likely have a fitting chord shape at your disposal when you need it.

Let’s say you’re learning about minor 7 flat 5 chords. Don’t just learn one shape. That one shape may not be suitable for a certain situation/progression. Aim to learn three shapes. That way, you’ll never be caught short and you can make more interesting music. Here are three moveable minor 7 flat 5 chord shapes.

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guitar tips and advice D minor 7 flat five chords

Movable – a chord shape that you can move around the fretboard without alteration to produce a new chord. For example, moving the shapes up two frets gives us an E minor 7 flat 5 chord. You can identify the chord via the root note.

Guitar tips and advice question #6 I’ve been learning guitar for a year and a half, but I’m still bad at playing and make mistakes while playing songs. What should I do?

It’s hard to answer this directly because I don’t know how bad the problem is, but the truth is, you’ll always make mistakes while playing songs. I always have and still do. That’s just part of music performance. Music isn’t perfect.

Now, if you’re making constant huge mistakes which pull you out of the performance like a race car hitting a wall then you probably have some work to do on that particular song but if you’re screwing up a note here and there or whatever, I wouldn’t dwell on it. Firstly, nobody gives a dam about you anyway and secondly, unless you’re recording, no harm done. Just keep going and don’t lose focus on your performance. When you make a mistake, it’s all too easy to make more mistakes because you’re thinking about the previous mistake rather than concentrating on what you’re doing.

If you keep making a mistake at the same point of a song, isolate that part of the song and practice it.

Now as far as the other part of the question regarding being bad at playing, a year and a half into guitar playing isn’t that long so don’t worry. As long as you’re practicing effectively and striving for improvement, you’ll come good in the end. Perhaps some guidance via some private guitar lessons is in order too. Just to make sure that you’re doing things right.

Guitar Tips and Advice Question #7 is it possible to build playing speed when you’re pushing 40? I came back to guitar after a long break. I’ve never been particularly fast but have been working on speed and legato for the last 12 months with very little improvements. I don’t expect to become Guthrie Govan but hitting some old Metallica solos doesn’t seem an unreasonable desire. Have I just reached the age where I’m too old for new tricks?

Not everyone will become Yngwie Malmsteen but that’s nothing to do with age. Generally speaking, there are no physical reason why someone of 40 can’t become a fast guitar player. If you’re unhappy with your progression, there may be a problem with how you’re working on these things. The question lacks detail because it is focused on age because you’re looking for an excuse. I’d be interested to see what sort of drills you’re running here. Are you using a metronome? It’s hard to go deep on this. I’ve answered the surface question, but I would recommend looking deeper into the root cause.

Guitar Tips and Advice Question #8 what is the most common guitar string gauge for a beginner?

10, Nice and easy. 10 gauge is generally where folk start and I say that’s a good rule of thumb. After that, you can move based on what it is you’re doing with your guitar. I still use 10s actually. I’ve used 9s and 11s in the past but 10 just feels right for what I do. I’m a versatile player and they’re a good all-rounder.

New guitarists make sure your guitar is set up correctly.

Guitar Tips and Advice Question #9 What do you say to a guitarist who tries to demean another for their choice in a new guitar?

I say f*** you and that it’s none of your dam business. Don’t get me wrong. Friendly banter / healthy debate and discussion is fine amongst friends but if the intention is to demean, then tell them to f*** off or you’ll kick their ass. Bullies suck.

Question #10 Is there a trick to barre chords? How do you make barre chords not hurt?

Another barre chord question. Seems a lot of people are having trouble with the good old barre. Yep they hurt, they suck to practice and oh yea, they hurt. Ensure you’re using proper technique and push through the barrier and you’ll be throwing them around with ease in no time (relatively speaking). I couldn’t imagine guitar playing without them now, but they sucked at first and sometimes, they still do.

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To answer the question directly, yes. There is a trick that I know of which can provide support to your hurty fingers whilst performing barre chords.

I cover this in my barre chords lesson but it’s a short tip, so I’ll summarise it here. It’s related to your strumming side. See how the arm of your strumming hand is resting on the guitar?  Try pushing down on the front of the guitar slightly with that arm. That will kind of force the fretboard up into your fretting hand taking some of responsibility away from those strained fingers. Think of it like a power boost. I still use this now when I’m playing long barre chord passages on acoustic guitar.

Question #11 How can I really learn to play guitar? I’ve tried many times but quit since the only way I know is by following YouTube videos which ends up not really teaching anything.

Firstly, I like the determination. I’m glad this person hasn’t simply given up all together. They’re trying to get things going but clearly, they’re having a little trouble. YouTube is an extremely valuable resource. It is possible to learn guitar via YouTube but if you’re having some trouble, I would recommend taking some private one on one guitar lessons. I honestly don’t know how you haven’t come to this conclusion already. Kids these days. 

Now I know that it’s not always possible for someone to simply go out and get guitar lessons, but if it is a possibility, I’d encourage you to do so. YouTube is great, but how do you know for sure that what you’re doing is right? The YouTube teacher can’t correct your mistakes.

I recommend a hybrid learning method of guitar lessons and self-teaching via online and indeed offline resources.

If you’re someone in the same situation as the guitarist asking this question and for some reason you can’t get guitar lessons, drop me a message on the home page and I’ll try to give you some tailored advice.

Question #12 Guitarists, have you been brought to tears by your own guitar playing?


I hope this isn’t one of those situations where somebody poses a question so that they can tell some cool story (bro) about how their playing was so emotive that they brought themselves to tears or something like that.

I don’t think its unheard of that folk have been brought to tear by guitar playing. I have anecdotal evidence of people being brought to tears by a B.B King performance in the past but I can’t say I’ve ever heard of someone bringing themselves to tears via their own playing.

I guess it’s possible. Not by the physical playing of the notes necessarily but if a piece has a particular emotional significance to a performer then sure, I can see that.

That ended up a lot deeper than I thought it would. My initial answer was simply “no” but yeah, I guess there is more to it than that.

That about wraps this guitar tips and advice article up, I think. This is getting rather long at this point. I’ll be sure to write another one in the near future but for now, why not enjoy some of the other content here at Eat Sleep Guitar Repeat such as this lesson here that shows you how to learn all the notes on the fretboard? Or why not check out some of the lists such as this one on easy guitar solos?

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