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Learning to play the guitar

23 Jul 03 - 12:27 PM (#988882)
Subject: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Beginner

I would like to learn to play the guitar, but I don't think I will be able to go to classes. Could anyone suggest a good video / book / method ?

What can I expect along this journey ? I am in my 40s, with no musical training. Might it be difficult ? All I want to be able to do is sing and play for my own enjoyment.

Are there any types of guitars which are more suited to beginners ?

What other questions should I be asking ?

Is the banjo easier !!?!

23 Jul 03 - 12:42 PM (#988890)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Boab D

I found it this morningand its really good. As long as you can get a few chords then dont worry it WILL come but it may take some time. Look for songs that you like. I would say thats the most important thing. Have one song that you want to learn for a goal and feep on trying till you can play it well. I was playing for 6 years before I could play a song the whole way through as well as singing. This was because I didnt have the resources that I have now. It would have been a couple of weeks I think.
You could also try and get one book or a website with chord shapes and songs for the beginner. These are widely available on the net in a variety of tab sites.
As for guitars anything that you can tune would be my guess. As long as you are practicing then you can't go wrong. Some people learn on classical/spanish guitars but it depends on the individuals own preference.
As for the banjo I'm not sure if its easier but there are a lot of banjo player jokes going about.
Just keep going till you get it . I've been trying to learn the guitar for about 16years and I can sit down and entertain friends but thats all I ever wanted from it. So good luck and enjoy

23 Jul 03 - 01:30 PM (#988923)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Mark Clark


At the top of the main thread list is a dropdown box. Click on the arrow and select “Mudcat Site Map and PermaThread Index”. You'll find quite a lot of information to help the beginning guitarist, both links and excellent instruction. You'll find everything from guitar selection advice to tips on the best way to practice. Some of the most knowledgeable people around spent a great deal of their own time to present this material. It really is a treasure trove of great information.

Do you sing songs now? I mean do you find yourself singing to yourself as you drive or shower? Is there something inside you that needs needs to be expressed in music? If the answer is yes, you're already on your way.

Good luck and let us know how you're doing. There are always a lot of people around here willing to help.

      - Mark

23 Jul 03 - 02:09 PM (#988952)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Mary

Hi...I started as a beginner when I was a 40.
There are many videos at the libraries...that
are helpful.
Just go to the library and there is always
a research computer and type in learn to play guitar video..

I was fortunate to find a really good teacher that
gave me a good start though.
I now play everyday...and go to different nursing homes
and churches and play for others.
My really good lady friend is 80 and plays everyday..
and she learned in her sixties..
so its never to late to start to learn to play an instrument.

23 Jul 03 - 02:30 PM (#988968)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: C-flat

As already mentioned here, there are a lot of old, existing threads with masses of information to wade through and an amazing amount of talented, approachable people here to offer help and advice.
I wouldn't say one stringed instrument is any easier to learn than another (it isn't about the number of strings) but if you have a fancy to play guitar, don't buy an expensive one but equally don't buy the cheapest. Get a guitar playing friend (everybody's got one) to go with you and get a standard, factory produced entry level guitar (100?),I could start naming names but it's not too important given the very high standards of guitars today.
You will need to learn the names of notes and chord shapes and eventually scales etc, but it's important that you learn one or two simple songs early on to give you something to sing along to and get your strumming hand working properly. The songs don't matter, xmas carols, nursery rhymes, whatever, as long as they're familiar to you so that you start to generate a rhythm and get your hand used to making shapes in time.
I hope you take it up, age isn't important and making music at any level is a very fulfilling activity.
Good luck.

23 Jul 03 - 02:46 PM (#988984)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: PoppaGator

My first guitar was a nylon-string (classical type) guitar; the theory was that the strings would be a little easier on the fingertips for a beginner than steel. That may have been true, but it was still necessary to "experience a little discomfort" while developing calluses -- perhaps I might as well have gone with a steel-string model from the git-go. When I did switch over, I had to adapt to a narrower fingerboard as well as "sharper" (harder and thinnner) strings.

Any instrument is difficult at first, before it becomes relatively easy to produce some *simple* music. It never stops being difficult to keep improving -- there's always something you still can't quite do.

My advice would be to select an instrument, and then songs and pieces, that you *really* like. Persistent repetition is the only way you'll get anywhere, and the only way you'll be able to do it (i.e., the only way you'll *want* to -- enough) is if you're trying to do something you love.

23 Jul 03 - 02:58 PM (#988994)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Dustin Laurence

I'd like to suggest a book I came across a while back--Guitar From Scratch by Bruce Emery. If you want to start with the typical folk approach--to accompany your voice singing, it looks very good. In particular, he takes great pains to discuss some issues that (I suspect) most books assume your teacher will tell you, like efficient fingering of chord transitions. I wish I'd started that way.


23 Jul 03 - 03:07 PM (#989002)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Amos

For your purposes, I would suggest starting by learning a couple of chords. I would suggest G, C and D. If you just learn those three chords, which should take no more than a couple of days if you focus at it, you'll be able to play thousands of songs and have a good time while you extend your skill set.

As for instruments, my choice would be to find a middle-grade second hand guitar to start on. If your fingers are soft or delicate, it is true that nylon strings are easier to play on. Get someone familiar with guitars to check out the accuracy of the fretting, if possible, and the trueness of the harmonics at the 5th, 7th and 12th frets. Once you get used to singing and playing a bit you can decide if you want to invest seriosu money in an instrument or not. If you find that you have the yen to perform for others you'll want something better, perhaps, but you don't need to figger on that now.


23 Jul 03 - 03:23 PM (#989015)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Leadfingers

I go alomg with Amos about a first instrument-Spend your budget on a good second hand rather than a 'New'guitar for the same money.When i started I already knew songs I wanted to sing with guitar rather than unaccompanied,so a guitar playing friend(who helped me get my first guitar as well)drew the basic chord shapes in six keys-C,D,E,F,G and A.The basic chords were the C Am F G G7 series in each key,working on the principle that with those I would play any thing I wanted to.To relieve the boredom of just playing chords I used to sing Paul Anka's Diana in each key_thats what the chords fit easiest.It might not work for you but it worked for me.Best of luck any way.

23 Jul 03 - 03:36 PM (#989023)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Ed.

Pretty much what everyone else says.

If, as C-flat suggests, you can take someone who already plays along with you when you buy your guitar, do so. The 'action' (basically how close the strings are to the neck and how 'playable' it is) is an important consideration, whatever price range you are looking at, and something that you won't be able to judge as a non player.

Also, if you have the money, buy an electronic tuner, they're not expensive. For a beginner, tuning can be very frustrating, and playing out of tune will put you off more than anything.

You don't mention what type of music you like/want to play so it's hard to recommend videos/books etc

As PoppaGator says, go for books that have songs you love in them.

Good luck!

and don't get too downhearted if you haven't figured out your first three chords in two days, as Amos (IMO rather optimistically) suggests

23 Jul 03 - 03:52 PM (#989030)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Charmion at work

I started out perched on the edge of my bed with a fingering chart and a big book of basic folk songs -- all those ditties typically learned at Granny's knee or some such low joint. To your elementary "tutor" book, add the following: a capo (so you don't have to learn too many chords at once), a good electric tuner, a bunch of picks, and a chart of basic strum patterns.

Find a quiet, private place to practise -- this is one activity for which living alone is a *good* thing -- and whack away at it for as long as it takes -- weeks to years, whatever.

Start with songs you know very, very well, even if they are so basic that you feel yourself regressing to kindergarten. Occasionally get out of your bedroom to listen to other players and watch what they do with your hands. If you like, you can use this as an excuse to attend a lot of concerts or to sit around in bars. When you practise, tape yourself and listen carefully to the playback.

When you have three songs that you feel at least semi-confident with (i.e., you can sing all the way through without tripping over your fingers), try them out on friends, preferably the kind of friends that frequent a good sing-around.

Repeat as necessary to develop a half-decent (or indecent) repertoire.

23 Jul 03 - 04:12 PM (#989043)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: PoppaGator

Three chords, indeed, should get you on your way -- you can play *lots* of songs in one given key. G/C/D, as suggested, gives you a fairly complete "set" of chords for key of G -- and it also gives you 2/3 of the chords you'll need to play in either of two *other* keys: add the A chord, and you have the three chords you need for the same progression in the key of D (D/G/A), and add the slightly-more-difficult F chord to play in the key of C (C/F/G).

It would be good to quickly get a sense of how to transpose -- how different groups of chords provide the identical (maybe "equivalent" is a better word) progressions in different keys. However, it would be even better to become able to start playing familar songs, songs you enjoy, as soon as possible -- even when you can only do it in one key.

If you can just get to a point where you are able to play one or two songs that you really enjoy, you'll be much more likely to log the necessary hours to build muscle memory and calluses, and thereby become able to take the next step and the step after that, etc.

That slightly more complicated 4- or 5-chord progression Leadfingers mentions (C/Am/F/G-and-or-G7*) works not only for "Diana," but for just about any "slow-dance" tune from the early rock n roll era, and a lot of uptempo doo-wop tunes as well: "In the Still of the Night" (the Flamingos version with the "Sho-do-bin-doby-do" backing vocal, not the Cole Porter standard) and "Runaround Sue" are just a couple that come to mind.

*I don't think that G & G7 are necessarily different chords in this context, i.e., when they're the VII chord and when the player is a beginner. They're essentially interchangable, and you don't need to know both. Maybe it's a four-and-a-half chord progression.

23 Jul 03 - 06:37 PM (#989142)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Raggytash

Practice, practice, practice ..........there is no substitute .....and then suddenly ............one day...........I can do this !!!

23 Jul 03 - 06:39 PM (#989145)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Grab

Electronic tuners are dirt cheap - some sets of strings cost more. Get one or regret it. :-)

Classical guitar is slightly harder to play as the fretboard is wider, so some chords are more difficult, but the theory is that this encourages good habits. The nylon strings are less painful than steel strings on the fingertips (although you'll still get plenty of pain even with nylon strings to start with). Or you could use a steel-string guitar with a set of very light electric-guitar strings though (say, a set with 0.008 top string) and work up to heavier strings as your fingers get tougher and stronger.


23 Jul 03 - 06:52 PM (#989154)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Naemanson

I go along with Amos too. Learn at least three (easy) chords and keep noodling around with them. You've gotta learn at least three or you'll be stuck playing country-western instead of folk. [Grin]

Find a song you like with those chords and play it all the time. And practice, practice, practice. I started playing in 1985(?) but have never devoted myself to practicing every night. As a consequence I can play the damned thing, barely.

23 Jul 03 - 07:00 PM (#989169)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: s&r

Get a couple of lessons from a teacher - once you've got the basics you can continue by yourself. The problem with learning from books/videos and such is that the mistakes you make will almost certainly be missed because your own experience in checking what you're doing is limited. Self teaching is possible, but can lead to a lot of wasted time.

23 Jul 03 - 07:17 PM (#989187)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: McGrath of Harlow

If you can still get the old Pete Seeger guitar tuition record and book, that's a very good foundation. (Just listening to it is enough encouragement to do the trick really.)

23 Jul 03 - 07:20 PM (#989189)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Leadfingers

Elderly lady comes out of Grand Central Station New York and goes to the first taxi in the cab Rank. She asks the driver 'How do I get to Carnegie Hall?'.The cab driver replies 'Practice,lady,Practice!'.

23 Jul 03 - 07:23 PM (#989191)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Dave K

The good thing about the guitar is that with a few chords you can be playing and singing some of the most popular songs about. Classes are okay but if you can find a local folk club you will find lots of like minded people who will give you ideas and help you along the way.Those in the club should give you the encouragement you need and soon you will be surprised by what you can do.It may start out for your own enjoyment but I bet you soon will be be happy to share your playing/songs with others.

23 Jul 03 - 11:34 PM (#989320)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: bflat

I started in my mid-fifties and I love to play for myself as you have indicated you would like to play. The key is to practice. The more hours spent the quicker you'll be confident. After a few months of playing I accompanied myself for an audition in a musical and got a principal role. Attitude counts. Best of Luck.


23 Jul 03 - 11:36 PM (#989322)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,sorefingers

Besides a Guitar, and some help to get you started, heres a list of things I find most often lacking in a student's Guitarcase, a nailclippers, and a metronome.

24 Jul 03 - 08:41 AM (#989439)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Redhorse at work

It's worth having those initial lessons to get your left hand position sorted out. As you get better, it gets harder and harder to unlearn bad habits, and an awkward left hand grip that works ok at the elementary stage can become a very real pain as you develop.
I also agree that unless you want to learn classical, don't bother with a nylon guitar, as the extra stretch for the wider neck more than compensates for the advantage of the lower fretting force.

24 Jul 03 - 12:41 PM (#989679)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: YOR

I started at 43 or 44 now 47. It can be done. I'm not very good and have fallin off lately but I still love it when I play/practice. Summer is distracting.

Rule 1: Practice more than me!

Enjoy, Roy

24 Jul 03 - 04:18 PM (#989882)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,sorefingers

Lamenting not knowing many jammers these days but, I found the most useful tip I ever got about learning manual skills was to do a little every day but not a whole bunch every week.

Dont know why it works but it does; my last bit of improving was flatpicking Celtin Reels, I never imagined I could do it, but hey - I got it done and IT is original and very nice to listen to as well as play. Now before you gallop off to try it or dismiss my achievement - note I can only play at slow tempo - 110 BPM two beats the click or 220 and I pick realy easy tunes like the Silver Spear. Always I do them with open fingerings and no capo - It is harder to get it down but well worth the effort.

24 Jul 03 - 05:33 PM (#989946)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: PoppaGator

I've been more-or-less relearning to play, after many years of relative inactivity followed by a few recent years of absolutely NO playing at all, due to arthritis in the fingers. That's when I started to really miss playing, and to regret having played so little since my youth.

After discovering glucosamine, a very effective supplement that has given me back use of my fingers, I've begun playing again.

I do remember *how* to do all kinds of things with both hands, but I've found it pretty difficult to actually *do* them, at tempo and with the requisite ease and "swing."

One trick that has worked very nicely for me is simply to capo up a couple of frets -- tunes that I had not been able to play in a free and easy manner in first position immediately became *much* easier, and I could eliminate a lot of frustration, forget myself, and simply "get into it" for extended periods. Most importantly, it's enabled me to practice/play for more total minutes and hours.

The capo serves to lower the action a bit, but (for me at least) I think it's more significant that it allows you to play where the frets are closer together, shortening up the left-hand stretches.

I just thought to pass this insight along after reading Sorefingers' post immediately above, where he closes by saying he does NOT use a capo -- perhaps as a way of keeping things simple, etc. I understand -- I didn't even own a capo for years, during the very time when I was most active as a player.

I've never heard anyone recommend using the capo this way, as a learning aid -- "training wheels," so to speak -- but now I feel strongly that shortening up the neck once in a while could be as effective a learning aid for a new player as it has been for me as a rehab case.

You wouldn't want to become dependant upon the "cheater" as a crutch, so you shouldn't use it all the time. However, clamping it in place two or three frets up the neck after playing in first position for a while might make it easier to log some extra practice time, and so to begin playing more easily and thus less consciously.

25 Jul 03 - 03:04 AM (#990217)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: The Barden of England

I found the first 3 months to be the most frustrating time, but kept on practicing, and then one day it just clicked. But the word is practice. I was told 'do at least 15 minutes, 20 if you can stand it, every day would help'. So I did just that, and now I pick up the guitar every day and suddenly find an hours disappeared. The first few months are critical, just don't give up through frustration and you'll make the breakthrough

25 Jul 03 - 07:36 AM (#990317)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Ritchie

I always wanted to play the 'blues' but as everyone who played seemed old I was in no hurry and then I suddenly realised that I was old time it was time to play the guitar. Ha, they may have been 'old' when they played the blues but they had been playing for years.

Sadly, everytime I pick the guitar up to practice, my wife, who has had to put up with me for over 30years, reminds me of the things around the house that need doing. Her two younger brothers are both very good guitarists so my attempt to play must sound to her like cats scratching their claws on a wall.

Does that put me off, not a bit of it, she married me for better or worse and thats what she's got. This thread has rekindled the spark, boy is she in for a treat tonight.

regards ritchie

25 Jul 03 - 08:45 AM (#990346)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: dwditty

Homespun Tapes has beginner courses....www.homespuntapes.com

I took a few lessons from a woman named Susan Mazer and she has a video course titled Guitar for the Absolute Beginner.

Lear 2 or 3 chords and play thenm till your fingers bleed.

25 Jul 03 - 10:14 AM (#990417)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,David Neale

I've been learning on and off for a while on my own; I know quite a number of chords, but whenever I pick up a music book, it seems I need still more chords o play any of the pieces! I've heard the three-chord theory for a long time and it's been repeated here, but I still don't know how to put it into practice!

Also, I think you have to distinguish between playing rhythm stuff (the chords) and playing the melody? For some reason, I find the melody a lot easier, even when (or especially when!) trying to follow a piece of music.

25 Jul 03 - 08:03 PM (#990825)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,SeaKing

Beginner, Pretty much agree with all the good advice offered so far. I started in my teens, a friend initially taught me three chords A, E and D majors which are probably the best to begin with as they're fairly easy to play and move between, you can play along to lots of easy songs (in A maj)and are all easily modified to play the minor and 7th chords once you start advancing a little bit.

Onr thing which you might want to consider, depending on the type of music you want to play - and more importantly who you know - is to learn some chords in an open tuning, I'd suggest DAGDAD, where the strings are retuned down from the standard EBGDAE. If you know someone who plays in this tuning it's easy to learn some 'one finger' chords quickly and start enjoying the instrument almost from the first time you pick it up as the open chords can sound very pleasant. It might ease the inevitable frustrations in the early stages of your learning curve with the standard tuning, especially once you progress to the harder C, B, F, chords.   Just a thought anyway, and only to be attempted if you know someone who could show you how to retune and where to plant the fingertips, otherwise probably not advisable for a beginner.

Remember - Don't give up , every time you pick the instrument up and practise you will be a better player than the last time you played.

Good Luck


25 Jul 03 - 08:19 PM (#990830)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: McGrath of Harlow

They call it "three chord theory" but I don't know what the theory is. What it comes down to is that any note in a tune in a particular key is going to be in one of the three chords, so if you play a chord with the relevant note in it, it'll sound right. Except in some tunes you use a different set of chords because you are using a different scale...

In practice what you do is - what I do anyway - is somehow get a feeling that you need to play a different chord when the tune turns, and you know which one. Once you know what key it is, the choice is small enough. Damned if I know how you learn to do it - just try playing along with people (or along with records - and you find you've leaned how to do it. For some odd reason I found it a lot easier learning to do it along with people than along with records, even when there was no one playing an instrument that I could follow for the chords.

26 Jul 03 - 07:50 AM (#991013)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,David Neale

SeaKing: "the standard EBGDAE" -- is that correct, I thought it was EADGBE. Perhaps that's where i'm going wrong!

26 Jul 03 - 09:17 AM (#991036)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar


1. Get the best sounding guitar that you can afford. One that sounds best to your ears.
2. Start with D and A7. Then A, E7 and D. Then Em, Am and Dm. Then stretch to G, C, G7, B7.
3. Switch chords back and forth in rhythm. Then start simple scales.
Learn to sing songs and play the chords along.
4. Allow time for a good sound to happen. Fingers curved in the left hand. Back of the neck supported by thumb. Thumb placed between the index and middle finger of the left hand.
5. Plan to live with your guitar as a friend.
6. Distribute your practice. Don't practice for say two hours on one day and skip the next. Your fingers need time to remember.
7. Guitar playing is a motor skill. You remember through your fingers.

Frank Hamilton

26 Jul 03 - 11:30 AM (#991079)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Beginner

Hi all,

I am so grateful for all these replies.

There's a lot for me to take in just now, but it feels good just to read what sort of things I should be looking out for.

I have one additional question; should I learn to read music before I start and how long does that take ? Ok, I can hear you groaning .. "how long is a piece of string "?

Thanks all !

26 Jul 03 - 12:30 PM (#991107)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,David Neale

I certainly find it a lot easier to play the melody when I have the music in front of me, so having at least some ability to read music is important for me; On the other hand, I visited someone last week who plays piano wonderfully well and can't read a single note. I don't understand it, either, but some people seem to be made that way! A friend of mine plays guitar and is also quite incapable of reading music. Seems to me it's not a necessity for everyone, but it's a great help for most of us!

26 Jul 03 - 01:00 PM (#991116)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: McGrath of Harlow

If we had to learn to read music before learning to play the guitar there'd be far fewer guitarists - and the missing ones would include a lot of brilliant musicians.

And there are plenty of people who can read music fluently, but who have allowed themselves to be so dependant on it they can't play without having dots in front of their eyes, and they can't begin to cope with playing in an informal session.

It's a great skill to have, and I wish I had it. But don't wait on acquiring it before you start learning to play.

26 Jul 03 - 01:20 PM (#991123)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: HuwG

I don't think it necessary to be able to read music before picking up a guitar, but it may be helpful, as may a quick grasp of Tablature.

I find that the "classroom" and "practical" side of playing go together. When playing along to another instrument, it is useful to know the chords for a given key, and the relative minor; then for more advanced play, learn things like the pentatonic scales and so on.

I am well aware that some playing and composing geniuses manage without any theoretical knowledge, but lesser mortals like myself can comprehend better what I am trying to achieve, if there is at least some sort of logical system underlying it.

By the way, in my long-distant youth, I learned a lot of theoretical stuff for the piano, which has proved almost useless for the guitar. I still cannot relate a position on the stave to a string and fret on the guitar; which is why I suggest that Tab is a good skill to have.

26 Jul 03 - 02:36 PM (#991154)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Mark Clark

Frank Hamilton's advice at 9:17 this morning is very good advice indeed. The D and A7 chords are easy to form and easy to change between and allow for the use of correct thumb position. Whenever I let someone talk me into teaching them guitar, I always start them in this same way. It gives them something useful to work on and provides for early success so the student will feel encouraged and anxious to extend his new knowledge.

Then, as Frank says, start some simple scales. You need to know how a diatonic (do re me…) scale should sound, then, by all means, practice the scale while reading it on a proper musical score. (Check out the ABC threads here for free programs that will let you print out any musical score you want.)

Say you start with a C Major scale
(e.g., string/fret—5/3, 4/0, 4/2, 4/3, 3/0, 3/2, 2/0, 2/1),
watch the score as you work through the scale and before you know it, your hand will start moving to the correct string and fret when your eye sees the note on the page.

For a piano player, each scale is different but for the guitar player, the fingering for one scale can be used to play a great many scales in other keys. The guitarist doesn't have to worry about which notes are sharp or flat. Once you've learned the C Major scale, try a D Major scale. This is the same scale as your C Major scale but played two frets higher on the finger board. Play it so each noting finger is assigned to a fret and stays there
(e.g., str/fret/fngr where the index finger is #1—5/5/4, 4/2/1, 4/4/3, 4/5/4, 3/2/1, 3/4/3, 2/2/1, 2/3/2).
This will help your noting hand learn to stretch and the scale you've learned can be moved up and down the neck of the guitar to play in keys ranging from C# on up to high C and even to F# or G up where the neck meets the body of the guitar.

Learning scales in this way, with the score in front of you, also makes it easy to transpose (play in a different key than written). You can be reading a melody in the key of D (two sharps) but play it in, say, Ab (four flats) without having to relearn anything. Just move your scale up the neck.

Good luck and happy pickin',

      - Mark

27 Jul 03 - 11:29 PM (#991727)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: PoppaGator

You certainly don't need to read music to play the guitar; in fact, you don't have to be able to read music in order to learn and understand a good bit of music theory. You'll need to learn about the realtionships among chords and among keys, and you *can* get to know this stuff quite well without ever learning to read music.

Learning to read tablature is probably more useful than learning to read regular sheet music. Both use the exact same system to indicate time (rhythm, duration of notes, etc.), but tablature shows which string to hold down at which fret whereas standard music notation just shows which note to play. On the guitar (or any stringed instrument) any given note can be played in more than one place, so tablature provides a clearer picture of how to play a piece than standard notation of the same piece.

I would emphasize the playing of scales much *less* than some of the other respondants here. You can play chords exclusively, no single notes at all, for quite a while as you start playing and continue progressing. I would think that the first single notes to try playing with (or, more precisely, *between*) chords would be simple bass runs, "walking" from one chord to the next.

You could spend years, literally, playing chords connected to each other with simple little bass-note runs before ever trying to add the melody notes (on the treble strings) that would correspond to what you'd be learning to play by practicing scales.

I think this is especially true if you get into fingerpicking. You start by picking patterns with your right hand while holding down chords with the left, gradually adding a little variation first with bass notes and only later -- much later -- by squeezing in bits of melody on the high strings.

28 Jul 03 - 02:14 PM (#992107)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: s&r

Please learn to read music and tablature, but do it while you're learning the instrument. Music is harder but can be swapped between musicians; tablature will help you to find the notes but not a lot else - tab's great if you've got an idea of how the tune goes. Chord boxes are great if you want to strum or pick while someone sings or plays a melody instrument. Music's good for following the shape of a tune for sight readers.

28 Jul 03 - 03:14 PM (#992155)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Mark Clark

Tablature is useful when you're trying to learn a specific complex technique or lick from a specific performance and you can't tell from listening how the figure is played. For a beginner, a simple arpeggiated chord might require tablature to understand.

But for learning the melody and chord progression to an unfamiliar piece directly from the printed page, a lead sheet—musical score with single staff melody line and chord names above—is faster and more generally useful. The lead sheet focuses the player's attention on the music instead of the fingers. The fingers will just fall into place if one has learned a few scales without any need to look at the fingerboard.

The beginner will probably learn his or her first songs on the guitar by memorizing chord progressions for songs the student already knows and can sing or whistle without a guitar. This will start to create a feeling for the chordal structure of music without having to worry too much about details at first.

In any case, don't think there is some nobility or honesty that accrues to the student who eschews musical theory and notation. It just ain't so.

      - Mark

28 Jul 03 - 07:28 PM (#992300)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Grab

No need at all to read music whilst playing chords. Once you get onto solo work and more complex stuff, it becomes useful, but hitting chords takes no theory at all.


28 Jul 03 - 10:36 PM (#992382)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Janice in NJ

Get a copy of Beginning the Folk Guitar by Jerry Silverman. It was last published more than 30 years ago, but you can often find it for sale on line. For example, click here. I began learning with the 1961 edition, and I still refer to it.

28 Jul 03 - 11:49 PM (#992409)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Cluin

Not quite true there, Graham... there's quite a bit of useful chord theory.

But I'd recommend getting a teacher or more experienced player to show you things, especially one that will teach you the kind of stuf you want to learn and not bog you down too early with stuff you might not use. You'll always learn more in an hour with an experienced player, than in any 10 books.

29 Jul 03 - 03:49 PM (#992717)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,sorefingers

Stand on yer head and say 'I will, I will, I may, naw it's too hard and besides the world looks far more fun upsidedown'

29 Jul 03 - 03:59 PM (#992729)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: McGrath of Harlow

We all have different ways of learning things. With some of us theory is a good way in to learning, for others it can only be useful as a way of making sense of what we've learned in soem other way; some of us respond to teachers, some to books, some have to manage to muddle through without either, because the teachers and the books get in the way of the way they learn.

Lots of good advice in this thread, but at the end of the day, people have to pick and choose and ignore 90% of it, because it won't apply to them. The fatal thing is to try doing it on eway, find it doesn't work, and give up. The key to pretty well everything in this life is "Try it a different way".

29 Jul 03 - 04:10 PM (#992739)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: PoppaGator

I wouldn't argue that there is anything "better" or "more noble" about NOT reading music -- just that it isn't necessary (not for everyone, anyway). Some folks recommend it highly, because it has been very helpful for them, but many legendary folk musicians have managed to do quite well without ever reading music. Whatever floats your boat.

You *do* need to develop a knowledge of harmonic theory, though, whether or not you ever learn to read sheet music. This may be largely instinctive for some people and the product of "book learning" for others.

A *good* teacher is to be preferred to working exclusively with books, tapes, etc., but you need to find someone who fits with the approach you want to take -- that is, someone who plays pretty much like you'd want to play. With luck, you'll find someone on the same wavelength as yourself vis-a-vis style, genre, intellect vs intuition, etc.

I second the nomination of Jerry Silverman's book for starters -- then look into Stephen Grossman for fingerpicking when you're ready to get into it a little deeper.

30 Jul 03 - 03:24 PM (#993646)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,Beginner

Once again, thanks for all the info. When I saw tablature above I thought it was a joke about having a drink called tablature. Now I get it !

I have got a lot to read through hear and I am grateful for all the advice.

31 Jul 03 - 02:46 AM (#993983)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: Murray MacLeod

Beginner, you might like to read the online essay Learning to play the guitar by one of the true masters of the acoustic guitar, Harvey Reid.


31 Jul 03 - 03:54 AM (#994001)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GMT

What a great thread !

Learn the 3 chords and buy a capo. Job done

How about 'Horse with no Name' Em D.

Truth is play, play, play and one day (suddenly) you can play.

(still playing but not improving) Gary

31 Jul 03 - 12:08 PM (#994247)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: M.Ted

Murray--Thanks for posting that link to Harvey Reid's article--it gets straight to the heart of the matter, and with a bit of humor. Still getting that Cuban Coffee?

31 Jul 03 - 05:25 PM (#994504)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: GUEST,sorefingers

All Guitarists know that before students learn a note, they must eat five pounds of chrismas pudding while standing on one leg on the ridge of the roof at midnight, but not at fullmoon.

31 Jul 03 - 06:18 PM (#994553)
Subject: RE: Learning to play the guitar
From: McGrath of Harlow

Or there's always the crossroads at midnight...