Everyone starts somewhere. For some of us, we cannot imagine a life without guitar. It’s almost unfathomable to think that there was a time that we didn’t play. But looking back, I think the beginning is often looked at with rose colored glasses. It’s not all roses…
Learning to play guitar is one of the most rewarding things you can do in my opinion. It can change you as a person and boost your self-worth.
Literally, it can be life changing.
I was thinking about what I would say to my past self if I could go back in time. What advice would I appreciate as a beginner, starting out on guitar?
I suppose in retrospect I did pretty okay for myself, when it comes to guitar and music in general. I didn’t start with guitar, I started with piano, and I was addicted to music from an early age. More so, I was addicted to learning about music.
It’s easy to look back at past-me and think about how gratifying and fun music was in the beginning. But there was frustration along the way that was somehow entwined with sublime joy. With every other emotion in between.
If I could write to my teenage self, who just brought home his first guitar…what would I say?
#1 Being Awesome Takes Time
Some people assume that picking up the guitar is going to be easy. So many people play at different levels. It can’t be that hard, can it?
Well, yes and no. There are…factors.
Natural talent is a wonderful thing that can jump-start your journey. But raw talent is really only a small factor. I remember starting out, and feeling like a natural. But that only gets you so far.
My mother was a musician, and she got me started pretty early on piano. I grew up in a house filled with music. Whether it was Jazz, Rock, or even some Metal. Maybe that lead me to some natural talent. Hard to say how “talents” work, right?
Talent is delving into the realm of psychology, and I really don’t know if I put too much stock in the idea. But for the sake of argument, let’s say talent is at least one factor.
Talent is like an octane booster for your musical gas tank. It will get you started quicker, but you will still have to put in the work. Long, tough, hours of work. For years I locked myself in my bedroom as a teen, and did nothing but listen to music, and play guitar.
I studied obscure chord voicing and extensions. I learnt about the difference between brands like Gibson and Epiphone.
I also focused heavily on understanding the basics – things like palm muting, picking techniques, and power chords.
You often see these ads on social media about “Play Guitar Like A Pro in 6 Weeks” and I think that confuses a ton of people. Learning an instrument is slow at the beginning. If you’re shredding guitar in 6 weeks…that’s great! But that is probably not the case.
The important part is to make realistic playing goals, and stick to them. Take out your phone and record yourself playing, then do it again 6 months down the road. You’ll probably be surprised at your progress!
Once you hit the basics, and get some fundamental playing aspects down, things will start to speed up. Learning will be quicker. Just remember that things do get easier!
#2 Your Fingers Are Going to Hurt
I personally had forgotten this step to learning. That is, up until recently when I went a few weeks without playing guitar.
I had forgotten how hand cramps can sneak up on you, and how the lack of finger callouses feels like a nightmare. I went from almost zero guitar playing, to going at it for hours a day again. It was agony.
This is probably the #1 reason people quit playing guitar in the beginning. I can see why! But like everything else, it gets better over time. It may be frustrating at first, but you eventually get past it.
#3 You’re Not Going To Be Melting Faces Anytime Soon
I know. You want to pick up the guitar and sound like one of your heroes ASAP. We (the royal we) all did, at one point.
You see your favorite guitarist playing, and it ignites something utterly primal inside you. You need to do that too. You need to play like that person, NOW.
For me, that person was Slash from Guns and Roses. I saw him playing in music videos on TV and I knew I had to be like that. I needed to learn how to make the guitar scream and sing at the same time.
Little did I know: Slash didn’t just wake up and start playing like that one day. He had to work hard to get there. For many years. Slash started playing seriously at 12 years old.
But if you want to reach the level of your guitar idols, it’s going to take time and practice. And in reality, you may never catch up. After all, your favorite guitarists have a pretty severe head start on you.
Most famous virtuoso guitarists have thousands of hours behind them in practice. THOUSANDS of hours, you read that correctly the first time. To reach their level, you will need to do the same.
Not everyone wants to get to that level, and that is okay too. I am just saying that if your aim is high, your dedication is going to have to be high as well. With that being said…
#4 Practice Practice Practice
This is a given right? To get better at anything, you need to practice right? Of course you have to practice.
But many people get irritated with the idea in the early stages, and rightfully so. You can play guitar for your entire life and not learn everything. That sounds like a downer at first, but it’s a blessing in disguise.
The fact that there is always something new to learn, means there will always be something new for you to practice. Get in the habit of doing this early!
My advice? Get a decent practice amp – or, if your budget can stretch, something like BIAS FX 2; it will make your practicing way more engaging and interesting.
Did you hear something weird in a song and you ask yourself: ” How did they do that?”
Find out what it is, and learn it! I have been playing guitar now for more years than I have not played guitar…if that makes sense. Yet I still find new things to practice and learn. It’s a routine.
Developing a routine for practice at the very beginning is key to staying interested in playing. That being said..
#5 Guitar Is A Life-Long Friend
I honestly cannot remember the last time I was bored. That isn’t hyperbole or bragging. I’m not some genius that sits around doing useful stuff all the time. It’s just impossible to be bored if you have music in your life.
This is as true at the beginning of your musical journey as it is when your two decades in. The guitar is a constant source of entertainment. But more importantly, it is a positive reinforcement of your self esteem.
Nothing feels better than learning a new song or technique. Learning something new boosts your confidence, and keeps you hungry to learn. Guitar can do this almost daily, if you want it to.
But on the other hand, you don’t need to be sitting around practicing scales everyday to feel accomplished at guitar. Some days just sitting around and noodling or playing your favorite riffs is all you need.
Your guitar is always sitting there, ready for you to play it. The sky is the limit. And once you form that bond with guitar, it never goes away.
#6 Guitar Is Not A Cheap Hobby
I have enough money in guitar “stuff” that I have amassed over the years, that I could probably value it as a down payment on a house. Again, not bragging or anything. It’s the nature of the beast.
These days, you can get a brilliant guitar that is ideal for beginners for well under $600. Some people may be fine with an affordable setup for most of their lives.
There is nothing wrong with that.
But then there are those of us that buy guitars and gear and horde is like a dragon sitting on top of a pile of gold. Every single piece of guitar gear I own serves a purpose either in a live setting, or in the studio,
I’m not a rich guy by any means, and it is easy to save up for gear. But it isn’t cheap, especially when it comes to professional gear. If you want to make guitar into something more than a hobby, then it will be an investment.
Really nice guitars start around the $1000 dollar range. That may sound like a lot at the end of the day, but at least you don’t play violin. Classical instruments usually range between $5000-$45,000.
The same can be said for amplifiers, and pedals. When you start to get on the professional side of things, it starts to add up quickly. It’s odd doing “grown up things” like having home owner’s insurance and having to explain why you have a fleet of used car’s worth of music gear at your house.
I regret Nothing.
#7 Sometimes…You Hit A Wall
No artist wants to admit it, but it happens to the best of us. We get writer’s block. We get stuck in our practice routine. Maybe there is a technique that we just cannot get down.
I really wish someone would have told me this, and spared me the anguish that comes with hitting a wall in progress.
It doesn’t matter how long you have been playing or learning. In fact, it doesn’t matter if you’re a teacher either. Everyone eventually hits a stale period when it comes to playing guitar.
The first time it happens, it will catch you off guard. Why can’t I play? Why can’t I write/learn a song?
The reality is, you are not doing anything wrong. Playing guitar is like anything else; sometimes you have your “off” days. This is totally okay, and you shouldn’t be hard on yourself about it.
I have made it a habit to just stop playing when I hit a rut. Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away, and try again later. This happens to every guitarist at every level of playing, and the best option is to just stop.
Hitting a wall happens at inconvenient times, usually. You’re in the studio, trying to lay down the perfect track. You are teaching a lesson to a brand new student. You are learning a song that seems to be pretty easy at first.
It is almost like being in an argument with someone. Sometimes the best thing you can do is walk away, and collect your thoughts. Then you can approach the issue at a new angle, and tackle it.
#8 Being In A Band Is Awesome
There are some people out there that take up guitar purely as a hobby. Or perhaps they are a collector. But for most people, the end game is to play music for other people. And it is awesome.
Being in a band can be the most rewarding experience of your life. I know it is/was for me. There is no better feeling than being on stage and playing music for a crowd of people.
But it’s not always like that…sometimes you are playing to 5 drunk people at a dive bar. Sometimes, no one shows up at all. And don’t get me started on how hard it is to keep a band together, and deal with each individual’s personalities.
Being in a band with three or four other people is like a big, weird marriage. You have to learn compromise and know how to communicate effectively. Everyone needs to be on the same page mentally, and put in equal effort to the cause. There will be squabbles and disagreements, always, but hopefully they are minor.
Being in a band is never perfect. It is literally impossible to have a perfect band.
But when it works? It is amazing.
The other plus to being in a band, is you get to learn from other musicians…
#9 Learn From Those Who Are Better Than You
I always surrounded myself with guitarists that were better than me. At first, this can be uncomfortable or daunting. No one wants to be the worst guitar player in the room.
But remember that talent thing we mentioned earlier? Yeah…about that: Some people naturally have boatloads of it. They practice half as hard as you do, and yield better results. Seems unfair, but life is very unfair, right?
But you can take the opportunity to learn from these people that you look up to. And I don’t mean famous people, I mean the guy down the street that started playing guitar a year before you. Go hang out with that guy!
If you don’t have someone that can provide you with sage-like wisdom early on locally, then nowadays there is always the internet. There are literally thousands of videos of great guitarists doing their own thing, and you can learn just by listening and watching them.
Never be intimidated by someone that is technically more proficient than you. They can be a huge asset to your playing.
If you’re the guy in your guitar circle that is better than everyone else, be the example. Take the time to be a mentor and guide the people that are trying to get as good as you. You never know when you are possibly someone’s guitar hero. Stay humble and helpful.
With all that being said…
#10 Guitar Is The Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me
At this point in my life, guitar has surpassed the hobby status and became an extension of my personality. I cannot imagine life without it. My thoughts revolve around it to the point of (mostly healthy) obsession.
I know that will not be the case for everyone. Some people just want to play and have fun, and kudos to those people. Some people use guitar as a songwriting tool, solely. Good for them as well.
I’m honestly happy for anyone that gets any kind of joy from picking up a guitar and playing it the best they can. It doesn’t matter if you ever shred 50 notes at 200 BPM. Do what makes you happy.
Guitar is not a competition. And if it is, it is a marathon that never ends.
But for some of us, guitar is an absolute love affair. Guitar is our muse, our first love, our best friend, and our inspiration in all other facets of life. If I didn’t play music, I honestly don’t know what I would be doing.
Maybe I would be just a writer? It is overwhelmingly impossible to gauge… since I never had a backup plan. Guitar was the Alpha and the Omega for me, there were no other options.
Everyone has low points in life, and in those bad times, guitar can be a life saver too. I know many of my woes could usually be solved by just picking up the guitar, and plugging it into a loud amplifier. The worlds of guitar are my ultimate comfort zone.
So if I could go send a letter back in time, I would just say this:
Keep doing what you’re doing. All that hard work you are doing is going to pay off sooner than later. And it is going to change your life for the better. Guitar will be a relationship that will be with you until the end of your life. It will be the central focus of all you do, and you will never take it for granted. Never stop playing.