learning guitar

Looking Back On Learning Guitar

Hindsight is a wonderful thing. It’s easy to look back and pine about what we could have done better. At the time of course, we thought we were doing the right thing. When I look back on learning guitar I can say that not everything I did was wrong. I did learn something. Furthermore, if I were starting today, and knowing what I know now, I would do things differently. In that light let me tell you how I would learn today. Or, how I would advise someone to start today.

Where Some Instructors Fall Short

YouTube is a wonderful tool, if used properly. The issue is that very few instructors really approach teaching from the basics. As a former teacher, it’s not easy going back to the basics. I had a job once teaching clients on social assistance how to become laborers on construction sites. My boss was a smart guy. He told me I had to learn how to swing a hammer the right way. I was insulted, I had been a carpenter for almost twenty years. And guess what. When I put together a lesson plan on using a hammer, I had no idea how to teach it. Additionally I figured out that I was using about twice the energy I needed to. He was right.

They Are Not Doing It On Purpose

Many instructors make assumptions about their student’s pre knowledge. They don’t do it on purpose, it’s what they know. No one has told them that they need to break things down into small sections of the most basic knowledge. Furthermore they sometimes assume that students know more than they do.

Never Leave The Basics Behind

Whether you want to learn the guitar, piano, fiddle, whatever, never forget about the basics. Additionally f you could talk to your favorite music artist they would tell you that they work on the basics all the time. Tommy Emmanuel, one of the best guitar players in the world, continually works on timing. I am constantly reminding myself of practicing the basics. I now make it part of my daily practice routine. You can use this practice as your warmup, killing two birds with one stone.

What Are The Basics Of learning Guitar?

That’s very good question. It really includes both the mental aspect and the physical technique. Additionally both of these require the most important part which is asking questions of yourself. We are not trying to become concert guitarists, or are we? In any case, we need to constantly be honing the basics.

The Mental Game

The mental part of doing any skill obviously requires thought, duh! This is especially critical if you are a ‘jump in with both feet’ type pf person. This describes myself perfectly. I’ve had to learn to slow down and ask myself the right questions before starting and while plying.


Most of us think this is a four letter word. Many people cringe when they hear the word practice. After all, all we want to do is play. So that exactly what you should do, once you have finished practicing the basics. Below you will see a section on setting goals. One of your goals may include playing with others or starting your singing and playing career. If you practice for thirty minutes, leave five minutes at the end to just noodle or play along to your favorite song. Someone once said to me, “always leave the easiest job until the last if you can”. Have something to look forward to. But don’t forget the basics that you need to practice. Do those first.


This is not as obvious as it sounds. Most of us hold our breath wen we are doing a task. We don’t even realize it. I am still training myself to remind myself to breath. This includes playing my guitar or writing an article on the computer. Furthermore this should be the first part of your warmup practice routine. Sit with your guitar and focus on breathing.


Even though tension has a physical result, it is initiated from a mental place. Directly related to breathing, it can be managed by proper breathing. Slowly breath in with through your nose and out through your mouth. While you sit and get relaxed with your breathing you can manage tension. Try to feel where the tension is located, breath and try to mentally rid yourself of that tension. Additionally as you play you will feel tension move back in. This is natural. It could be in your arms, shoulders, anywhere. I get tension in the arch of my feet. In fact I have had cramps in my feet from tension. I can get rid of that by breathing and focusing. When tension comes back stop, breath and focus on getting rid of that tension.


Many of us have an issue with focusing for long periods of time. The good news is, you don’t need to do that. Your practice routine should be done in small doses. Even if you have a half an hour a day, break that thirty minutes into 3 ten minute increments. So instead of practicing something for thirty minutes you can practice three things foe ten minutes. You will get better results and you can focus for less time on one thing.

Setting Goals

This another thing people hate thinking about. The trick is to keep your goals simple, working towards a bigger goal. My big goal is to be able to sit down and play with just about anyone (The long term goal). My short term goals get me closer to that long term goal. If your goal is to be able to play a song on the guitar then set short term goals to accomplish that. For example learning to strum or fingerpick and learning three basic chords are short term goals. Give yourself plenty of time to reach your goals. Learning these in a week is unrealistic. Learning these in four months is more realistic. Depending on how much you practice will determine whether you reach your goals sooner or later.

Learning Guitar Takes Time And Practice

You have heard the saying, “practice makes perfect”. That is not true. Perfect will never be obtained but permanent can be. So change that saying to, “practice makes permanent”. This takes time and is a direct result of consistent and focused practice. Setting goals gives you focus and a time limit on reaching your goals. If you reach your goals sooner then great, but you can always reset your goals if you need more time. Consistent practice does not mean practicing when you find time to do it. Practice should be every day, every other day, or two to three times per week.

Practice In Small Doses

You will get faster and better results practicing in small doses. If you have a half hour break it up into five or ten minute sections. You can practice three or four things and noodle for five minutes in a half hour. Muscle memory works better when you practice in small doses and practice slowly. Try to practice at least twice a week. If you can pick up your guitar for ten minutes a day, you will progress much faster than practicing for an hour once a week.

Where Should You Start

ibanez concert size guitar


Most people start playing guitar because they want to play with friends or at jams. When people ask me about learning guitar I always say get a guitar that feels good to you. Guitars come in different sizes. The largest is the Jumbo, the smallest is the Parlor and the most common is the Dreadnaught. The most comfortable size for most people are the OM or Concert size guitars. These are smaller than a Dreadnaught and bigger than a Parlor.

I have an article on the perfect sized guitars that covers the various Om and Concert sized guitars. They range from affordable to expensive. Read it here.


It is really important to learn how to tune your guitar. Get yourself a good tuner. You can get these at your local guitar shop. I use a Snark Super Tight. It is worth the extra cost to get a good tuner. Go to YouTube or get a friend to show you how to tune your guitar. I still can’t tune by ear and even the best pros use tuners. Tune your guitar before each practice.


Your posture is very important when learning how to play guitar. Poor posture leads to tension. Try to sit straight up and in a relaxed position. Practice getting into a position where you can reach the neck and with your strumming hand at a 45 degree angle to the sound hole. It should feel comfortable both strumming and making chords.


Even if you want to learn fingerstyle you should learn how to strum first. You can use a pick or use the end of your index finger to strum. The reason I say to learn strumming is because it will be easier to learn chords and strum rather than learning chords and using fingerstyle. Additionally you will have strumming as another tool to use.


You can go on YouTube or buy a chord book to learn chords. You only need a few chords to be able to play hundreds of songs. The most common chords are, G, C, D, more commonly known as cowboy chords. The most common basic blues chords are E, A, B7. If you want instant gratification you can learn two finger chords to start such as E minor and A7.

When I teach beginners a song to learn I use “A Horse With No Name” by America. It is a two chord song, using two fingers. The chords are basically right next to each other and easy to learn. It’s a great song to learn how to change between chords.

Learning Guitar In Small Doses

There’s a lot to learning guitar. But just like practice, learn in small doses. Remember when you set a goal make it reachable. Give yourself time to learn. Trying to learn too much will not work. Practicing and honing one skill at a time will be more beneficial. Make your first goals to learn how to strum and learn two chords. Do that for a couple of months or until you are satisfied with your progress. Then add another skill to learn.

One Year

A year seems like a long time until you look back. It goes by quickly. Imagine making your debut at a jam or open mic. Make that your big goal. Imagine where you will be in a year in your playing.

Good luck and keep on playing!

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