ForumHobbies ► Self-Teaching Guitar
I recently started self teaching myself (acoustic) guitar. Again. For the fourth time. I'm just curious if any of you TwoCannites have any tips for A) improving my skill and B) Staying motivated long enough to learn more than eight notes and two chords. Also, what has been your personal experience with learning any instrument? By this I mean difficulty, challenges, sense of achievement, fulfillment and so on. Pretty open ended here.

For now I've got just a cheap no-name guitar second hand from a friend. But I think the lady friend is getting me this little Beauty Alright. Go.
  
I play guitar, but I don't play well, so I can't really give good advice. Well, I wouldn't advise that your lady friend get you that four-hundred dollar Ibanez, though, if this is your fourth attempt to teach yourself guitar. It may be unsuccessful, and then money would be wasted. There are plenty of acoustics that may be nicer than what you have for half that.
  
I don't play so much anymore, but I first started when I was six. Wasn't self taught, it makes it both easier and harder motivation-wise, but I agree with meow. Don't start on an expensive ibanez like that. Seriously, I've had about 4 different guitars and they are all really nice and they all have lasted, but none of them cost that much. Just start small until you really love playing. Learn to love the music and creating it a lot, not what you're playing it on. Idk, maybe this is just my opinion here, but I think you should hold off on that.
  
Get used to rhythm and chords. Play lots of Ramones.
  
Haha, that's funny Gray, I think the first several songs I learned to play were Ramones songs. So yeah, do that.
  
I'm a professional musician, and I'm a self-taught guitarist (though I make most of my money playing drums). Before I made enough to live on by performing music, I used to teach lessons and sell guitars, and this is the advice I gave to people buying guitars with the hopes of teaching themselves:

  • Learning electric is easier than learning acoustic. Acoustic guitar takes longer to build calluses and is harder to hold the strings down. It is also harder to hold the strings down properly for good tone, and harder to hold strings down without accidentally muting other strings. This doesn't mean you have to learn on an electric guitar, but it is easier for beginners. If you have trouble with motivation, get an electric first.
  • Get a mid-range guitar, not a cheap guitar. Cheap guitars have bad action (the distance between the fretboard and the strings), often have sharp or jutting frets, and typically poorly made bodies. If a guitar hurts to play, you won't play it for long. Also, if a guitar has bad tone (which cheap guitars usually do), it won't sound how you expect it to sound. You'll always wonder why you don't sound like professionals and are likely to just give up thinking you have no talent. I fundamentally disagree with the idea of hedging your bets and getting a cheap guitar, as it is a form of sabotaging your motivation: "Oh, well, if I give it up, it's not like I invested in it or anything."
  • Learn a song! Right away! RIGHT NOW! Don't worry about learning all the chords or all of your scales to start or music theory or composition. Just learn a simple song, something that doesn't have many chords (pop, blues, punk, folk, and country are good genres to look). Feeling like you've accomplished something you can point to and say, "look what I made" is much more important than diversifying. In the long run, it's better to learn a little bit at a time while having fun than learning a lot and being bored because you'll probably stop if it isn't interesting.
  • Play with a friend. You'll learn faster if you have a friend teaching you something (and vice-versa). Later down the road, it'll be infinitely easier to learn to noodle and solo or write melodies with another player as well. If you have any friend who plays a little or who is also learning to play, try to have jam sessions even if you're both really bad. It's fun, it'll keep you practicing, and you can learn at an accelerated rate by learning from his/her mistakes as well as your own.

A little bit you didn't ask for, in case anybody else has similar questions:
As far as beginner acoustic guitars, I've always been partial to the Art and Lutherie Cedar series, which you can often find used as inexpensively as $250. They are nice enough that you would be able to happily play on one until you graduate beyond open-mics. In my experience, the Art and Lutherie series guitars are much better than an equivalently priced Ibanez--in addition, they are made in North America rather than Southeast Asia or Central America, they are made of completely pre-fallen trees, and are eco-friendly.

The best price-for-guitar value I've ever seen is the Yamaha C40, but it is a classical model (wider neck and nylon strings typically intended for classical, flamenco, or jazz play). At $140, it is extremely comfortable and sounds better than many $400+ classical guitars.
  
I agree with Gorgon (as usual) especially regarding the electric vs. acoustic bit. You can play any song that you can play on an acoustic on an electric, but not the other way around (have you ever tried note bending on a steel string acoustic? Ouch). Furthermore, electrics are nice and quiet when they're unplugged, so you won't annoy your neighbours with your 140 dB steel string acoustic, and they're far more comfortable to play. Being a small person I've always found acoustics too large to feel comfortable on my lap, but an electric is fine. Also, changing strings on an electric is much easier than trying to tie-end your nylon acoustic strings (which is very fiddly and looks awful if you get it wrong).

I also agree with Gorgon on learning songs rather than chords. A lot of famous musicians know very little about musical theory but are still amazing players. In my experience knowing the names and fingerings of all the chords isn't that useful - you learn more by playing songs and 'feeling' the music, since that's where the emotional aspect comes in, and that's what makes playing fun. I've never had any formal guitar lessons and I've been playing for roughly 6 years and I've never sat down with a chords book or anything like that, and I'm a fairly reasonable player. You find that you pick up chords and all of that as you go, by reading tabs and stuff.
  
I mostly agree with Gorgon as well, the guy seems to know his stuff. I do have a few tips though.

First, do look up the theory of finger settings, at least for the basic chords. (For example, play an A with your middle-, ring-, and pinky finger, so you can easily slide into a barre B) If you learn to play chords with your own finger settings, you might find yourself struggling with the variations of - or the follow up on - the chords later on. There's only a few basic chords you need to learn, and it's not much trouble to look up the finger settings. I found out I did this wrong when I started following lessons after 5 years, and I never managed to polish it out. Up till today it's still holding me back at times.

Second, motivation is a bitch. If you're serious about learning anyway, read this. I read it after 7 years of playing, and decided to give it a shot. I made more progress in two weeks than I did in the last few months. I introduced it to my band, and the same thing happened. Good enough for me :} (This also applies to all you advanced players out there, and not only for guitar but pretty much for every kind of learning, musical or otherwise)

Good luck, and if you feel like it, upload some videos of you playing. No matter how terrible it is. We could see it and give you some pointers you might never have thought of ;)
  
Good input! Learning a song certainly makes sense. That motivation sounds like a prime place to start. I Also, she is able to get that Ibanez for $190. She said she was going to buy the used one in store (Marked at $190) and the store offered a new one since they wanted to get it out of the store for the same price. Also, I think having it be a gift as well as a pretty decent (and great looking IMHO) quality will help inspire me. Anyhow, that's my excuse for going for that. I will take it into consideration though. I would rather do it properly than waste money and effort on the wrong guitar. - would you still suggest electric even if I have little to no interest playing that type of music? I'm aiming towards more of a country sound. How long and often would you suggest practicing? I know it is better to do short sessions often, rather than cram in hours here and there.

Plutian: I'm a long ways off from recording myself playing much of anything, especially since this is just a hobby, but if I feel up to it I will give it a shot! I'll check out the link as well.

[EDIT] Gorgon, I think it is amazing that you can do all of that. After just a few short days of self teaching, and my few years in band and choir, I really appreciate everyone who takes their passion for music to the next level. This goes for all of you, of course. Respects!
  
The majority of country is played on an electric guitar anyways. They might not show it, but it's true. Another thing why I'd pick electric over acoustic is that you can always switch between styles by applying another effect to your guitar. If you buy an acoustic guitar specifically to play country, you'll be able to only play country and never be satisfied with your sound when playing anything else. However if you get an electric it's as simple as to switch on a little distortion or reverb, or just flick over the pickup switch and boom, you have another style to explore. It's not that you always need it, but it's nice to have when you do.
  
So, country music goes either way: country took the progressions from bluegrass and folk (acoustic instruments) but mixed it with riffs and backbeat from rock and western swing (electric guitar). You can play it with either type of guitar, and Plutian is right to point out that almost every country song on the Top 40 list right now has electric guitar (usually on lead). They often have an acoustic guitar to fill in the chords under a second electric guitar. Sometimes there is no acoustic guitar at all.

I have played that style of ibanez before. For a beginner it is fine, and I don't want to plant seeds of doubt into your mind about the guitar you're getting. However, I would encourage you to learn at least one song before somebody buys it for you and try to play it before it is bought. Make sure you're comfortable with it, and ask questions.

I learned on an acoustic guitar older than me that's never been given a tune-up by playing chords I saw guitar players from my bands play while I was playing drums. You can learn on an acoustic guitar, it is just harder. IF you doubt your motivation, then make it easier for yourself.

Regarding playing "correct"

I also agree with Plutian that it is good to strive to avoid bad habits when you're starting. That being said, my left index and middle fingers are webbed, somewhat hooked, and padded on the palm side due to an incident as an infant, which impacts my ability to play "right." I do my A's very differently than Plutian recommends (and I those barre chords with only two fingers instead of four). Sometimes I use my thumb to help in a way not usually recommended.

One of my close friends only has one hand, and he plays very well. He also finds a way to make it work. Django Reinhardt played amazingly complex music with half his hand mostly paralyzed. In the end, do what works and keep playing if the other option is doing what you're supposed to and giving up.

Only tenuously related: I think people undersell the versatility of acoustic instruments. I only play acoustic. Sometimes I like to play punk songs, or metal. Acoustic instruments are like structured poetry rather than freeverse: the restrictions inherent in the instrument force you to be more creative in actuating and expressing the sounds you want. Both have their places, but I don't think acoustic guitar is restrictive at all.
  
There indeed is always the exception when playing guitar as Gorgon points out. I for example have large lumps on all of my lower phalanges, which mostly affects the way I have to play barre chords. I also have severe scarring on the fingertips of my ring and pinky finger due to the same hand burning incident when I was an infant. This however barely effects my playing, rather improves it for I have less need for callus on those fingers while the sense of touch remains. However if you have no kind of restrictions whatsoever, the regular method is more than recommended. That being said, I cannot stress enough what Gorgon points out: If you are unable to do what you're supposed to, stick to what works for you.
Heh, that rhymes.


Regarding to what Gorgon says about the restrictions of acoustic instruments, I do and do not agree. I agree there are much more possibilities than what appears. However those are pretty much impossible to explore by beginning players, and require a great deal of mastery to get right in my experience. Plus, it's always a matter of personal taste. I like to play with effect pedals on electric guitar rather than struggle to get a certain sound on an acoustic instrument. I do however admit that if you get it right on acoustic, it can be extremely awesome and unique.
  
I learned to play purely by watching and reading tab, my hand positions are often not recommended but they work superbly for me and particularly for the punk and metal rhythm I was mostly playing. Just a quick point on action, the action on your first guitar will permanently affect your hand position when playing all and any guitar ever. My first bass had strings at least a half inch from the fretboard at very high tension. My hand position and playing style reflects this, so be careful. It's actually better to go from a soft guitar to a harder one than the other way around, from anecdotal experience.
  
Yes, the tension thing. A quick agree to that one. I learned to play on a very tough western guitar, and I still have to concentrate real hard on not pressing my strings too hard on electric, making most of my chords always sound just a little off.

I also hope that this overload of information doesn't throw you off. There's a bunch of tips, but most of them are just to get you started. The most important thing will always be to enjoy your playing, no matter how terrible it is when you start.
  
I find that it can actually be pretty easy to break your old habits. Until a couple of weeks ago, I used to hold my pick really lightly between my thumb and two fingers when I was strumming, but the 'normal' way (?) using just one finger and my thumb whenever I played single notes. It wrecked continuity in my playing and was kinda annoying, so I tried really hard to change the way I held my pick, and it seems to have worked.

But yeah, you want to be careful with your hands and wrists when you start playing. I'm not sure what I did, but I managed to put a bone permanently out of place in my fingering hand when I started playing because my technique for barre chords wasn't too good. My wrist hurt for a good few months. If you start getting weird pains in your wrist, check your technique and take a break. Not on the tips of your fingers, though. When it comes to callouses, no pain = no gain, haha.
  
Yeah, I have plenty of horrible playing habits. It's all well and good for the type of music I tend to play on my guitar, but if you want to sound, you know, nice, then be careful about that.
  
Hmm. It certainly is a lot of information to process. But I'm glad I can learn it all now, before I get set into bad habits or ways of thinking. I know what you mean about the electrics in modern country. It's prevalent in most music these days. But. For now I am dedicated to acoustic. My grandpa plays acoustic and I want to be able to play on his personal guitar. A trivial reason perhaps, but it gives a bit more meaning to me. Also, once I've learned acoustic, even marginally, electric will be easier to pick up. I will probably switch over at some point.

Also, what can you kind folks recommend as far as strings go? Nylon? Steel? Brands?
  
Don't get a nylon string guitar for country. Here is why:

  • The distance between strings is wider because the guitar is intended for fingerpicking all chords harder to play
  • The tone is softer that in most country music
  • Nylon string guitars tend to rattle when strummed, often because there is less tension on the strings and they double as flamenco guitars. In flamenco, the rattle of strings against the fretboard is used to rhythmically supplement the music, but it is considered undesirable in most music.

So, going for steel-string guitar, I'd recommend the following brands:

Art and Lutherie (top pick for mid-range guitars in my estimation)
Yamaha (mid-range--their bottom-range instruments are very bad)
Ibanez (halfway decent opening range instruments, but their mid range aren't as nice as comparable mid-range instruments from manufacturers like Godin)
Seagull, if you can find one used.

Do not buy an acoustic-guitar beginner pack such as the Yamaha F325. These are a waste of money. A luthier I know calls such trinkets "Instrument-Shaped Products."

Finally, it is more important that the guitar sound and feel right than it look right. I would always encourage somebody to take an acoustic with cosmetic scars for the cheap if it sounds good to you. Besides, dents, dings, and scratches give an instrument character and are, in my opinion, a big part of what makes an instrument feel unique to you.
  
I mean, nylon strings work well enough for Willie Nelson, sooooo, really it's all about personal preference. Definitely go to a guitar store and try out a bunch of guitars, though. Even if you know next to nothing about playing them, this can be helpful. Go with a friend who already plays if you have one.
  
The vast majority of country artists avoid nylon stringed classical guitars, and I would recommend a beginner in country avoid it for the reasons I stated. There is a famous musician in every style who used atypical equipment. That doesn't mean it is a good idea for a aspiring country musician to pick up a seven-string Russian folk guitar.
  
We typically refer to soft/half nylon stringed guitars as classical guitars, because they're usually finger-plucked and used for classical music or early blues.
  
Nylon stringed guitars (Or Spanish guitars as they are officially called here) tend to be easier to start on because of the distance between the strings and the softness of them. However that's the only advantage they have for beginners, and right away it's their biggest disadvantage as well. For both electric and steel stringed guitars (Western guitars we call them) have smaller fretboards and tougher to play strings. So if you're able to play fairly decent on a Spanish guitar, it can prove very challenging to switch to another kind. Plus what I said about restrictions on the sound of an acoustic guitar before applies double to nylon stringed ones, for they seem to have but one tone, and little room for variation. Of course, there's the odd person that seems to pull it off, but they are precious little.
  
I think I favor the tonal quality of the steel strings... They are a but tougher to press and hold, but I can adapt to that. For some reason this thread is encouraging me to play more. I feel like you folks are depending on me to do it ha!
  
I teach beginners exclusively on classical guitar, but I'm pretty old school.
  
I think I favor the tonal quality of the steel strings... They are a but tougher to press and hold, but I can adapt to that. For some reason this thread is encouraging me to play more. I feel like you folks are depending on me to do it ha!
Prepare your fingers for a world of pain. I've played electric for 6 years and my fingers still hurt when I play on a steel-string acoustic.
  
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