Question: How Long Should I Practice Each Day?
Answer: There’s a trick to this question. More is pretty much always better, but it’s also better to have a little bit of practice every day than to cram one day a week. My suggestion, if you’re looking for a minimum, is half an hour each day. If you can do more on one of the days, that’s fantastic! But the “every day” part is what really counts.
Question: Should I take lessons?
Answer: It’s probably a good idea, but only if the teacher you go to has people to vouch for them – happy students. It can also be hit and miss, even with a good teacher; sometimes they just won’t ‘click’ with your learning style.
My recommendation is to take a couple primer lessons, to make sure you get the basics right with someone checking. If things really work out well, keep on. If they don’t, or the cost is too high, there are plenty of materials you can use to learn from once you have the core essentials. Learning materials also tend to have more detailed reviews and you’re guaranteed a certain level of quality – teachers can have ‘off’ days, writing and video can’t!
Question: Do I need to learn music theory?
Answer: Honestly, you should pursue whatever interests you. If you just want to learn your favourite songs, you need to go after that. However, if you want to be a professional, you should think about learning some theory – I’d still count that as pursuing what interests you, though. Whatever you learn, you need a passion for it; it’s easiest to take what you’re passionate about and go from there, rather than learning what you “should” be learning and trying to get excited about it.
When it comes to the dry stuff, you’ll get to a point where you genuinely want to learn it. Once you’re comfortable playing songs, you’ll start to wonder how they work. Don’t stress about what you’re meant to be doing, just look for what keeps your excitement alive and everything else will follow. Hear a song you like? Learn it. See an interesting theory or songwriting resource on the Guitarist Academy site? Go for it. If you have the passion, it will come out in your playing no matter how you get there.
Question: Which strings or picks are the best for my playing?
Answer: The simple solution is the ones that work and are the best value. If the strings work for your tuning and guitar setup, they’re fine. If the picks feel good to use, they’re fine.
These things won’t make or break your playing, it’s best to worry about the economy of the strings’ longevity vs. price more than any effect on your sound or playing!
Question: How do I start playing guitar live?
Answer: First, make sure you have the gear you need! Make sure you have amplification if you need it, cables, spare strings; all that stuff!
Then, it depends on what you’re doing. If you’re solo, you should try to look for local open mic nights. If you’re looking to play with a band, without going into detail of how to get gigs, I suggest trying to join a band that already exists or teaming up with someone who has played local venues already. You’ll be able to learn from them.
Question: I’ve picked up a bad habit, how do I get rid of it?
Answer: First, make sure it actually is a bad habit, and not something someone’s just told you is wrong. If you get the sound you want, without any pain or other issue, you’re probably fine; it’s OK to be a bit different. If you can’t get the sound you want and/or it hurts, then you do need to fix it.
Fixing bad habits sucks. It’s like having to learn to walk again. You need to break everything down at an extremely slow pace and force yourself to build the skill again, in a way that works. It will take a long time, but will be worth it in the end.
Question: Why doesn’t my playing sound like the song’s recording?
Answer: There could be a few reasons. First of all, maybe your version of the song isn’t quite exactly the same. Then there’s the issue of gear and settings, if you’re using different stuff you’re going to sound different.
The biggest thing, though, is that it’s a recording. This is something where everything’s been tweaked and mixed to sound good together. Then, it’s being played all together out of your speakers and the guitar isn’t coming through a cab – or the acoustic guitar isn’t in the room with you. A huge epiphany for me was the first time I recorded a guitar part and then heard the final product; the difference is incredible. It’s not necessarily because you’re doing something wrong!
Question: How do I learn “by ear”?
Answer: Primarily, you’re going to need patience. Learning by ear, instead of using theory and whatnot, is the equivalent of climbing a building rather than going inside and taking the stairs – even if you do know theory tricks that would help. It’ll feel nearly impossible at first, but when you finally do it you’re going to have a huge amount of raw ‘strength’. Your musical muscle will be unmatchable and you’ll be able to work things out intuitively without much effort.
It really is just listening, trying to copy and then repeating. It’s easy to learn, but incredibly difficult to master. Training your ear is worth it, though, if you’re up for putting in the time.
Question: My pick keeps slipping! What can I do?
Answer: This is a problem I continue to have. There are many solutions! There are some picks that offer extra grip, and they absolutely work, but you’ll get icky dead skin build up in the grip pattern that decreases effectiveness over time. You can scrape patterns into normal picks, too.
You could try a thumb pick that clips on, Fred Kelly make something called the “bumblebee” that’s quite interesting. There are also commercial guitar pick goo pots: you dip a fingertip in and the pick sticks. Personally, I just use a generic brand of violin rosin; I scrape a bit off the block and rub it between my fingers before gripping the pick.
Question: I’m learning slowly. Do I just lack the talent needed?
Answer: No! Consistent practice beats ‘talent’ every time. You will hit plateaus, where you make very little progress, but stopping isn’t going to get you past it!
Don’t be disheartened; I know you have the ability to get past whatever rut you’re in. If you didn’t have the passion you need for it, you wouldn’t be upset about slow progress. You would have just stopped, and many people do. Keep that in mind – you have something that many don’t.