Michael, Row The Boat Ashore...
July 14, 2009 11:19 AM   Subscribe

TwangFilter: I've got about 2.5 months to pick up guitar. I'm not looking to play Stairway - I need to play chords and sing along, basically. Mostly folksy songs. What books/methods are best for learning?

I'm a music teacher that's been hired to teach non-musicians about a few musical instruments. I know most of them I've been asked to do: recorder, autoharp, etc. I don't know how to play guitar, though. I've got about 2.5 months before I need to start this up.

I'm looking for either a beginner book/CD combo, or some other method. I'm up for taking lessons (I'm in grad school for music, so hitting a guitar player up for lessons isn't tough), but most of my friends are out of town at the moment, and I'd like to get a jump. I already have the guitar - I just need a place to start.

The music I'll be teaching is folksy, simply chord stuff. Nothing too complicated. Ideally, I'd like to get to the point in my own playing where I could pick it up at a party and strum a couple of songs - my primary instrument is bassoon, which is infinitely less helpful at parties, let me tell you.

So MeFi, how do I pick up guitar?
posted by SNWidget to Media & Arts (16 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Learn the basic open chords. It just takes practice, and 2.5 months is easily enough time.

The fingering will feel horribly awkward at first. This is normal.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:24 AM on July 14, 2009

Netflix has some decent beginner guitar DVDs. . .
posted by @troy at 11:27 AM on July 14, 2009

Not a learning guide, but I'm a big fan of Rise Up Singing which is a song book with the lyrics and basic open chord versions of a ton of songs you probably already know. Their tabs style is a bit different then you will see elsewhere, but it makes sense once you are used to it.

Pick some songs you like, learn the chords on a site like the one qxntpqbbbqxl points to, and start practicing!
posted by Lazlo Hollyfeld at 11:32 AM on July 14, 2009

Best answer: Learn the D, A, and E major chords first. Practice practice practice on changing between them at regular intervals. (i.e., every four beats)

Then learn G and C.

Then learn D minor, A minor, E minor.

Finally, learn F major by barring E major (any book at all will explain this to you), and learn B major by barring A major. Learn to barre E min and A min, and you'll be able to strum along to 99% of all popular music, as well as 100% (guaranteed) of all folk songs.
posted by Precision at 11:48 AM on July 14, 2009 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Hold the chord shape and then lift your fingers two millimetres or so above the strings and then press back down. Do this for those basic open chords about 1000 times for each one. This will get your hands used to those positions. If your hand hurts, stop and then try again later.

You have to get used to holding the chord above the strings or else you will forever be searching for strings and your hand will be flailing around.

When you practise switching from one chord to another, from say G to C, then just switch to the other one as fast as possible but without touching the string. Just hold the shape above the string and then press down evenly.

Do this without worrying about the right hand at all (strumming hand). Practise strumming by just sticking to one chord.

John Lennon's Give Peace a Chance is a good song to practise the strumming aspects of things.

Good luck. 2.5 months is doable if you stick to the open chords. Learn songs you already know how to sing.
posted by fantasticninety at 11:51 AM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Since about 1947, Mel Bay's Guitar Method has gotten more guitar players started than anyone else. Really, the books are easy to follow, and it's classic stuff. Fun to do, too.
posted by paulsc at 12:05 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

nthing knowing open chords. This alone will grant you the ability to play more than half the songs on Neutral Milk Hotel's "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea", which can make girls melt in your arms at parties.

As far as getting the fingering to feel right, what I did when I was first learning was get my fingers in position to play the Am chord (say). I would then break out the scotch tape and tape my fingers into that position so that they couldn't move. I'd leave them in that curled position for about an hour, then move to another chord that was causing me problems. After doing this for not long at all, I could move my fingers into position very easily.
posted by King Bee at 12:27 PM on July 14, 2009

Once you get some basics from some of the aforementioned resources, try poking around on YouTube for various combinations of "guitar", "lesson", "folk", et cetera. There is a ton of material out there for all levels of play... some of it is drek, of course, but the community ratings tend to help the good stuff float to the top.
posted by usonian at 12:34 PM on July 14, 2009

Best answer: I would also get yourself a teacher, but this teacher will teach you not only how to master these chords etc., but also how to teach guitar.
posted by caddis at 12:44 PM on July 14, 2009 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For several years I taught guitar classes as part of a continuing education program for the local school board and after looking at all sorts of course materials I settled on the Apro Guitar Class Method. It's very well laid out and will not only help you get started, but included in the $80 (CDN) price is the right to reproduce the course materials for as many students as you like, including the accompanying CD. I ended up creating some supplementary exercises, mostly just extra strumming exercises using different rhythms to give my students more stuff to practise, but over all the method was a hit with my students and I was easily able to recoup the purchase cost by simply charging them a minimal repro fee. The method has the added bonus of teaching elements both of traditional notation (slash notation for rhythm, repeats, etc.) as well as tablature. It covers all the basic open chords and introduces barre chords as well and provides a bunch of suggested songs to work on.

On the top right of the page I linked above is a link to download the first nine (of 20, if I recall correctly) lessons so you can have a look before you decide to buy or not.

As for additional help in getting yourself started, the thing that a book has a hard time communicating is how to hold your instrument (different guitar and human sizes can make this a challenge), establishing a smooth strumming technique and how to make efficient transitions between chords, all essential elements in getting off to a good start. Short of taking lessons yourself I'd suggest poking around YouTube with searches like "basic guitar chords" or "beginning guitar" or "basic strumming technique", etc. There are loads of great, free lessons on YouTube if you can find some time to sort through 'em. And if you find yourself progressing and enjoying the instrument, my most recent discovery is the excellent Guitar Workshop. It's generally much more advanced stuff, and as someone who has played and taught for more than 20 years I'll say I am learning a lot there myself.

Good luck!
posted by sid abotu at 12:56 PM on July 14, 2009

Er, I might be wrong about the barre chords part. I think I might have made up those lessons myself. I can't find my copy of the method at the moment. And looking at the PDF I am reminded that it also introduces actual traditional notation pitch-wise, which is great so you get notation, rhythmic notation and tab all in one.
posted by sid abotu at 1:02 PM on July 14, 2009

Best answer: The biggest aid to my beginning-guitar-learning was putting very, very light strings on the instrument. I'm back up to medium-weight, but the light strings let me practice long enough so that I was able to get (passably) good.

The best DVD, for me, at least, was Keith Wyatt's The Ultimate Beginner Series: Acoustic Guitar Basics. I actually spoke with Wyatt before a Blasters concert, and thanked him for teaching me how to play. Then he dedicated "Rock & Roll Will Stand" to me, which was freaking awesome.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:10 PM on July 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

Take lessons, and not from one of your friends.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:46 PM on July 14, 2009

+1 to everyone that says learn the open chords.

You need the muscle memory, and that's 90% of the challenge, no amount of books is going to help you with that.

Get a chord chart online & start learning some songs. Just search for "song name chords" in Google and start playing.

Put the time in. That's it.
posted by MesoFilter at 7:49 PM on July 14, 2009

JustinGuitar is what you are after. The lessons are very good (and free) - great practice stuff in there as well as transcribing or listening.
posted by lamby at 2:45 AM on July 15, 2009

Best answer: As a supplement to all of the above advice, here is a short guide on learning how to play guitar well enough to get you laid.
posted by jgunsch at 7:49 PM on July 15, 2009

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