I taught myself to "play guitar" using tabs, but now I would very much like to actually know how to play guitar. Whats the best way to go about this?
April 23, 2012 3:40 PM   Subscribe

I taught myself to "play guitar" (more or less) using tabs, but now I would very much like to ACTUALLY know how to play guitar. Whats the best way to go about this?

About a decade ago I decided I wanted to learn to play guitar.
So I bought one and downloaded a chord chart and tabs of songs I wanted to play.
In that sense I guess I know how to play since I know a lot of chords and so forth, but now I want to fill in the holes.
I would do private lessons, but I think thats better suited to someone starting fresh and also my schedule doesn't really allow for that.
Anyone know of any good online or DVD resources for my situation?

I want to know how to do scales.

I want to be unafraid of going deeper down the neck.

I want to know what makes a chord "suspended" and so forth.

I just want to be a real guitar player dammit.

What should a lad do?
posted by Senor Cardgage to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 33 users marked this as a favorite
I might get some flack for this from "real" guitar players, but I got the game Rocksmith for Christmas and it's doing a pretty good job of filling in some major gaps in my self-taught guitar skills (plus, it's fun). In addition to the songs it teaches you, there are technique and skill "games." It's been really helpful for me, and I'm self-taught the same way you describe (picked up a guitar 18 years ago, got some tabs and a chord book, have been "playing" ever since).
posted by erst at 3:47 PM on April 23, 2012

Don't have any specific resources, but there have been a lot of posts here and on AskMe on these topics; do a search for music theory, or scales, or really anything you might be interested in.

Don't dismiss lessons if that interests you, lots of teachers offer intermediate courses whare you work one-on-one and focus on specific gaps in your skills.

Most rock guitarists are self taught - there's nothing that's not real about how you're playing now, and even the most accomplished musician has room to improve.
posted by InfidelZombie at 3:52 PM on April 23, 2012

There is a lot of information online, but I wouldn't dismiss lessons so quickly. There are lots of teachers that can happily teach at an 'advanced' level and they won't waste your time teaching you stuff you already know. I do a 30min per week lesson that really doesn't impact my schedule much - practice during the rest of the week is a much bigger time investment.

If you don't already know it Justinguitar.com has an intermediate level that covers a lot of the topics you're asking about.
posted by Long Way To Go at 3:53 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

This book starts teaching guitar from the ground up. You start with individual notes and go from there. I learned a lot about reading music and theory.
The book has a Theory companion book.

disclaimer: you may be too advanced for these. I started learning guitar from these with no musical experience.
posted by hot_monster at 4:45 PM on April 23, 2012

Is your guitar fictional? Are you? You're a real guitar player. Stevie Ray Vaughan couldn't read sheet music, and Chuck Berry couldn't even tune his guitar.

That said, I only have formal training in pretty basic theory, but I've been becoming far more aware of relationships in chords and the fretboard in general concentrating on fingerpicking songs. Learn the notes on the fretboard and listen to how things sound.

My personal way of thinking is that music theory is for describing what's been played, not learning to play.
posted by cmoj at 4:46 PM on April 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Pro musician here.

"I would do private lessons, but I think thats better suited to someone starting fresh."

No. There are two sorts of private lessons:

1. mechanized, factory-style lessons where kids (or, sometimes, adults) are taught from scratch and initiated into a system. IN this model, you stick with the same teacher, who you see regularly for years. You do things "their way".

2. looser lessons for people who already have some ability who go to a teacher to work on certain issues. This is like hiring any professional: they're there to help you on your own terms. i.e. self-directed.

#1 is cheap. These teachers are primarily teachers, and take a high-volume approach. #2 is usually a bit more expensive. It's often about dropping in on a music pro who does a little teaching on the side. It can be blurry what the relationship is. Barter is possible (e.g. if you know how to fix cars or bake lasagna).

Even pros sometimes take a lesson or two...if they want to learn something new, or have a problem they can't solve themselves. Or sometimes just to get a fresh eye on bad habits they may have developed (as an auto-didact, you are almost surely doing stuff in a way that makes things a lot more difficult for you; a guitar pro could watch, point out the problems, and propose a course of action to improve/simplify....all in one lesson).

I'd suggest you find a local guitarist whose playing you respect (not flashy, just competent), and get with him ASAP, so bad habits can be severed. Work on what he gives you....perhaps forever, or perhaps until you have followup questions. In which case return. Or go to someone else.

This is, any proficient musician will tell you, the accepted approach.

But as for the specific things you want to know, none of it is rocket science. There is a huge ton of info on the internet about music theory and guitar tech. If you're posting here instead of diving in and immersing it all (every one of those questions could be answered with a quick googling), I suspect you lack sufficient self-direction, and you might want to consider a #1 type teacher for a while, if you can find the time.

If you expect to find a magic single book or DVD that opens it all up for you, well, it doesn't work that way. If it did, there'd be a lot more good guitarists out there. It takes more than that. You either need to massively an energetically immerse in tons of resources (be glad you have an internet; I grew up without one), or else go to a type #1 teacher. But, in either case, if you ever want to be any good, you'll need to at least sprinkle some #2 lessons into the mix.

Hope that helps.....I know it's not precisely what you were looking for......
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:09 PM on April 23, 2012 [11 favorites]

"massively an energetically immerse"

massively and energetically immerse
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:11 PM on April 23, 2012

If you're not already familiar with it, investigate the "Cycle of Fifths", or "Circle of Fourths". This is handed-down advice from my ex, who is the best musician I've ever had the pleasure to know personally. That was his standard advice when asked this question.

(I can't play anything like a guitar because it breaks my brain, but learning about the Cycle helped me immensely in my attempts at keyboards and woodwinds.)
posted by trip and a half at 5:26 PM on April 23, 2012

I am fundamentally you, just a few months ago. I did seek out a local professional and started pursuing a course of study with a vague notion of what I wanted to do. It has since evolved somewhat into heavy theory. I didn't expect this, but learning the relationships between chord structures and scales on the fretboard has become necessary. And it's been interesting.

Do what Quisp Lover says.
posted by Thistledown at 5:41 PM on April 23, 2012

Thistledown and others:

If you're the least bit technical or math oriented, I'd suggest not paying someone to teach you music theory. It's all just cold logic, and can be perfectly well learned from books.

Like multiplication tables or calculus, it's just a matter of working it and learning it.

If you're not math-ish, then, by all means, have a human there to spoonfeed and respond to questions.

But for more squishy questions of musicality and manual dexterity, you can't beat a teacher.
posted by Quisp Lover at 5:44 PM on April 23, 2012

I learned a lot of music theory stuff, including the cycle of fifths etc., from "The Guitar Handbook". I don't know if there's a more recent edition, but I highly recommend it if you can get your hands on a copy.
posted by nomis at 10:09 PM on April 23, 2012

I want to know how to do scales.
I want to know what makes a chord "suspended" and so forth.

Can't help on the other questions as I play other instruments. These questions above though, I solved by learning music theory. When I was a kid I played the organ by rote, and had no idea why G7 is G7 or how it is constructed. Heck, even last December, I still had no idea between a C7 or CMaj7. This is changed with one book:

Harmony and Theory: A Comprehensive Source for All Musicians (Musician's Institute)

Skip forward to nearly 4 months of learning Harmony, I've composed one short original tune for flute/harp, and it is just startling how much understanding theory has helped my musical development.
posted by TrinsicWS at 3:54 AM on April 25, 2012

I'm totally self taught, and occasionally (and to my astonishment) am paid to play guitar on occasion.

Your question is a bit broad and I guess in my own journey I never asked "How do I play guitar?" it was more like -- "How to I hold down chords?" Boom: chord charts + practice. Problem solved. "How do I play scales?" Boom: book on scales + practice. "How do I learn to write songs?" Boom: subscribe to song writing podcast, start working with a friend who already writes songs + practice. Music theory is learnable from books, websites, podcasts, this should be easily googleable and should not require you taking lessons or shelling out money.

I definitely feel that I need some private lessons at this point in my career to fill in the long-neglected gaps -- I have specific questions about how I'm playing that need to be addressed -- how do I develop a broader repertoire of riffs, how to incorporate harmonics in my soloing, etc.

I would break it down. What exactly do you want to accomplish next? Scales sound like a good place to start and you can easily Google where to put your fingers, the rest is just repetition. A Gripmaster was helpful for me in developing the dexterity.

But more importantly, what does being a "real guitar player" mean to you? Very very few people can play a John Fahey finger picking melody and make noise like Thurston Moore yet they're both accomplished guitar players and I suspect the point at which their shared skills intersect is about where you are now. If you seek out someone to give you personalized lessons, they are mostly going to point out how to ways to get you to sound more like them. That would be perfect if you are looking to play a style that instructors advertise their proficiency in -- blues, bluegrass, lead rock, etc. But I don't think it's possible to find someone who can teach you how to just be a better all around player without defining your style a little more specifically.

Me, I just wanted to play slacker punk rock and it wasn't necessary to take lessons because most of that starts with holding down chords and strumming and experimenting. Now, I recognize I would like learn how to do some of the things specific to J.Mascis and Malkmus' style that I'm not quite getting from just listening to them and that will be my question when seeking out an instructor. I think paying for lessons at Guitar Center to learn how to play quarter notes and half notes would be joy-killing, but learning how to do that strumming pattern on the Cut Your Hair solo would be fun, and contribute to the kind of music I'm already playing.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 11:36 AM on April 25, 2012

Without knowing what kind of music you want to really "know" how to play, I'd suggest learning all the most basic chords and a few beyond that, 7ths etc., learn at least the blues scales, and most importantly in my opinion, learn to learn songs by ear.

Oh yeah, also most importantly, learn to play with others and do so as often as possible.
posted by Che boludo! at 1:09 PM on May 13, 2012

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